It all started with Atlas Travel. No matter who I attempted to rent a car with moths ago, I got redirected and denied by Atlas travel. They seemed to control every possible car rental outlet. A good old fashioned monopoly!
Finally, on my fifth attempt (seriously), success! Car Del Mar who outsourced to CarTrawler who outsourced to Thrifty who outsourced to Dollar who outsourced to some local office in the town centre (seriously).
Sarah and I landed three hours before the others and had big plans of picking up the car, seeing the town, and maybe even grabbing some car snacks. It was all not to be.
The first sign things had gone awry was at the airport, when there was no Thrifty desk, no person holding a sign, nothing. Thankfully the guy at Sixt called the company for us and informed them they had clients waiting. "Oh, you arrived already! Okay, I'm coming!"
Fifteen minutes later we were zooming to their office, snafu behind us. I confirmed that we had a Fiat Doblo or similar waiting and he looked perturbed. "We have five people," I told him. "FIVE PEOPLE," he exclaimed, fearful eyes wide. Sarah and I looked at each other. This didn't feel good.
Upon arriving at their office (at 5:30pm) we were rushed inside and offered tea, coffee, water, anything. "No thanks," we insisted," just our car. We need to get going."
"Five minutes," the agent told me. "Trust me, no problem."
45 minutes later there was clearly a problem. An Italian family had come and gone, their rental involving a great deal of yelling in a great number of languages. Sarah and I had finished off two bags of Doritos, some hazelnut wafers, and a bottle of water, left entirely to our own devices in their wildly over furnished office. Our patience was quickly waining.
"Where is our car?" I asked in a clearly irritated tone. "You see," he began," we don't have that car. Or any car, really. Our confirmation doesn't have a car type so we don't have that car. Nobody wants that car. It's slow and ugly and uncomfortable and nobody wants it" (note that the Fiat Doblo is the best selling car in Turkey. One in ever five cars is LITERALLY a Doblo. One look just outside their shop offered a visual on no less than FIVE of them).
"See, on our confirmation we get it doesn't say the car you requested so we don't have it." He handed me the confirmation and sure enough, the last line read "car type: mvrp," only just below that it said "page one of two."
"Where is page two," I asked. "This says page one of two. I want to see page two." He definitely didn't expect this level of thoroughness. After staring at me with a guilty face for a good twenty seconds he looked me right in the eyes and said "nobody wants a Doblo."
At this stage we were fed up. It had already been over a hour. "Look, we have a reservation that YOU confirmed for a car that will fit five people with five bags. This is the car you promised by confirming my reservation so find me this car or something bigger immediately," I demanded in a calm and rational voice. "Let me ask my manager," he said as he scurried away.
Fifteen minutes later he returned wearing a smile. I assumed this meant resolution. False. Instead, he offered us a tiny sedan or a Nissan Juke, which I hadn't heard of but which he insisted was "larger than the Doblo. Also," he insisted, "you can't stack luggage above the windows anyway so it's all the same." This did not see like a real law.
Sarah and I went outside and inspected the sedan. Not only was it small, it was really old. And covered - literally covered - in chewed sunflower seed shells. Sarah took one look, turned to me and pronounced, while wagging her finger in the air, "There is NO WAY we will fit in this." With that he said he would bring the Nissan Juke here "in five minutes."
Forty five minutes later it was now nearing 8pm, which is when we were meant to be picking everyone up after picking up our car we reserved MONTHS AGO. Instead, the others were going to hang out in the airport cafe and we still had no vehicle. Finally - FINALLY - he came over and said the car was ready then began to pick up our bags as if we were supposed to be going somewhere. "Where are you taking our stuff," I asked pointedly. "To the car. It's five minutes away. We will drive there."
"But if its not big enough we aren't taking it so you need to bring it here," I said forcefully. "But that is impossible and we must go now," he said with a newfound sense of urgency. Sarah and I agreed after formulating a side plan. Should this car be too small, we were going to claim squatters rights in the large 11-passenger van they were driving us to the Nissan Juke in. I would get out and assess the car and she would hunker down just in case.
Suffice to say, the drive was not five minutes. It was FORTY MINUTES AND 55 kilometers away. We drove on three different highways before pulling off at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. "This is like the start of a horror film," Sarah said thinking out loud.
As the van approached the Nissan Juke it was obvious there was no chance five grown adults and five bags would be fitting in what looked like a car for Barbie and Ken. In fact, I don't know if I've ever seen a smaller SUV in my life. I got our two suitcases out of the van while Sarah stayed to "occupy" the van in a similar way to how the occupy Wall Street protesters did it - peacefully but not taking any crap from anybody.
I opened the back and attempted to put just two suitcases in the "trunk" and not even those fit. At all. Whatsoever. The bags made the SUV look like the size of some kind of remote control car that I had as a kid. Or a power wheels. "This obviously isn't going to work," I said to the guy. "And now I'm furious. This is ridiculous. I want that van there and I want a full tank of gas because it clearly has worse gas mileage so you will make up the difference in cost."
His jaw dropped to the floor, his eye widened, and he shouted at me, "ARE YOU CRAZY?!" This is when all hell broke loose. In the parking lot of a rest stop. Next to the world's smallest SUV.
"NO, ARE YOU CRAZY?!" I yelled back. The next fifteen minutes are mostly a blur. I was shouting at him while his manager - who spoke no English - was shouting at me. They were saying we couldn't have the van because it was already reserved. I explained that I too ha a reservation and I didn't really care about anyone else's. He told me I was being unreasonable and that he gave me "two good options" and that I should "trust him" which obviously wasn't remotely possible.
Our back and forth was punctuated by regular interludes from Sarah, who would hop out of the van, run over, say something poignant, then run back to the van to reoccupy it. Her best comments included asking if she should just sit on the roof or perhaps leave one of our friends at the airport. Hyperbolic irony no doubt did not translate, as they all just looked totally disturbed and the English speaking guy said confusingly, "no, there are no seat belts on the roof. You can't sit there. That is ridiculous."
I slowly made my way back to the van to double our occupation campaign. Sarah and I then patently refused to move. With this protest the owner, speaking in English for the first time, pointed at us and said "your reservation CANCELLED," which just reignited another round of shouting, pointing, and crazy talk.
At this stage, we had to consider our situation. We were at a rest stop in the middle of Turkey with - right now - a cancelled rental car reservation, three friends still waiting at the airport, and no real options (this was certainly their plan). As such, we begrudgingly accepted the tiny sedan (which was of course back at the office) and vowed to fight the car rental broker instead.
Hopping into the Barbie and Ken Juke to go back to their office, the English speaking guy started in on how hard he works and what music we liked along with other small talk. I ignored him though Sarah was playing good cop and laid out our itinerary for him. "For me a vacation is sun, sea, and relaxation," he started. "Where you're going is just dust and dirt. I don't know why you would go there." Helpful.
Another 35 minutes later we arrived back at the office where he suggested we try other companies quickly. Why we hadn't tried this three hours ago I have no idea. A neighboring company happened to have a VW SUV and an enormous Mercedes sedan. We inquired on price and they were the same.
For a split second we thought we may actually get what we needed but of course this story wouldn't be worth writing if there was a happy ending. Our guy came back outside with the details. "Actually," he began, the VW is Steve's car," pointing to a guy on the sidewalk who waved at us. "You can rent it from Steve but there is no insurance because its more like borrowing your friends car. So if you break something you have to pay Steve for it. And the same for the Mercedes. That is Bob's car," as he pointed at another random guy on the sidewalk who waved at us. "So we would literally be driving around in some guys car," Sarah asked. "Yes, sort of," he replied.
Needless to say, we didn't take that option and instead rolled up to the airport to pick up the others FIVE HOURS after we first sat down to pick up the car. I did my best to cram our bags into the tiny truck, shoving excess small stuff on the back window sill (which we soon learned was not illegal and instead one more lie told by the car rental company), under seats, and between legs.
We started off on our drive three hours late, only to get lost in such a way that left us driving on what turned out to be a closed highway, chased by a pack of wild dogs and stuck behind a very creepy looking 16-wheeler.
Thankfully, we have a great story to tell. And a car company to ruin. A holiday with a purpose!
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