Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Public Transportation in Turkey

Yang enjoys a pit stop during our all-night bus ride

Some of our best adventures involved riding the public transportation in Turkey.  To travel from Istanbul to Antalya, we opted for a cross-country bus.  The stop was a hellish tram ride to the outskirts of Istanbul.  No one spoke English, but by pointing and asking, "Antalya?  Antalya?"  We managed to make our destination reasonably clear.  At 7:00pm we boarded a large van and were driven to another station on the Asian side of Istanbul where we upgraded to a very big bus.  This coach was deluxe-- comfy seats, bathroom underneath, television in the seatbacks (Turkish only-- so many shows about weddings!) and a cute little steward wearing a bow tie and serving tea and snacks.

Buses in Turkey have single-sex seating, so Yang and Ryan sat together and I ended up with a Turkish grandma.  She didn't speak English I don't speak Turkish, but she still spent a long time chatting with me.  The quality of sleep in moving vehicles is never great, but I was surprised not to be too exhausted when we reached Antalya.

On our second day in Antalya we decided to trek out to the ancient ruins of Olympos.  One of the hotel staff told us to go back to the main bus terminal and catch a bus there.  Again, no one spoke English, but by asking "Olympos?   Olympos?"  We were pointed to a very old van.  The van slowly filled and left the station.  We drove around for 30 or so minutes, dropping off and picking up in the middle of highways and busy roads, or sometimes in the middle of nowhere.  We drove on and on, and Ryan finally raised his voice above the Turkish music to ask "Olympos?"  The driver nodded and drove on.  We stopped again, Ryan asked "Olympos?"  The driver shook his head.  The next stop, a small convenience store in a very inconvenient location of nowhere, the driver said "Olympos!"  and let us out.  We walked into the store.  It was part 7/11 and part living room.  A large group of headscarved women sat around a long table with ancient bubbling pots.  Ryan asked the clerk, "Olympos?"  The clerk turned and spoke to an old man, then replied, "20 minutes."  We went outside to eat a small picnic.  Chickens clucked around our feet.  We looked down at the forested valley below the convenience store.  Eventually the old man emerged from the store and spoke to us in Turkish.  "Olympos?"  We asked.  He opened his van door. 

We bumped our way down some dirt roads, over dry river beds, past what appeared to be a hippie commune.  After 20 minutes or so the driver stopped, said something to us in Turkish and got out.  He came back with a young man.  "You need accommodation?"  He asked.  We told him no, and the old man shook his head and drove onward until we reached a very official looking park gate.  Three young men sat at the gate and asked us what time we wanted to be picked up.  Then they spoke to our driver and told him to come back at 5:00.  There was much gesturing of "five" with our fingers until he seemed satisfied and drove off.

One of the surprising things in Turkey is that everything somehow works, despite a complete lack of schedules.  The buses seem to operate completely by chance, and yet we never once got lost.  Our entire bus ride from Istanbul to Antalya cost about 20 Euros per person (or, about E 1.67/hour).  Our entire transport from Antalya station to Olympos' gates cost 6 euros.  I guess this is the triumph of capitalism?  Wherever there's a tourist who needs to go somewhere, an enterprising Turkish person will appear with a 40 year old van to make it happen.

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