I have been putting this off because it is truly a long tale. However, it must be told because we came across so many affirmations, in many shapes and forms, that this is an exceptional life we are leading.
It was stifling hot on the bus. I managed to rally my spirits even with a stuffy nose. We were finally seeing Turkey. I was finally going to see a true culture in this country. Not that Istanbul is a lie but modernization has a way of eradicating tradition. And to me, tradition is a key element in any place with a rich cultural presence.
I had been craving a trip out of Istanbul for quite some time. We all were. Everything with the Russian consulate was in order and we were only waiting for our passports to return with VISAs in them.
There is only so much you can plan on this kind of adventure. I believe that it is best to keep things open and see what opportunities present themselves. Not to be too stuck on one thing or else you might miss out on another. Luckily, my travel companions agree very strongly in this sense. And so our dynamic is productive and positive.
The bus went onto a ferry that went across the Sea of Marmara. The air was cold outside but a nice change from the feverish bus.
We stepped off the bus into Ayvalik just as daylight was breaking. Our friend Cem from Istanbul accompanied us and invited us to stay at his family’s vacation house near the beach. I breathed in and tasted the sea air.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing to an island in the distance.
“Lesvos,” Cem answered.
“Yes. We can go to Greece if you like!”
I began picturing the white washed buildings with blue accents of doors and rooftops. The smell of lamb, ouzo, and cold tzatziki. I sighed with nostalgia and longing for my friends in Athens and Corfu.
“Be happy where you are,” Todd reminded me.
After a wonderful day of walking….A side note has to include the explanation of when I say “walking” I say it in the most sarcastic tone I can conjur. Why? Well, Cem likes to walk.
“When I am walking I am resting!”
This “walking” Cem likes to do is more like hiking or cross-country trekking. At one time, we took a bus only half way to town because Cem wanted to walk the rest of the way. All I can say is, after an all night bus ride and little or no sleep, walking was not the most enticing thing to do. BUT we did.
On our beach hike several stops were made to swim and sleep.
We all slept very well that night and awoke to the sprinkle of rain on the patio. Our enthusiasm no less than the previous day to continue our journey south to Izmir.
We made our way to the highway, walking through the misty rain. Jordan had a sign in tow that said BERGAME. Within 10 minutes a truck pulled over and the four of us jumped in. We squeezed into the back and had to crane our necks to fit in the back bed. However, Jordan was pretty happy in the front seat.
A little more than an hour down the road our ride let us out and told us that if we needed a place to stay we were more than welcome in their home. This genuine offer became a theme of the entire trip.
Cem befriended a man at the dolmuş stop (a kind of shared taxi that run routes all over Turkey) who ended up taking us into Bergame other wise known as Pergamon. Mehmet, our friendly guide, took us to see several ruins of Pergamon and even treated us to coffee and tea. Again, this kind of Turkish hospitality was so prevalent during our entire journey it was overwhelming.
We said goodbye to Mehmet as he left us at the bus station where we purchased our tickets for Izmir. Of course he could not leave without giving us another gift; a huge bag of dried figs. Delicious.
When we arrived in Izmir Cem had to leave us to return to Istanbul for work. We said our goodbyes and waited for a CouchSurfing friend/host to meet us.
Our lovely host Gözde came and took us to her friend’s apartment who was out of town. She gave us the keys and told us that we would meet tomorrow.
The view was quite exceptional even with the fog and rain. However, this was not an ideal hitchhiking day. We decided to stay in Izmir another night and I am very happy we did.
Even in the rain Izmir is a very cool town. And we were so lucky to have such a wonderful host to show us around. Things were much cheaper compared to Istanbul and like most beach towns the people seemed more relaxed and friendly.
I even got to see friends of a friends from Dallas! What a small world!!!
Our final morning in Izmir, Gözde’s courteous mother dropped us off at a gas station where we assumed the stance, put out our thumbs, and held up our sign for ANTALYA – where we initially thought we were heading…
PART II COMING SOON!!!