His steely eyes surveyed me through a sea of stubble (his five o’clock shadow grew well past the usual demarcation lines), as he slung my overly heavy backpack into the deep hole beneath the bus, one November in Turkey.
He grunted and jerked his head towards the door. I watched him watch me climb the stairs and then I turned to face the aisle. I was hit by a choking river of smoke. Some thirty or so pairs of eyes peered out at me as I made my way up the bus.
I secured myself a window seat; a window that didn’t open. Resting my cheek against the cool glass offered little relief from the heat of my forehead. The driver slid into his seat, pulled a big lever and locked us into his silver vessel of smoke, sweat and stale air, where we’d stay for the next 15 hours or so, as the bus headed for Thessaloniki.
I was leaving Istanbul with a light heart, two heavy carpets, and a stress headache.
Departure time was 8.00pm, and not long after leaving Buyuk Otogar, (the main bus terminal in Istanbul), the driver kindly supplied us with some music for our travelling entertainment. It didn’t seem to concern him that most passengers had pinned their hopes on trying to sleep throughout this night long journey and could have done without the tinny tones from his transistor.
Just in case anyone managed to nod off the co-driver undertook refreshment duties by walking up and down the aisle every few hours splashing us with a pungent eau de cologne; a scent that temporarily overpowered the smells of stale cigarettes, tired bodies and bitter oranges.
Perhaps they were trying to keep us alert for the impending border crossing into Greece, just past the Turkish town of Ipsala, where for several hours we had our adrenal glands worn down by armed Greek guards who contemplated our ‘Turkish’ motives for proceeding into their territory. It was here I discovered that I was the only English speaker on board – my mad muttering and swearing under my breath remained untranslated and my wide-eyed questioning remained unanswered.
In the small hours of the morning, after hours of waiting and bag searches, the cologne had all but worn off as the bus quietly crept into Greece and stopped at Alexandroupolis (about forty kilometres down the road) for a meal break and a reality check.
This scary, but eventful journey marked the end of 3 of the most exhilarating, unplanned weeks of my young life, during one November in Turkey.
(to be continued…)