Position: 41° 03’ 06” North 28° 59’21” (Istanbul)
Distance from Sydney: 15,080km
It was the text message that I had hoped I would never send. It was midnight, in Istanbul, and I was sending the text message to Andres as I stood on the empty street looking at where I’d left Magda parked 5 hours earlier. I felt a mixture of shock, nausea and fear. Was this the end of the trip? I desperately texted the location tracking device onboard Magda, but got no reply. Something was very wrong. How had it come to this?
A week earlier we had been kicking back on Mykonos, in the Greek Cyclades islands. We’d arrived for a few days to chill after tearing through Europe. It was totally relaxing (except for the short drive from the ferry to the hotel, where the mad motorcycle riding by tourists without helmets left me continually uneasy I would kill someone without even noticing).
We’d tried to work some ferry schedules for the spectacular Santorini but things didn’t gel, and we had to skip it. Our plan was to work our way across to one of the few Turkish border ports, and ferry Magda directly into Turkey that way. It seems that we are about the only people who want to take a car to Turkey by boat, and our options were pretty much limited. In our (ok my) typical approach, we booked at the last minute and couldn’t get a cabin. We’d seen plenty of backpackers sleeping around ships, and decided we could match it with the best of them. We would ferry from Mykonos to Syros, a major port in the islands, and then do an overnight ferry from Syros to Kos, before getting our final ferry from Kos into the Turkish port of Bodrum.
Biggest. Mistake. Ever.
It was Friday night, opening night of the Olympics. After ferrying to Syros, and spending a lazy afternoon snorkelling from a near deserted cove on Syros while we waited, we boarded and found our way to the aircraft style seats that were ours for the night. The lounge was packed with screaming kids, stressed looking parents, and snoozing backpackers nursing their huge bags. Next to us the largest man I’ve ever seen snored wheezed and choked, and I was sure he wouldn’t make it through the night. The Olympic opening ceremony blared from the screen in front in excitable Greek. The PA system (with a musical tone that was slightly more alarming than World War 2 air-raid siren) would chime incessantly.
I’ve always been a light sleeper, and while my ability to sleep has already increased hugely on this trip, I decided I was no match for the lounge, and I left Andres to hunt out another spot to sleep. After scouring the ship for nooks and crannies, I decided to try the outside deck towards the top of the ship. I faced a dilemma: on the downwind side, the fumes from the funnel above made me uneasy that if I didn’t die of asphyxiation, then I would at least wake up smelling like I’d been working on an oil refinery. So I tried the upwind side, and jumped into my sleeping bag inner near a number of other non-descript sleeping bundles. The night was warm, I’d brought my pillow, and there was no noise.
Apart from the wind. Which there was quite a lot of.
It would catch under the sleeping bag and lift it up. It would get the edge of the pillow and flap it against my head until I gave in and tucked the pillow. I tried to convince myself it was soothing, like a massage, and that I would be asleep in no time. But in reality it was like sleeping through a hurricane. After an hour I admitted defeat and returned to the lounge to see what was happening there. The bad news was that huge guy was still alive and snoring/clinging on to life as loudly as ever. I spotted a dark corner by the window, put my earplugs in, and settled in for a restless night.
We disembarked the next morning at 6:30, headed for a shady spot behind a beach in the trees, put the roof tent up and went straight to sleep for 3 hours. I love the rooftent. After getting our daily swimming and snorkelling fix, and we headed back to the main town to look for the ferry that would take us to Turkey.
The car ferries we’ve been on have been fairly consistent, from Dover, Croatia, Italy and Greece. Large multi deck ships, with cabins, restaurants, bars, shops. The Italian one even featured a live singer, crooning our way across the Adriatic to the accompaniment of his laptop (though I suspect all he did was stop the backpackers from getting any sleep in the bar). So we were a little confused as we peered through the gate at the Turkish ferries wharf. There were two small boats, about half the size of the Manly ferry (for Australians). We noticed that one of them had a small ramp on the back, and might be able to fit one car.
But I have to admit there was another reason behind my unease. On our previous ferry trips, I’d discovered that height added significant cost to shipping Magda. With larger tyres and the roof tent, Magda was topping out at about 2.05 to 2.10 metres. However I found that if I accidentally mistyped the height of Magda when I booked, no one ever checked, and we’d be ushered on to each ferry without a question. My accidental mistyping of the height had saved me hundreds over the past month, but now, faced with a ferry that was only about twice the size of Magda, I was a little uneasy that with my accidental mistyping I might have been too cunning for my own good, and we wouldn’t actually fit on.
We cleared immigration, customs went through Magda’s paperwork, and we were given the all clear to bring Magda onto the ship. To my growing discomfort there was already another car loaded, leaving even less space for Magda and I think the ferry master was looking at us as uneasily as I was looking at him. The other car was shuffled further forward, and there was a bunch of Turkish yelling and hand waving as they discussed whether they should load the cars side by side instead. I meanwhile tried to stand on tippy toes to make Magda look shorter. I’m pretty sure it worked. We squeezed Magda on, spare wheel hanging preventing the rear ramp from closing properly. The master told me to pull the parking brake on hard, he didn’t need to ask me twice… With a cloud of diesel smoke we were off to Bodrum, Turkey!
Our bad run with non EU borders continued. Again, we needed to purchase green card insurance, which every site on the web had told me could be done on each border. Initially things looked good, we were given the price, paid, and everything was underway. Eventually however we were told that “the computers were down, come back tomorrow morning at 11am”. It was 6pm anyway, and we were spending the night there, so we weren’t too fussed. It was Saturday night, and unexpectedly Bodrum turned out to be a bit of a Turkish party town.
Any party plans however were cut short by a trip to the medical centre… My obsession with going for ocean swims every day had caught up with me, and one of my ears had been partially blocked for the last day and a half, and I’d been hopping around like a maniac trying to clear the water. The doctors took one look and announced I had an ear infection and got stuck in. They cleaned it out (disgusting) filled me up with antibiotics and drops and sent me on my way.
The next morning we headed to the port again to get Magda. “No, the computer still down, you come back tomorrow”. I started to get ratty. “What computer is down?” The customs computer apparently. “Ok so how had the other car managed to clear customs yesterday?” Turkish arguing and hand waving between themselves. Ok not customs computer, the insurance computer is down. “Can we use another insurance computer?” No all Turkish insurance is dependent on the main computer apparently. Whether any of this was actually true we will never know. We suspected that it had more to do with the fact it was the weekend and nothing much moved quickly. The next morning everything moved quickly and a day and a half after we arrived at the border we were finally through… These things have to get smoother….
Over the next few days we headed north, via the amazing Calcium cliffs at Pamukkale, and via lakes near Iznik. We were travelling fast to catch my friends Deb and Rob in Istanbul, and make up for time lost getting through Bodrum. We had a glimpse of Turkish driving in the smaller towns, but nothing compared to Istanbul. There were a number of rules to follow: Don’t indicate (it gives away your intentions). Attempt all manoeuvres from the least practical lane possible. Toot. A lot. Do everything has fast as you can. We headed towards our hotel to find it in a cobble-stoned street with no parking around. We started the hunt for parking, and I had a nasty feeling it was going to take us around 2 days to find a spot. However as we arrived at the end of the street we struck gold, and we found a park right in front of us. It was tight but I was determined and we squeezed Magda in.
Feeling pleased with ourselves we showered and headed out to dinner with my friends. Heading back to the hotel we asked reception about parking in the area. He told us that the streets were very bad to park in, that we should bring our car to the street out the front of the hotel, and they would look after it. And this is how I came to be standing on an empty street looking at where Magda should have been.
I went back to the hotel, and explained what had happened to our friend on reception. He immediately started shaking his head, “oh very bad, very very bad”. Not the most comforting thing to hear. I was trying to work out whether it was more likely that the car had been towed or stolen, but he was on it already. Within a few calls he had located Magda at one of the nearby yards where illegally parked cars get towed to. He had a cab around the front, gave the driver a bunch of instructions, and we were on our way through the suburbs. It was 1am when we found ourselves outside a gloomy yard full of cars, with a dimly lit office in the corner. However the guard inside obviously knew the “tourists” were coming, and he wrote down what we needed to pay ($40 bucks! A steal compared to what we’d have to pay in Australia) and Magda was ours again, and we headed back to the hotel. This time we parked out front and handed to keys to our friend to look after.
All’s well that ends well, but I’d learnt my lesson. Yes, check for the tow truck sign before you illegally park.
Be more cunning in your illegal parking.
Seek Andres’ opinion on the parking spot and thereby make him a party to any drama than follows.
Briefly consider a car park next time. Done.