In the last three weeks we’ve logged 1300 kilometers in long haul Turkish buses.
While it isn’t as luxurious as Argentina’s, the Turkish bus system lives up to its reputation of being safe, modern, efficient, and–
Here are some our roll-along Turkish delights:
The Big Sendoff
It’s common for one traveller to be accompanied to the station by 20-30 family members. Feel free to cry, everyone’s doing it. We’ve seen more than one person wrapped in the Turkish flag for departure. Yep, a big red patriotic cape.
Bands ply the larger stations, creating a cacophony-for-hire of drums and cymbals, and in southeastern Anatolia a double reed oboe-like instrument that might be used in India to charm snakes. When these bands and their crowds get warmed up, it can be a real tribal hoedown, with women ululating, impromptu folk singing, and euphoric dancing.
At one big sendoff in Ankara, a young male traveller was swept off his feet and thrown into the air three times by the crowd. He appearted to find this as surprising as we did.
Snacks and Sips
The Turkish bus system–we’ve used three carriers, there are dozens–has granted us access to all manner of junk food to which we might not otherwise have access.
Why? Because on every long-haul Turkish buses have a small, uniformed young Turk who doubles as conductor and waiter.
The waiter part of his duties involve:
1) Squeezing a hand-sanitizer/after-shave product into the hands of anyone that wants it.
2) Plying everyone with a round of cold drinks. No alcohol, of course, but there is always some bottled water, fruit nectar of some kind, and sodas of various kinds. The Turkish version of Limonata is very nice and sour cherry is my favorite nectar.
3) Putting salty and/or sugary snacks into everyone’s hands. Sometimes you haven’t any choice, sometimes you have oodles of choice. Perhaps an airier, crisper, more satisfying version of the Ritz cracker? Or maybe a lush chocolate dough round (It was so moist I hate to call it a cookie) studded with bits of real Turkish hazelnut? Or maybe you’re up for a Turkish Twinkie? That would be filled with one of the local variants of Nutella, of course!
4) Plying everyone with a round of hot drinks. Tea is the most common and most requested offering, of course, but Alison’s favorite is called “3-In-1” which is a powerful little packet containing instant coffee, instant creamer, and dose of sugar that would make a dentist smile. (A side note: the bus is almost the only place in Turkey–besides a European hotel–you will ever see a tea bag. Though tea is the national drink, it’s almost exclusively brewed loose leaf in vast pots to extraordinary concentrations.)
5) Repeating the service irregularly and on demand.
Every long-haul bus we’ve ridden provides video monitors in the back of every headrest.
Metro–our first carrier and Alison’s favorite–offered second second run movies in multiple languages. The only drawback was when the English subtitles for The Hunger Games could not be removed from Captain Phillips. Cognitive dissonance! Other bus companies have a larger number of movies, but only with Turkish overdub.
Astor, or final carrier and my favorite, won my vote because on the 20 hour haul from Sanliurfa to Istanbul, they showed World Cup soccer matches, live. They also had a powered USB connector with every screen so folks like me could charge their cell phones.
Little worlds blossom inside big systems and Turkish bus system has some gems in its midst.
One I call “shine while you dine.” Buses do stop for meals, and every place they stop has a team of guys with hoses, brushes, and soap who wash first the windshield and the rest of the bus if time allows. They do it even in the rain. It’s the ritual cleanliness of Islam in action. I haven’t figured out if the bus company pays the cleaning crew or the restaurants pay in order to draw in buses.
Another I call “pickup perfect.” Local transport in Turkey is provided by independant minibuses. If you’re a country resident and need to get to a big city, you needn’t travel to progressively bigger hubs to reach Ankara or Istanbul. Instead, your minibus driver phones the big bus company, who tells the minibus which exit and at what time their long haul bus is likely to be there. Then central calls the bus in route and lets them know about the pickup. The minibus takes you to the pickup point, sees you safely aboard, and, I presume, makes a percentage of your ticket price. It’s such a time saver that you beam when you climb aboard, even if it’s 2 A.M.
No matter where you’re going in Turkey, if it’s a long haul you can enjoy the ride.
Written on my IPhone,