Out With A Bang
Our last night in Istanbul was like all the others. Strolling down bustling streets, peering into shop windows, drooling over the sticky baklava. We had decided to conclude our city escape with some drinks on a rooftop terrace a few blocks from our hotel. The setting was perfect…an unbelievably beautiful skyline, clear skies, and Jupiter and Venus gazing down from the heavens. Not long after we arrived, we happened to notice a plume of what appeared to be jet-black smoke pouring from the windows of the building opposite us. It wasn’t until we actually witnessed the building burst into flames that we realized this wasn’t going to be any ordinary last night in Istanbul. Over the next 2 hours, we drank a considerable amount of beer as we witnessed a raging fire fiercely devour an abandoned yet beautiful building. I couldn’t escape this feeling of helplessness mixed with fear and awe as I looked on at the firemen fighting a seemingly losing battle. At times I couldn’t believe my eyes, but even at our safe distance, the heat from the blaze and the sting from the smoke made it all too real. The next morning we returned to the scene to find a once romantic blue building standing scarred and defeated.
The second part of our vacation brought us to Cappadocia in the region of Anatolia in central Turkey. Wildly different from Istanbul in every sense of the word, Cappadocia is a wonderland of rugged beauty. We decided the area was best experienced on two wheels, so we rented a scooter for two days. The first day was picture perfect…no wrong turns and freedom to explore on our own terms. The same cannot be said for the second day. My first clue should have been the uneasy feeling I felt from the moment we woke up Friday morning. Nevertheless, we set to the roads after breakfast to discover what else the area had to offer. Along the way there were other minor mishaps that should have indicated “disaster ahead”, but as they say, “hindsight is 20/20”. Just on the outskirts of Mazi, home to an amazing underground city, I decided to hop off the bike to take some pictures of the surrounding area. Jeff continued a little further up the road, but when he hadn’t returned after a couple of minutes, I wheeled around to find him picking himself up off the ground. He had hit one of the many potholes on the road, lost control, and dumped the bike…no jacket, no gloves, no protection but a helmet. He was pulling up his right sleeve just as I approached to find a four inch slice of skin a quarter inch thick dangling from his forearm. Immediately I went into flight mode screaming “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”, whereas Jeff switched into fight mode. I calmed down long enough to use my scarf as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and we hopped on the bike to make the 40 km trek back to civilization. Let it be said that this was the LONGEST RIDE EVER as I did my best to keep calm and Jeff to stay conscious. The hospital was easy enough to find, and it’s here that our story takes on another level of insanity.
In this part of Turkey, when an accident occurs outside of a city, the report must be filed by the military police. That being said, while Jeff was lying face down in a room in the ER being poked and prodded and stitched (which seemingly was open to public viewing), I was interrogated by three men in uniform, two of whom spoke no English. You can imagine that much of my story was recounted in gestures, and at a point I felt like I was playing a game of life or death charades. My animated story was recorded in Turkish, and I’m still not entirely sure what was actually communicated and documented. After what seemed like an eternity, Jeff emerged from his own ridiculous scenario battered and bruised but alive and relatively well. Freedom was ours, right? WRONG. We left the hospital not to return home, but to the military base escorted by our three army friends. We were led to an office where our stories were then put into the system, but not a word was spoken to us directly. Jeff and I were left to stare at each other blankly, not understanding what we were actually doing there. An hour and a couple of glasses of tea later, we were suddenly shaking hands with the sergeant which signalled the end of our debacle.
Our return flight from Istanbul included a brief layover in Zurich, but upon arrival at the check-in counter, immigration officers had other plans for us. Because we are residents of Spain, we had to provide valid documentation for which we thought we were prepared. The trouble is, we are still waiting for the arrival of our new cards, but the documentation we provided was supposed to explain our situation and provide proof that our papers are being processed. Unfortunately, according to these particular immigration officers, the documentation we provided was not acceptable and therefore they could not let us fly. SERIOUSLY?!? No amount of tears, explanation, or phone calls would cause them to budge. For a moment it seemed we were stranded in Turkey when all we wanted to do was go home! The Swiss Air counter rep couldn’t help us, Iberia didn’t have an available flight to Barcelona until the following weekend, but Turkish Airlines actually had seats available on a direct flight to Barcelona, and while it would set us back a few hundred euros, we bought two tickets and 9 hours later arrived home, exhausted but relieved.
Many people have told us we should write a book about our travel experiences. Consider this just the beginning.