After finishing high school in Costa Rica, yet uncertain about where to go from there, I decided to take a gap year to figure what to do with my life. I did a bit of everything really, from working at the motherland’s glass company, to traveling, to answering phones, to doing nothing but reading for days. One of those days a friend of mine tagged me on a Facebook post where an “internship,” more like a voluntary program, was randomly published. At first I thought “why not?” All I really wanted was traveling, seeing other places, and meeting other people more than just getting straight to college with little idea of what to do with my life. The program, took a lot of my summer time back then. I saw my friends and some of my family getting into colleges while I was going somewhere I had no idea how to pronounce its name.
Denizli, is a city on the West part of Turkey, is where the program was supposed to take place. I remember walking into the Turkish Embassy in Mexico City only holding a piece of paper downloaded from the Internet with a certain “approval message” they sent me soon after I finished my application. The consulate’s face was certainly the most fun of all. Maybe he thought I had no idea where I was going to get into. To be honest, I had no idea either, but I didn’t really care. I was there to learn. I was there to discover.
Approximately a ten hours flight from Mexico City to Frankfurt, a three hours flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul, a night at Istanbul’s airport, and an hour flight from Istanbul to Denizli, I arrived to the regional airport where a lady covered in a veil received me. She greeted me in English and asked me if I had seen a French guy with whom I was supposed to share the flight. “I’ve seen a lot of people, pretty much from everywhere on my way here” I said. “Have you tried to call him?” Maybe it was a cultural difference in my tone or something but she was unexpectedly angry.
Turkey’s countryside on the summer is hot. I mean, really hot. It’s almost a desert if no sea is around to calm the heat down with some breeze and cold drinks or whatever. You can clearly see that, because of the heat accumulated into the road, when the night comes, there is thin line of fog that covers a purple skyline of the desert, across the horizon. I say desert probably without actually knowing that it is a desert but it totally looked like one. I was in this desert when she asked me to wait close by the car, maybe the French guy would arrive later on. A couple of hours later, when he finally arrived, we moved to the city.
After assigning a place to stay and giving us some food, they took us to one of the most culturally shocking experiences I had there. Sünet is a celebration traditionally hosted during spring and summer times because the weather allows it. We got to someone’s party without previous announcement or invitation for that matter. I was expecting the tradicional “looks” someone is to expect when not invited to a party. But it was all the opposite, they took us in and gave us countless amounts of food served in the middle of a rounded table where all of us where sitting together. Good food. Good people.
It was here where I met Levan. One of the craziest men I’ve ever met in my life. Around 1.60 meters, chubby, white faced from Georgia. He explicitly established that he wasn’t from Georgia the state but Georgia the country. He had a quasi-typical ex-Soviet face that was hungry and thirsty. I could see it. So I asked him, “why so tired? How long is it from here to Tbilisi?” To what he said, “I’m not coming from Georgia. I just crossed the border with Iran.” I knew this guy was crazy but I didn’t know up to what extent. We continued talking about travelling, about how excited we were to meet each other, and about other things in general. After all, we were all coming from around the world.
Soon after the program began, we had our first “break” from work. So I really wanted to take advantage of it. If you have traveled with me, you might have recognised the pattern that I regularly make use of scare amount of economic resources. Not because I don’t want to spend it, but because I simply don’t have it. So, I thought that travelling around was impossible, maybe, just maybe if I get a cheap bus from the city to the shore. Maybe if I ask one of these “internship” guys to give me a ride to the south for a small amount of money. I don’t know. I was caught up down guarded by Levan when he came into the conference room and asked me: “What are you going to do with your time?” To which I explained about the whole money situation and about other things I had to take care of before traveling, like where to stay when coming back and the rest. He immediately interrupted me by purposing that we should go to the East of the country to meet the Aegean Sea in the coast. Obviously, not only did I consider him crazy but I had also evidence to sustain the claim that he was deaf.
Little did I know he would introduce me to one of the skills I through I never would have had to use again. But I liked it so much that now it now seems almost like it happened yesterday. He taught me how to hitchhike.
We began out journey by calculating distances, writing signs, stealing some food from the cafeteria of the program… This was going to be one of those trips where a shoestring means something expensive. I liked that. Not because of money itself but because it was something I had never done. Levan wrote in pieces of paper “AYDEN” only to show to the cars where were we going. The first part of it was the hardest, catching a car.
I had no idea how complicated it was going to be. It seems like in the movies, and some other TV shows, just being picked up is easy but in real life is not. We had to go to the north suburbs of the city, where we sat for a while outside a gas station. We waited there for approximately 30 minutes just seeing cars passing by. A grey one, driven by a long hair guy with very little English turned around and told us to jump in. He said that he was a father and had two sons in Europe. He believed that at some point both his sons where going to have to do what we were doing, hitchhiking. I guess he felt empathy for us or whatever but he gave us food and drove us to the intersection where another car would have to pick us up.
This is the downside about hitchhiking. You can never count on being picked up for certain because you never know if this will happen. What we did know is that we had some time to go to the beach and we still had some kilometres to cover. Another car, driven by a 20-something years old Turkish boy with loud hip-hop picked us up and drove us all the way to the beach. I cannot begin to tell how wonderful that was. I’ve never seen a beach ruled by the actual god Poseidon. What a culture. What a weekend.
At the end of the day, walking back from the beach to the highway, we didn’t have that much of fortune I guess. Nobody picked us up. I mean, literally no one stopped their car to pick two guys up. It wasn’t until a big trailer pulled over and let us in. What an adventure. Did you know that they had kitchen, bed, couches, and pretty much everything that a small apartment would have on the main cabin? Maybe that’s the reason why they travel so far. But for us, it felt like heaven.