The woman in front of me in the bus is screaming at the driver. In Turkish. I’m thinking it’s Turkish because we’re in Turkey and I assume the driver is Turkish. After she has finished raging, she sits down again. My mate and I look at each other. We’re not happy, either.
It is almost midnight. We expected to be on this bus no more than ten minutes and it’s been over half an hour now. We’ve left the lights of civilization behind us and are driving through dark countryside. I have no idea where we are. Ten minutes ago we stopped for gas. It was not a good omen.
I wait a moment to let the woman in front of me catch her breath, then lean forward and tap her on the shoulder.
“Does he know how much farther?” I ask in English.
We’re an international tribe of travelers on this bus. Nobody knows anybody else. Nobody knows where we’re going.
For one reason or another, we’ve all been stranded at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and have been offered a night in a hotel by the airline, free of charge. This sounded good a while ago, but after waiting for more than an hour to even get on this bus, and now driving Allah knows where, this is beginning to lose its appeal.
We’ve been on vacation on the southwest coast of Turkey and all we want to do now is go home to Moldova, where we live our expat life, but the next flight over there isn’t until tomorrow evening.
The woman turns her head to answer me. “No!” she says. “He’s following a van in front! He doesn’t know where we are going! And I have to be back at the airport at 4!”
Since it’s after midnight now, this does not sound good for her getting any sleep.
How far do you have to go for a hotel near Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport? Or in Istanbul proper? It’s not even the tourist season. Surely there are rooms available nearby.
“The hotels can’t all be full,” I say to my prince sitting next to me. “Unless there’s some huge event we’ve not heard about. Where could they be taking us?”
“Maybe Syria. I hear they have a lot of vacancies.”
Maybe the bus is being hijacked. Maybe we’re taken to some obscure hideaway in the Turkish hinterlands and held for ransom. My imagination is running wild, which it does easily and with abandon. I am, after all, a writer. Really, imagine: a whole bus of foreigners from all corners of the world, kidnapped. Just think about it. I can write the newspaper headlines. I’m sure, dear reader, so can you.
It’s quiet in the bus for another fifteen minutes while we all (I assume) contemplate our possible fate. Then the woman in front of me gets up once more and starts screaming at the bus driver again. She is now joined by a number of others in a variety of languages and accents. The driver is yelling back. We have a mini riot on the bus and the air trembles with international rage and decibels. I’m fascinated. I’ve never been close to a riot before, so now I can scratch that off my list. I would love to show you a photo, but it does not seem an opportune moment to take out my camera and start shooting pictures of people in the throes of fury.
Exhausted, everyone sits down again. Nobody overpowered the driver and took control. We drive on in the dark Turkish night.
I look outside and try to calm my imagination. There is nothing to see outside and this does not help. I’m grateful for one thing: I went to the restroom before getting on the bus.
And then I remember: In my suitcase I have a bag full of “blue eyes” (Nazar Boncugu) to give away as presents. A bag full of powerful amulets! Surely that should ward off lots of evil and bad energy, don’t you think?
Fifteen more minutes pass. It’s an hour into the journey now. Then we hit what feels like an unpaved road, or a dirt track. Outside the window bushes and greenery are close by. This does not give me hope. I can see how this would look on a movie screen, with spine-chilling music playing in the background. We’re being taken to some hidden bush place nobody knows about. Even a bag full of amulets isn’t helping.
Then we see lights. And walls and windows and big double doors. Lots of light.
It’s a resort hotel.
The atmosphere in the bus changes dramatically, and we all scramble to get off as fast as we can.
My man and I are given a two-room suite, huge bed, huge bathroom, huge sitting room. The view from the windows? We don’t see it until the next morning: The Sea of Marmara. We’re in a full-service resort, way west of Istanbul, so tells us the information we find in the room.
We spend the day roaming around the place, bemoaning the fact that we’ve lost the chance to spend the day exploring Istanbul instead, which had been our plan. Then again, we could have been herded into a cow shed and held for ransom, so really, I’m not complaining.
In spite of all its comforts and marble, the resort is no Club Med. It has a sort of stuffy, pompous old world ambiance, a faded glory lacking in real charm. But it has several pools, a gym, and a spa offering a full range of treatments, some rather mysterious to me. And since the vacation season has not yet started, the only people in the place are the ones on our bus. And none of us is interested in all these amenities apart from a bed and a shower and a ride back to the airport. How sad, really. A useless freebee.
We are offered breakfast and lunch, and that evening we board a plane back home to Moldova. Would you call that an anti-climax?
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Do you have an airport or travel story? Sure, you do!