So I decided to go to Turkey again for Easter break. This time I decided to take the much talked about bus ride to Turkey. The bus ride is billed as economical, but there have been mixed opinions as to the results in terms of ‘was it worth it’. Instead of going to Istanbul, perhaps the fact that I was going to Ankara would make the trip more bearable; scheduled for 15 hours.
I bought my ticket the Sunday before while in Batumi with Marta for the daytrip. When I returned to the station on Wednesday, they recognized me and waved me into the office.
The bus station situation is a spectacle to say the least. There are no less than twenty bus offices side my side soliciting for the same thing. “Istanbul!” “Ankara!” “Tbilisi!” They are cousin to the taxi drivers that wait outside of airports and train stations. Even if you go into one, they invariably shuffle you into another (the accurate) station.
I knew the bus station I was looking for- Luks Karadeniz. I found it and with the help of Marta, secured my ticket for Wednesday.
I waited in the original office for a couple of minutes, and then they escorted me down to the Luz Office. I arrived at the station with half an hour until departure. Which was extremely fortunate. The travel time by marshrutka to Batumi is an hour. But on the way there was a wreck between a truck and van. The traffic lasted for an hour. If I didn’t leave with some cushion, I would have missed the bus.
A guy I took for the assistant, asked me what I imagined to be had I paid already. I indicated that I did, and he asked how much. I wrote ‘65’ on a sheet of paper. Then things got really hectic. I was seating down when the girl who sold me the ticket came in. She had a conversation with the desk guys. She then turned to me and started trying to communicate something about money. The first idea was they were trying to have me pay more for the ticket… like 55 dollars more. I protested, but they assured me that’s not what they were trying to say. Then I got the idea they were trying to tell me that I didn’t pay enough and owed them 5 bucks. I protested again and pointed to the paper. Then I got the idea that they were trying to tell me I paid too much. Well that was good news! They owed ME 5 bucks! That wasn’t it either.
By this time everybody was frustrated. Finally, the girl wrote 20 on the paper three times. And pointed to me. This I gathered meant that I only paid her 60 bucks. “No!”, I said. I wrote another 20 on the paper, then a 15 and an arrow pointed to her. I paid her 80 and she gave me 15 in change. She protested this and said it wasn’t true. This then was the heart of the matter. She pocketed 5 bucks and was trying to say that I didn’t pay 65.
Argue, argue, argue…
Finally, the desk clerks told me “No problem” and I should sit down. I was shocked and frustrated that she tried to get over on the company AND call me a liar to my face. Wow.
The bus finally came and the trip began.
It was a comfortable tour bus. I settled into a seat alone. I had prepared entertainment for the trip; reading material, movies on a USB drive and songs on my iPod. At first I was conflicted as to what to do first, but fortunately the view kept me distracted. To the left of the highway was the edge of the Lesser Caucus Mountains. To the right was the Black Sea coast and a setting sun in the background. I also dozed in and out until we got to the border.
Each tour bus I noticed had two attendants. One is for serving the snacks and drinks, the other is for… well, I don’t know, helping the driver back the bus up, I guess. As we neared the border the snack lady started talking to the entire bus giving directions to what I imagine were instructions on what to do to get through customs. I didn’t understand a word, so I closed my eyes again. Once at the border, she told everybody to get off. She must have sensed my anxiety increase (or just had planned on this all along) because after making eye contact with me, she motioned for me to follow her. Off the bus, she told me to stay close to her, and she personally escorted me through passport control.
She was a very feisty and energetic lady. She socialized with all the passengers and yelled when necessary at the driver. Once through the first checkpoint of passport control, she took me back to the bus. I thought she inadvertently took me to an identical bus going to Istanbul.
“Chanta?”, she asked as she pointed to the bus. I knew what she was asking, but I was concentrating to make sure I didn’t get on the wrong bus. “No”, I replied and shook my head for effect. She looked at me funny, then asked again. I tried to tell her that my bags were not on the bus. She gave me one more look of bewilderment, and then escorted me to the other side of the bus where the baggage was stored and stood beside the three remaining bags. “Oh….”, I said as I rapidly got my bag out of the bus. “OHHH, CHANNNTTTAAAA”, she mocked. (I swear those busses looked the same.)
We went through two more passport checkpoints before we could get back on the bus. Once back on, we all settled in for the long ride to Ankara.
In the middle of the night, at a rest stop, our bus was boarded by a policeman scanning for passports. He was very serious looking. When he reached me, he saw I had one of my bags with me. “Chanta!”, he demanded. The bus lady looked at me and was going to repeat what he wanted, but I got it. I swiftly opened my bag and he was satisfied.
We made intermittent stops for rest breaks and to pick up/ drop off passengers, but other than that, we made great time to Ankara. The trip wasn’t painful at all. Actually, I would even consider using the bus method to travel to Istanbul, too.
“Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk”
Rosa Parks, Outkast