As you could read in the first part of our one year of hitchhiking story, we kind of speeded through Europe. That became completely different when we entered Turkey. We took our time in this country, almost nine full months – yep, almost as long as a pregnancy. This allowed us to really immerse ourselves in the culture and experience life on a daily basis.
Lately people avoid visiting Turkey. They’re scared or they don’t want to travel there out of political disagreement. What they forget is that this is affecting everybody in Turkey, not only the politicians that they disagree with – so yeah, a huge majority of the population. If you’ve been following the news lately, there are terrible things happening EVERYWHERE in the world, even in places that are deemed as “safe” – Europe, USA,…
Turkey was so dangerous that we overstayed our tourist visa by nearly six months. The biggest hazard we came across was gaining weight from the countless invitations to share meals with everybody that crossed our path.
A boat that rocked my feelings
We set foot on Turkish soil halfway January 2016. We arrived in a little ferry that brought us from Rhodes, one of the Greek islands, to the small port of Marmaris. The crossing was rough. Not only did a big storm rock the little boat (and my stomach) severely up and down, I also went through a whirlwind of emotions. We were about to enter a new continent and although I was very excited about this, the realization that I wouldn’t return to Europe, my ‘home’, for a very long time hit me quite hard. It meant I wouldn’t see my friends and family for a very long time.
I had been traveling for five years before starting this hitchhiking odyssey and I was used to not seeing my loved ones for a long time. I always tried to visit them at least once a year but now I wouldn’t be able to hug them for a minimum of five years. Every kilometer I was hitchhiking was bringing me further away from them. The goal of traveling across the world without flying also includes not boarding an airplane back to Belgium… Although my family understands my reasons for doing this – and they are my biggest supporters, it’s sometimes hard to be far away from them. Man, I’m happy that some geniuses invented Skype!!
As soon as we arrived on the Turkish shore, those melancholic feelings soon disappeared and were replaced by a thrilling buzz. A huge Turkish flag was blowing in the wind, surrounded by big signs with “Hoşgeldiniz”(Turkish for welcome) written all over them. This was it! The moment we had been daydreaming about ever since we started planning this journey in Ireland, spending our nights learning Turkish in a little caravan. You would be surprised by what you can do and learn when you put your mind to it and you don’t have wi-fi or TV to procrastinate. Finally we could practice our Turkish language skills. Niko, an obsessed language learner , was bursting with enthusiasm.
Our first hitchhiking ride
Despite the fact that we have some pretty good hitchhiking skills under our belt, we always feel slightly uncomfortable when hitchhiking for the first time in a new country. It’s not that we are afraid of meeting the “wrong” people. We strongly belief that if we set good intentions, good people will come on our path. I even have a ritual of making affirmations in my mind and so far it has always worked out very well, even during the time I was hitchhiking on my own. So when we stuck out our thumbs for the first time on the side of a Turkish road, we were a bit nervous about how our first contact with the locals would go.
Within ten minutes a small red car stopped beside us. The driver introduced himself as Mustafa. He was a retired police officer who was now running a chicken farm. The boot of his car was filled with eggs so we had to be careful not to break any while we squeezed our bags in the tiny space. Mustafa was super friendly. He was impressed by Niko’s knowledge of the Turkish language and the two kept on chatting while I enjoyed the beautiful scenery from the backseat. Mustafa noticed that I was filming and trying to take photos and he stopped a few times at some great viewpoints so I could take proper pictures.
Halfway the ride Mustafa pulled up at a small restaurant. He treated us to a few cups of tea and lahmacun, something like a Turkish pizza. We thought we were incredibly lucky of meeting this hospitable man but little did we know this was just the start of the kindness we would come across. When he dropped us off, it was pouring with rain. Mustafa felt bad that he had to leave us outside in this bad weather and gave us his umbrella and put his hat on Niko’s head. We wanted to refuse but he insisted that we took those with us. The umbrella and hat eventually became very handy and we traveled quite some distance with them!
Misafirperver – Be our guest!
We heard that hitchhiking in Turkey was easy and famous for its hospitality (misafirperver in Turkish) but we never expected kindness on this scale. The Turks love foreigners and will quickly stop for hitchhikers. We often had moments where we got out of one car and another one had already stopped for us. We even had to turn a few rides down so that we would have the time to film our vlogs. We were traveling on a small budget as our trip through Europe had eaten a big chunk of it. But even if we wouldn’t have had any money, we would definitely not have starved to death. On the contrary, we got invited for so many meals that I had to open the belt of my jeans to give my growing belly some air in my normally loose-fitting trousers! At some point Niko was even worried I was pregnant…You’ll see in this video what I’m talking about.
People who tell you that the world is dangerous or bad, often live in a little box and are getting brainwashed by all the negative media. There are still many beautiful things happening and genuinely good people! Turkey was a great example: we got help when we least expected it, when we were sick or got lost. You can read more about it in The Kindness of Strangers. One day Niko was chatting so enthusiastically with one of our drivers that he forgot the GoPro in the car when we got out. The first moment I was a little pissed off with him because Niko is normally always the first one to tell me to double-check everything. He had a point though because when we were in Slovenia I lost the wide-angle lens of our Canon DSLR. Up until today I still don’t have a clue when or where I forgot it but it wasn’t in my bag when we crossed the border with Croatia. Anyway, back to the Go Pro…
Niko remembered that our driver had mentioned he would return to this road in about half an hour. He wasn’t 100% sure if he had understood the man correctly but we decided to wait and hope for the best. Twenty minutes later we saw the car driving back with the driver waving the camera at us! I was jumping up and down with joy and gratitude. Another confirmation that there are still genuinely good people in the world!
Never thought cops could be this much fun!
Even the police rocks in Turkey! We were hitchhiking on a road somewhere in Central Turkey when a police car stopped next to us. They were asking where we came from and what our plans were. When we responded in Turkish, they were so impressed that they invited us over to the police station to have tea with them– every good story in Turkey starts with a cup of cay! Soon after we arrived there, the whole police corps was surrounding us, sipping tea and asking about our travels. When they heard that we hitchhiked from Ireland to Turkey, they were so excited that they kept offering us tea so we would tell them all about our journey. Little did they know that by that time we had already overstayed our tourist visa by six weeks and were kind of illegally in Turkey. I’ve never had such a pleasant meeting with the police in my whole life!
No photo of that moment although I wish I took one!!
Being chased by the police
However, our other encounter with the Turkish authorities wasn’t such a relaxed one. If there would be one unforgettable and slightly dangerous hitchhiking experience during this journey, this one would definitely be the winner! It was still early in the morning when we were thumbing on the side of a coastal highway. The sun was shining, we were in a good mood and excited about what the day would bring.
Well, the day definitely brought us some excitement! It all started with three jolly elderly guys that offered us a ride. It looked like they were also in a great mood but we only noticed the empty beer cans rolling from underneath the seats when we were already in the car. At that moment we should have asked them to pull over but I decided against my instincts and went along anyway. They offered us a beer, which was practically our breakfast, and we had a few good laughs while chatting away. They turned up the music and started singing along. The driver got so excited that he even started dancing in his seat – we filmed the whole thing. It would have been a lot funnier if he didn’t start driving on the wrong side of the road and almost hit a pedestrian while doing so.
That’s the moment where I regretted not listening to my intuition. And it became worse. The driver was looking more at us than at the road. Even his friend that was sitting next to us on the backseat – and who looked the most sober – urged him to calm down. But that didn’t help much. What suddenly sobered our crazy friend up, was an unexpected road traffic control. The police had blocked the road behind a corner so we only saw them at the last-minute. Instead of hitting the breaks and following nicely the other cars, the driver hit the accelerator and speeded passed the road block. One minute later we were getting chased on full speed by two police cars.
The need-for-speed-moment lasted about five minutes – although it felt like an hour – before our driver gave up. He looked very scared – Turkey has a 0% tolerance for drunk drivers and the penalties are severe! Niko and I were also very worried because we feared that we would have to show our passports which included our expired visa stamps. It also felt very intimidating to be surrounded by five officers who were each carrying a rifle… Luck was on our side again – I really believe we have an Irish clover hidden somewhere in our backpacks. One of the officers noticed that we were backpackers. He asked us what our relationship was with the three men. We told them that they gave us a ride while we were hitchhiking. That was apparently all he needed to hear and he let us go without any consequences or ID check. We walked away from the scene but we were shaking on our legs! At that moment we agreed that we would never ignore our instincts again!
Don’t worry, you’re safe. I have a gun.
We saw quite a few guns in Turkey. During our first month there we were a little worried every time we heard a gun shot but soon we got used to it. In small villages some people shoot in the air to scare dogs off their property or as a way of celebrating – probably cheaper than fireworks. I don’t exactly know how the Turkish laws work, but it’s legal to have a gun in your house and car if you have a special permit. We once had a driver who proudly showed us his shotgun (for who’s interested, it was a Kartal 1200 Tomahawk Tactical) while we were driving on a deserted mountain road.
He pulled up and put the gun in our hands so we could practice our shooting skills in the mountains – in case you wonder, there were no living targets around aside from ourselves. My natural instinct is to back away from a big hunting gun like that but Niko, who grew up in the woods in Canada, had some practice with it when he was younger. I also gave it a go – with shaking legs and trembling arms – and I got so taken aback from the powerful recoil, that I preferred to just hold the camera in my hands and film Niko. You can watch it in He put a gun in my hands.
Another time a driver pulled out his gun was when we were living in northeastern Turkey. One afternoon we challenged two of our Turkish friends to a hitchhiking race to Rize, a city about 70km away from where we were living. A friend from Belgium who was cycling to Central Asia and visiting us, joined Niko and I in the race. It was a fun little competition and although our Turkish friends were the first ones to catch a ride, we also quickly hitched one. Our driver and his friend were going directly to Rize and we thought victory was ours. About 10km before the entrance of the city, the car suddenly changed direction and drove onto a small inland road.
The driver’s friend misunderstood our confusion for being worried and explained that they quickly had to run an errand in the next village before returning to the city center. He assured us we were safe with them. To emphasize his words, he took out a small gun from the glove box and proudly showed it to us. “You see, I have a gun. Don’t worry. You’re safe.” My Belgian friend, who hadn’t hitchhiked before in Turkey and wasn’t familiar with the sights of guns, whispered sarcastically in Flemish “Yeah, I definitely feel safe now”. I burst out in laughter. The driver’s mate assumed that I felt relieved and kept the gun on his lap for the rest of the ride, giving me an assuring wink from time to time. We eventually lost the race but it was definitely a memorable afternoon!
We didn’t only have a lot of adventures on the road but also in our daily life while we were housesitting. Our first housesit was in Islamlar, a small rural village in the Taurus mountains. We spent about a month there, looking after the three cats, four dogs, a bunch of chickens and guinea fowls and two turkeys of an English artist in exchange for free accommodation in her beautiful cottage. The furry and feathery animals made sure our days were filled with enough action in this peaceful and isolated village!
One of the turkeys, named Lurkey, was my sworn enemy. I nicknamed him “the kickboxing turkey”. He loved to chase me around while trying to kick me or pick at my legs and I couldn’t leave the house without arming myself with a broom or a large stick. I was always dreading the early mornings when it was my turn to let him out of his little shed and feed him. I always made sure to put his food ready before opening the door and getting the hell out of his territory before he could get me. I think I never ran so quickly before even having my first cup of coffee! Niko thought I was exaggerating – and I probably was – but that’s because Lurkey was his mate. Niko never saw how Lurkey was eyeing me with his killer look from the garden whenever I sat on the porch. You can meet my nemesis in the video Lurkey, the kickboxing Turkey.
Lurkey wasn’t the only animal who kept the action into our otherwise peaceful days in the little village.
Every day I took the four dogs for a walk in the village and surrounding area. That gave me some curious looks from the villagers as they weren’t used to people having dogs as pets and especially not of seeing a blond girl going for walks with four of them. I slowly on became known in the village but I was famous after an unfortunate event that even traumatized me a little…
Disturbing the peace and quiet in the village
During one of my walks the youngest dog, Pablo, ran off. I never used a leash as the dogs would normally behave very well and listen to me – except for Pablo. For some reason he didn’t like scooters and motorbikes and every time I saw one approaching, I had to hold Pablo by the collar close to me so he wouldn’t start chasing them. One afternoon I reacted too late and Pablo ran off to the center of the village where he spotted a motorbike. I started running behind him, the other three dogs in my trail, following his loud barks. Suddenly his barks turned into high-pitched yelps and my heart skipped a beat. When I ran around the corner, I saw him laying in the middle of the road, surrounded by a little puddle of blood. I panicked and expected the worst. I tried to examine Pablo and see how bad he was hurt. It looked like it was only his paw that was damaged but I wasn’t sure. He yelped so loud and I couldn’t think clearly. The whole village came outside to look what the fuss was all about but they recognized Pablo, who was notoriously known in town for being a pain in the ass, so they just stood there and watched.
I didn’t really know what to do, couldn’t reach Niko because I left my phone at the house so I picked up his heavy body (50kg!) and tried to carry him home in my arms. I was trembling on my legs from the shock, the blood from his paw was dripping all over my clothes and he was so heavy! The other dogs were luckily very good and followed me back to the house. Although it was only a 5 minute walk, it felt like an hour! I got to the gate of the house and started calling out to Niko to come and help me. Niko heard the panic in my voice and almost jumped over the gate to help me carry Pablo. We rang our friends who lived in the nearby town and they drove up to take Pablo and I to the vet. The dog got very lucky and only had a big cut in his paw. The vet fixed him up and Niko and I nursed him well. A couple of days later he was back to his old and crazy self. I emailed his owner, who was on a vacation in Mexico. I felt very bad and responsible for what happened but she wasn’t angry at all with me. She actually wasn’t surprised at all because she knew how wild Pablo could be sometimes. From that day on I never walked him without a leash! We hoped that he learned his lesson but until today he’s still happily chasing motorbikes. And since that day I also became very famous in the village. Well, it must have been the excitement of the year in the otherwise quiet and peaceful village…
Housesitting in style
Our second housesit was a lot more peaceful. We met a lovely English couple who lived in Kalkan, not far from Islamlar (they were also the people who brought me to the vet with Pablo). They offered us to look after their house and two cats while they would go traveling for six weeks. It was an offer we couldn’t resist, even if it meant that we would overstay our visa. We really loved the area and the house was located in a gorgeous resort – with a swimming pool and sauna!! It was also the perfect place to earn some extra money with online teaching.
On the road again
After spending almost 10 weeks in the same area our feet became itchy and we wanted to exchange the comfort of a house to our familiar tent again. We were aware that we were already overstaying by almost six weeks but after doing some research about the consequences we decided to take the risk. We wanted to see more of this beautiful country!
You never know where or to whom the next ride will lead you
After roaming around for almost three weeks through Central Turkey we hitchhiked towards the Georgian border in northeastern Turkey, where lush tea fields meet the dark waters of the Black Sea. We thought that our days in Turkey had come to an end but we couldn’t have been more wrong. A lovely family gave us a ride on what was supposed to be our last evening in Turkey. It was raining a lot and they invited us for a coffee and dinner in a café in Findikli, a little town about 50km from the Georgian border. They had also invited us to spend the night at their home but they had to withdraw this offer at the last moment due to unexpected circumstances. They didn’t want to abandon us in the pouring rain and made a few phone calls and found us a sheltered place where we could sleep.
At 10 o’clock in the evening Gülşen, Sevil and their mother Müşgan opened their home for us. Right from the start we felt comfortable there. We sat around the table with the two sisters, drank some tea and vodka and exchanged stories. Sevil, who’s an English teacher, told us that she was organizing a summer camp to teach English to the local kids and that she was looking for two English teachers. When we told her that we were teachers, we all looked at each other with amazement. We randomly got dropped off at her house and yet, it felt like this was meant to be. We decided that very moment we would stay for the summer to teach, even if it meant overstaying our visa even longer. And we didn’t only find a new job and home there. After just a few days we had the feeling we were part of the family!
Should we stay or should we go?
We really enjoyed our time in the lush tea fields of Findikli and had a great time with the kids during the summer camp. We even dedicated an entire video on our teaching experiences in Turkey.
But things must come to an end to make room for other and new experiences. We were really in doubt whether or not we would leave Turkey after the summer camp. For a few days we were even singing the song ‘Should we stay or should we go’. I’m not good at making decisions but in times of doubt, I listen to my instincts. They were telling me to move on to Georgia. Our time in Turkey felt complete. Nine months in one country is quite long but at the same time we didn’t regret it one bit. We’re happy we took our time to immerse ourselves in the culture, make great friends and get to know the country well.
On the 31th of August we said goodbye to our Turkish family and friends and hitchhiked to the Georgian border. This is the hardest part of traveling, whenever we say goodbye to someone, we never know when and if we will see them again. I strongly believe that people come into my life for a reason, whether it’s to teach them something or to learn from them. If they’re meant to cross my path, I know that I will see them again. If not, I carry their presence in my heart and am grateful for what they brought and taught me.
I could keep writing stories from our time in Turkey but if I would, this blog post would turn into a book – instead I’d like to refer you to our video playlist of Turkey where you can watch practically our whole journey through this country. If you’re wondering what happened at the Georgian border after overstaying our visa by nearly six months, you can read about it in What happens when you overstay the Turkish visa.
We visited some spectacular places and hidden gems in Turkey. I didn’t talk much about it in this post but if you want to learn more about it, have a look at 25 photos that will trigger your wanderlust for Turkey and 9 awesome places worth hitchhiking to in Turkey.
Thank you for reading through this little beast of a post and I hope you enjoyed it! Please feel free to leave a comment and share a crazy, fun, touching or beautiful (travel or hitchhiking) story of yourself! I would love to hear from you!!