Narek Aleksanyan

Hitchhiking with Narek: 4,000 Kilometers Through Turkey (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this travelogue, I wrote that I left Yerevan, my home town, forgetting my map. I also noted that I had traveled some 2,000 kilometers, reaching Izmir, before realizing that I had lost all the photos I had taken up till then.

In Part 2, I will write about the trip back to Armenia and the people I met along the way. 

I pull into Ankara, the only large city in Turkey not located along a sea. The Turkish word for the sea is deniz. It’s also used as a boy’s name.  Deniz Gezmiş, a Turkish revolutionary was hung in Ankara in 1972. When Ankara residents are told they have no sea (deniz), they respond – what do you mean? We have Deniz.

This truck driver is one of the few I met who speaks other languages. He spoke Russian, because he worked there for several years.

Truck drivers sometimes prepare meals in the back of the cab. Other times, they stop at a roadside café.

I spent two days at this house in Ankara. I never learnt where my young hosts worked. Nevertheless, the meals I ate at their apartment, were more than my weekly food intake. We never ate breakfast because we never got up early enough.

We met this woman in Ankara’s Kizilya neighborhood. While never attending school, she was a wealth of information, entertaining us with stories and current events. I bumped into her yet again. This time in the subway. 

It was probably due to the delicious homecooked meals that I rarely got a chance to properly tour Ankara. Whatever, goodbye Ankara.

It was getting dark. I got lucky and he stopped. He prepared a late supper.

Drinking tea in Turkey is a ritual in itself. People drink tea several times a day. You can spot a large teapot even in the small stores next to gas stations.

Trucks transporting fruit and vegetables are seen everywhere. 

I met Paolo in the Black Sea town of Ordu. He had left Italy months ago and reached Turkey on foot. Opposed to mechanized travel on principle, Paolo was determined to walk to the Himalayas.

Since we reached Ordu in record time, I decided to spend some time on the beach. It was my first time entering the sea in Turkey. There were many people strolling along the sand. Women generally only entered the water up to their ankles. Men entered the water deeper, wearing long shorts.

The local Amsterdam.

I met another man who spoke English. Nihat worked at the information center. Paolo had stayed at his house that night.

Woman and child statute

Selling veggies and fruits. Everything’s displayed on carts. Potential customers can even sample the wares.

I escorted Paolo on his trek a bit. We left the city.

Paolo kept on telling me that he’s a lucky guy. He proves it here. He just found his next meal on the sidewalk.

Another wooden area along the road.

After leaving the city limits, each of us treks on in their own fashion – Paolo on foot, and I by hitchhiking.

I figured it would only take me a few hours to travel the 350 kilometers from Ordu to the Georgian border. I took me three and a half days. Maybe the scenic sites along the way made me linger. Perhaps, Paolo’s penchant for walking had taken hold of me.

I reached Giresun. I had dinner and watched the sun set.

Deciding to stroll around the town, I encountered these street musicians. Not as many as in Izmir, but they were to be seen here as well.

Finding no place to unroll my sleeping bag in town, I had to walk outside the town to find a convenient to find a convenient spot.

I hadn’t spotted this island at night. When I awoke, I thought about swimming to reach it.

Paolo’s karma stayed with me. I walked most of the day. I’d walk, stop for ten minutes for a ride that never came, and walk some more. No problem. I could take in the unfolding scenery much better walking than by car.

My first car ride of the day.

I guess the locals are amused when a stranger tries to speak a few words in their language. It’s a universal trait. I had learnt a few words to my Turkish vocabulary over the past week. Some words were familiar – like touz (figs) and tamam (OK).

Newly built mosques lined the road. Many were built next to gas stations and eateries. I guess this one can be called a restaurant/mosque.

Roadside cemetery.

Military airplane monument with a mosque in the background.

Friends of mine who have travelled to Turkey told me that you can drink, and even wash your feet, at fountains placed near the mosques. It was an interesting cultural revelation for me.

This mosque was built in 2016.

Only a score of kilometers remained until I reached Rize and the Georgian border. But I had a strange premonition that Paolo’s karma would be doing its ‘dirty work’.

I had no food left. My money was running out. So, I decided to walk out of town and sleep on a deserted stretch of the beach. I came across hundreds of people picnicking.

I employed some crafty diplomacy. I approached one group of picnickers and asked for a cigarette. I knew that they wouldn’t just offer a cigarette to a foreigner carrying a knapsack and nothing more. I was offered a sandwich stuffed with meat and some tea. Saying our goodbyes, my hosts gave me a pack of cigarettes and food for breakfast.

My little piece of the beach. My towel dried overnight.

Black Sea – First rays of sunlight.

I met Lyosha as I travelled on. From the town of Barnaul, in western Siberia, Lyosha was a traveler like me who wound up in Turkey. Like me, he had been walking more than hitchhiking, and wanted to get through this part of the trip quickly. I familiarized him with my discovery of personal grooming at a nearby mosque.

Lyosha had found this instrument, a glyukophone, on the internet. It’s easy to learn. He had played it on Yerevan’s Northern Avenue and was able to make enough money to spend a few days in a hostel. Later, we busked with the instrument and made enough money for a one-night hostel stay in Batumi. 

We walked most of the way to the Georgian border, coming upon this waterfall. After hours of walking in the sun, it was the perfect shower.

We walked through several tunnels. (Hitchhiking in tunnels isn’t a wise move. This was just staged for a photo)

Georgia - no comment.

To be sure, both of us would miss traveling through Turkey, wanting to return, but this café near the border, with its cheap beer and cigarettes, was a welcome site. (Cigarettes in Turkey are quite expensive in comparison. Like me, Lyosha was also spending less on smokes while in Turkey. Like me, he even got into the habit of picking up butts along the road. Not the healthiest thing to do.

We met more travelers near the border. They had entered Turkey just for a few hours; for a diversion.

I ditched Paolo’s “walking karma” on the roadside and quickly reached Batumi.

I struck out from Batumi on my own. 

It was getting dark when I reached the town of Gori.

This truck, parked on the road, was heading for Tbilisi. It was a slow and noisy ride, but we made it.

The driver told me he had left Kutaisi in the morning and had broken down three times. 

We reached Tbilisi without a hitch. I headed to a friend’s house, just in time for dinner. I fell into a deep sleep soon afterwards. I awoke at noon the following day.

My friend Seryozha, who put me up for the night, had a day off from work and decided to accompany me to Yerevan.

Placing our feet on Armenian soil.

It’s a good bet you’ll see some familiar faces at the Dilijan bus station. I did. I bumped into Mher and Taron from the Aratta Band. They were travelling from Sevan to Gyumri.

I got lucky and caught the last auto headed for Yerevan and home.

P.S. Paolo finally made it to Yerevan, on foot, a month and a half later.

Read more about my travels:

Hitchhiking: Yerevan to Tbilisi and Back