So it seems that I spoke too soon with my tips for travelling on Turkey’s buses. The travel gods clearly decided that we’d had it much too easy so far.
After sunning ourselves in Fethiye, we returned to Istanbul to pick up Alicia’s passport and get a Syrian visa stamped in it, before heading south again to the Turkish traveller’s mecca of Cappadocia.
How many backpackers can fit in a mini bus?
Up until this point, we’d always booked our bus trips directly with the bus company, and it was smooth sailing. This time, we got a little lazy and booked our overnight trip to Cappadocia through our hostel. The receptionist told us rather than having us trek all the way out to the otogar, a shuttle bus would meet us at the tourism information centre in Sultanahmet, on the opposite side of the Bosphorous to where we were staying.
No worries, we said. We took the tram across the river and were seated on our backpacks outside the info centre forty minutes before our scheduled pick-up time. A man showed up fifty minutes later and directed us to the other side of the street, where he told us to wait while he went to pick up the others.
He disappeared for fifteen minutes and came back to gesture to us to follow him. We rounded a corner and came upon a mini bus parked in a Sultanahmet side-street. Almost thirty backpackers were loading their gear into the bus.
It was at this point my DODGY! radar went off. We had always been the only foreigners on our coaches so far – what had the hostel sold us?
Driving in Circles
We followed the crowd, loading our packs onto the minibus for the trip to the otogar. Only – we didn’t go to the otogar. Instead, the driver took us on a confusing lap of Sultanahmet before crossing a main road and pulling into a carpark five minutes away from where we’d boarded.
‘Too much traffic,’ the bus company rep announced. ‘The bus will be here in half an hour, 8pm, after otogar.’ He then wandered over to a little patch of grass, took off his shoes, lit a cigarette and drank an Efes.
My DODGY! radar went into overdrive.
Traffic on the Bridge
Thirty minutes came and went. At 9pm, the sun went down. Locals walking by stared curiously at the crazy backpackers milling about in a random carpark beside a petrol station. I paced up and down. Alicia lay on the ground and cracked her back.
It wasn’t until 9.30pm that a mutinous rumbling began amongst the other passengers. People were beginning to realise we were not going to make our scheduled arrival time of 6am into Cappadocia. The bus driver and the man from the bus company began arguing in rapid-fire Turkish. They made a lot of phone calls, and avoided eye-contact.
Where are the other passengers?
At 10pm, a coach pulled into the carpark. It was devoid of passengers, and we wondered where they all were, considering the bus was supposed to be caught in traffic after having left the otogar.
We picked them up an hour later in another dark and random car park. The following morning, we arrived into Cappadocia three hours late. Our bus was loaded and unloaded of people three times before we were finally driven to Goreme, the last stop and our final destination.
The fact that we arrived at our destination without having lost any money or belongings suggests that we weren’t being scammed, but rather were just on the receiving end of incredibly bad customer service.
At any rate, we made a vow to only book direct in future.
And there are no photographs because I was too busy pacing angrily to take any pictures of our rather funny (in retrospect) predicament.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.