Akif lives in Antalya, in a house where days are night and viceversa, where up is down and down is somewhere else in another direction, because left is right and a black scruffy cat roams around in tumbles attacking with claws and teeth any object she lands on. But none of that ultimately matters because, for the inhabitants of this house, life has a rythm that finds its riverbed and comfortably flows among what others would consider disorder. Besides other things, language becomes a creative enterprise, ceasing to rely strictly on words and transmitting content through many unusual vehicles.
Akif, dubbed “the director”, organises the couchsurfers with the same skill as he sets the travel plans, arranges tea, sugar, pasta or anything needed. He is a master in the craft of smiling at the right time, and we will learn from him that traveling in this country has more to do with surfing waves than with following roadmaps. His flatmate Yasin, a.k.a. little budha, knows from a previous life that the Babel tower was just a myth, and that all languages can merge into one which carries his own name. So we pick up his version of Esperanto in parallel to Turkish, as we share liters of tea over long nights of films. At times, Yasin disappears in the night, supposedly wandering for hours the dodgiest streets of Antalya. And unable to go beyond mere speculation, we suspect he might be a spider-man with an iron alibi, or perhaps a necromancer on a secret date with the witches.Ali scored an error some twenty years ago; he was most definitely aiming for another universe, but eventually ended up in Fati – one of the most conservative neighbourhoods of Istanbul, if not the most. As he grew up among madrases and Bosnian war refugees, his interests blossomed in unexpected directions, from Arabic to film theory, and from faith to humanism, Ali searches for the meaning of death and life. If you wanna know more about him, you will have to search and find him sneaking through into the most dangerous territories. Sefa, in turn, seems to worship one single god, the league of legends. However, he tells us with a wink that he is a good muslim when need requires it. Sefa has a thousand friends, and from time to time seems to dematerialise in Yasin’s style. Although in this case, to the question “where is Sefa?” we got to know that there is only one possible answer “ARKADASH”. Happily relaxed, he takes the joys of life with the same enviable ease as he gives away his pretty room to the tired visitors.
In this house property has ceased to exist, and clothes jump like the cat from one wardrobe to the next while the only tea-spoon to be found around swims from glass to glass enjoying the sweet Turkish elixir. And we, comfortably nested in a corner of their sofa, lose track of the hours while waiting for Nikon to bring our camera back to life – the long surgery will take 20 days, they said. While sun and moon continue to play undisturbed their game of hide and seek, we rest our minds in this place that feels like home, and even forget to check the town touristic destinations, preferring instead to sink into the smoky world of the happy cinema quartet seasoned with the occasional cigkofte when tired of their tones of pasta and its royal companion tomato puree.
And then, suddenly, as if awakened by a spark, the world spins once again, when with the smile coined as “the magic banana”, Akif inquires one morning “do you wanna come to Izmir?” 1000 Km return, 3 days, 2 hitch-hiking teams on a traveling competition…it all sounds brilliant to us. Each stage of the travel begins with a general meeting in some small coffee shop, the route set, the timetable agreed, the teams fed and ready for the way ahead. Each stage would take us into more surreal meetings with friends, or drivers, or friends of friends. Izmir was just the first stop of a two weeks adventure that would take us from the highway by truck, car or hitched-bus to cozy warm houses, to the lonely praying-rooms of a petrol station, or even to a many starred hotel in the cold nights of the Anatolian plain. 1500 Km made short in three episodes!
EPISODE 1 – A HITCH-HIKING RACE TO THE SEA
Akif is a nocturnal animal so hitchhiking with him never starts before sunset (although he might insist that it is always us who are lete!). The call for prayer sets the travellers in motion. This time it is a journey in teams, a sort of hitch-hiking competition. They go first, Akif and Sefa, with the advantage of local knowledge and a mastery of their own language, while we, in turn, look more like trustworthy tourists and have a girl in the team. For the first time ever, we touch the screen of a borrowed iphone, as we type our coordinates into their wassap. Informing timely and accurately of position and direction makes the way all the more enjoyable, as if indeed shared by four. We catch up with them in Korkuteli; they pass by us on the lonely road to Denizli, and finally, some 100 km later, give directions to our faithful driver who delivers us to a BP station just on time to join a shared ride straight to the neighbourhood of our host in Izmir. So even if the A team would not agree on this point, we justly claim that the game was a draw this time, with four happy winners reaching their destination even quicker than by bus, enjoying their cigkofte by the sea this time.
EPISODE 2 – IZMIR TO ANTALYA, OR A ROSARY OF MEETINGS
A few days later, while still in Izmir, and sure that the guys had made their way back home on time for their monday class, we receive a message that proves us wrong “Hi! I’m 80 km away from you. Wanna hich south together?” The celestial bodies that we had not read forecasted that tuesday would be “a truck day”. So the first red TIR delivers us straight into the arms of Akif that patiently smiles on the side of the road. Its just the 3 of us today as Sefa has been swallowed by his flock of friends and has not be seen for 3 days. The usual aperitive of tea and tavla foretell whose is gonna be the lucky thumb of the day. And at sunset we go, back home through the same road that similarly to Heraclites’ river it is never one and never the same. The movie maker has hidden a new script under his sleeve – a blank sheet of paper indeed – and while the shiny moon sails across the milky way, we follow her pace in a chain of surreal encounters with secondary charaters that appear and vanish from the scene at Akif’s improvising will. Tea, coffee, dinner or a smoke, a trail of trucks and friends, and all our needs are fulfilled in due time as we surf the asphalt waves of the night.
EPISODE 3 – CATCHING UP WITH WINTER IN ANATOLIA
There are moments when one needs to check the weather forecast and others when one better forget all about it, and set out to travel relying on the capricious nature of Plan B. Winter catched up with us, or we with it, on our way north. But the first episode of uncertainty was over as Konya was made easy by the warm smile of Rıza, the poetry of Rumi (Mevlana) and the a quality evening package that included hot shower and a 4* breakfast. How did we get into this hotel? The answer is a matter of faith, and we know by now that everything is possible once you are travelling inside the mind of Akif.
And then, the bus. It appeared out of the dark just in the moment when the dogs started barking, the wind was blowing harder and our friend reluctantly had accepted to borrow one of our broken pairs of gloves. He is a fan of light backpacking that moves around the country only with a budget-quatily BIM sleeping bag that would prove useless for winter time (BIM is the Turkish version of LIDL that provides for students in need and travellers on a shoestring). But the bus, it was empty and came from nowhere, and we still do not know where it was going, but we trusted its direction and with a deep sight sat warmly to look at the falling snowflakes while sipping some kind of fizzy drink, simply hoping that it would never drop us on the side of this frozen road. A dark and frozen road, to be precise, or so it looked at this time of the night, when we got to a petrol station and our free bus ride reached its last unusual destination. But the morning light makes everything better, at least for those who do not shop for outdoors in BIM and get to enjoy a few hours of sleep. With our heads to Mecca we wake up on the hard floor of the praying room to be welcomed by the Petrol morning tea and an empty road that resembles an ice-skating court. Cold and tired we push a final 20 km to the beautiful valleys of Cappadocia, where a swarm of curious tourists ask us how and where we are coming from, oblivious to the fact that for Akif what matters is what comes next: a long road back home just a couple of hours later for a Monday class that this time he cannot miss.