Hitching to Istanbul, Turkey

It seems that every hitch comes with a story and each day on the road becomes more exciting. Our venture to Istanbul today took its toll on our bodies, both physically and emotionally, but made the relief of arriving in this fabulous city much more euphoric than taking the simple route.

We started off with little idea about our route out of Plovdiv, since little research had gone into getting there in the first place. We walked what must have been 2 miles beyond the main city to a small stretch of road where the few people we saw on horse-and-cart couldn’t reach us. That would have been an interesting ride.

Once we did reach the main road we were picked up quite quickly. The man who pulled over spoke a little English and agreed to take us about 100km of our 450km trip under one condition. The condition was that we stop off in a village on route and help him pick fruit. We both knew that this would significantly dent our time, but this is the kind of reason why we were hitch hiking: to do something different.

We parked up in a shady area and climbed a wall to reach an overgrown garden with lots of semi-ripe fruit. He gave some reason for getting an axe out to sort a tree whilst we went about picking plums from a tree for a liquor. We thoroughly enjoyed it, except avoiding the wasps. When the tree was naked we moved onto the peaches. He made us eat a couple but warned us to look at the fruit we eat in case it had ‘friends’ in it. I didn’t see any if there were any.

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He kindly dropped us outside the town of Hoscova after exchanging email addresses, but kept us on the right road.

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It was then two hitches in quick succession. The first a large man with a people carrier who took us 20km with no verbal exchange, and the other a lumberjack with a sharp tool kit who dropped us 20k from the border of Turkey.

At this point we were confident that we were going to get a quick hitch. However, the traffic had dried up, as had our water supply. What made this point harder was that we were standing in 40 degree heat beside newly laid Tarmac. This concoction made for brutal temperatures on our faces, and we were quickly wilting. We probably waited at this point about an hour before we realised we had nowhere to get our water, and nowhere to pitch a tent if it started to get dark. We were both so hot that we were concerned about heat stroke and covered our heads with clothing.

We decided to start walking along the road in search of water. About 1km later we noticed a garage and we both celebrated in our own heads until we actually reached the garage. Here we found a very grumpy police officer and a derelict shop. No water.

We were no faced with walking numerous miles with in the baking heat, with no water and no idea how far we needed to walk. It sounds dramatic but we really were in a bit of a pickle. Neither of us admitted that we were a bit concerned…but we have since confirmed that we were thinking the same thing.

Still, being warriors, we continued hiking along the road, getting abused by people in air conditioned Mercedes’. We must of walked about 10km and we were close to being defeated. I had resorted to poking my tongue out in a desperate attempt to gain moisture in my dry mouth. We prayed for something to pick us up as we walked with a wounded thumb out.

We saw a sign ahead that we hoped with give us some idea about how much further we had to endure our walk, or perhaps until one of us passed out. The sign had no distance, and it appeared all hope was lost.

However, as it always does, luck stuck. A man had overheated in front of us and pulled over to cool his car. We approached him and immediately asked for water, quite desperately. He told us that he had no water and had a problem with his car. Fletch then had the bright idea of asking him for a lift when his car is cooled. Fletch didn’t even wait for the response before parking his substantial rucksack in front of the man’s car. We had effectively hijacked a hitch. He was not going to drive anywhere without us. This meant we had demanded a lift in this mans car. Thankfully he did let us in his car and took us to the border, an additional 8 ish km….we would probably not have made it.

At the border he wanted us out of his car so asked us to cross by foot. This was a new concept for the people at the Turkish border and the customs officers loved that we queued up with the cars. They enjoyed welcoming us to Turkey and must’ve wondered how people were on foot at this particular border crossing.

However, despite a scary experience, we had successfully hitched into Turkey. It was now an issue of getting the additional 200km to Istanbul. It was now approaching 6pm and looking like a bridge too far before nightfall.

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Our first hitch in Turkey offered to take us to the first city, Edirne. We jumped in and arrived within the city at 6:30. We were forced to make a decision: stay in Edirne or risk it and go for Istanbul. We took the risk.

We ended up back on the motorway at around 7:30 and I decided to run to the next exit to pick up some supply’s for the night. We agreed that we would hitch until we got a bite, no matter how long it took. In fact, there are so many relationships between hitch hiking and fishing. So often you feel like you have a bite, you are teased by drivers (fish) and get a fantastic feeling when you eventually reel one in, which could take minutes or hours.

Still, tonight was our lucky night (so much luck). I strolled back towards fletch with night supplies (an almost beaten man) and as I did so a man pulled in after noticing Fletch’s outstretched thumb.

He was not a trucker, not even a mentalist, he was a normal Turkish man with a modern, air-conditioned car. He offered to take us all the way to Istanbul! Amazing!

We sat comfortably in disbelief for an hour and a half until he made himself even more saintly. Instead of dropping us on the motorway he drove right into the centre of Istanbul (well out of his way as he was going to Ankara) and dropped us at Taksim Square. We were overwhelmed.

A few weeks ago I was told that you would avoid the protests in Istanbul if you avoided Taksim Square, yet this was our first sight. Thankfully there are only armed police to remind us of the protests now. We had a cheeky kebab before making our final hike towards our hostel.

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Reaching our dorm beds brought as much relief as it did delight. However, realising that we had successfully hitch hiked from Budapest to Istanbul via 4 countries and 21 vehicles. We had achieved the first mission in our quest to reach the Caspian Sea, and a day like today made victory feel so sweet. Thank you, Eastern Europe….What have you got, Asia?

Hi Chloe Thornback.

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