Part of our philosophy on this trip has always been to maintain a certain degree of flexibility. Overland trips, especially if they are lasting for several months or even years, tend to come up with surprises. Be it experiences you make and things you do or things that just happen beyond your ambit. At some point, you will most likely face a situation where you have to change your initial plan.
During our stay in Turkey, two things happened that we did not have a bearing on and that should affect our plans about what to do and see in this country. While a broken gas spring on our pop-up roof meant couple of days to find a spare part, the failed military coup of July 15th and 16th 2016 should affect our plans on much larger time scale.
The broken gas spring
We left Istanbul on July 12th. After visiting the Gallipoli peninsula, we were planning to travel south along the west coast, to visit such touristy spots as Ephesus and Pamukkale before heading east across Anatolia. But one of the two gas springs, holding up our pop-up roof, should already thwart us that very first day. When we wanted to pitch camp at an old WW I artillery base on Gallipoli, we realized that the roof would not go up as usual. The seal of the gas spring on the right side was broken, oil was leaking from it and the pressure inside was long gone. So we spent the evening writing down dimensions of the broken part and doing online research on gas springs. Luckily, we had good 4g coverage on our camp spot!
The search for a spare part
After a short and hot night on our downstairs emergency bed, we went straight to Çanakkale. We could not find any online shop for gas springs in Turkey nor websites of stores selling them on the spot. So we decided to just go to the closest major town and ask around. Waving around with our broken part, we were quickly sent to the street where all the garages are. We even found one that had some gas springs in stock. Unfortunately, not the right sizes. The store manager was very friendly and gave us directions, where we could probably find one in Izmir.
Good and bad decisions
Heiner was not too convinced about the odds of finding the right part in Izmir. Just a short excursion on this topic: force, total length, cylinder length, diameter and mounting points need to be correct in order to work properly. So we decided that it would be worth calling a manufacturer of these gas springs. Destek is based in Bursa, less than 300 kilometers away from where we were. That was one lucky decision! Heiner reached a more than helpful and perfectly German speaking sales person that did everything to help us, even though they do not usually deal with end customers.
He called us back to confirm that they had two springs in stock that were almost the right size. Their total length was just a couple of centimeters too long, which, he said, was not an issue. He would just take it to their workshop to shorten it to the exact length. That’s customer service! And he had even more good news for us. He said, he could ship the springs that same day and that they should arrive wherever we would be around Çanakkale the day after. So we decided to spend the night at the closest campsite and have the parts shipped there. That campsite was near Troy, 30 kilometers from Çanakkale. It sounded almost to good to be true. And it was! We learned one lesson the hard way: Do not ship anything to rural areas with parcel services you do not know!
Our time in Troy
One more night on our emergency bed. This time it is not only hot but there were also tons of mosquitoes. The morning goes by without any parcel service showing up. Since the owner knows about the parcel, we decide to spend our afternoon at the beach. Still no parcel when we return, so we need to find another way to keep our roof up. We have had enough bad sleep!
The next day
It is Friday, we chat with the Italian-English family that has arrived late the previous evening. Luca and Sameena are on their way to Pakistan, India, Nepal and Mongolia. Traveling in a truck with two kids, Lusira and Giulio. They have done numerous overland trips before and it is good to talk to other travelers. We try not to move too much in Turkey’s July heat, work on our blog and desperately wait for our parcel to arrive. But we are not lucky. We spend the night talking to Luca and Sameena.
When we return from the bathroom, ready to go to bed, Luca walks up to us with his phone in his hands. “There’s a coup d’état” he says. We had never heard that term before, so it takes a while until we understand what is going on. Soldiers have taken the Bosphorus bridges, several administrative buildings and there are reports of fighter jets being in the air. Then, there are rumors about a curfew. The putschists are claiming that they have taken over the government. We are reading different news websites and Tweets. At one point, we go into the campground’s restaurant. The TV is on. Other Turkish guests and the owner are watching President Erdogan giving his first speech that night. He says that everything is under control and the coup is over. The campground owner turns off the TV angrily. We guess it is not because of his political views, but because he knows that this season is basically over. With all that was going on in Turkey, he could not expect many tourists for this year. But after those events, a large percentage of the people that were still eager to come, are about to cancel.
Fight or flight?
So we take a seat on our camping chairs again. Sameena thinks, it is a good time for some Greek homemade liquor. We all agree. Luca and Sameena were in Syria back in 2011 when the unrest started. Luca seems worried. We talk about the options. Going back to Greece immediately is ruled out quickly. That would require taking the ferry across the Dardanelles. Not only, do we not know if it is running, we also do not know what is happening in Çanakkale. The ferry port is right in the center of town. We decide that our campground is a safe place. None of the parties involved has any interest in a village of a thousand inhabitants. The four of us agree that we want to spend another day in Troy to see where this is all going. We go to bed, anxious and not sure where to move on Sunday.
The day after
We wake up and start talking about what we should do, immediately. We agree, that we want to leave Turkey behind as quick as possible. But for us, there is only one direction: going east. Sameena and Luca, on the other side, are discussing going back to Greece and Italy eventually. We want to continue and the situation seems to allow a three day cross country rush. It is 1800 kilometers to the Georgian border. We do not expect to run into any problems on the main motorways and news websites say that borders are open and the situation is under control.
But we still need those gas springs! We are convinced, that it will be way harder finding matching parts, once we are in Georgia. And we believe the sales guy from Destek that the springs have been shipped. They are probably waiting for us in one of the two parcel service’s branches in Çanakkale. Their website says that they are open on Saturdays, so we decide to give it a try.
We ask Sameena and Luca if they need anything from the store, put together our own list of food to keep us fed on three long driving days and set off towards Çanakkale. We enter town around 10 am and most stores are just opening. Except that everybody seems to have a late start, it all seems pretty calm and normal. We see a lot of people putting Turkish flags in their windows and storefronts. Mixed feelings overcome us. On one hand, it is good to see that everything is calm. On the other hand, people seem to move on a bit to fast.
We arrive at the parcel service’s first branch to find it closed. The owner of the shop next door tells us, that they are closed every Saturday. We peek through the windows, trying to find our parcel amid dozens of its kind scattered around chaotically in the shop. But we cannot spot one that is relatively thin and about one meter long. With little hope we continue to the second branch. It was right to lower our expectations. It is also closed and neither can we spot our parcel.
Do not make important decisions when you are hungry!
It is already past noon, so we decide to grab something to eat while figuring out how to proceed. We buy some Kebab and start talking. There is only one thing we are sure about: we want to leave the country as soon as possible. We keep going back and forth, before we decide that one more day in Turkey will not hurt. There is no reason for any unrest coming up. The coup is over and everybody is celebrating it as a victory of democracy. And if we manage to get our parcel on Monday before 10 am, we will still have ten hours of driving that day.
We buy our groceries and are even more astonished about how normal everything and everybody seems. Back at the campground we find our Italian comrades still quarreling with the decision in which direction they should move. They decide Saturday night and leave for Iran early Sunday morning. We wave them Goodbye from our bed and spend the day preparing everything for the next days. The Destek sales guy assures as once again that he is willing to help us get the parcel the next day. So we develop a strategy and talk it through several times. Finally, we prepare everything for an early start.
The day has come
We get up at 6 in order to reach Çanakkale before 8, when the parcel shops open. Heiner drops off Anna at the first branch and drives to the second. The shops open on time but neither of us experiences much willingness to help or any English spoken. We hand them the sheets of paper explaining our cause in Turkish. In either branch they indicate that the parcel is not in their shop. Heiner calls Anna and we decide that we need the help of the Destek guy once again.
Heiner calls him; he is as nice and helpful as always and looks for the tracking code. The Destek guy talks to the lady in Heiner’s shop for a couple minutes. Then she hands Heiner’s phone over again, barely looking at Heiner. “Listen,” the Destek guy says, “the parcel is in the other shop. I will text you the tracking number, go to that shop, show them the code and they will give you the parcel.” Heiner forwards the text message to Anna and starts walking towards the other shop.
Half way, the two of us meet. Anna is holding the parcel in her hands and has a big smile in her face. We fall in each others arms and enjoy the moment of relief. The two of us know, that the other goal, the border to Georgia, is still 1800 kilometers away from us.
Turkey on the fast lane
We get some snacks from the bakery on the way back to Willie and hit the road. That day, we take almost 650 kilometers off the clock and manage to fit our new gas springs onto the pop-up roof. Two days later we reach the border with Georgia, as planned. We even find the time to squeeze in a short visit to the archaeological site of Ani before we cross the border.
We leave Turkey behind much earlier than expected. Happy that our plan had worked, but sad that we missed the largest part of this beautiful country. We look at each other in confidence: we will come back and see Turkey one day!