I know you like reading about our misfortune. It’s dramatic stuff. I like writing about it, too, trying to commit the experience to words and take you to that place and time. I hope that the results are entertaining, but also resemble the reality of what happened, too – exaggeration and artistic license are not for the non-fiction of a travel blog.
But to put things into a wider context, it’s sometimes good to write about the times when things do go our way!
Today it will be dark by 5pm. I feel the sharp, cold air hit the back of my nostrils as I breathe in, and see the steam as I breathe out. Winter, it appears, is approaching fast.
Yesterday our luck not only ran out, but slammed the door behind it, shouting ‘have a nice life’ and making off down the road. We slept on the roof of an apartment block, having sneaked up there in the dark. I was kept awake all night by the cold, loud, relentless rain that swept forth from the blackest of night skies. It splashed onto my face as I attempted to take refuge under a broken table. Thunder and lightning bounced to and fro around me. I pulled the drawstring tight on my bivi bag, cocooning myself from the elements, and attempted to sleep. When daybreak came, I was lying in an inch of water.
Despite the fact that I was a homeless tramp, wandering through Istanbul clutching a dripping bundle of sleeping paraphernalia, wearing the clothes I’d not taken off for several days; I was happy. This was because my mission for the day was to help locate Andy’s wheels by whatever means necessary. After nearly a month of waiting, we’d finally received word that an unidentified package was waiting in limbo in a parcel depot, somewhere in Istanbul. My mind was set on a positive outcome and for some reason I had the unswerving feeling that we would not fail.
We spent the day in the manner of a private investigator, following all possible leads. Our friends at WWF Turkey; the nearby post office; the adjoining parcel office. A host of strangers variously translated, navigated and gave advice. By 4pm we were in Topkapi, a considerable tram-ride into previously-unexplored depths of Istanbul’s urban sprawl. We’d also ticked off a few more boxes – spare gear cables, a bag for the new video camera, and a new MP3 player had all been acquired at excellent prices. We’d also found somewhere to stay for the night – no small relief, I can promise you!
At the parcel depot, we stood with bated breath whilst an administrator tapped a variety of permutations of ‘Andrew Welch’ into a computer terminal. Still feeling that either outcome at this point would not defeat our day’s objective, I assumed nothing. So it was with a sense of unexpected relief that a single consignment did in fact flash up on the screen! That meant that somewhere in the building there was a parcel, addressed to Andy, and of significant-enough magnitude to have been held at the depot, pending collection. Our prospects ceased to be ambivalent, and became promising.
Having joyously confirmed that the package did, in fact, contain the new wheels, Andy still had to cross the hurdle of dealing with the customs officer’s insistence that we pay import tax of 37.50 Turkish lira. Not a considerable amount to most people, but you may recall that our budget was non-existent, and that we could cross a large portion of Turkey on that amount of money. We had also not paid for the wheels, and therefore should have been exempt from the taxation.
At this point, I would usually draw on previous experience of postal bureaucracy to admit defeat and pay the bill, rather than wade through a futile lake of argumentation in a foreign language. Andy, however, had other ideas. I sat waiting for the inevitable while he questioned the charges repeatedly.
And to my great surprise, he succeeded in achieving the impossible. Yes, that’s right – somehow, the customs officers were sufficiently convinced, bored, or sympathetic to waive the fee! I was genuinely shocked that the plot had been thwarted. This encounter raised the bar for future dealings with what I had previously thought were systems of unshakable bureaucracy.
The wheels successfully procured, we made our way through the city, as the light failed, following our new host’s directions to Bogazici University – a campus institution that dates back to the 1860s. A couple of hours later, we were eating a fine dinner in a little cafeteria with our new host Nehir. The prospect of warmth and dryness was still tantalizing after the previous night’s experience. We took a trip down the Bosphorous and sampled some revoltingly decadent Turkish waffles, filled with chocolate sauce, peanut butter, walnut paste, strawberries, kiwi fruit… the list goes on. After that, we collapsed on the sofa and watched a great film called The Unbearable Lightness of Being before passing out in a big heap of contentedness. Aaaahhhh.
This morning, I arose just before midday. How lazy! But why not? I need a day off! I checked my emails. There, to my amazement, was an email from our host in Bucharest, Alina. The subject read “Wonderful news for you.” I could barely believe my luck as I read that my long-lost wallet had been found, somewhere within the mechanical depths of her sofa bed.
Suddenly everything seems bright again. We might even get to leave Istanbul this week, if our luck continues…