It’s late on a March morning and the wind has been howling – even screaming – since yesterday evening. The rain has abated for the moment but there’s no sign that it has gone for good. It’s definitely not a day to be outside. Apart from the wind and the rain there is the danger of being hit by debris carried along by the gale, the airborne equivalent of flotsam and jetsam. So today will be a good day to catch up on a post or two for this blog.
Over the years, and I’m now talking about nearly 25 years, the road between Kalkan and Fethiye has become a well-worn route. Fethiye is the nearest large city for variety when shopping and where the prices are generally cheaper than in the smaller towns, especially Kalkan. To get to Fethiye there are regular bus services – approximately every 1 ¼ hours – operated by Bati Antalya the bus company that serves the western side of Antalya province (Bati means “west” in Turkish). The Bati Antalya buses are midi-buses seating about 29 people in rather close proximity to each other. The seats are perfectly comfortable but lacking in leg and wriggle room.
However every morning there is the luxury of the long-distance coach travelling from Kaṣ to Izmir on the western Aegean seaboard. The Pamukalle coach is a modern, high-spec vehicle with big seats, lots of legroom and a range of special features. It leaves Kalkan at 10.30 on the dot every day. There is a premium price to pay – 16TL instead of 13TL on the regular bus – but it’s a price well worth paying.
Pamukalle has a ticket office in the Kalkan Otogar (bus station), where it is advisable to buy a ticket in advance although at this time of year they are on sale right up to the time of departure. One of the reasons for the advance ticketing, which I have mentioned in previous posts, is to ensure that men and women who don’t know each other are segregated on the bus. It can sometimes be quite comical to see passengers swapping seats to ensure that sexual proprieties are maintained.
The coach arrived about 10 mins before the scheduled departure so there was plenty of time to find my booked seat. This turned out to be easier said than done. Search as I might it was not at all clear where the seat numbers were. I looked on the backs of the seats, under the overhead storage, on the armrests, just about everywhere, but nowhere could I find them. The bus was only about half full, and all at the front, so I took a spare seat about halfway down the bus and prepared myself to be moved on by the on-board steward. It never happened but from the vantage point of sitting down, I could see that the seat numbers are under the armrests. Well that’s quite obvious isn’t it.
A few minutes after we pulled out of the otogar and were climbing up the hill towards the west, the steward opened a storage cupboard beside the central door and started to assemble a very “dinky” metal trolley. Once he had put it together a tray of drinks and cups was produced and he was ready to serve the passengers. This is a complimentary service with a choice of coffee, ҫay (tea), fruit juices and water. Excellent.
Every seat had its personal TV screen on the back of the seat in front. Firstly, and importantly, there was a choice of languages which made selection a bit easier. There were a number of TV channels and a library of DVDs, music and computer games. As I was only to be on the bus for an hour and a bit I decided I would rather do a bit of people watching and catch up on emails via the on-board wifi service. And each pair of seats had a powerpoint for charging the many, many devices we seem to carry these days.
Although passengers can in theory get on and off the coach anywhere, in practice, because the bus doesn’t go through the small towns and villages, there is only the occasional pickup as we head along the D400 Izmir to Iraq (yes Iraq) highway. As we approached the village of Eṣen the bus pulled in to the roadside and off got the steward. That didn’t bode well for the trolley service. But no panic, about 5 km further along the road the bus stopped again but this time to pick up a replacement steward. Panic over.
The next place of any size is Alaҫat a busy agricultural township. The highway is lined with workshops repairing cars, tractors and assorted machinery. In between the workshops are small shops selling a range of hardware needed by the farmers and food stores. And, of course, all this means there are people everywhere and cars, motorbikes, tractors and trailers and the odd bicycle. In true Turkish tradition, the rules of the road get little attention from the road users. Driving on the right is only observed, for the most part, by the through traffic. It’s a scene of chaos. And right through the middle runs the D400 long-distance highway with no segregation whatsoever. It’s hard to believe that there have only been a small number of fatalities along this stretch of road.
A regular feature of the route is police roadblocks. They do check for speeding – as I found to my cost some time ago – but mostly the checks are for driving licenses, insurance and, in the case of our bus, tachographs. The driver took the disk out of the tachometer, picked up the bus’s papers and disappeared with one of the policemen to get the third degree. Meanwhile one of the passengers noticed that there was a toilet in the layby. An opportunity not to be missed. A couple of minutes later the driver returned obviously a free man, got back into his seat, started the engine and pulled out leaving the unfortunate passenger still in the concrete shed that was the toilet. Someone called to the driver but he replied indicating that he was well aware of the missing passenger and slowed to a crawl. It was just the driver enjoying a Turkish speciality, the practical joke. They really are masters of the art.
As we got closer to our destination the clouds started to lift a little and we had a great view of the snowy mountain tops. This bodes well for the summer as the meltwater from the snow will be good for building up the water supplies for the hot months.
Fethiye is a busy town on the sea supporting a vast hinterland. It’s a transport hub with buses going to all parts of Turkey and a ferry to Rhodos (Rhodes) the Greek island. In the twenty odd years I have been going there it has grown from under 50,000 population to near 150,000 today. And that’s only the city. The surrounding small communities have grown at the same rate so that the conurbation now stretches in the order of 20 km east to west and 15 km north to south. It’s a big place.
We pulled into Fethiye Otogar at 11.40, dead on time.
My return journey later in the day was nothing like as luxurious although 3 TL cheaper on the Bati Antalya midi-bus. It was the end of the afternoon and people were going home from work and shopping, etc, etc. The bus was jammed packed and stayed that way until about 10 km from Kalkan. As we passed through Kinik, Ova and Yeṣilkȍy the bus was stopping to let people off every couple of minutes. By the time we pulled into Kalkan there were only a handful of passengers on board and most got off. No doubt there would be more passengers to pick up over the next 200 km of its journey to the City of Antalya.
And so ends another day made possible by the comprehensive public transport network of Turkey. Although the rail network misses large areas of the country, everywhere is very well served by buses of all shapes and sizes. Finding timetables, knowing how much it will cost and where to book tickets when necessary can sometimes be a challenge but it’s always worth the effort. Catch a bus and see Turkey and the Turks.