Recently, I was chatting with an old friend, when the topic of travel plans came up. Dewey shared that his wife had been trying to talk him into one of those Viking River Boat Cruises on the Rhine River, next Spring/Summer, but he had finally nixed the idea because of the "dangerous unrest" in Europe these days. This conversation, and Mercurious' recent story about (sort of) getting lost (sort of) in the Black Forest, reminded me of my wife and I getting lost in Turkey a few years ago.
For some reason (I'm not descended from Turks, or speak the language, or anything), I had always wanted to visit Istanbul. So we flew into Istanbul, spent a few days there(it's delightful), and then rented a car (a crappy Ford Fiesta) to drive around Turkey for two weeks - no reservations or set itinerary, just knocking around the way one might knock around the American West. It was early April. As it turns out, the tourist seasons starts- we didn't know, so a few things weren't open yet, but at least we avoided the crowds.
Generally, the experience was wonderful. The roads were about as good as Minnesota roads, but with only 10% the traffic (outside of Istanbul). Navigation was a little tricky; this was before GPS. Not that I use GPS anyway—I'm a map guy (real maps, that fold up). We had 3 maps, one brought from home, one purchased there, and one provided by the rental car company. And they almost never matched. Sometimes we failed to find a particular ruin we were looking for, and stumbled on a different one instead.
So one afternoon, we were driving on a nice, two-lane, blacktop road in the Capadocia region in central Turkey (see photo at left) headed for a town where we hoped to find a hotel, when we spotted a sign with a symbol we had come to recognize as a scenic lookout. Without consulting my spouse, I made an executive decision and turned down a gravel road in search of promised scenic lookout. There was an inch or so of snow on the ground, from the night before, but the gravel road seemed well-traveled.
After about a mile or so, there was a less-traveled road off to our left, in the direction of some mountains. There was also, at this intersection, a parked car and 4 teenage boys, drinking beer, as teenage boys will do, and roasting hotdogs over a small fire. We asked them if the road to the left led to the scenic lookout, but none of them admitted speaking English. I decided to go for it.
We followed a single set of tire tracks (in the snow), for another mile, until we came to the edge of the cliff - I was driving slow, no real danger of us plunging off the cliff. The first mystery was that the tire tracks I had been following just stopped - they didn't go over the cliff, there was no sign of turning around, and there was no car??? Not sure if this was really a scenic lookout (probably not).
Trying to turn around, I got stuck. When I couldn't rock it out, I put wife behind the wheel and pushed it out - of those ruts, only to get stuck again. This pattern repeated for the next hour. I have been driving in Minnesota for 50 years, and never experienced conditions like this. There was only about an inch of snow, but below the snow was several feet of loose volcanic ash, which is a lot like snow, except worse.
So we hiked the mile back to the teenagers with the fire. It turned out, they did speak passable English (a lot better than my Turkish). We explained what had happened. They said, "Oh, that's quite common, happens all the time." And went back to drinking.
So we hiked another mile back to the blacktop road, where there happened to be a BP station. Five old men were attempting to repair one of the pumps. They were much friendlier than the teenagers, but none of them (really) spoke English. After a while, one of the men disappeared into a living quarters behind the station, and emerged with a 10 yr-old boy - who spoke fluent English. We explained what had happened. The boy said, "Oh, that's quite common, happens all the time." And went inside. But not before explaining our predicament to the adults.
One of the men pulled out his flip-phone and made a call. He then escorted us into the living quarters, where the 10 yr-old and a friend were watching soccer, and signaled for us to wait. We were not sure exactly what we were waiting for. Nor how long it might take. Or if our rescuer could actually get us out of there. Or how much it might cost. Or whether whoever came to our rescue would take American plastic. I had about $30 worth of Turkish Lira.
The soccer game ended. The boys left. It got dark. After about an hour, we were now watching some sort of political debate, in Turkish, the man who had made the phone call signaled for us to come outside. There, was a farmer on what appeared to be a 1910-era tractor. He motioned for me to climb onto the tractor. There wasn't really any place to ride, so I sort of balanced on this thin bar and held on to the man's seat. My wife stayed behind, watching the debate.
I gave the farmer directions by pointing. When we reached our rental car, he jumped off and hooked up a chain to something under the car (finding a part of the Fiesta not made of plastic was actually the most difficult part of this process), and pulled it out - no problem. When we got back to the larger gravel road, where the teenagers were still drinking, he unhooked it. While I was turning around, ever so carefully, the farmer on the tractor took off. I caught up with him at the BP station, and flagged him down. He was slightly annoyed to be stopped again, perhaps headed home for dinner, maybe to watch the debate.
He spoke no English, but I managed to convey that I wanted to pay him, and he managed to convey that he did not expect to be paid. I gave him the $30 worth of Turkish Lira anyway. I retrieved my wife, and we drove on to our original destination, where we found a room and had a very nice meal.
I thought about this, and similar experiences, as my old friend talked about how dangerous it might be to take a Viking River Boat Cruise on the Rhine these days. My friend is a believer in the theory of "American Exceptionalism." And like most believers in "American Exceptionalism," he has never really been out of the country (Canada and Cancun don't count).
So I agreed—for fellows like this, a Rhine River cruise probably was too dangerous.