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Flying the Friendly Roads
By Evelyn - 14 Nov, 1999

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Anyone who talks about their travels to Turkey will undoubtedly mention the hyper-sophisticated long-distance bus system; independent bus companies sleek, organized and punctual enough to rival the national airlines of most countries.

Not that riding buses is the primary attraction in Turkey, but it is a great way to move about and see the country. Travelling by day, we would have full view out of crystal clear windows of the passing countryside. On overnight hauls, we'd save on a hotel room—often in greater comfort. This is far more than can be said for bus transport back home. A quick mental glance at my own Alternative Basic Needs index shows that US cities come up short in both the public toilet and public transport categories. While McDonald's might be an adequate surrogate public toilet facility, the fact that the masses of America prefer to climb into their own vehicles or take a flight for longer distances allows bus monopolies to charge premium prices for sub-standard comfort.

The long-distance bus industry in Turkey is in fact the equivalent to the airline industry back home. The big otogars (bus terminals) look like airports—complete with shopping-restaurant complex extensions. Some even have an attached mosque. In Istanbul, no less than 200 private operators are lined up, their neon signs glowing above service counters behind which too many agents are crammed. The larger operators also have their own branded rest-stops so even en route you can have a snack or use the W.C. without forgetting for a minute with whom you're riding.

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On a trip from Istanbul to Konya, we were picked up at the ticketing office in Taksim Square (city center Istanbul on European side) and privately (there happened to be no other passengers) shuttled to the otogar. There, at the bus company's 'gate', we were led upstairs to a waiting area, served tea, and entertained by Turkish prime time until our departure. Once on-board, we taxied around the terminal a short while before taking off. Our uniformed bus attendant wore a crisp white shirt with studded-gold wing-tips and came by to offer first lemon cologne, then water, soft drink, tea and/or coffee. Sometimes, if the particular bus company really wants your patronage, you'll be served tasty Turkish cake snacks.

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These buses are extremely large and expensive, and always decorated in slick graphics. Most we saw were Mercedes Benz luxury coaches, manufactured in Turkey and worth about US$250,000, we were told. On a trip from Konya to Cappadocia, we arrived early to see our bus parked at its gate. It was a brand new Mercedes and we were not alone in admiring it. Locals—food hawkers, envious drivers, even well-wishers accompanying their travelling relatives would peer inside just for a look. The polished dash wood-paneling dash had full-on digital controls, the drivers shock-absorbent seat bounced gently up and down. There was fuzzy new carpeting everywhere and all the rubber-plastic seat adjusters and handles invited touch. I thought of those long bus rides on West African buses during which I would be at pains to minimize skin-to-surface contact during an entire day's ride.




Flying the Friendly Roads
  c/o Turkish Hospitality
  The Earthquake Dividend

  New York
    New York City
  West Africa
    The Gambia
  Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"Live every act fully, as if it were your last."
-- Buddha
  © 1999/2000 ~ All SUVs to the burbs.