The Bus Incident

This is going to be a story about one of my more interesting days on the road. Fair warning: if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip this article….

My time in İzmir was coming to a close. It had been an enjoyable and relaxing week. The hostel was a block away from a pedestrian street full of restaurants. Another block beyond that was the bay. And they’d made the path along the water nice. Right along the water is a stone ‘fence’ and a cobblestone path. A little further inland they planted grass and a few trees. In the middle of the grass, there’s a bicycle lane, and a pedestrian walkway. I walked down there a few times to sit in the grass and chill with the breeze blowing through my hair. I really liked İzmir.

The only down side is there was no easy, public transportation route between the hostel and the main bus station. But this morning was a [relatively] cool 22 degrees (72F), and I was feeling refreshed after a week of relaxation so I decided I could just walk. Google said it would take about an hour, but I walk fast so I figured about 45 minutes.

I got to the spot, and…it looked an awful lot like a metro station that was under construction. I checked the map again; I was sure it had said ‘otogar’ (Turkish for main bus station) in the description. Sure enough, it did say that…but there were 2 other spots in town that said that as well. One was a good deal south, and I knew that wasn’t it as I’d arrived in the city at the ‘otogar’. That meant the remaining options was…another hour on foot east. Well, I was still feeling pretty good so I decided to continue walking.

Roughly 45 minutes later, I arrived at the correct otogar. A quick check confirmed I’d walked 6.1 kilometers (3.8 miles). Incidentally, this was with me carrying my backpack the whole time. Needless to say, I’d gotten hot and sweaty by then, but I wasn’t feeling too bad. Score a win for fitness.

Now it was time to buy a ticket to Bursa (the way point en route to İstanbul). The guy at the counter said the bus was leaving right then. So I bought my ticket, and ran outside. I got there just as they were getting ready to close the door, and leave. Perfect timing.

Four hours later on one of the nice buses, I arrived in Bursa. The bus station is the largest I’ve seen. I was later told it’s the largest bus station in all of Turkey. Navigating this place is far more difficult than the bus stations in the less than 100,000 permanent resident towns I’d been to so far.

While buying my ticket to İstanbul, the guy handling my purchase got into an argument with someone. It was in Turkish so I have no idea what they were saying, but it was clearly going to take a while. So another agent reached around him to finish inputting my information in the computer, printed out my ticket, and told me where to go. Thanks; minor crisis averted.

Now I just had a 2.5 hour trip to my destination city. However, I encountered a rather serious issue about an hour into the ride: I had to poop. Normally, that would just be a minor annoyance, but my diet had changed rather drastically in the past week so things were a little less solid than normal. Whatever, I’d just try to hold it in as much as possible, but farts refused to be contained. After one of them, I felt a little different. Had I just shit my pants? I hoped not, and resumed the waiting game hoping the bus would stop anywhere soon.

But now there was another problem: there was a lot of traffic. After a while, the bus pulled off the highway, and started going down side streets. At first, I thought that meant we were close to a station, but no. After another half hour of side streets, the bus finally stopped at a gas station. The ‘stewardess’ said something rather lengthy in Turkish, but I wasn’t paying much attention. Even if I could have understood her, I knew I was getting off to find a bathroom.

The bathroom that was available was a traditional Turkish one: a hole in the floor. No time to be picky; into the stall I went, and…sweet relief! While I had my pants down, I decided to check a few things. Sure enough, I had shit my pants. My underwear was quite brown, but there wasn’t anything solid in there, and nothing had transferred onto my jeans. Small victories.

Then, I discovered another problem: it seems toilet paper is a relatively new concept to Turks. There was a water faucet sitting rather low on the wall, and a small bucket underneath it. Was I supposed to clean myself up with that? I remembered something I’d heard in a cultural class a while back. Something about people using their left hands to clean themselves with, and thus not using that hand to shake hands or eat with. Well, I had to get out of the bathroom somehow so…yeah, I made my left hand very unclean. And washed the hell out of my hands when I got out of the stall!

I hadn’t done a great job of washing my ass (I mean, how can you when all you have is water and your hands), and didn’t have a change of underwear with me so…it looked like I was just going to have to be dirty for a little longer. At least I no longer felt the pressure on my guts so I was (relatively) comfortable.

All this had happened with enough time for me to get back on the bus for which I was quite grateful. I could have gotten to my final destination from the gas station in the middle of nowhere, but it certainly wouldn’t have been easy. It was time to wait out the remaining hour until we got the to the İstanbul bus station.

But as we went along, I noticed the buildings becoming less frequent. I pulled out my phone (which didn’t have data; fortunately, I loaded some of the area before I lost it), and checked the GPS. We were on a highway that goes around the outside of İstanbul. Where were we going? Whatever, I could figure out how to get back at the next city we stopped at.

Fortunately, we eventually started going back toward İstanbul. It seems the otogar is on the European side of the city, and we were coming from the Asian side. I’m guessing that spiel the stewardess gave earlier was saying something like “There’s been an accident near the bridge so we’re going to circle around the city. This will take us an additional hour to complete.” At least that’s my guess as we ended up at the bus station an hour later than the original plan.

From the main bus station, I took a small bus to a square. From there, I followed the directions I’d (thankfully) written down the previous evening to find the hostel (this no data thing was quite annoying). I checked in, and took a much needed shower. So…much…scrubbing….

I also had to poop a few more times before going to sleep, because diarrhea is no joke. At least this time the hostel had western toilets with paper. So I was able to adequately clean myself after each use. The little luxuries we take for granted….

So yeah, this was a not so pleasant experience, but everything worked out in the end. It’s also a very real reminder of why it’s important to eat a sufficient amount of fiber. There’s a reason locals down a lot of bread even if it’s not garnished with anything. Lesson learned.

I hope those of you that actually read through this found it entertaining. More importantly, I hope you’ve learned with me how important food choices are. Until the next disaster….

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