Life Abroad: Riot on a Turkish Bus

by missfootloose on May 12, 2012 · 23 comments

in adventure, life abroad, Turkey

Istanbul shop window

Istanbul at night. We didn't get to see this.

The woman in front of me in the bus is screaming at the driver. In Turkish. I’m thinking  it’s Turkish because we’re in Turkey and I assume the driver is Turkish. After she has finished raging, she sits down again. My mate and I look at each other. We’re not happy, either.

It is almost midnight. We expected to be on this bus no more than ten minutes and it’s been over half an hour now. We’ve left the lights of civilization behind us and are driving through dark countryside. I have no idea where we are. Ten minutes ago we stopped for gas. It was not a good omen.

I wait a moment to let the woman in front of me catch her breath, then lean forward and tap her on the shoulder.

“Does he know how much farther?” I ask in English.

We’re an international tribe of travelers on this bus. Nobody knows anybody else. Nobody knows where we’re going.

For one reason or another, we’ve all been stranded at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and have been offered a night in a hotel by the airline, free of charge. This sounded good a while ago, but after waiting for more than an hour to even get on this bus, and now driving Allah knows where, this is beginning to lose its appeal.

We’ve been on vacation on the southwest coast of Turkey and all we want to do now is go home to Moldova, where we live our expat life, but the next flight over there isn’t until tomorrow evening.

The woman turns her head to answer me. “No!” she says. “He’s following a van in front! He doesn’t know where we are going! And I have to be back at the airport at 4!”

Since it’s after midnight now, this does not sound good for her getting any sleep.

How far do you have to go for a hotel near Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport? Or in Istanbul proper? It’s not even the tourist season. Surely there are rooms available nearby.

“The hotels can’t all be full,” I say to my prince sitting next to me. “Unless there’s some huge event we’ve not heard about. Where could they be taking us?”

“Maybe Syria. I hear they have a lot of vacancies.”

Maybe the bus is being hijacked. Maybe we’re taken to some obscure hideaway in the Turkish hinterlands and held for ransom. My imagination is running wild, which it does easily and with abandon. I am, after all, a writer. Really, imagine: a whole bus of foreigners from all corners of the world, kidnapped. Just think about it. I can write the newspaper headlines. I’m sure, dear reader, so can you.

It’s quiet in the bus for another fifteen minutes while we all (I assume) contemplate our possible fate. Then the woman in front of me gets up once more and starts screaming at the bus driver again. She is now joined by a number of others in a variety of languages and accents. The driver is yelling back. We have a mini riot on the bus and the air trembles with international rage and decibels. I’m fascinated. I’ve never been close to a riot before, so now I can scratch that off my list. I would love to show you a photo, but it does not seem an opportune moment to take out my camera and start shooting pictures of people in the throes of fury.

Exhausted, everyone sits down again. Nobody overpowered the driver and took control. We drive on in the dark Turkish night.

I look outside and try to calm my imagination. There is nothing to see outside and this does not help. I’m grateful for one thing: I went to the restroom before getting on the bus.

And then I remember: In my suitcase I have a bag full of “blue eyes” (Nazar Boncugu) to give away as presents. A bag full of powerful amulets! Surely that should ward off lots of evil and bad energy, don’t you think?

Turkey Blue Eyes Amulets

Blue Eyes, Nazar Boncugu

Fifteen more minutes pass. It’s an hour into the journey now. Then we hit what feels like an unpaved road, or a dirt track. Outside the window bushes and greenery are close by. This does not give me hope. I can see how this would look on a movie screen, with spine-chilling music playing in the background. We’re being taken to some hidden bush place nobody knows about. Even a bag full of amulets isn’t helping.

Then we see lights. And walls and windows and big double doors. Lots of light.

It’s a resort hotel.

The atmosphere in the bus changes dramatically, and we all scramble to get off as fast as we can.

My man and I are given a two-room suite, huge bed, huge bathroom, huge sitting room. The view from the windows? We don’t see it until the next morning: The Sea of Marmara. We’re in a full-service resort, way west of Istanbul, so tells us the information we find in the room.

Turkish resort hotel

The Sea of Marmara, the view from our room

We spend the day roaming around the place, bemoaning the fact that we’ve lost the chance to spend the day exploring Istanbul instead, which had been our plan. Then again, we could have been herded into a cow shed and held for ransom, so really, I’m not complaining.

Turkish resort hotel

Old world vintage

In spite of all its comforts and marble, the resort is no Club Med. It has a sort of stuffy, pompous old world ambiance, a faded glory lacking in real charm. But it has several pools, a gym, and a spa offering a full range of treatments, some rather mysterious to me. And since the vacation season has not yet started, the only people in the place are the ones on our bus. And none of us is interested in all these amenities apart from a bed and a shower and a ride back to the airport. How sad, really. A useless freebee.

Turkish resort

We are offered breakfast and lunch, and that evening we board a plane back home to Moldova. Would you call that an anti-climax?

* * *

Do you have an airport or travel story? Sure, you do!

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23 Comments on "Life Abroad: Riot on a Turkish Bus"

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I was once on a regular city bus in Antalya that almost erupted into a riot. A passenger got on and started screaming at the driver, complaining that the last bus didn’t stop to let her on. Someone asked her to stop screaming, pointing out that this driver did in fact stop. And then we were off, with the rush-hour crowd all screaming at each other.


My airport-layover story:

On the other hand, I have a number of times found myself in a hotel of the sort you describe: old and large and quite empty. I enjoy antique stuffiness and roam through the deserted corridors imagining myself wandering through Last Year in Marienbad.


Haha. I love your story! I would have freaked out a bit I’m sure. At least you arrived at a nice hotel. I’ve been in a couple scary situations with taxi drivers who I thought were going to drive me into an ambush in an alley. Fortunately, I was just overly worried. But I always carry a moderately light backpack in case I have to bolt. 🙂

Annabel Candy
Oh, I hate travel by bus. A 10 Minute journey is fine but any longer drives me nuts? I would have been leading the riot! I thought My bus had been stopped by Somalain shifta on a bus trip in Kenya once. We swerved off the road suddenly and stopped by a couple of heavily armed men. They turned out to be the bus drivers friends but I was terrified at the time as murders and rapes were quite common on that route and at that time. That’s one of. My scariest travel experiences and one that turned out to… Read more »
an expat wife

Oh your writing is absolute magic! Every single entry has me sitting on the edge of my seat or just absorbed in fascination. I really love to read your adventures.

And I am so glad this turned out so well as I too worry about things like that. Every time I get a taxi and it travels in a direction I am not familiar with I worry if it’s a kidnap in progress!

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living

I love how all these foreign adventures give you stories to write about. Going to Target and Walmart never has that much excitement. I can only imagine how scary you must have felt in the dark on that crazy bus ride.


I think our husbands would get along…they share a similar sense of humour! I can relate, although our airline-bus-hotel story took place in broad daylight and wasn’t nearly as nice. Still, the 60s-era faded grandeur, the long interminable bus ride, the lack of communication…all happened in Casablanca once when I was traveling back to Mauritania with the kids, having left Donn in the US for a couple more months.

Welshcakes Limoncello

Love the amulets!

Expat Mum

I’m just about to post about a trip to Jamaica back in 1986; most of it wasn’t really scary (or at least, I didn’t realise how much danger I was in), except for the part where my friend jokingly told a huge, high Jamaican guy that I was for sale. And then he got really mad when she wouldn’t hand over the goods, so to speak!


In this day and age, you are lucky to that the airline actually put you up in a hotel for the night. So like you to take the wild bus ride in stride and turn the air travel snafu into a funny tale to entertain your readers.

Turkey's For Life

Oh if only you could have taken a photo of the near-riot. That would’ve been great! 🙂 Great view from your hotel window and it does mean you can save – and savour – Istanbul for another time.

Anne O'Connell (@annethewriter)
Great story Karen! I could just imagine you sitting on the bus with your imagination running away with itself. It brought me back about 18 years ago when I traveled to Guatemala for a month of Spanish immersion (by myself) and arrived in Guatemala City airport (one of the scariest places I’ve ever been… although the fact that it was almost midnight probably didn’t help). I ran a seemingly endless gauntlet of menacing men all leering at me, to the airport exit flanked by armed guards with machine guns. I was so relieved to see a man holding a sign… Read more »

Hahahaha “Syria, they have a lot of vacancies”. Die is goed, moest ik wel om lachen.

A Touch of Dutch blog

What an experience! Thankfully it ended on such a good note — Could have been some help from the amulets, but either way it’s good to know you were put up into such a lovely resort in the end 🙂 I found your blog through a fellow blogger’s list & am glad I did. I’m enjoying your stories! Do keep sharing!

I was wondering about your adventures in Turkey and really enjoyed reading them..Hope you will make it again. If you ever come again around Marmaris area, I would love to meet you… Well my airport story is from Abu Dhabi. Just like you we had to stay at a hotel that the airline offered us for a night. It was a lousy one but no problem because all I wanted was some sleep. But soon we found out that it was a hotel used by Arab gentelmen to bring their new and paid lady friends for a few hours… That… Read more »

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