The sixteen year old boy had succeeded in his mission to make his friends laugh. In fact, the whole group of about seven or eight was now sniggering behind us, repeating over and over the word that had triggered the giggles.
“Hey, Grinpis!” one of the group called out.
To this bunch of well-presented highschool students from Turkey’s middle class, enjoying kebabs on their lunch break under the warm March sun in the city of Samsun, Adriana and I apparently looked like representatives of Greenpeace. Adriana, in her oversized military coat, Palestinian scarf, bumper platform boots, and bright green hair. Me, in a pair of camouflaged shorts, a vest, canvas shoes, sporting a four-week beard and with a large tattoo of Cat Stevens’ face on my arm. Both of us marching along under the weight of our backpacks, and with me carrying a tent under my arm.
“Grinpis!” they all called out in unison.
We carried on walking, flashing the peace sign as we did. The kids laughed raucously. We reached the footbridge that would take us to the other side of the busy dual carriageway, when one of the group left his friends to run to us and initiate conversation.
“Hello,” he said, “Where are you from?”
His pals quickly caught up, and now we were all stood at the foot of the bridge, introducing ourselves to one another. The group was divided evenly between boys and girls. We told them that we were from Romania and England.
“What are you doing in Samsun?” one of them asked.
One of the lads quickly answered for us, “You are here with Grinpis!”
“Nope, not here with Greenpeace. Just a couple of travellers, spending some time trying to get to know your country a bit. We are hitchhiking through, from west to east. We started in Istanbul, and eventually we will make it to Kars, before carrying on to Georgia and Armenia,” Adriana filled them in.
“Why did you come to Samsun? We don’t get foreign tourists here. If you are in Turkey, you must go to Akdeniz, it is much more beautiful than Karadeniz,” said one of the girls.
This was an opinion that had been voiced to us by Turks in every town and city we had passed through so far. Akdeniz (literally, ‘White Sea’) was the Turkish name for the Mediterranean on the country’s southern coastline, while Karadeniz was the Black Sea of the country’s north; where we now were. Everyone wanted to send us down to the south, fearing that unless we went and experienced the idealic setting of the country’s majestic southern seaside, we would go away without having experienced the best of what Turkey had to offer. The question almost every single Turk had asked us on finding we were travelling in their country was, “Have you been to Antalya?” Always followed shortly by, “Then you must go to Antalya!”
But we weren’t in Turkey to lie on a beach, in a resort crawling with sun-burnt, sandles and socks wearing, fat couples from Birmingham or Leeds, in matching Union Jack shorts and bikinis. We had come to Turkey to see Turkey and to meet Turks. My rule was simple: If there was anywhere in the town that offered a Full English Breakfast, then it was a town that we would not be staying in.