It was just before eight in the morning and, under the weight of my backpack, I was sulking as I threw a cigarette butt into the wet grass and placed a fresh one between my lips. I was suffering acid reflux indigestion, thanks to my stomach being full to bursting point of Menemen, a traditional Turkish breakfast made from eggs, onions, tomatoes and green peppers; and Sucuk, a spicy beef sausage. I was into my third week in Turkey, so I knew full well by now that this tasty offering disagreed profusely with my digestive system, but I still hadn’t found the courage to decline the early morning offers from any of the overly hospitable Turks that had hosted me so far on this trek across their country. This wasn’t the only cause of my less than jovial mood. I was tired after a night of very little sleep. The Black Sea weather on this late March morning was overcast and miserable. I was not sad to be leaving the small city of Ereğli – home to Turkey’s largest steel plant; not to mention the Ottoman strawberry – after two days spent exploring the area; I was just sad to be doing it at such an early hour of the day.
My friend and travel-partner, Adriana, decided that the best way of getting out of Ereğli was not to walk to the point of the city that we had entered in to, but rather the opposite end. I had my doubts, but didn’t care to speak. I just wanted to walk off my sour mood and to be left in peace to smoke my last two cigarettes. So, in silence we walked.
The road through the city was a narrow one, and only very rarely did a vehicle pass us. On my left, colourful blocks of flats sat perched on the hills, the tops of which were hidden by low-lying clouds, as the mosque’s minaret pointed to where the rain would soon be coming from. Behind the hills, hundreds of miles of water and then the southern coast of Ukraine. On my right, an army barracks, a school, a hamam (Turkish bath).
We had been dragging our feet for a good 40 minutes when I finally opened my mouth to speak. “I’m not so sure coming this way was the best idea in the world.”
She replied, stubbornly, “It has to be.”
“I’ll ask in that shop over there,” I said, pointing to a block of flats on our left, at the base of which was a glass door covered in cigarette posters. To call it a shop was generous; in reality it was a man sat behind a table, in an empty room, with a few packets of cigarettes behind him and five or six small chocolate bars in front of him. I mumbled “Marlboro” at him, got told that he didn’t have them, and then was handed a packet of Samsun 216, a Turkish brand that I had neither seen nor heard of before, but that cost less than I had got used to paying. Before exiting, I asked the man if we were heading in the right direction for the road to Samsun, the city we hoped to reach by nightfall. He shook his head, spat a load of words at me in Turkish, none of which were understood, and then led me outside, before pointing in the direction from which we had just come. I thanked him and returned to Adriana, shaking my head.
“It’s okay, we’ll just hitchhike from here back to the other side of the city; to the place where we were first dropped off,” she told me, refusing to show any signs of defeat.
“But there are no cars,” I said dejectedly, as I lit my first Samsun 216.
“Eventually there will be.”
I sighed and dropped my backpack at the side of the road.
I turned around to see that we had been joined by a middle-aged man who also smoked Samsun 216s.