Years ago when I first thought to translate my quirky, solitary observations about life from oral stories and scribbles from my leather bound journals to the wild wild west of the internet I made a plan for what I hoped to pioneer for myself online. The stories on dobbernationLOVES and as it turns out, my life for the last six years have been driven and born through the motto “Eat Well, Travel Hard, Live Better.”
I think I’ve mastered the art of Eating Well which to me is best defined by the following traits: maintaining an inquisitiveness about the food and drink we consume, where does it come from, who makes it, why do some foods hold a cultural and religious significance, where do the locals eat? Those who Eat Well enjoy healthy salads as well as decadent desserts, humble street food to the culinary mastery found in Michelin kitchens.
I’ve been interviewed several times over the past few years and a brow is always raised when the conversation pauses at Traveling Hard. By my own definition travellers that opt for the harder route pass on all-inclusive vacations where you never once step off your resort property and meet a local. Those who adopt the Travel Hard philosophy on their adventures are looking for inspirations “off the beaten path” and recognize that often uncomfortable journeys and awkward experiences allow us to break through cultural and geographical barriers to realize a diamond in the rough, an unforgettable moment. These adventurers realize that travel is not synonymous with relaxation and that to truly discover a space and place (and especially its people) one is faced with several challenges along the way that are not ideal or necessarily easy. Frustrations with language barriers, squat toilets, hot humid mucky heat, conservative religious rules and endlessly long bus rides are what these folks expect and embrace.
After traveling to over 60 countries at the ripe age of 28 I often enjoy reflecting on my endless adventures at home and abroad. I always seek to Travel Hard as I’ve realized it’s allowed me to grow as a person, to Live Better. Those who actively seek to Live Better take their life experiences whether elated or deflated and try to evolve into a happier individual. I constantly struggle with learning to Live Better. I’ve been a Type A individual from the get go so Traveling Hard has given me the education on the road I needed to understand the world in which I can not control. This blog which was first-born as a travel journal and then blossomed into a food-centric site when I moved to Toronto in 2010 has in the past year come full circle as a Lifestyle space where I hope to collect my experiences and inspire readers who whisper through its pages. Those who chose to Live Better expose themselves to daily experiences that force them outside of their comfort zone to sample something new. These folks plan exotic trips, have a thirst for new cuisine, explore avant-garde theatre and embrace the politics of art that force us ask the crucial question: what simply is it to be human?
And now for a lesson in Traveling Hard…
On my recent trip to Turkey I experienced an unforgettable evening that would have me thinking for days about the meaning of life and in many ways the evolution of this blog which is tied very deeply to what I eat, drink and breath. To date it is one of the most disturbing, challenging, exhausting, shocking and terrifying evenings of my life. I write this as a therapy in hopes that my message about the importance of Traveling Hard shines through. I decided to share this horrific and somewhat embarrassing experience to give the episode purpose. My “unfortunate evening in Istanbul” took place on September 23rd and after sharing images and thoughts of the experience via instagram, twitter and facebook I had several people ask me if I would be coming home early. Thoughtful questions from those who care which I appreciated, but here lies the moral of my story: never allow an unfortunate circumstance to keep you from enjoying the life you set out for yourself. I think this mindset translates perfectly from the situations travelers can get themselves into such as having your luggage raided by thieves or succumbing to the doom and gloom of loneliness on the road. In a broader context I think we can take these incidents and how we deal with them and apply them to our everyday lives: how do we react to bad news when it relates to our careers, relationships and personal goals?
I spent four days enthusiastically adventuring through Istanbul. I instantly fell in love with Turkey’s favourite city which straddles both Europe and Asia via the shimmering Bosphorus. After running around on my last day in the city I headed back to my hotel to rest and relax before my night bus that evening which would be zooming south to the breezy town of Selcuk where I hoped to explore the famed ruins of Ephesus. I had done my very best to sample my way through Istanbul’s street food that day and with a bloated gut I lay down to digest. An hour later an alarm went off signaling my need to bolt and as I groggily twisted upright in my bed I let out a little groan as my stomach felt unsettled. Heaven knows as a food writer my gut gets a beating so like any other day I chewed on a TUMS and ran to the tram.
Istanbul’s Metro is horrifically crowded. I was loathing my journey to the central bus station which would take approximately 45 minutes (and one transfer to another metro line). As I approached the ticketing booth I suddenly felt dizzy and overcome with exhaustion. I gripped my suitcase handle and pushed my way onto the tram where I found a corner to lean (sadly no seat for me). I zoomed past nine stops then transfered from my streetcar to the subway line. A wave of nausea rushed from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes and the chaos around me was totally overwhelming. The skin which clung to my bones decided to simultaneously drench itself through my clothes. I closed my eyes, gulped and tried to focus on something calm and uncomplicated. I settled on a white room with a white table where one white chicken egg sat still on the counter. I soon realized the feeling wasn’t fleeting and debated getting off the tram early as I felt I might hurl and prefered not to do so in such small quarters on a group of innocent strangers. I was able to “get my shit together” mentally and thankfully survived until my transfer point. I took short deep breaths and pushed myself out the door as soon as the train came to a stop. I found a bench and lay down with my eyes closed as thousands whirled by with curious faces. With the little strength I had I rummaged through my suitcase and found a packet of Imodium which I popped into my mouth followed by a swig of lukewarm water. At this point I realized I was full blown illin and debated hailing a cab to drive me the rest of the way. Leave it to my “cheep and cheerful can do attitude” I opted to lug my luggage down several hundred steps to the subway platform.
After spending 20 minutes in a hot as hell subway car my ability to zen my sickness away hit a tipping point. I was still thinking about that white egg sitting on a white table in a white room but the noisy chaos of the space, the cattle car like conditions had my body falling weak. The doors swished open at the cities Ottogar (Bus Station) and as if God himself allowed for perfect timing I took three steps out of the door and while standing on the platform in limbo realized my breakfast and lunch were soon going to be making a second appearance. I had two seconds to make a decision on where this was going to happen. With not a garbage in sight I quickly rested my hot forehead on cool marble column and moments later projectile vomited with such enthusiasm one could have called me a fountain. The sound of the splatter made me wince. There is nothing more embarrassing than puking in front of hundreds of strangers. I looked up quickly and stared into thousands of shocked eyes before the second round, a forceful evacuation, craciendod to the floor. As the heaving ended my legs almost buckled from exhaustion. My feet were soaked and no one stepped forward to offer their help. So after taking three deep breaths I turned right (as if nothing had happened) and slowly crawled up the escalator.
Over the next hour I painfully tried to find a washroom but with no luck left the station and grabbed a few tissues from a kebab patio. I poured what was left of my water bottle over my shoes and did my best to regain my strength through steady breathing. The next challenge would be to find my bus out of the hundreds that depart every minute from Istanbul’s wild maze of a bus station. I showed my bus ticket to ten or so locals. Each held a dreary expression on their face and waved me away or pointed in the wrong direction. Twenty minutes before my bus departed I thankfully happened upon it by chance. With a glorious smile on my face I handed my suitcase to the attendant and slowly climbed up the steps. Surely the worst was over: I had just puked my guts out in public, spent almost 90 minutes searching for a bathroom to clean the shame off myself (with no luck) and located my bus just before it departed! I was now sitting in a comfy seat surrounded by AC. As the bus pulled out of the station at 9:30pm I swallowed a sleeping pill, squeezed in my ear plugs and covered my eyes for what I hoped would be an easy breezy journey. Little did I know, the craptastic evening had just begun.
No more than 30 minutes out of the bus station and I heard a thwack and screech followed by screams. I quickly ripped the blinders off my eyes and in a few short seconds realized my bus had been in a horrible accident. I was in the 2nd row so could see right out the drivers window where the front tires had burst and entrance door was being shredded along the highway guard rail. For whatever reason I never looked back, just straight forward in shock as the bus slid down the highway to a halt on the right shoulder. Perhaps it was because my body was so defeated at this point I didn’t even leave my seat. I recall thinking “oh we must have hit a bump in the road.” Not until screaming passengers tried to run out the front door did I look back and realize half of the bus had split in two. I screamed a few four letter words silently to myself before grabbing my bag to follow the crowd. It smelled of burning rubber and gasoline. A murky dust cloud filled the space. All I could hear was screaming.
Women were crying, young children clung to their mothers and couples hugged each other as highway traffic whipped by. I stood on the shoulder of the road in total disbelief. After a few minutes outside it dawned on me that the bus was heading to a junk yard and a sense of dread on what would happen to us washed over me. Would they have another bus available to pick us up or would we be stranded on the outskirts of Istanbul? Just as my own self absorbed problems were running around through my mind the seriousness of the situation became significantly worse. After hearing a choir of gasps and screams coming from the bus I turned my head and saw two men covered in blood being hoisted out of the front door. Mothers grabbed their children in an attempt to protect them from the brutal images quickly gathering on a grassy hill which allowed them to sit a safe distance from the crash. One man had half of his bicep dangling from his right arm, the other was laying on the ground with his legs in tatters. I felt I was watching a World War II film as courageous passengers ripped off their shirts and tied them around wounds.
I felt nauseous again so turned away, hopped over the rail and joined a huddle of families propped on a hill. As if out of human nature I simply shared my concern and fears on my face with the stunned group. A mother came over to rub my shoulder and without saying a word one of her small boys sat on my lap and hugged my neck. I held him tight while hearing the police and ambulance sirens in the distance. I let out a tearful gasp.
Over the next three hours we waited in the freezing cold of night on an exhaust fume filled highway. Trucks, buses and family minivans slowed by the accident to gawk at the scene. Police put yellow tape around the crash while paramedics quickly hoisted victims into ambulances and sped off to the hospital. Locals spoke quickly in groups and I tried my best to read body language and understand what was going on. It was clear everyone was trying to figure out how this had all happened. For two hours I spoke to no one, I was the only one who spoke English. It was in this solitary gloom that I realized how badly I just wanted to communicate with someone.
Thankfully my story features an angel, a tall and slender cigarette smoking Yugoslavian businessman who I soon discovered spoke decent English. He spent the rest of the night at my side translating as the evening progressed. We walked around the bus to get a better idea of what had happened. As it all became clear our jaws dropped. It appears the drivers right wheel popped causing the bus to swerve into the highway rail which destroyed the right side of the vehicle. Most shocking was that the guard rail acted like a spring board and once rammed by the front of the bus sprung into the air and sliced through the back windows.
Police advised us that a new bus was on its way to pick us up and we all let out a hesitatant sigh. The only reminder of the injured were blood stains on the asphalt. Everyone’s attention quickly switched gears to “how do we get our luggage?” Locals knew full well that once the new bus arrived we’d be packed onto it and flung down the highway to keep on schedule. There was almost a desperate energy about getting access to the bus compartments below so that passengers had their suitcases in time for the new bus to pick them up. I was equally as worried as my suitcase had my laptop, guidebook, hotel reservations, clothing, toiletries…my essentials. Emotions started to run high as a mother marched right up to one of the bus company attendants and started screaming at him. In a culture where women lie low and men dominate it was clear he was ashamed and embarrassed as she caused such a scene. I have no clue what she was saying but can only imagine, “you could have killed my children.”
Police grabbed massive iron bars and attempted to force the luggage compartments to open. Everyone paced on the shoulder of the highway worried that the mangled bus metal would lock their belongings into its hull. The crowd clapped with glee as a door finally crashed open. Families eagerly grabbed their bags and stood with them proudly by the highway. Unfortunately police were only able to access half of the bus luggage, thanks be to God I was able to get a hold of mine.
After standing on the highway for over three hours post crash we, a batch of strangers had banded together to survive a traumatic ordeal. I was awake solely on adrenalin at this point. My stomach ached and all I yearned for was a simple bed to rest my head. A new bus pulled in front of us and we all clambered back on. As I found a new seat I closed my eyes and wondered, “if this had been a plane crash would the airline throw traumatized passengers onto another plane right after a crash?” I figured the odds of getting in another accident were slimmer than winning the lottery so relaxed into my seat and tried my best to get some sleep. I dreamed of Tylenol, a comfy duvet, cold water and a hot shower.
I would spend the next day zombie’ing my way through the ruins of Ephesus and sleeping for most of the afternoon and evening. Days after were spent in the seaside resort of Bodrum where I tried my best to relax in the sun. It took time to shake nightmares of the crash and gather the thoughts required to challenge myself to write the details of the incident here. I am now sitting on a sunny terrace waiting to depart for yet another night bus. My final Turkish bus ride, a 14 hour adventure from Bodrum to Cappadocia.
If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.