J OURNEYS: THE S P I R I T OF DISCOVERY Turkish road movie
Fast-talking mavericks appear around every corner on a trip through Aeolia, writes Ian Robert Smith
HE boy has the lean and hungry look of a hustler. His eyes are hooded, his baseball cap tilted. He couldn’t be a day over 15 but he carries himself with the jaunty confidence of your local MP on polling day. My friend,’’ he says, where you want to go?’’ The question is like a mantra in Turkey, uttered by everyone from zealous minibus drivers to young men on the make and invariably accompanied by Inshallah’’, or God willing’’, which is hardly reassuring. As in God willing we’ll make it,’’ says my girlfriend Jo, a born unbeliever.
Quite a few don’t. Make it, that is. There are reckless drivers whom, sometimes, not even Allah can save. Initially, this jaunty exuberance figures little in our adventures on Anatolia’s north Aegean coast, where we are moved by Gallipoli and, possibly because of having recently seen the film with Eric Bana, mystified by Troy.
But later, as we venture south into the region known in antiquity as Aeolia, a historically rich locale of olive groves, grain fields and pine-covered hills clutched between sea and mountains and carrying a pleasant whiff of lying off the beaten track, fast-talking mavericks appear around every corner, transforming our journey.
Indeed, the great thing about travelling in Turkey is that when you seek adventure, you usually find it. In the market town of Ayvacik, en route to Assos, a missed connection looks like stranding us for the night, until the boy appears. Under normal circumstances I’d probably send him packing, but the truth is, we are a little desperate. The boy wants ($34). I ask him if he’ll take No problem. It’s like participating in a Turkish road movie. Turkish pop music, a baleful omen, warbles on the radio. Beside me, I feel Jo tense up as a rickety flatbed, top-heavy with hay bales, appears up ahead. I catch the boy’s eyes in the rear-vision mirror as he steps on the pedal and the car leaps forward. We pass the flatbed in an erratic arc that carries us over the shoulder of the road, raising a hail of stones and cinnamon-coloured dust.
Soon afterwards, on the ascent to Assos, the car dies, and despite the boy’s apologies we are left to walk into town in sweltering afternoon heat. Sweat pours down our faces. The cicadas in the olive groves are deafening. But then, drawing level with the upper town, we find ourselves high above the Aegean, gazing out across the Gulf of Edremit. On its glistening surface, cocooned in haze, the Greek island of Lesbos majestically hovers.
It is one of those moments when life seems wonderful, transformed, although, as Jo remarks, We’ve still got to reach the bottom of the hill.’’
Assos is divided between an upper town called Behramkale, which crouches against the landward side of the ridge, and a glitzy seaside counterpart. Between them, a third Assos, the ancient one, covers a burntlooking hillside: a sprawling necropolis full of overturned sarcophagi, walls you would have to be Hercules to scale, and a seaward-facing theatre.
We are still marvelling when we hit the lower town, which resembles a postcard. Caiques ride at anchor on a