At some point earlier that week I must have mentioned that my foremost priority for Istanbul excursions was to feel the wind rising off the Black Sea where the water narrows into the Bosphorus.
Evidently she had taken the comment to heart and was about to facilitate my wish – in a big way.
We embarked on a city bus. It would be our chariot for the next ninety minutes as we wound our way northeast along the Bosphorus strait. We passed mosques, churches, flower markets, kebab shops, fruit stands and parks.
I sat beside a man who reeked of sweat and had mucus accumulating in his eyes. Banu was seated across the bus aisle. Within minutes of our arrival the man began yelling at a couple of girls standing near the bus exit door. Banu quietly translated to me. He was demanding that the girls stand still because their motions would lead him to seizure. If there was any doubt from his appearance the request confirmed that he was not mentally well.
I didn’t think much of it and we continued to chat as we passed the Bogazici bridge – one of two roads that span the divide.
Beside Banu sat two off-duty soldiers. With her as the interpreter they asked me questions about my travels and Canada. They were slightly distraught after hearing of my plans to visit Iran. I smiled at their concern, but wouldn’t have expected any other reaction from members of the Turkish army.
Part way through the bus ride the man beside me began conversing with me. No, it wasn’t jibberish and no, I didn’t learn Turkish over the course of the week. His English was impressive. Doing my best not to appear taken aback I answered his questions. When I turned back to Banu, she was slightly horrified. I smiled and nodded to confirm that he was in fact speaking English and that she shouldn’t be concerned that he had overheard our hushed conversation about his mental state.
Not pleased with the prospect of being foiled by a crumbling 14th century wall I began assessing the viability of a route up.
Banu stared at me sternly and then exclaimed, ‘There is a hole in the fence!’. She rushed off squeezing through the chain link. As I obediently followed I noticed a red sign on the fence and half-heartedly inquired, ‘Isn’t this army land?’ ‘It is government,’ she replied, already out of sight around the corner. I was satisfied for the moment (we would later find out it was in fact army land).
We hugged the wall. A false step would send the offender tumbling far down into the chilly waters of the Black Sea.
I idled at one section of the wall to entertain the idea of scaling the section. In a rare flash of macho-ness I grounded my back pack, slung my camera bag across my chest and began to search for hand holds. Banu was silent.
Halfway up my courage became to wane. My thoughts floated to past climbing experiences. The ascent is always simpler than the down. I hesitated.
A deep breath of sea air inspired newfound confidence and I reached the top of the wall. Victorious, a smile illuminated my face as I crouched on top of the rock. I snapped a couple of photos.
Feeling bolder I stood up. A couple more photos. I called down to Banu, ‘The view is amazing. Sorry you can’t see.’
Next, I turned my attention to the ancient guard towers looming behind me. My heart jumped. A security guard had just exited a small shack that I had dismissed earlier as vacant. He was lazily sauntering towards me. Shit.
I informed Banu that I had a situation on my hands and tossed my camera down to her for safe keeping. I did not know what kind of repercussions awaited me.
With a guilty smile I prepared my ‘dumb tourist act’. This was not the first time I had wandered somewhere I shouldn’t be, however it isn’t often that I had spent minutes intentionally scaling a wall to do so.
I’d like to think it was my abashed look that disarmed the guard but it wasn’t. I gestured my apologies and indicated that Banu was below. ‘Mirba (Hello)’ she called. Calmly, he said ‘Cay? Tea?’.
The grin that illuminated my face must have delayed the sun’s setting by minutes that day. He was just a lonely guard and didn’t really care that I had invaded the property he was meant to be overseeing. He signalled Banu to meet us at the fort door and proceeded to show us around the fort.
I was pretty stoked. Not only was I not in trouble, but in the half hour that followed we received a private tour of the site as well as some historical context. We snapped some photos before the sun sunk too low.
At one point I pushed the guard towards Banu and targeted my camera lens on their faces. The man was visibly pleased. Banu’s crossed arms suggested the opposite. We needed to show the man some thanks in some way and I figured that it was a small sacrifice for the team. Sorry, Banu.
The man explained how, in ancient times, sentries would use the tunnel in the centre of the fort’s footprint to descend to the seashore in order to collect tariffs and passage fees. Parts of the complex were suspended in various stages of restoration.
After about 20 minutes of exploring we were ready to move on. The guard quietly let us out a side door. Unfortunately some Turkish tourists saw us leave and demanded an explanation as to why the guard let us in and not them. I felt bad, but Banu quickly diffused the situation and we continued down the path from the fort. I imagined her rebutting that all the tourists had to do was climb the fort wall, but highly doubt this was the case.
We drank cay in a café as the sun went down.
At the bottom of the fort was a fishing village. We selected a restaurant and picked the bones from sea bass. Calamari doused in Turkish tzatzki sauce whet our appetite. At the meal’s conclusion I was certain my perspiration would be extra potent in the week following.
We had time to kill before the bus left for Istanbul. The best way to accelerate the clock and stave off the chilly winds was to buy a small bottle of Raki – the Turkish specialty liquor similar to French Pastis or Greek Ouzo.
We found some rocks nestled between the road so we could listen for approaching transport and the Bosphorus so we had a vista. Plastic cups were filled. Cheers.
After a short while a bus arrived. We slammed our drinks and jumped in the door.
We arrived back in the Istanbul’s Kadikoy neighbourhood in the early hours of the Monday morning. All ferry services had stopped earlier in the evening. In order for me to return to the hostel, I would have to take taxis for an hour and a half. Banu was kind and offered me her couch. I obliged.
It was a fantastic conclusion to my time in Istanbul.
The next day, Indian visa in hand, I was off to Iraq!