How 3 months of travel during coronavirus almost ended in a disaster
In my last article I shared our 4 month journey travelling across Europe in 2020 during covid times. After the success of the 2020 trips, we ended up taking the travel overseas and spent the first 3 months of 2021 across the Maldives, Dubai, Egypt and Turkey.
We were grateful to have experienced some of the most spectacular sites such as the Giza pyramids and the Valley of the Kings and Queens all to ourselves due to the pandemic. It felt, put simply, like we were in a dream.
In retrospect, this was the perfect back-drop to a nightmare final 24 hours before heading back to the UK.
The day before leaving Turkey, we decided to visit the Gallipoli area and explore the World War 1 landing areas. For those not into history, this was basically going from beach to beach in glorious winter sun weather. At 7 pm we started the 2.5 hour drive back in the direction of Istanbul. We had booked a hotel midway to Istanbul as we had an evening flight the next day to London.
Soon after starting off, a roadblock appeared and the Turkish police ask us to head back the way we came. We had already travelled 30 mins in that direction which meant a considerable amount of time added to an already long drive.
We decide to zoom in on the map to tiny white ‘streets’ and take what seemed to be a cunning short cut. This ‘genius’ decision turned out to lead down a winding, mud track into the middle of a Turkish forest — with no way of turning around. It was also getting dark — there was no way of reversing either. Then our economy rental stopped moving — it became stuck and was sinking in the mud.
What could we do? In increasingly desperate attempts, we try using the tire jack and placing mats under the tires in the hope of triggering some traction from the wheels. Well, you can guess how that turned out — in case you are ever in that situation just know that digging with your hands to get a car out of mud will not work! In fact, all you do is spread mud all over yourself as well as the interior of the car. I now know that this is what panic does to otherwise logical thinkers.
It was, by then, pitch black, cold and neither of our mobile phones had much battery left — as one phone charged in the car, one was being used for its torch as we searched for various other ways of trying to get the car unstuck.
The time was now 9:30 pm. If it was not clear before, we needed help of the professional kind. The number 112 came to mind and after several attempts to get coverage, we connected — and to our relief the Turkish police answered. My words were ‘British’, ‘Forrest’, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Help’. I didn’t bother trying to speak in complete sentences as was hoping these words would resonate in Turkish. They kept transferring the call until they got to a colleague who spoke English and she managed to relay our predicament.
But, where were we and how could they locate us? Given the poor network coverage it took another series of attempted calls and another 30 minutes before the phone could have a strong enough signal to be able to share our location.
After yet another hour, we spot lights approaching in the blackness that surrounded us and 2 officials emerged — one luckily spoke English. They couldn’t really help to get us unstuck but their presence brought with it a sense of immense relief. They did, however, have a look of disbelief on their faces and one kept saying ‘wrong turn buddy’. They gave us water and wafers as we were clearly lacking food and energy. They too tried unsuccessfully all the things we tried such as pushing the car and eventually figured out how to locate a local tractor owner. At midnight, the tractor arrived. He towed us out of the mud with remarkable ease and escorted us out of the forest. His parting words were he has lived in that village for 30 years and never once had been down that track!
Counting our lucky stars, but utterly exhausted, we now recommence our 2.5 hour drive to the hotel. I distinctly remember someone muttering that it could be worse — and that was an understatement. As we approached the hotel, we took too early a turn and as we reversed to get back on to the right road, the car was backed into a light pole. The extremely filthy rental now had an exceptionally large dent and broken taillight — and obviously we hadn’t taken out any additional insurance when we rented the vehicle.
I could only imagine the sight as we pulled into the hotel compound at 2:30 am — and to make matters worse their card machine did not accept AMEX when we checked out. Both our debit cards were out of action — one damaged and the other had expired two days before. We managed to reason with the hotel staff and were lucky to be allowed to leave on the promise of paying the bill via bank transfer.
We still had an hour to go to get to the Istanbul airport and needed to refill the petrol — given the state of the car that seemed like the least we could do. We filled up at the petrol station, which despite saying they did, also didn’t accept AMEX. The attendant was less flexible about allowing us to leave on a promise. Suddenly remembering that I had a stash of emergency US$ somewhere, we began to empty the trunk of the car and search through the muddy clothes from the night before. As panic started to rise rapidly and after what seemed like an eternity where we were blocking the petrol pump from use by others while searching desperately and frantically, we found the last of the US$ in a jacket pocket.
We were again on our way, but the universe was clearly shouting: Get back to the UK. The fun is over.
We returned the car to a shocked rental company — avoiding eye contact at all costs. We then couldn’t risk any more of our luck running out, so we got to the airport 5 hours before the scheduled departure time, sat in silent contemplation and completed our journey back to London.
We have never been happier on landing in London — and now look back even more grateful for the time that we had and with an immense appreciation for just how little we should be taking for granted.