‘One more hour?’, I asked in despair. ‘Are you sure? This can’t be! I need to get out of this train! I boarded in Diyarbakir, please, it’s enough!’
The train was going very slow, and almost arriving at a station, but again not the station of Adapazari, the destination I had in mind. The time: 1am. I desperately wanted to get off, but what was I going to do? Get a hotel in Arifiye, the small town we were about to enter? Probably, the conductor and some fellow passengers said, Arifiye doesn’t even have a hotel. They said, you better wait till we are in Adapazari, there are plenty of places to stay there. ‘But I’m a woman alone’, I said even more desperate, ‘Am I supposed to wander around there at 2 at night to find a hotel? What am I going to do? What am I going to do?’
A train trip can never last too long
And it all started so easy peasy. Thursday night, I took a plane to Diyarbakir in South-East Turkey, for the sole purpose of boarding the ‘fındık treni’, the hazelnut train, the next morning. The real name is the ‘Southern Express’, and it goes from Diyarbakir to Istanbul, about a thousand kilometers. At the end of July and the beginning of August, it’s called ‘hazelnut train’, because families from South-East Turkey take it to go to Adapazari, from where they can reach the hazelnut fields in the North of Turkey to earn money in the harvesting season.
I wanted to meet with these families and if possible join them to the fields. For a (long term) project I’m working on, to sell a story or two about it and of course because I love training (yes, that’s a verb). I knew the trip would take long – officially from 11.45am till 7pm the next day – but hey, a train trip can never last too long. Really, I was that naive when I boarded.
The biggest difficulty was not that I couldn’t get a compartment to myself anymore because they were all booked. I wanted to meet people, and I thought for just one night sleeping in a chair would be okay, I do that often in long distance busses too. The airconditioning turned out to be broken, now that was a problem. In Diyarbakir it was 40 degrees Celcius, and a train is of course not ever in the shadow on the Anatolian plains. The windows couldn’t be opened, or only a little bit. It was hot, so hot, and no way to cool down.
People were opening the doors while the train was riding, and I joined them in the hallway. We caught some wind, but the wind was hot, very hot, and hardly refreshing. Actually, worse than that: in the Southern provinces, there was a lot of desert sand in the air, coming from sand storms in Syria, people claimed. So besides very hot and sweaty, I also got dirty. As icing on the cake my digestive system gave up and I had to go to the toilet every hour. Once I almost fell into my own (fill in the missing word) when the train suddenly stopped just as I kneeled down.
During sunset we passed the Euphrates
I tried all this not to break my good mood. The scenery was fantastic, and even unreal sometimes. I remember we passed lake Hazar, Elazig province. The huge lake was deserted but for a few people playing in it, it was hot, but the sky was filled with sand so no sun came through. Magical, mysterious, unreal. During sunset we passed the Euphrates, which was stunning; the river is very wide, the banks are rough and empty, only here and there a small village. And these highlights are part of a bigger beautiful experience: hundreds and hundreds of kilometers through slowly changing landscapes of rough planes and green valleys, plus the agricultural richeness of Turkey, going from apricots and melons to corn, grain, sunflowers and hazelnuts. All accompanied by the sound of the train.
I got in touch with a ‘hazelnut family’ too. They were travelling with nineteen people, and just transferred their household to the train. They took a propane cooker too, and invited me to share their vegetable stew with them, and fresh tea. Later, I will visit them in the fields. I couldn’t join them immediately, because they were not sure yet where they were going to end up.
So, lots of wonderful things, but it turns out I do have my limits. One night in a bus, sleeping in a chair, is something else than spending the whole previous and next day in the same chair, even when you can walk around. Especially when the circumstances are bad. And when the train gets more and more delayed along the way. At the end of the afternoon the prediction was that we would be in Adapazari around 11pm. Imagine: at 1 am we were still at least an hour from there! So that’s when I couldn’t keep it up anymore. As soon as I let a bit of my despair out, it all came.
Will I ever take a train again in Turkey?
The train conductor saw my desperation – guess it was hard to miss. ‘Wait’, he said. We stopped at Arifiye, and he started to make calls, and talk to police men at the platform. He came back and said to me: ‘Get your things, we can arrange something here.’ Another passenger helped me, and on the platform the train conductor introduced me to a police guy. ‘There is a hotel here, see, there, right across the station. This police man will help you.’ Police man took my suitcase and carried it off the stairs. Outside the station, a few men were chatting and having tea. The hotel looked dark, so the police man asked the guys if they knew if that hotel was open. ‘Yes, it’s open and it’s mine’, said one of the guys. ‘Come!’.
So, about fifteen minutes after my desperation attack in the train, I was in a reasonable hotel having a fresh shower. And right after that falling into a coma on a good bed. Will I ever take a train again in Turkey? Of course I will. But if it’s such a long journey, I’ll make sure I have a compartment to myself, and I won’t do it again in summer. But in the end, I wouldn’t have want to miss this journey either.
One day, when more investments are made in the railway network in Turkey (Insjallah) and the high speed train from Diyarbakir to Istanbul takes only six hours, I can say: ‘I took it once back in the days when it went 27,7 kilometers per hour. And I’ll never forget it.’