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White Knuckles: Getting Out of Istanbul Alive Part 2

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Turkish driving is no surprise to me. I learned on my last jaunt to Istanbul that streets… well, and sidewalks… are no place for pedestrians when cars are nearby.

When a country is notorious for their driving skills – or lack thereof – it makes you put travel insurance at the top of the your to-do list before take-off.

Our first taxi driver from the airport to Bahaus Hostel shocked us, but in a good way. His care at every turn along with controlled speed made the trip on Easter Sunday morning — in completely desolate roads — something on par with sightseeing. Perhaps for a minute I thought Turkey had learned to drive in the few months since my departure in October.

Istanbul street scene (photo by leandrociuffo)

Monday morning rolled around, and cold rain made us nervous we might need a bit more time to get to the bus station. So, we hauled ass to stumble downstairs at 6:45, bags in tow, in order to wake the napping front desk worker to call us a taxi. We got down to business.

In a matter of minutes, our driver arrived. The hostel owner told us it would take from 30 to 40 minutes to get to the bus station, so we knew we had enough time to get there and grab some much needed bus snacks.

Our driver said nothing as we bobbed and weaved between downtown streets. He got down to business.

The rain wasn’t letting one bit, but it didn’t worry me. It didn’t worry me until we hit the highway.

Rain, rain. Weave in, weave out. Speed accelerating.

I turn to Pat, trying to ignore the elements creating a rather scary drive. We look out at the passing buildings (the ones that remind me of Central Asia), smile, and go about our morning wake-up routine in silence.

The driver is full of urgency. He picks up his phone and uses it like a walkie-talkie to have a short conversation with someone in Turkish.

Speed was still accelerating.

I wondered why he had to drive like this, right now. Where was the fire? Our car began to weave in and out of other cars in rain — rain of a level where one should be concerned. And the damn speed, it was just so fast. I was sitting in the right side of the back seat and had a clear view of the speedometer. I saw the little pointer spike to numbers I wish it hadn’t.

I would never drive this fast in nice weather.

Playing it cool was no longer an option. I grabbed Pat’s hand with white knuckles and mouthed “Oh my God” to his sympathetic face. Each weave in between traffic brought visions of hydroplaning cars to my brain, and the sensation of turning… no spinning out… at high speeds to the pit of my stomach. It happens every time I’m in a car during rainy or snowy weather these days.

walking in rain

Istanbul in the rain -- would rather be walking. (photo by poisonbabyfood)

About five years ago, I was passenger in a vehicle that hit black ice on an overpass at over 50 miles per hour. We had no control as the back tires took off in one direction, causing us to spin across 3 lanes of traffic before lightly (thankfully!) crashing into the side wall (on my side!) and facing in the completely opposite direction.

I remember, in that second or two, thinking, “This is it,” as I braced myself for… whatever might happen next, whether that be nothing or a major crash.

We were extremely lucky, but the fact is that I’ve never felt the same in a car in poor weather conditions ever since that night.

The driver continued to speed, walkie-talkie phone his friends, and scare me to the point of not being able to speak. Pat knew we were going fast, but he couldn’t see the speedometer, so it might not have seemed very real to him. He played cool while facts and figures about road statistics, and how we could very well become one, made me feel ill.

And just as my brain couldn’t handle it any longer, we braked; we turned.

“So where are you from?” Our driver finally decided to make small talk.

“Australia,” Pat told him.

He laughed loudly. “Ah, Aussie! Kangaroo!”

* * * * *
When we reached the Metro bus terminal, relief was not even the right word for the feeling. We mosied on up to the cafeteria for breakfast since we had EXTRA time.

Pat looked at his phone. “Holy crap! He just did a 40 minute drive in 15 minutes. I wonder how fast we were going.”

“I saw.” I didn’t even look up at him.

“120, 140 kph.”

In the rain.

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13 Responses to White Knuckles: Getting Out of Istanbul Alive Part 2

  1. John April 17, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Even though it’s probably not true, I always TELL myself that the cab drivers who drive like this know exactly what they’re doing and are in complete control. I guess lying to myself makes it a little easier, haha.

    • Brooke May 5, 2012 at 2:24 am #

      I think I do the same — I mean, they must know what they’re doing, right? 😉

  2. Laurie April 18, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    I had a similar experience in Peru with a really crazy taxi driver. I was on my way to the airport to fly home and a beat up mercedes pulled up and off we went. The car stalled every time the driver stopped so what did we do…we didn’t stop!! Off we went along the road weaving in and out of traffic so we didn’t have to hit that brake. Once we hit the highway at high speed it got even more exciting… I was in the back seat with no seat belt of course – I think the indentations from my fingers are still embedded in that backseat! I’ve had some pretty wild taxi/tuk tuk rides in my time but that one still stays in my memory as the most terrifying.

    • Brooke May 5, 2012 at 2:24 am #

      This sounds terrifying!

  3. Jack Scott April 19, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    Turkish drivers are insane, roads can be perilous and driving is best left to the foolhardy or the suicidal!

  4. bethany April 21, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    Ahhh that’s scary Brooke! I can’t believe how fast he was going in the rain. I remember the craziness we saw in Istanbul last time when that guy got hit on our street. Then there was the small accident where the one guy got out and started hitting the other guy….Ahhh Instanbul

  5. Amanda April 21, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Yikes! That does sound pretty scary. I had my own very scary incident in a vehicle last month in Iceland. It involved a Land Rover, a mountain, and an 8-foot nose-dive off a snow-covered ridge. Terrifying!

    • Brooke May 5, 2012 at 2:26 am #

      Eep! Snow? Ridge? Mountain? Yeah, that sounds frightening!

  6. Claire April 25, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    We had an insane taxi driver in Mumbai. Never been so scared in my life! Still here to tell the tale at least though.

    • Brooke May 5, 2012 at 2:26 am #

      Yes! Thankfully! Haven’t been to India yet, but I here it’s CRAZY.

  7. Nicholas Marks April 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I loved Istanbul. Your right about drivers though. It is better to walk everywhere but avoid roads if thats even possible. lol

  8. Megan Jones May 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Wow, I am glad you guys made it to your destination okay. I think it is so interesting how norms of driving and traffic are so different in different cultures. I am American from the Northwest and we are patient and courteous drivers. It is a very rare day that you ever hear a car horn in this part of the country. When I went on a taxi drive in Washington D.C. a few years ago I really saw first hand how Northeast American car culture is night and day from Northwest culture! It was nearly impossible to change lanes without cutting someone off because no one will ever let you over! Much less life threatening than your experience of course, but interesting nonetheless!

  9. Julian January 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    Hi, I was only in Instanbul for 3 days but I thought the city was much safer and approachable than most American cities. Of course driving even in Europe, especially Turkey, is not the same as the standardized and controlled as the United States. I love your piece on Turkey I regret not writing about my experiences in Istanbul because the food, culture, immense history, and more there is inspiring.

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