Destiny is decided in mysterious ways. It was a chance encounter with a German orthopedic surgeon who had a love story that forged my friendship with a Turkish princess. I met the Princess and the surgeon when we were seated together at a restaurant in Ecuador. While we dined, the surgeon opened his heart to us and shared his painfully long sage of unrequited love… For the last 15 years he has been secretly in love with his cousin (multidimensional issue). They were very good friends but he never found the courage to tell her that he loved her. The Princess and I spent hours encouraging him to relieve his constipated heart. We later found out that he took our advice. It turns out that she also had a secret, she was in love with another man. I see therapy in his not so distant future. The Princess and I bonded over the surgeon´s story. We decided to set out on a mission to Colombia to help others who were lost in love.
Ozlem was the definition of a Turkish Princess. Prior to South America, she had only been on luxury vacations. She traveled with a giant red 30kg suitcase that was full of everything a modern traveler could want, but not carry. On the other hand, she was the same age as me, quit her job, and headed blindly to a place she knew absolutely nothing about. For this I could relate. It became painfully obvious that she needed a servant if she was going to survive this trip. And so began her search for a boy to carry her luggage and light her cigarettes.
I lost count of the number of times I heard her say "Poor Ozlem!” or “I’m going to die!" as we traveled along the most dangerous road in Colombia. Fortunately for us the Colombian government, paramilitary, and guerrillas have agreed that tourism is a good thing. Instead of being kidnapped and an ear being mailed home for random, the worst case scenario was that the bus would be high jacked, robbed, and burned. She made it over this hump but it wouldn’t be the last. Her solution was to fly but whether she liked it or not, even she had a budget. Our next bus got trapped behind a cattle truck on a muddy jungle road. The princess stood in the mud for hours, smoking, and god forbid, lighting her own cigarettes.
Accommodation was not always easy to find, especially with a boy-less princess towing her wardrobe-on-wheels along cobble roads. One time, I left her with the luggage and found a funky old colonial hotel that had baby ducks running free in the court yard. When she saw the room, her shrieks were heard by all, "I can not stay in such a place… I am going to die!" Apparently the baby ducks were not a selling point. That was the last time I was allowed to look for accommodation on my own.
When I first met the Princess, she had a small harem of young topless guesthouse boys willing to fulfill her every command. It didn’t matter if we were staying in a flea bag hotel; she always demanded 5 star service. I pitied the guys who had to carry her immense luggage up the stairs. In Bogotá, she met a man who ran a Turkish program at the University. Suddenly she was doing a series of lectures about her life and being dined and driven home by a chauffeur. The locals loved her, even though she addressed them in English. She could flirt her way through any situation with her smile and electronic Spanish translator. A lot of other travelers had never met a Turkish backpacker (if you could call her that). She kept promising to leave me, but if she had, I would have missed her.
Buses in Colombia generally don’t have AC; it’s cheaper to use refrigeration units. The constant police check points turned out to be a nice break from the cold. One night, we were stopped 3 times within a few hours. Each time the men on the bus were lined up, interrogated, and searched while the women were left alone. This special treatment made Ozlem feel even more like a princess than she already did. She took these searches very seriously. As I was interrogated, she made faces at me to make me laugh.
After a 13 hour, sleepless ride in a glorified refrigerator, we stepped off the bus to encounter our first dose of the Caribbean Coast’s sweltering heat. As we walked in a daze along the beach, we encountered a film crew for a travel show. The lady chose to interview me, but my proud smile disappeared when I was unable to answer any of her questions. I couldn’t even remember the name of the city. It made for a really stimulating interview.
After my third salsa infested country, I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, Salsa is Dead. I hated salsa music but couldn´t escape it. We went to a gay bar is search of more refined musical taste but sadly found more salsa. It was everywhere. I can still hear the maniacal laughter of the princess as I was spun across the dance floor by a short Colombian guy who she set me up to dance with. Poor Steve.
Ozlem improved as a traveler over time. Eventually she went off on her own to see the rest of South America. It was not always an easy road to travel but it was good to have a friend to depend on and make fun of. Poor Ozlem.
14 Mayıs, 2007
tales of a turkish princess
by Stephen Hall