This is a teeny, weeny excerpt from a piece of writing about being a 20-something girl out in the world.
Someone had once described Istanbul to me as 'freaking hectic!' and I suppose that’s fairly accurate.
After 15 hours of travel; Uber, plane, bus and bus again, El and I finally arrived in this 'freaking hectic' town. The minute we stepped off the bus we were hit with the thick humidity and the smells of the Middle East – garlic, chilli, lamb grilling on the spit, flavoured sheesha, bread drowned in olive oil. Yum, I thought.
I’d always envisioned myself to be the quintessential backpacker. Exactly like the ones you see when you type 'backpacker' into Google Images. A large back pack, perhaps with a yoga mat tied at the bottom (in case the urgency for a downward dog arose); paisley printed harem pants and rubber, mustard coloured sandals. I would take it to the extreme and be a die-hard backpacker. I’d be covered in henna tattoos, Lonely Planet would be my bible and I would almost certainly have one singular dreadlock poking out from behind my ear.
“Hello, Istanbul,” I said, heaving my bag onto my back which was slightly heavier than I remembered. "Let’s go!”
“Okay, to get to the hostel we have to walk for a couple of kilometres,” El said, her finger scrolling down the iPad. (I did initially object to the iPad as it did not follow the above description of ‘backpacker’ but as El regularly reminded me that without her and the iPad I would be dead in a ditch somewhere in an unknown ghetto in Europe. So… I chose to let it go).
Istikilal Street is a cultural hybrid wrapped up in one, long stretch of road. Everywhere you turned there was something new and different to admire; buskers strumming guitars at street corners, beggars pleading for money while sitting outside Zara (oh, the irony!), vendors roasting chestnuts and peeling pomegranates on the side of the footpath, men playing backgammon while the women huddled around in small groups sipping tea from the prettiest glasses etched in gold.
Unfortunately, my cultural appreciation could only be extended so far as, “El... my back is KILLING me!”
“Take your bag off your back you loser and wheel it like I am!” But no, I would suffer for the sake of my image. I was a backpacker and this is what we did.
El and I were a stark contrast to the beautiful Kim Kardashian-esq Turkish women who swanned around us - their luscious, glossy blow dried locks with booties snuggled in designer jeans. (Yes, I am aware that the Kardashians' are not actually Turkish, but I am hoping you get the image I'm trying to conjure up).
It was safe to say, I was not coping with the weight on my back. Sweat was dripping down my neck, temple, pooling in my upper lip. Every time I’d adjust my pack by hunching up my shoulders and tugging at the straps, my damp t-shirt would stretch and pull down exposing my hideous, grandma, flesh coloured bra to all of Istanbul. I was also experiencing the excruciating agony of a wedgie. My pants were riding so high up my arse that I was giving myself a haemorrhoid.
El was having her own struggle even being Miss Sensible and wheeling her bag behind her. She was bathed in perspiration and her hair was stuck to her red face which gave her a comb-over, Kel Knight style.
But, the men went crazy. They would shout and catcall as we walked by. Unfortunately, it was clear that the whistling was not for me. No, the harsh and brutal reality was I could have easily been a sister, a cousin or any relative of some kind. Thanks to my Middle Eastern heritage I was of no interest to Turkish men. However, for Eloise, a blonde, Anglo-Saxon girl she was the ultimate pin up (even when she was rocking a comb-over). “AYYYY Shakira! That you SHAKIRA? SHAKIRA! Give us a smile, eh?” They’d point.
Oh well, I thought. I don’t need Turkish men that look like my uncles because I'd fallen head over heels for a man whose babies I would eventually carry, thus being ugly in Turkey was fine by me.
Finally, after what felt like I'd endured a hideous gym challenge a.k.a carrying bricks in my bag while walking kilometres uphill, The Biggest Loser style we arrived at our oasis; our home for the next few nights. Chill Out Hostel.
Stoned backpackers sat around, drinking beer or tea, playing cards, sharing stories, Skyping friends or family. Harem pants were a plenty (in fact, two girls were wearing the exact same pair as mine) and I did spot the odd dreadlock.
A good looking guy with a dark beard and Trotsky-esq round glasses sat behind a computer. He reminded me of a hip Sydney barista that would specialise in making soy goats milk, extra strong, extra hot, half honey lattes.
“Hi girls and I welcome you to Chill Out Hostel, Istanbul. I am your Manager!”
We were tired, sweaty and starving and not interested in meet and greets.
El, who had basically nominated herself as Team Captain began discussing the logistics and prices of the rooms. I was too busy picking my harem pants out of my arse.
“Okay… I see here… You girls on level ten", he explained, "room B. Shared dorm. Six people."
El was nodding, she knew what was going on.
“Okay, so level ten. Cool. Where’s the lift?” I chimed in.
The whole room went silent. People stopped mid-sentence. Others reading or writing in diaries paused and peered over. Beers were spilled on tables and call me paranoid but I swear I heard chuckles from the Irish folk in the corner. Had I said something wrong?
“Lift? LIFT?” The manager who would be the hip Sydney barista said, trying to contain his laugh that would explode any moment. “Ha! You say... you say you want lift? No. No lift here. Only stair. Welcome to Istanbul, motherfuckers!”