Monday, March 5, 2012

Transportation – a temporary solution

The highways are a bit of an adventure and the local roads are even more so.   Compared to North America, the vehicles here tend to be far more focussed on fuel economy than comfort.  The streets in the villages, towns and cities can be very narrow as some date back long before the invention of the internal combustion engine and the automobile.

As it happens, it is legal to drive here with either an Alberta drivers licence or more strictly, an international driver’s licence.  Getting an international driver’s licence for anyone holding a valid driver’s licence at home is a matter of visit to a registry office at home, a passport picture, and a fee (of course.... sigh).

The vehicles have such a focus on economy as most of the locals are compensated at about Alberta minimum wage level.  The cost of living is a bit lower as vegis, bread, and fruit are the same $ or lower than at home.  Meat is more expensive.  Chicken is the least expensive, followed by lamb, beef is the most expensive – more expensive than almost anywhere else I’ve been.  Specialty meats like Turkey (the bird...) and goat are available, but I haven’t checked them out.  Wild boar is available too, but I’m not brave enough to try that yet.  I am reluctant on two fronts – 1.) I’ve heard bad things about wild boar meat, and 2.) I am a bit nervous about eating anything the vendor has prepared, but won’t eat himself for religious reasons or any other reason.  The point of all this rambling is that fuel prices here are double what they are at home, and the locals typically don’t have nearly the disposable income as North Americans. As a consequence the cars tend to be small and fuel efficient.  Many have efficiency displays integrated into the dashboard displays that show assorted statistics with respect to fuel economy, etc.

When I was here in September, I managed to rent a car so I would have independent transportation.  Cars by and large are expensive and heavily taxed as they are considered luxury items.  The larger and fancier the car, the higher the tax.  The only car rental locally available that fit the budget was a Renault Symbol.  It seemed like a shoe box compared with our vehicles back home, especially after having driven a series of full sized extended cab pickups for the last 18 years, but it had a manual transmission and about 1500 cc of raw diesel power. 

Picking the car up was an adventure in itself.  I asked one of the local partners’ guys to take me to the rental agency which turned out to be in Cannakule, across the Dardanelle strait.   It is a short trip to the ferry, then across the straight to Cannakule.  Depending on exactly where you catch the ferry and which ferry you catch, you can land either in the next town North of Cannakule (Lapseki) or in Cannakule.  We caught the one that lands in Cannakule.  Right in Cannakule about ½ block from the downtown core.  Eventually, we found the agency, but it was quite discrete as it was on the second floor.  You know you’re in trouble when your local guide is lost and asking for directions out the window while driving down the street.  Thankfully, they knew what credit cards were (some businesses here don’t) and how to use them.  After all the paper work was signed, we headed over to where the car was parked on the street – about 4 blocks away.  I got in and got approximately 10 seconds worth of instructions in Turkish and was directed out into the busy street to follow my helper back to the ferry terminal and home.  The first thing I noticed about the car was the fuel gage was “left of the line”.  Not just low, but below E and the “feed me some fuel or walk” warning light on.  I was reassured we could get fuel in Eceabat at the other end of the ferry ride.  Normally, the short ferry ride is a cheap (about 20 NTL/crossing), pleasant way to see the coast, watch the big ships and other ferries go by, and see who is sending what across the ferry on the assorted trucks that inevitably share the ferry.  That trip, all I could think of was “Where is the next fuel station and how far will I have to push this thing through traffic to get there?”  Thankfully, I had enough fuel to get all the way on and off the ferry and make it the half dozen blocks to the first service station I saw.  100 NTL worth of fuel later and I was on my way back to the rented house thoroughly enjoying the drive along the coastal road that winds along the waterfront anywhere from 3 to 10 m above the water, eventually arriving safe and sound back at the house.

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