Young hearts have different and difficult moods. Especially hearts of those who live their one and twenty the way A.E Housman puts it down: When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say, “Give crowns and pounds and guineas But not your heart away; Give pearls away and rubies But keep your fancy free.” But I was one-and-twenty, No use to talk to me. 21st summer of mine had to be interesting. I wanted some adrenaline rush. To be clear, I thought I needed a job that would serve as a combination of money, leisure, and fulfilling adventures. The university campus looked boring. Everybody was packing up for their summer vacation. I just met the love of my life. We were just getting used to each other’s presence. It was time to miss each other. The job search was over soon. I did not find any job. To my amazement, every company wanted a university student with working experience. So it was hard to satisfy them as a candidate. I gave up and decided to take a long walk with one of my friends Faruk. He was a special person. He would soon play a significant role in my career. He had no idea about it yet. We were just walking when he started to share his days in Istanbul, where he was dealing with dozens of VIP tourists from the United Arab Emirates. As I was listening to him, my heart began to pulsate faster. This was it. Tourism. Why did I not think about it earlier? All I needed to do was to ask Faruk a favor. This boy was born in Mecca. He lived in Istanbul. He was studying in Baku. As if God sent him to my rescue. One favor meant that Faruk needed to call one of his early buddies in a tourism agency to see if they can open a spot for me. Istanbul's deal did not happen. They said something about Antalya. As I heard Antalya, speculations about great summertime started to interrupt my cognitive ability to make a decision.
Where is Antalya?
Antalya is the largest Turkish city on the Mediterranean coast outside the Aegean region, with over one million people in its metropolitan area. 3 days later, Faruk spoke with a man named Baris. He was an operations manager of DeMax Travel agency. We skype-called him to chat about details, and all he wanted was a bottle of local wine and vodka. These would be symbolic gifts for the favor. It was a weird favor, though. If I failed the interview, they would simply leave me alone in the middle of Antalya with nowhere to go. It was a moment of “go big or go home”. My parents were not aware of it. They heard the polished version of this so-called job offer story. They heard the part where I was offered my own office room and all the bonuses that come with a lucrative job offer. The polished story got me 200 dollars. This money would sit in my pocket next to a bus ticket and a long telephone number of Baris that would pick me up from the bus terminal in Antalya. Summer promised to be very challenging. As I sat in the bus that had 27 hours of road ahead of me, demotivating thoughts came the flushing. I could not handle the “what if’s” anymore. A huge bus with 40+ people stopped every 3 hours to delay my anxiety for a while. Every 3 hours meant some good dose of fresh air and walking time. It was my first time in Turkey. Miles and miles later, we reached Erzurum. Buildings started to come in colorful palettes. People started to smile often. When the bus reached Konya, I was swayed by general silence and cleanness. Big roads and never-ending forests of Konya were the only things that separated me from Antalya. Trees were everywhere. At some point, I gave up on looking out of the window to see some seashore. I was annoyed with the newly wedded couple sitting in front of me. They were reminding me of her. I did not think that the missing part would start so early. I looked at her photo. She was smiling and giving me hope. Apparently, an introverted guy with no tourism experience needed a big dose of hope. The part of the journey with a forest smoothly transitioned to endless orange fields. We were almost there. The bus made the last stop. My heart was about to stop, as well. It was damn hot. Anxiety and heat were mixed with hunger and fear. I was out there in the middle of the bus terminal. A white Fiat Albea approached me and stopped. I hear a voice that would bring me some momentary comfort. Voice of Barış inviting me to sit and have a sip of ice-cold Coke was all I needed. I drank and stared at the city roads with a blank face while Baris resumed giving his welcome speech. 27 hours with bus were over. It was time for 24 hours of hell in Antalya. This time was going to decide on my fate. I had no time to rest. Baris took me to DeMax Travel Office.
Do you remember your first international interview?
I bet none of you had two ladies fist-fighting with the boss, swearing, blackmailing him into pulling out the customer list off his company. I heard really bad words and saw decent action before entering Kenan bey’s room. He was mad angry at these two ladies. He was sweaty and all smoked up. When Baris introduced me to him, he gave no sign of interest. That day was over for him. With his last bit of enthusiasm, he asked about my Russian language skills. I gave a positive nod. Soon he made me sit in front of his computer and check out some Russian customer messages. I translated the messages and typed the replies. I nailed the task. He asked a couple of other questions and nodded his head back. I got the job. This was such a relief. Do you remember the beginning of the journey? Do you remember the 200 dollars? Well, I had only 60 dollars left. I got into trouble at the border between Igdir and Antalya. One of the drivers scammed me for the driving rate. Luckily for me, another driver took me to the bus terminal for free. The thing was that 60 dollars were not enough to return to Baku in case of emergency. 60 dollars were not enough to stay in a hotel for a week's time. I went all into Kenan bey and asked if I could stay in the office itself. He laughed at what I said, but it was more of a compassionate laugh. He knew about difficulties. He knew about my possible shortages. Barısh received new instructions from Kenan. One of them was to take me to the Umit Hotel. (İronically, Umit means hope in Turkish.) My day was very intensive, and it begged for an end. I checked-in half asleep and rushed to my room which would nest me for the next two months. The Antalya Chapter of my 21st summer began. What comes to your mind when you hear the word tourism? In my case, the word list would be like this: “Cigarettes, roads, hotel lobbies, all-inclusive lifestyle, VIP customers, stress, women, food, nightlife, yacht tours, and Lara beach.” People in Turkey smoke a lot. People in tourism smoke twice as much. The first week in the office was the last one for me. I could not stand this smoke. DeMax and Blue Travel teams would come together to collect money for the daily stock of smoke. As a new member of the team, I would be sent to the market to buy this pack worth 120 dollars. Everything I needed to know was taught at the speed of light. Due to my Russian language skills, I soon found myself on the roads. Russian customers needed to be escorted out of airports and guided within the city. I had no prior information about Antalya. This city had a 2 million population in the pre-summer season. Antalya weather has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate. The post-summer season would bring 8 million tourists. Antalya airport terminals were flooding with people coming from Europe and Russia. Hundreds of welcome signs were held high to greet the guests. VIPs would be invited to enjoy their Mercedes Viano's and head to their lovely Rixos or Sungate Suites. Soon I understood that being outside of the office is healthier for me. I talked to Kenan bey and informed him about the possible option of me doing transfers from Antalya airport to Antalya hotels. He seemed to be ok with this option. Selling touristic packages was boring. It was summer, and it was Antalya. I was looking for the possibility to soak my head in the Mediterranean Sea. Tourism has its own Draconian rules of life. You work next to the best beaches in Europe and can not dive into one of them. You stand endless hours in front of terminals and wait for your people to show up. You take them to Antalya hotels. You check them in. You show them around the city. You realize that city is beautiful but only for tourists. And all the free time you have goes to snoring in the bed of 3 stars Umit hotel. This period was the initiation period. After that, many things changed for my leisure time. I discovered a rocky beach nearby Lara Residence. My first dive into the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea happened here. Salty water burnt my eyes, and I rushed back to pour all the water I had onto my face. Days later, I got used to this water and enjoyed its underwater world, full of colorful fishes swimming back and forth. Water was so transparent that I could see 20+ meters below. I enjoyed my beach sessions. Every session required sitting by the little Turkish Cafe for lonely travelers where they gave you midget chairs and giant yengens. (Local sandwich with melting cheese and sausage) Yengen gave a good charge for the rest of the day. The rest of the day was at airports, hotels, and city tours. Sometimes I would offer couples to take their photos next to Karpuzkaldıran Waterfall. They would smile at the camera and make me miss her even more. Sometimes I would go to Aquapark with tourist groups to enjoy the company. One time I heard one girl scream before jumping into Kamikaze Water Tunnel. Her scream scared all the other guests. They decided to skip the tunnel jump. But I decided to be a daredevil and jumped. For a while, I could not hit any part of the tube. My spine needed some firm place to contact. Then it happened. I bumped bad enough to be tossed around the tube. My eyes were closed. The next thing I knew was the guests looking at me from the poolside. This is all good. But it is time to go to the breakthrough moment of the whole summer job deal.
Our company was invited to the first anniversary of the Kempinski Hotel. Hundreds of people were sitting in a round table format to enjoy endless food and drinks. While classical music was playing, I saw Kenan bey and Ali bey talk about something. Shortly after a heated discussion, they both looked at me. I felt their doubt and confidence at the same time. They assigned me to a mission that I was unaware of. Mission was to transfer 40+ tourists from Europe to Turan Prince Residence in Alanya. I never did such a thing. I was not in a position to say "no" to them. I needed money to go back to Baku (security money.) I accepted this mission. Later, I would learn about the polished story part, which was not polished enough. The majority of tourists made reservations to stay at another hotel. Touristic agency lied to them and received bookings with accommodation shortage. It meant that another hotel would host them for one week. The charter flight was late as usual. This time it came 3 hours late. It was 3 am when I saw European faces come out of the terminal. There was a huge bus waiting for them. I was given 17.000 franks to check them in that hotel. Big bus, big money, a big crowd of tourists with a big problem that was about to be discovered were too much for my young heart. I prayed for this night to be over soon. 5 German tourists were so furious that they went back into the terminal and flew back to Germany. The rest looked at me with a "you are the sinner" look. During the spazzing session, I tried to explain that our company was responsible for the transfer part of this deal. Finally, people got tired of debating. They agreed to enter the bus. That was a big relief. I sat next to the driver after counting 37 tourists inside the bus. The first part of the mission was completed. I put my face down onto my knees to relax a bit. The driver started swinging something metallic in front of me. This thing was a microphone. Oh my God...not this...I was supposed to give these tourists a city talk while being on the road for 45 minutes. I had to give a 45-minute speech to angry strangers about a city that I knew very little about. Even today, I do not remember what I uttered on that bus. All I remember is... "Antalya weather is very hot!" When we reached Turan Prince Residence, and I checked 37 people in, my exhausted body could no longer standstill. By the way, tourists gave me "bahsis" (tip for the speaking performance). The reception guys gave me a family room for free(one of the bonuses that tour guides enjoy while guiding guests.) I was happily snoring inside a huge family suite. This night was finally over. Early in the morning, I received a phone call. This was Kenan bey checking if I was still alive after the mission. He heard my sleepy voice and kindly asked to come back to the office after 4 pm. I entered the office as Caesar, who crossed the Rubicon River. The triumphant face of a young student from Baku was noticed by everyone. They all clapped at my accomplished task. Kenan bey and Ali bey were discussing something. They were both laughing. Ali bey noticed me coming and said: - Kenan, we want this young man from you. After finishing his line, he put a 100-euro bill into my pocket. This was for yesterday. Kenan bey did not hesitate to put the 100-dollar bill into another pocket of mine. "No, Ali, this boy is staying with us!" I felt so much relief and pride at the same time. This moment was a turning point in my Antalya chapter. I had enough money to go back to Baku. But there was another thought that came uninvited. This thought was about staying and accepting new challenges and new missions. A couple of weeks later, I had Antalya in my palm. Every region was packed with its specific tourist crowd. Kemer was a place for energetic youth who enjoyed nightlife and dancing. Belek was a place for middle-class families who enjoyed isolation, golf, horses, and poolside leisure. Alanya and Side were hosting Europeans who came for history and city walks. You could see no Russians in these locations. Kundu was a place for luxury Antalya hotels which hosted VIP guests who would come to enjoy their business meetings and private chats. Antalya restaurant is one of the best restaurants in Turkey. Konyaalti was all about fish restaurants. People came to enjoy seafood. And, there was Lara. Lara was my favorite place. It was a place of marble-white residences with green parks and rocky beaches. The streets were clean and quiet. Lara attracted shopaholics. Antalya had many shopping centers. But none was as popular as the one in Lara. Clothing and jewelry transactions did not end throughout the day. People enjoyed their ice-creams with dozens of shopping bags standing next to them. Antalya had its own rhythm. Flights and tours were ticking in perfect harmony. Every hotel had a unique signature. They fought for creativity, and this battle was furious. One day we entered the Hillside Su Hotel, which had an all-white interior. Workers were wearing white as well. It was a cosmic experience. Although too much of it meant relaxation and going to immediate sleep inside the lobby. Maybe, me and Rafik (driver) were tired and needed to pit stop from transfers. Rafik was driving the entire summer. His eyes were always red. Antalya would be a place where sleepy drivers would simply bump into tunnel walls. Every 2-week interval was calculated for the special tourist demographic. One day we saw the Dutch crowd standing in front of the Umit Hotel. Another day it was a Persian crowd. Buses were unloading people non-stop. There was a point when tourism was no longer a job for me. It became a lifestyle. Mornings were meant for sleeping time. Nights were meant for functioning time. Tourists were given special bracelets to leave and enter Antalya hotels whenever they wanted. These bracelets also meant access to unlimited food. Well, guess what? I found the same-looking bracelet and walked with ease into multiple hotels. This advantage helped me to save enough money for a big return. It was not all flowers and sunshine. Drunk tourists needed to be escorted out of Antalya airport and put into luxury Antalya hotels. I saw how people were cheating on their spouses. I saw fights between hotel management and guests. I saw injustice to Russian girls who came for adventure but were helpless and with no passport. I saw them cry many tears. I saw the dirt and clouds. On the other hand, I discovered Rustam from Kazakhstan. We instantly became buddies. We both missed our girls. We both had a love for music and reading. We were both young and ambitious. We were both one and twenty. We were both unaware of A.E Houseman’s poem. As you see, Antalya has a lot of things to do. (To be continued…)