Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Getting to Adana, Turkey

Last week, I was told that I'd be going on a short-notice trip to Adana, Turkey. Most American military folks would know Adana as the location Incirlik Air Base. It's really not a tourist town. And based on the trouble I was having getting my tickets issued, I wasn't sure if I was really meant to go. It came down to contacting people in the approval chain after hours/over the weekend to ensure I actually had a ticket just over 30 hours before I was due to depart. I think that's the closest I've ever come to saying "I can't go because my authorization didn't go through in time." I owe someone a box of Turkish delights for getting that pushed through.

After getting my tickets for an evening flight, I spent the rest of Sunday packing. I did have to drop into the office on Monday before the trip for a coordination meeting, but otherwise spent the rest of that day with my family trying to participate in the daily routine that usually occurs while I'm at the office. I'm definitely a little rusty.

Anyways, I should also mention that this short-notice trip was with a group of folks, which never simplifies things. We all made it to Istanbul with relatively little trouble, but we had a close connection to make in addition to getting visas issued, clearing immigration & customs, and getting boarding passes to Adana issued. I'm not sure where the heightened sense of urgency came from, but our team leader got kinda pushy...literally. He finagled a way into getting us processed in the much shorter Turkish citizen line, only to discover that there was a diplomatic line at Istanbul (for future reference, it's all the way on the right hand side of the Turkish immigration booths). Then he plowed through the "nothing to declare" line like a bulldozer. After that, he some how found an airport employee to guide us to our gate...a service for which I think the guide expected monetary compensation. And we arrived there before the first boarding call. So, really, there was a lot of unnecessarily-added / self-induced stress but we made it on the plane. Yes, the airport is foreign, but the process is familiar and I think I could have gotten through everything better had I not stayed with the group (who also seemed a bit peeved at the whole ordeal).
Airport kiosk: Girls books on the left, girlie magazines on the right.
Perhaps all the chaos made me appreciate the moment of sublime humor when Turkish Airways served me a Cheese and Turkey Sandwich for a snack. Not just a Turkish Turkey sandwich, but a cheesy one at that. We also saw the Taurus mountains peeking through clouds near end of the flight. I lost consciousness several times on this part of the trip, since I think we'd been travelling for some 17 hours at that point. I missed takeoff completely, almost missed the food service, and it was only a one hour flight! But we arrived, and then disembarked from the plane onto some waiting buses. I just barely squeezed into the doorway, but the doors stayed open for some reason and I saw a few other folks walking to the terminal that was only 100-200 meters away. So I got off the bus and walked for a couple of minutes to the baggage claim area with a steady stream of non-bus riding folks.

That's when it got interesting. I think the part of our group that walked over to the terminal was waiting there for a good 20 minutes before the bags showed up, and the passenger bus that I had bailed on arrived shortly after that. So I missed out on being crammed into a standing-room only bus for half an hour, not bad. But, as it turns out, that was not the last hiccup. My companions who had checked bags all the way from D.C. were informed that their stuff didn't get transferred in Istanbul. I guess the baggage guys weren't in as much of a rush as we were. While half the group tried tracking down their luggage, those of us who had taken all of our stuff as carry-on were just standing around. At least until I said that I'd taken out cash at Istanbul (while standing in the visa line), and those of us who had all of our bags in hand hopped in a cab for the hotel. We had dinner (I got the Adana Kebab), then retired to our respective rooms but never saw the other team members come in. As it turns out, they were there for several more hours but their luggage didn't arrive until mid-day the following day.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from this trip was that I am more familiar with how to travel internationally to places I've never been to where I don't speak the language than I am with the daily routine of all the stuff involved with getting my daughters to school when I'm normally at the office.
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