How I Hitchhiked To Antep And Survived A Broken Spine

The heavy rain has been beating the borders with Syria since early morning. We’ve slept in a small mosque in Iskenderum that night, but got kicked out by the police soon after the first prayer call and so we were already on the road that we call home when everything went down.

We’ve been riding this wave of luck for months as a somewhat clumsy surfer, but somewhere deep inside, as cliché as it sounds, I knew this charm would run out and we’d hit the shore. I could only hope it would be a sandy beach where we’d get stranded instead of sharp black rocks, towering over wild, cold, treacherous water.

Hitchhiking to Gaziantep

Except for getting up early, we did everything as usually; we drank coffee and enjoyed the fresh bathrooms of the gas station where we made a friend the previous night, ate some crackers, shaked hands and we were off, ready to face whatever future lied ahead of us.

First, a trio of teachers drove us to Dörtyol (“Fourways”); a language teacher, a mathematician and an astrophysicist, heading for their lectures.

We had a chai at the next gas station (for here, many cars really use gas instead of petrol), talked to a young Syrian about atrocities of the war and before we knew it, we were in another car, this time two friends going to pick their friend up from the Adana airport; oh, how wonderful is it to have a Turkish friend! I don’t care what they told you on TV, I haven’t seen a culture where people’d be more helpful and community oriented than here.

They left us at a rest stop with good wishes and we ran across the empty highway, laughing, happy to be alive, happy to be together, shaping our own grand adventure.

Read more: Is hitchhiking in North Cyprus safe for solo women?

The breaking point

The first car stopped. In Turkey, it is easy, safe and comfortable to hitchhike in general (in fact, it is a big part of the local students culture, girls and boys alike), but in rainy weather, everyone will pick you up.

This driver was going to Antakya which we’d left the day before and we waved him goodbye, positive that we’d soon get another ride.

Should we have taken this car to the next cross-section? Maybe. If we would, perhaps we’d be eating the famous baklava of Antep now instead of me lying in bed broken in two, held together by a newly purchased corset. Or maybe we’d be dead.

The second car, a white combi with a big trunk, stops. The driver has short white hair and his eyes are moving fast. He is going further than us, all the way to Mardin.

He waits for us to jump in and within five minutes, proudly announces he is a terrorist from the PKK. Okay, we reply; we know better than to argue with a crazy man. A Turkish driver would not stop for you, he continues spitefully. He is wrong, but we don’t object. We like both Turkish and Kurdish people – all of them have helped us a great deal, gave us food and shelter. Most of them blamed the other one for all kinds of hardships, when in fact, politicians are to blame.

The rain gets stronger; the highway is full of water and there is little traffic. While inquiring about the prices of electronics in Europe, the man shakes the steering wheel in a strange way and suddenly turns it full to the left.

And that is it.

qibla turkish hospital
A Qibla (direction to Mecca) in my room

Read more: Interrogated as smugglers at Greek borders

Hitting the bottom

I cannot unsee how his hands turn the wheel. I have the guardrail in front of my eyes, I see it getting closer, slowly. I grab the headrest in front of me and hold on for dear life while the car slides silently in the water, white, turning as a ballerina.

I feel the headrest give in and have time to think, I should have grabbed the seat instead. The metallic bars glide out as candles from a birthday cake.

It was my birthday two days earlier.

And then I am flying in the air, my body exiting by the backdoor while my mind is watching calmly, not thinking anything of what is happening to us. Everything goes very slowly now; I am there, supervising the occurrences, but I have no thoughts, no judgments, no emotions. I feel the wet tarmac as a slide under my back. My skin must be getting ripped up, but I feel no pain, only interest. Later I wonder if that is what perfect samadhi (meditation) looks like. I am hoping the friction will stop me soon but I see the guardrail coming for me. I believe for a moment I will just swoosh below to the soft grass.

Then I hit the post.

Finally, I am laying in the grass, rain is falling on me, I am dirty but I don’t know about it. I evaluate the situation. The pain starts. Am I hurting enough to scream or is it not so serious? I don’t want to bother anyone, but then I think, almost happily, what the heck, I just had a car crash, it is appropriate to scream and it won’t bother anyone. I move my fingers and my toes; not so bad! I turn on my belly, it hurts less. In fact, it doesn’t hurt so bad and I figure I didn’t break anything. I hear my husband screaming, good, so he is alive. He comes running to me, he is fine.

Some people have already stopped to help us, I see their feet. F. covers me with our sleeping mat, for which I am grateful.

Hastane, ambulans, lütfen! I scream. Screaming helps me to deal with the pain. F. gathers our stuff – the backpacks, he makes sure to take my camera (he knows me well), I’d cry over it more than about a broken bone.

Then we wait; I say:

I don’t want to hitchhike in East Turkey anymore, let’s take a bus to Karadeniz and cross to Georgia, I’ve had enough. That guy did it on purpose because we are tourists and tomorrow is Erdogan’s referendum.

Within five minutes, the doctors arrive and load me in the car. They fix my neck, but I can move my head just fine. Soon I am being driven to the emergency. I feel every bump and moan.

Yavaş, yavaş, F. says. The two paramedics who are with me in the back laugh and talk. I smile at them and say teşekürler, or maybe I just think I do.

Accidents happen, even to hitchhikers. I was hitchhiking to Gaziantep in Turkey when we had a car crash. Diagnosis: broken backbone and fractured pelvis. Read my story to find out more!
Sleeping off the initial shock

Turkish healthcare in action

The public hospital in Osmaniye is big and modern. Nurses run around and I get a tomography and X ray taken immediately. They turn me on my side and disinfect my back – it hurts more than scratching off the skin itself. The staff looks content and encouraging, my husband a bit relieved. I like that better than to see him crying in the rain, my dear, emotional husband. There is nothing left but to relax and let other people do their job, but I am certain this accident hit him harder than me.

Apparently, the hospital is full of Syrian war victims, but I only see a small curious boy smiling at me and a veiled woman, maybe his granny. Then it’s just the white squares of the roof.

They lay me down in the emergency room and a man tries to take my blood. I wish for painkillers. Do they need me conscious for something?

The man gives up trying to get something out of my right arm. My Turkish is not enough to explain him, hey, my friend, the blood will never flow because I have low tension, like a dead girl even when I’m healthy.

He realizes it and tries the left hand. It flows and we both smile, two humans connected by an accident. He is 34 years old, almost like my husband. His wife is 27 as me. They have two daughters, I have none, but I feel he treats me as he’d like his wife to be treated. Kindness is more important than a common language.

I feel safe and happy. I am alive.

The neurosurgeon arrives. He explains I’ve broken my spine and fractured my pelvis, but he reassures me that the bones didn’t move and a surgery is not necessary. Whew! I like him immediately.

He says I have to stay for four hours and then I can go, but I have nowhere to go, I am just a bum. Besides, I can’t imagine I will stand up today. I mention I have an insurance, they can pay for this (thank you for having my back, Allianz!), but it doesn’t seem to phase them, these people don’t care about money. Okay then, relax, you can stay here as much as needed.

Read more: How to avoid dengue fever when you travel

In the meanwhile, police officers, both uniformed and in civilian clothes, try to interrogate us. We don’t speak Turkish and they don’t speak English; araba kazası is what goes on repeat, a car accident.

Later, a woman interrogates us in my room with perfect English. She has visited Bratislava (my hometown) and couchsurfed and is friendly to us.

You shouldn’t trust the Kurdish, she remarks and seems to regret it right after. I mention my good experience with Kurdish drivers, maybe not a wise decision, but I am not worried because I have nothing to hide. They check our luggage, try to coerce F. to fill a form in Turkish, but he can’t understand a word and in the end they give up. We are just tourists who got a ride from the wrong person.

on IV
Enjoying the morphine effects

After the accident

At first I am getting morphine and feel warmth in my toes and soft foamy waves of sound washing over my ears, but later the pain is not bad at all and I get used to two injections of paracetamol daily.

Students measure my tension and temperature, one day some people give me a rose, wishing me speedy recovery.

I stay in the hospital for five days and in the meanwhile, F. manages to find a place to rent with the help of a young Azeri student.

Then one day they release me, an ambulance takes us to our new home – I have to stay in bed for one month – and four men manage to carry me upstairs without dropping me.

Our new neighbors bring us a breakfast, tea and sugar, a gas cooker during the next days.

Yes i can walk. A bit!
Wait for me, I´m coming!

What next?

It is hard to tell now, one week after the accident, what we will do next. At first I felt like going back home to Slovakia, but now I don’t want to anymore. Slovakia is expensive and I would have to find a place to rent, hustle to get a job fast and wait endlessly for appointments at specialist doctors. Perhaps I prefer to consult a Turkish doc privately…

I don’t want to decide this just yet. I will wait for what the doctor tells me in two weeks and act accordingly. My health is our priority now, but maybe we can settle, heal and recover in another country all the same. Georgia gives you one year of tourist visa which is plenty.

As for hitchhiking, I will do it again. I must, otherwise I will get stuck with this fear and trauma forever. I have to face my fears – besides, bus drivers can have accidents too. I will always use the safety belt from now on, I was lucky once and it is enough.

Do I still think the driver wanted to harm us? I don´t know. It would be stupid of him and cause him trouble too. Sincerely, I couldn´t care less about what happened to him – I have no idea and won´t be trying to find out. Somehow, I don´t feel any anger or hatred towards him, just indifference.

I am not in pain. I am not careless, but I am optimistic. These are my thoughts right now: I learned I am not invincible, I am fragile and mortal and my time here is limited. I don’t want to waste it.

I got pushed to the wall and forced to count my blessings – I know them all too well now.

Did you have a car accident? What experience have opened your eyes as to how precious your life is? Tell me in the comments!

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Accidents happen, even to hitchhikers. I was hitchhiking to Gaziantep in Turkey when we had a car crash. Diagnosis: broken backbone and fractured pelvis. Read my story to find out more!
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We were hitchhiking from Europe to India and we have no idea what will happen next! Stick around to find out along with us.

Stray story seeker. Hungry hitchhiker. Wannabe polyglot. Aspiring travel writer. Currently bumming around in Turkey.
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33 Comments

  1. Your post had me on the edge of my seat. So beautifully brought to life and shared. Such a shame that you’ve had that experience. I assume the driver managed to get away without any repercussions? 🙁 Here’s to a happy, healthy recovery for you. x

    • Thank you for the compliment! I think the driver is in trouble with police (probably not for the accident but for being Kurdish and a PKK at that) – but I don’t really care, I somehow don’t feel anger at all. We all have different life experiences that shape us and being Kurdish here is difficult. Not that I support any violence, quite the opposite. Thank you for this lovely comment! 🙂

    • I wanted to note all the details so that I don´t forget later…besides, by the fourth day in the hospital, I was so awfully bored that I really wanted to write badly! It´s my way with dealing with things in my life. I can´t think properly if I don´t write. Thank you for your good wishes, I hope to get better fast 🙂

  2. Sky

    Whoa. I’m speechless. My stomach was churning as I read this in nerves. I am so thankful for you that it wasn’t worse. I admire your positive outlook!

    Maybe I missed it in the story but do you know/think that it was done on purpose or that it was a true accident?

    Sending positive vibes!

  3. Whoa. I just read every word on the edge of my seat. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am glad you are not letting it deter you from hitchhiking or traveling, or still doing what you love. I fractured my fibula while in Pohnpei last year hiking waterfalls and I will not let that stop me from experiencing life. I think your optimism and courage is needed. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Jeeze, girl, what a heck of a story.. I am happy that you are OK and that you are willing to share this story, which you have told beautifully, by the way! Hope you recover soon and keep doing your thing <3

  5. Fuck, this was so scary to read!
    You seem like you made the best out of it <3 Wishing you all the best, that it won't happen again (unless you want another story for the blog :p), and that you won't have to live with any long term impacts.

    My scariest moment was when a man came into my room, caressed my cheek and told me to "wake up." I screamed and he ran. End of story. Never knew why he did that and he never came back to tell me, fortunately.

  6. We are so sorry to hear about your accident. It must have been so scary for you and your husband. You just need to take your time to recover. At least you are together and he can look after you.

    We wish you a very speedy recovery. Xx

  7. Wow, what a crazy story!! I’m happy you got out alive though! And I’m happy you won’t give up on hitchhiking either. This could have happened to anyone – just sucks it was you getting a ride from a mad driver!! I hope you recover soon and despite this traumatizing experience, you wrote it down so beautifully!

    • Exactly, of course my family wants me to stop hitchhiking as always, but I don´t think it has nothing to do with it. Besides, bus drivers drive like crazy too! Each time I´m in a dolmus, I pray for my dear life. Thank you for the compliments and good wishes, I feel very flattered that you liked it because I like your writing very much too 🙂 Let´s hope for the best.

  8. OMG this story was so captivating – I have goosebumps running down my back. It’s terrible to hear that this happened to you while traveling, far away from home and loved ones, but it’s good that you got out without having to get surgery or being flown home! I hope you recover soon and will have plenty of positive hitchhiking experiences to come!!

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment! 🙂 In fact, I was debating flying home, but I am not allowed to sit for too long now so I opted to stay here where I can relax and wait for the bones to grow together. I don´t even have an insurance back there at the moment, so it wouldn´t really be so practical. My family back home was obviously freaking out, but luckily, I have my husband by my side who is a huge help. Thank you for reading!

  9. Christ! Karin! This is terrifying. So glad to hear you are both okay. We’ve had some close calls but never to this extreme. You are totally right about continuing to hitch but that still takes some balls. You are one strong lady. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been on the first possible flight back to the UK. Take care my lovely. Sending you lots of positive vibes xx

    • Sorry to terrify you! My first thought was to go back, but then we talked about the options and realized it is better to stay here for a while and then decide where next. Flying with a freshly broken back – no thanks! I am feeling really good now so I hope with appropriate physiotherapy (which will take a lot of willpower from my side) and taking it slow (F will have to carry most of our stuff now, at least for some time), we can continue traveling. Also discussing staying in Georgia for a while, we heard it´s amazing, so it could be a good choice. Thank you for the support, as always!

  10. Wow that is terrifying! Already that man was making me uncomfortable before the accident. Glad to hear you’re recovering though, and that you haven’t given up on hitchhiking (if anything, it’s probably easier to crash a bus than a car)! Also, the health care you received sounds too good to be true!

  11. OMG, this is absolutely horrendous! You are FAR more optimistic than I would ever have been in this situation and I’m so glad you made it out the other side. I hope you’re feeling much, much better!

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