Gürün Prison Blues in Rural Turkey
Story and photos by Marco Ferrarese

Getting arrested in one-horse town Anatolia, a hitchhiker experiences the changing face of Turkish hospitality.

Gurun travel

"Sir, I think you should follow me back to the station," the plain-clothed policeman intimated with a calm expression and in very good English. It could have been a relief in an otherwise unintelligible night; but since the thought of an awful night spent fighting werewolf-roaches in a box-like countryside cell had already crept over my mind's eye, the sound of his voice just made me quiver.

"Excuse me? Some of your local people suggested we could camp here." The cop's face remained unchanged. I took a deep breath and moved out of my tent.

"Are you really arresting me?"

"Technically yes," he answered. "There are big, wild dogs roaming on that mountain." He pointed at my back, where the shape of a black peak camouflaged into the newborn night. "At times they get to town, and maybe will attack you while you sleep. I can't let that happen."

I tried to resist his order, for it had taken me a good twenty minutes to set up camp. "Do you really want me to pack all this stuff in the dark?"

"I have a torch-light. You will be much safer at the station." The cop kept staring at me, his arms crossed behind the small of his back. "A car will come within ten minutes."

Anatolia travel

In six months of trawling back overland from Singapore to Europe on Silk Road routes, this was the first time anyone ever bothered with us camping. Truth be told, we were often forced to use the tent, because of the forsaken places we usually found ourselves in at dusk. When today's last truck deposited us at the roadside of this forgotten western Anatolian town called Gürün, we naturally asked locals where we could discretely set up camp for the night. Unfortunately, nobody spoke any of the six languages we do between us. At last, a bunch of teenagers with a minimal grasp of English compassionately led us behind the jogging track next to the town's main intersection.

"Here," one boy pointed at the small patch of grass beyond the track's fence. He kept laughing and tugging at his friends' sleeves, amused by our intention to spend the night outside. The few joggers who ran past started to throw chastising stares our way, possibly wondering if the new foreign faces in town had come for their children. So far, Gürün didn't look like one of those "hospitable remote towns" described in my Lonely Planet's Anatolia PDF, let alone a name that hardcore travelers would hush discretely in the ears of their chosen few. When the cop flashed his torch over my face, Gürün immediately earned a spot in my personal Hellholes 101 guide.

In the Belly of the Beast?
The policeman and his bemused companion kept darkness at bay all the while I worked to turn my tent into a portable bundle. When their car arrived screeching to a halt, we drove in total silence until the driver pulled into the police station's parking lot. The English-speaking cop opened our door and led us through the gates and onto what we thought was our cell for the night. My jaw dropped as the door swung open, and we found ourselves in a spacious, squeaky-clean office.

"Welcome to our humble police station and my workplace," the cop said, plunging into a leather armchair behind the computer desk. Above his head, a frame illustrated the station's hierarchy with a pyramid of passport-sized mug shots. I gulped down as I realized that the face stapled at the top was that of this man seated before us in his jog suit and baseball cap.

The policeman who was actually the captain chuckled. "I'm from Izmir. I have been transferred to Gürün for the next three years, but my family still lives in the city," he remarked with a sour face.

"That explains why your English is so good," I complimented him.

"Thanks, but I don't think so", he said blushing lightly.

"And… how is it here?" I dared to ask. "It must be hard coming from the city…"


The captain sighed. "Gürün is a sleepy mountain town, that's why I can go jogging every day. At best we have some illegal immigrant crossings," he paused. "… but you didn't eat, right?"

With a charming smile, the captain bestowed his un refusable Turkish hospitality upon us captives.

"We don't want to disturb you," I replied in a sheepish tone.

"You're certainly welcome. Food will be ready in twenty minutes; meanwhile, let me show you to your room."

The captain led us underground to the end of a long corridor and walked past a row of empty prison cells. He directed us to a spacious living room fitted with a flat screen TV, a meeting table, and two folding couches.

"This is our conference room," he said. "You can sleep here tonight."

Before we could even say thanks, another officer appeared at the doorstep.

"Captain, dinner ready," he conferred in formal, heavy-accented English as hot fumes wafted from the steaming pot in his hands. We followed upstairs and out into a bone-chilling night: my arms instantly covered in goose bumps. Seven other policemen were already seated under a small portico, unfolding paper napkins and arranging plastic plates and cutlery in neat rows.

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