Almanac Travel: Midnight Distress


Over time, my recollections of the South African girls have become confined to our shared images on the faded front page of a daily Turkish paper Gunes. Their sombre faces contrast starkly to the smiling hairy-chested bathers relegated to the bottom corner.





I’ve always remembered Peter and John though.

Their contribution to the Istanbul shitstorm was unexpected but impressive.

There’s a chance we’ll bump into each other again someday.



John and Peter


It was the back end of ’88 and I’d yet to crack 21. Nick, Red and I had donned three oversized backpacks for a slog around Europe, replete with a dog-eared Eurail pass and diminishing wad of sweating Thomas Cook travellers’ cheques. We lurched from city to city on a well-trodden pathway in pursuit of affordable hostel bunks complemented by the occasional tourist site.


We met John in Salzburg I think. He was a cheery bloke from Melbourne’s north who’d done Europe before. We bonded quickly with some regulation footy banter and waltzed aimlessly around Mozart’s ancient ‘burbs before making our farewells two days later.


John was heading east to catch up with his mate Peter. They had a broad plan to scoot south to Turkey after visiting the Polish POW camps. There was a general agreement that we’d likely catch each other somewhere down the track when the reality was, in the pre-digital travel era, we stood a better chance of bumping into them at the Northland food court on our return.



Beards and leather


For the following fortnight, our trio navigated a slow path south through Italy, slept on deck aboard the Brindisi to Athens ferry and gasped endlessly through a torturous smoke-filled train ride to Istanbul in the non-smoking carriage.


Red and Nick had long dispensed of their razors and arrived in the Ottomans sporting some unkempt beard action suitable for neither Istanbul then nor Northcote today. After scoring a cracking bunk dorm in a Sultan Ahmet hostel, a couple of days were spent wandering the bazaars and mosques whilst nailing an impressive daily kebab quota.


Turkish leather jackets were the backpacker currency of that time and we’d saved a few Thomas Cooks to have ours specially made. Upon collection, our tailor brewed us sweet apple tea and ran a cigarette lighter flame up and down the leather to verify the product quality. Mine was a horrible brown thing that featured in many lamentable photos and survived a decade of Melbourne winters.


Arriving back at the hostel that afternoon we unexpectedly bumped smack-bang into John and Peter, both sporting equally garish leather numbers.


It was great to see John again and I liked Peter immediately. He was worldly, curious, had a mischievous grin and referred to his mate John as a tradge, a term I’d never come across but adopted immediately.


Peter could also be persuasive and suggested we pop into the hostel bar for a couple of beers. With plenty to catch up on, we remained chatting in our freshly minted leathers until the flustered South African girls barged in at midnight.



The South Africans


Nikki and Jovi were students staying at the hostel.


Their troubles started when hostel manager Murat booked them in on a discount student rate, befriended them, and on the night in question, took them out for a feed at a local eating haunt. On returning to the hostel, he visited the girls’ room and made an unwanted advance. Furious with the rejection of his love offer, he rescinded the original deal and threatened to call the police if they didn’t pay full whack on their way out.


It was at this point the exasperated South Africans charged into the bar looking for support. With six hours of Dutch courage in the tank, John and Peter were happy to represent the views of the bar fraternity and marched down to sort the situation out with Murat who, in a dramatic escalation, had now been joined by a busload of serious looking cops.


All evidence points to the mediated discussions having not gone so well as minutes later we were packing up our gear under police supervision, a feat requiring great concentration given our fragile state. We soon joined ten other evacuees on the street.


Some parting farewell advice from Peter to Murat did nothing to calm the situation as we stumbled off in search of a bed.



The second hostel 


By 1am the appreciative South Africans had located some alternate hostel digs for their multinational support crew. Buoyed by the drama of the preceding hour, a small party kicked off in a dorm which then turned into a larger one once the Raki was introduced. A minor interruption occurred when a newspaper photographer popped in which was quickly forgotten in the revelry.


The second hostel was soon regretting their decision to accommodate everyone and attempted to close festivities down. The events leading to John and Peter’s second eviction for the night are somewhat hazy but I do remember Peter referring to the hostel night manager as a fucking tradge as they wandered off into the Istanbul darkness.


Pleasingly they didn’t have to pack second time around.



Otelde rezalet


Following check-out the next morning, Nick, Red and I wandered gingerly onto the street to find some sweet Turkish coffee. Instead, we were confronted by the sight of a corner newsstand with our serious looking faces featuring on hundreds of broadsheets under the headline ‘Otelde rezalet’ or Hostel Scandal.


With mild panic setting in, a copy was procured and quickly translated by a bemused bystander who assured us that the article was generally favourable.


Feeling slightly better about the situation, it was agreed that it might still be best to depart the city. We met Peter and John at the bus station for a queasy bus trip to the Gallipoli Peninsula.


Arriving in Canakkale six hours later, the news-stands continued to scream ‘Otelde rezalet’.


Gunes (the Sun) it turns out, was a national rag.



The Gunes article


The hastily penned article put forward the girls’ account and a damning wider assessment of the continual harassment and rip-offs in the Turkish hostel industry. Murat’s flimsy defence was that he visited the girls’ room to fetch his coat. He had then called the police because the girls had decided to check out early and wouldn’t pay the price on the bill. It was also noted that one Australian tourist had his camera film removed for attempting to record the police raid and another South African was leaving the country in disgust at what she had witnessed (full translation attached).




Reflections and farewells


The Gallipoli Peninsula was a perfect panacea for the unexpected madness of Istanbul. Not yet on the regular backpacker beat, the Anzac Cove beaches and burial sites were isolated and sanguine.


For a full morning, we had the place to ourselves.


Walking quietly through the vast columns of fallen young men, it was clear that many were from the same Melbourne suburbs we’d recently departed. This invoked both a heaviness not previously experienced and a gratitude not previously contemplated.


A subdued and reflective dinner back in Canakkale cemented an unspoken bond of sorts. Our travelling companions were bussing north in the morning whilst we’d chosen coastal Marmaris to the south.


We shook hands warmly before wandering back to our rooms.


Everyone agreed that we’d surely bump into each other somewhere down the track.






Hotel Scandal [Front Page]


 A tourism disgrace has taken place at Yucel Hostel in SULTANAHMET. Two South African student
girls said that they were thrown into the street at midnight by police force for not accepting
the hotel manager’s offer of love. Other student tourists protesting this situation left the hotel en-


Young girls Nikki Soboil and Jovi Alexander, said, “Hotel manager Murat came to our room and harrassed us. We refused and led him out of the room. When leaving the hotel, he asked us for more money. The police came and threw us on the street without listening.”


The main figure of the event, who caused a great reaction from the other tourists, was hostel manager Murat Cevik. When asked “Did you go to the girls’ room?” he replied, “I have given my coat, I went to get it back”.


[Continued on Page 11].


The lack of supervision of the hostels, increasing in number day by day, is a big
problem in Istanbul, especially in Sultanahmet, Aksaray and Laleli. These events happen in hostels every day, excluding those that have received certificates from the Ministry of Culture and
Tourism, and are gradually turning into “tourism scandals”.


The last example happened at Yücel Hostel in Sultanahmet. Two South African school
girls, Nikki Soboil and Jovi Alexander were deceived by the advertisement that for foreign students, “If you stay for three days, you can stay three days for free”. They claim they were thrown out at midnight by police because they refused the hotel manager’s “love proposal”. Other student tourists staying at the same hotel also left the hotel en-masse to protest this event.


Nikki Soboil and Jovi Alexander, checked into the hotel four days ago after being attracted by the advertisement, described the incident that happened to them as follows: “When we entered the hotel, we spoke to Murat Çevik, who introduced himself as the manager, and we decided to stay based on the advertised offer. Everything was fine on the first day. Murat said that he would help us tour Istanbul and show us cheap restaurants. We went to a restaurant and paid 80 thousand liras for two people. After returning to the hotel, Murat came to our room. He harassed us and made an offer of love. We refused and led him out of the room and decided then that we would leave the hotel.


When we paid the three-day rate. The receptionist asked us to pay for 1 more day because we stayed 4 days. When we objected, Murat came and said that he had changed his mind and that he had given up the free three days stay for students who stay three days. He said he would call the police if we didn’t pay the money.


The police came and took us out at the request of the hotel manager without even listening to our words.” 


Other tourists, who watched the two tourist girls argue with the hotel manager and the police, left
the hotel in protest. At this time, the film of Australian law student, Tom Bissland, was removed from his camera. One of the witnesses, South African female journalist Erika Potgieter, described the incident as “shameful” and said she would leave Turkey as soon as possible.




Yucel Tourist Hostel manager Murat Cevik, denied the  allegations. Cevik said:”We abolished the three-day free application for three days stay on the 28th of November. The girls did not want to pay for the fourth day, so I called the police”.


On the question “Have you been to the girls’ room?”, Cevik said, “Someone was cold on the way back from the restaurant. I gave her my expensive coat but she forgot to return the coat in the taxi and I went to her room to let her know that she should have at least ‘apologised’. The event is not a big deal,” he defended himself.


In the Laleli and Beyazt tourist regions, Polish and Yugoslav tourists are surrounded on arrival
and forcibly taken to some hotels. The fact that the municipal officials and police do not know the (guests’) language and only listen to the hosteliers, cause many tourists to be treated unfairly.



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About Rob Spurr

Rob Spurr is a Melbourne based CFO. He started writing a few stories to avoid home schooling his kids during the COVID lockdown.


  1. Great international yarn even richer for the Northland food court reference

  2. Great read Rob. And well done on exposing the corruption and vice that characterised the Turkish hostel industry in the late 80’s. A story that needed to be told. Your reflections on your time at Gallipoli are apt and powerful. Thank you.

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    What a read. Just opened my imagination of what experiences I missed out on at the time. I started my travels in ’08 in my fifties. Was always jealous of those of a similar age who waxed lyrical about their travel experiences when young. Had I not experienced the places you mentioned around six years ago this would have been just a marvellously written article.

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