Ispy4

Turkey PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Smith   
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 19:33
Article Index
Turkey
Istanbul cont...
Istanbul - Gallipoli
Gallipoli - Selcuk
Selcuk to Egirdir
Egirdir - Goreme
Goreme
Goreme - Mt Nemrut
Nemrut Drag - Lake Van
Lake Van cont...
Dogubayasit - Tabriz Iran
All Pages


Day 11: Istanbul. Monday 1st October


Fell in love with the city the moment I stepped out onto the cobbles of the Sultanahmet district and stood outside the Orient Hostel, our home for the next two nights. On the surface it's just another mad, bustling, chaotic jungle of cars, yellow taxis, buses and trams all vying for the same space and trying to disprove the law that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. The area surrounding and separating the two great mosques is an amazing community consisting of little alleyways of cafes, bars, street stalls and people all eager to sell you something. It seems as though every single inhabitant of this place is intent on selling you something and each prospective transactions starts exactly the same with the seller first establishing the buyer's nationality: a barrage of welcomes: bonjour, hello, hola etc.


Day 12: Istanbul Tuesday 2nd October


Nowhere is this technique more horned than in the Grand Bazzar. I have heard and seen many programmes about the place but none of it had prepared me for the reality. I expected a dirty market of discarded boxes and packages, rotting smelly food and aggressive selling techniques and the reality couldn't be more different. The architecture alone is worth the visit, from the outside just another fine old building like many surrounding it but on stepping inside through one of the main entrances and looking down the main thoroughfare is breath taking. The vaulted roofs are a mosaic museum of coloured tiles setting off all that lies below. The main street is a series of jewellery shops and stalls all glittering silver and gold all meticulously hand placed to maximise the overall impact. Running of this main alley at 90 degrees is a warren of further alleyways each reflecting colours like giant kaleidoscopes. Carpets of every size, colour and quality, sparking lamps showing every coloured shade imaginable, antiques and pottery of every green, blue and jade, headgear to suit everyone from a Tommy Cooper to a Lawrence of Arabia, leather goods from wallets to overcoats like ones worn by the SS in Hallo! Hallo!, musical instruments hanging like curtains and meerschaum pipes of Turks and horses heads, and of course, spices of every hue and smell, completing the dimension of the place and intoxicating the senses. Standing outside each establishment like a sentry guard on duty waiting patiently to question 'who comes there' and then commence transaction irrespective of creed, colour, nationality or language. 'Feel the quality of my hand made towels', do you want to come inside and see my full selection of rings and bracelets?' and all 'at the very best prices'. A very business looking shop keeper takes me towards his shop, lined with carpets of every pattern and quality. Pointing to one small example he says in near perfect English 'guess the price of this lovely hand made carpet correctly and I'll give you it for nothing' In order to help me further he tells me that it took a single individual months to make and then writes the correct price into his calculator and holds it away from my prying eyes. 'guess to the nearest dollar and it's yours'. Smiling at his little game I utter '300 dollars'. He smiles as he turns the calculator's screen towards me. 'You see' he says 'it is much cheaper than you thought'. The screen clearly shows two hundred dollars. We part like old friends, me saying as I slowly walk away 'it's too heavy to carry around the world', he 'retorts give me your address and I'll post it'. I respond not wanting to be too final 'I'll visit next year and buy it' and he replied from a distance 'I'll look forward to seeing you'. Nothing in this alli Baba wonderland hinders the act of final exchange. I left the bazzar the owner of a Lawrence of Arabia head scarf for fifteen lira and two Turkish towels to replace the tatty one I brought from home.

The visit to the bazzar came after a morning of amazing at the two great mosques. Firstly Ayasofa, once a Christian church and now a museum of awesome proportions. The central dome, some 30 metres across, fifty four metres above the ground and the fourth largest in the world and held up by a series of semi circular arches traversing the walls bellow. All the arches are covered in frescoes which were only saved because the church was converted into a mosque and instead of being destroyed they were whitewashed over and later uncovered when it became museum.

After the mosques we made our way to what is left of the Hippodrome: three columns; one with a base of figures from antiquity. Mohamet our guide then led us to what I thought was the old sewer. His English was pretty poor, although better than my Turkish, and I left the mosques knowing little more than on entry. Many of the group drifted away to explore on their own forsaking the mixed up broken sentences. It surprised me that an academic didn't have the English skills of most of those selling in the bazzar.

Anyway on paying our 10 lira and entering the expected sewer I was gob smacked to walk down into a cavernous underground water cistern built by the Romans two thousand years ago to provide fresh water for Constantinople.

The Cistern is an underground temple consisting of three hundred columns stretching as far as the eyes can see in the dimly lit chamber and supporting the roof some thirty to forty feet above a solid stone floor which now lies under a foot of crystal clear water. The pool is now the home for a collection of aged carp some very large indeed. After traversing the raised stone walk ways we eventually came to a column with the ancient sculpured upside down face of Medusa. As I attempted to photograph the blue lit base I was engulfed by a crowd of Italian and Japanese voices and bodies who then, positioning themselves firing squad fashion with their backs to me, block my view and opportunity of a good shot.

Had our first real scare as we sat to have dinner close to the Grand Bazzar's entrance. Being concerned about my head being in the sun we moved tables as one in the shade came free. In the rush to gain the table I left my rucksack at the previous table which contained my PDA with all our bank information, phone addresses and nearly two weeks observations for my blog. It also contained the camera and all its minicards. A sudden feeeling of sickness overwhelmes and adds to the confusion. Anne very quickly asked the waiter and he indicated that he'd picked it up and placed it inside the café. Relief fills the senses and settles into a feeling of grovelling gratitude. I tip the waiter thirty lira to try and obsolve my stupidity and I suspect embarrassed him in the process. Later when we enter a tea (chi) shop nestled in the grounds of a synogogue and a 19th Century grave yard I am conscious of making the same mistake. Before returning to the hostel we stop for Anne to buy a ring for Lucy outside a Muslim grave yard. All the graves have stone columns of varying size. John tells me he believes the size of the column is the height of the deceased incumbent. Before returning to the hostel we decide to eat dinner at a fast food café displaying all the exotic dishes in the window and a man outside who on, establishing we are English, began reciting 'yummy yummy yummy we need food in our tummy'. I had beef and vegetables wrapped in a kind of cheesy membrane and an auborigine stew. Anne and John both had what looked like a Spanish omellette, stuffed auborigine and coucous. Food looked great but the taste was a little disappointing. Found an internet café which turned out to be as slow as my Virgin account at home and only had time to check and delete email. I'm finding it very hard to upload my blog and download photos. Life on the road is very much wake, wash, eat and take down tent and shoot lots of photos through the coach windows before putting tent back up, eat, drink and sleep. Hopefully things will improve when we enter Iran in a few days.

Arrived back at the hostel to find everyone across the road outside the bar, all seated crossed legged on cushions drinking beer and smoking from three or four of the hubble bubble things. We stayed here until bedtime at about 12.0pm. Some of the more adventurous went off to explore the night life. 
 


Day 12: Istanbul to Gallipoli Wednesday 3rd October
 

 

Instead of the briefing as usual when we set off on the bus we were treated, as a warning to all travelling fools, Andy's latest story of how he was relieved of his money by four or five Turkish gorillas in a night club. It conspired that he and a New Zealand backpacker, who'd joined our group on the cushions earlier, had set off to find a club and were stopped by what they thought was a Turkish businessman, expensively suited and driving a big car, who offered to take them to a club with girls. Once they arrived they were surrounded by Turkish girls who did not speak English but these were quickly replaced by others from Belarus. On realizing they were in the company of prostitutes they quickly got up to leave but were confronted by a barman who presented both of them with a bill for five thousand lira. On saying that they didn't have that kind of money they were roughly led to an office where four large Turkish gorillas began to frisk them. After taking their money and credit cards they were allowed to leave poorer but wiser for the experience. So far we have been lucky not to have more of these stories to tell.

After a, frightening at times, drive down a long winding road that meandered its way around an open field system that rose and fell towards the Sea of Marmari and the Dardenelles we arrived at our next home for the night; a campsite on the shores of Gallipoli.

The tents were erected in double time and a meal of mushroom soup, salad, chips and meat balls and spaghetti in a tomato sauce were prepared, tabled and cleared away in the time it takes to order the meal of the day in a French bistro. In less than hour we had made camp, eaten a four course meal and were seated back on the coach to pay our respects to the young lads who'd forsaken their lives half a world away from their homes on the beaches of Gallipoli. I couldn't help thinking that if the ANZAC forces could surmount the stones, briers, bushes and shrubs while dodging bullets and shells from superior Turkish numbers positioned on the heights above, then poor old England stands no chance on the manicured fields of Eton. A rather sobering place to be, irrespective of nationality or age, sitting there as the sun set below the horizon of the Dardenelles and stretches its warmth over the wind swept graves nestling amongst the pines and trenches.

Got back to the campsite in darkness and quickly made our way down to the beach to sing a few a songs and drink tubes of beer: Turkish not Aussie. Got Mac to sing 'And the Band played Waltzing Matilda',

When I was a young man I carried my pack
and I lived the free life of a rover.
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I walzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 the country said son
better stop all your rambling there's a job to be done
and they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
and they sent me away to the war.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the key
and midst all the cheers hand waving and tears
we sailed out for Gallipoli.


Can't help wandering whether any of the young lads laying out there in the dark spent any of their young lives night clubbing like their fellow countryman sitting on our bus happily telling his story of how he lived to survive. Nevertheless, thanks Mac, a fitting end to a day to remember.

Day 13: Gallipoli to Selcuk via Legendary Troy Friday 5th October


Off  the campsite by 8.00am and quickly boarding the ferry that will take the bus out of Europe and carry me back into my old history and geography lessons and the evocative land called Asia Minor.

Once on the other side, after a pleasant thirty minute crossing, we were quickly handing over our ten lira entrance fee into the ruins of the city that launched a thousand ships and gave Brad Pitt immortality. I was surprised, reading one of the information sheets, that the real battle that Homer based his mythical story on was between the inhabitants of Troy and the Persians who were pushing towards Europe. Nothing really seems to change, two thousands years later those young lads buried just over the water attempted a similar operation. I noticed at the museum the epitaph shamelessly inscribed, below the commemorative plaque by lying politicians 'Lest we forget'. However, I enjoyed my glimpse of Troy and found the site interesting and well worth a visit

A little further down the road we were sent off to buy food at a Large Carrefour supermarket and were amazed to find a traditional open air market stretching from the supermarkets car park, a good couple of hundred yards, up to the mosque. If this is a sample of what is to come then we are in for a treat: fruit and veg arranged in pyramids, baskets of peppers and spices all surrounding and embracing a smiling weather beaten face that may also have encaptured the heart of some 20th Centre Paris before the sun and toil took its toll.

Arrived at Atillah's at 7.00pm and again after much confusion we were upgraded from camping to a chalet with Noreen again. Had no time to wash or dress before a plate of mashed potatoes, salad and barbecued chicken was laid out around the pool area. We had been told by Leighton, on the bus, that tonight is party night and everyone must be in drag or no food and booze. Most people entered into the spirit, especially the party gang who took the opportunity to expose has much of their bodies as possible by skinny dipping in the pool. They were eventually told by Atillah to put their clothes on. The evening then went very much as normal with the lads drinking themselves in to unconsciousness and the rest of us having a good time. Good fun later in the pool. Leighton was not happy when Jim threw him in dressed in his drag outfit.



Day 14: Selcuk to Egirdir via Ephesus and Pamakkali Saturday 6th October
 

 

I was awoken by Noreen shuffling things in her rucksack. Outside another fine warm day emerging but not one for photographs. Although the weather has been a great improvement since entering Turkey it has been very hazy. It's almost two weeks now since we set out and yesterday was the first time I heard anyone commenting about feeling discomfort. I have to say, that so far, I have had no problems with the long journeys and if the tall ones on the bus have, then they have kept it secret. I know it's still early days but those of my friends who said we would be bored out of our minds couldn't have been more wrong. The scenery is constantly changing and although it is a bit difficult writing these notes on the move it is possible although very time consuming and when all else fails there's always someone new to talk to.

I should say something about the roads which have varied as expected. It was not until we entered Romania that things deteriorated although we did loose the congestion. Bulgaria started out poor but improved as we got further south and then got even better once we entered Turkey. The road leading into the city was very good but once again very congested and manic which may have had something to do with it being teatime and Ramadan. The road from Istanbul, down The Straits of Marmara to Gallipoli was quite scary, dropping all time and narrow for a main road but also in a picturesque way interesting. It stretched out in front like a long winding country road passing through gentle sloped fields and had the feel and texture of an impressionist watercolour. The roads around the battle sites and cemeteries were well kept although narrow.

Strangely the roads improved when we entered Asia Minor and even broke in to a dual carriageway and later a motorway as we got nearer to and skirted round Izmir once the home of Homer. Once we left Selcuk, near to Izmir which is the third largest city in Turkey, the roads quickly declined and once again we were being buffeted about like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. If you want to get some idea of how frustrating it is inputting text into a blackberry type device then imagine a cowboy, both hands on device typing text style, while being thrown about on the back of some mad steer. Just one severe bounce and whole paragraphs disappear never to be seen again. The paragraph about the Grand Bazzar was my second attempt having lost the first as the bus bounced back to the road on our way down to Gallipoli.

Today's' journey is quite short but it will take all day because of the stops we're making. Our first stop was only ten minutes away from last night's stop.

I have heard many comments about Ephesus but they didn't prepare me for the reality. This is an amazing archaeological site and the two hours we spent there was not really sufficient to do it justice. It was the largest city and once the commercial centre of Asia Minor with a population of Two hundred thousand people, not much smaller than modern day Rotherham.  It consists of latrines, temples, Library of Celsus and an enormous amphitheatre seating over twenty thousand. The city was dedicated to Artemis and the temple was thought to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately the whole site was swarming with tourists from all corners of the globe. This holidying army  made their way down the site, leaders hand held high with stick, pole or umbrella to aid recognition, men clad in baseball hats and Japanese women in white gloves and all camera clicking and probably doing as much damage as the Mongols who brought the empire to its knees.

Our second stop was the magical and beautiful natural site at Pamukkali. I have wanted to see the thermal spring waters cascading down the limestone cataracts and basins since seeing it in geography books at school. I didn't realize it was on the itinerary until I talked to Andrew in Istanbul and so it came as a very pleasant surprise. Unfortunately it doesn't quite look like it does in the brochures thanks to all the tourists who have visited it over the years and done great damage in the process. Much of the site is now cordoned off to allow it to recover. Just like Ephesus, before it, the place was congested with human movement and I have to say it spoilt it for me. I know it is selfish but it would be nice if all other tourists stayed at home. However, we will start to loose the tourists as we go further east and get closer to Iran.

We got to Egirdir, late in the dark, after perhaps the most tiring journey so far. We were met by one of the Hostel' managers whose name sounded like Muslim. I was too tired to check my hearing and each time I called him he responded promptly with good English. We followed him from the bus up a dust track to a building with the outside walls painted and then we were separated into two groups, our names called first, and led down to an annex with very sparse facilities: one toilet to twenty two people and two showers but at least we did have a double room although it was more like a kitchen with a bed.

We quickly made our way back to the main hostel to check emails, drink beer in the rooftop bar and eat. The bottle beer was appreciated (Efus) and the freshly caught trout and salad was delicious. As we came down out of the mountains we could see a large freshwater lake with the lights of the town twinkling in the edges of the water. I sat with Barry and Leighton and listened to Paul Brady singing Arthur McBride and talked about Irish music and the singing of Christy Moore before making our way back to the annex and tomorrow's long journey to Goreme.


Day 15: Egirdir to Goreme Sunday 7th October


I slept reasonably well and woke to voices talking about the showers being cold. Lucinda announced a little later they had warmed up and so I partook. The earlier voices were correct but it did wake me up. I have been suffering from a dickey stomach for the past two days. Caught short after a picnic in a garage forecourt and had to use a stand up for the first time in many a year. Das accompanied me to the loo, telling me he was desperate, took one look and declared he'd sooner mess his trousers. I suspect he'll use the bus and be in more trouble with Leighton over the vehicle's condition. The back of the bus is the sanctuary of the young party goers' and a veritable refuge tip compared with the front seat area.

We've just heard that Barry's had some bad news from back home. His best friend died during the night. It seems he was an electrician and involved in a works accident and unknown to Barry had been on a life support machine since and the family decided to have it turned off in the early hours of today.

This journey from Egirdir to Goreme is some five hundred plus kilometres and has taken us through some varied and at times stunning scenery. Leaving Egirdir we followed the lake up the valley with its backdrop of mountains, for many miles. The valley is very fertile with apple orchards running the lake's length and stretching a few hundred yards beyond the road and up the lower slopes sweeping down to the water's edge. Every few feet piles of apples lay in mounds waiting to be weighed and taken to market. Eventually the valley ran out and we had no option but to climb the mountains blocking our progress. The road rose very sharply and in no time we were looking down a couple of thousand feet below to a new wide valley floor below. The road snaked up until the tarmac gave way to hardcore and then gravel and sand and had the effect of quietening the bus.

We came out of the mountains as abruptly as we entered them and travelled along one of the straightest roads I have seen with bare fields but of the colours you see in a Dulux autumn colour chart of barley browns and faded yellows with the solitary tree every few hundred yards.

After lunch on the forecourt of the Turkish equivalent to a British transport café we suddenly without warning came to Goreme and the stunning scenery of Coppaddocio. This amazing terrain of basalt plugs was created some fifty million years ago by volcanic action. Many of the plugs have been cut out by dwellers over the years. Tomorrow Anne goes hot air ballooning over the area. I have decided to give it a miss, saying it's too expensive at one hundred pounds a piece but everyone knows it's because I'm scared of heights.

Last night was a bit boring, we went into Goreme to eat and watch Scotland playing Argentina at rugby. Food nothing to right home about, game even worse and the noise from the kids and the loud music made it virtually unbearable. Managed to get the mini bus driver to take us home and went to bed early only to be awoken by the drunken screaming and shouting of the other group returning at 2.30am. Even in a beautiful environment like this they have the ability to turn it into a normal Saturday night in any typical British town.


Day 16: Goreme & Hot Air Ballooning Monday 8th October


This was by general consent the best day so far. My day started badly at 2.30am when the party gang returned from watching the Scotland game and made so much noise they woke the campsite. Before I could get back to sleep it was time (5.15am) for those going hot air ballooning to rise and of course Anne was one of them. Once again there was much noise everyone being exited. I abandoned the idea of getting any sleep with the noise of balloons being filled. The scene outside our tent was spectacular with, at one point, 25 balloons slowly making their way down the gorge to the rhythm of the gas jets.

Anne's balloon, the smallest and the brightest yellow, rose straight upwards to six thousand feet with, according to Anne, all our group singing the chorus to the Parapenting song:

Flying so high like prima ballerina
Sailing the sky like a clipper on the sea.
We reach as we try to join them on their journey
Then watch our lives go by from the safety of our dreams.
 


I also learnt from others that the other balloon sang the chorus too. Marcus is still intent on recording it and Ecuador but I 'm not happy if he's going to keep playing it on the bus. Both Marcus and especially Leighton are constantly devising little schemes and plans to keep moral high and I have to say it's working at the moment which is more than can be said for Ozbus 1.

Everyone back from balloon ride by 8.30 and ecstatic about the scenery and the whole experience. Anne's balloon pilot actually brought it down, inch perfect, onto the back of the trailer that carried it. Most people took advantage of the site swimming pool and the excellent facilities to relax for the rest of the morning. At about 2.00pm we walked into Goreme, I had a lunch of chips and omelet and Anne had fried aubergines and all washed down with Efus beer. We have not seen any beer on tap since Istanbul and that was also Efus which must be Turkey's San Miguel. Goreme has at least three internet cafes and I found the slowest. Took over two hours to upload day eight to fifteen of my blog. Much of this time was spent trying to upload some of the four hundred photos we've now taken of the trip. Anne took about thirty or so this morning hot air ballooning. I can't decide whether it was a slow internet link or the size of the photos (3 - 4 mb each). I need to get access to a piece of software like Fireworks or something similar in order to reduce them to a manageable size for uploading. I have to say this blog is a logistic nightmare. I thought it would be quite easy but the reality is very much different because of the whistle stop nature of this trip. We're on the road by 9.00am every morning and not reaching our day’s destination until late, often after dark. I'm trying to write yesterday's blog as we head for our stop near Mt Nemut which will take nine hours driving. Not much of an opportunity to download photos and upload them with the day’s blog.

Had the taxis ride of our journey. As we stood by the taxis rank consisting of two empty vehicles an old man with a fag in his hand and a young man with a cup of tea in his hand made their way towards us. The old man asked us where we were going and gave us a price of seven and half lira. He then added his young friend was also going our way and so it would only cost five and half. He then opened the back door and we fought our way into the space which was made tighter by the thickness of the seat covers which were very deep piled. As the old driver started the engine the younger man handed him the tea saying we were lucky to find a taxi driver at seven o'clock at night during Ramadan. We quickly sped away down the main street with the driver holding a cig in one hand and the tea in the other. After a few hundred yards the tarmac gave way to cobbles and as we bounced about in the back a mobile phone rang out from under the dash and the driver picked it up and began to talk. We spent the next part of the journey being driven by a seventy year old taxi driving smoking a fag and holding a cup Turkish chi, at sipping at times, whilst answering the phone. The younger front seat passenger kept turning his head towards us and smiling politely as though everything was normal. I have to say the old man never made a single mistake for the couple of klm back to the campsite.

When we arrived back there was much talk about Ozbus 1 which is reputedly broken down again in Tehran. I have to say they have not endeared themselves to many on our bus. We have now been left three notes from them calling us losers, wankers, Homo's and second best. If we catch them up there could trouble, the younger members of our bus have taken the comments very personally.

However, the progress of bus 1 has implications for us and there is much speculation about our route especially through Nepal, Tibet/ China. I know many on our bus will be very upset if there is a change to that part of the trip. We have been told we would have to go to Calcutta and catch a plane to Bangkok. It seems much of the speculation about most things coming from the bus in Iran comes from the Guardian journalist travelling with them. It seems her second article is all about how everything has gone sour with complaints about the condition of the bus, the food and location of picnic stops. It seems that some parents have also written letters to the Times with complaints from the kids on the ill fated vehicle. The problem is, until I read the articles, they're just rumours. I suppose it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the journalist on board is stirring things up or is just not up to the trip. I somehow can't imagine the Editor of the Guardian being happy with a constant stream of articles all about the good aspects of the journey. After all she's not been sent as a PR for Ozbus.

When we got back we had plenty of time to shower, relax with beer and talk about the day's events before we were bussed out to an underground restaurant with a traditional show by Whirling Dervishes and the local dance team. The facilities are the best of any campsite so far and had three or four French campervans who it seems are taking our route to China. I must say I'd consider bringing a motorhome down here, it's so unspoilt, has good network of roads and doesn't seem all that dangerous. The show at the restaurant included food and all drinks. The food was Turkish and plenty and ok but the red wine was the worse glass I have ever had and I have supped some bad stuff in my time. The waiter kept bringing it out even though, after the first glass, everyone turned to beer. I think he saw his opportunity to get rid of it. Also I have to say Anne thought it was ok which says something about her taste buds.

The Whirling Dervishes started the proceedings with some pretty impressive whirling and although I like the music it was recorded. Sue who's seen it before thought they were not very good because they didn't go into a trance with their heads slumped to one side on their shoulders. They were then followed by the dance troupe's band who was amazing musicians; especially the clarinetist and drummer. The dance team did about an hours performance with some impressive dancing to the typical themes of harvest and boy meets girl. I finished up dancing with the bride, which was a bit more energetic than Grenoside and if it hadn't stopped when it did, it could have been my last night of marriage. Anne was giving me some worrying looks.

At the half way stage the band started playing happy birthday Turkish style to annonce our first birthday on the trip. At midnight Mac was forty and the girls had arranged a cake and candles. He hen celebrated further by doing the belly dance with a beautiful young women who had a very good figure with no belly whatsoever. We arrived back at the campsite and were shocked to find Simone had announced she was leaving the bus to return with her boy friend who had mysteriously turned up at Atillah's two days earlier.

 


Day 17: Goreme to Katha & Damlacik & Mt Nemrut Tuesday 9th October


Travelled through the Anti Taurus Mountains to Mt Nemrut and stayed at the very shabby Hotel Camping Euphrats. Today's drive was to be one of the longest, about nine hours, the last two in the dark. Had no hesitation in upgrading from camping to a double room. The room very basic but sufficient for our one night.

The trip started at 9.00am and to a round of well earned cheers for Geof who turned up by taxi ten minutes before the off. As I said earlier he flew home from Istanbul to play in a Gaelic football final. It seems they were winning with just a minute to go and the opposition scored beating them by one point. Nevertheless it is good to have him back he's a valued member of the family.

Before we could hit the road we had to drive back into Goreme to see if the Carte de Passage, as JonPal calls it, had arrived from the office in England. He told me without it there was no chance of entering Iran. I think someone said we also need a Mechanical Certificate for the bus. Glad to say Leighton came out of the office carrying a package.

We then resumed our progress towards Iran and travelled on only a few miles from the Syrian border. In a day we'll be skirting the border with Iraq. Lets hope we don't take any wrong turnings. The whole journey was through some beautiful countryside with a scary descent after crossing over the top at 1600 metres. We stopped for lunch on a dirt track in the middle of nowhere just of the main road. Amazingly ever vehicle that came past tooted and cheered. Then an old man riding a horse came past and gave Sue and Emmett a handful of pistachio nuts he'd picked.

As we lost the light we started to make our way up a very basic mountain road which went from cobbles or blocks to a dirt track and then back again. If it had been yellow it would have been appropriate on our way to Oz. As I looked ahead through the bus windscreen I could just see Dorothy, tin man, lion and the scarecrow all dancing their way towards us. Eventually 8.30pm we arrived at our destination for the night; the Euphrat Hotel Campsite. I said to Leighton the Euphrates must be close by if the hotel is named after it. He replied he'd stayed in a Hotel Liffy in America. Glad to say on checking the atlas, I was right both The Euphrates and Tigress start out in this area before wending their way down into Syria and Baghdad respectively.
We sadly left Simone left behind.

All met up in the hotel's restaurant for beers, food and settle our bills before we checked the rooms. The hotel manager or owner was an interesting character who embraced a strange pricing policy. To upgrade it cost just 15 lira a room, 10 for a four course evening meal and a staggering 5 lira a bottle of yes again Efes beer. In English that is £6 a room for two about £3 for a four course meal consisting of a very nice spicy lentil soup, potato salad, lamb and aubergines with rice and water melon and a sticky sweet ball that looked like a rum Baba but was very sweat and syrupy and reminded me of the deserts we get in Pakistani restaurants in England and £2.50 for the beer. Once we had all paid him he sat in front of us counting it over and over again. Everyone went to bed very early and Scooby and the party gang had an alcohol free night which was not related to the extortionately priced beer although I think the amount of money they spend on it is disproportionate to food etc. One of them admitted he had spent £500 on it between our first stop in St Gaor to the two days in Instanbul. Anne and myself were the last to go to bed. A first on this trip.


 

Day 18: Nemrut Drag to Lake Van Wednesday 10th October



Many of the group arose at 4.15am and set off up Mt Nemrut, by mini bus, to see the sunrise over the area. Unfortunately it was overcast and started raining just as those who stayed behind were eating breakfast. Sue said the views were good and the ancient heads were amazing which is just as well because we had made a big detour to include it. Left the hotel late because of the Nemrut excursion and very quickly arrived at a large lake which appeared out of nowhere in a deep gorge. As we came to the end of the road my first thought was we'd took a wrong turning and would have to turn back but to my further surprise we were told we were catching a ferry down the lake to try and cut the journey time. Firstly we'd just missed the ferry and the next was an hour and half later; immediately Daz, Jim and Emmett jumped the ten feet from the key into the lake. Within ten minutes most of the lads were swimming along with three bikini clad girls which seemed to please the young Turkish lads but not their elders.

What followed next was something out of a Whitehall Farce. As JonPal attempted to edge the bus forward onto the boat, which was not very big, vans carrying cows, mini buses full of traditionally dressed women and children attempted to overtake the coach which was first in the queue. Three or four managed to get on and the only thing that stopped a repeat of the Gallipoli landings was Scooby, Ian and Co standing with backs against the leading mini bus's windscreen and preventing it from passing. This gave JP enough time to reverse the bus into place and eventually board to the howls of approval, clapping and cheers from the family and much to the annoyance of the crew member trying to exercise favouritism on behalf of his fellow countrymen and his fellow countryman who were all left squabbling on the quay for the few vacant births. From the bridge of the ferry we were entertained by the antics of the other occupants of the ten or so vehicles trying to fill the last few spaces. One pickup truck with carves packed in the back, tried to maneuvre onto the ferry whilst the driver's mate pulled them apart and smacked some of the the animals who were trying to mount each, either out of pure frustration at being jammed tongue licking tongue to bum or just in an attempt to survive and use the available space better. The ferry set off eventually with a Toyota Pickup which came from the back of the queue on the rails so to speak and after some very dangerous maneuvering on the edge of the quay perched his vehicle on the ferry's tail board. A smiling Maz turned to me as we sailed away and remarked 'I love mixing with the locals' and I thought to myself you can't argue with that. If JP carries on holding his ground against such odds he could become the next Pope John Paul or St John or Paul. After a journey off just ten to fifteen minutes we arrived at another quay and the whole process started again but in reverse. One mini bus which was first on before and was now at the back attempted to overtake the vehicles stationed in front by pulling out into the middle of the boat, much to the danger of two small children trying to climb aboard. The kids survived because the angle of the maneuver was so acute that the iron ladders on the back of the minibus, leading to the luggage rack on the roof, got wedged against a strengthening bar on the side of the ferry. I walked past him, arguing with the very crew member who tried so hard to help them get on the boat, about the damage he'd caused to the boat. As I left the ferry, various vehicles including a lorry seriously overloaded with bales of cotton, numerous mini buses laden with passengers and pickups empty of cattle returning  were starting the process all over again.

Rather than save time I suspect the ferry fracas delayed us and after many more hours of driving through this incredible mountain range we ran out of time and light and were forced to spend our first night free camping down a winding dirt track across a bridge not really made for a 52 seater coach with 43 occupants on board. Only a few minutes earlier we had stopped at a very busy lorry pull-in. This was the first time I'd felt as though I was out of my comfort zone as Leighton likes to call it. This was a bit of a wild place with lorries swerving into narrow vacant parking spaces like Michael Schumacher coming into the pits: three pedestrians had to dive out of the way from a crazy lorry and I'm convinced he would have killed them had they not took evasive action. When the driver and his mate jumped down from the cab they beat their chests and punched the air in victory in Zorba the Greek fashion. The pull-in consisted of a transport type café, a posher looking restaurant which some said had a sign saying no women and a general store which charged Leighton over £6 for half a dozen bananas and a bag of apples. Large bottles of water were over 2 lira a bottle which is four times the normal price. Leighton left the owner in no doubt about his thoughts.

There was a suggestion, from JP, that we should camp across the road on some waste ground but I'm glad to say it was dismissed and we set off further up the pass. After only a few minutes we found a good area to set up camp for the night and quickly pitched our tents and cooked a pasta of smoked sausage, tomato sauce and grated cheese.

The rest of the night was spent around a very substantial camp fire built by Scooby and Co. We played silly games and sang songs washed down by a single bottle of Raki, that I'd commandeered in Goreme as everyone watched the belly dancer and one glass of Gin and Tonic carried from Sheffield and a terrible bottle of red wine bought in Gallipoli. This turned out to be a good opportunity to purge the bus of all traces of alcohol before entering Iran in just over a day’s time.

 



Day 19: Nemrut Dag to Lake Van Thursday 11th October


This was an unscheduled stop as we were supposed to be going all the way to Dogubaysit or DoggyBiscuit as it is affectionately called by travellers heading for the border with Iran. The journey would have taken fifteen hours driving and very wisely Leighton after consultation decided to break it down with a camping stop at Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey.

Within just a few minutes of leaving our free camping spot we reached a town with hotels and pensions and our first sight of the lake. We now realised our situation the night before was not as desperate as we thought. We started our journey around the lake at 8.00am and finished three and half hours later, with no serious hold ups and travelling at a steady thirty to forty miles an hour. This is one big piece of water. The road follows the lake edge for what must be a hundred miles or so, sometimes rising high above the water and at other times at lake level with water almost washing against the bus's wheels. At the southern edge of the lake the flat expanse of land swept past the road for a few hundred yards in a gradual upward curve to the mountains. This is a very green and arable area with lots of what look like small holdings. As we moved further north towards the town of Van the shoreline became very bare but still beautiful in a kind of a Mediterranean way but without the villas. As we enter Van we had to slow down because of an accident; our first since leaving home. How the van and car had managed to end up on the other side of the carriageway facing the way the came is beyond me but doesn't surprise me. One seriously injured man was being stretchered towards and ambulance and another man was unconscious on the floor having his head bandaged. Van had nothing to really recommend it, with big signs for what looked a western type retail/ industrial park with a Carrefour.

Our next stop was Dogubaysit or doggyBiscuit as it is called in travelling circles. My impression after a very interesting walk up the main street was dog's bollocks. Architecturally this is the worst town so far by miles. The whole place is a series of low roofed concrete box shops with no furnishings inside and goods stacked everywhere aimlessly; a far cry from the beautiful shops and stalls in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Our steady progress from the Aegean coast as been marked with an increased military presence. In dog's bollocks they're on every corner, patrolling but not offensive. As we made our way to find lunch, a rare event for us, we are followed by children saying hello, money, money, money with hand held out. Surprisingly young school girls kept coming up to us just say hello. The main street, looking nothing like its western equivalent, had a strange traffic system with traffic police attempting some level of control all to no avail. Like the traffic cops I couldn't make out who had the right of way until everything came to a complete stop and then I realized the mad drivers ruled. All of the maneuvers were accompanied by a chorus of horns. The street was a wash with pedestrians, taking their lives into their own hands and making the driving even more difficult: the reasonably wide pavements were a barricade of goods, ranging from spices, washing machines and clothes, all successfully blocking any one's intention of using them for their rightful purpose. One mini bus with what looked like a family in it had goods strapped down on the roof along with the poor family goat that was laid flat and held down by a rope. The only indication that it was alive was when it tried to raise its head off the van roof. The driver and occupants found, us passing by, just as amusing as I the goat. Strange old world. Out of the blue a middle aged man approached us and asked us what we're looking far and recommended a restaurant which he then preceded to take us to. We had a good meal of spicy lentil and mint soup with a kind of square naan bread, a mixed grill and a side salad. In a country where you can get a room for two for a fiver our meal cost me a staggering forty lira or £20 for two. We made our way back to the bus again through a sea of looks, hellos and mad drivers. When we got back we found out that there had been a theft from the bus. One young lad, of four, had taken his opportunity, as JP sat at his wheel, jumped on the vehicle and stole Marcus's hat and the nerf, a device that when thrown whistles as it heads towards its target. The lad has my gratitude, every lunch across Europe and Asia has been accompanied by the wretched whistling sound of his device.

The campsite was half way up a mountain side with a disused mosque/ palace hanging on a rock above it. Once again we took the opportunity to upgrade for the princely some of ten lira for two or £4. The room was basic in the extreme especially the toilet come wet room. After trying to get the shower to work Anne appealed to the site manager who managed to get hot water but only at the expense of the showers in the joining rooms. Hot water sprayed the toilet floor to the screams from the girls in the next room trying to do the same. Ours was one of those combination efforts slung a foot of the tiled floor that operated as a low slung tap until switched to the shower. It worked ok as a foot tap and dry shower but that was it. However it did have the power to spoil everyone else’s chance of a hot anything. I later spent an interesting ten minutes doing contortions down by the toilet bowl in an attempt to get my dirtier parts under the flow of water. I was amazed at my flexibility perhaps crawling in and out of tents is the secret exercise for the over sixties.

the evening again followed the old pattern of dinner followed by drinking party style, after all this is what this dog's bollocks of a place is famous for. This is the drunken traveller’s last chance of happiness for ten days until leaving Iran and reaching the green fields of the Indus, Quetta and Pakistan. The lads had bought between them 120 cans of Efes and went to bed at 1.00pm when the beer ran out. Iran will really test my resolve but it could send the gang stir crazy.

 


Day 20: Dogubayasit to Tabriz Iran Friday 12th October


So far I have been lucky to be task free on the bus but on Tuesday I became a packer. Today is the first time we the team have had difficulty packing all the bags, rucksacks, sleeping bags and tents into the holds. Things this morning were made even worse by the effects of last night's party on some of the team and the excellent breakfast cooked by the new breakfast crew. This was the first hot breakfast since leaving home and although I can't really say I'm missing them it was rather nice to have a make shift full English breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, beans and toast.

As we drove out of the campsite I was immediately struck by the enormous presence of Mt Aryrat looming over the road ahead and like a burkha clad beautiful young women had shed the veil of cloud that had kept its snow-capped secret from prying eyes the night before. She accompanied us for much of the way to the Turkish border; first on one side of the bus and then on the other as the vehicle snaked its way over the hills to Iran. We arrived at the Iranian side of the border at 9.00am and I was sad to say goodbye to the beautiful and varied Turkish landscape and people. I will definitely make my way back down this way Allah willing.

It's now 2.05pm and we're still in no mans land having had our passports and visas checked. We are now waiting to have the bus frisked and x-rayed by the guards. We've just spent over two hours in a lounge area watching where the programmes consisted of an Iranian type soap, to be expected, a football match, also to be expected, a documentary about the Cuban revolution and Mr Bean, not to be expected. This could be a sign that all is not well in the Islamic world. Leighton has just announced to the exceptionally patient coach 'welcome to Iran'. We have entered without a full search and I have used the time bringing my blog notes up to date for the very first time.

The road ahead, from the border, looks exactly like the one behind us with an horizon of large mountains. As we head down the road to Tabriz our guide Hussein takes the microphone and announces 'welcome to this fucking prison of Iran'. 'This f...... prison of the Mullahs'. 'Wherever there is religion and the f....... British government there is f...... intrigue and we the people of Iran suffer. He then took us through some useful phrases and said he could arrange black-market booze if we wished.

For anyone out there who is interested in driving through Iran the coach has just taken on a hundred and fifty litre of diesel for two Euro. Wow! We have now been driving down the road to Tabriz for a couple of hours and mountains, not as high as in Turkey, line both sides of the road. These are more like rolling hills that remind me of the coal spoils' of South Yorkshire, once they'd been landscaped. Anne just described them like the wrinkles on a bloodhound's face which I think is a better description. The further we travel into this forbidden land the fields seem to push the hills away from the road and the wide expanse is filled with shrubs interspersed with lines of beach and Aspen trees, the odd apple orchard and strangely at this time of the year sunflowers still in flower. Sunflowers bloom in October.

It's now 6.15pm and the sun has set throwing the hills, the trees and the shrubs into a silhouette reminiscent of Tuscany. Peter Moore in his book The Wrong Way Home described them as 'broken, twisted and foreboding'. Perhaps they would be if travelling alone, however, on a bus with your own makeshift family they are beautiful.

Our guide as suddenly changed into a traveling bank with an exchange rate not much better than the money sharks at the border. With just hundred pounds of sterling you can become a rial millionaire at an exchange rate of 18,000 to the pound. I have just bought a six pack of one and half litre bottles of water for a hefty 20,000 rial. I was convinced he was ripping me off until Marcus looked at his exchange calculator and said about one pound twenty.

We arrived at Tabriz at about 7.00pm to find that the hotel was an oven. All the rooms had heaters blowing out hot air. Took nearly an a hour to cool the room down. After a shower we all set off to find food. We were advised by our guide that few restaurants would be open because it was Friday and he was right. The hotel had a restaurant that was opened but the menu consisted of soup, chicken and rice a combination very familiar to the Morris lads back home and one I still find hard to try again even after two years. On going to the hotel restaurant I felt physically sick because of the heat. We all decided to follow our guide Hussein to what we thought would be down town Tabriz. As we walked along we were seen as visibly different by the locals who wanted to say hello. After passing shop after shop of the most appalling furniture those in the lead disappeared into a pizza/ beefburgher bar. The general consensus was to stay and because we were told to keep together we were forced by circumstances to spend our first night in Iran, old Persia, eating the worse pizza I have ever had with two cans of Bavarian non-alcoholic beer. The bill for the two of us was 80,000 rial or just over £4. I returned to the hotel rather down, I couldn't for the life of me see how they could have a good night out without a glass or two of wine. Before our food arrived an Iranian couple asked if their lovely young daughter could be photographed with us which then led to them sitting with us throughout the meal. We exchanged basic information: names, occupations: they were both teachers, him in the university and they wanted our address and email account. I am not sure why they wanted it neither spoke much better English than our Farci but we'll see. By the way in case you're wondering my Farci extends from thank you Merci to bread naan.

Had the worse night's sleep since leaving home. There were a number reasons for this: firstly the room was boiling, secondly had to open the window which let in the din from god knows where because the streets were empty and three I was scratching from the first bites of the journey. Oh and I forgot number fourthly I went to bed for the first time for many, many years without a drop of alcohol in my body. I'll let you decide the main reason for my bad nights slumber. Anne was very
unkind and in no doubt at 2.00am this morning as I tossed and turned.


 
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2012 16:49