Saturday, October 19, 2002

Turkish Delight (what else would the title be?)

We pick up the travels of our intrepid would-be explorer in Istanbul where he meets a new group of travellers...

24 of them to be precise, Aussies, Kiwis and Irishmen with names like 'Edge', 'Farmer', 'Leon', 'Gubby', 'Bud' and 'Octavia'. Plus a crazy driver called Mike who slurs his words even when not stoned or drunk (which he normally is within one hour of finishing driving for the day). But it's all good. In a way. And definitely 'Economic' (the company that runs this trip from Istanbul to Cairo is called economic expeditions).

This merry bunch of men and maidens set off one day late from Istanbul (partly because Mike was hung over from the night before) towards Eceabat, near the Galipoli battlefields. The UV lit bar next to the campsite showed scenes from previous years' Anzac day memorials. A couple of photos of thousands of Antipodians standing in silence to hear the services at the battlefield, and dozens of photos of the evening's carnage in the bar afterwards (beer funneling, dancing on the tables and general drunken excess). I guess their grandfathers fought for freedom, so a celebration of life is fairly appropriate.

Galipoli itself was a fairly moving tribute to the folly of war. Half a million men lost in a six-month stalemate that typified trench warfare. In places the trenches are only a metre or two apart. In one place they actually tunneled into each other and the men reached around the corner to pass messages and cigarettes and shake hands with their foes before the order came to charge into each others' bullets. The guide shared many stories of the somewhat surreal friendships between the men on each side, thrown together as they were by their commanders but still acting as human men between the battles.

As for the commanders, a couple of the Allies got sacked (or whatever the military equivalent is) whereas the Turkish Commander became a living legend and led the country to independence, founded the Turkish Republic, reformed the country's institutions and now has his face on every banknote and statue in every town. His name was Ataturk. And his portraits look a little like Paul Daniels (he was rather fond of his cloak, gloves and top hat, so looks a bit like a magician).

Then across the Bosphorus by ferry and on to Selcuk, via Truva (Troy). Troy needs a little imagination, but if you're familiar with the tales it's quite easy to imagine Achilles dragging Hector's body around the walls behind his chariot, or the city in flames after the infamous horse incident. Speaking of which, there's a shockingly unhistoric 'replica horse' outside the ruins.

However there's also a fairly scientific theory about how the Trojan siege may have been broken - there was an earthquake at roughly the right era that broke down part of the walls, which would have allowed the Greeks to stream in and take the city. They might then have built a giant horse in thanks to Posiedon, God of the seas and earthquakes, who was quite fond of horses (used to ride them through the surf - remember the Guiness ad with the white horses and the surfer?), and it all got mixed up before becoming part of Homer's epic.

Selcuk next, about halfway down the west coast of Turkey, and a couple of nights at 'Atila's Getaway'. Camping with a swimming pool, hot showers and a funky bar - this is economic overlanding with style! Octavia's birthday celebrated on our first night (involved much vodka, space cake, a sexually oriented game of 'I have never' and an unscheduled dip in the pool).

Then back to the culture. A morning in Efes (Ephesus). WOW! It was amazing because it's very well preserved, enormous, beautiful and easy to imagine life in antiquity, whilst walking down the main street or sitting on the steps of the theatre or stepping into the architecturally ingenious library (that's quite small but uses clever tricks to appear much bigger). A jaunt around the Efes museum filled in the gaps, but I missed out on the ruins of the Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 wonders of the world) up behind Efes.

This was followed by a controversial day full of exciting group dynamics, personality clashes and lack of communication up in the Greek village of Sirince (pronounced like 'Syringe'). Perhaps it was too much of the local wine, but the group has since pieced itself back together. Mike reckons he let things get out of hand on purpose to get the group to realise the importance of respecting each other, etc... I think he just liked the wine.

On again, south down the coast to Koycegiz. A beautiful hostel marred only by the bedbugs infesting our room (spotted them in time, though, so didn't get ourselves - or the truck - infested). An excellent day cruising around the lake and swimming in the med. Then a dark morning listening to the news from Bali. In retrospect, the solemn mood perhaps helped bring the group back together.

On we went south to the mosquito infested treehouses and cabins of Oludeniz campsite. Picturesquely situated on the edge of the Blue Lagoon (where the film was shot) but the calm blue waters also serve as a breeding ground for mossies and any exposed skin was covered in red lumps the next day.

Half the group then headed off for a 4 day booze cruise whilst the rest of us went for the active option: one day climbing 400m down into then back up from Butterfly Valley (using a scraggy path most of the way, but partly ropes as well); one day climbing up waterfalls, clambering over rocks, wading through silt and swimming under boulders to get as far into Saklikent gorge a possible(a LOT of fun - Jon I understand the joys of caving now!); and one day hiking up a mountain near the ruins of Olympos to get to a lost city at the top.

I need a holiday... (but I'm sure I'll get no sympathy from y'all!)

A full day's drive yesterday and now I'm back in Goreme. Which is a little odd. It's only about 3 weeks since I was here last, but it's noticeably (much) colder at night and there are hardly any tourists here atm (compared to the hordes we saw last time).

OK. A couple of snippets about Turkey that you may not know...

*) 1,600,000 Turkish Lira to a US dollar (but inflation is in the double digits)

*) 3 barriers to EU entry (according to a Turkish economist I met yesterday) - unemployment (20%); inflation and the economy; dodgy democracy and civil rights

*) elections on Nov 3rd. Current PM may get less than 10%. Dodgy media baron may get more than 10%. DEHAP party founder (and the most popular politician in the polls) has been banned from being 'founding member', so he became party chairman. He's now likely to be banned from that as well, so will only be able to wield behind-the-scenes power. This is what is meant by 'dodgy democracy', I guess.

*) good wage in Istanbul about $300 a month.

*) lots of (female) Aussies seem to come here for a week and stay for months or years, getting jobs and boyfriends and the whole nine yards. I've met 3 or 4 such people out of about 40-50 aussies - does that mean 6-10% of Aussies stay in Turkey?!?

*) 20% of Turkey's 60 million inhabitants are of Kurdish descent

*) EU wants Turkey to un-ban broadcasts in Kurdish and generally be nicer to the Kurds. Non-Kurdish Turkish people, most of whom know someone who died fighting the Kurds and Ocalan's troops, think this is an insult and the Kurds should be Turkeyfied. (According to an article in the Turkish Daily News)

*) Turkey is keeping an eye on the Kurds in Northern Iraq. They're worried that if they get a degree of self-rule (or even independence) the Turkish Kurds will want the same. The government has even mentioned the possibility of sending Turkish troops into N.Iraq to stop the Kurds there.

Apart from all this, I'm thinking about leaving the truck for a few days and heading East to Nemrut Dagi (allegedly the Eighth wonder of the world) before meeting them again on the Syrian border.


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