The sun had just risen to reveal a beautiful clear day when the sea liner dropped me off in the small harbour town of Taşucu, where I got my first taste of mainland Turkey. As I walked along the road into town I heard the beep of a horn behind me and turned around to see a mini bus approaching with the side door open. It slowed down to just faster than walking speed as it went past so with a couple of quick steps and a jump I was aboard. I gave the driver a nod; he nodded back and accelerated up to a cruising speed, with the door still open. I stood in the doorway watching the world go past, wind in my hair and thought "cool, you wouldn't get this back in the West". After a few minutes we were in the town centre where we slowed down for some traffic lights. I gave the driver the old one finger hooroo via the rearview mirror and jumped out to explore the little coastal village. While I was looking around I found a café where I ordered some brekky, broke out the map and planned my next move. I decided to head to Adana, the closest major city, about 100 km to the west, for a gander.
Adana was my first major eastern city and at around 100 km from the Syrian border, it's definitely the furthest I've wandered from home. The buildings were old and cracked, some now uninhabited and breaking apart in vacant lots. The streets were lined with small market stalls selling everything from local produce and cooked meats to clothes, handmade jewellery, second-hand car parts and even useful junk scavenged from the bins and dumps: something for everyone. There were kids playing in piles of rubble from the old broken down buildings and cars driving the wrong way up the street with apparently no concern from other drivers, who just pull to the shoulder of the road to let them pass. But the most noticeable difference from the west was the many mosque towers that stand out over the city skyline, which — five times a day — play an amplified song or ezam in Arabic that can be heard all over the city, calling the faithful to worship. I found my way into a busy market place with a very fast pace and straight away I noticed that all eyes were on me, the only tourist in the whole city. People approached from every angle trying to sell me glow-in-the-dark yo-yos and roasted chestnuts. I quickly learned not to look at anyone's product and to not stand around doing nothing unless I want to be swamped by street vendors offering me a great deal on something I don't need. Once I made it through to the café street things took a more relaxed pace.
It took quite a few hours to make it down the street as at every other café I was invited to sit down for cups of Turkish tea and coffee by the locals, where we played card games and shared stories. Here I met a few Syrians and Kurds, mostly young refugees. They were all nice people just trying to make a life for themselves. One guy in his early 20s was telling me that he had fled Syria but his parents decided to stay. They were in their late 50s and didn't have the energy or the health to learn a new language, work two jobs each and build a new life in a foreign land. They did what they could to help their son get out of the country then returned to their home to live out what was left of their lives in Syria. He knew it was very unlikely he would ever see them again and was doing what he could to get on with it. A shit go. But he was a good dude and was happy to meet a traveller from across the globe and asked me many questions about what it's like to see the world — an opportunity he would never get. Once it got late I decided to call it in. Some of the guys told of an abandoned building at a shopping mall nearby that was patrolled by security. They said if I could get past the guards I would find a safe place to sleep. Slip past some guards undetected to sleep in an abando? Sounds like a wilby mission.
The next morning I awoke near the highway and decided to stick out my thumb and see where I ended up. Within 5 minutes of getting to the on-ramp I was picked up by a trucky who was heading to Izmir, a city along the west coast. "Izmir it is," I thought as I settled in for the long journey. Going was slow in the fully-loaded tanker so I got plenty of time to take in the sights. Sammy, the driver, spoke only basic English but was able to tell me a lot about the history of the land as we passed through mountain ranges, rolling hills and open country. The land was dry and rocky, not suitable for large-scale farming; only small veggie crops were scattered across the hills and valleys, following the contours of the rough terrain. Every so often we would pull over to cook food and brew tea at truck stops where Sammy told me stories of life in Turkey. That night I slept safe from the cold in the cabin of the truck and by noon the next day we were in Izmir. I was pretty tired form the past 10 days of swagging and camping out so when Sammy dropped me off I made my way to the closest hostel for a warm shower and a comfy bed.
I was shown to my bunk and as I unpacked my gear a guy walked in to his bunk and said hello. He noticed the psytrance festival wristbands that I had sewn around my hat just as I noticed the many psytrance wristbands still on his wrists. He was like "psytrance?", I was like “psytrance!" then we were both like "PSYTRANCE!!!". He introduced himself as Tilman and invited me up to the roof to smoke some ciggies and reminisce over the past summer's festival circuit. Tilman's a German guy who is studying in Istanbul as a part of an Erasmus program. He had come to Izmir for a short trip in his time off and told me I'd have a place to stay once I got to Istanbul.
I took advantage of my time at the hostel to wash my clothes, catch up on sleep and repair my kit. It's getting to the stage of the journey where my gear is starting to show signs of wear. I spent the most part of a day patching holes, reinforcing straps and stitching rips, though I didn't see this work as a chore. I ask a lot from my equipment and depend heavily on it, so I was happy to spend the time to keep it in good nick. After some recuperating I was ready to get back on the road to Istanbul, where I could get my visa for Iran. I set off early in the morning and put in a good solid day of hitching to get there by that night, where I met up with Tily at his flat in Kadıköy, in the heart of Istanbul.
Istanbul ay?! And I thought Berlin was a wild city. Never before have I seen three guys tripling a motorbike, weaving through traffic on a busy road, none of them wearing helmets, all of them smoking durries and the driver on the phone. All perfectly acceptable behavior. It is a beautiful city really: built on the hills either side of the Istanbul strait, there many districts with different vibes and things to do over-looking each other, connected by alleyways lined with market stalls and coffee shops. The Grand Bazaar is pretty awesome. A busy indoor market place that has been selling only the most exquisite goods and wares from around the world for over 500 years. Some of the stalls there still feel pretty authentic, like the spice traders and the homeware markets, selling Arabic vases and vibrant handmade rugs. But you can see how the west is changing the culture. These days all the alluring fragrances, fine silk and the high quality garments that the Bazaar is renowned for is in the form of Giorgio Armani perfumes, Tommy Hilfiger suits and Louis Vuitton bags. I think this takes away from the traditional feeling of the place. But if you spend the time to explore the maze of colourful halls then you are sure to find something that catches your eye. Right in the centre I found the 'old bazaar' or antique section. This part was rad! Antiquities from across the East and Asia all together in one place. I found an old Japanese katana that had made it across the silk road and even a legit pirate pistol. Barrel loaded and flint locked with a worn smooth wooden handle. I was frothin', face pressed against the glass shop front.
Of course there's the other side to the city that's not so beautiful. Taksim, the bar and club district, is a prime example. There are no bins in the main streets — apparently removed so terrorists can't put bombs in them — so everyone just chucks their rubbish/food scraps/empty bottles in the street. On busy nights out it can get hectic. Walking down the crowded streets with people shouting at each other, piles of trash and broken glass everywhere, riot police with gas masks standing watch over everyone, your friends reminding you to keep your wallet safe from pickpockets... all sorts of good stuff. But I've found my way into a pretty solid crew which makes all the difference in such places. I've been living with Tily in a 3-story Erasmus flat in Kadıköy with 10 to 15 other students from around Europe, who are all legends. So usually we go out in large groups, which is a good idea if you want to explore the dimly lit alleyways that connect the bars and pubs of Istanbul.
Between such adventures I found time to go to the Iranian embassy and inquire about a visa. Contrary to what I was told in Nicosia, it seems there is no such thing as a same day visa and first I must apply online — a process that takes 7 to 10 days. A bit of a setback indeed, but still affordable. I put in the application and decided that I'd go on a little camping trip around the Gallipoli peninsula while I waited. The plan was simple: visit Çanakkale and go camping for a week, then swing back through Istanbul to pick up the visa and continue east to Iran. Ohhh it sounded so simple... perhaps too simple.
After 5 days looking around Çanakkale, I made it out to the far side of the peninsula. I didn't take the tour and instead just hitched out to the ANZAC landing site by myself and had a bit of a look around. I was surprised to find many concrete machine gun nests still overlooking the beaches from the shore lines and hill tops, many now eroded and slowly washing out to sea. I didn't have a guide so I just went exploring the nests and reading the information plaques inbetween the many cemeteries. Once I got to ANZAC cove I was confronted by steep cliffs that faced the beach — the first sight for many of the soldiers. I looked up at the cliff tops and the 'Sphinx' and felt pretty happy there were no snipers or cannons firing down at me. It was late in the afternoon and I thought it would be best to climb to the top of the cliff and find a place to camp. On my way I met a stray dog laying in the afternoon sun. I sat down with him and gave him a few pats then after we bonded a bit I was like, "Oi mate, you wanna come camping with me up the mountain?”. He was like "Fuck yeah bro! let's do it". So my new mate Scruffles and I went on an adventure. He showed me the easy way: up along a small creek to the base of a spur, then up that and along to Walker’s Ridge. I was sure he had done it before as I struggled through the last line of thick bushes and he was already sitting across at the peak, looking back at me like “you're supposed to climb under that shit mate".
Scruffy boy was a great companion. He explored the plateau with me until we found a good campsite, and he came for walks when I went out for firewood. When it was time for dinner I felt bad that I didn't have any meat for him and wasn't sure if I'd have anything he'd want. Silly me, hungry dogs will eat anything. I've never seen a dog eat so much bread and vegetables before, and he lost his shit when I pulled out the Nutella. It was great to have some company out in the bush. He patiently listened to my ramblings without telling me to shut it, and when I laid down to rest, he curled up next to me by the fire, which I kept burning all night.
The next morning I was up before sunrise to stoke the fire back into life and rub my hands together by the flames through the coldest part of the night. I watched as the morning twilight slowly faded out even the brightest stars and imagined what it would have been like for the soldiers, on both sides, who have just been through a night of hell and would now be anticipating the sunrise of a new day and the bloody battle that would follow. I took Scruffles on a walk to a good vantage point where we watched the Anzac rising sun light up the hill to reveal the remaining trenches and gun nests that stood testament of the war once waged. After our morning venture, while I was packing up the campsite I noticed Scruffy's mood change. His tail stopped wagging and he moved to lay further away than usual. He knew I was going to leave him. He had been by my side since we met and I wondered how far he'd follow me. We got down to the road and found a little market stall selling war memorabilia and food. I bought Scruffy and myself some brekky and when it was time for me to leave, he knew it. I gave his ears one last scruffle and left him just how I found him, lazing in the sunshine. He didn't try to follow; he knew he couldn't come where I was going. Instead he just watched me walk down the road then rolled over to get some sun on his belly.
I spent the next day and a half hiking around between the small villages and discovering Turkish outposts and cannon batteries. It was a pretty fun adventure. I even hitched my first tractor and rode into town with style... and a crate of tomatoes. Once I’d seen enough, I hitched an old farm car to the highway then on to Istanbul.
Once back in civilization I found an email from the Iranians. They were informing me that they'd received my application, and after 7 to 10 days their office would send it to the next department who would have it for a couple of weeks and I would have an answer in late December. Yeah right? It went from 1 day to 10 days to 1 month. Unfortunately, late December in Iran doesn't fit in with my plan to get to Indonesia by March, so it looks like Iran is off the table this time. That news took me a few days to accept, but I'm sure it was received well by Mumsie. I'm not really sure what to do next. I guess I'll hang around in Istanbul a little longer, hopefully find some friends to hang out with for Chrissy and new years then fly on to India...
Have a happy silly season everyone. Remember to wear a hat, lots of sunscreen and keep hydrated with plenty of beer. Unless of course you live in Europe, then you should put on a coat, stay indoors and keep hydrated with plenty of beer.
"A beer in your left hand makes your right hand more than twice as useful." — Rednut
Piccies at flickr