Tag Archives: Turkey

One Year of Faces: Part 2

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One Year of Faces: Part 1

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On the 23rd of this month Richie and I celebrated one year on the road! 365 remarkable days! If there’s one thing that has characterised the experience for us, it’s the people. As a tribute to the places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made, I offer a gallery of faces: each one beautiful and unforgettable in its own way.

These are people with whom we’ve couch surfed, Wwoofed, played, partied, wept, worked and dreamt. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the inspiration you’ve offered us; the chance to mingle our life journeys with yours.

Thank you… شكرا… спасибо… σας ευχαριστώ… gràcies… 谢谢… tak… merci… მადლობა გადაგიხადოთ… תודה… grazie… ຂໍຂອບໃຈທ່ານ… با تشکر از شما… mulțumesc… ¡gracias… teşekkür ederim… diolch i chi… Ake Issrebeh Moulana… tanemmirt…

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East is east

Not to touch the earth,
Not to see the sun.
Nothing left to do but
Run, run, run.
Let’s run.
Let’s run.
– ‘Not to Touch the Earth’, Jim Morrison –

The dispersing of students after the PDC brought us to the steady conclusion that it was high time to make tracks. With our new recruit, Sam, we packed bags and gathered our strength. Let’s go! “To the East, to meet the Czar…”

The train tracks ate up the miles. Shades of KLF Chillout Album as ambient sounds, lights and the sporadic music of doors opening and closing rippled through the carriage. Lying prone on the grimy floor of the 2nd class carriage. Smudgy faces through compartment windows, cigarette smoke from the toilet. Night tasting like ash and Sal, or was it Dean Moriarty, whispering in my ear… “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” 

With inertia overcome the road became our only goal. East, ever east.

Train-bus-train-bus-bus. In 31 hours we unravelled the 1,200km from Malin to Istanbul. 2 borders in 12 hours.

4am Istanbul. Nothing to do. Dark. A mist of rain. Find bearings. Coffee. Wait for the train station to open. Train tracks under construction. Change of plan. A bus. Otogar. Ankara. Peak hour traffic. Miss our stop. Run. Sweat, sweat… the Dogŭ Express. Made it! “Let this be a lesson to us,” Richie warns, “you always need longer than you think!”

Our third night since leaving Malin, our first bed: 4-berth carriage aboard the Dogŭ Express. Clean sheets and a pillow. Luxury!

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Balkan letter to a friend…

Dear Andreas

Transylvania is sweltering! Indian summers are all well and good when Jim Morrison is elegising, but in reality they wear a girl down. It’s borderline 40 degrees and not a drop of rain in sight. I was hoping the ‘murky forests’ you spoke of would be fruiting with wild mushrooms, but it’s not so. Perhaps in a few weeks or a month? Rain is predicted for tomorrow but I remain skeptical. I’m hoping for a cracking Queensland-fashion thunder storm to break the heat and rip its belly out. The leaves on the trees are talking about autumn, but nobody’s listening.

A solid 3 months since rain. The corn crop has withered in the fields and farmers have harvested hay only once, not twice, as they normally do. The hayricks are still standing. They lend the countryside a rustic sculptural elegance. Did you ever read The Worm Forgives the Plough? Don’t suppose there’s much cause for building hayricks in your line of work? But if there were, this would be the first place to look for advice. The apples here are small and tangy, there’s more than you can eat, but where’s the cider?

We passed the Carpathians on the train on wednesday. Splendid. Continue reading

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The edges of Istanbul

My sweat hanky is working over time. I’m dabbin’ my way uphill, getting nowhere. I’ve got the Bosphorus between my shoulder blades and the Marmara pooling in my waistband. My body of water is about to burst its banks.

We’ve eaten nothing all day but soup and dried apricots; add to this a 12 hour bus journey, traffic jam, two mis-directed metropolitan bus rides, and an hour-long ramble uphill in pursuit of a doss-house – we’re shattered. We hope we arrive at Serbia Travel House before the map dissolves in our hands, ashes to ashes, tree pulp to tree pulp.

Two distracted Russians pop up out of nowhere in the darkness to join in our search for the Serbia Travel House. A wholesome dinner and good night’s rest would do the job but there’s no room at the inn – we join 24 bodies on the floor. We’re too tired to feel alarmed by the conditions, or the snaking queue for the toilet. We brush teeth, store our bags and join the pyjama-party-refugee camp on the floor.

The following day when we’re feeling brighter and more responsive we’ll be able to learn about the lives of the other travellers here including the doe-eyed Syrian who is the only genuine refugee. There’s also a couple who have been on the road continuously since 2004 – living on 350Euros a month between them.

The next day over a tahini bun and Turkish coffee it becomes apparent that we’re in no fit state to enjoy this experience… we’re in Istanbul but we’re minus the stamina to enjoy it. We’re minus the will and the inclination too. What to do?

We blame the heat. We blame ourselves. We use the Lonely Planet to stimulate an appetite for exploration, hoping the centrefold photos and suggestive itinerary will be enough to arouse us into action. Maybe some of that Turkish viagra at the spice market would help our cause…

We take a freshly squeezed orange juice instead and find our way to an independent English-language book store. The shop-boy is enthused by the Turkish cookbook I’ve picked up. I have no intention of buying it. “We’re such bad tourists,” Richie whispers. It’s true.

Richie and I spend the next 2 days in Istanbul being really really bad tourists. All our leads come to nothing: the archaeology museum is closed; the boat excursions up the Golden Horn have come to a halt due to ‘renovation’ (of what? The boat? The river? The Golden Horn?) and the Grand Bazaar is closed too. It’s a relief. Except for a visit to Aya Sofia and the Basilica Cistern we eschew the ‘attractions’ and make for shady places where we watch people and scrape our scattered senses into little mounds of dirt that we push around with our toes and fingers. We chew corn, take photos, stop for tea. Dab dab, swipe swipe, the water keeps on coming.

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Balloons over Goreme

Who knows if the moon’s / a balloon, coming out of a keen city / in the sky – filled with pretty people?

– E. E. Cummings

On our last day in Goreme I wake to the sound of balloons exhaling. It’s after dawn. What time exactly, I don’t know. Since leaving my watch in Morocco and the mobile phone in Greece time has become a loose bracelet on a long long arm.

Today, however, time is relevant. The bus to Istanbul departs at 8:15am and we should be there by 8am. I’d like to have a good breakfast, and of course, there’s the tent and sleeping bags to pack away. The empty yard and the pink-around the edges sky tells me it’s 6am, 6:30am at the latest. We’ve enough time to pack things down leisurely and make sure we have enough fresh apricots – picked and washed – to see us through the long journey to ‘the bull’ – ‘is tan’, that is.

In Australia apricots are a luxury. They come in undersized overpriced bags at the supermarket, or in massive sacks at pay and weigh stores, like Mick’s Nuts in Brisbane. I like the brown unsulphured ones. They come from Turkey. 86% of the world’s supply of dried apricots come from Turkey. And guess what? We’re in Turkey… and it’s apricot season.

The 3 kilograms of golf-ball sized orange globes that I laid out to dry in the sun 4 days ago has shrunk to a measly two cups of dried fruit. What they lack in volume they make up for in flavour – intensely aromatic, even perfumed, and stickily sweet. If there’s an upside to 41-degree days it’s the speedy conversion of fruit into confectionary.

The dried apricots last all the way to Istanbul and well into the next day. I claw the orange shreds from gaps in my teeth as we pass the flat expanse of Turkey’s bread basket. A salt lake takes up my attention – and the whole of the horizon – a shimmering mirage in white. It could be Australia or Peru. I think of my brother in law, Daniel, and the bogus gravity defying photographs he and his mate, Tyler, took in Bolivia.

I think of the balloons in the sky over Goreme and how beautiful they looked sailing above the fairy chimneys, rising and sinking in time with the exhalations of the gas bottles. Never mind how contrived and touristic a spectacle it is… tour groups, quad bikes, balloons, beer, tourist cafes, handicraft stores… none of them have managed to effectively dismantle the enchantment of Goreme.

I wonder if the tourists, way up there in the sky, on cloud number 9, were having a good time? Were they weary from the 4 am shuttle bus to the launch site? Angry that the champagne they’d been promised turned out to be fizzy pop? Or that the conversations they were having were drowned out by the blast of combusting fuel… Were they warm enough up there? Were they missing something crucial, something that can only be experienced at ground level.

The details.

Like all good things when you travel – the apricots and the spectacle of the balloons – were free. Cost nothing. The balloon ride, on the other hand, cost 120 euros p/person. Life is sweeter with two feet on the ground and a gob full of reconstituting apricots.

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Castellorizo

“Do the words ‘ella sphinx-a-tinkath-yassu’ mean anything to you?,” I ask Terry, my new Greek friend, over dinner on the waterfront in Koroni. I’m embarrassed by the words I’m saying, which sound like nonsense to my ears, something about a sphinx and tinkerbell.

“Yes,” he answers immediately, surprising me. “It means…” he pauses, trying to think of the correct words in English, “Come, make your heart tight.”

“Tight? Are you sure?”, I ask, needing clarification. He looks out to sea, and rephrases:

“More like strong. Come, make your heart strong,” he says, clenching his fist emphatically. His action makes me feel more confident that what he is saying is closer to a true translation of my Yiayia’s words.

One week after the Greek lesson in Koroni, I’m still thinking about the words of my Yiayia. ‘Ella sphinx-a-tinkath-yassu’. Richie and I are hanging over the rails of a Blue Star Ferry. It’s the 24th hour of our voyage from Piraeus, and the tiny island of Castellorizo is coming into view.

The island has its back to us, a collar of rocky mountains turned up against the heat and glare of the afternoon sun. A deep scar runs across its shoulders, a road purpose-built for army vehicles. The boat is enormous, and Castellorizo, less than 12 square kilometres, is tiny! We wonder how the captain is going to bring the ship into port.

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