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Turkey 2

2 November 

Goreme is a seasonal tourist town with a population of around 2500. This time of the year the main attractions, the carved rock dwellings, are the haunt of he last of the Japanese 'fly through' bus tours and the few late season travellers like ourselves who have gambled on the weather in the hope of having the sort of day we had today. 

Directly across the road from our camping grounds we discovered one of the many hundreds of cave churches that were dug in about the eighth century. Alone we climbed through the rocks and wandered for a kilometer or so through the hills that two months ago would have been crawling with tourists. Need we say it - but - the sky was clear and the sun hot enough to cope comfortably with a T-shirt.

 The outdoor museum and the village were all that was on our agenda today. At the museum, comprising mostly churches carved out of the tufa (volcanic rock) by Christians escaping the Ottoman Turks, we met up with a Canadian gent, Bill King, a teacher from Ontario. Bill had followed much the same route as us through Eastern Europe, but using public transport. The day disappeared in the almost deserted village as we chatted about our experiences, checking out the bars and the sidewalk cafes. Finally we wandered up the hill to our perch at the top, to watch another spectacular sunset over the valley. Only to have the serenity broken by the arrival of a bus load of flaming Australian and English campers!

 Goreme seems to actively target Australian tourism, with its Vegemite Cafe, Oz Camping and Downunder Carpet Emporium!  A couple of the hotels are run by Australian girls who have Turkish boy friends who run local bars. It is difficult to figure which way the 'marriage of convenience' deal is working here but the whole village seems to speak English with an Australian accent!

 This is the furthest east our Odyssey will take us. Although Turkey has far more to offer further to the east, the presence of Kurdish terrorists and the proximity to the borders of Iran, Iraq and Syria mean that tomorrow we head south west to the Mediterranean coast.

3 November 

Ever wonder how many shepherds die of heart attacks? Our limited research says none. All those we have seen over the past couple of months have been alive and one must assume well! The ancient art of following or leading a flock of sheep, goats or cattle from field to field is still widely practised in Eastern Europe and Turkey. Grazing is not necessarily done on one's own land. In fact it seems to be mostly the opposite.  

Within 10 kms of the centre of Istanbul, sheep are penned up under a freeway flyover at night and grazed during the day on median strips, parks, common land and wherever the wily shepherd can get away with it. In open country, flocks of all sorts of beasts including turkeys and geese are tendered by men, boys and women who have the art of standing very still while leaning on a stick down to a fine art. What great thoughts and reflections fill the millions of shared hours these folk spend with their stock?

 Turkey again takes the cake! Here the better class of shepherd does not walk to and from the village. Oh no! Almost every grazing flock, herd or gaggle is accompanied by a donkey - and sometimes two - one to carry the shepherd and the second to carry lunch and the 'billy". 

Today we broke all records and were on the road by 8.00am! The tour group of Poms, Aussies and assorted Europeans that had joined us the night before was just on the move. Sufficiently so to advise us of the best road to Antalya, our long range target, some 500kms south on the Mediterranean.

 Good roads and rapidly changing scenery seemed to make the day fly. The hundreds of kilometers of sugarbeet farms in full harvest lined our route for the early morning. Villages here in the southern part of the Anatolian Plateau are a combination of concrete construction and traditional mud brick with turf roofs. Tractor-drawn carts have replaced the horse and donkey here and the sugar beet depots that are placed every 30-40 kms are packed with scores of wagons constantly adding to the mountains of beets awaiting heavy truck transport to the refineries. 

Descending the plateau first required a major climb through spectacular rocky, pine studded peaks, with Paul clutching his few remaining locks while Janita drove. Our second spots of rain hit as we went through the mountain passes on the descent to the Mediterranean coast. Behind us, in the rear-vision mirrors, we could see the black sky presaging a night of snow on the peaks, but before us, blue skies - of course! Once on the coast, villages disappeared and the 'cote d'....' seems to have taken over. Tourist 'ville' from here to the Spanish border?

 One of the things we REALLY love about Turkey is the fact that most of the cars seem to live in Istanbul  - where we're NOT! After all, it's only fair -Paul coped with 7+ million of them on our first day - so he's done his share of defensive driving.

 Very warm again as we set ourselves up in a rather grotty camping grounds 40 kms east of Antalya. 

November 4 

The 'season' is over in Antalya but the temperature doesn't know about it! Early November and it was uncomfortably hot today (27C++)! These places must be oppressive in high summer. The harbour and old town were very well 'dollied-up' for the tourists and the touts were about in force. Boat rides, shoe shine, lunch and the ever-present – carpets.

Every travel agency in Europe has special deals to the Turkish Mediterranean. Driving down the coast you can see where they will all go. Thousands upon thousands of six to eight storey holiday units line the coast for hundreds of kilometers. Huge international hotels stud the main towns. This is the Gold Coast on steroids! Yet all the while, amongst the development and the glitz, the goat herders push their charges through the town streets and the farm labourers pick cotton by hand in the fields beside the highway, returning to their sheet plastic homes beside the road at the end of the day's work.

 We are dug in on the edge of the Mediterranean just outside the once-small village of Kas. The sea is its usual crystal blue and flat as a billiard table. As we dunk our toes in the sea the sun sets over the outlying islands.

 The obligitary white holiday units of Kas tumble down the steep rocky hills following the line of the winding mountain access road. The old village is long-gone and the kids on the streets speak fluent 'sales' in five or six languages. The new prosperity must be most unwelcome amongst the older traditional souls. The minarets are still there, but their prominence is significantly diminished by the tower blocks and palm trees. Modern misses abound in the streets. The midday call to prayers goes almost totally unheeded.

 Early reservations about the Turkish people have totally evaporated. We feel totally safe here, which is a new thing after weeks of suspicion through Eastern Europe. Turks on the whole are on the make, but ‘No’ means ‘No’. The hassling stops and pleasantries are exchanged with no further obligation. On country roads farmers in the fields, shepherds, kids and even passing drivers often wave a greeting. Walks in the streets of villages, towns and cities are a constant interchange of good-natured small talk with passers by, shop owners and touts. We are still to see an aggressive interchange on the streets. It's difficult to explain, everybody seems to have an angle, but they are not upset by a 'knock-back' and often chat on regardless.  Even in traffic, requests and comments are indicated by gentle little "beeps." It's only if you do something seriously bad that you are reprimanded with a serious "b-e-e-e-ep" - so unlike the aggression we so often encounter on the streets of Brisbane.

 November 5

 The beach, blazing sun, clear blue sky and all the fun of the Mediterranean without the prices and crowds. This is November in Oludeniz, Turkey. As Lonely Planet says, this place is too beautiful for its own good. A lagoon at the foot of steeply sloping mountains - ideal for para-sailing - ask the guys in crutches! - it is mirror-like, sapphire blue  - in fact all the superlatives in the travel agent's language.

Sitting at sea's edge in bare feet, T-shirts and shorts with the gum trees in full flower, the only thing reminding us of where we are is the chatter of the small family groups picnicking further up the beach. In much the same way we did as kids, before TV, shopping malls and all the 'other' better things we seem to have to do? The men play a form of dominos for hours on end; women sit and chat and do handiwork; younger kids explore and the older ones play with their cars or their parents' cars, dabble with a bit of fishing and drop in and out of the adult groups. 

This camping ground is definitely Antipodian territory. The kid on reception says 'G'day mate' as his normal English greeting, even though he thought we were English-speaking Germans. The only 'foreigners' in the camp seem to be a couple of retired 'Deutches volk' who keep carefully out of the way, and a couple of American backpackers. We are beginning to suspect that there is a whole down market sub-culture in Turkey that is in someway linked to Australia? Bus tours come and go at the major sites packed with Japanese, Germans and French, without an Australian in view. But when the throng moves on, sitting quietly in corners or walking slowly in the more peaceful spots, are 'Bruce & Sheila'. 

Noisy Aussies are not about in the bars now. But you can see where they have been. Stickers and flags adorn the 'low-end' bars and restaurants everywhere. And again, Australian girls in tow with Turkish guys?

 November 6 

Ever lain in the dirt under a Ford Transit in a two-goat village in the middle of Turkey with the poop of one of the aforesaid beasts under your head and attempted to change a tyre with the advice if the village boys men and dogs? - At last I've got one on almost everybody!

 Trying to take a 100 km shortcut on a class three road seemed like a good idea at the time. But as the roads turned to gravel tracks through tiny villages the quaintness started to wear off! BUT!

This is what we came to see!!! On the back roads people wave or toot each other just as we do on country roads at home. When one is lost advice comes from all quarters with much pointing (mostly in different directions) and many a toothless grin. It was at such a crossroad that one of the more astute of our advisers indicated a 'problem'. A flat tyre. No problem. Under the truck undo the spare, fit it and off. Hum?

 After many a long and meaningful discussion in several languages, about the preferred method for releasing the spare from under a Ford Transit, it was Australian inventiveness that finally solved the problem (answer available at dinner).

 Why do we always assume that people will accept a reward for helping? We can never pick it. Half the village missed lunch time prayers to help us - we were pulled up just outside the mosque - feeling obliged we offered a million TL ($AUS3). Oh dear no. Most upset we were. A wash at the communal village spring was required, some small talk about Australia - we think - and a shake of the hands was all that was needed. All but one small thing - a basket of walnuts for us to take on our way.

 On the other hand! Take the money out of my pocket. It feels soooo.. nice.

 The Turks are GOOD! Having pulled into the small village of Pamukkale, we were directed to a nice campsite at a small hotel by a young guy on a scooter. He AMBUSHED us - saw us come through the village, knew that the end was near, and hey presto, just as we turned around to do another re-con, there he was... Do you want camping? Follow me..  Four million TL was the agreed price (AUS$12) for the night. Meet Momma.. Meet Poppa ..Welcome.. welcome... shake hands all round...'Would you like a nice Turkish dinner?'... 'How much?'  'Sounds reasonable'.. Why not. 'During the off season I knit things'... By 7.30pm a $12 night had become $60. But hell it felt good! 

The ruins of the town of Pamukkale are not the main reason for the tourist throng. Most come for the lime coated hills and springs. Calcium-rich waters cool and leave deposits to create pools, stalactites, and waves (looks a lot like a glacier from a distance) and the result is a white mountain which you can clamber over - in bare feet only - glad it's not cold!! The Turks win hands down at geographical phenomena! 

Italian archaeologists are restoring a large Roman settlement in the hills above the village. The theatre has been reconstructed but most of the rest of the city is just 'lying about' in the fields. Wandering about in the rubble of a two thousand year old civilisation as it is dug out of the ground is fascinating!

 November 7 

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, just a bit smaller than Sydney, with a similar harbour setting stretching for hundreds of kilometres around the bay. From what we could see - in the dark - it might well warrant a return visit in daylight. Driving was no challenge at all! After Istanbul, being lost in Izmir in the dark, at peak hour was just a doddle!  We are getting the hang of this big eastern city driving. Rome and Paris will be like a Sunday drive in Toowoomba! 

Overnighted at a very classy services on the Canakkale road. Paid less than we should have for the diesel and got two free glasses from the tank boys. We were confused; they were just very amused.

 Ephesus - capital of Asia Minor in its time. The theatre and library are the best preserved/reconstructed. Walking among the ancient ruins today brought goose-bumps - how many before us?

 November 8

 The town of Aliaga is a smallish port on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. Alongside the oil refinery are five or six huge gas distribution factories that take the propane and butane by-products of the refinery and bottle and re-bottle it for the gas-hungry consumers of Turkey. Passing the line of tankers waiting to load at the refinery, our confidence waned. It was a bit like fronting at the gates of the Lytton Refinery in a Mini and asking to be filled up. We were desperate. One cylinder left and blank stares from every refiller in the country.

 Here we were with our 6kg cylinder at the gates of the largest gas wholesaler in Turkey. The storage cylinders these guys use are several storeys high! Waved on from the first gate we got a better reception at the second where several men who knew about these things - men know about all sorts of things in Turkey! - came forward to assist us.

 Soon, Ali...??? the manager appeared. "Yes we can fill your tank. But you are not our customers. We will fill it as a friend" - Cool we thought!

 Next thing we were in the office sipping tea and engaging in an interesting and informative conversation about Turkish history, politics, Gallipoli and the Greek-Turkish situation.  

An ex-airforce officer, Ali...??? had spent 40 years in the halls of NATO power and was well informed and well educated. A very nice man! But our only escape seemed to be the obligatory tour of the factory. Lucky for us, the filling of gas cylinders is not a complex business and the tour was short. As usual the hospitality was almost overwhelming.

 Of note was Ali...??'s comment about Gallipoli, "You will hear your friends (countrymen) whistling on the wind".

On to Pergamon (4th century BC) -  the acropolis was a steep drive up -  but well worth it - interesting to see what is there and imagine how it would look with the altar from Berlin superimposed. The Asclepion below in the middle of "No go - Defence Areas" demanded even more from the imagination.

 Turkey is a land of contrasts. Today we went from the ancient city of Pergamon to the modern resort town of Ayvalik. But tonight as we sit - 5 metres from the Aegean Sea - in a quiet bay - disturbed only by the sound of fishing boats or our self-appointed guard dog or the Aegean gently lapping - life is much the same for us as it was for the ancients.

 9 November  

Ships thump-thump up and down the channel in constant procession directly in front of us as we watch the sun set over the Dardanelles from a beach just outside the small city of Canakkale. Allowing ourselves more than the usual dose of jingoism, we have John Williamson on auto repeat on the CD.

 The straits are narrower than we expected. It is easy to understand their strategic significance in 1915. We wonder however why Churchill (??) planned the landing on the west side of the channel. The east side where we are is far more accommodating. Motels, condos and camping grounds litter the open beaches. The other side is dominated by steep cliffs, few beaches and very few good investment opportunities. 

Met a Dutch couple at probably the only supermarket in Turkey (that we could find anyhow!). They travel 10 months a year in their van. They have sold up everything in Holland and moved to  France where they spend a couple of months a year. The rest of the time they follow the sun south. From Turkey they are on to Spain and then Morocco for the winter. - Life can be tough! 

Went to Troy today. From what we'd heard and read, it wasn't worth the effort  .... but as usual with these things, you have to form your own opinion. It was very interesting to see the various levels of occupation over the past 5000 years and read the hypotheses about their development.  

Mustafa, the local tout, was waiting for us when we returned to the van. We can sleep here - quite safe - by the way there is a restaurant just here ..... they're always very nice but always looking to make a million lire or fifty  - and who can blame them? ...they work very hard to earn it. But what makes us more empathetic towards them is that they can accept a ‘No’ with good grace and politely back off.

 What's a good place for  holiday??  Turkey??? What a good idea!!!

 10 November

 Drove into Canakkale this morning about 9am to a frozen world - traffic lights on red; people standing stock-still on the streets - and an air-raid siren blaring. Had the world ended? Had a superior power come to suck up earth's energy? No. We think it was the Remembrance Day ceremony - judging from the number of school kids, guides and scouts and defence force personnel we saw shortly after and the main squares decorated with floral tributes, manned by honour guards. It was weird there for a moment. 

Spent most of the day 'bumming around' Canakkale and driving up and down the coast looking for the battle fields. Found an internet cafe in town. Possibly the greatest internet bargain in Europe/Asia. AUS$3 for an hour and two coffees!

 Hotel Kum is a major resort complex with luxury motel units, large pools, beach front, restaurant, cafe, bar etc... and camping! This place could accommodate 500+ people. We are the only ones here. The beach is the next inlet north from ANZAC Cove. We tried to walk all the way around but the cliffs eventually rose directly from the sea and we gave up.

 Tomorrow, Saturday 11/11/2000, we will spend Remembrance Day seeing the war cemeteries and monuments. Tomorrow night we should be in Greece.

 Just over two weeks in Turkey has been merely a taste. We will be back! Everybody we meet says the same thing. This is a great country, with great potential, friendly people and one of the oldest and best preserved cultures on earth.

 From the teeming streets of Istanbul to the white sandy beach we walked along for two to three kms this afternoon without a soul in sight, - not forgetting the thousands of villages and towns ranging from desert hamlets of grass-roofed mud huts, to the plastic humpies of the farm labourers, to spotless palm-lined boulevards of the Mediterranean resorts -  this country has it all! -  And after a while you don't even notice the three times a day call (wail!) to prayers from the million minarets - broadcast over  4 million loudspeakers.  

Although he has the worry (prayer) beads, the Turkish music CD and the evil eye charm hanging from the rear vision mirror, Paul has decided not to turn Turkish just yet. He says we still have to find the window-sized portrait of Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal) to complete the picture. Although the male-dominated society here is VERY appealing, Janita suspects the real reason for his reluctance to complete the change is the fact that the Turks make very bad wine, and their beer, although better than average, is expensive!

 11 November

 ANZAC Cove for 11.00am 11 November 2000. Not an experience easily forgotten. As Little Johnnie Howard said, 'This is sacred ground for Australians'. The whole peninsula is a National Park, with Turkish, ANZAC and British monuments and cemeteries sharing the splendid isolation.  

Having first visited ANZAC Cove around 10.00am we had moved on and only by chance returned to check if there was an organised ceremony. As we arrived the Last Post was playing and the minute of silence had just commenced. Around thirty people were gathered on the beach for what was a simple and moving ceremony culminating in the throwing of red and white flowers into the waters off the cove. 

We spent the best part of the day visiting the Turkish and Australian monuments, in the company of as many (if not more) Turks as Australians and New Zealanders. Each of these groups of people would have felt, as we did, that their soldiers were equally revered (and the word is not used loosely) in their final resting place. The graves are lovingly cared for, with the headstones immaculate, separated by flowers/shrubs (notably rosemary which flourishes in the area)  

As our friend in the gas refinery said, "You will hear your friends in the wind." The silence is sobering, voices are kept to a murmur,  emotions are palpable. 

Leaving Turkey for Greece was as much of a circus as entering. Just park the van wander around aimlessly until you find the right people to stamp the right documents and on your way.

 Immediately Greece provided a contrast. Supermarkets on every corner. VISA accepted everywhere. And an obvious level of development well above what we have experienced over the last month and a half. But this is not necessarily always a good thing!

Our views regarding the Turkish people have been well enunciated in the diary notes for the past few weeks. Before that the amalgamation of experiences we have had since leaving Germany well over a month ago have been on the whole positive (with a few noted exceptions!). We have never experienced the level of poverty that exists in many of the rural villages of eastern Europe and Turkey that we visited. But having said this, most of these countries, particularly Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Turkey seem to have turned the corner - what will the next ten years bring? And who will reap the real profits???  

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