. . . LAND ROVER OVERLAND EXPEDITION

. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
     
Home
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02
 

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath

 

Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition

 

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#13 - Turkey
Jeff Willner - 2 October 2001

(Istanbul, TURKEY) - I'm sitting on the Varan bus bound to Bodrum. Biding my business on a Bodrum bound bus. Basically. With 13 hours to kill, this seems like a good enough opportunity to write up the journal for Turkey. Besides, the women aren't peering over my shoulder demanding pre-release reads. An opportunity for some gossip maybe?

We crossed the border from Syria on the 20th and headed straight for Gulin's mother's house in Marash (southern Turkey), or should I say one of Gulin's mother's houses. Both her mother and grandmother are wonderfully homey, "We're just farmers at heart dears." Gulin's mother is an architect in Istanbul, but mother and grandmother were in the south for a month visiting the family. We toured the regional highlights with six of us packed in the truck - Jody and I baffled by the swirl of Turkish around us. "What are they saying now?" "They're planning dinner" Gulin would say. And later. "They're planning your breakfast." We had lunch at a little roadside restaurant where grandma, mother, and cousin thoroughly briefed the cook as to their culinary expectations. After we'd eaten till we were stuffed Jody cooed, "Oh Gulin, your Grandma is so cute - she's like a Jewish bubby." Almost on cue grandma looked at the food and commented. Gulin laughed as she translated - "This fish was not the best, and the lamb - I've had better." "Oh she is SO a bubby!" said Jody.

The busboy just came by (and I feel I can justify busboy because we are on a bus) with a tray of misc packaged snacks. I pick an oblong of Turkish labelled cellophane at random, it's crackers. I don't like crackers. I'm tempted to return them but don't because they were free and now they're mine and could come in handy later for squishing if the trip gets really boring. Gulin lectured me out of the blue on the way over to the bus station after the radio interview. "You shouldn't smush your butter packets for fun if you aren't going to use them at breakfast!" "Yes, but they were given to me so I can eat them or spear them." "No", she rejoined, "because they could give them to someone else." "That's how people die of cyanide poisoning - they slip a little something into the unused packet and then they get re-served!" Gulin looks at me as though I'm demented.

After a few days of being spoiled rotten by the Tolun family hospitality in Marash (and several pounds heavier) we headed northeast to Goreme to visit the underground cities and fairy chimney houses. Fairy chimneys are houses that are carved out of narrow volcanic spikes - sometimes three stories high, the little roofs on top do indeed make them look like a storybook illustration. I wanted to spend a day exploring the sights of the region. Gulin volunteered to guide me around, Jody had seen this part of Turkey already and opted to stay in town. That was fine. We're all getting on each other's nerves. Gulin started talking about dropping out of the trip. It's been challenging for her. Jody, Sally, and I are all agressive Type A personalities coming from American culture. Gulin is a nurturing Type-B personality from a Muslim society. We're all looking forward to Istanbul and our 'vacation' from the expedition. Sally left a week ago in Jordan for a two-week break. The rest of us will take a week off of solitude and then reassemble on Oct 4th to figure out how to detour around Iran and Pakistan.

Gulin and I climbed down into the Ihlara canyon to look around. "I'm going to make you walk at least 5km" she said. "I'm not bloody well walking along some stream for kilometers, I don't want to commune with nature, I just want to see the carved cliff churches or whatever this canyon is supposed to have." After a couple hundred meters of walking on the canyon floor and climbing up to a disappointingly small church I pronounced myself satisfied. "We can't leave!" Gulin exclaimed, "we haven't seen the best part." "We're on a schedule. I'm done." I growled. Climbing out past a tourist shop I stopped to buy a bottle of water and bag of Doritos. "Why are you getting those? We're going to have lunch soon!" Gulin said. Later in the truck she finished half the bag - "These are wonderful! Why didn't you buy two bags?" I mutter under my breath. Back in Goreme at our late lunch Jody asks if we saw the amazing cone houses that they used when shooting the Star Wars land speeder scenes. "Where were they?" I ask. At the end of the Ihlara canyon - didn't you walk down that? Gulin raises an eyebrow at me.

Our bus driver has thinning hair - I can see this because we're stopped and he just walked outside past my window. I observe him from my seat of power 12 feet above the ground. Man, I love these magnificent spacemobile busses with the aerodynamic mirrors that shoot forth off the front like triumphs of German engineering. I secretly envied bus passengers as they oozed past the straining Land Rover. The truck, overgeared for 120kph, was probably wishing there was a touch of gravel and one-foot ruts so it could kick the pants off the behemoths.

Don't get me wrong, traveling with three women can be fun - you certainly get a lot more attention from the bystanders. But I read somewhere that men are supposed to have an average of 2,000 words to say per day - women have 20,000. When all is well in the truck the women tend to cancel each other, but if two women aren't talking to each other that's 40,000 words for me to absorb. I drink more coffee lately. The challenge with Gulin is that she is so hospitable and quiet you have to guess at what is going on in her head. Jody on the other hand will let you know exactly what she is thinking, and anyone else in the immediate vicinity. To make matters worse, I am a terrible communicator, preferring to wander off on my own at unpredictable intervals. Not a good combination of personalities. Yet despite the challenges I hope the team stays together, it would be a shame to lose Gulin's compassion, Jody's sparkle, or Sally's pro-active attitude. I think we're just tired, and keep my fingers crossed that the rest in Istanbul will unwind us all.

After Goreme we headed northeast to Ankara. Gulin had a friend she wanted to visit. We met Faruk on the side of the highway and he led us into town, found a good cluster of hotels, and took us out to dinner. An avid traveler himself, we he was closely following the expedition. From Ankara we went directly to Istanbul - met Gulin's father, brother, saw her new house, her mother's other house, and then unpacked at her old house. She spent the next few days running us around, helping us do errands, and showing us the town with a friend of hers that is a guide. The apartment is beautiful so it was a shock on the second morning when Jody started yelling at us all to GET UP - the place was flooding. For some reason two feet of water had poured into her second storey balcony and was seeping into the bedroom. We scrabled for towels, pulled up the beautiful carpets, and started flood control - to no avail. The beautiful hardwood floor warped crazily in two rooms. "Don't worry" I said later, "my friend had this happen to him and he just called a guy and boom he had a new floor." My results-oriented manish method of consoling. "This is Turkey Jeff" she said sadly, "you can't just call a guy." Nevertheless she shook it off and took us off for another fun day on the town. We got back that night - and there was another two inches of water everywhere. "I may need more than a week to handle all this" she said quietly.

I just went to the bathroom on the first floor of the bus. How cool is that? The toilet is under the seats we're so high up. Ahh, I pity the poor bladder challenged passengers in their Renaultmobiles. We're on a ferry so I wander onto the deck because as a writer you are supposed to vicariously experience each aspect of your trip - but we we're pulling into the opposite shore. Doh! I've missed half the transit because of my toilet-based revel. And the other thing is, there's another magnificent luxury bus on this boat and IT has five flat-screen TVs showing a movie and a steward is taking what appears to be dinner orders. I had been assured that I was on the best coach line. We haven't even seen any Turkish infomercials - never mind english subtitled movies. That other company is Ulusoy, just for your future reference in case there are no future journals. Turkey's number one killer is road accidents.

A rest. A rest and a break. After a couple days home Gulin was talking more like she would continue. Seeing the newspaper coverage and hearing from people (especially women) whom she had inspired made her re-evaluate the hassle of travel. Unfortunately though, she was giving no TV interviews. On the second day home she and Jody had disappeared to the salon for a day of pampering. At 4pm Jody walked into the restaurant where I was killing time and briefed me on the tragedy. Evidently there had been a team of a dozen beauty specialists working Gulin over. When they parted - virtually all her hair was gone. She shrieked. Jody peered over between the crew gathered around her. Gulin's minions grabbed a glue gun and tried to stick on extensions - but she muscled them away, tied on a bandanna, and retreated to the car. Thankfully the disasters were a positive catalyst for our little team and bit by bit we unwound. Slept late, ate breakfast at a nice restaurants well after noon, watched movies, and shopped. We passed by most of the touristy sights in the city and got happy with the domestic stuff.

Hyperinflation is bad - but tourist agencies really should be plugging these economically hammered countries more effectively. Hey! We were a solid bit of civilization built by the sweat of decent folk whose bank accounts have devalued catastrophically to the point that we can't afford the eighteen dollar Armani sweaters and have to paw through rummage stacks for two buck bargains all because our government can't show some fiscal restraint and keep the books balanced - but on the bright side these golf shirts are 1/3 the price they were three months ago. Makes it embarrasing to shop.

Finally the day I leave Istanbul for vacation. Woke up from a dead slumber, bleary eyed and aching from REM sleep separation like it was 5am, checked the watch and it was 10am - how borgeois. Breakfast was at two in the afternoon overlooking the Bosphorous strait. Below our window an old man was catching tiny fish to sell to other anglers to use as live bait to catch bigger fish. That really sucks as a tiny fish. Warships steamed up the strait in smaller and smaller iterations with the crew in dress whites standing at attention on the deck. As the stubby little ones poked along behind with their forlorn line of three uniforms Jody said, "Kinda bites to be in one of those." "All except the last one" I replied "it's the only one painted black and that's dead sexy." Gulin was late to her radio interview because we stopped for an argulah after shopping the Grand Bazaar. It's hard to get a really good draw on a Turkish nargulah without inhaling - something I'm against on principle. At the station the producer wanted me to go on air but regrettably the only thing I can say in Turkish is "ok". I even massacre "thank you" (which in my opinion at five syllables is ridiculously over lettered). I heard my name mentioned from the booth and smiled a big dumb grin. They brought me coffee. I said "ok".

In the cabin I read for awhile but then decide I should preserve the dark in the bus, 11pm and everyone else's asleep. Sleeping in a chair is not one of my strengths but the crackers are unappetizing and there is no movie - without distractions my brain can be tricked. At 1am the lights blaze on and we shush to a stop. Sweet Mother of Pearl, it's Varan City. A massive service stop with shops, garden, restaurants, and lots more things but I can only decipher Kafyteria on the sign. Charming Turkish servers stand beside steaming mounds of heavy looking food. I should respect this highway-side metropolis because I'm an MBA and I realize that Varan has expanded up their industry supply chain - or is it down? Anyway, I'm not impressed because my tenuous upright slumber was interrupted, plus who eats mounds of heavy food at 1am, and most damningly, now I know where the money went that Varan saved on video screens. I'm bitter. I retreat to the bus and mime sleep.

Jody and I took off to the southern coast while Gulin took care of business at home. On arrival in Bodrum I wandered the harbour long enough to find a truly remarkable couple at a tour agency across from the marina (whose business card unfortunately I've lost) who not only found a place for me on a sailing charter, but found a boat already underway whose itinerary would best suit my three available days (and at 200US was 30% cheaper than the best other quote). They took me to their house for breakfast, drove me across the peninsula to a tiny harbor to meet the boat, and absolutely refused a big tip. That kind of natural hospitality just amazes me. After three days of sailing on the Aegean sea, swimming in crystal water, good food and great company, I am refreshed to the point of boredom - ready to get back on the road. Tonight it's another bus back to Istanbul to re-join the team (this time on Ulusoy). Our strategy to avoid the tension in Afghanistan is radical - we are going to turn the whole expedition west, through Eastern Europe to London, ship from there to South America, and then in March of next year ship to Singapore and re-try the Asia crossing back to Istanbul. More distance, more countries, more adventure!

Most of the passengers got off at 3am, only a handful of rumpled tourists left as the sun comes up over the mountains. The driver is swooping through the precipitous sweeps, and Bodrum is just coming into view, a cluster of white houses curled around a brilliant blue bay. I'm not looking forward to wandering the harbor for hours to look for a sail charter, I'd rather unleash Jody on the unsuspecting tour operators and let her work her magic. What are the odds of finding one spot in a decent group, on a boat that is leaving right away, all at a good price, I wonder morosely. As we pull into the Otopark I gnaw on my breakfast bun and glance at the seat pocket in front of me, the crackers are unsmushed, Gulin would be pleased.

 

Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com