Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another Turkish Delight -1985

Ismir (Izmir) proved to be a glorious place. Unfortunately, we were there simply to get to Greece. We planned to take a ferry across to Greece but we found out we needed to drive up to Edirne to obtain visas. The prospect of driving all the way up to Edirne did not thrill us as we had already extended our time in the wee car beyond what we originally anticipated. After some discussion we all decided there was no other choice and back in the car we piled.

On this leg of the journey we came across Troy. There was a sign pointing towards nowhere and I strongly suggested we turn off the main road and follow the sign. Against everyone else's better judgment we followed the sign to discover a 'tourist attraction.' How disappointed we were, but as always we decided taking a picture of the event would make it worthwhile. So the three of us stood against the wee Morris and smiled cheerfully for the camera which teetered on a tripod across the road.

Camera packed, bodies lodged tightly in the car and away we went to Edirne only to discover we would need to head to Istanbul. Our spirits wavered and we started entertaining thoughts about never being able to leave Turkey. Although a lovely country, we did so want to continue on our journey. The trip to Istanbul proved pointless, as we were told we would not be able to enter Greece. So we changed our plans and headed back to Edirne to obtain a visa for Bulgaria. We interrupted two colleagues from the Bulgarian embassy who were involved in more than just handing out visas. In their haste to 'get rid of us' they granted us a visa and we went merrily on our way. We spent one last night in a paid camp site, where we were reunited with various travelers we kept seeing on the road. An elderly German couple fed us with wonderful delicacies. In the wee hours of the morning we waved a final good bye to Turkey and headed across the border to more adventure than we could ever imagine.

More Turkish Delights- 1985

The museums in Ankara had opened my eyes to the rich heritage of Turkey. So many early civilizations left their marks on the land. The history of the country was not simply enclosed in the museums in Ankara. As I journeyed south of the capital, I was privileged to come across Cappadocia. A place rich with history. Odd looking caves sprinkled the landscape. Years before these caves hid Christians who feared for their lives. I stood staring up at the caves wondering what they could tell me if they were able to talk. Unfortunately time did not permit any great exploration and it was back into the car to continue driving.

As the car came to the coast, I could not breathe. The water glistened in a variety of colors. It just did not seem to be real. I have lived around water the majority of my life, but this was different. Of course, it beckoned us and we could not refuse the invitation. The car stopped and all three of us tumbled out ending up in the water. A quick dip and then back into the car to race towards our destination, Ismir.

Camping became an art. As the sun slid down, we scouted for a place to camp. One night we camped in a crater. The car literally drove up the side and down into the huge hole. It was an amazing campsite. (the only problem is I can't remember if this was in Turkey or in Yugoslavia- but I think it was Turkey) It was April 1st when we woke up in that particular campsite, the reason I remember is because Padma and I played an April Fool's joke on Stephen. He didn't think it was so funny.

There were other unique campsites we found, one site was on a beach where normally tourist paid to camp out. The owner of the beach thought we were interesting and allowed us to camp there for free. Maybe we paid for the stay in our own way, he spent a great deal of time with us chatting way into the night. He enjoyed our company and we were grateful for the free campsite. He regaled us with stories of hidden city under the water and promised to take us on a boat trip to see this wonder. Unfortunately the next morning he was no where to be found and we had to continue on our journey.

Ephesus proved to be another gem on our path. I didn't realize I was in Ephesus until I read a plaque in the middle of a theatre. It told of how Paul had stood in the same place and preached. My only regret was not having more time in each place we visited. We needed to rush to Ismir.

Turkish Delight - 1985

How can I describe the amazing journey through Turkey? Trundling along in the wee Morris Minor we would pass people who stopped their work to wave at us. Everyone had a smile for the three crazy foreigners squished in the friendly car. The road to Ankara just blends together because we were rushing to reach the capital. I do remember camping on snow. Turkish police asking us to pick up camp, we drove down the road a bit and then circled back to re-pitch the tent. Money was of the essence so we could not afford to be looking for a traveler's lodge.

Ankara proved to be a paradise of sorts. Stephen had a distant relative who lived there. They were working with Shell. We were to hook up with them and stay at their house while we worked on visas for Greece. What do I remember of their house? Hot showers, lovely beds and delicious food are just a few of things I remember. I recall their wonderful hospitality and now looking back, I am amazed by their open greeting to three scraggly travelers. Ankara held wonders I couldn't wait to explore. Museums and other great attractions beckoned me, but first we had to work on visas. All our attempts at procuring visas were dead ends. I was actually supposed to end my journey at this point, but I can't remember how I changed my mind and decided to continue all the way to London. This decision was to change my life forever.

After a couple of days in Ankara, we knew we had to move on. We drove down to Konya and planned to drive along the Mediterranean Coast through Antalya and then up to Ismir. This was one of the most spectacular parts of our journey.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Turkey-1985- day one

A cold shower which turned my skin blue. This was the first morning in Turkey. After the shower, I headed out to explore. There was a hill behind the 'hotel'; a mound might be a better way of describing it. The view from the top of the mound took my breath away. I stumbled on a scene from a fairytale....cobble stone streets....horse drawn carts full of hay and other merchandise.

The streets were lined with little shops. Do memories have smells? I swear I smell the bread from the little bakery. There was a butcher shop, a carpet shop and oh my the coffee shop! Not coffee shop as in 'starbucks'-- no, no, no, this was a shop which actually sold coffee for you to take home and make- brew or whatever. The owner offered to make me some "Please try"-- I was game. Little did I know what I was in for. Turkish coffee was something I had never tasted before. When the man handed me the tiny cup, I thought it was so cute. Oh my, how can looks be so deceiving. The cute, little cup of coffee packed a punch like I've never had before. It was powerful. Put me on a caffeine high for hours- maybe even days.

Back up on the mound, I turned to look at the magical town. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. All I wanted to do was have the imprint of that memory forever etched in my mind. I didn't want to lose the brilliant colors, the rhythmic sounds, and the warm smells. Now 23 years later, I close my eyes and the memories flood over me. I take a deep breath and smile.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Iran -1985

Iran was a bit of a blur. When we finally did get in with passports properly stamped, we were told we needed a police escort. Someone who would be IN the car with us. As it was, the 1958 Morris Minor was stuffed to the gilly wigs with three young adults and miscellaneous things. We tried to reason with the border officials.

"Where will the guard sit?"

I think they understood when they peeked into the vehicle. However, there was no choice, we needed to have a police escort. It just so happened that 'The Bus' was going through-- this was a bus tour from England to Kathmandu and back again. The bus was filled with young people who seemed to be having a great time. This bus was the answer to the dilemma-- the police escort would be on the bus and we must follow behind. Our passports were given to the police escort on the bus; this was done to make sure we stayed close to the bus. Unfortunately.......

Just outside of Tehran, I happened to be driving. I must not have been paying attention to the fuel gauge. Everyone was sound asleep-- as it was in the wee hours of the morning. There was no stopping on this trip. It was a straight through drive. The car spluttered to a stop. The bus zipped off ahead and there we were out in the middle of nowhere. Stephen managed to get a ride on a tanker to the nearest petrol kiosk....he was back shortly ...well, let's clarify shortly....remember the last time he left us alone he was gone for five days, so now a few hours was considered a short time. The car was refueled and we were on our way. The only problem was....we no longer had a police escort AND we had no passports!! There were check points to go through. My memory may not be serving me correctly but I seem to recall gunning our way through a couple of those check points.

The nerve racking part of the whole episode was knowing the Iran/Turkey border was looming ahead and we had no passports. I still don't know how we finally caught up with the bus. I vaguely remember hurtling down the roads and finally reaching the border to see the bus in a long line. We did manage to retrieve the passports and leave Iran in one piece.

With the whirlwind trip through Iran there was not much I can remember. I do remember huge sign boards- propaganda style- mainly anti- western. Also, I remember lots of people on picnics. It looked so pleasant seeing families and groups of people everywhere enjoying the outdoors. So in the midst of bombing....war....people were still able to enjoy each other. It left us with a good feeling, despite the bus leaving us stranded in the middle of Iran.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

No Man's Land-- Part II

While waiting in "No Man's Land"-- there was something quite unique which happened. We didn't know where Stephen was but half way through our wait...along comes a traveler from Quetta with a letter. Stephen asked this guy who was on his way to Iran to find us at the border and give us the letter explaining why he was delayed. At the same time, I wrote a letter to him and sent it through another traveler going to Quetta. My letter never made it to him, but his letter made it to me.

Another curious event involved the man who fled during the night. The guards told us he had been captured by the police on the way. We were devastated to hear this. When Stephen arrived from Quetta he happened to mention seeing a man in 'such and such' a vehicle and with a little girl inside--- how happy we were to know he made it all the way to Quetta.

No Man's Land -1985

Taftan, Pakistan appeared to be overrun by money changers. This was the last stop before we headed over to Iran. There was so much to do at the custom's house. The carnet had to be dealt with so the car was free to leave Pakistan and enter Iran. Sigh. Everything moving so slowly with us realizing the border would close soon and we wouldn't be allowed in Iran.

Once the last "i" was dotted, we were able to cram into the Morris Minor and trundle across to Iran. We made sure we were well covered, we had been forewarnedof the need to be completely covered-- just the eyes showing through the head scarf. I think a bit of my hair was peeking out from under the scarf and a guard gruffly informed me to 'cover.' We crossed into Iran only to find immigration and custom's offices were closed. The guards wanted us to go back to Pakistan and this is where things get fuzzy. I remember sleeping somewhere in the Iranian immigration/customs compound. A guard barked at us telling us to wake up. The next thing I can remember is being informed about one of the passports not having the proper stamps so we must return to Pakistan.

"We cannot go back...the car has already come out..."

"Go back"

"The visa is in the passport, I can see it..."

"Go Back!"

I think this is where I tried to reason with the official only to be told, "SHUT UP! WOMEN DO NOT SPEAK!" uh oh.

We piled back in the Morris Minor and drove back, except we couldn't enter Pakistan with the car as it had already 'left' Pakistan. So we parked in 'no man's land' next to the Custom's House. Only one of us needed to travel back to Quetta to sort out the passport situation, but the trip needed to be made by bus. The other two would remain behind protecting the car....but who would protect us? The Morris Minor, although a friendly little car, did not have much in the way of security. Its top was made of canvas and could be taken down.

Padma and myself stood and waved good bye to Stephen as he squished himself on the bus to Quetta. How lonely we felt when we saw the bus driving away. Stephen said he would be back in 2 days, we had no idea how wrong he was.

Men...men...men...there were men everywhere! We were the only two females in the world it seemed. No cold water, and the only water was from wells which seemed to be full of salt. All I wanted was a drink of fresh cold water which didn't taste like salt. Coke appeared to be the next best thing and Padma and I shared a coke a day. The coke was hot, but when you have no choice you just take what you can get. There wasn't any food in 'no man's land' but a young boy who apparently helped cook for the custom's officers snuck by the car and tossed in some chapatis for us. We were ever so grateful. We also had a gas stove which we used to make tea.

Two days went by and still no Stephen. Two days, three days came and went with no sign of our travel partner's return. Here we were, two 24 year old females, stuck in "No man's land" with men everywhere. We did alot of praying! There was no way to contact Stephen to find out if he was dead or alive. One thought which kept us going was we knew he loved his car so we figured he would die trying to come back for it. (see No Man's Land- Part II for the rest of this story)

The waiting was not done without certain entertaining episodes. Any stray foreigner entering or leaving Pakistan found us fascinating. We collected helpful travel information such as the departure time of the train, where to find buses to Quetta and how to change money. We became unofficial 'travel guides' for those who came through.

One man came across with his young daughter, he was not allowed to drive his car further. I think there was something wrong with his travel papers- or the car's travel papers. He was desperate to go through because his wife had gone on before him and was waiting for him. He invited us to join him and his daughter for a delicious dinner of sausage. He plied us with questions about the road to Quetta. After dinner he said, "If you hear something in the middle of the night just ignore it." It seemed an odd thing for him to say, but when you are stuck in "no man's land" everything is pretty odd. In the middle of the night we heard a swooshing sound; when we peeked out the window of the Morris there was the man pushing his vehicle as quietly as possible towards the road leading to Quetta. When he was far enough away, he jumped in and started up the engine. Away he went. The next morning all hell broke lose. We played dumb. We didn't lie, but we just didn't volunteer any information. The officers called us in for questioning, but we shrugged and said we had no idea where he was going- which was true.

I will never forget Michael. He was from the UK. He was backpacking overland and arrived from Iran. He discussed the train timetables and discovered he just missed one and needed to stay overnight. One of the officers invited him for dinner and even said he could spend the night in the barracks. This arrangement pleased him and off he went waving merrily to us. At around 10 pm, we heard a frantic knocking on the car window. Peering out we saw Michael knocking and saying "Help, let me in." All the while, he is glancing over his shoulder. We swung the door open and he literally leaped in the car. No sooner had we locked the door, when a rather rotund officer fell across the windshield of the Morris and drunkenly wails, "Miiicccheeeaaaallll....I love you....Miiiiccchhheeaaallll....I need you..."

The object of the officer's affection cowered between Padma and me saying, "Save me!" Michael briefly outlined what had transpired up at the officer's barracks. The food was delicious. As the night progressed everyone began leaving to go to bed. Michael was told he would stay with this particular officer who had somehow located alcohol and was getting drunker by the moment. Michael was oblivious to the officer's intentions until he began to get ready for bed. At that point, the officer made it crystal clear what he was wanting and poor Michael fled for his life. How he thought two young women could save him, I'll never know, but I supposed we were his only hope.

It was disconcerting to have the officer come up on all sides of the car and rant and rave. He even tried to push his hand down through the top of the car. When he tried that I was furious. How dare he come and violate our privacy. Maybe it was the lack of sleep which made me lose all sense of reason, or maybe it was my 'mother hen' instinct, whatever it was I leaped out of the car and yelled, "Stop this right now. You leave Michael alone and go away!" The officer towered over me but he crumpled at my words and apologetically backed away blubbering of his love for Michael.

When I crawled back into the car, I was trembling and of course the other two gave a couple of cheers and then we decided each of us would take a turn staying awake while the other two got some sleep. This system worked well until there was another knock on our window at 5 am. This time it was not the love struck officer, but Steven who had made it back from Quetta after 5 days. He was curious as to why a British chap was huddled up with us in the car....how had he been replaced after only five days of being away...we quickly assured him he was irreplaceable and then we told him the whole story. He had his own story to tell about his delay. His tale included long bus rides, Muslim holidays and government offices being closed. We were just happy he was back and we could continue on our journey.