Turkey

Relying on google for directions is always tenuous. We’ve found ourselves attempting a 4wd track in our little Suzuki wagon, even though we are sure there is a large road somewhere nearby that should get us there. Olive trees on the side of the dusty track increasingly give way to pine trees as our little suzuki climbs the 4wd track. As we near the top of the road a plethora of Turkish flags come into view, the top of Chunuk Bair, the initial ANZAC objective on landing in Gallipoli and the objective the New Zealander’s finally captured near the end of the campaign, holding it for less than 48 hours before having to retreat back down, never advancing any further. The New Zealand gravesite at Chunuk Bair is small and would go unnoticed in contrast to the Turkish flags flying overhead. There is no New Zealand flag, just clumps of rosemary, neatly in line, and lists of names.

Later, walking down the hill, we find Quinn’s post. The lawn around the grave markers is neatly clipped and green, and the boundary wall is interspaced with tight mounds of dark green rosemary, and daisies, now dying in the summer heat. From here, you can see the steep dirt cliffs and spurs leading all the way back down to ANZAC cove, and through the heat haze, the golden beaches and turquoise waters further along the coast. Directly behind the graveyard workers have been fighting a battle with wild holly that has crept in to fill the trenches. It has been kept back for now, but fresh shoots cling to life and threaten to overwhelm the defences. As I walk slowly through the maze of trenches, the wind whistles overhead; it’s warm and salty, and has the same sound as when your on mountaintops with no one around; the sound of isolation. I think of the poem by Sam Hunt for some reason:
CHRISTMAS 1953

Climb up the cliff path to
the pines where through
their needles salt winds blow

and far below
the fish and ocean go

and down the cliff path home
bring a lone
Christmas tree

and by the beach
let it in warm winds grow.

Except there are no Christmas trees only some poignant grave stones, none of which directly mark the spot anyone died, because too many people died here during the final attempt for anyone to be sure. Messages from family members saying “in memory of XXX who is believed to have died here” and perhaps the message that hit me the most, from a mother, “some day some time we will know why”

Lastly, we visit ANZAC Cove and see the words of attaturk , the same words at the top of mount Victoria, and it hits home hard.

As moving as the trip to Gallipoli has been for us, almost as interesting has been seeing how the Turkish treat this place. Bus load after bus load of Turkish tourists were dropped at Chunuk Bair whilst we were there. The mood was far from sombre and more ‘picnic excursion like’ . Turkish tourists arriving to see where their brave soldiers threw the invaders back to the sea. All across the peninsula there are large billboards with images of Turkish soldiers in ww1 uniforms, with a caption in both Turkish and English saying “they didn’t even think about turning back”. It’s a reminder that our ability to visit the peninsula is largely dependant on the good will of the Turks.

To get to Gallipoli we had to navigate Istanbul traffic, and we had to try find ourselves some spare tyres. Unfortunately, this was made more stressful by an attempt to top up the oil in the morning. My aim was not great with the full oil container and I spilt quite a bit down the side of the engine, despite anticipating this and having rags everywhere. I thought I’d cleaned most of it up, but as we drove through the Istanbul traffic a not insignificant amount of smoke began billowing from the bonnet. A hurried search was done to check the flash point of oil. After a second attempt to clean any further residue away, we continued our search for a tyre shop. Luckily, similar shops are grouped together, so that at one intersection we find a tyre shop on each corner. The first 3 we try all draw a blank, they don’t have tyres small enough, it’s hard to work this out of course, because none of them speak English. We get lucky on the 4th attempt however. Using google translate we are able to communicate what we are after. The tyres are not at the shop, but he can get them there within the hour. Unfortunately, he can’t get us rims and only sells very expensive mags. On balance, we decide having the spare tyres is probably the important thing, and hopefully, we don’t blow a tyre enough that it ruins any of our existing rims, and the one on the spare we already have with the car.


While we wait for the tyres to arrive, the car shops tea lady brings us Turkish tea. When we leave all of the staff pose for a photo with us in our penguin suits outside.

Again I find myself short of time trying to write up what’s happened, so as briefly as possible:

After Gallipoli, we drove to Pamukkale. This was a 6 hour drive and our first day where the temperature reached 38 degrees. We had plans to freedom camp that night, but after a full day of being in the “glasshouse” the temptation of a campsite on top of a 700m hill with a swimming pool was just too much. Pamukkale is the Turkish equivalent of New Zealand’s destroyed pink and white terraces, and has the ruins of an old roman city directly beside it for good measure. We get up at 6am to avoid both the tourist hordes and the heat of the day. Words won’t really do the place justice, so see the below photos.

From Pamukkale we drove to Gerome. Home of rock formations known as the fairy chimneys, and one of the best places in the world to go hot air ballooning. The formations are the result of the explosion of several volcanoes and the subsequent erosion of the ash that did not get consolidated (perhaps fact check this, as I may have got the wrong end of the stick). We spend our first night freedom camping in amongst the towering spires. It’s already dark when we arrive, and we feel like we are in the middle of nowhere. I’m woken up at 1am however, by the engine noise of what sounds like a 4wd. Because we are in the middle of nowhere, I immediately think someone is about to try and rob us. Eventually i hear the noise of whoever it is setting up a tent, and i relax again. There is a particular vulnerability about being in a tent in a foreign country, unsure whether you are allowed to camp at a site, and having no means to call for help if someone does mean to do you harm. When we wake up in the morning we discover the car actually belongs to another Mongol Rally Team, from the Czech republic. They arrived so late because their car had repeatedly broken down on the way.

We woke up early in the morning, but to no hot air balloons, as the winds were too high. Instead, we drove to one of the “underground cities”, the inspiration for tattooine in star wars. These cities have been carved into the rock and descend up to 8 stories below ground level. They were used by the local Christian population to hide when marauding armies came through. Some of these cities could fit 30,000 people underground, though none of the 30,000 could have been above 5 feet tall, as both Josh and I struggled to navigate them without crawling. Afterwards we explore some of the fairy chimneys where locals have historically tunnelled into them for housing. Many have elaborate roof paintings, mostly Christian depictions. What has amused Josh and I a lot is that at all of these grand religious sites, the murals often depict the people who have donated money. These usually consist of the donor being holding a large bag of money and then being pictured beside Jesus.


We spent a further two days in Gerome, partly because I had come down with the Turkish equivalent of Delhi Belly. Both of us also felt we needed a rest after the long driving days and the heat, so were happy to spend two nights in a very comfortable hostel with a swimming pool. Turkey again provides an interesting contrast with both tourists and turks lounging around the pool in bikinis whilst the call to prayer echoes around the surrounding buildings.

The drawcard for Gerome however, had always been the hot air balloons, and on our last morning Josh and I were woken up at 4am for a flight. In the semidarkness of predawn, huge balloon canopies begin to rise up around the surrounding spires, firstly inflated using powered fans, they then begin to be heated with bursts of flame from the propane tanks. Before our balloon is even filled with air, there are at least 40 balloons in the air, the bright burst of flame flashing above us showing the myriad of colours of the different balloons. It’s not just the interesting landscape of Gerome that makes hot air ballooning so appealing here, but the sheer number of balloons that fly every morning. As we take off we look around the sky above Gerome, the sky is full of balloons, too many to count, but more than 100. The sunbursts over the horizon, and against the red glow, several balloons are silhouetted in front of us.

After our early morning flight we drove 7 hours to get the top of Mount Nemrut, where there are a number of stone heads carved in the likeness of Greek Gods dating back to the 3rd century BC. We expect to be in the middle of nowhere with no one else around, but just on sunset about 100 people all emerge from different sides of the mountain to join us for the sunset. We have a great chat with some kurdish locals. We get invited to stay the night at the local museum, free of charge of course, but this offer changes when the owner realises we wanted to cook our own meal. In the end we agree to buy dinner, and spend the night camping on the porch of the museum – not wanting to push our luck further by reminding him he had offered us a couch inside. It was still quite a pleasant night, but we lost a bit of sleep due to the high pitch squeal of bats overhead.

We woke up in the morning to find that our car had developed a hole in the exhaust. This was more annoying than it should have been because we have to drive with windows down to compensate for the heat. We decided it was worth trying to find a mechanic, and as we had a few hours the following day we went searching in Van – the last major city in Turkey before hitting the Iranian border. We lucked out, finding a great garage, communicating the problem via Microsoft translate. 1 hour later, our car was fixed for the princely sum of 50 Turkish Lira (about 15NZ dollars), and they gave it a free wash.
We are currently 30km away from the border with Iran and will cross first thing tomorrow morning.

Last notes on Turkey:

If you miss your highway exit, don’t worry, just reverse back up the highway for how every many kms you desire until you get to your exit point. In fact, if you are no good at reversing, just drive forwards down the wrong highway lane – no issues at all. This was a very common practice right across Turkey.

Melting Tar. The temperatures have been so hot, each day we usually hit 38 degrees, with our hottest day being 40.5. This has meant that the tar on the roads melts, but not just a little bit, to the point that puddles of it forms so that when you drive through it makes the same sound as when you hit water puddles at speed. We now have a not insubstantial amount of tar on the sides of our car, and the windscreen.

Police and paramilitary checks. Everyone in turkey speeds, but there don’t seem to be many traffic police on the road trying to stop people, instead, all over the country they have 3d metal police cars on the side of the road, often with flashing lights, to get people to slow down. These look surprisingly realistic and have the desired effect. We have also been stopped several times by the Turkish Gendarme, which is a paramilitary force. As we have moved East across the country and come closer to both the Kurdish areas of Turkey and the Syrian border, their numbers and weaponery have increased. Armoured vehicles with machine guns mounted and the occasional tank are relatively common. When we are stopped it seems to be a case of the soldiers being bored and wanting to have a chat. At one stop, we ended up talking for about 20 minutes and they did not even ask to see our licences or passports.


Internet access will be limited from here on out, with a number of common sites blocked in the countries we visit from now on. The next update may take a while. We are in Iran for about 6 days, and then will spend 2-3 days in Turkmenistan.

Luke

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