Departing what seems like 18th century road construction techniques, all of a sudden you’re in the modern era! That’s how it feels entering Turkey!
The first thing that happens is that you remember you have a fifth gear. Now I love driving on tracks and wandering about the countryside, but poor bitumen roads are the pits! Not to spin the idea to far in the direction of modern infrastructure however, as Turkey persists with its share of bad roads on most fronts other than its motorways and toll roads connecting major centers! Nonetheless, it proved to be a nice if not short break for a very shaken Patrol!
With the Turkish rumored to be some of the friendliest people on the planet, we were keen to find out for ourselves. From the moment we stopped for fuel and were greeted with smiles and helpful advice along with a hand to get the Patrol cleaned up in the truck wash, to the day we crossed out, we were the recipients of that rumored hospitality.
It had been a while since we’d travelled in a country with a relatively large conservative Muslim population and daily life in rural Turkey provides images that are repeated village after village – generally few women around and teahouses loaded with men drinking tea and playing Mahjong!
All heads are guaranteed to turn in our direction as our unusual vehicle idles by, usually because idling in a low gear is about as fast as we can transit the bumps!
Generally however if you initiate a wave, you’re sure to be met in kind. Most teahouses are strictly men only but there are a few that allow both sexes and the best way to locate them is to observe the clientele. If you’re used to patronising any and all establishments without considering whether your X or Y, then it takes a little getting used to.
As we descended south, the temperature was increasing rapidly. Most days pushed 40 degrees, never a pleasant temperature for travelling. We were heading toward the Gallipoli Peninsula, but with quite a few kms still to travel, we received our first view of the Aegean Sea. It was so inviting, that a camp had to be found forthwith. We wandered around coastal roads and tracks for a while before locating a great site, slightly elevated, granting us views over the sea toward the Gallipoli Peninsula.
I was saddened immediately, however, to see that other than in the tourist areas, we were back to a landscape littered with refuse. The same lack of regard for the environment that we continually come into contact with in many far eastern countries and it continues all the way to the Bering Straight. I can’t understand how you can pollute your countryside with refuse and then sit amongst the decay whilst camping and swimming as if it’s normal behavior! It’s not normal behavior.
Anyway, enough of the negative, it was a Friday night when we camped and it was obviously a locals camping area so we weren’t really surprised when we were all but inundated with locals the following day. What did surprise us however was that they started arriving at around 4:30am! Headlights darting around and voices carrying in the cool morning air as hopeful campers sought out a cosy site.
Now we’ve experienced call to prayer numerous times, but whilst camped was a first for us. 5am and our new camp buddies were performing their duties alongside their tent. Fortunately, the singing that always accompanies these rituals was pleasing to the ear and whoever the singer was, had the voice for it. It’s certainly not always the case. There have been times when I’ve been sure that a cat was being strangled with it’s little face pressed to a microphone.
A steady influx of locals persisted the whole of Saturday. I felt a little guilty a few times when keen campers wandered over to our nicely concealed spot, hoping to secure their favourite and best campsite, only to find a foreigner in it!
However with inquisitive Turks making conversation with us, we soon felt at home. Shortly, we were being offered coffee and with maps laid out, our journey was being planned for us by proud locals.
3 nights drifted by before we acquiesced to the urge to move on. Feeling thoroughly relaxed but requiring some new stimuli, we made for Gallipoli!
What to make of it all – there are many facets to the conflict and a lot of research is required in an attempt to understand the events of 100 years ago. From the challenges of navigation with the technology available a century ago to the operational decisions that would consummate the outcome for so many allied and Turkish troops. The list of obstacles goes on and eventually became insurmountable.
I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to delve into the horrible events that sculpted the Gallipoli saga and dig to a depth that suits your appetite.
Leaving the Gallipoli Peninsula, we boarded a car ferry to cross the Sea of Marmara, where a young girl, her family spurring her on and watching from a distance, approached Jen! She gave us some lovely fruit whilst sporting a nervous smile before striding back to her family! Jen sought her out later in the voyage and presented her with a small gift from Australia. It would be the same welcome for us at every stop!
We were now in the town of Canukkale with its hustle and bustle, colours and smells! Manic traffic and road rules I’m still no closer to understanding. But teamed with a very warm and relaxed atmosphere, we were starting to really appreciate Turkey and knew we would be staying a while…
We made a visit to the archaeological site of Troy (Troia) and a wander here provided our first taste of Roman ruins. Whilst a very old Roman site boasting history back to 3000BC, the site generally is very much a site of Roman “ruins” compared to other sites in Turkey, which have either survived in a more intact state or had a considerable amount of restoration work carried out.
There is also a tendency to push the Trojan horse story which is a complete myth, but if it gets the punters in, then why not!
Upon returning to the Patrol, we found a Land Rover 90 and trailer parked alongside with, would you believe, New Zealand plates!
We waited a while until Ray emerged from his visit to the site. He had travelled up from Singapore and across China into Kyrgyzstan so we had a lot to chat about. We headed off together in search of a campsite and eventually found a reasonable site by the Aegean where we were again the focus of local inquisition. All eyes were upon us both as we made our way in and out of the local’s camps looking for a suitable location.
The larger challenge was finding a spot not completely paved with wet wipes and nappies! Yep – it can be as much fun as it sounds at times, this overlanding caper!!
Eventually with a suitable site located and roof popped, we had our first visitor! After the first brave local had enjoyed a brief tour of the camper and returned to his kin uninjured, others rapidly descended upon us in order to satisfy their curiosity!
Another family passed by and an invitation via their daughter, whom spoke English very well, was delivered. “Would we join them for some tea?” – an invitation eagerly accepted!
After a quick swim to cool off, we wandered over for some Turkish hospitality, and it was all of that. Tea was quickly dispensed and tasty treats served for us to enjoy. And tasty they were – Sarna, which are like Greek dolmates, and a dessert that I have no idea how to describe other than to say it was delicious. We spent some time chatting about our travels and Australia whilst delving into Turkish life!
Suddenly, as is often the case when you’re engrossed in your surrounds, the day began to wither and it was getting a little dark. The swarming mosquitoes descended upon us in numbers rarely experienced and only then did we find out these people had a 100km drive back to their village! Presented with some melons we departed company to waves and smiles as these lovely people set off on the long drive home.
After a late night swapping travel stories and munching on massive, locally grown tomatoes, which were just unbelievably good, we said our farewells to Ray. He was heading north for a rendezvous in Budapest whilst we were to continue our exploration of this country.
Travelling Turkey’s south and west coast, you rapidly find yourself amongst resorts and hotels. A little like Bulgaria’s Black Sea tourist strip but sporting lovely blue waters in contrast to the rather cloudy estuary that is the Black Sea. Amazing tourist complexes fall over each other in pursuit of your patronage, touts pushing brochures through your windows at every set of traffic lights. Private beach after private beach loaded with umbrellas and deck chairs, the package holiday is no doubt King along this coast!
Campsites were harder to obtain along this section but with a little map reading and perseverance; we always managed a reasonable site. The official campsites along this coastal strip leave little to be desired. I’d rather sleep in the cab than partake in a cramped site with all but no sanitation.
No doubt Turkey is a popular destination and transit route for avid overlanders, the first give away being that we are now seeing some form of 4×4 camper on an almost daily basis, not to mention motorcycle travellers, of which there are many. One of our camps found us alongside the sea within a grove of ancient olive trees overlooking a kite surfing club and as I was coming to the end of my first beer I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. A quick snap of the head and there sat a Land Rover 130 with distinctive French license plates! Doesn’t seem to matter where you’re from, if you’ve a passion for 4×4 travel, then we seem to use the same powers of deduction in order to locate a home for the night.
Skander, Veronique and children were coming toward the end of a 5 week journey and we soon learnt that Skander is a camper manufacturer in France making for some great discussions regarding styles in Europe and so on.
Although camping by themselves, they were expecting to be joined by a friend later on that evening. That turned out to be about 11:30pm. I think their friend may have become a little lost – he also got a little bogged on the muddy beach. Fortunately there was no real tidal movement, as he stayed where he was, vacuumed into the mud, until mid-morning when with help from Skander they extricated the stricken Hilux. I offered some assistance in the form of watching and taking photos, which I think, was appreciated!
With a list of Roman sites of world renown, Turkey has been gifted some outstanding attractions. The following days were spent visiting some of these sites. The majesty of these cities, created with such vision and outstanding craftsmanship really has the capacity to leave you grasping for answers as to how they managed it all.
Ephesus (Efes) was next and without doubt the stand out! A true insight into what a grand vision the Romans had and the engineering they managed to accomplish so long ago.
Preparing to leave the Ephesus car park, we spotted four French 4×4’s! A quick chat regarding any campsite locations they may know of close by, didn’t reveal anything.
Fortunately, we had a location in mind that Skander had used and had it loaded into the GPS. We quickly fell into convoy with the French 4×4’s although purely by chance, as, slowly it appeared as if we were more than likely making for the same area! I’d have loved to have heard their UHF chatter as they were being followed by some Australians around every corner and bend!
Yes – we ended up at the same location with wall to wall locals parked along a stretch of beach! If only I could transport the smells, charcoal smoke, the music mosquitos and fireworks. The squatting in the bush and not to forget the ever-friendly smiles and waves! AHHHH Turkey.