Turkey: The land of mysteries and contrasts
Trip Start Mar 17, 2007
17Trip End Ongoing
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Turkey is the land where the West and the Middle East and the Mediterranean cultures meet. It is a land of contrasts: Although it is predominantly Muslim, it hosts some of the oldest churches in the world as well as home of Mary and Saint Nicholas. It has more Roman ruins than Greece. This is the land of the crusades, the land of the silk roads and empires. The land of the oldest settlements and countless wars. On the beaches you can spot topless sunbathers right next to women in burkas. I lived here for 26 years of my life and I now realize that I never even scratched the surface of understanding my home country.
If you ever get bored all you have to do is to get on the bus and go to the next city
It's not only the places, it's the people too. Take Remzi Amca, for example. We met him briefly as we were looking at the beautiful handmade knives at his shop window. We asked him if there was a good restaurant in the neighborhood. He sent us to the kebab restaurant across the street. The food was heavenly and after an hour we had half of the menu in our stomachs. When we asked for the bill, we were told that it was taken care of.
"There must be a mistake," I said, "we don't know a single person in Trabzon."
"Well, you must know him" the waiter said, pointing at Remzi Amca's knife store across the street.
The feast was not quite over yet. When we went to his shop to say thank you, Remzi Amca served us tea and Turkish coffee. As we were sipping on our drinks, he took out his kemence and saz (traditional Turkish instruments) and gave us a wonderful concert. Hearing the music coming from the store, his friends stopped by and sang us songs. When it was time to go, Remzi Amca closed shop to give us a ride to the bus station.
Or, take Ahmet Amca. A 65-year-old Turkish tourer with a rusty bike whom we met in Uzungol, Northern Turkey. As panniers, he had strapped a duffel bag on his rear rack. His mat was a piece of foam wrapped around the frame, his sleeping bag was a thin cotton sheet. He seemed confused when we asked him if he had a stove. "A stove?" he said, "Why would I need a stove when there is wood and rocks?". We thought about our expensive, top-of-the line panniers, tent, sleeping bags, stove and other gadgets and could not help laughing. Probably what we had spent on our gear was more than what he made in a year, but we could not stop Ahmet Amca from paying for our breakfast
We also had a small family gathering in Turkey. Bryan's parents came to Istanbul and they met my dad for the first time. We sealed the family ties with some good ole' raki (Turkish uzo)! After spending a week in Istanbul, they took a tour to Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus, three of the most significant places in Turkey. Before they went back to The States, we spent a couple of days at our summer house by the Aegean Sea, swimming and fishing. Good times...
Bryan and I packed our backpacks and went to the heavenly Kackar Mountains in Northern Turkey. I had never been but the place is Switzerland minus the crowds, plus pure highland culture. We camped by the Kackar Peak (3950 meters) and ours was the only tent for the next four days. We had not packed a stove (Ahmet Amca style) and we ate cheese and salami sandwiches for breakfast lunch and dinner for four days in a row! When we got to a highland village, there was a festival. Bryan learned the local dance (horon) so well that at the end of the night, he was the hero of the village. Everyone wanted to hug "The American" and we could have stayed in the village for the rest of our lives if we had accepted everyone's offer to spend a night at their home.
I then took a trip to Hasankeyf, one of the oldest settlements in the world which is about to drown under water if the dam project is not stopped. It is the most magical place I have ever seen in my life. Time stopped in Hasankeyf several centuries ago. The canyon walls have made it a naturally protected base for colonies throughout the history and people have carved their homes and shops inside the canyon. It is just mind blowing that our desperate, growing need for electricity and our addiction to consumption is so big that we are ready and willing to sacrifice an ancient city for it
In Istanbul, we also met Jason, a Brit who has been circumnavigating the world with muscle power for 13 years. On land, he rides his bike and he crosses the oceans with a paddleboat! It was incredible to have the opportunity to meet such a unique person. He brought his other cycling friends over and we had a dinner that looked like a UN gathering - Turks, Brits, Indians, Americans, Brasilians... All of us cycling around the world. Their cycling speed and the distance that they cover made us look like sixth graders.
From here, we will fly to either Thailand or China, not sure yet.
Lots of love from the land of mysteries,
Gizem and Bryan