Let's Talk Turkey

Trip Start Apr 12, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Thursday, June 1, 2006

I realise that i probably shouldn't have expected much more, but i got absolutely bugger all sleep on the floor of the six hour ferry ride from Mykonos to Samos. We docked into the port of Vaithi at 5am, just as the black of night began to transform into a deep, dense blue, as daybreak began to let everyone know that it was well on its way. Made some phone calls back home then sipped a coffee at the only open cafe joint in town. Time elapses relatively quickly when you've been up all night, and the 8am baording for the ferry to Turkey had come around in no time at all. Crossing paths with another Aussie couple from Melbourne, we pumped out the usual conversation of travel-jive before heading well and truly for mainland Turkey.

As i metioned previously, the concept of backpacking around Turkey by myself initially freaked me out a little, whilst at the same time it seemed like a real challenge, and would almost certainly be an amazing, eye opening experience. I'd come across a few Aussies along the road who had initially intended to head to Turkey themselves, before reading a series of sobering government travel warnings that subsequently changed their minds. I read the warnings on the DFAT site myself, 'Excercise high caution in all of Turkey', listing a thread of intimidating instances where Western interests in Turkey had been attacked by Kurdish militants, and bombs had been let off, killing a number of people. I pondered the implications of this information.

As far as middle Eastern countries are concerned, Turkey is a highly progressive, rapidly Westernising nation, neither Middle Eastern, European or Asian, but a remarkable fusion of the three. Its multitide of influences over two millenia produced the vast, diverse country we see now, overwhelmingly Muslim, yet considerably liberal, and at the forefront of considerable modernisation. I feel there's a perception from a lot of 'Westerners' that traveling around a predominantly Muslim nation is a risky endeavour, hardly aided by the extremity of the DFAT warnings, which i feel are a little heavy handed, and potentially misleading. Ultimately, i figured I'd have a far better hance of getting run over by a mack truck, or at very least a rogue camel, than being blown to kingdon come by a belligerent terrorist. It is very easy in this day and age to overstate and unnecessarily balloon the 'terrorist threat', and i for one refuse to live in a cocoon of fear. It would be different, it would be a challenge, and therein was the incentive. Plus, after all the shady madness of Morocco, Turkey would seem like a walk in the park in comparison. (I later checked out the DFAT warnings on Morocco, which were incidentally far more extreme).

A searing, pale sun bore across the silky outline as we chugged into the port town of Kusadasi, Turkey. Lines of red flags with a white crescent and star ruffled along the port. And despite the searing heat, i felt instantly comfortable in my new surroundings, and felt that i was supposed to have come here all along. Call it fate, call it destiny, but countless little episodes that would soon occur in Turkey felt sharply like i had witnessed them before, as if i'd dreampt these snippets in a dream once before, resonating with my senses with spine chills. To me, these deja vu moments are usually an indication that i'm on the 'right track', whatever that track might be.

I was greeted at the port by a stocky, balding, round bellied small bloke named 'Ali Baba', who took me in his car to the very un-Turkish sounding 'Australia and New Zealand Guesthouse' in Selcuk. With limited space in his car, i assumed that his 40 thieves had taken the bus. Feeling decidedly delirious, i felt unusally alert and amazed at my new surroundings, as Ali burned through vast, mountainous Turkish landscapes. The ANZ guesthouse turned out to be a great place to ease into the Turkey leg (no pun intended), a cosy 4 story Turkish villa with Ottoman couches and an awesome upstairs terrace that overlooked the entire town of Selcuk and the dry mountains beyond, the protruding pointy tower of a nearby mosque, the family of storks in a nest over the road, and a sultry Turkish sun that tied the whole scene together.

ANZ was run by an Aussie-Turkish larrikin by the name of Harry, a carpet making veteran who worked at 'Carpet Call' back home for 18 years before taking his expertise to Turkey. I met an Aussie girl, Amanda, two Kiwis Sue and Maree, and a British woman would wouldn't shut up about Turkish beauracracy in her attempts to purchase a nearby house. I got talking with the crew of Turkish blokes that work for Harry, both in the pension and down at the carpet store around the corner. One bloke, a beardo with a slightly misshapen head named Mustafa, seemed to take a liking to me, inviting me to his home town outside Istanbul, and asked if the two of us could go swimming together some time soon. I cheerfully declined.

It was richly surreal to be in Turkey, and a joy to be there, though feeling fluctuated from intense excitement to deep unease, stemming from my lethargy and sudden solo presence in a land so far removed from the rest of my adventure. The main streets of Selcuk were relaxed and layed back, as old Turkish men sat outside at tables, sipping tea in small glasses and playing intense games of backgammon. I bought a Turkish kebap for 1 Lira, and walked around town for a bit, giving all my senses a total feast. Pretty much just chilled today and got my head around the new situation. Ate an enormous steak at the hostel dinner, before heading out to a local beerhouse with Amanda and Sue for a few pints of 'Efes' Pilsener. As his regular clientele headed on home towards the end of the night, our smiley horse toothed bartender Kalim invited us to join him inside the bar, as he danced to old Elvis tunes and invited Amanda behind the bar to pull drinks. Kalim got considerably pissed, and we did as well. I laughed a lot when i spotted Kalim's music playlist - the 80's power ballad by Berlin had been interpreted by Kalim as 'Take my Bread Away', instead of 'Take my breath Away', a ultra-Turkish take on the original title, and a perfect 'Mondegreen' for Hillsy and the crew to mull over on 'Spicks and Specks'.

It had been my first day in Turkey and not only did i feel like i knew the place, i'd never felt safer and more comfortable. It's funny how that's usually the case after you take that initial plunge outside your comfort zone, outside your cocoon. I had the feeling on my slightly drunken walk home that Turkey was going to yield a magnificent couple of weeks for me.
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