The kebab trail - Antalya to Antakia

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Nov 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
Liwan Hotel

Flag of Turkey  ,
Sunday, April 24, 2011

As I get further away from Europe it becomes more and more evident. Streets with pot holes. Stray dogs. Shops that sell things you'll never need. I'm travelling along the south coast of Turkey, a country that aspires to be a part of the European Union yet I see no reason why it should be. Don't get me wrong - it's a great country and the people are downright friendly and helpful. However, I have to be honest. If the European Union thinks this country can be a member then they might as well scrape the barrel and allow Albania in as well. From what I can see, Turkey shares more in common with the Middle East than it does with Europe and it has a long way to go in terms of its infrastructure before it can be considered as a candidate.

That was my new suitcase that wrote that first paragraph. I've only had it for about two weeks and it's already been through quite a beating. In this part of the world, life is cheap for my suitcase and it's suffered everything life can throw at it. Parts of it have already broken off. It's tough being a suitcase in this part of the world. Just for the record, it officially weighs 34 kilos so it's a big baby. So - where are we? Ah yes - the start of the kebab trail.

In my last entry I arrived at the seaside city of Antalya with lots of rain. I received an email from a friend in Italy who wanted to fly down for Easter and join me in Turkey. Wait a minute - Easter? That's tomorrow. So I was kind of on standby while he researched flights and within an hour there were two friends interested in joining me. Of course, any friend of mine would be great company and there are days when I walk down the street talking to my suitcase and I can only imagine what the locals must think. "Why is his suitcase so big?" So of course I was excited at the prospect. There were two problems with this though.

Problem number one. I'd planned to check out of the hotel that next morning and travel further east. After all, I need to be in Syria and Lebanon soon and this country (Turkey) is not a part of my language study. These guys wanted to join me in Antalya though. Problem number two. It's raining here. It's a seaside resort and I'm walking around wearing a jacket. The beach looks nice but up until now I have no idea what it's like to swim in the sea in Europe. It's too cold. I was worried these guys might not have a great time here. Hours later I got a message that it's too hard to get a flight which was a relief. Now I can focus on travelling east.

I made my way back to the "otogar" or bus station. This time I would be travelling only two hours by bus to another seaside city called Alanya. Easy! I bought my ticket from an old man who only spoke Turkish and he mumbled his way through issuing me a ticket. What he failed to indicate with his hand, as it was clear I didn't understand everything he said, was that the bus would depart from an obscure area of the bus station as opposed to the area where all the buses arrive and depart. I waited and waited for my bus which had of course already departed from a different area and when I noticed in the distance a bus zooming down the road with the logo of the bus company I went back to the ticket counter to enquire.

There's nothing worse than yelling at someone when you know you're not being understood. However, I think he understood my hand gestures which made up for my broken Turkish when I gestured "HOW - COULD - YOU - BE - SO - STUPID - AS - TO - NOT - TELL - ME - THE - BUS - DEPARTS - FROM - THERE!!!!" He flinched at every gesture and probably thought I was going to hit him and then pointed at the clock to indicate that the next bus departs in half an hour. Ah! Now he can use hand gestures! Instead of just accepting the fact that there was a major communication breakdown and just getting on the next bus, I marched over to the counter of a competitor company, bought a ticket for a bus leaving in ten minutes, marched back to the idiot who can't point to a bus and tore up the ticket. It was really irrational and the trip ended up costing me double because there was never going to be a refund and as I sat on the bus I realised that poor old guy was only doing his job - just selling bus tickets.

As to who was in the wrong - who knows. Sure - it's a major bus terminal and many tourists who don't speak Turkish use those buses. How someone can't even learn the word "there" in English and point to the direction is beyond understanding. But on the other hand, why didn't I know the word for "there" in Turkish and confirm those details when buying the ticket? Lesson learnt. So from then on, I made more of an effort to brush up my Turkish vocabulary even though I was only in the country for a few days and it was not one of the languages I'm covering on this trip. And it paid off!

From then on the bus trips were hassle free. I arrived in Alanya and it rained again. It's a beautiful part of the country and it must be amazing in summer. From my hotel window I could see a castle on top of a cliff and a view of the Mediterranean Sea. I noticed a few changes when communicating with people. By now I was starting to put sentences together and the locals were stunned and very pleased. OK - so the taxi driver ran me over by backing into me when I was on the street and my suitcase ended up under the car with my arm still attached to it. But he apologised and made a joke about it - which I understood! So it pays to learn the language.

The next bus trip was a long one - from Alanya to Adana. Why I chose Adana I don't really know but I had to break the trip somewhere and nine hours on a bus really is my limit, even if the buses here are quite good. After the bus steward served tea and soft drinks, he started handing out snacks and I grabbed a packet of biscuits, not knowing if it would end up being my lunch because I still couldn't work out which of these stops allowed time to eat and use the toilet or if it was just to let people off the bus. I almost missed the bus at the first stop by going to the toilet and when I came back the bus was pulling out of the station. Any way, these biscuits which are called Tuktu are amazing! I thought to myself, "if I were Turkish I would travel with these biscuits and give them away as a souvenir like Australians do with Tim Tams. I think they're filled with Nutella, but I'm not sure.

Shortly after handing out the snacks, the steward asked if anyone wanted a bag. I put my hand up, thinking it was for rubbish. No. It was a sick bag. Minutes later I found out why. The rest of the trip was treacherous as the bus wound its way around cliffs where the road would suddenly disappear and give way to drops of hundreds of meters. Of course, I had a window seat and I got to see what a bus would look like if there was no road under it. There were times when I swore that bus would overturn - it was absolutely nerve wracking. There were no rails to stop cars from falling over and the roads were so narrow that they could barely accommodate two lane traffic. This roller coaster went on for another four hours and the woman across from me (the only other person to take a sick bag) had given the bag to her toddler son who was throwing up his whole body weight into a bag the size of his hand. Meanwhile I'd hidden my bag because I didn't want to give the guy sitting next to me the wrong impression. That's one way to get two seats to yourself though! Can you imagine it? "I think I'm going to.......false alarm!"

I was so relieved when the bus started to descend into lowland territory. The views on the trip were spectacular if you could keep your eyes open. There were several times when I couldn't look. The bus eventually arrived at the rather featureless port of Mersin and then eventually Adana where I got off the bus and sat down at an outdoor kebab restaurant, happy to order anything on the menu and grateful to be alive after that bus trip. So far on this trip through the south coast of Turkey, I'd tried the typical Doner Kebab which most of the western world is familiar with as well as several variations such as Iskender Kebab which is served with yoghurt and pieces of pita bread and now that I was in Adana - the famous Adana Kebab which is made with minced lamb. Another local speciality is the Soslu Durum which is served in lavash, a bread similar to pita.

Adana is really not a very attractive city, I have to say. Apart from having Turkey's largest mosque which is quite impressive, there's not much here to attract tourism. I'm not sure if a kebab can attract tourists when it's available on most street corners from Germany to Canada. Still - it was good to have a day off from bus travel and although I'm trying to eat less on this trip, kebabs have brought me closer to the Turkish language. It hasn't all been about kebabs though. I've nibbled my way through Turkey's pides and of course, my favourite - kofte, which is a type of meatball and it can be found as far away as Bangladesh. Quite a well travelled little meatball! Actually, that's how I feel lately.

My last stop in Turkey is in the cute town of Antakya near the Syrian border. I'm now here preparing for my border crossing which, from what I'm told, is a bit like a job interview. Hopefully I'll be allowed through without a visa which I plan to try to pay for at the border. I've hired a driver to help me through the procedure and drive me to Aleppo on the Syrian side of the border. While planning my border crossing at a table in front of a restaurant here in Antakya (nibbling on kofte) a scuffle broke out between a gang of about ten youths (I used the word youths to make myself seem much older than them!) and within minutes the police arrived. Wow! In Australia the police probably wouldn't arrive until after someone was assaulted because they only turn up to report crime, not to prevent it. I have no idea what the fight was about but for a moment I thought it was over my plate of kofte. It was worth fighting over - so tasty! Any way, this little meatball has to get ready for Syria. I hope they let me in!

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