Monday, July 20, 2015

Turkey the gateway to Asia

Leaving Greece also meant saying goodbye to Europe. Before us was Asia... and in-between the Turkish customs officials. We had to pass them before we could actually enter Asia. This was the first border which could be a problem, the first border for which we needed a visa. The first real border we had seen in a long time. In front of us a minivan was virtually disassembled by Greek Customs. Yes Greek Customs. Looking at it made me realise we could be in for a long border crossing. After all, if he wanted all the panniers, bags etc opened then we would be here for a while...

When the customs inspector was satisfied, most likely because he found something, the minivan could leave. We rolled the bikes forward, he looked at us for a second and then waved us on! So far so good. We rode into no-mans-land. The Turkish Police asked Mike where he was going 'Australia' he replied. The Turkish police was surprised 'Really?' he asked. They wished us a good trip and waved us on. Turkish Customs was next. Our paperwork proved somewhat complicated for the poor Customs officer. He was friendly and helpful but normally passport, bike registration, insurance etc. are all from the same country. In our case they weren't. They are from all over the world! Apart from that the formalities were simple and easy. My Bonnie was randomly picked out by the computer for an X-Ray scan (I wonder if they could see anything in the aluminium panniers?) and then they wished us a good trip.

We entered a new country, a new continent, new currency and entered the last phase of our journey around the world. Although personally I rather see entering Australia as the last part of the trip, the homecoming so to speak. The currency was easily sorted. The first big shopping centre had an ATM which dispensed the required notes. The new country proved to have a remarkably 'western' feel to it, or at least seemed to. We deliberately did not go to Istanbul. As you could have read in previous posts, we are not city people and thus went south along the coast.

The first couple of days were uninspiring. The ride to Izmir is long and all over dual-lane highways. The ferry from Eceabat to Canakkale was a nice break and the landscape directly after had me thinking that the real Turkey was about to begin, but I was misinformed. The map showed us a touristic route, which we had interpreted as beautiful to ride. In reality it was an over-commercialised coastline which stretched for near enough 400 km and consisted of hotels, hotels, hotels and hotels. To make matters worse there were traffic lights every 200 mtr, all on red of course. Shortly after Izmir the same map showed us a narrow 'white' road... which turned out to be dual lane highway too. Don't get me wrong the roads are generally of good quality, just boring to the extreme and very busy too.

When we looked at the photos we had taken earlier, we realised we simply had to cut our hair. Neither of us had any experience in cutting hair or even the faintest idea how to do it... So we decided to start and see what would happen... Basically we cut a bit here, cut a bit there, tried to do a good job but in the end decided it was simply a bush haircut :-) I'm sorry to say that Mike did a far better job than I did... I did the best I could but I guess despite my best efforts I just didn't cut it!

The best view at the Celsus Library is from the viewpoint further up the road

The first point of interest on our trip trough Turkey, listed as one of the ten places to visiting Turkey in the travel guide was the Celsus Library near Selcuk. We had planned a whole day for this but as we arrived early in the morning we thought 'let's have a look first and then setup the tent'. In Selcuk we had found a campground with the promising name 'garden camp' which is close to the Temple of Artemis. Unfortunately the Celsus Library was very much an over commercialised tourist trap. There where some 20 coaches lined up outside and hundreds of people inside on a narrow path. I'm sure there is a lot of history there but shuffling like penguins in a parade at near enough 40°C...? Hmmm. Just around the corner we found an overview of the whole site... and 500 mtr further along the road was an even better view. 

At first we were somewhat disappointed about the whole thing. Having seen Palenque, Theothiuacan, Tikal and Copan for instance, we didn't find it all that impressive. We had seen better in Italy too, without busloads of tourists and without hefty entry fees. I guess it was simply the whole entourage, the masses waiting in a queue to get in. The continuous chaos of coaches, mini buses and taxis which did it for us. Having had a good look at it from the viewpoint, we decided to leave it at that. 

The Temple of Artemis looked promising but turned out to be regulated by private contractors... who determined who could park where and for what fee... We found a nice place in the shade to find some relief from the sun, which was out in full strength being in the middle of summer in Turkey meant it was hot. The parking contractor couldn't care less. This spot was reserved for taxis, he said. Not that there was a taxi in sight or a sign explaining so. We had to park the bikes in the sun... with our food in the pannier thus being cooked. I explained the problem but he couldn't care less. They were interested in bus tourists and taxi tourists, not people arriving in their own mode of transport. We stopped a bit further on, walked back, took the photo and left it at that.

Still, there were the Pamukkale White terraces to look forward to. Again a campground nearby, at walking distance even, so we could pitch our tents and walk to the terraces. The description read 'similar to Yellowstone', which it is. Rather smaller but pretty nonetheless. The campground turned out to be a beach camp of the worst type, and as we were far removed from the beach they had made their own in the form of a huge pool. The music blaring out of the many speakers was so loud that I couldn't miss it despite having a helmet on, earplugs in, the engine running and being across the street... I hadn't even stopped yet or a youngster came running towards me 'do you want a campground sir' he said. 'Yes, sonny, I would like a campground where I can actually sleep', After two expensive run down campgrounds, this was not going to be our third. The Pamukkale White terraces themselves were nice but even more swamped in people than the Celsus ruins this morning. 

We rode around the site, which isn't that big and had a good look at the terraces, took some photos and decided to continue. At first we were somewhat disillusioned. If this was the way our visit to Turkey was going to be then we weren't all that impressed. Shortly after the ferry to Canakkale things had improved, the landscape became more impressive and we saw glimpses of what we had expected to find in Turkey, but it had only been a short bit of near enough 800 km through Turkey so far. We continued south, took the turnoff towards Mugla and rode into the mountains... when things suddenly changed! We climbed to around 1,000 mtr and rode onto a high plain. Suddenly everything seemed much friendlier. Even the people! There was no evidence of tourism here. Instead we found farms, semi desert like mountains and beautiful vistas. We had obviously found the real Turkey, the Turkey where the Turks live rather than the tourism operators. This is what we had been looking for!

We bought a couple of groceries and were rewarded with the biggest smile from the cashier lady I had seen in days. Outside and old man arrived on a small 125 Mondial, while we saw the biggest pile of firewood ever on a sidecar hauled by a 350cc Russian Ish 2-stroke. We also saw quite a few Leyland trucks still working hard for a living, and smoking considerably less than the many much more modern Japanese trucks...! At the end of the afternoon we found a great spot to put up the tent, behind a former restaurant. The buildings were derelict but behind them we could run the bikes down a narrow strip which opened onto a field of some sort. In the distance we heard the by now familiar songs from a mosque echoing through the valley below but otherwise it was quiet with impressive views, shade from the many trees and no access for cars... could we ask for anything more?

In the morning a stray dog came slowly towards us, his tail wagging as hard as he could. He was limping and clearly after some food. We had just decided that we simply could not eat the Turkish cheese I had bought the day before... and thus gave it to the dog. He ate about half of it and then had to give up too! Turkey had become better and better as we went along and we were really beginning to enjoy it. In the next post we show you a very different Turkey... stay tuned!