DATE: 28 October 2005
CURRENT LOCATION: Cairo, Egypt, Sun Hotel
GPS COORDINATES: IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD'S MOST INSANE CITY
I've got to cut down on the exposition and start cutting to the chase.
I'm shipping the laptop home shortly in order to lighten my load to the absolute minimum for my upcoming slog through Sudan. Have done more research and found out more about other peoples' experiences, it is becoming more apparent that the first 600km or so into Sudan is going to be something akin to sheer hell. Very loose, boggy sand - with max cruising speeds of about max 20km/h, and that's not when you're falling over, puncturing tires, or stopping because the bike is overheating from the work and 45 degree heat (and that's in winter)
Yup, not only does the computer add weight, it will be destroyed for certain. It's been very handy for storing pictures, having fun with editing movies (yet to come), and keeping notes. But I'm going to have to notebook journal guy from here on in. Might get a last chance of email out again from Aswan before reaching Khartoum.
Right. Turkey, more Turkey.
Was hosted magnificently by Barbara and John Hulse (close friends of Mandy's family) at their fabulous place in Gocek, on the southwest coast of Turkey.
I was well fed, well advised, and had great company - I mean the opening note was a full Sunday roast dinner, can you beat that! Ate with incredible harbor sunset views, and awoke with the same sunrise views in the biggest and best bed I have yet to (and will likely ever) sleep in on the trip.
With great assistance from their neighbor, also a John, I was also able to have the bike lightly tuned and have a few minor ailments corrected, which included fixing the troublesome blocked fuel line. Since then, I've been able to cruise 500km at least without having to fuel up! Very happy about that.
Spent various days sunning, exploring the local resort town Fetihye, and getting in a day cruise with swimming. I left probably a few pounds heavier and well rested for the next leg of the trip. Thank you so much Barb and John!!
I swung around the coast to the other side of this well-known resort peninsula to a very small place called Olimpos, primarily a virtually backpacker's stopover. Stayed at probably one the more interesting accommodation en route - Kadir's Tree House. It's a virtual Ewok village of tree houses (yes, genuiney tree houses) around a big log cabin/restaurant/bar/dropzone and thatched loungers. You climb rickety staircases/ladders, stepping carefully over Kadir's chickens, to your shanty'esque tree house and pray that it wouldn't rain that night. The place was really great fun! Good food, fair prices, every activity under the sun at your fingertip (from white water rafting to rock climbing to canyoning) and a gorgeous beach where a river winds through the ancient ruins of Olimpos (once a pirate city - arrrrrrg!!) to the sea. Many people take the 4 day cruise from Fetihye to this backpacker palace, I did the four hour sore crotch ride (oh, by the way, I have started to now have much greater longevity in the saddle these days - 'm not sure if that is a good thing or an indication that the damage is now done and my body no longer attempts to warn me / deter me through pain..?). The BIG attraction out here is the breath of the mythical beast, the Chimera, which has erupted in spontaneous flames on the mountainside above Olimpos since ancient times whoooaaaa!!! If there's anything that excites me, it's combination of exotic geography AND history, and I was pumped for it!! First night in and 'm on the tour baby. Up the mountain for a 40 minutes hike with the tour group after a bumpy 90-minute night ride.
In the distance we see flames!! But still distant, very distant... or are they just really small? Hrrmmm. Once again, the myth doesn't quite live up to its reputation. Yes, there were several tongues of flames spouting up out of a rocky hillside on the mountain, but they more resembled scattered, earth-borne propane-bbq flames. Not really that tremendous a site. My imagination had gotten the better of me again. Supposedly, when it rains, the park minders come up and have to relight the extinguished spouts. I can imagine, looking at the site, that perhaps at one time a few thousand years ago perhaps the flames did encompass a much larger site and were truly a marvel, so bright that ships navigated by the flames at night. But that's not entirely the situation any longer. Oh well. Made a few friends and went for drinks until late in front of a raging campfire afterwards with the Ewoks. Hu'teedee.
Did some tricky route planning. I still had to reluctantly go to Ankara to get my Syrian visa, which was really out of the way. As the weekend was approaching, with Ramadan on, I decided that 'd rather not risk being stranded in Ankara for the weekend waiting for the bureaucracy. So I headed to another natural wonder that 've always dreamed of seeing, the fairy chimneys in Goreme, Cappadoccia!! I was not let down, as you can see from the photos below. At this point I succumbed and bought a disposable camera as I was still camera batteryless (what is my luck with this camera?!) and I wasn't going to miss out on capturing Goreme. NOTE: the psychedelic quality is due to the complete incompetence of Dahab film developers; however, I have a feeling it is really the side effect of the pervasive, errrr, psychedelicness of Dahab and perhaps the developer that resulted in the photos being developed in this way - you'll see what I mean In parts of Cappadoccia, there are these vast valleys of eroded soft volcanic rock that form strange 'chimneys' which the ancients thought were the houses of fairies - i.e. fairy chimneys.
And they're amazing! Supposedly they result from a harder layer of basalt acting like a protective cap over the softer tufta rock, which doesn't erode away under the basalt and becomes formed like a shaft.
Ahem- and some start to look a little shaftier than others which is why one valley is known as the valley of love'. Ahem. But back in Hittite and Byzantium days, entire houses and towns and even cities were carved out of these chimneys. In every valley around you can see the doorways and passages, or rooms revealed (complete with nooks, benches, windows and steps) where earthquakes have sheered great masses off the rock faces and chimneys.
Honestly, people were living in these houses and cities well into the 20th century until there were a few really terrible quakes and people were relocated to newly built towns. This was also especially a Greek Christian province and many of these towns were oddly enough Greek dominated until 1923, when Greece and Turkey agreed on a massive population exchange' (a.k.a. ethnic cleansing) and all the Greeks were sent from their homes and lives in Turkey to Greece, a place almost none had ever been to as their families had been in Turkey for centuries or even millennia. This also killed off many Cappadoccia towns and the chimneys and nooks are now for livestock or tourists.
like me and my hotel!!
The Byzantines also built upon ancient underground cities to which they would retreat (especially in the face of the Arab-Muslim invasions).
This one was 8 stories deep and meant for 5,000 people!! And they could sit out for 2 months without coming out! They sealed them off with thick stone circular doors with a peep/spear-hole in the centre. Behind the doors, the defenders had a wide passage and high roof and could easily roll the door into place - the attackers on the outside were stuck in approaching passages about 3 feet wide and 4 feet high. Try moving a 2 tonne stone door by yourself, bent almost double, and with someone thrusting a spear at you through the peephole I think I might just let ' em stay the 2 months in the ground and pass onto Constantinople too.
I had an interesting time in Goreme for 2 days. Again, low season and not too many travelers. I was housed in my pension with an inundation of Korean families that ran the management a bit ragged I think. I even ended up on the day tour, crammed into a minibus with 4 Korean families. Not a lot of English, lots of rampaging and demanding children. Ha! One little boy behind me obviously wasn't enjoying the country driving and before I knew it he's whipped open my window and is vomiting out it over my shoulder!! I don't recall taking any puke shrapnel, but it was really more funny than anything. His parents were very embarrassed and through various manners of sign language I tried to convey that I was also quite a carsick puker at a young age. But, hey, before you know it at the next stop the little beggar's got a chocolate iccie rammed in his mouth and he's happy as a duck (though, he was wrapped up in several jackets by the afternoon, sort of moaning as he lay out on his Mum's lap).
I fell of the bike again trying to find my pension on arriving in the evening at Goreme! Taking something from the experience in Kusadasi, I was keen to not have a foot swallowed by the bike - so once it was certain Mario was going down, I sprung off into a neat little shoulder roll away from the bike as it crashed down. It was a silly fall. I realized I needed to do a u-turn and swung the bike around into a ready position. As I was coming to a stop, shoulder checking and putting my foot down, my foot slipped out in wild abandon from beneath me on really loose gravel and the rest is basic gravitational physics. Again, just a few scratches for the bike and my pride. And again, a very kind Turkish fellow rushed over and helped me back up with it whilst provided much needed directions. Oh yeah, it had also been the end of a 9 hour ride clean from the coast into the heart of central Anatolia, I think covering about 800km. Maybe my concentration wasn't as sharp as it could have been at that moment. Turkey does seem vast when you're on a route like this. I passed through every possible geologicalenvironmentalecologicimical setting that Turkey had to offer: winding, precipitous Mediterranean coastal road; up and through and back down high mountain and forests; through ugly, soviet'esque industrial cities and picture postcard mountain hamlets; ascending onto a prairie table that could as well have been Saskatchewan; desert badlands; and the rolling country side and agriculture of Cappadocia. Really amazing.
I had a nice second morning scrambling and trekking through the valleys around Goreme with a very incoherent hand drawn map by the pension management. My favourite was coming down a trail at the head of this valley I entered through pretty much a meter-wide gap in the rock. It widened out into this virtual grotto of an apple orchard that looked as though it could have been tended by munchkins or leprechauns or something. At its widest it was maybe as wide as the rock walls on either side were high. Hmmmm, yes. I believe maybe an early secret fortified Hittite orchard? I soon found the occupants busily harvesting - no not munchkins, but a gnarled elderly couple who looked as though they just came 200 years out of a history book. We said our hellos and I was duly offered an armful of apples (which continued to feed me for the next week!). I practically had to force them to accept my meager wedge of baklava in hospitable reciprocity and we parted with practically no linguistic understanding. And this man's hands, when he shook mine, were the biggest thickest hands 've ever met. Huge, powerful with skin as tough as the toe of a Doc Martin boot. They just swallowed mine in the shake.
Ankara, sprinted to Ankara in order to get my Syrian visa. It was in the end absolutely no problem, got it in a few hours. Again, a big city in which I arrived frustratingly in the dark, being lost at least for an hour. Dry run for my Cairo insertion, cause there appeared to be no real driving rules. Again no pictures, but I was able to finally track down a camera battery!!! Funny city. Some parts just slummy and decrepit socialist modern concrete blocks. Some open and bright and very 21st century. I think there's some culture there, beneath all the purpose built capital city'ness of it all. Lots of students and some underground youth looks. Oh yes, and Anatolia by this point of the years is COLD. Goreme was getting chilly, but riding out to Ankara with all the basic outer clothing I possessed I was shivering much of the way. I packed light and for hot weather, wasn't prepared for autumn in Anatolia. There was in fact even frost and some ice! In town on the road at my early morning departure for Syria.
I voluntarily inflicted harm on myself once again. Not wanting to spend another unnecessary hour in Ankara, I awoke shivering at 5am and rolled out shortly after for Aleppo, Syria. That was a hard hour to rise and depart, only made possible by an iPod queued up with an opening set by the Beastie Boys and Kylie - I apparently require a combination of noise and lust to operate with any motivation that early in the morning.
A long day of near 10 continuous riding hours. I did stop for fuel a few times and a brief curbside midday snack at a petrol station in eastern Turkey. It was actually quite an unnecessarily swank station for being in the middle of nowhere. It had a very large restaurant attached, but for whom? But if I had had my camera in my pocket at the time I would have taken a picture of this - on entering the toilets, I was presented with an impossibly IMMENSE row of urinals. There must have been at least 50 urinals all lined down the wall, and of course matching opposing wall of toilet cubicles. For whom? It went on like the great colonnade on the main avenue of the ruins at Ephesus or something. The Greeks and Romans would have been proud of the profundity of the symmetrical repeating white gleam. The Anatolian wind, again, tried to unseat me for the first 3 hours of my ride. I know the bike is not designed as an air-slicing rocket, but it was terribly disconcerting. I had to crawl right down to 40 and 50km/hr again at many points when I really felt I was losing control of the bike.
Syria. What a bunch of nice guys! I tell you, I have never been welcomed so warmly let alone to a member state of the axis of evil. The border formalities were over in maybe half an hour. I do admit that my very first impression of Syria as I crossed from the Turkish checkpoint side was an insufferable smell of shit wafting over the border from Syria.
But this malodourousness (is that a word??) was soon dissipated by the great courtesy in which I was greeted.
Aleppo was nothing I expected. Most people fly through using it only as a transport hub. But this place is now in my heart, purely for the nutty contradictions of my first experience with the true Middle East and the Arab world.
Oh, and yes. Also because I have new family there and it was the site of my possible inadvertent conversion to Islam Yeah, Aleppo was certainly 'an experience'. But more on that next time!!
Lots of love,