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I’ve been in Turkey on various occasions. The first time in 1982, for three weeks, as part of a travel from London to Kathmandu, with Encounter Overland. The next year for six weeks (minus 2 times 5 days for travelling from/to home, via Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and Greece), by car. The following year again for 6 weeks. Later I made some short city trips to Istanbul, Alanya and Antalya. In 2004 a week Kusadasi.
Route: (South Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece) Canakkale, Troje, Izmir, Efesus, Kusadasi, Pamukkale, Antalya, Manavqat, Alanya, Anamur, Mersin, Adana, Nigde, Nevsehir, Göreme, Kayseri, Adiyaman (Nemrut Dagi), Diyarbakir, Mus, Bitlis, Tatvan, Van, Dogubayazit, Kars, Artvin, Hopa, Rice, Trabzon, Samsun, Amasya, Ankara, Istanbul. (2nd travel from van Dogubayazit via Erzurum and Erzincan to Ankara)
When you consider the amounts of visits, and their lengths, you’ll understand that I really dig Turkey. The people are very nice and helpful, and the country is beautiful in terms of nature, culture and diversity. The hospitality is enlightening. Naturally, Turkey changed a lot in the last 25 years, and in 2004 I didn’t recognize a thing in Kusadasi, apart from the caravanserai in the centre. The wildness, the adventure is a bit lost, but that may say more about me than about Turkey.
In 1983 I went together with my friends Frans, Hans and Gerard, to Turkey, after they heard my excited stories. A long but very nice journey through Europe. In Turkey we went for wild camping. Turn right from the “highway”, take another turn into an adobe track, into the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes we used the tent, many times only the inner tent against mosquitoes, and near the coast plainly without the tent. The beaches were not used at all, no tourists, you just place your stretcher on the beach, have some raki or beer, and sweet dreams. In case you wake up with a terrible backache, then that’s probably because the legs of the stretcher sank into the sand.
Sometimes it turned out that we camped on a farmyard. In the morning we noticed a farm, which we didn’t see at night because the farmers go to bed really early, and with no lights they’re easy to miss.
So happended this morning. The farmer discretely looked the other way, preparing his breakfast. His small kids had other ideas about privacy, and timidly investigated these foreigners. We offered the bravest one a sandwich with “hagelslag” (a typical dutch chocolate confetti). He never saw that before and gave the sandwich to his much smaller brother, as a kind of derisking. Then we went to the farmer, whose wife was just busy to put the “garden furniture” outside. We started a small conversation, larded in excuses, in german, english and dutch, No clue whatsoever, but he really appreciated we were there, he was quite honoured and invited us for a decent breakfast in the garden, with bread, salad, olives and some kind of lethal cheese. We really appreciated his hospitality. When we finally left, he even gave us provisions for many days, bread, milk, salad, olives, sausages and this lethal cheese. We almost felt like relatives. Farmers in the Netherlands tend to scare off intruders, with pitchforks.
In 1984 we bought an even older car than Hans had, and did almost the same trip with Frans, Lydia and Esther. Also then we encountered a lot of hospitality.
One day we were wild camping in the forests near a beautiful village called Fethiye. Ah, the nice smell of these forests. Pine with a bit of oregano and a touch of basil. We saw a very poorly dressed farmer coming our way, hand in hand with his little boy. In order not to disturb us, he abandoned the path and continued through the forest. Frans and me walked up to him, to say hallo. He invited us to his shack, as I can’t call this a house. He didn’t invited us in, I guess because his wife was inside and that’s not considered decent. His small daughter played in the farmyard, covered completely in mud. We invited him for breakfast at our campsite before he could, as I’m sure he would. I guess he was relieved, and accepted our invitation. Together we walked back to our campsite. Suddenly, some 200 meters before our camp, he refused to continue. I checked out why, and it turned out that our girl friends were enjoying the morning sun, topless. Great eyesight, this farmer. The girls dressed up, and now the farmer came to our camp. We gave him some tea, sandwiches and crackers, and had a nice conversation in a kind of german. A bit later his son and little daughter showed up as well. We didn’t recognize them, as they were without any trace of mud, and neatly dressed, like ready to go to church, or mosque I should say. They carried gifts for us: bread, sausages and this lethal cheese. (In Turkey they also have a very nice creamy kind of fresh cheese, called peynir. Unfortunately not very popular in this district). We were embarrassed to accept his gifts, as he was clearly very poor. We also checked our provisions and offered him gifts as well. He refused, but after a decent third refusal, he finally accepted. That made us feel really good.
On many bill board in Turkey (particularly in Kurdistan) it says “A happy tourist informs a thousand others”. So I do, or at least try to.
We drove an ancient Ford Granada. Could have belonged to Antiochos. It used about as much oil as gasoline, and we decided to do something about that near Adiyaman, on the way to the Nemrut Dagi mountains with the grave of Antiochos, 261 b.c.
There were three mechanics in the garage, not particularly occupied or so. They all studied the car, the packing was leaking dramatically. A few more mechanics arrived, and they lifted part of the engine with a big hoist. The remains of the packing were polished away, and they cut a new packing from a cork foil, using plain scissors. Some others were repairing other dangerous anomalies in the car. The car was brand new, some fours hours and a lot of cups of tea later. We prepared ourselves for the usual stroke when receiving the bill. That turned out to be 35 dollars, for which you can’t even have your rear mirror adjusted, back in the Netherlands.
A lot further, near Van, we filled the car up, and the owner of the garage next door alerted us on the strange sound from our car. Without asking permission, he took a look, and changed the electric distributor for a new one. Free of charge. Unbelievable, how nice these guys are.
In Kurdistan it sometime happened that we had to pay in cigarettes after having been invited for lunch. But it’s understandable, as they were very poor, and western cigarettes were regarded as a luxury.
About the nature. Turkey has a lot to offer. Beautiful beaches with pine forests near the Turkish Riviera, semi-desert for example near Nigde, impressive mountains with mount Ararat the biggest (a snow covered volcano where Noah seems to have stranded). Endless plains and hills in Kurdistan, romantic waterfalls, dense forests in the north, eroded hills near Göreme and Nevsehir, there’s so much to enjoy.
Culturally it has a rich history. Hellenic and Hitittic origin, roman influence, Islamic culture with Seljuks and as summit the Ottoman Empire, spreading till the gates of Vienna. I consider the modern secular society by Kemal Ataturk as a well balanced mix of modern pragmatism and a liberal variety of Sunnism. I think that Turkish democracy still has room for a few improvements, but I hope that recent Islamic extremism doesn’t destroy this democracy, nor its potential for tourism.
Map of Turkey