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Old 28th September 2004, 15:11   #1 (permalink)
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Travels in Turkey - Part 09

Driving out of Istanbul on the huge Paummukale Coach, we passed hundreds of mosques, shanty towns, tower blocks which stood taller than anything I had ever seen, little farm settlements and miles and miles of motorway. We passed the infamous ‘Bayram Pasha' prison, where Midnight express was filmed and even from the outside it looked bleak and terrifying. We reached docks and drove onto a ferry for a small trip across the water. The sun shone and on the far shore I could see Asian Turkiye and home.

We arrived in Izmir around lunch time and the whole place was swarming with people. There were the touts selling the wonderful ‘Rolex's' which so many tourists are proud owners of, farming people bundled up in various pieces of material, school kids laughing and pushing each other, respectable business men, clutching huge leather briefcases, stray dogs, stray cats and flocks of sheep. Finding a small café in the bus station, we sat drinking sweet Turkish çay whilst the crowds milled around us.

Our next step was to find a dolmuþ going to Selçuk or more recognisable as Efes. This was no easy feat and we eventually found a man who was driving home and happy to take us. We were the only passengers and happily lounged on the seats which were normal chock-a-block with people. The journey took about two hours and we drove into Selçuk as the sun started to sink and the whole town was bathed in a pinkish light.

Inquiring at the taksi office for a hotel, we were directed to a waiting taksi and driven to a modern hotel a few streets away. We were the only customers and our room had a wonderful view of ancient ruins, including the wonderful column of ‘Diana'. To our right, stood the walls of a castle, which was the Bastille or castle of St John, the Baptist. If you are in Selçuk, this alongside the ruins of Efes is well worth a visit.

Leaving the hotel, we headed into town to find somewhere to eat and past the evening. A great little restaurant sits in the town square and does delicious mini kebabs on bamboo skewers. Washed down with a couple of bottles of Efes we were ready for our next adventure. We explored the backstreets and found a bar, which was open and spent the rest of the evening playing backgammon and drinking.

Mehmet and I had now been together over a year and were like an old married couple. I knew what he was thinking, what he would do and he the same. Sometimes, we didn't even speak for hours and others we never stopped nattering.

Whilst in the bar, he mentioned that he had gone off to Istanbul some three weeks before, without telling his family where he was going. The reason being, that his father was and has very strong views on what is right and wrong and he had now come to the conclusion that I was not to be encouraged and dropped like a ton of hot bricks. Mehmet, being young disregarded this and simply disappeared when any trouble loomed.

I dragged him down to the nearest phone box and made him phone his mum to say that he was ok. She asked where he was and insisted that we both went home to face the music.

Mehmet agreed that we would be home by Friday, the day now being a Wednesday. He wasn't happy to go home, but my feelings are you can run, but you can never hide. It was pointless staying away to prove a point and at the end of the day, blood is thicker than water.

The next day, we took a dolmuþ to Efes. It was completely empty and we didn't even pay to get in. We spent a whole day exploring the various ruins, sitting on the roman public toilets and fought imaginary gladiators in the circus. For January, the weather was lovely and warm and we strolled hand in hand amongst the wild crocuses, cyclamens and drainage pipes under a turquoise blue sky. Spring was in the air and finding ourselves totally alone in the world, we made love among the ruins, watched unseeingly by various roman emperors, legionnaires and those who had once passed that way. It simply felt natural as if we were part of a never changing way of life.

We walked back to Selçuk along a wide road, edged with popular trees, which were being pruned by the local fire brigade with their tender. Passing a ruined temple and ‘Diana' we returned to the hotel, packed and headed once again for the bus station and our journey onwards to Fethiye.

Coach travel in turkiye, is a wonderful experience. It is relatively cheap, covers the whole country and refreshments are available on board. If you are a lone woman, you are given a double seat to yourself at no extra cost and no man is allowed to sit next to you. I have twice travelled to and from Istanbul on my own in this manner and not once have I encountered any problems. Well, unless you count the time the taksi driver took me to Internal flights rather than International…………………no problem I simply got another taksi (free of charge) to take me to the right departure place and rewarded him with my address and a free cup of tea!

Climbing aboard a Kamel coach our next destination was Bodrum, Muðla, Marmaris and finally Fethiye where the arrival time was 11am the next day. Driving through the night, we speed on a reasonable good road with similar scenery to Dalaman/Fethiye. Winding mountain roads falling away to sheer drops, hair pin bends and huge Lorries heading for the markets all over Turkiye. Believe me, if you wish to remain calm; do not attempt this journey in daylight hours.

Every time the coach stopped en-route, we would stagger off bleary eyed to find the toilet, buy çay and one time a toasted cheese sandwich. We cat napped and dozed through the night, waking only when we reached Marmaris. Mehmet was beginning to get edgy and I tried to reassure him. At least his mum was on our side, although she was hardly in a position to help.

Arriving in Fethiye at the old coach station which is still there, but is used by Dolmuþes as a main filling station~(opposite the main Tuesday market, on a corner) we stepped out into brilliant white sunshine to find Mehmet's brother Biray waiting for us with the car. A heated exchange took place while we loaded up with our luggage and we were driven to the hotel to face Mehmet's father and his wrath.
When we arrived at the hotel, Baba was nowhere to be found. He was apparently drinking çay and playing cards in the Tea house with his cronies. Mehmet's mum was pleased to see us and had prepared food and a room for us. I took a shower and went to bed for a couple of hours, leaving Mehmet to find his father, make peace and get a tongue lashing. From that day on, Mehmet's father never spoke to me again. He ignored the boys for a while, but eventually came round and would talk to them, if nothing else. To this day, he refuses to talk to me, is still a very bitter man and blames me for all his families' problems. Strange, that my money was good enough for him when he was building a swimming pool………………………………………………….

We did settle into the village way of life for a week or so. Mehmet going to the army office in Fethiye, (opposite the police station and next to the post office) to take his call up papers and have his medical. I think I should now say that Mehmet was being called up on March 2nd (which was then the day everyone joined the army) and would be away for 24 months.

National Service rules have now been changed for the better and the boys only serve 15months as a private, or if they have money or a University education are allowed to do six months as an officer. The call up time is now anytime of the year.

There is also the belief that they don't know where they are being sent in the country. If you pay the Jandarma a late night visit and take quantities of alcohol with you, you are usually given the posting you want. I may be wrong, but Mehmet was given his tank driving post at Muþ and his friend Fedai sent to Izmir to the navy. Further proof of this happened this year, when a friend who wanted to be a parachutist was given his request, but only after buying two bottles of Jack Daniels!!!!!

Once Mehmet had completed all the army formalities, we took the family car and headed off into the mountains. We decided that we would visit Pammukale or Cotton castle and then drive down to Antalya.
We left Ovacik on a lovely sunny January afternoon driving south west. As we headed further into the mountains, I mentioned that the skies were heavy and looked like snow.

Pooh-pooing me, Mehmet declared that he had never seen snow and it never snowed in Fethiye. As we drove higher, the temperature started to drop. We stopped for a group of women and children, who had been to the market and needed a lift to their village. Bundling them and their packages in the car we headed to Paummukale.

We arrived at 7pm and found a hotel which actually looked out onto the cotton castle and in the fading evening light, it was magical.
Leaving the hotel to eat, I remarked how cold it was and once again hinted that it was going to snow. We were back in the hotel and tucked up in bed by 10pm, the coldness of the room made me send Mehmet out to find extra blankets and we crawled under a pile of five to sleep.

I awoke early, pulled back the curtain and was rewarded by a huge white vista of fallen snow and huge chunks were still falling. Waking Mehmet, I urged him to look out of the window and his reaction was simply ‘What the F**k is that'? ‘That is snow, darling'. He quickly dressed and rushed outside to play. I stood looking amused and touched because he had never seen snow before, never touched it and was amazed.

We cleared the snow off the car and drove into the town to find breakfast. The roads were deep in snow and we were advised to buy snow chains, if we were attempting to go to Antalya.
Feeling the situation, was now rather more than funny we drove around looking for a shop to buy snow chains. We slid and braked all over the road until eventually we found a small garage some five miles away that had them in stock.

Snow chains fitted, we drove up the main road into a blizzard and complete white out. It was terrifying. You couldn't see the road edge posts because they were painted white, the road suddenly disappeared into a flurry of snow and there was much relief all round as we drove into a garage.

Slipping and sliding across the forecourt, we walked into a small office packed with men. Scattered across the garage were dolmuþes, cars, buses and Lorries. Some had fires lit under their tanks to defrost the diesel but the majority were unable to go anywhere. We crowded around a small primus stove drinking the regulation tea and soon a huge steam bath filled every corner.

It was decided that Mehmet would drive the car with six lorry drivers and me, down the mountain into Korkutelli. I sat on some guys lap in the front and the rest piled into the back. An apple was produced and we took it in turns to wipe the inside of the wind screen to prevent it freezing up. Hey, it works. We crawled down the mountain, sliding in the snow, drove off the road once after skidding and completed a ten minute journey in an hour and a half.

There were smiles all around as we crawled into town. We were the first people down the mountain and the snow plough was finally coming from Antalya. I spent four nights snow bound in Korkutelli with a group of Turkish men. We smoked, drank, ate and played backgammon. Friendships were forged and it was with much regret, the snow finally stopped and we were able to continue on our journey into Antalya.
The main road was impassable and we took the old winding road through the mountains. We picked up an old couple heading for the hospital in Antalya and they remarked that they hadn't seen anything like it in ten years. All along the road, Turkish people were filling carrier bags with snow to take home. Strange as it may seem, it is brilliant for making Sherbert. Kids had snow ball fights, as did grown men.
Eventually we arrived in Antalya, dropped the old couple off at the hospital and drove into the town.

I had a sense of déjà vu on arriving in Antalya three weeks ago. There had been snow, the road was closed and once again I followed the same road as I travelled 13 years ago. Nothing had changed. Korkutelli remained unchanged, the lokanta I spent four happy days in, is still there and would you believe it, they remembered me! Luckily this time, we were able to continue into Fethiye without any problems.

We left Antalya on the coast road and headed south again towards Fethiye and sunshine. We stayed overnight in Myra, which is the home of Baba Noel or Father Christmas, peered at his bones in the cathedral and moved on to Finneke, passing Olympus.

Finneke is a small fishing village nestled away on the coast and I was thrilled to find a small fun fair there. We spent a whole day playing on the dogems, a night in a huge hotel where once again we were the only guests and arrived in Fethiye the next day. Unfortunately the days had flown by and I was due to leave for Istanbul on the Sunday, for a flight on Monday.

Mehmet and I spent the remaining days talking about what would happen, how he was going to get on in the army and what the future held. Nothing is open out of season and we spent the last evenings huddled round the fire, cooking, drinking and talking with friends.
Sunday came and Mehmet's father drove us to the bus station. His mum had been left behind at the hotel in tears. I think the reason Nevzat drove us, was to make sure I actually left!

We boarded the coach and were once again driven to Istanbul, the same journey but in reverse. Sunday night was spent in a friends apartment near Bestikaþ and Monday morning a taksi was summoned to take us to the airport.

After leaving me to go through customs, Mehmet returned to the bus station and took the first bus next to Fethiye. He was to report for duty three days later and I am glad I never saw him go.

Recruits are allowed no contact with home by letter or phone for 90 days. How I got through those days, I don't know, but it was a nightmare. It is possible to work out when leave will be given and we calculated that Mehmet would be home in April.

Back home, I arranged flights for myself and the boys to Istanbul and asked my mum to feed the animals.

A lovely spring morning saw us at Heathrow ready to fly. We landed in Istanbul and took a taksi to the Coach station. The flight landed at seven pm, the coach for Fethiye at nine. I booked tickets, bought food and drink for the boys and waited.

Boarding began and we were given three seats together. It is a 12 hour journey, the boys were tired and eventually the fell into a fitful sleep. We stopped half way for refreshments and continued on our way through the night. Callum never travels well and constantly threw up; AJ drove me nuts by asking ‘Are we there yet?'

Eventually we pulled into Fethiye and Biray was waiting for us. He told me that Mehmet was not home yet, but that he was expected very soon. We got to the hotel where Mehmet's mum was waiting, spoke to his other brother and went to our rooms.

Fifteen minutes later Bayram called me to look out of the window. There slowly walking down the road, much thinner and in a uniform three sizes too big, was Mehmet. He had a kit bag over his shoulder and looked tired.

There were no words spoken, just a simple hug, air kisses and once again I was back in the arms of the man I loved and everything was alright with the world.


February 1991
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