Sunday, January 21, 2007

Farewell to Turkey

3 weeks into the 2nd half of the trip and already 3 weeks behind schedule. The excuse is simple, Turkey is an amazing country and shouldn't be done quickly. It is a place full of contrasts, from ancient ruins to all the modern conveniences, massive cities like Istanbul to the natural beauty of mountains or sea. It can be as conservative or liberal as you want it to be, heavy security yet amazing hospitality. It leaves you wondering, along with everyone else here, just what is the real Turkey? It simply cannot be defined generally with any accuracy at all and to try to do so is to waste one's time. It's a place where the 3rd question people ask you, after you name and where you're from, is "What's your team?", referring to the three main football teams of Istanbul, Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce.
I always knew I wanted to go to Turkey. My primary interest was in the ancient ruins like Troy and Ephesus and all the mythology of the region. What I never expected, especially after all the bad things I've heard about Turks from various Europeans over the years, was to come away with my best memories of Turkey being of its people. I've spent a total of about 1 1/2 months in Turkey and have only seen some 8 places but I have had 10 different hosts in that time. Some have been a little stranger than others, but all have gone well out of their way to welcome me/us. Although the least interesting place of the bunch, I have by far had the most fun with the people in Ankara. Inanc I had met before when Sandra, Bre and I were passing through so I knew I was in good hands with his parents taking care of me for a week. Great food and as I said before, Inanc is tons of fun. He is my favourite turtle man :)
For the last 2 weeks I've been with Meryem and her two flatmates. They're so cool I was tempted to stay forever and one could argue that I tried :) I can't thank them enough for all they've done for me and believe me it was a lot. To fully appreciate it you have to understand that at thetime I arrived they had been turned off the idea of hosting as a result of a bad experience with a sketchy Iranian guest, really only Meryem speaks english, they were just gearing up for finals and in this country, if certain individuals had learned that there was a male living with them someone, or everyone, would've been shot. Ok, maybe not shot but who really wants to find out? So, despite all this, they went beyond the call of duty to make me feel at home in whatever way they could. I managed to finish 4 books and watched a few movies (Lost in Translation was very fitting given my current circumstances) and tried to get a feel for teh everyday lives of a group of young university students. Honestly I don't know who finals can take only 30 minutes to finish but it is good to know that not all females are as disorganized and messy as my former travelling companions. The more I travel the more I realize that despite teh surface cultural differences and the various crazy systems we all live under, the more we are all the same. Really, at the end of the day, everyone is the same. There is the same mix of good, bad and ugly personalities as anywhere else. I'm just lucky that I met all the cool people over here.
Once again I am reminded that the hardest part of travelling is not dealing with all the crap that gets thrown at you,but leaving the people and places you love behind. I've had a lot of practice with that these last few years but if anything it is getting harder to do.
As it turned out, it was harder to leave Turkey than just getting out of Ankara. I had planned to make it straight to Aleppo, Syria using a combo of trains and buses but it was not to be. After an overnight train south to Adana and another southeast to Iskenderun, it got a little more interesting. From Iskenderun to Antakya there was a minibus but after that the transport stopped. I was down to only a few Lira and it is a pretty big city that should've had more cross-border traffic going. It was only 2:30pm but the day was done. So I went to the side of the road to see about hitching the rest or finding a way to short hop it to the border on local transport. A few locals came up to me thinking I was crazy or something and just when I had finished my cardboard sign and was really getting serious about it, one of these random guys told me I was going to get killed. Well, Antakya was once the Roman city of Antioch and infamous as its most depraved city. Seems that it hasn't gotten much better because he was not the first Turk that told me that I could expect to have a very bad experience there. Not that I believed any of it. Anyway, this guy (turns out he is a 24 year old student back from studying in Izmir) tells me that it is better to come stay at his house with his family instead. These people are unbelievable. I've known him for 5 minutes and I'm some random foreigner on the street and the next thing I know, I'm back at his house being stuffed with tea and food, trying to have a converstation in very very broken english. Spending the night with them was a much better plan than ending up halfway to nowhere and once again proves just how hospitable these people are. The following day I am sure he was stalling letting me go in the hopes that I would have to stay again but I did get away and am now in Syria. It's nice too.
Ammon

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