Escape from boredom
February 8, 2007
Well, the Turks have certainly turned out to be nice and cuddly indeed. For those interested in Europe property investments, Yalikavak Turkey seems a good bet. Lots of totally undeveloped shoreline, warm climate, a nice quaint town which seems too hilly with snakey shoreline to afford some future ugly industrial zone, and with a growing British English speaking community for those who want to settle in somewhere without learning a new language.
Where I mostly camped out in Yalikavak Turkey.
After doing my usual initial town perusal, I quickly stumbled on the local karaoke hangout, which I thought would be a great way to meet people. In fact, this bar had a free pool table, so I was pretty well set. But I guess the nature of karaoke is that it brings people out of the closet, and I quickly found myself pranced to with flailing loose wrists.
But the people there were generally nice, both Turks and Brits, and I was slowly making inroads in their tight community, although my persistently tight budget prevented me from visiting the pub too often, and when I did, I wasn’t really getting into the conversation. The next two months dragged out altering between every second karaoke at one pub and then the other, both with essentially the same crowd. I felt like I was sinking back into the routine I was escaping from in Prague.
Typical rocky and undeveloped coastline. On the other side of the peninsula it was like the moon. Gallery here.
But I found a nice parking spot by a beach, and would make the 4km drive each day to free wifi internet at the marina. I felt like saying, "Hi honey, I’m home" every time I came back for the evening, and my big blue truck stuck out like a sore thumb to the locals who would frequent the beach mostly on the weekends. The nice Turks would barbeque fish and meats with their family and often bring me a small handful while I basked in the sun on my lawnchair and read from my PDA.
It is the southwest corner of Turkey and gets pretty windy this time of year, so my truck would often be howling and bouncing under a full moon by the open sea, and I’d have to bunji down my solar panels during the day. I even partied with one guy at his recording studio there and who would burn jingles for NBC and other things at 4,000 bucks a song. Otherwise, my stay there wasn’t too eventful - a shortage of cash can hamper things.
Some old Kaya tomb thing next to where I was camping above. Looked like a church covered it at one point but which was later bombarded from the nearby shore. Gallery here, including more pics of the area.
Eventually a big project came and I was busy pounding away at that, and once it was over, I thought I’d treat myself to a present by buying some wood so I can work on the truck’s interior a bit. Make it feel more homey. Something I’ve been yearning for ever since I left Prague, Czech Republic, in a hurry six months previous.
I was befriending one waiter who kept telling me everything is so much cheaper in Marmaris, so I said goodbye to who I could, not knowing when I would return, and headed to Marmaris in search of some wood.
On the way I picked up one Turkish hitch-hiker who kept thanking me over and over again, because he was walking from Bodrum for the past 7 hours and no one would pick him up. He told me that Antalya is much cheaper and that Alanya is very beautiful. As you can imagine, the fickle Bohemian traveler that I am, I became quickly convinced and decided to make my way there instead.
Gocek, the first coastal town I saw after leaving Yalikavak and since I started snailing along the coast (gallery of coastal cruise here).
The next day I continued my way eastward, and at one point I saw a glimpse of the ocean, so I did a quick u-turn and checked out the town. It was so beautiful and pleasant that I decided I would snail my way eastward, spending one or two nights in every coastal town I came across. I mean, what’s more important: buying wood quickly, or seeing some beautiful country while traveling? I shouldn’t be rushing, and this is precisely what I wanted to do ever since I planned this trip in the first place. Sure, up to now there was a reason for barrelling from location to another distant location – primarily to meet someone I promised, or to escape the cold front – but now there was no reason to rush and I decided I was going to enjoy the trip like I had originally planned.
For a moment I thought I could combine warm beach with some snowboarding.
Every town was nice, I picked up some local pamphlets, and what might drop from the moon then to discover that, just around the corner, lay the town where Santa Clause was born and died! I was expecting a somewhat colder place, but sure enough, I hit Santa Claus town during my slow tour of the coastline, and checked out some great local relics and ruins.
In Santa Claus town (Demre), I befriended a local fisherman who taught me some Turkish card games and then told me some nice towns I should visit on my eastward snail trail. As I drove eastward along the main highway, the little town of Olympus that he mentioned didn’t even have a road on the big map I was using, and I hesitated even going down there, but at the last second, when I saw the scraggly little road and sign by the highway, I veered right and plunged down towards the coast.
Gallery pics of Santa Claus town (Demre) and some cool neighbouring tombs (Myra).
I hit a fork in the road where I could go to the left to Olympus, 3km away, or straight to Cavas (another town he suggested), 7km away. My stomach and its longing to save gas money (I often feel a struggle between mine and Bobka’s belly) won over so I decided on the closer of the two, and headed down towards Olympus.
Hobbling down the lopsided dirt road, about 2km later, what do you think I would stumble on than what I set as a great goal for myself even before leaving Prague, Czech Republic? Yes, more than a year before leaving, one of my volleyball patrons suggested I go to Kadir’s Treehouses. After looking them up on the internet and checking out their video clips, I decided this was one definite destination. Sounded like the party beach volleyball cliff diving backpacker haven I was looking for. And here it stumbled before me, after I totally forgot about it after all these months in Croatia, Montenegro, and everywhere after.
So that was a pleasant surprise and I spent the last hours of light that day checking out the old ruins of Olympus - some ancient town from 200BC or whatever. Even took some pictures of Kadir’s Treehouses, but unfortunately it was getting dark, and the next few days that I stayed there I was too lazy to take pictures during the day.
of Kadir’s treehouses, a bit of the surrounding area, and the Olympus
ruins, not fully explored by me yet.
Wasn’t planning on staying there that long. In fact, after talking a bit with what seemed like a manager, who explained to me that Kadir is off in America recruiting unsuspecting victims for the upcoming summer season, I stood up and was about to extend my hand forward to bid him fairwell, as I wanted to try out the next town Cavas, assuming I’d be able to park by the seashore, which I preferred. But just as I got up off my stool to extend my hand, he too got off his stool, because the cook just brought out a buffet of the evening’s dinner. And in his typical Turkish way, before I could say anything, he said, "Friend, help yourself."
So I pigged out with him and his friend and stayed there another hour, during which some backpacking stragglers stumbled in for the evening’s meal. In no time I found myself sitting at a table surrounded by English speaking girls from various parts of the globe, and they were talking about some place where fire would come out of the hillside. This intrigued me and I suggested I could offer them a ride, since I had wheels. Well, soon enough, I was acting chauffeur and picked up people from other people’s treehouses, until there was a total of seven of us in the little beast. A full house, if you only include the official seating room (my record so far is 12).
Kadir’s main chalet buffet room. There is a main disco bar as well, empty at this time of year.
We bobbed our way up to the highway, then back down another section. Parked the beast at the bottom and then walked to the top. Actually, it’s about a 10k walk down to and along the beach, but driving the 20k seemed easier.
They rather enjoyed my cheesey music and the scary hair pinned turns, and eventually we made it up to the magic fires.
Fire coming out of the hillside.
The story is that this guy Kadir started building these tree houses about 20 years ago, and somehow the word of mouth went around, and then all the other Turks started building their own treehouses, until it has turned into this sort of treehouse town on the edge of decaying but interesting-to-venture Olympus. And a great beach.
Actually, the winter seems to be construction season along the coast in Turkey. Repairing roads, uprooting sidewalks and replacing sewage pipes, constructing new housing complexes... and building new treehouses.
Eventually I stumbled on one treehouse pension where I could have all I can eat buffet every evening for 7Lira (about 4.5USD), an internet room, free shower and facilities, and an electrical socket to plug my laptop into while I would roast by the fire in their lovely wooden log cabin style common room. Just typing away and doing my work in comfort while, during this offseason, enough backpackers would trickle through that I would have someone to converse with every evening.
I was slowly settling into this new and promising lifestyle, until on the third day I couldn’t check my email on my mobile anymore. I’ve been receiving some smses over the past few weeks which I didn’t bother to get translated, so now I asked one Turk there and he explained it to me.
While camping at the fisherman’s beach who suggested I go to Olympus, saw some rubble on the hillside, so went to check it out. Gallery here.
I liked how the local fauna and vegetation would change as I traveled over this big globe. Gallery here.
Camping and cooking near the fisherman’s beach.
So I said my usual goodbyes, and off on the road I was again. A big long traffic jam, more than an hour, giving me the opportunity to do some more offline work with laptop propped up on the steering wheel (managed to capture some gazes from surrounding cars), and eventually rolled into the big city of Antalya, population 1 million. Managed to find the Turkcell headquarters, and after some lineup, talked to that important person in charge of these special cases.
It turns out that, as the clock struck midnight on February 1, the Turkish government did in fact block my phone. And that I entered the country too late. If I had entered earlier, my phone would have been okay. And I should have paid the 150 Lira to import it that time at the airport, and then everything would have been okay. But now it is simply too late, my problem.
"What do you mean it is my problem? How about tourists entering the country now?" "Yes, but they are entering now. Your stamp of entry is too old." Pointing with her finger into one of the pages of my passport. "So what. What if I just went to, for example, the Greek side of Cyprus? Are you saying everything would be okay then?" She shrugged her shoulders with a smile, as if these technical issues weren’t really her problem, and said, "Yes, I suppose you are correct." So it looks like Cypress it will be, fickle me says.
I liked how, even with modern construction, the Turks would often take the trouble to make designs like this in walls using small rocks.
And off I barrel further eastward down the coast in one of my endless pursuits to resolve my never ending technical problems. Couldn’t it be easy to cross countless international borders while trying to run a global operation from a traveling caravan in Europe? Maybe I’m just a dreamer.
I looked on the map, saw a big ferry line going to Cyprus, looked on the internet, and indeed the car ferries were allegedly "just past Alanya".
An old American car owned by the local chief of police. The inevitable merging of cultures with globalisation.
On the map the dashed ferry lined looked like it was just past Alanya. Got to Alanya and was told that it was not that town but the next dash lined one (these dashed lines were only for passengers and not for vehicles). So pumped another hundred Lira into gas and made another long leg, to the next ferry port, Tasucu. You know, Turkey is one damn bigger country than I first thought. Two days to drive down the west coast, and a good week now snailing along the southern coastline.
But shortly after Alanya, gone was the fancy 4 lane highway, replaced by some old timer snaking up and down the mountains. Maxing out at 30k an hour going uphill, it was a struggle trying to pass those big semis. I often had to squeeze by on the inside stretch as they made it around the long curves. Perhaps a bit dangerous, and they would madly honk their horns, but I’ve learned to drive my bobka like a racing car, as one friend pointed out to me.
On the ferry approaching Cyprus.
Finally rolled into Tasucu, the departure port for car ferries to Cyprus. It was windy indeed, and I had to wait four days in this stinky town before the sea winds and waves died down enough for the car ferries to venture out. Actually, the first day I came, when they told me it was too windy, the weather seemed to settle down a bit towards later in the afternoon, but when I asked the counter people later in the evening how it looked, they agreed that the weather changed to the favourable but that the spots were already fully taken up.
So for three days I hung out in this town, and finally muscled a space for myself onto one of their boats. It was the usual Turkish bureaucratic nightmare of going from one booth to the next, back to the first, then to a third, then to the second, then drive to this and that, until I was almost at the finishing gate. I got a stamp on my passport, even had a friendly translator with me, when all of a sudden the keystone cop behind the window got a brilliant jolt of lightning and ran out screaming something, grabbed my passport, and proceeded to count with his fingers (police have to do that, y’know) explaining to me that I have stayed in the country already 3 days past my 90 day limit. Which means a 270 Lira fine.
"What??? But when I came into the country the guy at the border told me I could stay until the 5th of May." I decline to pay the fine and said I will look for a piece of paper, because I am sure I remember seeing May 5 somewhere.
The next day I scoured through all my documents and could not find anything, so I set out for the chief of police, as the nice customs people I befriended suggested to me, and found the local police station ("karankol" in Turkish). Well, out of 15 policemen who seemed to quickly accumulate in the room around me, none of them really spoke English, but they were busy phoning around, and it just so happened that some students from a local business school were walking by, and one girl who acts as a tour guide during the summer became my translator.
Turns out I was totally in the wrong place, so we went back to the special border police dudes, and, well, I whimpered, whined, cried injustice, but Turkish law is the golden sceptre of God, and it is just the way it is, and no point crying for pardon. Turns out that May 5 was stamped and written right in my passport, and that I was right, but that it counts only for my caravan. And that the 90 days applies to me. And when I asked if I could go by myself (cheaper) to Cyprus without my caravan, they said this was not possible, because the caravan was stamped in my passport. Apparently they do not want me to sell the caravan in Turkey without them having an opportunity to tax the profits. Well, whatever. Why on earth they have two different dates, when I am unquestionably married and inseparable from my caravan is beyond me, but the next night, the fourth, I coughed up the now higher fine of 290 Lira and finally got onto the ferry.
But one thought did venture into my mind. If it weren’t for my screwed up mobile situation, I would have stayed in Olympus like a happy pumpkin another three months. Although after two months the fine would have been 450 Lira, and they did not even dare mention what would have happened to me if I stayed longer than those two months. So, once again, I had to wonder if the hand of God was in all this. But if so, what’s up with the bad weather that prevented me from leaving the first night, when I would have miraculously showed up my ignorant self at ground zero and perfectly on time? Until I remembered that I was celebrating, as I like to, by having one big 1L beer, passed out to a movie, got lazy, and showed up at the ticket counter around 9:30pm to ask if they changed their mind about the weather, considering the weather had died down. Well, if I hadn’t had that big beer and had actually asked them earlier, I guess it would have worked out perfectly…
Piggie in the elevator going up from the bottom level before getting off the ferry.
So now I’m on the ferry, where I befriended some Cyrpriate Greek with a perfect British accent (not sure the history behind that) who seemed to have as much fun crossing borders as I do. But his story is that he served on the Greek side in 1972 of the Cypriote war, and is in the same dreaded Turkish computer database that flashed my 90 day expiry date.
So he filled me in on some interesting Cypriote history, and some interesting Cypriote facts. Like for example that my liability insurance will not work there. I check, and sure enough, in typical bureaucratic Czech: "Exception: Insurance coverage provided by this green card issued for Cyprus is restricted to that geographical portion of Cyprus which is under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus." It basically said the same thing about Kosovo, not being "under the control of the government of Serbia and Montenegro". And on the back it showed abbreviated letters of all the countries where the green card was valid. Which you’d have to flip over to translate and figure out what countries the abbreviation represented, and deduce that the little green piece of paper basically covered from Iceland, to Ukraine, to Egypt, to Morocco, except for Northern Cyprus and Kosovo. Now why they could not say something simple like this for the laymen person who has to buy this little green piece of paper… well, governments and bureaucracy.
After getting to the top and centre of Cyprus near the capital, I decided I wanted to go back and along the coast. On the way picked up a hitchhiker who got me to take him all the way to his work, an Armenian monastery.
So that cost me an additional 130 Lira for 30 days of liability insurance on the northern half of Cyprus, on top of the 300 Lira to get me and the beast that 150 km farther south by ferry, but there was still one other interesting fact about Cyrpus. The geezers drive on the wrong side of the road!!!!
Okay, now this was really starting to get intriguing, and it took me a while to get used to. Sometimes, after performing some errand or pulling out of some strange winding alley, I find myself on the side of the road I’m used to, only to be reminded when noticing someone heading towards me in my same lane. But I have to chuckle afterwards, after noticing the sheer look of horror on their face, looking up at me from their puney little car.
Back down the mountains from the Armenian monastery.
I was winding this way and that, not sure which way to go, ended up at the top of the mountains in the centre of the island, then decided I did wrong and want to go back to the coast, picked up a hitchhiker, drove him to his work, which was an Armenian monastery, and then snaked my way along the coast towards the Greek border so that I could cross it before midnight, lest they slam another horrible fine on me. Just so that I could get a fresh entry stamp, so that I could get a new sim card, pay some registration fee or something, and finally get internet on my blasted mobile!!!
Not too far from the border, I started to feel snazzy and getting used to this goofy left sided driving. Actually, the guy on the ferry said that the tricky thing about driving a normal vehicle (steering wheel on the left side) in a left handed lane is when trying to pass another vehicle (because it is difficult to check for oncoming traffic). I suggested that my beast was so slow I never find myself in such a precarious situation. To which he replied that one can always find a slower driver. Then I remembered all those semi trucks I struggled to pass through the mountains, and agreed. And soon enough found myself trying to pass the second or third car during my brief career as a left handed driver.
Big church in Gazi Magusa. Cyprus was ruled by various powers/religions over its colourful history, but the Ottomans had a nasty habit of either destroying the religious icons of the west, or "converting" them to their religion, as they did here (gallery).
I was not too far from my destination international border when I came upon an incredibly slow, small, orange little car. It must have been driving a ridiculous 30km an hour. Positively preposterous, as the British would say. I slowed down and spent a good minute or two inching patiently behind him. Until I saw a nice long stretch, no cars coming the opposite direction - an easy opportunity to pass. I assessed the situation, gauged my alternatives, turned on my blinkers, eased on the gas pedal and slowly made my bold yet slow and thought-out pass.
I was about half way past this guy, when he did the famous local farmer move. This already happened to me once in Montenegro, when I was trying to pass another slow farmer, who decided to turn left without blinking. Well this little orange bozo started veering to the right, as he apparently wanted to turn off the highway to the right from his left lane without any warning. I was dead next to him and was forced into the right, I mean wrong, lane. I slowed down, but SLAM he goes right into my side. We both pull over and compare damages. I think I may have noticed a flake of orange paint somewhere along the big expanse of blue, but nothing else noticeable.
We looked at his right side. His right door heartily bent inward, a big massive black smear from what looks like either my big black tires, my bumper, or some combination, and then some metal strip on his car was dangling outwards. He tested that he could still open and close his door, and his window, scratched his head, checked out my car. Meanwhile, fears raced through my mind of this new insurance policy, my first "accident" after 20,000 km, and all the paperwork and disadvantage of the language when the police come. But I think he had a bigger disadvantage. He saw there was no great noticeable damage to my truck, waved me to go on my way, and staggered back to his little, orange, bent up car.
The Salamis ruins near where I set up camp just north of Gazi Magusa. Chose this area and larger city where I hope to buy wood and stuff and finally complete the truck’s interior. Gallery of Salamis ruins here.
Got through the border no problem, things are generally bloody expensive in Greece (so I’m sure I’ll be back in Turkey tomorrow – although gas is a bit cheaper here) and decided this shall be the conclusion of another chapter, my friends.
Had a gyros and, as it was approaching 9pm, noticed the fidgeting nature of the dude, learned that he was closing shop so asked him for some pleasant pub where I could finish this chapter. He asked the people he was with and pointed some direction. I asked him if he was speaking Greek, because his words sounded Slavic. He said they were Russian, we shook hands and I was on my way. Stumbled roughly where he pointed, to what looked like a nice warm looking pub. Walked in, and over the course of the remainder of writing this chapter, learned that the place is filled with Bulgarian, Polish and various Slavic waitresses, that it does not have a great reputation among the locals, but if I would like to just sit in front of my computer all night (instead of chatting up the numerous girls), "that is okay too". Being the polite gentleman that I am, I assured them that I would talk to them after I am done, for I never like to leave loose strings unravelled (meaning I wanted to finish the chapter first, you dirty fools). So they danced in front of me while I pounded away at the keyboard, and now I must face the beginning of the next chapter. Hopefully they won’t wanna test out my shocks!
Silver beach, where I’ve been parked the last few days just north of Gazi Magusa, Turkish side of Cyprus.
Other side of the rock peninsula from the pictures above that.
Cooking inside again. Notice the usual workstation
converted to dining room table
It’s been a lovely two winters on this island, mostly on this beach, and will be sad to see it go. But my dream of traveling was to travel and not stagnate in comfort, eh?
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Published - August 2010