For a detailed trip itinerary, click here or for more info on the company that runs it (African Trails) visit:

Want another perspective? There are now a few other blogs for the trip all listed half-way down on the right-hand side of this page.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Turkey Part 4: Cannakale, Eceabat, The Dardanelles, ANZAC Cove & Gallipoli

(...Continued from Turkey Part 3.)

On Monday 3rd January, we had a long drive day from Selcuk to Eceabat in the Cannakale Province of Turkey.  The drive included a short ferry crossing which took us across the Dardanelles from the town of Cannakale to Eceabat on the other side. After seeing so much of Africa and dipping our toes temporarily in Asia, we were now back in Europe (with the Dardanelles serving as a divide between the Asian and European parts of Turkey).

It was dark and cold when we arrived in Eceabat and it seemed that as we’d journeyed north towards the European winter, everywhere we went we were taking the weather with us. Ironic then, that the hostel we were staying at in Eceabat was called ‘Crowded House’. As the name suggests (and like ANZ Guesthouse in Selcuk), this guesthouse too seemed to cater to the Antipodean fraternity…. but with good reason.

Eceabat is the closest town to ‘ANZAC Cove’ and the battlefields of Gallipoli. If you’re not too hot on world history or just an ignoramous (like me) you may not know much about this place other that it spawned a classic movie featuring a young Mel Gibson and an awesome retro electro soundtrack provided by Jean-Michel Jarre.

Old school movies aside, Gallipoli and ANZAC Cove were the site of one the most tragic stories to come out of World War I. Unfortunate navigation and bad timing compounded catastrophic strategy and left the majority of the Australian and New Zealand troops involved in this campaign as little more than cannon fodder.

The Battle of Gallipoli was the first major battle fought by the ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ (ANZAC) and to quote Wikipedia “is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both of these countries.” Furthermore. “Anzac Day (25th April) remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing Armistice Day /Remembrance Day.

So, after a quiet first evening in Eceabat, we set off early the following day and an English-speaking guide accompanied us in the back of the truck ‘til we got to the site now known as Anzac Cove – where the Anzac troops landed on 25th April 1915.

Here everybody stood in silence listening to our expert guide explain the story behind the chaos: how the Dardanelles formed a supply route to Russia; how the British wanted to support the Russian efforts on the Eastern Front to relieve pressure on the Western one; how an Allied naval attack had failed; how the Aussie and Kiwi troops had been on training exercises in Egypt and were therefore perfectly placed to provide the infantry needed for a second attempt at the campaign; that this was the first real battle in the war for both countries; that chaos ensued after the commanding officers were either killed or removed from the field with injuries…What was planned as a swift attack took over 8 months and had over 20,000 troops occupying an area of land totaling no more than ¾ of a square mile.

Everybody found a time and space for themselves as they strolled around the cemeteries, reading the epitaphs and looking for an age or even a name that they could identify with. The whole morning was made even more eerily somber by a solar eclipse.

From the Cove, Marjane drove Roxy (with us and the guide in the back) up to the top of the headland, beyond a prominent landmark known as ‘The Sphynx’ and to the cemetery and memorial at ‘Lone Pine’. We then drove further up the hill along a road – which our guide soon pointed out marked the boundary between the Anzac trenches and the Ottoman ones. We stopped the truck on the roadside and got out to explore the still intact trenches – unbelievably, the road was probably less than 10 metres across – which meant the opposing forces frontlines were close enough to hear each other talking. When our guide overheard us noting this, he detailed stories in which the two enemy forces that had fought so fiercely on this very spot, also used to exchange cigarettes and food rations by throwing them from trench to trench. Supposedly unwanted SPAM used to get launched the Ottoman’s way by the Anzac troops…and the Ottomans would launch it straight back…it seems they were all hungry, but not that hungry. Yoichi would have disapproved (private joke you’d only get if you’ve been reading the whole blog!).

Our guide was undoubtedly a knowledgeable chap and the stories he told were nothing short of fascinating: the two bodies of enemy fighters discovered in either a brotherly embrace or a hand-to-hand fight to the death where both and neither were victorious; the fact that in the summer, you could dive off the shore and invariably surface again with a rusty bayonet or other war artifact; how for the entire 8 months of fighting, there was only ever one day of ceasefire allowed…and that was to remove the fetid, putrid and bloated carcasses of the fallen as the smell had become too overpowering in the heart of the summer.

Finally, he told us of the famous command uttered by Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal (the commander of the Ottoman 57th Infantry Regiment) “I do not order you to fight, I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places.” (Subsequently, the entire 57th Regiment died defending their part of the Gallipoli peninsula. As a mark of respect, there is now no 57th regiment in the modern Turkish army.)

The Allied Forces had under-estimated this Turkish resilience that was typical of the whole campaign. In all, approximately 23,000 troops (from both sides) were killed or wounded in the landings at Anzac Cove. The Gallipoli Campaign in its entirety claimed the lives of over 250,000 troops from both sides of the enemy lines.

After a fascinating - if not sobering - morning, reality hit home that I was in a very privileged position and had spent the last ten months on a trip of a lifetime…and it was now coming to an end. It was January 4th and we were three days away from our final stop-off in Istanbul.

As such, people were using that afternoon to clear all of their stuff out of their lockers in the truck…it was time to get rid of all the crap we’d accumulated over 10 months of travelling across three continents. We had to be realistic and brutal about what we thought we could truly manage to get on the plane home (without having to pay the extortionate excess baggage fees).

I’d packed my bag pretty well, but was left with a giant cardboard box full of souvenirs, books and other weird and wonderful things. I took it to the nearby post office where my lack of Turkish and their lack of sympathy made it impossible to convey what I needed to do. After half an hour of struggling, I was called behind the counter where an obese, grey-haired Turkish guy grunted orders to a slightly more sympathetic woman who proceeded to help me.

Even though I’d packed everything perfectly and used up what seemed like an entire roll of parcel tape keeping the package from falling apart, I was asked to take everything out for security purposes. BUGGER! The long and the short of it was that I finally got the parcel sent, but at a cost of over £100…and that’s without The Dead Sea Mud that Kay and Allison had picked up and packed into a Tupperware container for me in Jordan….apparently it resembled explosive material.

The next day was a long, cold drive-day towards Istanbul. So cold in fact that at one of the service stations we were able to have a snowball fight. During the drive, people were wrapped up in their sleeping bags or whatever they could bring themselves to unpack from their rucksacks that had been so carefully jam-packed like jigsaw puzzles the previous afternoon.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Turkey Part 3: New Year's Eve in Selcuk; Ephesus and The Temple of Artemis

I daresay that the whole town of Selcuk had emerged as a result of the tourism that Ephesus brought.  Marjane pulled up at a hostel called “ANZ Guesthouse” – an awesome spot with a welcoming, family-run vibe that had obviously found its niche tourist market in the Antipodean criminal descendants. It was a great place and after settling into our rooms (I shared with Son and Ish) we had one final thing to do before we could go off exploring…it was time to wash and clean out our tents and bid them an emotional farewell.

Some of us had lived in these green domes of canvas for nearly ten months. They’d been slashed by thieves; kept us shielded from rainstorms, sandstorms, scorpions, spiders, camel spiders, centipedes, elephants, snakes, hippos and more. They’d kept us warm(ish) on cold nights and, with the waterproof outer off, provided a prime sleeping position under the stars of the desert night sky. Now it was time to roll them up one last time and pack them up into the truck so they could be opened up by their new tenants two months later when the March 2011 Trans began. Sad times.

After the tent-cleaning, the night drew in quickly and rather then setting off to the ruins, we got tarted up (well, I combed my hair …well, at least thought about it) before making our way down to a nearby restaurant en masse. Here Marjane treated the whole lot of us to a slap-up New Year’s Eve meal – Turkish style. Needless to say, the food was scoffed down in copious amounts and, as the restaurant had a BYOB policy, we made sure the grub was well and truly washed down by wine. Me ‘n’ Berbs even took the opportunity to bring out the wine we’d bought previously (on a lunch-stop on our way into Goreme) and had intended to make mulled wine with….

Most of the gang were more than happy to “see off” a large measure of cheap wine or two, and no sooner had the booze started to take effect, than we realised the death knoll of 2010 was upon us. In some kind of unspoken, communal instinct - known only by those who spend too much time with each other and then get very drunk - we all spontaneously took to the street and began cheering, whooping, hugging each other and hugging strangers that were unlucky enough to pass by.

In another anarchic moment of group spontaneity, the opening minutes of 2011 saw us ‘hedge surfing’. This involved throwing ourselves and others into a low hedge in a public garden that was mere metres from the restaurant we’d just eaten at.  I honestly can’t remember whose idea this was, but I’d venture it was Homeless or me.  I do have vivid recollections of going for the all-time greatest ‘Fosbury-Flop’ style jump onto said hedge, but missing the thing entirely and landing on my coccyx (careful how you say that) on the other side – bush completely unscathed.

The night started to get a bit blurry by this point, but the rest of the festivities involved strolling back up the hill to the guesthouse and combining toasts and speeches with shots of good Scotch on the ANZ Guesthouse terrace. Before everybody could get their speech and dram of the good stuff in, we got booted out for being too noisy. A few chose this moment to slope off quietly and hit the sack, whilst others continued the pursuit of cheap thrills and cheaper booze.

This is where things got really hazy, but at various points involved: Allison being dead-weight and carried around from bar to bar like a rag doll, making the occasional incomprehensible and unintelligible noises. The inner-footy hooligan in Gab coming out and picking verbal fights with every Turk that past us, accusing them of being a supporter of ‘Galatasaray’ (a Turkish club infamous for its hooliganism). When Berbs, Homeless and I started breaking into freestyle raps and beatboxing, I knew it was time to hit the hay.

Where the fuck am I?” were the first things I heard the next day. It turns out Ish and Son had helped Allison home (after Spence had washed his hands of his spousal duties in disgust!) and she crashed out on the spare bed in our room.

That was about the most active thing that happened that day  - Ish, Son and I saw off our hangovers with a movie marathon, watching ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Boy A’ and probably some others that I fail to remember as I fell in and out of consciousness.

The following day  - January 2nd 2011 - was a little bit more productive. It was finally time to go and see what Ephesus was all about. By now you know how I was beginning to feel about ancient ruins – but please try and put this in context. We were all road-weary and World Heritage site as it was, it was just another attraction that we were ‘supposed’ to see and enjoy. Most of us that bothered going actually went out of necessity, obligation and guilt rather than compulsion.

We paid 20 Turkish Lira (just over 11USD) to get into the main site at Ephesus and Son, Ish, Ronald, Tanj, Pat and I wandered around the place, mmm-ing and ahh-ing when we thought we were supposed to.  It was in fact all genuinely impressive, but I just hadn’t done my homework: I didn’t know what I was looking at most of the time. However, no prior research was needed to appreciate the beauty of the ‘Library of Celsus’ or the intimidating scale of ‘The Great Theater’. It was only when we reached the latter that it hit home just how important this ancient city had been: Originally an ancient Greek settlement, the city soon came under Roman rule and by the 1st century BC it had a population of 250,000 – making it one of the largest and most important cities of the ancient Mediterranean world.

The ruins of The Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of The Ancient World – lay at another site nearby, but we ran out of time (and, moreover, motivation) to see this place. In hindsight, it’s a shame to have missed out on it. Realistically, ancient Wonder as it once was, a flood, a fame-seeking pyromaniac (or should that be ’flame-seeking’?) by the name of ‘Herostratus’, and Gothic raids all took their toll. In each instance, the temple was completely rebuilt thereafter. Once the Germanic Goths had wreaked their havoc on it, the temple never really recovered and today only one of 121 columns still stand in Ephesus. The rest were used for making churches, roads, and forts. (Rumour has it that some of the columns were used in the construction of Hagia Sophia, which we would later see in Istanbul.)

That evening was a poignant one for me: Back at the ANZ Guesthouse, as I made my way from our room across the courtyard to the living room (where everybody congregated and hung out) I bumped into Kay who looked very much like she did the day I first saw her all those months ago in Gatwick airport. Bumping into everything with her over-sized back-pack filled to the brim with whatever souvenirs she hadn’t managed to post home, Kay  - with her tiny stature – resembled that character in the David Bowie movie – “The Labyrinth”. You know? The one who carries all of her worldly possessions on her back?

In short, Kay explained how she’d “had enough”, she’d seen Istanbul before and just wanted to end her trip here in Selcuk. After a hug goodbye, Kay tottered off into the distance like I’d seen her do many times before when she’d gone on a Mick Dundee style “walkabout” around the various African towns we’d passed through. This time, as the drizzle came down on this miserable cold and dark night, there was an uncharacteristic air of sadness about Mama Kay.

Kay was one of the original seven passengers who had signed up to do the whole 43 week Trans starting back in March 2010 in Marrakesh. Lara had gone home early (back in Sudan in November) due to family bereavements and now Kay was leaving just four days before the ‘official’ trip end. This left Homeless (Kyle), Berbs (Mark K), The Seven-Bellied Samurai (Yoichi), Son (Sonya) and me to keep the torch burning as the five remaining original “43 weekers” ‘til the bitter end.

That night we also said goodbye to Pat and Tanj who were leaving for Istanbul early and would have moved on to elsewhere on Europe before we caught them up.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Turkey Part 2: Pamukkale & "Hierapolis"

(...continued from Turkey Part 1.)

December 29th 2010, and it was time for us to move on from Goreme. By now I’d stopped caring about the destinations we were going to, and reading up about them in the guides.  I was just going to go with the flow. I’d already seen all the highlights I’d wanted to see and, having gained a lot from having little or no expectations of places, I decided to continue this way.

Through Chinese whispers across a multitude of accents, I’d picked up that we were next headed to a place named after one of The Beatles - Paul McCartney. It was only when we reached the town I discovered it was actually called “Pamukkale” (pronounced ‘Pa-moo-kar-lay’).

We didn’t make it there in the day, so parked up at yet another abandoned Turkish service station/layby. Here, Son and I had the dubious pleasure of being the trip’s last ever cook group (despite being the 'last ever cook group' last week, in Jordan too!). As it was Homeless’s birthday, and it was absolutely freezing, we made a massive pot of homely minestrone soup with hot chocolate and pancakes for dessert…this made Homeless extra happy as hot choc and pancakes happened to be some of his favourites. The fire roared on into the night with the cracking, popping and cackling at the very least implying heat as we tried to fend off the cold in our tents through the twilight hours.

Berbs- hanging out during a cold toilet stop on the roadside.

Pat = cold. Yoich = living up to stereotypes!

Allison - a cold reminder that she's a long way from Darwin.

Homeless - breathing fog in the back of the truck.

It was pissing it down early next morning, so instead of hanging around for brekkie, we made haste and served up hot chocolate on the truck. Upon arrival in Pammukale, we pitched up at a dodgy-looking campsite, which was met with more than a few moans from disgruntled not-so-happy campers. Whilst details were worked out, everybody went about exploring town and finding somewhere to eat some lunch. The town didn’t seem to have much to offer so we weren’t exactly spoilt for choice and just jumped into the first place that had heating. After grub, and a debate about whether or not the main site would be worth the entrance fee, Allison, Ish, Son, Yoichi, Ronald and I all ventured up the hill that overlooked the town towards what looked like a network of frozen bright white and turquoise cascades. 

After paying our entry (20TL) at the gate, we were advised to take our shoes off and carry them, as our feet would be underwater for most of the hike. Initially, I braced myself for what I thought would be icy cold water on my feet, but was pleasantly surprised by the warmth the water provided. The icy look of the hill was actually thousands of years of built up 'travertine' (a form of limestone) and other minerals deposited by the age-old flow of warm, turquoise, crystal clear water flowing straight from a spring in the heart of the hill. Pammukale means ‘cotton castle’…and now I can see why. The place could have been home to The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia.

Son - first to get her toes wet.

The troops (Yoich, Ish and Allison) trudging onwards and upwards.

Surf's Up.

Yoich. Taking some time to reflect.

Looked like snow from a distance, but felt just like clay.

Allison & Ish - Sponge-Glove Square-Pants

Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice the tourist posters and postcards in the souvenir shops showing hoardes of tourists wading, bathing, splashing and swimming in the many pools that punctuated the hillside like paddy fields. In the photos, the sun was beaming and the tourists were just in their swimming costumes. Again, I rued the fact that the Turkey leg (no pun intended) of the trip was in Winter and not the Summer.

Above and beyond these natural, warm pools was the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis. We trundled through this World Heritage Site on foot (now with our shoes back on) taking snaps along the way. There was a café /complex at the heart of the site which was built around the source of the spring and open for use as a swimming pool. Ish and I considered coming back later with our swimming gear, but once we’d got back down to the warmth of indoors, these ideas soon disappeared.

Don't be fooled by the innocent look. This guy guarded my Crocs well.

See? (Photo courtesy of Allison Harvey.)

Thermal swimming pool - complete with ruins.

Ish & Allison - excited about the ruins of Hierapolis.

Yoich shares the excitement with Allison and Ish.

Photographers. Such a strange breed.

(Incidentally, whilst we’d been exploring the Hierapolis ruins, the choice had been made to move from the original campsite we’d pulled up at to a warm hostel near the foot of the path that leads up the pool-strewn hill.)

The next morning, it was another early rise in time for a spot of breakfast before hitting the road again bound for Selcuk, home of  ancient Greek city of Ephesus.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Turkey Part 1: Crossing the border from Syria; Onwards to Goreme (Cappadocia) and Derinkuyu Underground City

Turkey. The last country on our Trans Africa trip. It was sad to see, but to be honest, a lot of people (myself included high on this list) had been looking forward to the end for a while. The Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and now Turkey) had been great but it just didn’t capture the spirit of adventure like a lot of Africa did - particularly the route we took down the west coast of Africa, which had been left largely untouched by tourism. That being said, it seemed apt to be celebrating with Turkey over the Christmas period…

It was late afternoon on December 23rd 2010 when we crossed the border. It was a cold and grey day, and I was being laughed at by my co-passengers for looking like I’d come straight out of a trailer park: second-hand trucker hat, aviators, ill-fitting vest, unkempt beard, stained jogging bottoms and Crocs on my feet. I’m not sure if they were laughing at my garb or at the fact that I was wearing a vest in the cold… I didn’t think it was that cold…or maybe I was just being kept warm by the Scottish blood running through my veins.

Considering we were heading back into the “western-world,” the border crossing was a bit of a convoluted throwback to the sort of stuff we’d seen closer to the heart of Africa. We had to hand our passports in at one place, then leave them with that office and take a stamp or something to another office about 200 metres away, then pay for a proper stamp then go back and get our passports from the first office, then cross the border.

We made our way towards Goreme and got as far as we could before the daylight failed. Then we found a truck-stop/layby and parked up for the evening for some (partially defrosted) chicken nugget tortilla wraps cooked up by Pat and Kimbo. There was a derelict building towards the back of the car park which some of us explored (only to find the disused toilets had actually been used for a loooooong time after they stopped working…it was a sinus-splitting stench).

We all shuffled into our tents pretty hastily so as to avoid staying out as the night temperature dropped. As we did so, Marjane explained how the previous year, when he did the Trans that started in November 2008 (as opposed to March like ours), the asphalt of the car park had got so hot that the passengers could barely sit on the floor let alone pitch their tents. It just goes to show how doing a Trans like this, crossing a multitude of countries as well as the Tropics and the Equator, the weather and time of year can impact your experience greatly. I think the November Trans finished in Turkey in late August/September…and as my Scottish blood finally failed me that evening, and my teeth chattered me to sleep, I thought of how much I would have preferred to be snorkeling off a boat near Olu Deniz (as they had done on the November Trans) as opposed to braving the cold. 

We had a quick breakfast at the break of dawn and jumped back on Roxy before finishing our journey to Goreme – a town in the Cappadoccia region of Turkey. Goreme was a truly stunning and mystical place, like something out of the minds of JRR Tolkein (Hobbiton) or George Lucas (Tatooine). The landscape was dominated by wind-hewn chimney stacks, which the local Turks had fashioned into their own abodes.

On the way in, Marjane stopped Roxy at a stunning lookout point. Amidst friendly banter with some of the local touts selling “traditional” Cappadoccian souvenirs, we all stood agasp at such a wonder and hoped more than usual (and with a greater likelihood than usual), that this year we would have a white Christmas. Waking up to any kind of virgin normally means you haven’t done your job right, but waking up and seeing this landscape under a thick layer of virgin snow would have been one hell of a spectacle…alas, it was not to be.

The viewpoint. Looking out over Cappadocia.

Like something out of Hobbiton or Tatooine.

Homeless tries on one of the local souvenirs.

We finally reached a place called "The Rock Valley Pension" - an amazing and cosy little hostel nestled into the base of some of the aforementioned rock formations. After a bit of dilly-dallying about who slept in which room…and with whom. Everything was settled, bags were dumped on beds and we all congregated in the hostel’s ample (and uber-comfortable) lounge/bar area. Some people then went off exploring the town, some retreated to their rooms, some used the free wi-fi to catch up with friends and family back home and some started tucking into the beers and the spirits (…of Christmas yet to come).

Roxy - Parked up outside the Rockey Valley Pension, Goreme.

By dinnertime, everybody was back in the lounge and the general hubbub was at a higher volume than it had been earlier. I took an opportunity to pop out and Skype home from my laptop in my room, and I swear I must have gone back only an hour later and already, words were being slurred and eye contact was a struggle. In the corner you could hear the beginning of “deep and meaningfuls” so I chose my moment to sneak back out quietly. There were a few valiant (and drunken) efforts to come and get me but thankfully, I was still feeling a little bit rough from whatever I picked up in Aleppo, so I at least had a (very lame) excuse to duck out of the inebriation. The truth is, I’ve never been a fan of boozing on Christmas Eve – I’d grown up as the oldest of four (by seven years) so it was always about my wee siblings enjoying “the magic” rather than me stumbling home and waking everybody up at 1am and disturbing Santa as he was putting presents in sacks…

More to the point, I’ve never fancied spending Christmas Day hungover as a lot of the others did…in fact, there were a few we didn’t see until lunchtime and one or two we didn’t even see all day on Christmas: they missed the non-traditional, yet awesome Christmas lunch put together by our resident Italians (Marjane and Gab) and didn’t even surface for the much-hyped “Secret Santa”!

Secret Santa went down really well and there were some cracking presents dished out. Inevitably, before 30 minutes had passed, everybody had done the detective work and figured out who had got what for whom: Dan got an ornate beauty of a shisha pipe from Elisa which no doubt blew the $5 budget right out of the water; Allison got some furry lion slippers from Kyle; Pat got a “Call To Prayer” alarm clock from…Son I think. As I suspected from the glance over the fire back in Damascus, when the names were pulled out of the hat, Kimbo was indeed my Secret Santa, and she got me a miniature shisha pipe, which now sits pride of place in my room.

The next few days were filled with more of the same antics with one of the highlights being a paintball session. It was a pretty amateur set-up with wooden crates and hay bales making for much-needed sniping points/hideouts within the 50 metres squared enclosure. The layout didn’t stop us from having a good time trying to blast each other to smithereens. I think Allison and Spencer had the most fun towards the end: they were the only ones with any ammo left so it was a husband and wife showdown til they ran out of paintballs.

L-R: me, Ish, Son, Ron, Allison, Mark, Gab, Spence, Kimbo. (Photo courtesy of Allison Harvey.)

On Dec 28th, inspired by two of the couples (Gab and Elisa, Kim and Kyle) on the trip who had done it the day before, a gang of us hired some scooters with the idea of...
  • A. bombing around the Cappadocian countryside, 
  • B. finding one of the underground cities and 
  • C. staying alive!
Any of my friends back home can testify to the fact that things with motors and me, just aren’t meant to get along.  For example:

When I was about 15, I spent a good couple of weeks helping one of my best friends put together a “chicken-chaser” of a scooter that he’d bought dirt-cheap. The thing’s motor was barely more powerful than a lawn-mower and it made the obligatory horrific high-pitched whining sound that seems to provide non-stop entertainment for teenagers stuck behind you at traffic lights across the globe. We didn’t care, this was us on the road to freedom….so we carried out a black and red spray paint job that made it look like the faux-camo trousers East 17 used to wear…then we gave it the once over with some T-Cut before covering it in Billabong and Rip Curl stickers. We couldn’t find stickers for the brands of choice – Stussy and Quiksilver – so we compromised by making some cardboard stencils and spray-painting the logos on.

The job was complete and my mate (Dom) took his first proud journey around the garden on his souped-up chicken-chaser. Then it was my turn. Sensing my reluctance, Dom told me how simple it was and how I couldn’t go wrong. 30 seconds later, I’m up to my waist in water and algae and trying (but failing) to pull Dom’s pride and joy out of the garden pond. Fortunately, the bike came away relatively unscathed, I just can’t say the same for Dom’s dad’s Koi-Carp collection.

That was 1995 and I hadn’t ridden a scooter since then, so I was pretty apprehensive. Luckily for me, I was in good company: Berbs was the only one with any experience on a scooter or motorbike and, humble as ever, even he confessed to not exactly being an expert. Apart from that, the rest had either as little experience as me…or were completely mal-coordinated!

After a hesitant start from all of us (me more than most as I didn’t even have a full driver’s license at that point – apparently a pre-requisite for renting a scooter here) we were whizzing up and down the roads of Goreme which, up until now, had been quiet at this time of year. There goes the neighbourhood.

Within less than half an hour of being on the bike, all of my fears had disappeared and I was whizzing down the empty country roads with Berbs and Spence, topping at 115km/h. In hindsight, this was pretty stupid – I knew my experience was meager and I could have been hairy strawberry ice-cream if I’d have come off the bike at even half the speed I was going at. At the time, I couldn’t care less.

We passed these strange mushroom-like features at the beginning of our ride. They feature on all the Goreme tourism shots.

Mount Doom in the background!

We rode for a couple of hours out of Goreme before stopping for a snow-fight on the side of the road (it seems that we had come agonizingly close to a white Christmas in Goreme). There were a few more stops along the way to check maps and ask locals for directions but eventually, we reached the ‘Derinkuyu Underground City’ and before entering, popped into a local restaurant for some Pide…beautiful Pide. (Pronounced 'pid-ay'. An amazing pizza/panini type dish that Ish introduced me to.)

Derinkuyu Underground City

We didn’t really know much about Derinkuyu and were still buzzing from our bike journey when we got in. Entry cost us 15 Turkish Lira (just under 8.5USD), and it was money well spent. It was an amazing place and it hurt my brain trying to picture how entire communities and civilisations had flourished here in one of Goreme’s handful of underground cities. The “city” went about 85 metres deep and with its own underground school and burial chambers was supposedly big enough to shelter tens of thousands of people along with their livestock. We all practically skipped our way around behind our guide – I’m not sure if our bikes had leaked petrol fumes or if we were just so exhilarated from the ride there and the fact that none of us had crashed.

Son crouches in one of the many passages.

Berbs feigns death by hanging in the burial chamber. (The sign says 'Graves').

The view from the afterlife. In the words taken from Spike Milligan's epitaph "I told you I was ill!" L - R: Berbs, Spence, Pat, Tanj, Ish, Son, Allison.

It was pretty damn cool.

Playing around in the underground school's playground. L-R: Allison, Spence, Son, Ish, Pat, Tanj. Berbs is lying down.

Pat & Tanj - ready to take on the lunar landings.

The journey home couldn’t come quick enough – not because we were bored of the underground city, but because we’d all enjoyed the freedom of taking in the Cappadocian countryside from the seat of a scooter.

Time to reflect with my wingman.

The Hell's Angels were quaking in their boots. L-R: Berbs, Ish, AK, Spence, Allison, Son, Tanj & Pat.

To make the return leg a little bit more interesting, we tried to just make it up as went along…with little reference to the map. At one point this lead to us all trail-blazing along a dirt path which turned out to be nothing more than a trough in a Turkish farmer’s furrowed field.

Just outside of Goreme, we stopped off at a place called Rose Valley where - it was rumoured - we would see the best sunset we could ever expect to see.  We’d seen so many magical sunrises, sunsets and even “moon-rises” on this trip that it was hard to rank them in any order of preference, but this sunset was certainly up there as one of the best I’ve seen in my life. I can confirm though that it was, without a doubt, the most colourful sunset I’ve ever seen. The sky was awash with warm hues of orange, swirls of vivid pinks, and electric purples. It was like it had been taken directly from one of Jimi Hendrix’ acid-induced dreams or a psychedelic rock video from the mid-70’s. On that note, Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith fame) was once quoted as saying “the only difference between pink and purple was a tighter grip…


Pat & Tanj take it all in. (I told you the colours were amazing.)

Ish's Sponge-Glove Square-Pants. (Bought in Damascus.)

No Photoshop necessary.

The ride home had been little bit more eventful than our outbound one: at one point, we stopped behind Son who was in hysterics having just witnessed Spence over-use his throttle and go flying over a grass island at a junction. Not to be outdone by her hubby, Allison also stacked her bike in front of a group of local men in a sleepy town we passed through. Thankfully, her pride was the only thing that took any bashing worthy of mention. About an hour from home, my scooter starting giving an even more teenager-friendly whine than originally and when we stopped I realized that it’s exhaust had rattled itself half loose

Back at the bike shop, my dodgy exhaust went unnoticed by the owners, but they did pick up on the broken wing mirror on Ish’s bike…I didn’t really get the full details as Ish got pretty “emo” about it when I asked but essentially he’d dropped his bike after an abrupt stop somewhere along the journey. He’d noticed the break but, under the duress of the rest of the group, tried his luck at telling the bike owners that it was like that when they gave it to him. Despite this being feasible (considering they didn’t do a bike check with any of us before we took off) they weren’t swallowing it and I think poor old Ish had to fork out a hefty lump of money as a result.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Kyle Mijlof Photography -

Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a while since my last blog entry...but I'm by no means finished. I just thought I should touch base to let you all know about a very good friend of mine, who seems to have an annoyingly amazing natural talent for photography and all things creative. His name is Kyle "You can smell him a..." Mijlof. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know him as the "Homeless F*ck", or "Homeless" for short.

On my Trans Africa overland trip which began in March 2010, Kyle was one of the few other passengers actually doing the whole 43 week trip all the way around the continent and beyond into the Middle East. He was one of the first people on the truck I truly made friends with and the two of us, along with Leon "The Love Mountain" Liebenberg aka "Happy Hippo" made up the 'Team Amazing' cook group (complete with Fez hats...the only cook group to have had their own uniform).

With his various cameras, accessories, photography books and even magazines that he brought along in his wee backpack, it was clear that he had a passion for being behind the lens. His love didn't stop there a native Capetonian (i.e. from Cape Town), Homeless was/is truly a part of Africa...and from his homegrown dreads, homegrown herbs, laidback attitude and tattoo of the continent on his calf, Africa was truly a part of Homeless too...and I think it shows in his photos.

Here's just a select showcase of what our lad can do...all taken from the trip him and I were on together as well as his second journey down Africa's west coast during the first half of this year (2011). Plenty more examples of his talent can be found on his own blog, here: