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.