Saturday 8th to Monday 10th December 2012.
Iskenderun, Pozanti, Bolu.
Next was to get our cars into Turkey. We were allowed to drive them off the ship into the port but from there ensued a lot of waiting around for customs formalities. Luke had acquired a cold from Chris, one of the German bikers. Thanks to the arctic air-conditioning on our ferry journey, it had blossomed and he was feeling terrible. The last thing he wanted to do was wait for more border balderdash. Some of the officials were lovely and welcoming, giving us foil-wrapped sandwiches and making hot cups of tea. After our details were logged on customs’ computer system a podgy fellow took our carnets and insurance off to get sorted. We spent an hour waiting before he reappeared and ushered us along to the front gate. He disappeared and there was some more logging of details and waiting around before he turned up again with our documents. He claimed he was delayed because our insurance was expiring tomorrow. However, he had organised a third party policy on our behalf. He wanted us to pay 30 euros for the policy which lasted three months. Now we needed just a few days in Turkey and, after our interactions with officials in Africa, were feeling sceptical about whether he’d chosen the cheapest option for us. It was odd he didn’t consult us on the policy before buying it. Whilst we tried to negotiate with him he said he wanted an additional US$20 per vehicle for his ‘services’. Now we hadn’t agreed to this either. We were pretty tired and over waiting around, so vehemently refused. Our argument continued for at least half an hour, with his friend who had been acting as translator and the border officials siding with us. In the end Luke stuffed US$24 into the guys hand for our insurance policy, snatched our documents out of his hands, and then we bundled into Bluebelle and set off into the night. Tom and Klaus stayed with us whilst the German bikers set off to find their ‘couch surfing’ abode. By now it was 8.30pm and we were rather famished.
After we’d eaten we called Emrah. He kindly insisted on coming to meet us so he could help us find somewhere to stay. We had called a couple of the hotels that were listed in the Lonely Planet, but we were surprised to find they were very expensive – at about 50 euros a night. Emrah didn’t know of anywhere cheaper, but he said it shouldn’t be a problem finding a camping spot. He patiently drove us from place to place until we settled on Iskenderun’s old airport landing strip. Though still in town it was out of the way and Emrah assured us would be quite safe. Several dome shaped plastic tents were already erected on the landing. Emrah disappeared into one to see if they’d mind if we camped next door. It turned out that they were itinerant workers building a nearby college. They were incredibly friendly and welcoming. They immediately agreed we should stay there and insisted we come into their tents for tea. Inside the tents were lined with simple bunk beds, each one with a man installed atop the blankets. One of the men set about filling a kettle and boiling water. Little Turkish tea glasses were assembled on a tray. Strong black tea was poured and sugar cubes were plentiful. They made space for us on the bunks so we could sit and drink with them. After half an hour translating Emrah said goodbye; he had to get back to his wife and children who had only just had him returned to them. We stayed for a good hour or two, looking at pictures of the men’s children and communicating as best as we could with signs and sounds. The men wanted to settle us in a spare tent they had, but we decided we’d rather sleep in our tents. They did insist on making us breakfast in the morning so we agreed to meet before they set off for their day’s work.
The next morning the workers called for us at 7am. They were up and ready and had laid out packages of breakfast for each of us. Luke was feeling awful so decided to catch a few extra winks of sleep instead. Tom, Klaus and I joined two of the friendliest workers in the hut. They brewed tea whilst we tucked into crusty bread, piles of black olives, feta cheese and fresh rosy tomatoes. They kindly encouraged us to stay longer, but we had to start our whizz-bang tour of Europe if we were to make it to England by Christmas. After a warm farewell when the workers set off to work, we spent an hour or so cleaning and reorganising Bluebelle. We figured the roads we’d be travelling on couldn’t have anything near the dust that we’d encountered in Africa. Sometimes it was so thick inside Bluebelle we felt as if we were inside a working vacuum cleaner! Soon she was shipshape again and we were ready to set off. Now it was also time to say goodbye to Tom and Klaus. They had several more months of travel time, which they planned to spend on Turkey’s coastline. They have been great travel partners and we hoped to see them again sometime soon. Tom gave us his brother’s address, so we could pop into their farmhouse on our way through Germany.
We skipped the toll roads, taking instead a route through winding picturesque mountain roads. Great craggy peaks loomed around us, decked in deep green pines. The roads were in excellent condition and there was little traffic, so it was an easy and pleasant drive. We were impressed that a road marked ‘main road’ on the map actually did mean a well maintained main road; we must have left Africa! The further north we got, the more the temperature dropped. We also noticed how quickly the day ended and darkness set in. With Luke still feeling under the weather, we decided to stop early and rest up. We found a little roadside ‘Otel’ in Pozanti where we were able to negotiate a little on the price. Away from the main road, the village buildings climbed the nearby mountain. Below all the colourful houses wound one main street of little shops and quiet, unassuming restaurants. The men stretching out and topping Turkish pizzas (pide) in one restaurant window caught our eye. It was a family run affair, with a menu of just two options. We settled on the sujuklu (Turkish salami) pide and were not disappointed. Happily full, we took Bluebelle back to our Otel to get an early night.
Both now having colds, the next morning we took the opportunity to sleep in and enjoy the warmth of our hotel. Breakfast didn’t materialise so we popped into the grocery store downstairs to get something we could eat on the way. Turkish food is fantastic, so it wasn’t hard to find some nice titbits for breakfast. One of the best finds was a jar of chilli/capsicum pesto stuff that tasted amazing on soft Turkish bread with our Egyptian baramilli cheese.
As we drove north, the temperature continued to drop. It was surreal to think just a week or so ago we were in the Egyptian deserts. The green hills around us wore caps of snow. We decided to join the toll roads and passed tall snow-capped mountains, detoured around Ankara, Turkey’s colourful legoland capital, before finding ourselves a roadside hotel in Bolu. Next door two men manned a brightly lit little wooden shack selling kofte. We dined there, enjoying the kofte rolls and sweet black glasses of Turkish tea.