Burn Baby Burn

Winters grip has been slow to loosen on northern Turkey.  A sign just flashed past, Istanbul 200km.  Around midnight my bus will deposit me at a hastily booked hostel of which I don’t even know the name.  Yesterday was Anzac day.  I marked the day by not attending the dawn service at Anzac Cove.  The comfort of a bed was more appealing than a crowded twelve-hour wait outside in freezing conditions.  I salute those that made the pilgrimage.  Instead my time was spent bathing in the flooded trenches of Pamukkale and chasing my camera as it charged down the carbonate Cliffside to go for its own swim. As Anzac day came to a close I boarded a bus from Selcuk to Canakkale.  Running two hours late it arrived at the Canakkale port around 1.45am.  Cold and tired I made my way onto the ferry that then took me across to Eceabat.

Istanbul 169 km.

At 3am I walked into the windowless closet that was posing as a six-bed dormitory in Eceabat.  My bed, for the few hours of night left, was a top bunk that just happened to have everyone’s luggage and clothing strewn all over it.  The other five sleeping occupants weren’t overjoyed when I turned on the lights in order to clear it, somehow finding enough space on the ground for everything.  Finally climbing into bed, sleep escaped me.  Within five minutes a bullfrog snore vibrated through the room and acted as a focus for all my nasty thoughts of the day.  When, sometime later, I realised that I was trying to turn the snoring into a beat for a song in the hope that it would lull me into sleep, I took action.  In the pitch black I gingerly lowered myself from the top bunk, landing with a surprisingly loud crash.  At least the snoring had now stopped.  Retrieving the earplugs stowed in my backpack I climbed back into bed and plugged them in.  What seems like only moments later I woke up.  It was time to get ready and check out.  My post Anzac day Anzac tour started at midday.

…We have arrived in Istanbul.  At some point I fell asleep and now groggily stumble off the bus to find my nights accommodation. It’s midnight and I’m staying in a bar.  The bar lights are turned off and the rowdy crowd of Australian patrons have been rushed inside as police cars patrol the street ensuring no venues are operating outside of their midnight licences.   Sitting in the dark I am embarrassed by my countrymen as I listen to their overly loud inane prattle, while the owners continually plead with them to be quiet for just a few minutes until the cops have gone.

It has been a long and emotional day.  The post Anzac day Anzac tour was predictably filled with Aussies and Kiwis. As I walked the graves what stuck me hardest was the ages of those deceased; 21,25,18,23, 28 and so on and so on.  So young.  Many times I found my eyes brimming with tears, but never did one fall.  I’d shed my share a week earlier over another young mans life that was taken before his time.  Instead I began to feel angry.  What a waste of life; a disgraceful waste of life, which continues, in one form or another, everyday around the world.  Libya is massacring it’s own people.  Syria has now joined the party.  The self-immolation of a vegetable vender in Tunisia was a desperate act committed in protest for the freedom of a man’s family, his people and his country; fighting for a better future the only way he knew how.  Every day more atrocities; some we turn a blind eye to while others we oppose, often for the wrong reasons.

Yet Anzac day, April 25th, is a day Australians truly come together.  For a moment every year we all reflect back on the courage, mateship, and honour that each and every Digger exemplified, while also putting a face to the waste, horror and tragedy of war.  For a moment each year we promise to be become more than we are, learn from the mistakes of the past and to build a better future for our children.  For a moment.

Australia day in contrast, for me, is just a day to party, listen to music, drink and be overly loud and proud and Australian.  It’s unity and identity through brute force and fake tattoos.

Ataturk was commander of the 19th division and oversaw the defence of Gallipoli.  Had the allies crushed the Turks in the Gallipoli campaign then Turkish history would have been changed forever.  Ataturk’s successes on the battlefront led to his rise in power and his eventual forging of Turkey into a new united country from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.  Had he died at Gallipoli or been crushed in defeat this would never have happened.

Our defeat at Gallipoli, as devastating as it was, has done more in the long term to help create a true sense of identity, to define and, particularly in Turkey’s case, to build our two countries than any other event in the last hundred years.

Wonders of the ancient world

Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, I have seen your ancient wonders.  I have walked where Alexander The Great once walked, or there abouts.  I have passed wind in your great halls and thought impure thoughts in your most holy of temples.  With my newfound wealth of experience, I now take it upon myself to offer an unbiased look at a site from each of these countries.  Each site is considered magnifique! Unparalleled! A must see!

But words cannot describe the grandeur of these places.  Therefore I wont waste my dear readers time with trying to explain the privilege and awe I felt while performing a handstand upon the highest point at Baalbek – ancient stone and glorious snow capped mountains my only audience.

Nor, with something as constrained and unwieldy as the English language will I try to convey the astonishing size, breadth and beauty of Palmyra as I wandered its humbling ruins during sunrise.

For how could words, mere words, conjure the range of emotions I felt as I shoved my way through the hordes of invading tourists at Ephesus only to suddenly stumble as my gaze fell upon the graceful blue crane rising out from the Great Theatre.  Then with trembling legs, how I used my hand to steady myself against the lovingly restored ancient column, my fingers hesitant and probing as they were exposed to the gritty texture of the poor quality cement used in the authentic repairs.

In the face of my linguistic inadequacies and bereft of any other option, I can only hope that the pictures found herein will provide my dear reader with the essence of objectivity intended.

From Mykonos with love

The Mitchell Mafia spans the globe. When I arrived in London two years ago bare acquaintances who belonged to the mafia got me drunk, helped me find work and made London a welcoming new home. I now count them as dear friends.

This worldwide ragtag group consists of students and lecturers spanning decades who have walked, rolled and flipped their way through the rundown Classrooms of W9. It’s a very big extended family. A family whose siblings may fall out of touch with each other for years and who often don’t know their distant inbreeding cousins too well, but nevertheless are always willing and happy to help, in any way they can, any who have survived the crucible of Theatre Media and its closely interlinked Communication courses. At most, one degree of separation applies, with triumphs and tragedies collectively shared.

Over the weekend Blair Milan passed away from Leukemia. He suffered from a particular aggressive strand called acute Myeloid Leukemia and was only diagnosed with it mid last week. Family and close friends had little time to say goodbye due to the rapid deterioration of his condition since discovery of the disease.

He was only twenty-nine.

Blair was joining my university course as I decided to leave it. We got along well but never became close friends. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for years, yet I occasionally saw Facebook photos of him and heard of passing stories through our close mutual friends. Strangely the first memory that popped into my head of Blair was me joking with him about the ‘posh’ way I thought he poured glasses of wine during uni.  For his age he showed an uncommon and seemingly professional respect for a bottle of wine.  At the time I was an uncouth country boy with no appreciation for wine and was accustomed to drinking it straight from the cask as fast as I could – often chasing it with a glass of coke. Thankfully I have since become more cultured.

I struggle with the concept of having the world at your feet one week and then the following to be confined to a hospital bed, a host of machines the only thing keeping you alive.  And then silence.

My discovery of Blair’s passing occurred while updating my Facebook profile with the crucially important information that I was annoyed because the trackpad on my six-month-old MacBook pro had failed.  The world was now a better place for knowing about my scrolling difficulties. Sometimes, Facebook, I hate you so so much. Hey! maybe that should be my next status update.

My thoughts go out to a grieving family I’ve never met and a bunch of amazing and beautiful people who all lost a special part of their lives over the weekend. Treasure the time you have and the people you are lucky enough to spend it with.

Blair’s close friends have already set up a trust to gather donations for leukemia research through www.livingyears.com/blair-milan as well as throwing support behind the London Bikeathon www.beatbloodcancers.org/get-involved/london-bikeathon.  A party in his honour is being organised. The support, dedication and positivity in the aftermath of this tragedy not only shows how deeply people cared for Blair and how he in turn touched their lives, but also gives an insight into the rare kind of person Blair was.

As a failing agnostic I’ve always been open to the concept of believing. I’d love to believe that Blair has moved on to a better place for reasons we mere mortals aren’t privy to.  But no parent should ever have to helplessly watch their child die and only a spiteful hate-filled god would let that happen.

My holiday spirit has fled and I’ve found myself seeking solace in a bottle of greek wine – poured skillfully through years of practice – into a plastic cup. Tonight I raise my cup in salute to Blair, to shared grief, to family, to friends near and far, to community, to good memories, to life and to the living of it.

From Mykonos with love.

Santorini

My fingers, slowly freezing, were gripped onto the handlebars with such force as to bleach them white.  A panicked yet giddy grin was plastered across Frank’s face as he held on for dear life.  Wind tore at the both of us as I accelerated into the mountain climb.  The engine was redlining as potholes, a badly graded road and my general inability and inexperience to control our recently hired vehicle all conspired to try and throw us off the cliff edge.  I swung into a corner and almost lost control, for a moment thinking we were going over.  It was clear from the noises Frank was making that his confidence in our survival had already plunged into the sea below.  Well, if we weren’t going to make it, I was going to ensure that we made one hell of a spectacular exit.

Boys and their toys and the need for speed.

I like to go fast. I like to push thing as far as I can and find my limits, whether internal or external.  If no one lost an eye or broke a bone then obviously not enough fun was being had.  Occasionally I push things just a little too far and in this particular instance I forgot for a moment that not only my safety but also the safety of my passenger, Frank, was at stake.  As we crested a rise the afternoon sun hit me full force as simultaneously the stunning vista of the Baxedes landscape was revealed.  For a moment I was distracted, almost missing an upcoming blind corner.  Adrenaline, and Franks warning saved us both as I barely managed to keep us on the road while also avoiding an oncoming vehicle.  Fearless, I accelerated more.  We hit the next rise at an incredible fifteen kilometres an hour.  Our four wheel ATV with it’s two-stroke lawnmower motor was not living up to expectations.

With the promise of only one glorious day of weather in Santorini, Frank and I decided to see it all.  We walked the black sand beach of Perissa and looked longingly at the red beach, wishing that it was warm enough to swim.  The Lighthouse at Faros, the precincts of Emporio, Pyrgo, Fira and Oia all cowered in fear as we roared past in our chariot.  We visited the Greek/Nikon experimental breeding grounds in Oia and can confirm that the Korean clones are in deed prospering, but that their overly large camera lenses will never compensate for other shortcomings.

To end the day we walked to a beautiful deserted cliff near Megalochori and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean.

And then it fucking rained!

I write this update as a symphony of raindrops dance across the recently filled hostel pool.  An occasional stray droplet streams across my smudged laptop screen.  Free internet access requires enduring not only wearing many layers of clothes but also sitting outside in weather that is more common in London and the Antarctic.  My budgie smugglers are sadly still packed away deep in my luggage – thousands silently cheer.

Maybe I should get a Tramp Stamp

My travel plans have become a little haphazard since leaving Olympos. Up until Olympos I’ve always had a clear yet flexible route in my mind consisting of shit that I really dig and wanna see and shit that I wouldn’t pay a bucket of piss for. Oh and lately my language skills have been deteriorating as my Australian heritage proudly rears its ocker head.

Within seven to ten days I expect to be in Istanbul, the problem is I’m having trouble getting enthused about those intervening days. Me thinks a bout of travellers fatigue is setting in. I’m over seeing ruins and don’t really care anymore about the mysterious Lycian people and their need to build a million tombs – how bored were they! There is also only so many average olives and flavourless cucumbers that I am willing to eat for breakfast. What I wouldn’t give for some good Asian food and some bacon. Asian food wrapped in bacon! Asian food wrapped in bacon wrapped in KFC! I just simultaneously drooled on my laptop – and wet my pants.

Since getting to Turkey I’ve been very lucky in constantly meeting good travelling companions. Which brings me to a point I raised in a previous post, the difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve been travelling alone again for the last few days. Late on Tuesday afternoon I arrived in Oludeniz and while Oludeniz was pretty, it was also very quiet. The inhabitants consisted of locals getting ready for the tourist season and burnt middle-aged English women sporting tramp stamps and leathering up their hides on the beach while their litters were running amok with footballs and alcohol. Their husbands, not sober or fit enough to venture far from the hotel sports bars with 42inch plasmas were sitting around staring at the bottom of their beer mugs and pondering where their youth had gone (I can only assume this about the husbands as I didn’t actually see any of them…)

The point being, I got to Oludeniz and for the first time in a while I was really lonely. Walking along the sea front to the sound of waves crashing on the pebbly shore, as the sun dipped behind the mountains setting the sky on fire wasn’t the serene experience it should have been. I didn’t want to go all Tom Hanks on the beach over the next few days or spend the nights alone in my cabin with nothing better to keep me company than my boringly predicable thoughts and an avid appreciation of my ambidextrous abilities (dorm rooms can take their toll). So in the morning I got out of there as quickly as I could.

The next day was spent making my way to Bodrum on public transport. Bodrum is actually quite nice without the summer crowds. Frank, a mate who I travelled with the other week was going to be there for a few days and suggested that I come and join him. So I did.

Sometimes you desperately need time alone, time with your own thoughts and your own stupid man feelings. Time to breathe. Other times the reality or even the idea of being alone can alternatively scare you shitless or bore you to tears. Boredom was more of a problem for me. Boredom exacerbated by an overwhelming choice of options confounding my oft non-committal decision making abilities.

Tomorrow Frank and I are heading to the Greek islands for a week. The weather report – cold. Yay decsions! Boo weather!

My afternoon has been spent in Bodrum going through photos, writing this update and planning parts of my trip over the coming two months. All of these activities would have been perfect to conduct in the peaceful solitude offered at beautiful, relaxing, boring, ‘Tramp Stamp’ Oludeniz. But seriously? For the moment solitude is definitely not what I need, so screw that!

Turkish Adventures

Things have slowed down considerably since I left Syria.  Predictably so have my blog updates.  I have now been in Turkey just under two weeks and arrived at Kas earlier today.

My wife beater tan is coming along nicely.  I am also well on the way to sobriety due to the high price of alcohol (from a cheap-arse backpackers point of view who only drinks beer if he must).  The same brand of vodka is about two times more expensive than in London.   Thank you increasingly non-secular Turkish government!  To deal with the sobriety issue I have treated myself to a bottle of vodka.  The ‘cheap’ bottle of vodka I found is equal in cost to approximately one and a half nights of accommodation.   Tonight I’ll be sleeping on the beach, or in a gutter, depends how said vodka goes.

The soaring fairy towers in Cappadocia were otherworldly and their long dead inhabitants were fit little bastards.  The underground Hittite city with its never-ending tunnels was a claustrophobic giants worst nightmare.  Whereas I like small, damp, dark passages and had a merry old time.  And they laughed at my headlamp!  Our tour guide smelt like stale urine and alcohol.  I didn’t notice this and had everyone else point it out to me, which led me to believe that either my sense of smell sucks or I also smell like stale urine and alcohol.

I took a bunch of non-mountain bike riders on a mountain bike ride up into the Cappadocia valleys.  It wasn’t for the faint of heart or the vertically challenged and proved a little difficult for half of them.  One Aussie chick demanded status as an honorary man for surviving the ride with only minor abrasions to a third of her body.  Only one bike had capacity to hold water bottles so all five of us put ours in there.  After ten minutes of uphill riding the person in charge of the water had drank almost every bottle dry.  We are all firm friends now (as facebook can attest to).  Continued friendship is conditional on me never taking them on a bike ride again.

When I got to Olympos I was getting a bit sick of the fact that no one was rioting, touting, pick pocketing or generally making my life harder and helping to get my adrenaline pumping.  To compensate for this I decided to do a tour and walk around the roman bath ruins naked.  Which I filmed.  The next day I then decided I hadn’t recorded an adequate ending to my naked tour and so I proceeded to walk around the ruined castle, naked.  Again which I filmed.  It was cold and all, but seriously even I was embarrassed by the size of my willy.  My naked tour of Olympos video, in which my willy didn’t make the final cut, has been released to the Facebook friends audience with positive reviews.  THEY ARE LAUGHING WITH ME DAMN IT!!!!

Just take a moment to picture this scene.  Unshaven dirty thirty something year old white man with camera in old roman ruins.  Man takes out camera and sets it up while looking around suspiciously.  Man then quickly drops all his clothes and runs in front of camera where of all things he starts walking around and talking.  Man then stealthily (HA!) moves off camera and puts clothes back on in such haste that he almost falls on his arse.  Man then looks at camera, shakes his head and then repeats all of the above steps.  Man has very sore feet at conclusion of filming and is also sure that someone somewhere has been watching, talking photos and laughing their own lily-white arse off at this ridiculous scene.

My arse is so white, that this one time, it tried to lynch me.

Yesterday I hired a mountain bike to ride around Olympos.  After seven kilometres of uphill insanity I was questioning my decision to not bring any water while also concluding that yes indeed Turkey if Fraking hilly!  On the downhill speed-o-thon back I marvelled at the variety and frequency of potholes and the general low quality of the road, while simultaneously being confused by the logic and fearful of having quality disc brakes on my front wheel and questionable old school back brakes on my rear wheel.  The certain knowledge that the Australian police would have totally pulled me over by now and fined me for not wearing a helmet was an idle thought.

Grandad Kas (I’m staying in Kas so the family gets that name) just tried to fix a chair by hammering in a screw until it snapped off.  Father Kas has since come up and demonstrated how a screw is different than a nail.  I would have helped but I’m busy drinking cheap vodka, writing this update and looking after a random baby whom I’ve tied safely to the balcony.

Titbits

A warning to those with cocaine habits and milk allergies – Supposedly the best and most common way to turn one kilogram of cocaine into two is to cut it with lactose powder. A Jordanian born, American raised ex-drug dealer-ex-convict-on-the-run informed me of this fact as he and his uncle took me on an impromptu tour of Damascus. Each time he told me to take a photo I diligently obeyed.

 

While completely different, being alone and being lonely are still two sides of the same coin. As a solo traveller you learn to appreciate this distinction immensely and also to a greater extent than at most other times in your life.

 

Condoms, hair gel, tripods, electric toothbrushes and pre-emptive prescription medicine all waste valuable bag space on extended trips. Furthermore never travel with a 17inch laptop!

 

My goal for 2011 is to be able to run again. Not long distance and not even at any great speed. But just to be able to run pain free for even a few minutes without fear of causing damage that will require another operations would be such an amazing achievement.

 

The more tourists in a location the less I manage to submerge myself in the culture, food and people.

 

The three certainties of life have been updated and now are;
1. Taxes
2. Death
3. Every hostel in the world will have an Australian in it

 

After further random discussions with Syrian men it seems that sex with their wives is an unwelcome duty, whereas cheating and having sex with other women or regularly rubbing one out for mates or random male strangers is where the real fun is at. Telling your wife what truly turns you on is viewed as humiliating, so many Syrian men seek their fetish satisfaction elsewhere.  I’m sure this is less widespread than they made it sound, but, each to their own.

 

Since travelling through Lebanon and Syria, Turkey now feels too relaxed and turmoil free for this adrenaline junkie. Syrian food is also better!

 

After a great few days in Cappadocia my last will be a quite one as the weather is crappy and I’m bloody tired and a little sick. Tonight I take an overnight bus to Antalya with two other travelling companions. Tomorrow night I try out my first Couchsurfing experience.

 

I think I should wash my clothes more often. I doubt I will.