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The International Writers Magazine: Turkey:

A Howling Moon
Sean Hastings

A full moon languidly rises over the remnants of Berlin Wall. Thick and heavy, haloed with the promise of impending rain. Full like my thoughts of the glorious times which take wing through my mind in this clockless hour before dawn. I left Turkey for Greece due to financial considerations but promised that I'd be back to sink my soul into the wealth of knowledge abundant within those borders. And what wealth I found...
I had spent a month in Greece, or Rhodes to be exact, not really knowing what to expect but with a realization that I had to work myself silly in order to further the adventures. There is not a lot to say about that month in all honesty. The town in which I found employment was called Feliraki. A place that is a pre-pubescents' package holiday paradise and according to a British travel agent website, the cheapest holiday available at the time. I will let you imagine the chaos that disembarked each time a plane landed.

However, there were some golden moments amidst the brutish behavior. My accommodation for the duration was on a plot of land affectionately known as 'The Farm'. Run by an elderly couple whose generosity and understanding during the initial time spent there will never be forgot. A cute white-washed, single story building surrounded by grapevines and no air conditioning where one had to handwash ones own clothes.

Upon arrival I found myself in the company of Jimmy and Dave. Working the summer, causing their own brand of chaos and biding their time before they headed to Thailand to start their very own venue. They were each others perfect sidekicks, but together, formed a larger than life superhero. And Megan. Embodiment of patience and giver of sanity. An extraordinarily talented waitress, whose stories of South Africa gave me a new adventure to seek out in the future. The hospitality industry has its own set of rules in a town like Feliraki and those to whom these rules are second nature find themselves held in highest regard by myself. My thanks to all who kept the light at the end of the tunnel shining through times that were trying at their best.

So, at the end of my month in exile, I found myself standing on the dock of a bay, ticket for my return in hand, itching to be flying across the waters of the Mediterranean aboard the hydrofoil aptly named 'The flying Poseidon', sad, once again, to be leaving people well met but finding an abundance of joy in the journey that lay before me.

It was a slight surprise that awaited me when I found myself back in Turkey. I remember as a child, arriving home after a holiday of any length of time, the smell of home. I don't mean the particular smell that a house acquires when you've lived in it for a time. But the smell of comfort. A scent that speaks of solace and sanctuary. A place where you can indulge in the memories of the time spent away. As I walked through the now familiar streets of Fethiye, it was this feeling that came over me. In truth I had not expected it in any way. Am I not a traveler? A seeker of sights never beheld by these eyes? A soul with no four walls to call home? Indeed I am all of these, but home is where the heart is, or so the cliché goes and for the briefest moment I indulged in the thought of staying. But, you see, the recipe of adventure was again being poured into my reasoning and was filling me with too much anticipation to linger. So, bidding Fethiye adieu, payed my pittance for a bus ride up the coast and attempted to squash my 6'3" frame into what seemed the smallest seat imaginable. For 10 hours.

My first stop was Pamukkale. Everyone will know the Pools of Pamukkale from the photos that adorn nearly every publicity poster and postcard for Turkey. Terraced pools of blinding white crystal that spill down the mountainside and which have been known for their curative properties since the Graeco-Roman times. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to explore this wonderland as I had to place my merged cheeks on the next bus to Ephesus which I had stupidly pre booked. The recipe for adventure, I think, at this point was going to my head as I really could have done with those curative properties at that stage.

At Ephesus I found the entrance clogged with buses bearing the thousands of tourists that visit this ancient site each day. You see, I had managed to land myself in Turkeys' peak season. As of August 1st, all ticket prices double seemingly in direct proportion to the number of tourists. Now, this isn't as bad as it may seem for the budget conscious backpacker. You see, when there are so many people around, it is rather easy to attach yourself to the back of a tour group and be gifted with a free information session! It was later that night as I sat on the balcony of the hostel, surrounded by the smell of Iskander simmering (a delicious mix of lamb laid over Turkish pide and soaked in spices) and apple tobacco smoking, talking to James Rietveld, a world renowned archaeologist, that I realized just how little the guides knew for themselves. Just how I came to be sitting next to someone like James, drinking beer and listening for hours to topics that usually cost someone US$150 per hour, I still find amazing.

After another bus ride whereby I felt as though I would never walk upright again, I arrived in Canakkale. Canakkale isn't that well known but it is from this port that you catch the ferry to Gallipoli. The sight of the infamous battle which temporarily dethroned Winston Churchill, almost wiped out an entire generation of Australias' and New Zealands' young men and immortalized Mustafa Kemal or Ataturk as he later became known. Now, I have called Australia home now for the last 14 years and, although I have never been nationalized, it is the longest time I have ever spent in a single country. Because of this, and also due to my impressionable yet brief time spent in Turkey, I feel that I have a certain affinity with the deeds that took place on this sliver of land. So here I was, slowly making my way across the Dardanelles, completely uncertain and unprepared as to how I would feel about being there.
1915 was a long time ago and truth be told, I have no relatives that fought and died there. But, none the less, I found myself touched by the magnitude of the wretchedness experienced in this place. It still lingers on the beach front, in the rolling hills and even without seeing the 30+ graveyards that are scattered over the island, you know that something unspeakable once took place here. Once again I decided to negate an organized bus tour and thought to myself that if the people who fought here didn't have it easy then why should I spend all day being herded in the comfort of air conditioning.

The landscape where the Anzacs landed is brutal to say the least. Steep cliffs rise suddenly from the beach where the troops had to clamber up, loaded with gear and under constant fire from the 'enemy' troops. It was also almost the height of summer so the temperatures were soaring. In retrospect, hiking for roughly 25 km in the midday sun with little shade, frying myself to a crisp and walking myself into dehydration regardless of the amount of water I drank, was still and easy feat by comparison.

One thing that Gallipoli showed me though is that, at the end of the day, there was a conflict that essentially for the Anzac's, bought success from defeat.. It bought to the fore an awareness of each other and in this awareness, solidified a mutual understanding in the respect toward life and honor.
Here is something that I read at the memorial at Anzac Cove which struck a chord with me: "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives.. you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehments where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." - Mustafa Kemal

'Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built' – Brompton Oratory, Nick Cave and the Badseeds'

And so the final leg of my journey through Turkey began. I had come full circle and was curious to revisit Istanbul and see the city through eyes that weren't as naive as my initial visit. The thing to remember about Istanbul is that, no matter how often you visit, it will constantly hold you in thrall. It's majestic magnitude, it's intense historical past and it's sheer vibrancy will never be something you become complacent with. It is romantic and fanciful but it will put a realist to shame. It is bustling and many faced, but within its boundaries you will find that it harbors tranquility. It is a city that has a stern, hard exterior yet with a soft, tender heart that is loose limbed and laughing and brazen in bed, all at the same time.

With tears threatening which stemmed from the same emotions as when I landed, I took my leave, completely forgetting about the mammoth task that greeted me at customs upon arrival. Here's a survival tip for Ataturk airport; always make sure you arrive at the airport two hours before the required two hours prior to check in time. I once said, 'everything can happen in Turkey if you are prepared to wait a few hours'. As far as I know, planes don't wait that long and I found myself trying to beat my own 400m record only this time weighed down with 5kg of luggage. I don't think I fell asleep as much as passed out when I finally got my seat and was woken a few hours later by the chorus of clapping. It was something I had never heard before, the passengers were congratulating the pilots. I'm still not sure if I should have been worried about this fact. Giving the situation a healthy dose of cynicism, but joining the chorus anyway, I felt that there was some doubt in my fellow travelers about our ability to touch down safely.

Looking out from my window I could see the sky's' underbelly caressing the church steeples with their dank, drenching touch. The mystery and the beginning of a new adventure dwelled within it's chilly embrace.

© Sean Hastings October 2008

See also The Drive to Olympos by Sean Hastings

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