Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Izmir – Istanbul, Turkey, Day 240 – 247, 1 – 7 December, 2008

Izmir – Istanbul, Turkey

Day 240 – 247

1 – 7 December, 2008

409km

Total: 26,321

Soundtrack:

‘Cold Turkey’ – John Lennon

‘Waiting’ – Tiddas

‘Turk’ – Dirty Three

‘Waiting For The Man’ – The Velvet Underground

‘Young Turks’ – Rod Stewart

‘Waiting All Day’ – Silverchair

‘Bureaucrat Song’ – Hermes (Futurama)

‘Tired of Waiting for You’ – The Kinks

‘Shaking Paper’ – Cat Power

‘Waiting For a Miracle’ – Mighty Reapers

‘I’m Going Slightly Mad’ – Queen

 

After fond farewells to Jon and Jack Faine, who were heading west into Europe, we hit the road and aimed for Izmir. This would be our final driving destination on this leg, as we would here load the truck into a shipping container bound for Bangkok, while we would while away a few more days in Turkey and then India before it arrived.

I’ve been struggling with a slow leak in one tyre since we were in North America, but two separate tyre repairers, in two countries separated by the Atlantic Ocean, have been unable to locate or repair it. So, this means we grin and bear it, refilling the rogue tyre with air every few days. On our way out of Pamukkale we pulled into a somewhat deserted service station and I jumped out to do the tyre duties, only to discover the servo’s air compressor wasn’t working. This has been a common occurrence over the past few months, so, unsurprised, I climbed back into the truck and drove off in search of another option. Then, as I approached the road some thirty metres away along the servo’s driveway, something in the distance caught my eye in the rear-view mirror, and then I heard a scream from outside.

“D-a-a-a-d!”

In the distance was my seven-year-old son, Raffy, sprinting towards the truck, the look of anguish palpable, his eyes filled with tears, his face full of anger, distress and panic.

Raffy often helps with air and diesel filling tasks, but this time I hadn’t noticed him get out of the truck. And, somehow, he had gotten out of the truck on the same side as me and walked around the back of the truck to where I was, I replaced the defunct air hose and returned back around the truck, got in and drove off without seeing him at all.

And, somewhat bewilderingly, Maddy and Sandy hadn’t noticed him get out of the truck either. Needless to say, after his lightening-speed, sneaker-smoking sprint back to the truck I got out and, after he leapt at me like an attack dog, I held him very tightly for quite some time. It’s times like these your brain races and thoughts of ‘what if’ come thick and fast. What if I hadn’t been taught to check my mirrors before moving into traffic? What if I hadn’t heard him? What if he was stranded at some deserted petrol station in rural Turkey? How long would Maddy be engrossed in her book to realise that her brother wasn’t sitting next to her?

At any rate, a new rule was inaugurated in the hushed contemplation of the morning’s events as we trundled through Turkish back roads and villages. Raffy was to announce to us his intentions to get out of the truck but wouldn’t do so until he had been given a response. And since then, he often leads a role-call to ensure all and sundry are where they should be.

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(Pic: Driving in Izmir, Turkey)

SK: This was the most traumatic episode of our whole trip. Maddy and I just didn’t register the door opening and closing – we were engrossed in our own activities, and the sound was just ambient service station noise. I still find it unbelievable that three people, within the confines of a car, didn’t notice that one of their party was missing. I had my head in a map, Maddy’s was in a book, Danny’s eyes were on the road. It was only a matter of a minute or two until Raffy was safely back in the car, yet it took days to get over the feelings of anguish, and still I feel sick just thinking about it. Raffy, and Maddy, received many more cuddles than usual that day.

This was to be our last drive for some time, and it had begun inauspiciously. Fortunately, the day improved as we turned off the highway towards the mountains. 

DB: The calm and mostly vacant back roads east towards the Aegean gradually became more dense and chaotic until we found ourselves in the mayhem that is Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir. We had booked a small, centrally located hotel and Sandy had a rough idea of where it was, yet given our maps did not have a huge amount of detail of the city, there was some guess work involved. A few attempts, u-turns and near-misses with rascal taxi drivers and we found ourselves on a narrow, cobble-stoned street that was teeming with street vendors pushing rickety timber carts, pedestrians, cats and dogs, scooters and slow-moving cars and vans. Stopping outside the hotel left almost no room for anyone else to get past, but the hotel staff didn’t seem to mind. For locals, sitting in traffic and honking a horn seemed de rigueur. We quickly unpacked our luggage and fridge, and a hotel staff member drove with me up the street and into a secure car-park. In actual fact it looked more like a building site but I was assured that someone would be there to watch the truck day and night.

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(Pic: Driving towards our hotel, Izmir)

Steeped in Greek, Roman and Ottoman history dating back some 3,000 years, Izmir would prove to be a most friendly and picturesque locale. Our hotel was only a short distance from the Kemaralti – the old market place that is part produce provider for locals, part souvenir stockpile for tourists and part heaving pandemonium. Each shop or stall-holder touted assertively for business, each using the most common English phrase in the entire country: “Where you from?” Still, we had a ball wandering aimlessly through and around its many alleys, marvelling at the spectacle of brisk negotiation and trade as we sat and drank ‘çay’ (chai – strong, black Turkish tea in small tulip glasses), ‘elma çay’ (hot apple tea the kids love) and ‘Türk kavesi’ – the thick, aromatic shot of coffee that is a staple across much of the Middle East and Asia. Coupled with some ‘simit’ – bread hoops somewhat akin to bagels, a couple of pieces of Turkish delight, halva or baklava, we could sit for hours and watch the world go by. We passed on the ‘nargile’ tobacco water pipes but did enjoy making use of the ‘tavla’ (backgammon) sets at almost every restaurant and café. We often came back to the hotel for simple home-made lunches but did enjoy dinners of freshly caught fish and seafood, rice, vegies and salad.

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(Pic: Maddy shopping in our street in Izmir)

SK: Much to my delight, our hotel was not only a pleasant and well positioned venue, but also was steeped in local history, being the home of the father of this country’s most esteemed leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a revered statesman and most fascinating figure. His face is synonymous with modern Turkey, staring out with piercing eyes from statues, currency, books, framed prints in every workplace and so on; and his words are featured in numerous museums, historic sites and memorials. I have always associated this land with ancient names; Alexander, Priam, Constantine, and now I can contextualise a contemporary leader who has left his own indelible historical mark.

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(Pic: Raffy and Danny found an old printing press in Izmir – look closely in them mirror)

DB: We made contact with our shipping agent and arranged to meet at his office the next morning to begin organising the transport of the truck. We remained uncertain of its, or our, destination, given the world’s current turmoil that seemed to insist on conspiring against us. We had originally intended to collect the truck from Bangkok, but at present no planes were flying into or out of that city due to political demonstrations, threats of the entire port being shut down and general nationwide upheaval. We had also planned to spend some of the time in India while waiting for the truck’s arrival in Thailand, but even though that looked perilous, it wasn’t a priority decision.

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(Pic: ‘Bet Ilel’ synagogue, Izmir)

Izmir has a most novel system of street names, particular in the older section. Almost every street was numbered with four digits, not named, and sometimes, but not always, the numbers were consecutive. So, just when you think you’re heading in the right direction with cross-streets increasing or decreasing in number, all of a sudden a street is a few hundred out. It seems that only locals with an intimate knowledge of the lie of the land can determine where anything is. Thankfully we simply stumbled upon the right street and made our way up to the office.

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(Pic: Outside the hotel, Izmir)

We had been toying with the idea of changing our truck’s destination to ensure that it, and we, could arrive and hit the road again safely some time soon. But it seemed our choices were limited. Singapore was a possibility, but it was far from the areas of south-east Asia in which we wanted to travel and we had already driven from there to Bangkok six months ago. Cambodia was also an option but not recommended by our agent who suggested it could take weeks for the container to arrive and be cleared by customs.

All the while we were having these albeit stilted conversations using basic English and hand gestures with a number of workers at the shipping agent’s office and, while sipping tea, I was showing them our website on Donna, our laptop (West Wing reference). This was partly out of necessity as Tolga, our main contact and most helpful and kind go-between, needed to see what our truck looked like to ensure it would fit in the container, and part voyeurism by his colleagues. Still, it was an opportunity to hook up to a network and internet connection, which allowed us to check some news websites the while Tolga made some calls. And then, almost as an omen, the news popped up on the ABC website that Bangkok airport was to be opened again as the Thai Prime Minister agreed to step down. This finalised our decision – we, and the truck, were going to Bangkok.

Everyone was in a mild panic about getting the truck aboard a ship soon as a fast-approaching public holiday would see almost all businesses shut from the following Monday for at least a few days, if not the whole week. ‘Kurban Bayrami’ is an annual four-day festival when sacrificial sheep are slaughtered on the street and their meat distributed to family members and the poor. We had been warned by many not to venture out around this time as the streets got ugly, but we would be in cosmopolitan Istanbul by then – hopefully.

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(Pic: Repacking the truck before going to the port, Izmir)

It reminded me of the pre-Christmas hysteria at home that seemed to encompass all aspects of life (that is, getting things done before the holiday, not the street carnage, but maybe that too). Get it all done now as there’s no telling what might happen after the weekend. So, it was agreed that we would meet again with Tolga the following day and he, accompanied by his customs agent, Hafiz, would accompany us with the truck to the docks for final customs clearance and boarding.

And of course, this is where the fun started.

We’ve had no end of frustrations when loading or collecting our truck at various ports in various countries around the world, but this one would prove to be a doozy.

As per previous occasions, we had packed all of our roof-top gear – spare parts, camping equipment, spare clothes, books and school work – into the back seat of the truck. Given that the drive to the port was only ten minutes or so, we all climbed in, with Maddy and Raffy squeezed into a tiny space in the back. Sending the truck off by ship has always had a rather ceremonial and somewhat emotional air to it, so all the family were there to bid Trucky bon voyage.

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(Pic: Maddy and Raffy squeezed into the back of the truck on the way to the port, Izmir)

After initially parking the truck in the main car-park we were asked to move it down a crowded driveway for final customs inspection. Until now we had never had anything inspected other than a cursory glance and a couple of raised eye-brows. But negotiations between Tolga, Hafiz and a conga-line of officious bureaucrats with far too much time on their hands seemed to become a sport. Reams of paper were produced, stamped, stapled, signed, handed on, discussed, rejected, altered, re-signed, folded, submitted, opened, read, laughed about, copied, filed, retrieved and collated. A tea-lady wound her way past desks, printers, filing cabinets and idle workers delivering full tulip glasses and collecting empty ones. She had a small kitchen to the side, and it seems this was her entire job – providing tea for a dozen or so ungrateful technocrats.

Hafiz collected forms and letters from various officers and hand delivered them to others not metres away. They would often stare incredulously at the paperwork, roll their eyes and motion him towards someone else. Other times he would wait patiently at the desk or office door of some highly influential but usually poorly dressed administrator only for them to ignore him and walk straight past. It seemed that Hafiz couldn’t make too much of a fuss because his long-term job prospects depended on it.

Finally, after hours of sitting around in a stuffy office a middle-aged man in a crumpled suit and thick moustache asked to see the car.

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(Pic: Watch out  – man with a clipboard!)

The customs officer had a clip-board with a checklist, so obviously he was very important indeed. He walked around the truck, opening doors, writing down numbers, and actually kicking tyres. If I were selling a car to this bloke I would have immediately started thinking of a fat profit. He then asked to see under the bonnet. I was asked to point out this and that – turbo, air-conditioning, power-assisted brakes, chassis number, engine number, number of cylinders, all of which was actually documented in the carnet anyway, which made the entire process rather frustrating, if not redundant. He then wanted to see inside the truck, and promptly sat in the driver’s seat – an exotic location for a Turk, being on the right hand side of the vehicle. With his clip-board on his lap he gripped the steering wheel with both hands. I’m not sure what I would have done if he started making “broom-broom” noises, but to me it seemed this whole charade was a chance for him get his jollies. Still, we smiled politely.

By now we had attracted a crowd. Customs officials, armed security personnel, punters with their own customs dealings and sundry passers by congregated around the truck, passing hushed comment to each other and pointing to various vehicular aspects.

He then asked about the car stereo. Our original stereo was stolen en route from Darwin to Singapore, so we have always been careful to remove the front panel of the radio to ensure would-be thieves aren’t tempted to recreate history. But Mr Customs Man had other ideas. According to him, unless the stereo face was attached, it was no longer a stereo. I had buried the panel deep in the back of the truck, but he was unmoved. Without a stereo it would not satisfy the specific description of the truck in the carnet document, meaning potential trouble, and according to him, we had no stereo.

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(Pic: Maddy and Raffy tried entertaining themselves in the truck while we waited for something to happen at customs, Izmir)

 

So, I rummaged around the back, found the facia and reattached it. Now it is a radio. Loaves and fishes, water into wine. I felt all-powerful. Great for the ego. This was met with a tick of a box on his checklist, and we moved on.

More paper work and negotiation, and then the clincher. We were told to remove everything from the truck for further inspection.

The sun was getting as low as my brow. Our truck was packed to the gills with stuff and it would take at least an hour to unpack and repack the truck, spreading gear all over the driveway for all the spectators to ogle. I was having none of it. It was explained to me that there was no problem with the truck, it was our ‘personal belongings’. What was the problem? It seemed that because we were removing personal belongings from Turkey they needed to be accounted for. It appeared it didn’t matter that we didn’t need to account for things in our luggage back at the hotel, or that this wouldn’t be an issue if we simply drove out of Turkey, or, in fact, there would be no telling if the gear was ours or not. It also seemed that it wasn’t about ensuring we weren’t trying to be sneaky by smuggling anything out. It was just about our ‘personal belongings’. Eventually we came to a mutual agreement. I told him what was in the truck, he made a list, and I signed it. Six boxes of stuff, four pillows, some books, a tent, some extra stuff, sleeping bags, a fridge, blah blah blah. Done. What this proved was, well, I made up a dodgy list on the spot, forgot some of the important bits, and that was sufficient. Time to get the truck into a container.

All we needed now, we were told, was proof of our departure from Turkey.

Ex-squeeze me?

Your tickets.

We don’t have tickets.

You need proof you are leaving Turkey.

But we don’t have proof of our departure because we haven’t organised it yet.

But you need it.

Why?

To prove that you are meeting up with your ‘personal belongings’. Lawd, our personal belongings again. I was becoming a little concerned about their peculiar and perhaps disturbing fascination with our clothes and towels.

What difference is it that our personal belongings are going to Bangkok yet we don’t have tickets to fly out yet?

It just does.

What if we don’t have tickets?

Then the truck can’t be loaded onto the ship – which, incidentally, leaves tomorrow.

The dizzying heights to which bureaucracy can justify its own existence never ceases to amaze me. The best explanation I could get from anyone was that they needed proof that we were meeting up with our stuff. Not that they seemed remotely interested in us actually being reunited with our gear, that we had been travelling for eight months doing the same thing, that they weren’t passport control, only customs, or that it wouldn’t exactly be in our interest to just leave it all in some dark and dank warehouse in Thailand while we went somewhere else and forgot about it – let alone it being any of their business whether we collect our gear or not.

These were the rules.

The hour was late and it was agreed we proceed to another holding yard while the mess was being sorted in readiness for the car’s loading. We left the truck parked alongside a dozen or so broken or abandoned cars surrounded by broken glass and weeds, and got a lift back to the customs office when finally it was decided that it was too late to do anything more and we would have to reconvene the next day. Fine. Whatever. Let’s just get the truck and get out of here.

Not so fast. The yard where the truck sat was now locked and would remain that way until morning. We would need to leave it in some desolate port compound and pray that it was in one piece when we returned. I was not pleased.

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(Pic: Izmir market)

We walked back to Tolga’s office where Sandy got on to a computer and ‘booked’ plane tickets. In actual fact, we didn’t book anything – only got some travel website to provide us with a quote that looked like tickets. I suggested we ‘book’ first-class tickets to Bermuda or Tahiti, but Sandy thought it might look suspicious. The booking was printed out for Hafiz, the customs broker, who would take it back to the customs office in the morning. He was now schlepping around three, thick, identical files of paperwork pertaining to our truck and its currently imaginary shipment. At least one of us would meet back at Tolga’s office at 8.30am the following morning.

Next day, Raffy and I headed up to Tolga’s office only to find him struggling violently with a stubborn door lock. He was the first one there and was unable to make it budge. He made a few calls and eventually invited us to retire to a small café across the road until we could be rescued. A few more workers arrived, and even Raffy and I had a go, but the door wouldn’t budge. This was a problem because without access to the office we couldn’t get the required paperwork. Finally one worker with knowledge of the subtleties of the office door did the trick, and we all piled in.

Hafiz had prepared some more paperwork, this time requiring my signature to prove that, yes, this was my truck and yes, these were my personal belongings. It started to sound like a superfluous and everlasting paper-production merry-go-round, but I had stopped trying to make sense of it.

We headed back down to the port and began another wait. Hafiz recommenced where he left off, wandering around the large, open-plan customs office with files that required authorisation and forwarding. The files for which we were theoretically responsible almost required scaffolding to prevent anyone being crushed to death should they keel over. Raffy wondered if this was the reason there were so few trees in Turkey. Raffy, Tolga and I sat around and stared into space. We had some more tea and I got hold of a copy of the Guardian.

Raffy and I observed the customs workers some more. They were overtly full of disdain for being roused from their perfect slumber by these pesky Australians. Nobody was in any hurry. As my friend The Ghost would say, “service with a sneer.” Most of their effort was put to drinking tea and staring out to the massive container and cruise ships tied up to the dock. One woman spent the entire two days we were there checking real-estate websites, while others went outside for a smoke every five minutes – this being the only enclosed space we found in the entire country where the smoking ban was resolutely adhered to. Perhaps it was simply another method to keep from doing any work, and the real reason why the YouTube website is banned in Turkey – nothing would get done.

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(Pic: Maddy observes the ruins in Izmir)

We discovered the YouTube ban when Maddy and Raffy tried looking up some rock music videos. When trying to log onto the site in Turkey internet users are met with a Turkish message, which translates as: “Access to this site has been denied by court order!” It seems Greek and Turkish YouTube users had traded video insults over a few months, attracting much coverage in the Turkish press. Banning the site supposedly isn’t doing Turkey’s EU aspirations any good, though.

Then, almost out of the blue, Hafiz informed us that all was done and set. “Great!” I exclaimed, perhaps a little too excitedly. “Let’s get the truck into a container!”

Again, not so fast. The wharfies were on their lunch break.

“But it’s only 11am!”

We’ll have to wait.

Tolga took us out for lunch and we whiled away a few more hours until we could collect the truck from the locked compound. I was still apprehensive and wondered what we would do if the truck had been ransacked.

The truck was fine, of course, and prior to starting it up I had to sign some more papers, of course. One was acknowledging that I was in fact removing my vehicle from the compound and the other that I was removing – wait for it – my personal belongings! What was wrong with these guys – did they really want to see my stash of undies?

We finally headed out and followed some obscure directions past towers of shipping containers, dodging treacherous semi-trailer drivers and under some of those gigantic mobile container cranes. In a clearing was an open container. I drove it in, disconnected the batteries and watched the workers strap it in.

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(Pic: Yes! Danny drives the truck into the shipping container – finally)

And then it was done. Just under thirteen hours over two days to put a four-wheel-drive vehicle in a shipping container. Now we just had to hope the container would make it onto the ship so it could sail that night.

On a more favourable note, Raffy celebrated his eighth birthday with a showering of gifts, emails, phone calls and Turkish delights. 

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(Pic: Now eight year old Raffy celebrates with his choice of cake – Turkish sweeties!)

We spent a couple of extra days – making up for the ones lost hanging around wharfies and snivelling civil servants – in Izmir, wandering along the sea front, remnants of synagogues, the Agora ruins and generally relaxing. I was at once relieved to be able to take it easy for a while as the truck headed to Thailand and at the same time missing our capacity for independent travel. I was missing the road. Anyone who has travelled by road for a length of time will tell you that it can become quite addictive. Our time will come again soon, but for now travel will have to take a different form.

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(Pic: From the train to Istanbul)

We farewelled Izmir and took the train to Istanbul. Well, a bus for a few stations while the tracks were being repaired, the train to Bandirma and a ferry across the Marmara sea to Istanbul. Then, a taxi to a cozy apartment that would be home for the next two weeks.

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(Pic: Made it to Istanbul)

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4 Comments»

  Nene wrote @

What an amazing saga! If they made a movie of it people would think it’s far-fetched … Anyhow, glad the truck is on its way and hope there are no dramas at the other end. I think you must have learnt a lot about patience by now!

  David Taylor wrote @

David Taylor wrote @ Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Hi Guys, just back from Sydney this arvo. Had a ball with the family for 4 days over Chrissy. A bit tired though. Just read this blog. Lets just say ‘Murphy’s Law”
What a shamozzel. Common sense says, it should be harder to ‘get into’ a country, than ‘getting out’. Anyway, just more colour to add to this incredible adventure. Poor Raffy, if your family don’t want you anymore, don’t worry, there are heaps of people who will look after you. Only joking. LOL. Yet another great read.
Love to you all, David.
PS. recd your Festive greetings. Ta.

  Liz wrote @

Thank you for your wonderful descriptions of your travels – full of life, colour, sights and especially food. I have been reading them for months now but your experiences in Turkey and particularly Izmir were just wonderful and moved me to write – I am sure the whole saga of getting the vehicle in the ship was frustrating for you – but from my perspective it was better than any script could possibly be. You are able to put it into words that made me feel like I was there observing it all. I wish you a safe and happy journey. Enjoy – Liz

  Hilary wrote @

does sound like loading/unloading the car in various countries could provide material for a book of its own. glad raffy restored himself to the bosom of the family in time for his 8th birthday – clearly your scariest and most dramatic of the what-ifs to date.
now to read your next installment.
fondly
hilary


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