Week 1 of our 26 week epic tour was off to a slow start in Istanbul. Due to a hiccup at the Iranian Embassy for several of our fellow passengers, we had a few unexpected extra days in Istanbul. So we made the best of it by getting our Uzbek visas (a pricey $160), doing a bit of sightseeing, and taking care of last minute stuff. After much anticipation, we finally got to meet Habibi, our home for the next few months. We all breathed a sigh of relief once we finally departed Istanbul….whooo hooo! The trip begins!! First week highlights ranged from Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus and Pamukkale. We are off to a great start so far, and the weather is finally starting to warm up a little. Currently, the truck only has 15 passengers, so we have plenty of space to lounge about. This will change later in the trip when others join the truck in Bishkek. We have happily discovered that our food budget on this overland trip is higher than what we had during the Trans-Africa, which means better quality and more variety…yay!
21 April 2016 – In the afternoon, we checked out of the amazing Herton Hotel and took a taxi to the Orient Hostel in Sultanahmet where we met Kate (Oasis tour leader) and dropped off our gear in the dorm room 60 which was the girls only dorm…lucky Robby! Had free time until group meeting at 6 pm where the discussion was the Iran visa crisis. Apparently this morning the group tried to get visas but the Embassy was closed due to a holiday. So the decision was left up to the group whether they wanted to attend Anzac day on 25 April and then rush back to Istanbul to apply for visas on Tuesday (26 April). The consensus was that the dawn service would be full of drunk Aussies and we could explore it the day after on our own without the circus atmosphere. That meant we had an extra day in Istanbul to kill some time. Since we had done the touristy bit last year, neither of us was excited to have yet another day here but at least it gave us some time to get caught up on admin stuff. We met our roommates (Gill, Helen, & Connie) and Robby jokingly asked if anyone in the room snores. Connie said that she did snore a little, but she said that Helen had woken her up with a light snore the night before. Hmmm, we were a little concerned about what we were getting ourselves into!
22 April – Aaaah, the snoring situation strikes! At around 2 AM, Robby couldn’t stand it anymore, so he grabbed his earplugs and an iPod. Since the earplugs didn’t help much, he had to swap to his iPod to create some background noise so he could sleep. Becky covered her head with a pillow, but it didn’t help very much. Needless to say, we were both tired after our first night with roommates in the hostel. Those of us who needed Uzbek visas had a early breakfast and piled into taxis for the long ride out of town to the Uzbek embassy. Upon arrival, Kate discovered that the Embassy had recently moved, but their website still had the old address. We negotiated a with the drivers to take us to the new location and were on our way again. There was rumor that the embassy has very limited operating hours, but we arrived with plenty of time to get everyone through and they agreed to allow Kate to pick-up everyone’s passports in the afternoon so we did not all have to come back. To our surprise, everyone else was paying $80, but for some reason, Americans had the steep price of $160. But, to be fair, we had much cheaper Iranian visa than most of the others (60 Euros compared to 270 Euros).
After leaving the Uzbek embassy, we stopped in a nearby mall for some lunch and a look around with Lars. There was an electronics store where we found one of those two-wheeled hover-board scooters sitting out for customers to try. With his snowboarding background, Robby found it quite easy to zoom around the store right away. Becky and Lars had a little more trouble, but fortunately no one fell as you often see in so many Youtube videos. We had lunch at the mall and took the metro back towards the center and had a nice walk back to the hostel. In the evening we met the group for dinner at the Palatium Restaurant, which is known for it’s old underground palace underneath.
Robby had a great sleep with his iPod playing all night, but Becky endured another long night of snoring.
23 April – We spent most of the day relaxing in the hostel and only going out for a short stroll across town to our favorite diner kebab shop. On the way back from lunch we were taking photos and some local students approached us and asked us to sing a few verses of a famous Turkish song. It was for a school project that required stitching together several tourists making an attempt to sing in Turkish. We tried our very best but definitely butchered the song! Back at the hostel we decided to have our own happy hour in Ichiyo’s room, where Becky discovered empty beds. She decided to swap rooms so that she could get a peaceful sleep. Unfortunately, it was a girls-only dorm, so Robby was stuck with his iPod for the night.
24 April – Today was another lazy day just relaxing at the hostel, only going out for food and catching up on last minute activities before the start of ‘truck life’ tomorrow.
25 April – After several days in Istanbul we were anxious to get on the truck and get on with the trip. Becky and Ichi went on a quick run to the Grand Bazaar to find some happy pants (comfy, one size fits all pants that cost only 10 Lira each). By 1 pm, Kyle (driver) pulled up with the truck and we immediately grabbed our locker and stored our gear. It was nice to meet Habibi…our home for the next few months! From Istanbul we drove directly to Eceabat where we stayed at the Boomerang Bar. Since we had an ultra late arrival, Kate arranged for the staff to prepare us a BBQ dinner (yay!). All we had to do was put up our tent in the dark, eat, and get some shut eye as Kate had volunteered to make breakfast for everyone in the morning.
26 April – Today is an early start ( 5:30 breakfast, ready to go by 6 am)! The reason we were getting up so early? Today we were visiting Gallipoli. Our guide was excellent and had tons of knowledge to share with us. He set the scene for why Gallipoli remains so embedded in the hearts and minds of Australians and New Zealanders. It was a fascinating visit despite the horrible rainy weather. By lunch time, we were back in Eceabat where cook group 1 (Gungi, Dya, Connie) went shopping. The rest of us had free time to explore, enjoying the excellent war memorials in the city. From Eceabat, we took the ferry over to Canakkale, crossing the Dardanelles Straits. Then we drove in the direction of Troy (some folks visited but we gave it a miss since entrance was a pricey 25 Lira and lots of imagination was needed to appreciate this ancient city). We did get a quick photo of the wooden horse just past the entrance, but we felt there was no reason to visit since there will be lots of much better ruins at other sites we will visit. Afterwards, we drove onward towards Selcuk, stopping to find a suitable bush camp. We were delayed slightly by an accident on the road (driver of a large freight truck must have fallen asleep and gone off the road..only a 45 minute delay thankfully!). Eventually, we pulled up to an area that had bush camp potential and went to check it out. The olive tree orchards had recently been plowed and a suspicious land owner followed our truck on his motorbike so our first potential camp site was a complete bust. But then we got lucky and found a quarry where the super friendly owner bear-hugged Daniel (older French guy) and helped everyone put up their tents. He only spoke Turkish, so we could not communicate, but there were lots of smiles and thumbs-up. The puppy here was fun to play with and she slept on our “porch” that night, acting as our personal guard dog. Dinner was a vegetarian mix on rice.
27 April – Today we were heading to Selcuk, where we planned to stay 2 nights. We pulled up to the very posh Atilla’s Getaway and found out that they had recently lowered the entranceway, so the truck couldn’t pull in. The kind owner (Atilla himself) offered to upgrade all of us for free! With a swimming pool, bar, wifi, hot showers and private rooms, we were all loving the feeling of being spoiled! Cook groups 2 and 3 had to go shopping today at the local weekly market in Selcuk. The fresh produce at the market was dirt cheap and we were able to buy loads with our budget (3 chickens, tons of fruits and vegetables, cheese, yogurt and bread!). Back at the hostel, a Busabout group of young Australians pulled up (about 15 drunk guys and girls), making for a lively time at Atilla’s. Some of us went for a dip in the freezing pool, but it was nice after the first minute. Anthony was contemplating a swim when Dya forced him in. Later Dya and Robby also assisted Kate into the pool (still fully clothed). She was a good sport about it, but she will surely get her revenge in due time. Cook group 2 (Anthony, Gill, Scuba Gill) made a lovely meal of chicken and tomatoes served with potatoes…yum! After dinner we huddled around a nice fire and Kate got out the Oasis-provided GoPro to start recording our adventures.
28 April – Free day in Selcuk, so we planned to explore Ephesus right when it opened up at 8 am. Kyle offered to drive us there, and we were the first in line (40 Lira entrance to the main site, 20 Lira for the Terraced Houses). It was surprising that we had Ephesus to ourselves for almost an hour before any other tourists showed up! Phenomenal as we remembered, especially the library. Next up was the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Ancient wonders of the world, but only a lone standing column and some other rubble in a duck pond remain. We split from the group and ended up with Helen, Ichiyo and Kevin to explore the Basilica of St John and Ayasuluk Fortress (10 Lira) before grabbing an amazing lunch of Selcuk meatballs (a local specialty) at a restaurant. Then we hopped on a bus to Sirince for some fruit wine tasting and ended up with 3 bottles (25 Lira each) of delicious fruity wine (Melon, Blackberry and Plum). Back at Atilla’s, Becky had time to do laundry before cook group duties while Robby relaxed by the pool. Cook group 3 consisted of Becky, Ichi and Andy and they made chicken stir fry with rice noodles. After dinner, Atilla had another fire built and allowed us to drink our fruit wine at the bar and loaned us some skewers to roast marshmallows over the fire. He is a super cool guy with a fabulous hotel set up…we sure hope that business improves for him because tourists just aren’t visiting Turkey anymore due to the recent spate of suicide bombings.
29 April – From Selcuk we had a short drive to Baydil Camp just outside the bottom entrance to Pamukkale’s white mountain. We arrived at around 2 pm (stopping enroute so that cook group 4 – Robby, Lars, and Helen could shop). They made spag bol for lunch. Some of us enjoyed the campsite’s water slides for a few before hiking up to Pamukkale around 4 pm. Entrance was 35 Lira, pricey but worth it for a dip in the hot springs and the amazing amphitheater at Hierapolis! We planned to have a sunset picnic at the top of the hill overlooking the the white pool formations, but it was too cloudy for a proper sunset. On the walk back down the hill, we met some friendly Turkish soccer players and took photos with them in one of the pools. Dinner was cook group 3’s salad and tzatziki sauce with bread, which Kate had carried all the way up and then back down again after realizing there would be no visible sunset.