Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Last day in Turkey, or what we thought would be, we packed the bike early in the morning and made an attempt to reach the Bulgarian border.
We left Istanbul around noon, drove a bit until we were starving, so we exited somewhere and had a marvellous little lunch.
We tried driving along the ‘normal’ roads, but quickly decided to get back on the motorway around a place called Nullaburgas(?).
From there our destination was very close.
However, when we tried to get back on the motorway, all the tollbooths where one can/should get a ticket by pressing the knobs, booth one, two, and three, were out of order. We pressed knobs like mad and nothing came out. We tried the ‘help speaker’, and nothing happened.
Next to each toll booth there are these ‘control centres’ that reminds one a lot of airport flight towers, only smaller. In the windows of this particular one a Turk stood watching us. We’ve been down there trying our luck at getting a ticket for a good 15 minutes at least. He waved us on. We shook arms in the air, trying to convey to him that we wanted a ticket/slip. He again pointed to the road and told us to get moving.
So we moved the bike that he could see we had a bike and needed a ticket for it. He just signed with his hand that we should carry on.
So we did.
I mean, there is just that much one can do.
A short while later we reached the final toll booth where one has to produce ones ticket and pay for it.
In Turkey, normal prices for these would be between one or two lira. We started explaining to the guy in the booth that we had no ticket because the ticket booths in Nullaboergas didn’t work.
He started shouting that we had to pay. Even asking in Euro, an exorbitant amount, totally out of order and way too much of course.
Being used to haggling in India, Pakistan and Iran, we settled down and tried to explain that we wanted a ticket, that their own colleagues couldn’t be bothered to supply us with one, so that it’s not our fault and that they should please call the guys in nullaboergas to confirm this, for sure they will remember.
No one was interested in calling.
Another fat guy dressed in civilians approached us from the right hand side(booth is on the left), he was immediately aggressive and insisted we pay in euro. We replied that there is no chance, because we are in turkey, why should we pay in another currency? All we want is that they call their friends to confirm and we’ll gladly pay what we are due.
They spoke, very conveniently very little English, but of course every idiot all over the world can understand the sign when one shows talking on a phone next to ones ear.
They really just didn’t care.
Under normal circumstances, if one should have no ticket then the official pricey would be the total price on the toll road from Istanbul to there. Still very little. That would amount to a handful of coins.
The fat guy started shouting, he was on top of us on the bike. I told him to back off.
As Marko is driving, normally when we stop he doesn’t bother to remove his helmet. That’s my job, so I can speak clearer to the people.
The fat guy grabbed my jacket and started shaking me, I pushed him off, if he pulls too hard he can cause the whole bike, all 300kg of it, to tip over. And Marko would be stuck under it.
When I pushed him off, he made a fist and he wanted to slab me in the face, I kicked him in the balls at the same time that Marko came in between us shouting “Don’t touch my wife.”
The guy took a swing at M.
I slid off the bike and ran to the other side of the tollbooth where police in uniform stood.
I was shouting like mad that they should please come immediately to come and help.
Three fairly young boys dressed in darkish green uniforms came towards us.
It turned out later that there is a distinct difference in turkey between what they call ‘police’ (dressed in blue uniforms) and ‘jandarme’ (dressed in the olive green suits). The jandarme is the army police. They have nothing to do with one another.
So these 20 year old ‘boys’ flew towards us where Marko had gotten off the bike by now and was trying to avoid the fat obnoxious crazy man.
The jandarme backed the guy without question. They approached the bike and immediately started getting on it, trying to take the keys and the bike. Marko went for the bike to at least get hold of the keys before they did and tried talking to them to explain that they can’t take the bike.
All of this happened in a matter of seconds.
Before we knew what happened, they turned on him and started beating him from all sides.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was registering that they are beating his head, but as he didn’t take his helmet off and was dressed in full driving gear, all padded up for safety during an accident, I thought that they are insane, beating his head, because they must only be hurting their own fists.
But that was all flitting through my head.
When they all went for him, they dragged him down, held him down ad was kicking him. The fat guy and a fourth soldier that wasn’t present later joined in.
I went berserk.
As I had my helmet in my had, I stormed into the lot and started bashing away at them with my helmet. Immediately they turned on me and started beating me, they pulled me down and was kicking me in the face, but at the same time it gave Marko time to get up and come in between us. I got up and freaked out repetitively asking them what the fuck they were doing? Marko went crazy because my whole face was covered in blood.
It’s a strange sensation. You feel nothing, only when I wiped my hand over it, it was all red, my sleeve stank of it hours later. He was shouting ‘Look at my wife, look what the fuck you’ve done to my wife, are you crazy?” I took my camera out to take pictures and immediately they started backing off. Once they backed away we ran to the cars slowing down to go through the toll booths.
There was a car nearest to us with a Dutch NL number plate. As I lived for 8 years in Amsterdam I speak Dutch and approached the car. Inside there was a blond Dutch guy in his late thirties. At first he didn’t want to open his window to talk to me. I begged him, I was bloody and I was sobbing and shaking.
I explained what happened and asked if he could please help us, at the least try to call the embassies. That’s the first thing you think when such a thing happens in a foreign country. Find the people with authority that would understand, speak several languages and bat for your team. He shrugged his shoulders and told me that he has nothing to do with it and can’t be bothered.
For a second time in 15 minutes I just couldn’t believe what was happening. That someone can possibly have such a callous response was a total strange thing to this girl. I backed off and he drove away.
In the meantime Marko approached a black Audi A4. The couple inside could speak English. They were Turkish Bulgarian. They stopped and confronted the cops. The cops shouted something to them in Turkish and promptly the man got very nervous, got in his car and drove off.
We managed to stop a third car. A large BMW jeep, inside two very kind, obviously wealthy German Turks.
They pulled up and Marko explained to them in German what had happened. They argued and stood their man against the cops.
One of them shoved 30 euro into the fat guy’s hand and they quietly but urgently told us to just get on the bike immediately and leave, drive close to them, follow them to the border.
We agreed. The cops agreed( or pretended to) but as the cops by now had dragged our bike in an impossible position behind the barrier it took us a few minutes to get sorted and climb on it and drive through. As the police waved the BMW off, they left and we were again alone and suddenly they made a circle around us, and refused to let us go.
By now there was about twenty young guys.
I went to the police station.
There was an older looking guy, but in blue police uniform sitting inside. From his window he could watch the whole ordeal, but as he was watching also television, he just couldn’t care.
He was police, they were jandarme.
I needed someone older in charge, someone that could speak English and wasn’t just making signs of how to cut our throats.
Someone with enough sense to fix this mess.
Shortly after a whole lot of vans with flashing lights arrived.
Out poured more of the same young boys in olive green and one older man in a woollen sweater and brown pants. He was the big boss.
He brought a clean shaven neat young guy with him that spoke quite a good English and even some German.
He was to become our first interpreter.
Later he told us that he used to be a professional dancer and that they toured a great many countries. He was kind and seemed sincere.
The older guy listened dramatically to all his soldiers and to the fat guy. He hardly bothered to ask our version of the story. We had no idea what anyone was saying. After a while he walked up to me with a massive smirk on his face and asked 9he already knew) where I was from, I replied Africa. He mumbled something to the interpreter. He translated that the boss said something to the extent of ‘so is this how you solve problems in Africa, by fighting?’. He laughed and asked for our passports and walked off.
Marko was then starting to get really rattled. He told them that he is not pleased with how things are going and that he doesn’t feel like handing over our passports AT ALL. They forced us to give it. They pushed him towards the bike and in between the interpreter ‘promised’ him that we would get it back, that nothing bad would happen to us, that it is just procedure. Marko underlined the fact and showed them the pages in the passports(not that anyone could read0 where it is stated by our governments that those passports are not even our property. That it is the property of our various governments and therefore ONLY our governments or we ourselves are allowed to have them. So it will be against the law for them to take it.
They took it and disappeared into a van.
They kept us there in the cold waiting for nearly an hour, not saying anything and refusing to let us leave.
After almost two hours Marko went over to ask what is the procedure, what is happening and when can we go?
Then they stood around shrugging and laughing at us. Marko said that we are serious, we really have such a time pressure to be back in Germany for work, that we have to drive.
The opened the doors of a minibus and told us to put the bike inside.
300kg, loaded with boxes on, even if we wanted to, it’s impossible. No way that it would fit in.
Marko asked where we would be going. They said that we’ll leave to go to the base about 6km away.
He said that he’ll drive after them. They refused and pushed me into the minibus. They told him to leave the bike where it is, it’s ‘safe’, and get in the minibus.
So we all left for the base. And the bike, fully loaded, stayed there out in the middle of nowhere.
Part two: spending hours in the army base.
In the minibus there was our interpreter and about 9 very young soldiers, all aged between 19 and 20. So were the guys who beat us up. they kept staring at us, laughing and pushing their feet up against mine, so I have to move them the whole time.
Finally we arrived at the base, more than 6km away. Somewhere in the town of Edirne.
They filed us into an office with computers, told us to sit and wait. All the same young guys hanging around, looking and crowding the doorway.
Finally a fat guy with a slightly different uniform came in. He had slick hair and rather bulging eyes.
We weren’t sure who he was. We thought at first he might be some sort of clerk or secretary about to take our statements.
Then they brought the guys who beat us in, including the fat guy who started punching.
He took his time listening to their stories, all the while glaring at us and nodding his head.
Then he turned and asked the interpreter to ask me if I have any sisters or girlfriends, because he needs a girlfriend.
I responded that it would make him a poor man, because women cost a lot of money.
He just made what obviously seemed like some filthy comments in Turkish, everyone laughed and our interpreter said it’s nothing worth translating.
This went on for a while.
Then we were told to get up, we had to go for a check up at the hospital.
Again we said that we are fine, we are just in a rush and really aught to be on the road.
We felt that if they can’t come up with any clear accusation, or plan of action – by now it was clear to us that they didn’t care what really happened, they were just mucking about wasting time – then we should be going.
So off we went again into the minibus, this time along with the guys who beat us, the fat guy being so sweet that honey couldn’t melt in his mouth. They took us to a public hospital where they told us to wait.
Local Turks came up to us and started talking, many of them in German, asked what had happened. Marko told them, and the interpreter told them off, we weren’t allowed to talk to anyone.
The doctor called us in. pulled my now very tender and swollen eye apart and said that it’s not much. He made the nurse bring me ice in a latex glove and said that they had no paracetamol to give me, after I asked for it, but that I could have a shot in my bottom. With everyone asking and a handful of janarme standing around I definitely wasn’t about to lower my trousers for their further entertainment.
Marko was luckily wearing his helmet and back protector during the time that they were kicking him, so he was mostly okay, but where the back protector ended, in his lower back, there it was painful, without much to externally show for it. Then the guys who attacked us had a turn and suddenly they all had all sorts of problems. Complaining of this and complaining of that.
Marko started losing his temper outside.
The jandarme boy who was the first to start beating and kicking Marko was taunting us and pointing at my face and giggled. Marko pointed to him and shouted that it is rubbish, they beat US up and then they laugh about it. I was looking really terrible indeed, bloody all over and eye rapidly colouring and swollen so much that I couldn’t open it.
He told our interpreter that it’s totally ridiculous, that they are wasting our time and that we want to go, if not we demand to call our embassies IMMEDEATLY. He asked if we had their numbers, of course we didn’t have it in our pocket, why should we?
The guys stood around and laughed.
Our interpreter told the boy to leave. He did.
By then we had all the sick people who came to the emergency help at the hospital around us. I decided to take advantage of that, started telling people what had happened and asking if someone could please help us to get in contact with our embassies. The interpreter told them that they weren’t allowed to, should put their cell phones away. I asked the hospital staff if I could use their internet for a second, they switched the computer screen off and told me that it was out of order. Then I asked if they had some sort of phone directory, again they were told by the jandarme not to help.
Shortly after we were taken back to the base.
Still no one even asked our version of the story.
We’ve been sitting around for nearly 4 hours.
The young guy who was taunting us at the hospital was hanging in the doorway doing more of the same. I flew up, before Marko could get upset, and asked the fat bulging eye guy, clearly someone in charge, how does that work? That they can beat us up and then stand around laughing? I didn’t appreciate that at all.
Some of the younger jandarme shoved the boy away. The ‘boss’ turned around and very threateningly told me that in the office he was boss.
The fat guy who started the fight was busy giving his version ‘statement’ at the computer was grinning from ear to ear.
We had no idea what was coming for us, but we weren’t happy.
‘The boss’ sat staring at my tits and body, so I kept my big bulky jacket on. They showed us the prison downstairs where the men side was brimming over with guys badly beaten up. the woman side was just a dark empty cold cage. Thy told us that IF…(highly suggestive) we should go in there, we’ll be in there for six months, Marko will be in that little crowed room where there wasn’t even a place to sit and I would be all by myself in the ‘ladies room’. They ripped themselves apart and thought it was very funny. We pretended to find it enormously interesting. Clearly they were trying to scare us, but we weren’t about to show fear. I am certain though that if given such a chance ‘the boss’ won’t hesitate to rape me in that prison. It was incredibly unpleasant to be ogled for hours by a drooling ‘boss’. Not something that would give one hope should Turkey enter the EU.
Finally another somewhat older in his late twenties second interpreter arrived to replaced the first one that used to be a dancer. He was born and lived in Germany until he was 22, so at least communication went somewhat smoother.
He was brusque and rude towards us at first. Asked questions and started translating to ‘the boss’ and another guy higher in rank than ‘the boss’. But the weren’t bothered to listen. ‘The boss’ was proudly displaying his 3 different cell phones on the table, taking them apart and interrupting the interpreter translating our answers with stories of his own of how one phone is for work, one for the wife and the third for girlfriends. Then the higher in command guy also took his three phones out to compare. (later we learned that having so many phones means ‘status’ as the younger troops aren’t allowed to have phones at all)
Anyhow, no one cared or listened much to our version of events. When we started asking then how is such a thing possible and pray tell how can FIVE men beat the TWO of us, plus me being a woman, up for no apparent reason, what would happen to the man that would shake, slab, beat and kick ‘the boss’s wife or girlfriend. Then suddenly everyone got tense and stared at us. I stared back, got very good at that game thanks to my brother when we were little kids. I wasn’t about to flinch. We did nothing wrong.
Then the interpreter said that we are really in a very bad spot because WE were the ones who was beating up jandarme and that that was a very serious offence. That we would have to wait six months and appear before a judge.
With everyone else lying?
I’m sorry but I haven’t seen ANY sanity, kindness, or basic human justice that entire afternoon and evening. We were close to twelve at night by now and it was just ridiculous. So we said that we absolutely don’t think so. How can we be wrong if we defend ourselves when they are beating us to death FOR NOTHING? We demanded to have the numbers and WILL call our German, South African and seeing that my parents are Canadian, also the Canadian embassies right there on the spot. They have wasted enough of our time, they have brutalised US, and it’s twelve at night, we WANT our passports back, they have no right to keep it, if there isn’t any formal charges being pressed and besides, we wanted to have the video footage there.
Video? What video?
The ‘boss’ stopped ogling and seemed to be on alert.
We insisted that we saw the cameras, this entire ordeal happened not only in public but at a toll booth and there are loads of camera, so it must be on tape and we want to view it, then it is easy to see who started beating who and how. Suddenly everyone in the room was looking at one another.
We pushed on, the fat guy was playing innocent, claiming that we just attacked him out of the blue for nothing. Now with video footage that would prove to be just the opposite. It would show how we were on the floor and 5 jandarme boys were kicking us to pieces. A very good thing on international TV, good propaganda for how well things are truly going in Turkey, not flash Istanbul, Ankara or the little safe cells of vacation villages, but the REAL Turkey.
So yes. We indeed do insist to have the tapes. AND pull up the phone, we are going to make some phone calls. OR we WILL leave, because they are keeping us there against our wishes. They have been rude and they not only hurt us, but they also waste our time.
Suddenly all the cards on the table changed.
‘the boss’ grumped at the translator “that I speak too much”.
But within ten minutes they came up with a solution : if we are willing to sign a (stack of) papers saying that I fell and bruised my eye and that we left without any hard feelings towards each other, then we are free to go.
We said FINE. Do it.
We’ve been in there for well past 8 hours, we were shocked, beaten up, hungry, tired and on top of that in a hurry. They could be a bother and drag it all out, and it might become enormously tedious, so we figured that with a rubbish system of justice such as that, we might just as well sign and get out of there, to a place where one does have the right to say that things like these are not the way to do it.
They produced papers in Turkish. The interpreter promised on his honour to Allah that what he was translating for us was what was written down.
So we signed and as we were handed our passports back, without a thank you or a sorry, it was 12.25 and we were eager to be off.
Part Three: a few more hours into the morning.
Little did we know that the night was far from over. At that very moment, in barged more young troops. They dragged in what was the ‘taxi driver’ and without a thought started slapping him around. They shoved in 6 stunned scared Asians.
The interpreter explained that they were illegal ‘Vietnamese’, trying to cross the border and that this is real bad for him, because now he would have to spend the entire night trying to get a word out of them and normally they won’t speak at all, so they would have to be taken downstairs and beaten until they admit that they were illegal in Turkey.
He said that they catch a 150 such ‘illegals’ EVERYDAY.
The little office was quite crowded.
The ‘Vietnamese’ were rattled out of their wits, but they looked very Chinese to me, and I told that to the interpreter. He insisted that they were illegal Vietnamese.
As they were still shouting and pushing the taxi driver around, one girl started crying. I went over to her and addressed her in Chinese, asking if she understood me or not. My face really looked awful so even that must have made them feel quite uncomfortable.
They peeped at one another and kept quiet.
I was told to sit down.
The jandarme was by now trying to make phone calls on the phone they took off the taxi driver.
Soon the shoved two more men in
Total: four girls, and two guys. All well dressed.
I tried again. I asked slowly in Chinese if they understood me and can speak some Chinese.
The one guy nodded yes, and started talking so fast in Fujian dialect that I had a hard time understanding him.
I asked him to kindly speak slowly and in Beijing hua so I can follow. He did. They had no idea why they were there and would like to call their embassies.
I told him that that might not be so easy.
We all were shoved out into the corridor.
The interpreter rather rudely made a list of questions I had to ask these ‘illegal Vietnamese they were so eager to beat up”.
Thought that was a bit out of order after what the cops put us through that day, but as I can help, I settled down and tried to help. Offered food and water, they accepted water. I ordered the cops to jump, if they want my help. After a lot of to and thro’ they not only could produce their PASSPORTS, flight tickets in and out of turkey, but even a visa card.
Clearly NOT illegal. (the girls gave me a whole facial with wonderful clinique beauty products, fussing about the state I was in)
All the did when they got picked up was drive together in a taxi to the big bus stand and bought a ticket for Istanbul. (if you are heading overland into the EU, then that is the other way.)
Obviously there was nothing that they did wrong. The ‘boss’ was very unhappy about that. Kept grilling them through me. around 1.30 I said it’s enough, it’s not my job or my place to translate for them the jandarme. IF they want to communicate with these people, then they should call their embassy for a translator.
And walked out, smoked a cigarette.
Now please remember that our motorbike is still in the middle of nowhere, it is 1.45 in the morning and the jandarme don’t feel like taking us back, we have to lick arse and show a lot of humility and patience because no one is there to drive us back to the bike.
2,45 all of us, Chinese included who bought fruit juice for everyone including the jandarme ‘guarding’ us and our two interpreters, were still shivering outside, smoking and waiting to be driven away from the base.
‘the boss’ was too busy.
Finally the took us and first dropped the very grateful Chinese off at the bus stand. Their only concern was to retrieve the two little packs from the boot of the taxi.
The jandarme made them toss it all out, nothing much in it they scratched through it and told them, in ‘the boss’s words “to fuck off”.
His only English.
Then they ‘joked’ (ha-ha-ha-, so funny) that we should walk to our bike. We got back into the van and ignored their tremendous efforts at being funny, said we’ll go now.
At the bike everything seemed in order. The stood around watching us getting things back in place.
We drove off into the morning, heading to the Bulgarian border 6km away, without saying good bye.
We needed to drop Claras motorcycle at a warehouse about 20 miles from the city in a place called Tuzla. On a hunch I asked Ozan if he could be our guide and interpreter. He was awesome! We 3 cruised East through the harrowing traffic. One problem our motorcycle guides throughout the world have is that they don't take our panniers into account. So while they bob and weave through traffic, we are stuck smelling fumes, or taking even riskier moves on our wider bikes. However, we were able to stay with him and after stopping for directions a few times we got to the warehouse. A few young boys came running over from their soccer game to check out the sights before Ozan sent them scurrying to find the custodian.
A few hours later we had Claras bike packed up, disconnected, and ready to go back to the Usa. we had made it back to the shippers office after a 15 mile race at 60 to 80 mph in a 30 mph zone on a curvy seaside 3 lane track following the shipping agents agent in a van with Clara and Ozan who was fighting with lesser educated Turks about turn signal etiquette in the right hand lane at speed, Ozan had treated us to lunch and let us know he used to be in a famous Turkish rock band "Athena", and Ozan had shown me a shortcut which included riding the wrong way up one way streets and riding on the brick sidewalks. In Istanbul, it is not a matter of if but when you are going to be in an accident.
We had to pay more than 100 dollars to get a power of attorney notarized, a complete govt. Racket whick shows some of the inefficient govt progress which everyone acknowledges here. We will hopefully have Clara passport back Saturday once her bike gets stamped for leaving the country.
Finally, last night our friend Hakan made a wonderful dinner for us and his moviestar friend, Cinemas. We were able to enjoy it right after he and I fixed his overheating Renault in the middle of traffic!
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Monday, November 26, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
We went with Gilles and his wife Ayse on our bmw 650's through 10 miles of bumper to bumper traffic alongside the narrow passage of sea between the Med and the Black Sea. There were the usual throng of fisherman on the shore and boats cruising up and down. When we got to Sariyer the traffic eased up and we zoomed through some pine hills to the point where the Bosporus opens to the Black Sea. We ate a delicious late lunch of salad, fish and dessert while the boats moved calmly below us, from our restaurant bluff vantage point.
The sun was setting as we went up the coast a ways before returning to an abandoned fort that used to govern the straight. We took what maybe the last of the pictures of Clara's bike as we hope to ship it home tomorrow. We rode home in the dark, again chock full of traffic, the full moon rising in the northeast, red at first (perhaps due to the pollution) before a big white disc hung over the Asian side as we got back to Gilles.
After some pleasantries we headed back to our home in Kadakoy, again zooming around the toll booth gate a bit more leery this time, as we received a harrowing story of our friends Marko and Clara getting beaten up by the Turkish military and held for 12 hours through an escalating series of calamities starting with a toll not being paid.
A friend of Gilles had a motorcycle accident today and broke some part of his leg. The drivers here are super aggresive and constantly ignore us and/or try and run us off the road.
Clara and I are eager to get going, somewhere, preferably warm although that isn't likely anytime soon. We are definitely stressed a bit and taking it out on each other.
Nothing that some fun in the sun of Iran probably can't cure!
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Saturday, November 24, 2007
So we are sponsoring a party in Kadakoy, Istanbul on Monday night a sort of going away party. It is at # 13, up the road from the ferry terminal, take the left turn at the street signs for the other neighborhoods after the road turns one way and it is at number 13 in the garden unit. You will see the motorcycle parked outside!
Everyone is invited.
If you have a date in Constantinople, remember that she will be waiting for you in Istanbul!
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Needless to say, but not a lot of people celebrating here. But, we are very excited because our passports are finally on their way back to us by UPS and we can start traveling again. Hopefully hit the road next week, East or West we are not sure, but "I can't wait to be on the Road Again!"
It is a beautiful day here, and I hope everyone in America has a great day, eats well, and decides not to buy into too much consumerism tomorrow. Invite a lonely neighbor, or do what I did last year and volunteer at a homeless shelter or deliver meals. It was very much appreciated, and definitely made me feel better than just sitting on a couch and watching football.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
So, what is it like to spend a month in 98 percent Muslim country?
Let's just say I wouldn't want Clara and I to have to pass a drug test due to the possible contact highs from some of the parties we've gone to. Of course, neither one of us does drugs, let alone try it and 'not inhale' like our great President Clinton did when he was in Europe!
I went out with the boys on Saturday night after a 6 hour game of Risk ended with 3 players being eliminated and Clara and I controlling the whole world except Thailand and Australia. What was funny was how each of the players gravitated towards their home base. The Frenchman tried to control Europe, Clara took South America, I took North America, the Turk took the Middle East. The two fastest losers were the Turkish woman spreading herself thin in Asia and Africa and the British guy losing from his power base in South Africa. Colonialism will never work!
We went out to the first club about 2 a.m. where our friends knew the owner, who had just renovated an historic church into a multi-functional techno dance club, extremely cool and hip. After hanging for a couple hours there we went to one of the coolest clubs in Istanbul, called Ghetto, where there was a private going away party for a local DJ who was leaving shortly to do his military service in the Turkish Army. Unfortuneately for Clara, when this party broke up about 5 a.m. our host Gilles invited everyone back to his place to continue the party until Dawn.
So yes, all the stereotypes about the Islamic world being full of smokers and drinkers, going out, dancing and partying to all hours of the night, being incredibly friendly, open to people of diverse countries and backgrounds, with no preconceived attitude are true.
Let's make sure we keep those types out of America!!
I'm sure we are just hanging by a string, ready to be murdered by some Islamo-fascists any second now.
The truth is that we will probably die driving in Istanbul traffic. Nearly every motorcyclist I know here has been in an accident of one sort or another. Our host Gilles got hit by a car 3 days ago while driving his friend Hakkan, our German friend riding around the world got into his first accident in 7 years on the streets here, Clara got hit by a Taxi. It is totally crazy. Imagine Boston streets, winding around all over the place, add 7 major hills, no drivers training, and 66 times more people and you start to get the idea.
No wonder everyone has "evil eye" protectors on their motorcycles to ward off the bad spirits.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
We are hoping to write a book about this at some point, which I want to call "The world is full of good people" but Clara thinks this name is long and lame. She is probably right, but it really is the point of this trip. I think it vitally important in this Global age, for people to really make friends Globally. If I ever become Mayor of Boston I want each public school in the City to have a sister school in a different country to foster dialogue and friendship, sharing and learning.
Imagine if 300 schoolchildren in Boston had 300 friends in Baghdad. Or Tehran. We enlightened adults might have to explain to our children why our country finds it so important to bomb them into submission or death. Of course, this same concept needs to be implemented at the local level to get kids from Roxbury to make friends with kids in West Roxbury. The concept of busing was supposed to do that, but the reality has been much different.
We have many, many stories we haven't told yet about the trip including some of the best. The world's greatest marketer selling cornhusks to children in Mexico, my ongoing Yankee-Red Sox feud with wearers of NY caps around the world, our day in Transdniestr, my night sleeping in subzero temperatures in my sleeping bag on the ground in Bolivia, we slowly are trying to get to them as already our minds fade.
But we look to the future, to meet Shyam who is eager to show us his village in the Himalyas as we are eager to meet him and share smiles and friendship.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
As anyone who had the pleasure and misfortune of knowing me during my sophomore year at Wabash College would know, Repo Man is my favorite movie. I watched it on cable as often as possible and quoted it excessively. While training for the boxing Caveman Bouts and preparing to be the toughest guy on campus during the annual Sphinx Club tryouts I let everyone know that they could hit me as hard as they could in either one of my shoulders whenever they wanted. Funny, but I had a lot of takers. It was all to live up to maybe the most famous line of the movie: "the Life of the Repo Man is always Intense!" In sunny times, or in times of being held in interrogation rooms of countries that don't exist, I like to imagine I'm still leading an intense life.
Another famous line of the movie is the "lattice of coincidence". The lattice of coincidence is when one seemingly random thought or thing happens which leads to another, and perhaps another. Our trip has been a long string of proofs of the lattice of coincidence.
Turkey has not been an exception to the rule. While putting new tires on our bikes at ATA motos I briefly met a french guy who has the same motorcycle as Clara. A few days later when we were leaving Istanbul to cruise around the coast this same guy was stuck next to us in traffic in Taksim Square, one of hundreds of busy intersections in Istanbul. He noticed my license plate "VOTE4" and asked what it was about. I told him I had run for office in America and that it was a promotional thing. While we were navigating bumper to bumper, we figured out that we were both political junkies and that the world needed fixing. He noted the www.electkevin.us bumper sticker on my pannier and said he would send an email and we would hook up when we returned to Istanbul before zooming off through traffic.
When we returned to Istanbul a few weeks later I was again at ATA motos when a German guy with a Transalp came in. He had just had his first accident in 7 years on the road and needed some straightening and some bits like a chain and fake license plate to get back into Germany. As we got to talking at the full time conversation and smoking place and part time motorcycle dealership we found Marko and I had a connection.
Kevin: Where are you from?
Marko: Germany, but I've been gone for 7 years.
Kevin: We had a good time in Germany.
Marko: Where did you go?
Kevin: Cologne, Bonn, Munich...
Marko: I'm from Munich
Kevin: I wonder if you know a guy we stayed with, he spent 4 years on the road?
Marko: What was his name?
Kevin: (blanking) Can't remember, he was from East Germany, incredibly nice...
Marko: Was it Jan?
Kevin: That's him!
Marko: Yes, we spent a few years on the road together.
Kevin: Are you the guy who got a job teaching English in Taiwan who couldn't speak
Marko: That's me!
Kevin: You're legend, I know all about you!
Needless to say we had a fantastic dinner that night, as previously mentioned with natives of 6 different countries, including our new French friend Gilles who happens to be a reporter. Dick Cheney would not approve of this type of interaction with people who are not part of the coalition of the willing! All at the table were willing to get rid of Dick Cheney however.
A few nights later, Gilles invited us to his house for dinner where we discovered mutual interest in Bill Hicks, Toots and the Maytals, Banksy and mutual distaste for George Bush. So much so that we moved into his penthouse yesterday. Which leads us back to ATA motos where I went yesterday thinking I was going to get into a basketball game with the young kids at the shop but ended up drinking beers and watching a made for TV movie on the local Fox TV Turkish channel. There were about 15 of us, including the producer of the movie, an architect, a woman who sold containers to Afganistan and other friendly motorcycling guests. The movie was terrible, even in Turkish, but there was a scene shot at ATA motos and the owner, ever friendly Ahmet, did a stunt motorcycle crash for the final scene on his KTM which elicited great cheers from the partisan crowd.
What do Gilles and a made for TV Fox movie bring the Lattice of Coincidence into play? After the movie was over I spoke to the producer about the state of cinema today and he agreed with me that it is going downhill and that it is mostly crap, including what we just watched. So much of it he does just for the money and you have to spend years paying your dues. He sounded weary of his profession which is never fun. I asked him if he liked any movies recently, and he said he really liked "The Thin Red Line", a real producers movie that was art which I have never seen. Meanwhile, I have come down with a cold and so am staying home today and was hoping Gilles had some movies to watch. He has about 15 DVD's. I'm about to watch a movie. If you don't know which one I'm going to watch, I haven't explained the Lattice of Coincidence very well.
Miller: A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconciousness.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
We've headed off to the mall today a couple of stops along the fast, clean, easy subway line. Clara is shopping for appropriate Muslim wear, I am along for the ride. I'm not a lot of fun at malls, seeing as how I don't like to buy anything and I hate consumerism. But, I enjoy people watching and an occasional movie.
This mall is the largest I have ever been to. It has 6 or 7 floors with all the requisite marble, stone and chrome of a modern shopping emporium. No Grand Bazaar here!
You pass through metal detectors to enter and then you may as well be in any mall anywhere: LEE Jeans, Adidas, designer dresses. The only things to identify it as Turkish are the occasional head scarf, the rare burka, the lack of natural blond hair and the presence of prodigidous probiscuses.
Yes, the Turks have a lot of big noses, often of the beak variety and the women are well aware of it. Every day I see women, usually in their 20's, who have bandages on their faces as a result of a recent surgery to get straightened out.
Another Turkish trait is their closeness. Women and Men meet with a kiss-kiss on either cheek, regardless of gender and age. Women predominately walk hand in hand with each other, but it is not uncommon to see men walking arm and arm as well.
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Friday, November 9, 2007
My wife and I are taking a year to ride around the world by motorcycle for our honeymoon (motomoments.blogspot.com). One of the most disturbing and obvious
facts of the trip is how far behind much of the rest of the world the USA is when it comes to green living and energy independence. I would like to share some of our observations, and some suggestions as to how we might proceed to move forward.
Forget the empty promises of politicians to “be a leader” in Green Technologies. First we must play catch up. Virtually all of Central and South America use only fluorescent
light bulbs. Wind turbines are everywhere, from Costa Rica to Turkey, from the fertile fields of Luxembourg to the sacred green hills of Ireland. Go to a gas station in Rio de Janeiro and you can fill up with 5 types of fuel: diesel, bio-diesel, propane, natural gas and minimum 95 octane.
The SUV is virtually an ‘America only’ vehicle, which is seen only intermittently elsewhere, and even then the vast majority are of the BMW X-3 size, not the mammoth
Chevy Suburbans or Ford Excursions. We could count the number of Hummers we’ve seen on the toes of a foot of a two-toed sloth. Even on the German Autobahn, the BMWs and Mercedes are typically of the lower engine size classes. The vast majority of cars in the world are tinier 4 door Toyota Corola sized vehicles. The majority of motorcycles are 125cc types from Japan and China which approach triple digit miles per gallon.
Recycling is huge and mainstream in Europe. Kitchen cabinets come with drawers separated into 4 different compartments for green, brown, and clear glass and plastic.
Large recycling stations are on main streets in the cities and in parking lots of the Wal-Marts and other shopping centers. The mentality to conserve and recycle has clearly become standard, and people do it as naturally as we go to get a coffee in the morning. In fact, grocery stores actually charge a fee for bags and most people carry their shopping home in fold-out crates and re-usable sturdy sacks.
Public transportation is more prevalent, cheap, and easy to use in almost every corner of the world. Almost everyone knows about the trains and subways in Europe. But we also used the buses and subways in Mexico City, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Caracas. They were all at least as clean, timely, and easy to navigate as the MBTA, and usually much better than that standard; and they were of course fully taken advantage of.
Toilets in Europe now come with two flush options. One option is for solid waste which uses the standard amount of water, and one for liquid waste which uses a reduced amount of water to do its job. Another way that resources are being saved around the world is with the prevalence of motion detectors in residential and commercial buildings which turn on and off not just lights, but also escalators and other electric appliances.
Hot water, which can account for up to 25% of a person’s energy use in the United States, is handled quite differently outside the USA. The typical solution, especially in poor regions and warm tropical climates, is, of course, cold water only. Obviously that won’t cut it in the developed world, but there are other options. In Turkey, there are hot water solar panels on virtually every roof, and this is common in many parts of the world. The most common solution is “on demand” systems which only heat water at the shower electrically, or by natural gas or propane for larger systems which provide hot water for a whole house.
The big box hardware stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot in Ireland and the UK carry wind powered electricity generators for a few hundred dollars for homeowners to install themselves. There are places as diverse as floating reed villages on Peru’s Lake Titicaca to Internet Cafés in Nicaragua which power their electrical usage using only solar panels; and many highway signs and roadside warnings are solar powered throughout the world.
Bicycle paths are common in most European cities which are older than Boston, and often have just as jumbled of a road system. In Amsterdam, which is world bicycle central, there is a parking garage next to the main bus and railway terminal with room for 80,000 bicycles. The folks we met said they use them year around, even in the snow.
On the positive side, thanks to the Clean Air and Water acts and other measures, the United States clearly has some of the best quality air and water in the world. It has been shocking to see some of the permanent smog over places such as Vienna, Lima, Budapest, and Sao Paulo to name just a few. Just the sight of these brown hazes hanging over any city is enough for me to question what, if any, real progress mankind is making. Don’t even get me started about all the polluted water ways we’ve found in our
What can be done? As the saying goes: Think Globally, Act Locally. I’ve mentioned things we’ve seen to pique people’s imagination as to how they might be more energy efficient, and to encourage them to see different solutions to energy needs, as we have done as a result of our trip. Thomas Friedman recently wrote in the New York Times that one of the best things we can do for the environment is to elect environmentally conscious leaders. In Boston and Massachusetts we need leaders who might do the following things:
1) Mandate that all taxi cabs be hybrid vehicles within 5 years (as done by Mayor Bloomberg in NYC).
2) Mandate that all non-essential city or state vehicles also be hybrid.
3) Mandate dual use toilets in new housing developments; and, make a deadline of perhaps 10 or 15 years for subsidized housing and public buildings to be retrofitted to do the same.
4) All replacement lights in public buildings and subsidized housing to use fluorescent lighting. Within 5 years all lighting to be fluorescent or other high efficiency equivalents.
5) Increase gas taxes. with the money raised to go directly into public transportation projects, such as extending the Green Line and other rail projects in the State and the Region. Gas is $8 a gallon in Europe, $5 a gallon in Brazil, and almost $10 a gallon in Turkey. The cost has not stopped driving or traffic jams, we need to make public transportation a viable alternative to cars. Perhaps a group from New England and New York could get together to impose a similar tax across the region to invest into a real regional rail system. This will help in many ways to make the region a more competitive place economically.
6) Mandate that new hot waters systems, especially in public buildings and subsidized housing be more efficient.
7) Mandate that shopping centers and parking lots of a certain size provide recycling stations for the public use. Provide similar recycling stations on public property.
8) Make bicycling part of the solution, not just a way for bike messengers to earn a dangerous living.
9) Eliminate school busing in Boston for environmental reason and move to neighborhood schools. (I realize this is a much bigger issue, but the City of Boston spends around 90 million dollars a year on transportation. That is a lot of fossil fuel. We also need better and diverse schools but that is another subject). At the least, convert buses to bio-fuel as is being done in many municipalities.
10) Insist that the MBTA provide professional service. If Mexico City and Istanbul, let alone Europe, can provide fast, clean, reliable, and timely trains and buses then we can do it in Massachusetts as well.
11) Get Wind Power moving! We’ve seen wind turbines in the Oceans near the Netherlands, in farmer’s fields through the flatlands of Europe, on mountains in Scotland and South America. There is a lot of wind in New England, and our energy costs are high. We need to do this and do it Big!
I believe that by taking steps such as these we will foster a sense of being environmentally conscious, that will hopefully move us from just taking advantage of these tried and true methods to using our innate Yankee Ingenuity to refine these existing technologies, and coming up with new ones so that we can become world wide environmental leaders.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
We spent the afternoon at the last Sultan's Palace, touring the grounds and going inside to see the Harem. They had the most amazing chandeliers I've seen in my life, huge, stunning pieces which accompanied similar rooms, with multidimensional frescoes painted on everything. Very impressive. So is having 8 wives at your disposal at any one time!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Meanwhile, it gets colder and wetter ever day. There was talk of snow in the Turkish mountains today. The prospects are bleak. Can't really go anywhere without passports, and we don't know where to go, and all of our plans could be thrown in the air if any part of the plan doesn't work out.
We have been making some friends. We had a great dinner with a Canadian and British couple who have been teaching English in Iraq for the last 6 months. Yes, Iraq. They were in the northern Kurdish area, the only teachers there living in a quiet town where not much happened and everyone was very nice to them, very appreciative, and they didn't feel threatened at all. However, with the Turkish putting 100,000 troops on the border they decided it was sensible to retrench to Istanbul and work here for a time.
We met a couple of motorcycle adventure travelers who just came through Iran and Pakistan and had a wonderful time, never felt threatened. They had an interesting comment: In Iran the people are liberal and the government is conservative. In Pakistan the people are conservative and the government is liberal. We need to see for ourselves, we hope.
There is much anger here against George Bush, his policies and America in general. I have definitely felt antagonism from other nationalities especially before people get to know us. Another Canadian said disdainfully, after I told her that Americans and Canadians needed an escort in Iran, "how did we get thrown in with your lot". People are not afraid to be impolite as soon as they find out you are from America with comments about how much they dislike America right now.
Amazing how we see more Canadians traveling than Americans, of course they make up about 10 percent of our population but they seem to be more well traveled. Turkish people usually ask us if we are German or Canadian or Dutch or British before they come around to wondering if we could possibly be Americans. There is a long tradition of German/Turkish relations ever since they were allies in the First World War.
Election day today in Boston, sounds like very low turnout and the candidate who promised us absentee ballots didn't produce so two less votes for him.
I got a shave while I was carpet shopping the other day, when was the last time you had a sharp razor at your throat while you were doing business in America? Too often, perhaps, in some of our inner cities.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
So, we are back in Istanbul and have settled once again in our hostel in the Taksim area of town. Yesterday began rainy and dreary again, just as it had been when we left the city a couple of weeks ago so we thought we might be in for another two weeks of wet weather and were non too happy to think of this. We spent the day trying to get quotes for shipping my bike back home: on the phone, online and even in person. So far, the prices we have gotten are much higher than expected, so we were a bit unnerved by the end of the day.
However, as fate would have it, we found out once again just how small this world is when Kevin ran into a friend of Jan, our host in Munich! Marco is a fellow RTW motorcyclist who has been traveling for the past seven (yes, seven) years. Kevin made plans to have dinner with him and his girlfriend and we soon invited a Frenchman named Gilles whom we had briefly met before we left. It was our first proper night out in Istanbul and we were very happy that the rain had stopped by the time we were ready to step out. Gilles met us at our hostel on his bike (he has an F650GS just like mine, but black) and he went ahead of us to meet Marco at our predetermined spot in front of the Blue Mosque. Kevin and I took a taxi because I had "dressed up" meaning I had somewhat done my hair, applied some eye makeup, and put on some earrings, so I did not want to wear a helmet and ruin my girly feeling. Traffic was horrendous and it took us about 1 hour to travel about three miles. We were late, but Gilles had found Marco, his girlfriend Carla, and their roommate Casper, and they were happily chatting away when we finally caught up with them.
We found a restaurant near by with some outside seating and settled in for an evening of great conversation, good food and lots of laughs. We talked travel, motorcycles, movies, pop culture and of course, politics. We were a multicultural group comprised of a Colombian, an American, a Frenchman, a South African, a German and a Dutchman, and so we found lots of things to disagree about, but also enough things in common to make the evening really enjoyable. By the time we headed home around midnight, Kevin and I were tired but happy, and looking forward to a good night's sleep.
Since we arrived in Istanbul a day earlier than we had predicted we had to share a dorm room with a loud snorer the first night, but last night we were in our own room and got some delicious sleep.
Friday, November 2, 2007
But time as history is our companion and tour guide. We are in This time, the dawn of a new century, the beginning of the information age, the age of globalization, and one takes a trip like this as a bookmark, a reminder, an annotator of how it is now. In our eyes. But we are also taking this trip through That time; to see, feel, learn about history as all travelers throughout the ages have. Indeed, it is the part of the definition of traveling to observe history because it is impossible for everything to be all new, all the time. Even if one only chose only Shanghai, Las Vegas and Dubai to circuitously travel to, the recent past but the past nonetheless would be present.
We think of Alexander the Great as part of history, but he was a traveler, a tourist, a student of history. When he came to Troy he sacrificed 1000 oxen as a tribute to the memory of the glorious fighters of a previous time. This is different only in scale to my raising a glass in salute to my ancestors at McCrea castle on our travels.
Without spending time observing history, this journey would not be so interesting or even worthwhile. The major experiences of trips such as this is to see new scenery, observe and meet new people and cultures, try new food, and observe history. There is also shopping, but Clara could speak better than I to that. Other than that, it is just asphalt,
beds, gas and maintenance.
Time and scale are interesting concepts. The first years of my life were spent in New England where history is very important, and goes back about 400 years, with some really important things happening 200 years ago. On this journey, we first went south and visited Mayans who were doing things an astounding 1500 years ago, but recent history was shaped 400 years ago by the Spaniards. We are now in the neck of the world which reached a peak an amazing 2000 years ago. Recent history was shaped 1700 years ago, or 500 years ago, or 83 years ago today with the beginning of the Turkish Cumhuriyet by Ataturk. Or maybe it was shaped last Sunday by the PKK raids against the Turk army?
The entire recorded history of mankind is perhaps 5,000 years. What is that? What do we have to show? I see many examples of the hypocrisy and hubris of man. Sacred burial chambers in their time were disturbed by grave robbers throughout the ages. But isn’t grave robber just a less fancy, but maybe more accurate name for archeologist? At what point in time is it acceptable for someone to dig up someone else who it must be assumed was buried, for eternity, in accordance with his wishes? The reality is that who ever is in power at the time may give permission for “modern” people in the name of science to dig up these graves. But no matter how you slice it, it is for the enrichment of the person or persons digging up the grave that this sacrilegious act is carried out. It often makes it that much easier that the dead believed in disproved Gods such as themselves, Zeus, Isis or Mother Earth. I feel so much better now that our modern theologians have figured out the proper God to honor. Which one is it again? Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Shiva, Mother Earth?
Proper perspective was given a couple nights ago in the deserted resort town of Patara, where you walk past dozens of ancient robbed Sarcophagi (or whiz past in an aircon bus)
on your way to the beautiful beach. We were sharing a pension with a young Turkish PhD candidate in geology. When asked what his specialty was, he responded that it was plate tectonics, but only for the last 5 million years. Only 5 million years? Only 1000 times all recorded human history? We talked about what a short time that was, in comparison to the Jurassic, and other truly ancient events. Think about that the next time, or maybe only time, you spend a ton of money on a Mausoleum!
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Yesterday marked the completion of our eighth month on the road. As we drove into the town of Iznik, we drove through fields of small trees that were loosing their leaves to the fall weather and making tiny piles of bright orange leaves underneath them which made them look as if they were each setting small fires to keep themselves warm. It was quite a beautiful scene to mark this milestone with.
It was also Halloween in America so it was rather fitting that we spent part of our afternoon in the small city of Iznik looking for a proper "disguise" for me to wear while we travel through Iran. I have gotten conflicting information about just how covered up I need to be and what is and is not appropriate, so we held off on buying anything until we do a bit more research. However, no matter what we end up getting, I think one thing will be for certain: it will not be flattering! (But I guess that is part of the point.)
So, today began our ninth month of travels and in this month there will be a number of changes. Most significantly for me is that once we leave Istanbul for good, I will no longer be traveling on my own bike. The prospect of riding pillion with Kevin for the rest of the trip is very, very, bittersweet for me because while I really feel that I will be losing a part of my freedom and morphing into just another "back-of-the-bike-wife," I also know that I will probably be safer and we will be saving quite a bit of money on gas. I have ridden my bike now for over 24,000 miles across half of the world and though it may have felt in the beginning as if the 650cc red lion was my adversary, it has been my partner and accomplice, and a true pussy-cat for quite some time now and I will miss the purring as we zoom into the unknown.