‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’, so said my mother (mumble, mumble). Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found this to be so. Pounds (the paper ones) have always flowed through my fingers like water, whereas pennies (and I include the current pound coins) seem to gather and collect in obscure corners of furniture where they breed and multiply over the years.
Be that as it may, in the spirit of saving more than a few pennies á la Barry Bucknell, I offer you the following DIY project that is guaranteed to save you a small fortune if you are thinking of buying a thermal cover for your swimming pool. It will also have you hopping-mad, á la new Residency Permit prices, if you have just gone out and bought one!
What you need:
A sharp knife or scissors
A suitable amount of horticultural grade bubble wrap
Something for rolling the seams
A willing helper
A sweat rag
Cut enough equal lengths of bubble wrap to cover your pool. Get your helper to butt the first and second sheets together while you apply ‘Gaffer’ tape along the seam and roll the tape to ensure strong adhesion. Repeat this with subsequent sheets. J and I can tape and roll 3x8mts lengths in about 30 minutes. Fold over and tape one end allowing enough for a length of plastic water pipe to pass through – this will make the putting on and taking off easy.
One of these covers lasts us about 3 years before it begins to fall to bits. It is very efficient at keeping debris off the pool (we are surrounded by trees and shrubs and want to keep them in place), it provides excellent thermal insulation and extends your season at both ends of the year. You’ll also find that you don’t need to ‘vacuum’ the pool so often. If you want to use a roller to help put the cover on and off you’ll have to ask elsewhere, we’ve never bothered.
You could also cut the cover to the shape of you pool; we share ours with various friendly frogs, waterboatmen, etc so we keep our cover larger than pool size so that the edges provide plenty of air space for the visiting wildlife.
And that’s it!
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü
Send SAE for your free Blue Peter badge.
Theirs cost: TL650 and upwards
Ours costs: TL30 (plastic) TL10 (tape) + lots of fun and swearing!
There was great excitement today as our region’s local newspaper ‘Güneyege’ hit the news stands and it was revealed that Okçular ex-pat resident, John Codling had become the first person to photograph a previously unknown species of bird.
Avid nature lover, bon vivant, amateur photographer of considerable skill and all round good egg, John was with a few friends attending the village picnic day at our neighbouring village of Kemaliye. The picnic this year had proved to be a great bore compared with other years when there had been plenty of singing, dancing and raki to be had, not to mention side stalls and the odd brawl! Kemaliye picnic day was something to be talked about for weeks afterwards (and sometimes longer for those carted away by the Jandarma!).
Anyway, this year all that changed and the picnic became nothing more than a glorified political rally because, would you believe, even the Minister of State for Industry turned up to make a speech in support of the muhtar who this year will be a candidate for the current ruling party. All a bit like having Tony Benn (alright, alright, I’ve been away for a long time!) turn up to support the election for chairman of the parish council – but it really happened. This surely put the dampers on any partying (as opposed to political partying) as huge numbers of Jandarma, black 4x4s and ‘Men-in-Black’ with funny wires coming out of their ears and very suspicious bulges under their jackets suddenly appeared. They didn’t stay long but somehow the zing had gone out of the day and a sort of melancholy settled over our group.
This was broken momentarily when I spotted ‘something’ on a rock not far away; I pointed it out and John, true to his calling of building a vast collection of pics of Okçular’s wildlife, leapt from his seat and set about getting some close up shots. His unusual speed of movement attracted the attention of a group of kids who, being kids, set about scaring the bejeezus out of whatever was there by getting between camera and subject. John also attracted the attention of local ‘Güneyege’ reporter Zayit İzmir who is a newshound of great initiative and resourcefulness as attested by his regular, two-page spread in the paper. Zayit was too late to see what all the fuss was about so he set about ‘pumping’ some of us for information. He then demonstrated his quickness of mind for a scoop when, using his secret mini-camera he got a shot of John’s camera’s screen as John was reviewing his pics.
Zayit’s audacity and cunning meant that he got the drop on John, who has been faffing about trying to sell his photos of this new species to the Sunday Sport for loads of dosh. John’s tragedy is Zayit’s triumph as this previously unrecorded species was named ‘Yusufçuk kuşunu’ (Dragonfly Bird) and unveiled to the world.
ps Zayit was later asked to refund his bonus when the creature was identified as the Odalisque damselfly Epillage fatime.
With the threat that this might be our last season with a view over Black Lake and its wonderful variety of wildlife, (http://archersofokcular.com/2011/04/29/a-black-year-for-black-lake/) J and I have spent a lot more time just liggin’ about and soaking up the view. If our farming neighbours go ahead and put in the drainage pipes then next year might well be very different. There’s a chance that it might not be as well because pretty much every drainage pipe, of whatever size, that I’ve seen installed over the past 14 years has simply disappeared and within no time at all has become a misty memory. They disappear because of the sheer volume of water in the winter time and the rocks and debris that get swept in and over them. About 7 years ago our former muhtar and his crew arrived and laid some enormous concrete pipes across the road near our house in order to divert the course of a, mostly dry, stream bed that becomes a raging torrent when it rains. We ended up with a humped-back bridge that had the virtue of slowing down the turbo tractors and their 7 year-old drivers! Within a year the hump had disappeared along with the concrete pipes and to finish the whole thing off, 2 years ago the road was asphalted; plus we have a new muhtar – ‘Pipes? What pipes?’
Anyway, back to our story which is not about pipes – this spring has seen a huge increase in the numbers of birds on Black Lake. It’s as though they know this might be their last banquet and that next year they’ll have to work a bit harder for their meals. That’s because this shallow, seasonal, patch of water is home to countless millions of frogs and dragonfly larvae at just the right time for breeding and chick-raising. The storks mostly nest down at the famous Ley Ley Restaurant where there are suitable trees and special nesting poles. The owners and staff at the restaurant provide care and a permanent home for those birds that get injured by falling from the nests so it is a great place to visit because the ‘permanent staff’ get so used to people that they will feed from your hand. It really is amazing how precise and gentle they are with those enormous and powerful beaks.
Why am I telling you about this? Because I don’t know for how much longer we will be privileged to have these beautiful and graceful creatures around. I understand why my lovely farming neighbours need to be able to make use of their land for more profitable crops; at the same time I’m a bit of a ‘NIMBY’ about my view and the wildlife it attracts. I know that the new environment will attract new and different creatures and my beautiful storks love to forage around in fields anyway, so I do expect them to come back. And the various herons and egrets? Well, they’re a different matter so I’ve been spending much more time than usual stalking the storks and liggin’ about watching them in the reflections on Black Lake. Ahhh! Another beautiful day in Turkey!
J and I went on a pilgrimage today to the ‘Shrine of Kocadere’. Actually, we tend to go there quite a lot at different times throughout the year because it’s a very special place. There is an intimacy as well as a grandeur about this cleft carved through the limestone by the forces of nature. Here I can sit or walk and actually hear myself think! No traffic noise, no music and usually, no other people; just the gentle sounds of our other, non-human neighbours that we share this corner of the world with.
Once, long ago the waters of an un-named little river in what today is Okçular discovered a fissure in the bed of the stream and began to bore its way through the soft limestone, ‘zigging’ and ‘zagging’ until, eventually, it burst back into the light of day some 5kms from where it had gone underground. Millennia passed and the relentless flow of water dissolved away the rock until a vast cavern had been hollowed out. I like to believe that this great gateway to the Underworld would have held very special significance for the early inhabitants of this area and this accounts for the affinity that I experience whenever I go there. A hydrologist whom I took there described it as a ‘bridged canyon’ which would have been open at both ends.
Today Kocadere is bridged no more because, based on best estimates, an earthquake about 2000 years ago caused the roof to crash down. What you see today as you walk into the valley proper are great vertical walls of limestone with many, many rocks and huge boulders littering the valley floor. It takes very little imagination to picture the area as it once was.
If you are reasonably fit and sensibly shod, you can traverse the valley from end to end, although there are no footpaths to ease your way. This very inaccessibility has led to a distribution of flora and fauna that, whilst not totally unique, is nearly so.
Critically endangered species like the endemic Fire Salamander Lyciasalmandra fazliae or Alkanna mughlae, a member of the Borage family of herbs, abound. The Alkanna was only known to exist at two sites in the world, both in Muğla Province after which it is named. When I happened upon it, and drew it to the attention of one of Turkey’s eminent environmentalists, Okçular was inundated with professors and students. Kocadere is, today, the most important site known for this species.
The sheer number of different species to be found around Okçular and Kocadere has astounded biologists. One example is orchids; to date I have recorded 27 species and one of these was my reason for going to the valley today – the beautifully delicate Holy Orchid Orchis sancta. Here you can enjoy a photograph; to see one in the ‘flesh’ in the supreme setting of Kocadere, you will need to be quick – they will only be flowering for the next few weeks. Give your senses a treat and come and visit, ‘We are waiting you’.
My mother kept a dragon – she really did. It lived in a large pot behind the shed in the garden of the very new, post-war council house that we occupied back when I was a very young and impressionable child. She didn’t call it a dragon in those days, she called it a ‘Snake Plant’ and she told me that evil snakes were born from plants just like this one and I believed her. The stem was mottled like a snake and the leaves were shaped like a snake-headed Gorgon with a viper like quality (or so it seemed to me). Although the plant would sprout up each year there was never a flower and mother said that it only flowered every 7 years but when it did there would be snakes all over the place.
Then, one year the plant sprouted and seemed much thicker and stronger that ever before and from the top there grew a great green spike (a biologist will tell you that this is normal plant behaviour – I was not a biologist, I was 6 years old), mother said the flower was coming and so were the snakes! We waited.
When the flower opened it was amazing – and I really do mean amazing! A huge, purple, ‘thing’, of great beauty with a strange black spear sticking out of it. I remember spying on it from the relative safety of the corner of the house – I knew what was inside. Slowly, I summoned the courage to approach and look more closely and as I did so all of my worst fears were confirmed . . . here was a monstrous creature that devoured flesh. I could smell it – the stench of rotting meat was nauseating and flies massed and buzzed around the monstrous creation of evil. My dear mother soon added her pound of suppurating flesh to the mix when she informed me that she had seen the snakes dragging screaming babes down into the plant. Jeez, this thing scared the sh^%e out of me!
Anyway, time passed and we and life moved on and I didn’t give any more thought to ‘Snake Plants’ and those ‘missing’ babes – until I came to live in Okçular village and J and I went for a walk that first Spring. ‘Tanrım!’ as they say in Turkish – it all came back; my mother, the plant, my mother, the snakes, my mother, the missing babes, my mother, death, my mother, the stinking flesh, my mother . . my mother . .
Which brings me to a ‘poem’ by the Poet Laureate Philip Larkin:
They fu%$ you up, your mum and dad,
They don’t mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had,
And then some extras, just for you!
(this, is apparently, the most popular poem in the US which could be a pointer for all the damage the US government does around the world)
Anyway, all of that aside, let me introduce you to one of the most spectacular plants you will ever encounter in our neck of the woods. It is hugely beautiful, very common around our village (and, if you live in SW Turkey, common around your area, too) and deserving of your admiration from a safe distance. Why so? Because it has a ‘scent’ like one of the Orcs from ‘Lord of the Rings’ that has a peptic ulcer and a severe case of halitosis!! It is appalling – I kid you not! Meet Dracunculus vulgaris the Dragon Arum – admired from afar but never truly loved.
That said, it has naturalised itself in our garden and J and I are delighted. We nurture them (for now there are five) and enjoy their company and, because we are so polite, we never comment on their bad breath.
Okçular is a truly amazing place with beautiful flowers like the Dragon Arum; it is also home to one of the world’s rarest plants Alkanna muglae but more of that in another post. You can learn more about the flora, fauna and history of our village by visiting http://okcular.net there are also books available that support the Okçular Book Project, find out more from the website.
Here is another story from the ‘Tardis’ files; this time of a project that we completed just over a year ago. It’s topical because a few weeks ago the education authorities sent in a work team to fit spanking new, double glazed windows and new doors. This is pretty wonderful for the staff and children because now, when it rains, they won’t have waterfalls cascading down the walls and across the floors. For us it means that there are some ‘repairs’ to be done touching up the murals that the story that follows is all about . . .
The looks of delight and wonder on the faces of the primary school kids of our village have been priceless as, day-by-day (weather permitting), the drab, utilitarian cream and pink walls of the school’s buildings have been transformed. With the benefit of hindsight this has been a wonderful project to be a part of, but, there were times when the sheer scale of it was pretty daunting.
It all began with the creation of the ‘Okçular Book Project’ just over two and a bit years ago; regular readers of ‘Land of Lights’ and ‘Today’s Zaman’ may recall the publication of ‘Okçular Village – a Guide’ and our commitment to use all of the money raised from sales to fund environmental and community projects in our village. The popularity of the book was such that we were able to provide a play park for the children within a few months; our second project was to brighten the village school by planting gardens and painting lively murals on the outside walls of the classrooms. Our hope was that this would create a pleasant learning and teaching environment for students and staff.
Our team consisted of Fiona MacRae, a retired head teacher from Scotland and a talented self-taught artist; Gülay Çolak, a remarkable lady, confined to a wheelchair for the past 10 years, also a talented self-taught artist; Yeliz Bozkur, school assistant and enthusiastic gardener and tea-lady; Janet Surman, sometime artist, mediator and paint mixer; and me, Alan Fenn, dogsbody, ‘gopher’ and general labourer. We began work on 17th November 2009.
The kids were involved from the start; it was their ideas that fueled the themes for each part of the walls and it was their paintbrushes that helped to create the wonderful pictures that have evolved from those ideas. Whenever we ‘wrinklies’ wilted the enthusiasm from the children revived us; as did the numerous lunchtime meals provided by parents and neighbours who were as delighted by the transformation as the kids.
Donations from individuals and local businesses have filled the new gardens with flowers, shrubs and trees. Logs have provided sitting and play areas; charming fences, made and painted by teachers and children, now enhance and protect the gardens. There is a new sun dial and a ‘bird garden’ complete with a beautiful bird table. There has been attention from the local press and having the odd tourist bus stop for a photo opportunity doesn’t surprise us any more.
We applied our last daubs of paint and planted our last shrub on 23rd February 2010 – 3 very satisfying months. Yeliz will carry on looking after the gardens (along with much else), our artists are talking about starting an Art Club with the children and funds from Okçular Book Project can be used to provide materials and equipment. All-in-all this has been a lot of fun; it has fired us up for our next project – an outdoor chess set and playing ‘board’ for the enthusiastic members of the school’s chess club.
So, how does this ‘Okçular Book Project’ work? Well, there are two books; the first is called ‘Okçular Village – a Guide’. Printed in Turkish and English, the book covers some of the history of the village, many of the old folks stories in their own words, detailed maps and walks and lists of flora and fauna. There are lots of photographs, all printed on high quality paper and stitched for security; even if you never plan to visit our area it is a wonderful insight into a different world. It also makes a terrific gift and is priced at just TL15! The second book is called ‘Backways & Trackways’ and is a dedicated walking and cycling guide with accurate hand-drawn maps and very clear instructions to keep you on course. Covering the areas around Dalyan, Çandır, Okçular and Kösten and Ölemez Mountains ıt will give you the confidence to venture into places you never knew existed. Published just a short time ago and priced at only TL20 it has outstripped our wildest expectations. Copies can be obtained locally in Dalyan and Okçular or mailed to you here in Turkey or anywhere on the planet; payment can be made via PayPal from http://okcular.net Every bit of the cover price goes towards environmental and community projects in our village; no profit or commission are taken. The books are a wonderful read, great value for your donation and you’d be supporting a really good cause. Contact me by email at the address below if you want more information. Meanwhile, here’s a few more photographs of the ‘all-new’ Okçular Village Primary School.
I’ve already said that this blog will be a bit like tripping in the ‘Tardis'; time and space (and sometimes a few memories) warped as we zip backwards and forwards. Here we go on the first of those journeys; back two years to April 2009 . . .
So, here we are; April 1st and day 3 of this trip. We’ve arrived in Mardin, our base for the next couple of days. The town is quite a sight as you drive in perched, as it is, high on its pinnacle of rock (1325 mts) and crowned by its mighty fortress. The fortress would be a great place to view the surrounding countryside; except you can’t because the military use the place to keep an eye on us (and the Syrians who are just a few miles away!).
We’ve found one of those wonderful butik, as we say in Turkey, hotels; this one has also had Prince Charles as a guest but that hasn’t stopped the fixtures falling off the walls or the shower from flooding the toilet/bathroom! The building is a really nice restoration of a very typical Mardin stone house; all tunnels, arched ceilings and cast iron window grills. The porter is an enormously tall fellow whose “uniform” is the local men’s fashion – baggy trousers that friend Gordon once irreverently described as . . . (nope, I’m not going there!), waistcoat with the whole topped off with one of those very Turkish peaked caps. And the place has wi-fi!
This evening we had an aimless wander about, as you do when you’re a tourist, “Ohhing” and “Ahhing” at the sights and views and attracting the attention of all the school kids who want to practice their English. Later, sitting in a tea garden taking in the
view towards Syria through the dust clouds and watching the antics of the Tumbler Pigeons and thousands of swallows as the sun set behind one of the most beautiful carved stone minarets you can imagine was memorable.
Janet’s just sent for the man to come and mop out the toilet!
Turkey is the Land of Unbelievable Coincidences, but let’s see if you can top this; on our wander about we were looking for a likely place to eat and there was another wonderful restoration that was a hotel that advertised its restaurant. We decided to give it a whirl and were led down steps and along (arched) passageways to the restaurant that was in what was probably the cellars of the old house – very tasteful, very nice! Our young waiter
settled us in and then summoned his colleague who could speak English. He, of course, wanted to know where we came from, “Muğla” said we, “do you know it?” “Of course,” said he “where in Muğla?” “Near Ortaca, do you know Ortaca?” “Of course,” said he “I worked at the Ley Ley restaurant, do you know it?” Can you believe this? I’m not making it up! We’ve just traveled 1340 odd kilometers, picked a restaurant at random and the waiter (eventually) remembers me as the guy who spends 2/3rds of his life hunched over his computer using the Ley Ley Restaurant’s free wi-fi! Naughty weekend? Forget it!
Anyway, back to the bit about getting here; the first stage was to Alanya where we stayed in a modern hotel overlooking the harbour in the old part of town. Modern Alanya is ghastly but the old part around the castle is much more attractive. We had hoped to stay at a restoration up in the castle but that place wasn’t open and didn’t look as though it would. A great shame as it really is grand up there. Day two found us in Gaziantep having driven some of the finest coastal cum mountain roads in Turkey; the views were stunning! It made crawling along behind giant trucks a real pleasure. Eventually we forsook the normal roads for the motorway (the object being to get over here reasonably quickly and then do the meandering on the way back). For those of you not familiar with Turkish Otoyols let me tell you, they are fantastic! I mean really fantastic!They are engineering marvels of the highest order; they are cheap to use and they are largely empty – so empty that one
wonders what induces anyone to continue building them. Be that as it may, they are a drivers delight although sharp wits and constant concentration are required. Why is that, I hear you ask, if they do be empty? Well, it goes like this; you are bombing along for mile after empty mile at a legal 120 or so kph. In the distance you perceive a couple of trucks, you move into the middle lane in good time. Just as you come up to the lumbering behemoths the back one pulls out, without warning, to overtake. Now, no truck driver in Turkey worth his salt is going to take up just one lane and no Turk with Istanbul number plates on his black Merc or BMW is going to drop his speed from 200+kph as he screams up the outside lane; these guys know that putting their headlights on clears any passage, they certainly cleared mine a few times I can tell you!
And so here we are, back where I started; tomorrow the pace of things moves down a gear or two. We will probably take a run over to Hasankeyf which is about two hours from here in a roughly Northeasterly direction and lies on the banks of the mighty Euphrates River – I’ll tell you about that another day.
One thing I can say about this “Butik Otel”, the bed is very nice; I’m not sure what Janet thinks yet, she’s still waiting for the warm water to come through for her shower! In the two previous places the beds were like lying on planks and watching me getting out of them in the morning was (Janet is happy this morning; she’s just done a rendition of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – de dum – de dum de dum de dum”) Geriatric Ward the Sequel!
Gaziantep old town is very nice and well worth a bit more time; the magnificent castle was closed because of the renovations which are on a vast scale and very well carried out. All around the castle the area has been restored (there’s still much to do) and little businesses
A pleasant and relaxing sojourn to Hasankeyf about 2 hours away through this remarkable geology; so dry and dusty and crumbly yet there are loads of areas of bright green and fruit/nut tree orchards galore. There are plenty of river valleys supplying water the most expansive of which is the Tigris where Hasankeyf is situated. It’s a remarkable site spread out over a large area; there is evidence of thousands of cave houses (and that’s
only those that are left in evidence after much of the facades have collapsed over time). Picture in your mind a deep cleft running back from the huge valley of the Tigris; the sides are inundated with cave houses and once great buildings are dotted around the cliff tops. Under the castle are dozens of huge water cisterns and secret tunnels and stairways to escape/hide from assailants. There are two wonderfully carved stone minarets and some odds and sods remain of the palace. The whole of this remarkable site, like many others in Turkey and around the world, is under threat from yet another discredited dam. Anyone who takes the time to find out knows that rivers carry sediment (especially those like the Tigris) and dams stop water flow and allow sediment to settle out. Sediment relentlessly fills up dam and in short order dam is useless. People are displaced, good farm land destroyed but money is in the pockets of the greedy and selfish. The huge Seven Gorges Dam project in China is already in trouble before it is fully functional with cracks and collapses – how many millions displaced and for what?
Hasankeyf town is a pretty depressing place generally with a large concrete bridge to carry the main road over the Tigris. Having seen the underside of the bridge close up, how bits of the supporting structure moved and opened up, I was not feeling 100% confident as we crossed over to get a view from the other side. On the upside the government is building a wide new road into the place, no doubt with the intent to facilitate evacuation when the time comes!!
On the drive back we diverted away from the more commonly used roads to find the little town of Savur; it was worth it with loads of fine traditional stone house alongside some beautifully built “reproductions” – there were also plenty of concrete nasties but enough of those. We squeezed the car up some pretty precipitous and narrow lanes before parking up and climbing up to what remains of the castle. We enjoyed the view as our brains were slowly fried by the micro waves from the Turk Telekom communication towers! On the way up we found white violets! Don’t yet know if that is a ‘Eureka!’ moment as my ref books are in the car and I’m not getting dressed to fetch them. We’ve had a few fine “spots” of flowering plants along the route today; some will no doubt get a label but with the limited range of my ref books many will remain just beautiful photos to be enjoyed.
Found a truly fantastic place to eat this evening; simple food prepared and presented so well that it really deserves to be described as exceptional, this was some of the finest food either of us have ever tasted. And no touristic prices to take the edge off the experience!
Tomorrow we head back to Şanliurfa; Urfa, the birthplace of Abraham and site of numerous miracles if the stories are to be believed; there is even a cave under the castle that claims to have a hair from the Prophet so something for everyone of you believers out there. We also have some fish to feed, of which more later.
What I didn’t mention was the state of the road from Şanliurfa to Mardin; most of you know that Janet and I push our faithful Doblo (with an accent) up and down all sorts of mountain tracks and goat paths so when I tell you that this has to be the very worst road in Turkey you know I mean the worst! After juddering along for half an hour everyone becomes convinced that the road is better on the other side, so we all move over which leads to some pretty spectacular driving antics when something comes the other way or a bit of overtaking is undertaken!! Tomorrow we have all this to look forward to in reverse (dis)order.
As it happened, the other side of the road was better and the powers that be had been out filling in a lot of the potholes and there seemed to be less traffic going back, which begs the question; if it’s all going and not coming – where has it all gone?
There has been a lot of police and jandarma about because of some heavy violence following the local elections; we stopped for petrol near a small town and chatted to the guys there who told us that four people had been murdered there. Beggers belief! Having said that we have only been stopped once so far which was today; there was a great deal of headlight flashing going on and suddenly we were hauled over with a whole bunch of other drivers under the menace of two eight-wheeled armoured vehicles armed with 14.5mm heavy machine guns and surrounded by loads of tooled-up jandarma. We’re lucky, I s’pose, because we stick out like sore thumbs; we seem to have a big neon sign on our heads saying “Yabanci”and a nice young regular soldier was soon at our window practicing his English and then sending us on our way rejoicing.
Our copies of Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are about 12-15 years out of date and Urfa has grown a tad since they rolled off the press. We eventually found our way around the
road system and are ensconced in what was once the provincial governor’s mansion; it is a beautiful stone “palace”, beautifully restored and furnished with a beautiful price tag, but hey! how many times do we live? Anyway, as socialists we believe in doing away with money so we’re setting an example and starting with ours!
Just want to backtrack for a moment; before we left Mardin we had a wander around a different part of the old town and found a newly restored mosque and medrassa. Our luck was good because just as we turned up so did the guardian, a youngish chap who was happy to give us a personal tour. He was a mine of information and sound philosophy as he waxed lyrical about the beauty of Islamic art and design, mathematics and the diversity of faiths in the area (Islam, Orthodox, Catholic, etc). As we arrived at the prayer rooms he indicated for us to remove our shoes and the tour and our education continued. Part way round I noticed the butt of a 9mm automatic sticking out of his waistband which caused me to reflect upon a culture that has you take your shoes off at the door but isn’t bothered about firearms. But then what do we know of the dangers of being a mosque guardian in a place like Mardin?
Christ! Our hotel has a live folk music evening; it feels like we’re sharing the platform with them!
After a light vegetarian lunch to help purge some of the Class 1 protein from our systems we set out to find the world renowned Pool of Abraham. It was just a few hundred mts from our hotel and is quite a sight/site. There are several very old mosques and medrassas and acres of connected pools the whole set in beautifully kept gardens. The area bulged with visitors and the pools bulged with millions (not joking) of very large carp that assume that anyone who happens by is going to feed
them and follow you thrashing about at the surface with their great gaping mouths opening and closing. I think that if you fell in you’d likely be gummed to death!
This is such a culturally diverse place; the mixture of Turkish with Arabic and a little modern Western dress is something to behold. People speak Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic or a combination. The ladies in particular are very colourful.
The covered bazaar is extensive and a normal working as opposed to a touristic place. Janet bought a few of the local purple scarves that are worn by men and women alike.
The castle here is also under restoration but we determined to climb up there for the view; having puffed our way up the restored stairway to the restored gatehouse we were confronted by the pay kiosk and a “Jobsworth”. The sign said entrance was free to over 65s and Janet is ever one to save a few lira; out came her ikamet which gives her age. Jobsworth was not impressed; “It’s only for Turks” he said, “And this is an official Turkish identity card. I want my free admission.” She got it! I can’t wait to be an Old Aged Pensioner too so I can get my free admissions.
Blimey the music is loud but seriously good. That zourna gets right into your guts.
Tomorrow we head out for Harrun near the Syrian border which promises to be very interesting. It’s incredibly ancient with beehive shaped mud houses. Speaking of ancient, Urfa claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the planet. “Not many people know that.” says Michael Caine, or was that Michael Able?
It’s been very interesting sitting with young Kurds and talking politics – local and global, over a glass of tea. The differences between people are so superficial yet they cause many problems when left to the machinations of the powerful elites.
Our day began with two things, one salubrious the other highly salubrious; I’ll leave you to work out which is which.
First, comes our breakfast . . . what a spread! Everything and then some, well presented and in such quantity that 2/3rds had to be left. There was an interesting looking red-ish “substance” that we were assured was jam made from berries; jam my arse! it was a violently hot pepper spread that would have brought tears to the eyes of even a hardened Mexican chilli connoisseur. On the other hand there was a huge bowl of clotted cream that has probably taken several years off our lives but was worth every lost second!
Second there is the delicate matter of the “bum-washing” faucet on these here Turkish toilets; most of you know what I’m talking about. They are a splendidly refreshing thing on a hot, sticky day but have always to be approached with a fair degree of caution; a moments inattention can be catastrophic! The nozzle will likely be pointing anywhere other than the expected target and is usually aimed at the gap between pan and seat. Many a chap’s sense of self-worth has been utterly destroyed when he stood up and discovered his trousers had been the recipient of several pints of water. So, you can imagine our surprise and utter delight when we discovered that at this up-market establishment the water has been warmed to a comfortable temperature and we all know that a warm wash is better for the environment, delicate fabrics and delicate nether regions!
Anyway, we’re off to Harran today, about 35-40kms South of here. Negotiating the traffic in the narrow streets of the old town was better than expected it being early-ish on a Saturday morning. There were some heavy black clouds about and a little rain but by the time we got there it was clear enough. The village is a bit of a hodge-podge of old beehive shaped buildings and shoddy concrete with no trees or grass to break up the dusty streets. The land around is fertile and very productive these days thanks to the GAP dam projects.
We drove around to the back of the site and found the remains of the castle and it was here that the chap in a car who had been pursuing us finally caught us up along with a hoard of scruffy little tow-rags who were touting for business/alms for the needy. The young guy was very personable, spoke good English and guaranteed to keep the youthful descendants of Genghis Khan off our backs . . . he got the job! Actually, the kids aren’t the descendants of any rampaging Mongol, they speak Arabic by choice and the kids learn Turkish as their second language at school.
Our new guide gave us a good tour around and included some old beehive houses that he and his brothers had renovated and turned into an enterprise. We now have photos of us dressed up in Arab gear and looking and feeling very silly.
Having done Harran, our guide proposed that he should take us to some little visited sites that are mentioned in our guide books but are a devil to find . . we decided to give it a whirl and it was a very good decision. He took us to a huge underground quarry where
stone for much of the ancient buildings of Harran was hewn; its like standing inside a whole bunch of inter-connected cathedrals. There were underground dwellings at another place and what’s left of the temple of Sin (Moon God/ess). You can feel the age of these places as you stand and imagine how it would once have been. Harran has the remains of the oldest university in the world that stood until the Mongols wandered through the area; how the once mighty have fallen!
That said, the locals are a pretty contented lot; there is now plenty of prosperity from farming, tourism adds a bit more and we were assured that there is little to cause discontent. Our guide was indignant at the antics of some of the kids who carry on the begging traditions of their predecessors. Our visit was capped off by an invite to a simple lunch at our guides family home; all in all a very nice day. Oh! And lots of new flowers to photograph that I won’t bore you with.
On the drive back to Urfa we ran into an almighty thunderstorm and downpour; the whole city was awash. Vehicles were stalled at every inconvenient place and with no one giving an inch the place was grid-locked with blaring horns, pedestrians wading knee-deep across the streets and police standing around waiting – presumably for a riot to break out! Wade into that lot and get things moving? No chance!.
Once the rain cleared up we were able to get out and explore the oldest part of town . . . not much to write home about with a few bits of old houses left amidst a heap of ghastly concrete from the 40s and 50s. Several nice looking mosques, though.
We arrived back to another night of live folk music which is pretty much ok; it’s a bit like being back-stage in one of the dressing rooms listening to the gig in the distance. I’m not sure if it’s the zourna getting into my gut or I’ve eaten too much kofte . . . must go on a veggie diet when we get home!
From (Sanli)Urfa we took the easy way on the motorway to (Gazi)Antep before turning off on the road South directly to the Syrian border; the usual nightmare of trying to negotiate city roads where works are endemic and signs are an endangered species was not forthcoming . . . Antep was a dream to get through with clear signs many with English spellings. Bravo!
The drive towards the border and then the run West parallel to it was uneventful but very enjoyable because it is lovely countryside. There were rivers and valleys and vast “orchards” of well-tended, very old olive trees; the trunks of these venerable old things are a sight to behold; they look as if someone has sat there and plaited/woven each one into intricate shapes and designs.
Once we began to head South once again in the direction of Antakya (Antioc) we were on the look out for some sort of eating place; it was a forlorn hope . . . Hiç(h); nothing. We survived on a camel-driver’s diet of dates and walnuts until the big town. What do Hatay folk do when out and about?
We had good luck with a hotel, clean, reasonable and right next door to the bazaar area. A pleasant wander through the back streets of the old town included finding a sort of adult education centre in a nicely restored courtyard house. Guided tour by the guardian followed by tea with him and some ladies under the yard tree. Then he whisked us off to visit a finely restored mosque cum shrine to some pre-Christian sage whose shrunken remains are a source of devotions by many. After all that it was time to sit down for an authentic Antakyan kunefye a delicious cheese-filled pudding topped with maraş(h) icecream; is your mouth watering? It should be!
As we sat there we thought it would be fun to ring a young fellow from this province who, whilst working at the Ley Ley Restaurant, acted as our interpreter and general supporter when we were fighting to stop the quarry; he has worked in Bodrum for several years now. When he answered we asked him where he thought we were (using street sounds over the phone), he was stunned when we told him, why? because he was in his village just outside of town for a visit. He’d not long left where we were sitting having just booked his coach ticket for the next day, amazing or what! 35 minutes later, following a lunatic motorbike race to town, he was guiding us to his mother’s house where we were now expected as honoured guests. We knew about his mum, she speaks Arabic (as do most of the locals hereabouts) and very limited Turkish. We were greeted like long lost relatives, taken on a village tour, in part to show us off to neighbours before being sat down to a memorable meal that included roast chicken. I mean, how did she get all that prepared and still come for a walk? (‘cos she’s a woman . . . W-O-M-A-N . . . I’ll say it . . de dah de dah) Anyway, eventually we started making noises to get back to our hotel; blimey! much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We must stay the night; it’s early (after 10); etc. Then we had to be given plants dug up from the garden, then more plants . . . What a struggle we westerners have with this kind of hospitality and generosity, our genes just can’t handle it. East is East etc. Wonderful, wonderful people.
You’ll recall that I waxed lyrical about that very civilised “bum washer” in the previous missive; well, here’s the truth of the situation. Because it was weekend the hotel had a lot more guests and naturally the water supply gets a lot more through put, showers etc. As a consequence when our civilised faucet was turned on there were agonised shrieks and much hopping about and cursing because what came out was a blast of near super-heated steam, plus the water tank was gently murmuring. You guessed it, the plumber had hooked up the toilet to the hot water system and this in a hotel that exhorts us to keep our towels an extra day to save the planet!
Today has been interesting and enjoyable. We set out to find a famous grotto and failed, so we journeyed on to the coast to find a “genteelly decaying” seaside town of Samandağ, that is reportedly, much favoured by Turks and Syrian visitors, before then going another few kms to explore a bit of Roman engineering. First the town; we’ve both traveled around a bit and neither of us could believe the filth and collapsed infrastructure. This has to be the dirtiest and worst town in Turkey and close to the top of the league internationally. The neglect started at the edge of the town and continued to the boundary the other side; mud and garbage strewn everywhere, pot holes a caver would die for, and some probably have! The population is 40,000, the people are well dressed in modern western type clothes, why do they put up with this sort of thing? Where has all the grant money from central government gone? We can guess!
We eventually got through the place (we were being overtaken by donkeys, pot holes, remember?) and found our Roman site of special engineering interest. 2000 years ago the locals were asking that good old “Life of Bryan” question “What have the Romans ever done for us?” They were hacked off because the local river was a bit of a hooly and kept washing the town and half the inhabitants away. So the local governor decided on a bit of “Hearts and Minds” instead of sending in the troops again (they were a bit stretched anyway dealing with the Intifada in Palestine. He had his engineers cut a gorge and tunnel through the mountain to divert the river away and then dam the original valley. It’s an amazing feat and we had a good time exploring the whole length which is not what tourists normally do it being dark, slippery and as I found a bit painful when you step where there is no floor and find yourself clinging grimly to the edge. Whatever, we also found an amazing complex of inter-connecting burial chambers and loads of interesting flowers, especially at the other end of the tunnel where few feet have trod these past 1999 years! Found a restaurant with a view, had a really good, spicy chicken meal whilst holding down tables and chairs and plates etc during some pretty violent blasts of wind. In the street it was like being in a sand blasting machine!
From here we took to the mountains, more flowers, an amazing wind farm and a lone village/farming chap looking for a lift to where we were going. He pointed out all sorts of good stuff, had us divert to a beautiful mountain top lake and guided us to our destination which we’d assumed would be a village but was a Turkish town of the type we love. The whole area is sooo green and because it butts up to Syria and the local profession of choice is smuggling it crawls with police, army and customs. We drank coffee, bought locally made lokum (Turkish delight) from the maker’s very own hands, drove to the border post to make the “Jobsworth” suspicious, got stopped (very politely) by the police, and then drove our hitch-hiker home to his village with the medicine he’d got for his daughter. Drank tea, declined very nicely the invitation to stay, gave them a box of lokum, accepted a bag of home grown, home made bulgur, handed them a bag of oranges (coals to Newcastle) and made our way back to base knowing this had been a very good day’s experience.
At the hotel we decided to eat in so went to the restaurant upstairs; we were surprised to be the only customers but the chap took our order and then went and got it as a take-away from the restaurant down stairs somewhere! He even served the salad up in the plastic take-away trays and then charged us TL25, we’d had a similar but far superior meal for lunch for TL10, enterprising or what?
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü
'burası Türkiye!' – 'this is Turkey!' – living, loving and travelling Turkey