'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

The Trafik Jandarma, The Flower and The Chocolate Truffle

I was reading through one of Jack’s postings from his Perking the Pansies blog, about being stopped by the Jandarma at one of their very frequent control points and it immediately conjured up a memory from a few years ago. I was driving into neighbouring Dalyan and was caught up in a fair sized queue of cars, trucks and buses that was the result of one of these controls. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that I look guilty of something whenever I meet up with uniforms at close quarters. Going through customs I just know they’re going to stop me, and I’m usually right – ‘Hmmm! He’s looking a bit shifty, Bert. Let’s check him out.’

Anyway, back to the Jandarma and their road block; it was a bit unusual in that they were stopping everyone and the line was long and growing by the minute. Must be something big, I thought, as they had men down the line stopping the quick-witted from doing a U-turn and doing a quick skedaddle out of there, and so it proved. As we inched forward I could see that the Jandarma were in their best uniforms; so there must be ‘brass’ about; not only that, they were smiling, shaking hands and passing stuff over to the vehicles rather than the other way around! (Documents! I’m talking about documents!)

My turn arrived and I was pleased to note that the top sergeant was known to me; ‘Where is the Janet?’ he asked. ‘At home’, I replied in my less than perfect pigeon Turkçe. ‘Well, here’s some for her, as well’, said he, handing over 2 pink carnations, 6 sweets and a shake of refreshing lemon cologne. Behind me was a tourist bus and it was great to see the bemused looks on the faces of these folks as the bus was boarded and each was presented with a carnation, a sweet and a shake of cologne by smiling young Jandarma conscripts.

‘What’s all this about?’ I asked my top sarge; ‘Trafik Jandarma Günü’ he said, ‘Kutlu olsun.’ ‘National Traffic Jandarma Day – Congratulations.’

As I drove away with a big smile on my face, I noticed a couple more tourist buses caught up in the lengthening queue and thought what a positive memory these visitors will take home with them. Can’t imagine those po-faced British Traffic Cops dishing out carnations, they’re too busy nicking their own mothers for having a faulty side light! Mind you, our Turkish boys will be back in the groove and running with the pack tomorrow and there won’t be any of this namby-pamby flowers and sweets stuff – it will be business as usual!

Photos: wowing the locals, the tourists and even little old ladies – Ahh! Bless them!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps the police have nabbed me a couple of times but the Jandarma have always been very civil and very forgiving!


The South East Days 7 & 8

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!

Day 8

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


. . And A Nightingale Sang In . .

Tonight has been another of those gently magical moments that live with you forever and at the same time evoke memories from magical moments past. Tonight a pair of nightingales sang to me as I stood in the near darkness of a nearly new moon – the sound is enough to bring a tear to the eye of this old fool; it is so beautiful.

Journalist Jane Akatay said to me after visiting my neck of the woods ‘You really do live in paradise’, and it’s true. If you have not visited Okçular you will not understand – it is an incredible place of beauty, biodiversity and . . . words fail me.

That said, it isn’t Okçular that I want to talk about but Temelköy in the mountains behind Fethiye and nightingales are the trigger. Temelköy lies on the other side of Baba Dag from Fethiye and you can get there from the road to Seki where it branches off from the Antalya road over the mountains.

J and I discovered Temelköy as a by-product of a visit to Girdev with our friends Paul and Pat Hope; Paul had promised me some truly spectacular Fritillaria and Pat had promised some truly spectacular picnic ‘scoff’ (as we used to call any edible substance in the mob that I once served with). Both of them came up trumps; I was able to photograph wonderful Fritillaria wittallii nestled in almost inaccessible rock crevices exactly where Paul said they would be, and the picnic was . . . . stupendous.

Can you imagine feeling like the guy who invented photography, or Ansel Adams, as I sat atop a mountain with views that seemed to encompass all of the known world, eating food that could have been prepared by the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, except Pat had done better, (incidentally the origin of the British Army slang ‘scoff’ for food) and with some wonderful shots in the camera. That’s what trekking with Pat and Paul is like. We’ve been back many times since and the beauty and tranquility never fails to impress.

Having done our ‘thing’ up Girdev we would always choose to stop off on the way down at the tea house in the village of Temelköy. Now, don’t get me wrong, Temelköy is not a very attractive or photogenic place, but it does have a teahouse which has a very basic garden which is full of trees; a real oasis after a hot hike about the mountains. In this garden I have listened entranced as countless nightingales displayed their virtuosity to the world – if only the world would listen! I have also been entertained on every single visit by someone or some group of people who just happened to be there when we called in.

On one visit I took some photos when a group of guys from the village returned from a trip to Fethiye where they had been performing in a folk dance display; still decked out in their ‘folk dance’ finery they had no sooner downed a glass of tea than they were joined by a couple of villagers with a saz and a wooden whistle and the party began. The light was fading and, as I soon realised, was not good for decent photos. On this occasion, however, I managed a very nice shot of the whistle player which this year my good friend and artist Gülay Çolak used to create a really stunning portrait which you can view on her website http://gulaysgallery.org/ .

On another visit to the tea garden we were joined by an old-timer who just walked over with a chair and his mini-saz (I don’t know its name), sat down in front of us and began to play and sing. His performance went on through several glasses of tea and at the end he got up, picked up his chair and walked away – never a word was spoken! His performance was really nice and tuneful but what sticks in my mind to this day were his socks which he wore outside of his trousers! They were beautiful, calf length and knitted in natural, unbleached cotton in those raised designs like cable stitch and many others. The tops were scalloped and the overall detail was amazing. When the old chap had left I commented to the teahouse owner about them and was astonished to learn that in Temelköy and the surrounding area the men-folk have knitted their own socks for generations. It’s a tradition that, like so many others, seems destined to die out within a generation as the young men decide that there are many more interesting things to do with their time.

Why have I told you this story when some of you will probably find it mundane and even boring? Because I think it illustrates an often overlooked fact that taking the time to sit at peace with the world sharing a few moments of our precious time with our fellow human beings, even strangers, will reward each of us many times over in many different ways; sometimes epic but more often small, heartwarming or smile inducing as some trigger, like the song of a nightingale, stimulates a flood of memories. Sticking with the ‘security’ of the same local cafe overlooking the same general view, passing the time of day with the same old friends has a certain appeal for some; striking out for pastures, people and places new and unknown on the other hand could be the key to experiences that will live with you forever – like having a total stranger come and sing to you whilst dozens of nightingales join in the chorus.

Oh! And I really must go back soon and get some decent photos of those socks!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü