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


The South East Day 9

So then, here we are; the end of a relaxing day of just ambling about the area. We started by going to visit what is claimed to be the very first Christian church, a cave not very far from here, where St Peter is supposed to have been so dismayed by the excesses and moral turpitude of the locals he thought he’d better set about giving them a few hang-ups and guilt complexes. When you think about it, he did that all right! Anyway, we got to the site, which is in fact a place of regular weekly worship and pilgrimage only to be confronted by three security guards and an entrance fee of TL8 each. Seems that the Turks have gone back to their old practice of excusing Christians, Jews and sundry assorted Atheists (I insist on having a capital too) from military service but then screwing a bit of extra tax out of them for the national coffers. And what a scam the place is as well, little more than scrape in the cliff face; the trickle of holy water that (they say) once ran into a baptismal pool (hole in the floor about the size of a pudding basin) has dried up because of an earthquake (Oh yeah!). On the upside there was the “Throne of St Peter” (circa 1923) and we were given three free leaflets. Oh! and Janet found a very nice Roman Snail that happily posed on her hand for a photo.

From here we drove around the back of the mountain and through the road works up to the top for  some spectacular views of the city and several vast mountain removal projects that pass as quarries. Again there is a positive side to that, there are a couple of villages in the next valley that are going to have a great view at some stage!

There’s the remains of a castle up there set amidst the forest with a sea of flowers awash in an ocean of rubbish . . . such a shame. There are rows of rubbish bins but no one bothers to empty them and the wind is strong and perpetual judging by the way the trees are all lying nearly parallel to the ground so the litter is everywhere. Hunting for flowers Janet found some nice fossils of shells and sea urchins. A bit further down I was delighted to find a couple of different Bee Orchids.

We returned to the town to explore the covered bazaar which is ramshackle and chaotic but much more fun than Sainsburys. We had a wonderful lunch in a tiny but very busy “hole-in-the-wall” place down one of the back alleys; the hulking great owners were delighted when Janet complimented them on the food they were making. They set about giving a “How to get more out of chickpeas” presentation that entertained us and the gathering locals who were interested in what the foreigners were interested in. Finally back to the hotel to rediscover what we have both missed so far on this trip . . . an afternoon nap!

Tomorrow we set out for home having covered much of what we wanted to. We’re both looking forward to some familiar ground, the attentions of our faithful animals and we hang on to the hope that there will still be some wisteria blossom left! This may be the last submission in this series depending on how the journey home pans out. (That last a quote from the late Capt. Titus Oates)