As we crossed the Bosphorus climbing into Asia shafts of sunlight broke through the cloud casting an eerie light over the mountains and lakes. Six hours later we were skirting around Lake Tuz where the landscape had given way to a rolling plateau. We eventually arrived in the historic town of Goreme, characterised by sandstone pinnacles and valleys. The region is also famed for its cave dwellings, which was where we were to spend the next two nights at the Nomad cave hostel. Stomachs grumbling we decided to try the local delicacy, Tetsi Kebab, cooked in a clay pot which is cracked open upon serving. Unfortunately for Christopher our waiter was a little over-enthusiastic! Later that evening we met a fascinating woman who had hitchhiked throughout Africa during the 1970s getting temporarily detained by a Sudanese general before grabbing a ride on a ship back to Newcastle, thirty minutes from her home.
The following day, to avoid more driving, we took the local bus to explore Kaymakli upon which we met Monique and Emma from Melbourne highlighting you can be sure to meet a couple of Aussies anywhere for good company. In its heyday Kaymakli was one of the largest underground cities in the region housing around 3,500 people over five levels with wineries, churches, a vast ventilation system and circular stone doors. Local Christians used many of these underground cities and caves to escape their enemies during the early days of Christianity. Armed with cameras and head torches we launched into the caves exploring the maze of tunnels and caverns attempting to access the deeper tunnels with limited success. Curiosity satiated we emerged and headed back to Goreme where we had planned to explore the open air museum however the weather had closed. Retiring to our hostel we spent the afternoon drinking Turkish Tea and swapping stories with a friendly New Zealand family. On Thursday morning the bad weather scuppered our early morning balloon ride so we beat a hasty retreat to Iskenderun. Dropping sharply from the mountains onto the coast, we exchanged rain and mist for glorious sunshine. A detour through Adana Airport brought to an end Christopher’s leg of the trip. His enthusiasm and good humour would be missed but he assured us only temporarily as he would be seeing us in Namibia.
3 then became 2 and so we gently continued on to Iskenderun to discover the fate of our ferry. A flurry of hand gestures and broken English finally persuaded the guards to let us through to the offices of Catoni (the agents) who informed us we’d missed the ship by a day! The vessel was due back in port within the next two days so the following morning we were advised to return, tomorrow, for customs. Keen to make the most of our free afternoon we headed off through the small Mediterranean villages along the coast in search of an idyllic campsite. During a quick stop near Tantarli we unwittingly became the local bus service as a lively old man hauled himself up into the back of Delilah. Waving us on from the back seat he began chatting to us in Turkish as we proceeded not knowing when or where his stop was. We dropped him home a few miles later where he was met with bemused smiles and laughs from the locals. Continuing on, we finally stumbled across some prime seaside real estate in Konacik. Dilapidated and abandoned we decided to make it our home for the night. Whilst setting up camp several of our neighbours stopped by to say hello and give us some kind words of advice.
In the morning we packed up our things and returned to the port. At security ‘Gate C’ we had become a familiar sight to the guards and customs officers whom we met with warm smiles and jokes despite the clear gulf between our Turkish and their English. Our friend Selo from Catoni concluded it would be best we returned Monday morning, since heavy weather in the Mediterranean had caused the vessel to be further delayed. With this news we set off in search of a beach, which we found nestled around the corner from Arsuz. We swiftly set off down it, putting Delilah’s 4×4 capabilities to use, carving a path through the midst of families enjoying their Saturday on the beach. On a hill behind the beach we met Davut, a retired Geography teacher, who generously invited us back to his house for some Tea. Through the use of photos, maps and plenty of sign language helped bridge the language barrier. Before we knew it 5pm had arrived and Davut’s wife, Serpil, and daughter, Dila, arrived home to find Davut in the garden with two dishevelled Englishmen. The brilliant hospitality of the Yilmat family and their friend Ahmet was beyond praise as we ended up staying until breakfast the following morning. They introduced us to a fantastic array of traditional Turkish food and plied us with gorgeous cups of Turkish tea and coffee.
The next morning we left humbled by the generosity we had experienced and headed for Antakya to meet an old friend of Davut, Professor Osman, who had kindly offered to show us around Antakya. Upon our arrival at the University we joined the professor in the gardens for a coffee with his student Ali, where we learnt about the history of Antakya and the professor’s past life as a judge in the Real Ale festival in Kent. Ali had kindly sacrificed his Sunday to show us around so we hit the town in his old Mercedes. Fist stop was St Peters Church (Church of Antioch) carved into the rock face founded by the disciples of Jesus Christ and marked Antioch’s past as the ‘cradle of christianity’. Thereafter we visited the local museum, full of old mosaics, where we learnt Antioch had been founded along with Iskenderun (Alexandretta) by Alexander the great and then ruled for a time by the Eastern Roman Empire. In the 1960s the region of Hatay signed an agreement to join Turkey, although historically it had stronger ties with the regions of Syria, since Iskenderun was the major port of Aleppo.
Taking to the streets of Antakya we proceeded to wander around the local bazaars, mosques and churches where Ali told us the balance of Christians to Muslims was about 50/50 with little problems between the two. On a sombre note, the fallout from the war 30 km away was apparent as we saw a large number of Syrians wandering around town; nevertheless it had failed to disrupt the peaceful laid-back air of Antakya. Winding through the mountains to a mixture of Turkish rap and Arabian music we made a brief stop to try a variant of the local pancake ending our tour at cradle graves on the coast near Samandag. Re-convening back at the University we had to say a fairly hurried and guilty last-minute good-bye to our new-found friends, Ali and Professor Osman. Three months of travelling through the US and the last few weeks to Turkey had satisfied Dominic’s bug for travelling and now he yearned to get back to ‘the real world’. We both had a mutual understanding, it was best to leave now if he harboured any doubts about Africa, so with a firm handshake and some kind words we parted ways at Hatay Airport.
After a short dinner at the mountain pass in Belen, I made it back to Iskenderun at around 11pm and saw little point in paying for a hotel for six hours so decided to ditch in a field for the night. I awoke to the local farmers tending their crop who insisted on sharing their breakfast with me. A little preparation and a few vehicle checks meant I was ready for attempt three in the port, Insh’Allah! It was a little awkward explaining to the guys at Catoni how I’d come to lose my compatriot. Selo happily informed me the weather had cleared and the ship was due to leave at 11pm. In keeping with the turkish hospitality we’d experienced so far, I spent the day in their office as they hurriedly began dealing with drivers and loading the vessel. I was due to catch a flight the next day to meet the ship in Damietta but they kindly arranged to put me on board. At around 3pm Delilah playfully bounced up the ramp and into the ship’s hold. Over a quick dinner and a couple of shots of Tequila my friends from Catoni tried to dissuade me from visiting Egypt, saying that I should stay and drink with them! Alas Africa beckoned so that evening I climbed on board and we lighted out for Damietta!