Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sleeping In No-Man's Land

Salam aleikum from sunny Syria.Well, that's not quite true, it's overcast and it rained throughout last night, but I don't care because I'm in Syria. Yay! It just goes to show that sometimes you have to be flexible in following the rules. My love for the Syrian border guards for letting me into their country and allowing me to carry on as planned was tempered by the fact that I was sitting around for seven hours waiting for the visa, and when I did get it it was 9pm. But without a guidebook or map of Aleppo, without any local money (the bank at the border refused to exchange my Turkish lira) and not speaking the language, I didn't fancy my chances in town. So instead I wandered past the barb wire by the main road and found myself a place to pitch my tent. In the morning I discovered that my campsite wasn't as removed from the road as I had imagined the night before, and had some spectators viewing my presence with bemusement.

So my trip has made another transition, from Europe-oriented Turkey to Arab Middle East. My last few days in Turkey were spent in and around the city of Antakya, ancient Antioch (on the Orontes). The city was founded by Seleucus, one of Alexander's generals who inherited the eastern part of the empire. Apparently Seleucus didn't have much of an imagination because as well as founding Antioch on the Orontes he founded no less than 15 other Antiochs, undoubtedly leading to a great deal of confusion amongst cartographers of the time. But this Antioch was the mother of them all and became the capital of the Seleucid empire. Later on it became the most important city for eastern Christians and is still the theoretical seat of five patriarchates (although none of the patriarchs actually reside there). I was there during Eid al-Fitr (or Bayram, as it is known in Turkey), the holidays that follow the month of Ramadan. However Bayram in Turkey is a bit of a non-event for tourists as locals mainly use the holidays to visit friends and family and spend some time together. Unlike what I had experienced last year in Kashgar with crazy dancing in the square and piles of mutton, either stewing away or kebabed, and a mass public display of gluttony.

But generally my month in Turkey has been very interesting (and surprisingly cheap, at less than $13 a day thanks to hitching and camping in unlikely places), in part because it hasn't been the Turkey that most people see. I only had a brief glimpse of the Mediterranean a couple of days ago and ritually dipped my hands in, but apart from that I spent most of my time in the eastern Anatolian highlands, which some may say isn't Turkey at all, but Kurdistan (highly contentious!). And I met very few fellow travellers. Indeed, I received a bit of a culture shock upon arriving in Aleppo this morning when I found myself a true backpacker hostel (complete with rooftop dorms and muesli breakfast), something I haven't experienced since the mountains of Pakistan. But one thing I'm pretty sure is universal to anyone's visit to Turkey is lemon cologne. Smelling somewhat like that pleasant stuff they infuse airplane towelettes with, but 100 times more powerful. Lemon cologne is Turkey's epitome of class. It is ladled out onto unsuspecting customers' hands on luxury buses, restaurants, fancy shops and even cyber cafes. The stuff is so potent that even three days and a shower later I was still distinctly noticeable. That is certainly one thing I won't be missing.

1 comment:

Serena said...

your blog is great! I'm really enjoying reading about your experiences. I hope you're considering submitting some articles to newspapers/magazines.. Best wishes with the rest of your travels.. Serena