Sitting in a wonderful little tea shop on the Turkish/Iranian border, I can look back on my third week in which sickness besieged many, I was astounded by Turkish friendliness and thousands of feet above the ground I had the highlight of the trip so far.
The new month of June started like every other morning, lots of packing and a rushed breakfast. But it wasn't too long until the bus was crossing the bridge that spanned Europe and Asia. As we left Istanbul behind it was a long day of driving to one of Turkey's natural wonders Cappadocia.The hours of driving in the baking hot weather had left the Oz Busers weary and hungry as we pitched up our tents. When we were told however that dinner would not be provided that evening, days of murmured discontent sparked into almost revolution within camp. Spontaneously the group ganged together and with supplies from the bus and a local shop rustled up a meal for everyone. The food provision to date had proved ambiguous but since feelings were made abundantly clear to our team leaders the situation has improved greatly.Little sleep was had that night as we rose at 4.30am to experience the beauty of Cappadocia at sunrise in a hot air balloon. The rocks of this area have been eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries. In the highlight of the trip so far we climbed thousands of feet into the air to take in the sheer scale of this wonderful region. Sometimes we would dip to near ground level to get a closer look and I even had a chance to pick some plums from the trees while in the air. Over the next few days we spent hours exploring this Flintstone like landscape by foot, on quads and by bike; and a visit to a nearby underground city was breathtaking. Gerome also proved a time to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities and hours of driving.But by Wednesday we were back on the road again in what proved to be a long and dangerous day. It had begun well with a visit to a huge salt lake just outside Nigge. The lake glistened bright white in the midday sun and the water proved so salty you could float in it. It again showed how naturally beautiful Turkey is.As we traveled further east however we began to enter the Kurdish part of the country. The roads worsened, as did the poverty and safety became a concern. Thus our visit to the salt lake was cut short as our local guides warned us of PKK activity in nearby mountains. Our scramble through the countryside was uncannily like a scene from the film Babel.Wednesday also saw many people fall ill as hygiene levels dropped and the food became increasingly different. By evening over a quarter of the bus was unwell and the situation was not helped when we could n't find anywhere to stay. After severalunsuccessful attempts we ventured into our first and only night of free camping.
By Thursday we had traveled through the mountain range to Erzurum were the locals distinctly identified themselves as Kurdish. The highlight of our brief stopover was undoubtedly a visit to a fantastically tacky restaurant where our $3 burger and chips was served by a waiter in a tux. This coupled with many translation problems managed to lift spirits as the 24 hour stomach bug ebbed away. By Friday we had crossed this vast country and arrived to Dogubeyazit a border town only a 20 minute drive from the Iranian border in the shadow of Mount Ararat. Dogubeyazit provided us with our last few drinks before we entered dry Iran. Everyone had a tipple (and of course many had too much) but we ended the week on a high as we saw the night away with some traditional Kurdish dancing with the locals.For me however Turkey was all about its wonderful people. I have never visited a country were everyone has been so kind, warm and welcoming. Customer service and hospitality could compete with the U.S. People often spontaneously introduced themselves in the street. In the more remote towns in which we stopped locals would literally mob us with their questions and autograph books. The Turks showered us with many gifts and lots of free tea, and often spent hours helping us to discover nearby places of interest. Turkey was a delightful place to visit, a proud country with a rich heritage, culture, natural beauty and superb people.