Saturday, April 24, 2010

eternal inspiration

One of the most inspiring people I have met in regards travelling was a little old lady who's name I don't even know.

It was 1986 and I was early in the Bicycle Europe trip and found myself in Fort William in Scotland. This is the town closest to the UK's highest mountain Ben Nevis.

A modest 1,344 metres in height, it is a 3 - 4 hour climb from sea level to the summit of what the locals refer to as "The Ben". Although not very high, even in June there was still a fair amount of snow remaining scattered around the top.

About 10 minutes from the top I passed an elderly woman on her way up wearing a daypack and carrying a hiking pole. Surprised, I gauged her age to be around 70-75. (More likely closer to the latter.)

When she arrived at where we were standing, she surveyed the splendid scene of the Scottish Highlands laid out at our feet and said:

"I'm SO glad it clear and sunny today - it was so cloudy last week you couldn't see a thing."

Slightly shocked I inquired as to her plans on descent to which she replies:

"I'm hitch-hiking to John O'Groats."

Come hell or high water I am determined to be just like that LOL (Little Old Lady) in my advancing years and hope to be buried with my hiking poles.

firth of forth bridge (you dont want a mouth full of yoghurt when you say it)

en route to the ben

a loch unlocking

summer snow patches

view from near the summit

paul and neal (a canadian cyclist we met on the road who joined us for 3 weeks)at the top

view down to loch eil from the summit


ben nevis from the web as i neglected to take my own photo!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

doggybiscuit kisses

May 1990
It's no secret that for many years up until my trip across Tibet usurped its position, Turkey had long been my favourite travel experience. And I say 'experience' rather than 'country' or 'trip' as it best sums up how I feel about the place. Turkey provided me with the most extraordinarily diverse experiences I think I have ever had on one trip. Not alway good experiences mind you, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Doggybiscuit is the name a chance travel companion and I nicknamed a small town at the far Eastern edge of Turkey called Doğubeyazıt.

It sits close to the point where Turkey, Iran and Armenia meet and is a convenient destination if you are headed north to Yerevan, or Tehran to the south-east. If you heard the name Doğubeyazıt pronounced correctly you would understand the derivation of our moniker.

I was heading there from Mt Nemrut, a little to the west, where I had been to see the giant statues at the summit.

village on road to Nemrut summit

mt nemrut

me for scale

I had crossed Lake Van, meandered around the Rock Of Van (which, if you know your history has inscriptions dating back to 1300BC), searched Van vainly for a cat (any local cat would have sufficed). And then caught a mini bus north eastwards across the most wonderful landscape imaginable.

Desert, lava fields looking like meadows of shiny black toffee, eroded river beds that resembled a mini Grand Canyon, and whirling dust. As we approached Doğubeyazıt at sunset across the plains that skirted several extinct volcanoes, a lightning storm lit up the sky.

The reason I was out this far East was to get a glimpse of the fabled Mount Ararat - that of the supposed last resting place of Noah's Ark. (Also I was harbouring a secret desire that I might find an Ark perched on Ararat in a Snowdome at some market stall somewhere. But that particular pleasure was denied me.)

I checked into my (cheap) hotel and met the very affable owner and his wife. The owner was a stereotypical, slighly rotund middle aged Turkish man who wouldn't have looked out of place wearing a fez. (But of course the fez was banned in Turkey in the 1920's as part of the country's modernisation process). Like most of the Turkish men I interacted with, he was very keen to practice his English.

This can become wearisome at times, especially if it occurs regularly on an hourly and daily basis. But I was feeling relaxed and unpestered so I gave generously of my time. Besides - it helps pay back some of the incredible generosity given by perfect strangers whilst travelling the world.

And so the conversation (usually) goes: "Hello. How are you? Where are you from? What is your name? How old are you? Are you married? What is your job? Are you on holidays? And this one strayed little from the formula. But once past the usual phrases it became a little more difficult. But knowing some Turkish by that stage I was able to tease out more conversation.

Then at one stage he asked me "Can....I....?" and then raised an eyebrow to check if he had chosen a correct word.
"Yes..can I" I repeated reassuringly.
"Uhh..Can I..'av?"
"Yes...that is correct..Can I have..."
"Oh.. yes..uhh..can I 'av..uhh... a keez?"
"I'm sorry!!?
"Can I 'av a keez?"
And just to reinforce his request he puckered up and made kissing noises.
"Well, I don't think so."

The following morning I took a stroll 5km or so out of town and up one of the many hills surrounding Doggybiscuit. The dirt road wound its way through some large open fields on the way up to the ruins of a 17th Century Ottoman palace called İşak Paşa Sarayı.

Halfway along I stopped to take some photos of Mt Ararat as the view was particularly good. But no sooner had I swung my camera up to my eyes than out of nowhere a soldier came running, waving his rifle and gesticulating wildly that photos were forbidden. It was then that I began to be aware that in the fields on either side of the road were in fact an abundance of military vehicles under camouflage netting.

So I hastened on up the hillside to the palace.

On the way back down several hours later I was very careful not to take out my camera. But as I walked, suddenly on the other side of the road to my last confrontation, yet another soldier came walking across the fields calling out "Hey..Johnny..." and beckoning me over to the fence.

As my name was not Johnny I prudently kept walking.
"Hey Johnny..Johnny..come here."
He became quite insistent. And one thing I have learned in my years of worldly travel is that it is not wise to ignore a man with a gun.

So I slowly edged my way closer to the fence. Fortunately there was a kind of culvert between the road and the fence which provided me with a practical barrier from the soldier in question.

By this time he was right at the fence. He had one hand hidden suspiciously behind his back.

"Hello Johnny. Where you from?"
"Oh that is good. I like Australia. Here.. for you."

And with that he lobbed from behind his back a large bunch of wildflowers tied together with reed which he must have spent a good part of the day picking while on sentry duty.

So what was I to do?

I took them back with me and gave them to the hotel owner.

işak paşa sarayı

around işak paşa

back of the palace

palace doorway

distant doğubeyazıt

behind the palace