MANY TORTOISES, ONE DEAD HORSE, ONE CAMEL, AND ONE ACCIDENT LATER…ISTANBUL- 26 MAY 2015
So it has been quite a trip, and rather a roller-coaster ride since I left you on my bird balcony in Split.
I spent a lovely day or two on Korcula Island, off the coast of Croatia with Chris, who came to visit me for a long weekend from Salzburg.
We were welcomed into a sweet guest house, run by a father and daughter, who appeared to be in the midst of a very colourful working project. The two of them were painting up the house for the Summer season, with beautiful shades of cobalt blues, cadmium yellows and light pythalio greens. Immediately attracted to the building, the colours, and the company, we soon reached an agreement, where by I would help the two of them paint up the house, and in return, they would let me stay in the house for free. This seemed in every way ideal for me since I was rather beginning to twiddle my thumbs, waiting to take the ferry from Split to Italy, where I was to start teaching in a summer camp in San Remo, a couple of weeks later.
The next morning however, I received an email from Rachael, who works at the Oxford International School in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan; a beautiful country that lies in the high ground of central Asia, and neighbours China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The landscape is said to be stunning, holding host to fabulous rolling hills, and magnificent mountains, dotted with turquoise lakes, and national parks
was filled with excitement in receiving the news that they needed an art teacher to start in August, as I envisaged myself galloping over the terrific terrain by horse back (apparently a must-do in the mountains), and scooting around the country side on Grettle during my holidays. Immediately my ideas changed, the boredom that was beginning to creep its way into my mind, disappeared in a flash, and a feeling of nervous excitement brimmed as I began to sketch out Grettle's biggest challenge yet; to travel through the Middle East, across the Capsium Sea by cargo ship, through the deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, over the Pamir and Fan mountains, that range from Tajikistan and lead into Kyrgyzstan. I have noticed on my map that in areas, the mountains reach a height of over 7000 meters. With all this in mind, I packed my bags, explained the news to the pair at the guest house, who seemed to take this in their stride, smiling broadly, and hopped on the ferry back to Split, to begin my journey east, towards Istanbul.
The interview took place on the border of Croatia and Montenegro a day or two later; it was rather an unusual one to say the least. Rachael was on the west coast of India, on a beach in Goa, whilst I was in a small coffee spot, which was playing ear achingly loud music, just past the border check-point.
We began with a phone call which soon cut out when my credit ran out, at which point we continued the conversation by email, and ended it with a very poor signalled chat over Skype. I tried to sound as sane as I possibly could, when explaining I would not be flying, but arriving by Vespa, a little worried this may swing the balance, and I would be considered a little too eccentric to be teaching their primary school children. To my amazement, I was offered the job at the end of the interview, and wished the best of luck for my journey.
I sailed happily on through Montenegro, between fantastic, high climbing rock formations and mountains, and past the clearest water, and
most fabulous lakes yet, until I reached the Albanian border. Here, dark clouds began to mass, and a storm which seemed to announce the end of the world soon broke out. It was surreal, spooky, and magnificent simultaneously, I considered I was about to witness a tornado for the first time; as the clouds curled and spiralled in shape, all the rubbish that had been lying on the deserted street, suddenly came to life, and began rattling down the roads, and flying over head as the gale gathered speed.
As I was scooting along a very winding scenic road through high, red rock walls and tunnels, built into the cliffs, the thunder began, followed by flashes of lightning; huge strikes of electricity through the dark sky lit up the landscape as far as the eye could see, striking the ground a little too close for comfort, as Grettle and I cowered beneath the darkening sky. Not long after this, the heavens opened, and torrential rain began to pound down on the two of us, until we were forced to take refuge in a large supermarket, with a small café attached to one side, where we sat and watched this scene in awe, whilst the electricity flickered on and off over our heads.
I booked a hostel in Albania for the night to avoid camping in such extreme weather, and when the storm had finally come to an end, I set off, arriving rather late in the day, to find the small hobble named Mi Casa E Tu Casa. It was lovely and cosy, and I was welcomed in by the
hostel owner and Vespa lover, I told him of my journey and he became so over excited that he insisted I must accompany him to Vespa Club the following evening, where I would 'have a lot of explaining to do'. I agreed on the condition I could spend the second night for a discounted price, and he excepted with pleasure.
So the following evening we both hopped aboard our Vespas, he had a lovely older model in red, and the two of us scooted off into the darkness, a van full of other tourists followed in hot pursuit, intrigued as to what Vespa club might entail. The hostel owner informed me that I had missed by one day, the Vespa parade which took place through the streets of the town I was in, called Sukera. He showed me a video of thousands of Vespa's of all shapes and sizes, winding in and out of one and other, down the flag-filled road, it looked marvellous, and I was sad to have missed it. Perhaps the parade moves from country to country, and I will come across it in a darkened alley way of Azerbaijan!
Vespa club was not as quite as exciting as I had hoped, but we enjoyed some strong Albanian liker, and a delicious local meal, surrounded by large paintings and small sculptures of Vespas.
The following day, I set off for Macedonia, where, on reaching the border, I was asked to pay 50 Euros for insurance, at which point I decided to turn back, and try Greece. To my relief, I was asked for nothing at the Greek border, and so enjoyed a fabulous few days driving along the coast line, and camping on the beaches, until I reached Turkey.
On the road through Greece I saw three tortoises waddling slowly across the road. The first gave me such a shock, I stopped in the middle of the road to meet it personally, before placing it in a safe place away from the traffic. It even had a short ride on Grettle, the two of them looked rather splendid together. The second was managing well on its own and seemed to be gathering speed, and the third was the sweetest little baby, which I seriously considered taking on as my own. Sadly, I was not convinced I could look after it well whilst on the road, so I decided to wait until I was in one place for some length of time, when I might well adopt a little tortoise as my travel companion- they really were adorable!
Things became less adorable on reaching Turkey however, where I saw a horrific sight of a dead horse, lying frigid on the road side. After this, I came across a camel, which lightened my mood somewhat, until reaching the hectic highways leading into Istanbul, at which point my luck and light mood changed rapidly, as I collided head on with a fast moving van.
I had asked two men for directions, and in following their arm gesture to the left, clearly misinterpreted the road they had been signalling to, and found my self on a fast moving, one-way system. Before I knew it, I had rounded a corner, to collide head on with a large van. The next few minutes are a bit of a blur, many figures were standing over me, papers were being flapped over my head to cool me down, and heaps of smoke bellowed out from a few meters away. One horrible half glance to my left, revealed the damage to Grettle. My heart sank as I saw her lying under the front of the van, smashed to smithereens. Oil was leaking over the road, and poor travel monkey still clung to her wing mirror for dear life.
As I was carried onto a stretcher, and put in the ambulance, I insisted that the police take Grettle to a safe place where I could fix her. Every time I tried to move or protest in order to do this, I was pushed back down onto the stretcher, where a women was forcefully attempting to put a brace around my neck. I found this horribly intrusive and suffocating, and insisted she let me be. Eventually, she reluctantly removed the hard plastic from under my head and we set off.
I was driven to the local hospital, with a searing pain in my left knee. I was told my bags and bike would safe, and assured that the staff in the hospital would help me retrieve them. Having arrived, I was hoisted onto another trolley bed, at which point the ambulance pair left, and I was told someone would come.
I looked around some time later, to realize I was tucked into the wall of a long corridor, crowded with people, all yelling in Turkish, and bustling about; it did not look at all likely in this crazy place, that I would be seen to any time soon. Pain still throbbing up my leg, patience failing me, and frustration brewing that no one spoke English, I hobbled off my bed and limped across the hospital, desperately trying to find someone who could tell me where my bags, license, and Grettle had been taken, a large needle was still protruding from my right arm.
No one seemed to have any idea, and tears began to pour down my cheeks, as panic began to set in. A nice and helpful Turkish man with his wife and daughter, spoke English, and came to the rescue. I explained my worries, and to my relief, he rang the police force, who he said would arrive soon, and help me find my belongings. He gave me a bundle of cigarettes, and found a wheel chair for me to collapse in to, as the use of my legs was excruciatingly painful, and it seemed my trolley had been taken over by another patient in my absence.
The police arrived a few moments later, at which point the nice man, having found a surgeon to remove the needle from my arm, stuffed 50 Turkish lira into my hand, gave me his business card in case I had any trouble, and departed the hospital, leaving me with a team of helpers. It was rather an amusing team, thinking back on it now; I was being wheeled about by another civilian, who had a large plaster cast on his arm, and seemed to be the only one who spoke English, he must have been about 16 years old. He acted as translator, and the two police officers followed us around, as I was wheeled from room to room, finally reaching an X-Ray chamber, where I was told there 'is no broken bones'.
Relieved about this, but still hurting badly, I tried to signal for someone to cut the elastic from the bottoms of my hareems; I had not yet seen the damage. These signals received perplexed and empty expressions, so I drew the pen knife from around my neck, and cut the elastic, to find a mass of cuts criss-crossing my legs, and a pair of knees the size of Puffa Fish. The nice young boy helped me find someone who cleaned me up a little, and put a few bandages over the scrapes and bruises.
After this, the two police officers drove me in their car to a station near by, where my bags had been taken. Relieved to be out of the hospital, and to find nothing had been stolen, I entered into a small room, where I had to sit through a horribly tedious police report, and many hours of waiting, with a head banging like a breast thumping baboon.
A few hours later, everything was finally finished, and I was to be taken to an English speaking,civilian police officer, after hours, to the park in which Grettle had been trucked to. He kindly paid for my metro and helped me hobble on and off the trams, until we arrived at the park, to see poor Grettle, amidst a mass of broken cars, all piled on top of one and other.
She did not look happy, travel monkey still clung to her ear like a loyal companion, but her front was fairly non existent; the impact of the van had smashed her up fairly badly, but I was amazed to see both wheels were intact, a bit bent, hidden beneath the tangle of loose wires and plastic. My tent was hanging from her side, my jacked hung from the top box, and what seemed to be oil, was smeared all over the seat.
The nice police officers called a bike fixing man around the corner, who appeared at the scene a few moments later. Having been told Grettle was unfixable and not ridable at the scene of the accident, my heart skipped a beat, when the man said 'you want fix tonight?' I nodded eagerly and the four of us by this point, wheeled Grettle around the corner to his shop. We had a close shave in finding no key with Grettle. The last time I remembered seeing it, it had been placed in the key hole of the top box on the road where I had crashed. Word was spread that the key was missing, and a man appeared triumphantly a moment later, holding the wrong set of keys. My heart sank as I was told, 'no keys, no bike'. Thankfully, twenty minutes and many phone calls later, a different man appeared, clutching the colourful pile of key-rings, and I was filled with hope once again.
The idea of fixing the bike tonight however, had been slightly miss understood, but I was happy and hopeful in hearing that she could be mended, so long as all the parts were found, and if I could pay the price of course. I fear this will be rather large and extremely difficult considering my budget, but I am told it should be cheaper than a new bike. To my horror, Grettle in Istanbul costs around 10 000 dollars.
The policemen invited me to stay at their flat that night, and in accepting their kind offer, I was lead into a small sitting room, where three
other officers sat around the table. They all looked sightly perplexed by the disheveled looking English girl, hobbling into their living room.T
hey were a friendly bunch, and having been a little concerned about following the two men to their flat, after my last encounter, I was relieved to see no 'White Snake' inscription scribbled above their door.
We listened to Turkish music, and drank lots of wine, 'medicine' they said, smiling broadly. One of the police men was very proud of his personal concoction of red wine and sprite, which I have to admit, was delicious, and I promised him I would spread the word around England....so make sure you give it a go!
Food went down extremely well having not eaten anything since a small bun in Greece, and I gobbled down a bowl of pasta, cooked for me by one of the men, followed by a mixture of nuts, gherkins, apple, dried meat with lemon sauce, and other yummy nibbly-bits.
After this, I was shown my bed, and fell onto the comfy mattress, sinking into the soft pillows, and slipped into the world of nod. It felt fantastic to rest.
So I woke up this morning in the flat, and was cooked a sumptuous breakfast of boiled eggs, a type of parotha bread, olives, feta cheese, chocolate sauce, Turkish tea, fresh orange juice, and a mixed salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and lettuce, until I had filled my stomach, and we sat down to watch the preparations for the upcoming Turkish elections on television.
The streets outside the flat were buzzing, and filled with flags, banners, and music for the election. I watched this from the balcony, puffing on a cigarette, and sipping on Turkish tea, as I considered what a peculiar predicament I appeared to be in.
I bid farewell to the five policemen, having exchanged Facebook addresses, and emails, thanking them hugely for all their help. I hope I will see them again when Grettle (if Grettle) is done up and ready to rumble once again.
They had been incredibly kind, brought my medicine and bandages, and made sure I had all the contact numbers I needed to sort out the Grettle saga, which it seemed, might last some time.
So, you are more or less up to date, I am currently in Istanbul hostel, a little sore and stiff and a bit of a hop-a-long. But it's very nice and cosy here, with a roof top terrace and a comfy lounge. I am outside on a small bench with a large shisha pipe next to me, listening to Turkish calls to prayer, and writing up the latest.
I am staying in a large dorm room and have haggled the price down to 6 squid per night, for the next week or two, while I get my visas for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan sorted, and wait for word on Grettle.
I have been told through various translators that it will take a week, if it is possible, and all her replacement parts can be found, so fingers crossed on this front, and I hope to know for sure by tomorrow. I will keep you all updated.
If worst comes to the worst, ideas are brewing for the purchase of an Arab horse, or a camel, to continue the journey with. In asking a rather perplexed looking police officer about the purchase of either of these however, I was informed that neither are sold in Turkey! So I may have to wait until I get a little further East if these ideas take flight. For now though, fingers crossed for Grettle's revival!
Until next time,
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