Turkey Transit

Trip Start Sep 07, 2005
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Trip End Aug 18, 2006


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Monday, July 31, 2006

Only one nation in the world recognizes the country through which we would next transit, but Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus proved to be very much its own entity, thank you very much. Leaving the very modern southern Lefkosia, we passed through a series of checkpoints at Ledra Palace, edged in barbed wire and congested by UN owned SUVs. Greek Cyprus reminded us in posters on our way out all the atrocities for which Turkish Cypriots had been responsible, displaying pictures of people killed in the fighting. Nevertheless, they waved us out of south Cyprus with little more than a flick of the finger, after which we trudged through a narrow no man's land to the north Cyprus immigration control kiosk, where we received Turkish Cyprus stamps on separate pieces of paper (we hear Greece does not always accept people whose passports bear testimony to their time in North Cyprus).

After being stamped in, we took a look around, astonished by how different life was on the opposite side of the Green Line. The husk of several buildings stood in mute testament to the 1974 fighting, as did the sandbags that partially plugged their gaping windows. Barbed wire was draped between various posts. Perhaps more striking was the shift in appearance of the populace. Whereas on the south side, men and women mixed more or less freely in clothes no different than one would find in NYC in the summer, here, fully-trousered men loitered around on corners or strode down roads in large groups, while the few women to be seen had disappeared into the very common headscarf. Fewer businesses were up and running, and fewer cars plied the roads. We caught our first glimpse of an Attaturk statue.

Milling about near the checkpoint, we encountered a French couple who were on the march to the bus station a kilometer away. Not having any clue where to locate a bus, we asked if we could join in with them, and they graciously accepted. So, while Steve chatted with the female half about their itinerary around the island, Cori attempted to revive some semblance of her rusty French to discourse with the male half. As it turns out, both these people were perfectly pleasant, and the man remarked to Cori, watching his wife and Steve chat, that seeing America and France act as friends was a beautiful thing (or so she thinks). But truly, we have noticed that we started the trip with a chip on the shoulder toward the French, expecting rabidly anti-American Trotskyites who were both snobby AND bad-smelling. But what we've found on the trip has been an exercise in stereotype shattering: almost without exception, every Frenchman/woman we've met has been pleasant, engaging, well-informed, mannered, and mostly unstinky, at least no more stinky than we. And they've seemed to bear us no ill-will for being US citizens, which has also come as a pleasant surprise. Chock one up for the rooster.

Locating the bus station, we tried to convert Greek Cypriot money and were promptly rejected, so we extracted Turkish lira and paid with those funds. Another bus, another hour, and we were in the port city Kyrenia. There, we purchased ferry tickets to Turkey and proceeded to an immigrations control line, as the saleswoman who had sold us our tickets warned that the ferry was leaving in less than an hour. For forty five minutes we stood in line in oppressive heat, waiting for the arrival of the port authority to collect port fees. Next, forty or so people stood around in a small courtyard with a leaky AC unit for twenty minutes, waiting for the arrival of the immigration officer. Finally, the passengers boarded the ship and then proceeded to wait another hour and a half before the ship shoved off. We wondered whether we were in for another OMRTEY episode.

Thankfully, the ferry genie was on our side. We spent an uneventful trip dozing and watching Pirates of the Caribbean dubbed in Turkish, and more or less on time the boat had found its way to the port of Tasucu. Turkish immigration was not much of a hassle - although it was an expense - and before we knew it we were on terra firma in Turkey in a port town no body seems to have heard of and no one could tell us how to get out of. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant port city, with colored lights strung up between palms and open air restaurants lining the main street. People wandered out doors; families and men and children and even women came outside to enjoy the cool night breeze, which was scented with orange blossoms. Hungry, we hunkered down at a terrace restaurant and tucked into two kebab plates of meat, rice, and grilled veggies. After, we retired to our modest but now perfectly chilled room (gotta love AC) for the night.

To make a long story short, we anticipated leaving the next morning for Cappadocia, in Turkey's central Anatolia region. But, due to a lethal cocktail of vacillation, laziness and lack of perfect information, we didn't catch the bus out until nine that night (we should have boarded in nearby Mersin and headed for Nevsehir or Kayseri). We wondered if the rest of our Turkey excursion would continue to leave both of us feeling, well... so much like turkeys.
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