Webmaster's Note: Because the BikeAbout team is traveling in smaller groups for a little while, we have changed the format of the journal slightly. The dispatches for Turkey will be presented in geographical rather than chronological order. To view the chronological order, go to the itinerary.

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While Corinne and andrEa are cycling to Mugla, Turkey, Ethan, Anthony, and Padraic are traveling along Turkey's Mediterranean coast:

topics: köfte (food), Ugarit, border crossing, Iskenderun, travel; jump to dispatch

Rider Notes: February 11–12, 1998

Food of the Day: Köfte

A specialty of Antakya, köfte is the original fast food of the city. Composed of two flat pieces of bread, spicy red pepper sauce, köfte meat, and parsley, köfte is the perfect snack for a chilly evening. The köfte maker is a blur of activity during the speedy preparation. click to view a photograph

Tech Fact of the Day: Border Crossings (part #4)

Today, Anthony crossed from Syria to Turkey at the Kasseb crossing. Normally, crossing borders by bicycle is sort of fun, especially at random, out-of-the-way border crossings like the one at Kasseb. The border guards treat you like an honored guest (occasionally like an extraterrestrial guest) and the customs officials wave you through (what could you possible be smuggling on a bike?). This time, however, Anthony had a bit more trouble than he would have liked.

The crux of the problem lay in the decision by the United States State Department (on February 1 [1998], to be exact) to start charging Turkish citizens US$45 for a visa to visit the United States. Tit for tat say the Turks. And so they have apparently decided that if it costs $45 for a Turkish person to visit America, it should cost an American $45 to visit Turkey. The problem arose when Anthony realized that he did not have a lot of cash with him. Anticipating meeting up with Ethan and Padraic at any moment (or at least he hoped!), he arrived at the border with only US$30 cash and a US$50 traveler's check. Now, normally the visas that the BikeAbouters have been buying cost between $15 and $25, so Anthony thought that he was OK. However, when Anthony discovered that the visa cost $45 and that the border police were not able to accept traveler's checks, the surprise Anthony felt was almost as great as the anger of the police officer who had written out the visa (it was an elaborate affair with four different stamps).

What to do? It was 5 p.m. and quickly growing very cold, not to mention dark. Anthony was feeling the chill and his hunger (his emergency candy bar had long since disappeared). There were no banks open at the border and no one who happened to be at the border crossing seemed willing or able to change the traveler's check.

The police agent finally crossed out the visa that he had so carefully crafted and suggested that Anthony go back to Syria. Anthony tried to explain that this was not an option as it was not possible to get a Syrian visa at the border (his old visa had expired once it was exit stamped by the Syrian border police, and we have already described how hard it can be to get a Syrian visa). So Anthony was stuck in the no-man's-land between the two countries.

No amount of questioning or pleading seemed to sway the man — he simply wanted $45 cash for the visa. Even when Anthony offered to sign the check over to the man, he still refused. At one point Anthony even offered him the entire $80 ($30 cash plus the $50 traveler's check), but the border agent was not interested. Finally, when Anthony was at wit's end, a Lebanese man waiting for his visa offered to cash the check and so Anthony signed it, waited while another visa was crafted into his passport, and then headed for the customs building and the necessary customs stamp.

Having received the necessary stamps, Anthony was again called back into the border police office where the officer explained that the Lebanese man had suddenly refused to cash the check and that $45 were once again still necessary. He demanded Anthony's passport and again suggested that Anthony return to Syria, without a passport but with a traveler's check that had already been signed and would probably not be accepted for exchange.

Keeping his passport well buried in his jacket, Anthony said that he was going to go and talk to the Lebanese man and then walked out of the office. Once outside, he grabbed his bike and quickly rode through the border gate with a nice wave to the customs officers and disappeared into the night. While he was convinced that the first three cars that passed him would be full of Turkish border police ready to arrest him, he managed to escape into the darkness. Of course the Turkish police could still be hunting him down, tracking him from hotel to hotel, quickly closing in on him as he bikes and types his way across Turkey. Or he might be arrested at the border when he tries to cross over into Greece. Or maybe Anthony is just suffering from paranoid delusions. Let's hope it's the latter since everything we have heard about Turkish prisons is bad, bad, bad . . . especially the food.

Person of the Day: Syrian people

Today's Person of the Day is all the Syrian people who have helped Anthony during his solo tour of their country. The hospitality of Arab people is well known throughout the world, but Anthony found the overwhelming welcome of the Syrian people to be in a league of its own. Anthony would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reached out and made him feel at home as, alone, he worked his way across unfamiliar territory.

Place of the Day: Ugarit

Ugarit (also known as Ras Shamra) was once the most important city on the Mediterranean coast. During the 16th to the 13th century BC, Ugarit was the Mediterranean center for trade with ancient Egypt, Cyprus, Mesopotamia, and the rest of Syria.

Discovered by a farmer, who struck a large stone with his plow, the ruins, a mere 16 km (9 miles) north of Al-ladhiqiyah, give a vague idea of what the layout of the city was. click to view a photograph Anthony found it amazing that it was still possible to see where the gutters of the streets carried water — not bad for a city that is around 2,500 years old. click to view a photograph

Ugarit is most famous for the clay tablets bearing cuneiform texts that were recovered during excavations. These are examples of what some scholars believe may be the worlds first alphabet. While there are many different forms of cuneiform (Babylonian cuneiform, Elamite cuneiform, and Persian cuneiform being the more well known), Ugaritic cuneiform is an alphabet of consonants (proven to have been in use between 1400-1200 BC) and it both shed some light on ancient Syrian religious life and obliged a reinterpretation of some scenes from the Bible.

Group Dispatch, February 11–12

picture of Anthony

While still lying in his hotel bed in Al-ladhiqiyah, Anthony studied his map and plotted his route for the day. It appeared that he was only 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Syrian-Turkish border, and then about the same distance from the border to Antakya, where he planned to spend the night. He hoped to find a message from Ethan and Padraic there at a prearranged location. Actually, Anthony had been hoping that Padraic and Ethan would have joined him in Syria, but after the first few days alone, he began to realize that they probably had been unable to obtain a Syrian visa.

The fact that, for the Syrian government, the Internet does not exist meant that Anthony had no access to email, so he really had no idea what the other BikeAbouters were doing or even where they were. For all he knew, the BikeAbout ladies were still in Cyprus an Rhodes going through bottle after bottle of sunblock, while, the BikeAbout boys, having fallen under the spell of their most dear and wickedly enchanting friends Leila and Janine, had mired themselves once again in the decadent nightlife of Beirut. All Anthony could do was carry on.

His first stop was at the ruins of Ugarit (see the Place of the Day). More than 2,000 years ago, Ugarit, also called Ras Shamra, was the most important trade city in the Mediterranean. Along with its nearby neighbors, like Byblos, it played a crucial role in the development and dissemination of the sound-based alphabetic writing system that is the precursor to ours today.

Sitting serenely on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, Ugarit today is a beautiful site to visit. click to view a photograph For over an hour, Anthony scrambled over walls click to view a photograph and wandered streets click to view a photograph that had not been in use for thousands and thousands of years.

Remounting his bike, Anthony once again headed for the border. His route took him along the shore, past several beautiful little fishing harbors click to view a photograph and then dumped him rather unceremoniously back on the main road just when things became a little hillier. Actually things became a lot hillier. Hills seemed to stretch on forever and the closer Anthony got to the border, the more hills he discovered and the steeper they became. Anthony also noticed a road sign calculating the border at 60 km (37 mi) away. He found this a little confusing as he had originally thought that the ride was only 30 km (19 mi). A quick look at his map confirmed this although he quickly figured out that he had already come 20 km (12 mi) and so should have only 10 km (6 mi) to go. 60 km (37 mi) later, Anthony realized that his map was wrong.

The immediate consequence of this discovery was that Anthony barely had enough time to get to the border before dark, and he still had another 30 km (19 mi) to go once in Turkey. Not really able to do anything about this, Anthony just rode and rode and rode. At least the ride was beautiful. Around and over gorgeous tree-covered hills and past mountain reservoirs click to view a photograph, Anthony pedaled onward. At one point, digging deep into his bags, he even managed to come up with enough change to buy himself some chocolate and bread to fuel him up the hills.

The border crossing presented difficulties and delays of its own (see the Tech Fact of the Day), and once Anthony finally made his way into Turkey, it was pitch black outside and cold enough that he started to loose sensation in his hands.

Pedaling as quickly as he could to the next town, Anthony located the nearest taxi and, after a brief period of bargaining (Anthony was really much too cold for anything more than a token effort), his bike was loaded into the trunk and they were off. The taxi covered the 59 km (37 mi — his map was really wrong!) and huge hill to Antakya click to view a map in an hour. Shortly after that, Anthony was fed, in bed, and asleep.

The next day presented a new problem. Padraic and Ethan had failed to leave any messages for Anthony at any hotel since he had left them at the Syrian border. Frankly, he was a little worried about them (they are hardly able to care for themselves much less each other). Checking at his hotel's reception desk one more time and finding no messages, Anthony decided to bike further north to Iskenderun. Since he couldn't find any Internet access in Antakya, he hoped to find somewhere wired there.

What started out as a nice bike ride down a beautiful valley click to view a photograph and past tiny little villages nestled in the side hills click to view a photograph eventually became a monster of a climb up and over another mountain. The views from the top were spectacular! click to view a photograph Anthony was so happy to reach the top he took a picture of himself before swooping down the other side. click to view a photograph What had taken almost two hours to climb he managed to descend in a mere 20 minutes!

Once in Iskenderun, Anthony learned that there was no possibility of Internet access there either. Tired, a little sick, and intensely curious as to where everyone was, Anthony decided to hop on a bus even further to Adana click to view a map and hope to get online from there. He could also check the very last (failsafe) place Ethan and Padraic had agreed to try and leave a message. After taking one last quick photo of the mountain he had just biked over click to view a photograph, Anthony was off (by bus) to Adana.

Along the way, Anthony's stomach launched one final revolt as the unwelcome bacteria in his belly made one last effort to take over his body. The battle was so fierce that Anthony was forced to ask the bus driver to pull over at the nearest toilet. It had been a difficult last few days and Anthony looked forward to hearing from the rest of the BikeAbout gang.

picture of Padraic

Meanwhile, back in Beirut, foiled at every single turn in their efforts to leave Lebanon by land or sea, Ethan and Padraic loaded up their bikes and braved the Beirut traffic one last time, returning to the airport from which they had come.

Neither this last Lebanese bike ride, nor the short flight to Istanbul held much of interest, except those brief seconds when the plane flew directly over the southern coast of Turkey — precisely where the boys had hoped already to be and where they imagined Anthony actually was. Upon landing, and forking over the outrageously high visa fee (see the Tech Fact of the Day), they rescued their bikes from the baggage handlers and began to come to grips with yet another new culture.

Stopping at the tourist information office, Ethan picked up maps and placed a call to Mr. Kurs(h)ad Keskinege, at BikeAbout's Internet Service Provider for Turkey, Raksnet. Kurs(h)ad immediately leapt into action, arranging an inexpensive place for them to stay, and trying to set up an Internet connection for that evening's
Chat 'n' Debate.

Unaccustomed to arriving at the airports of new cities in broad daylight (see our arrivals in Cairo and Beirut), it took a while for Ethan and Padraic's eyes to adjust to the sun. But a few pedals around the airport arrival and departure ramps soon had them looking for the exit. Opting for the less-trafficked coastal highway rather than the superhighway, the boys introduced themselves to Turkish traffic, which they found a relative delight (though compared to Lebanese traffic, any traffic would seem delightful.)

By the time they had cycled the 10 km (6 mi) into the center of Istanbul, found their hotel, checked in, and unpacked, it was practically time for the Chat 'n' Debate to begin (at 8 p.m. Istanbul time). Because they doubted that Corinne, andrEa, and Anthony would be online, they were particularly anxious to log onto the chat. However, by 8:10 p.m., Kurs(h)ad had not yet arrived. And when he did rush in and hustle the boys into a waiting cab, it was 8:20. By the time the cab reached the street on which an Internet café was supposed to be located, it was 8:30. And when they figured out that the Internet café had recently closed, it was nearly 9 p.m. Fortunately Kurs(h)ad's office was nearby so they grabbed another taxi to reach the office in time to participate in the last hour of the chat. Whew.

While the boys chatted, they also managed to arrange the details of their Internet access in Turkey with Raksnet. Our thanks to Kurs(h)ad for his help and to Raksnet for their support.

Afterwards, Kurs(h)ad accompanied Ethan and Padraic to meet Beril Çep, a friend of Ethan's family. They had hoped to make this meeting for dinner, but by the time they arrived (on time), the restaurant's kitchen had already closed. Making the best of it, the ravenous boys devoured every bit of food still available, including the cheese cake and tiramisu. Still, the enjoyable conversation with Beril (a writer who works for a Turkish advertising agency) and Kurs(h)ad made up for everything, and filled out the evening before Ethan and Padraic started back for their hotel. However, an ill-advised stop to grab more food (at a place where they apparently reopened the kitchen but forgot to light the oven) kept them from getting to bed until after 1 a.m.!

The next morning, Ethan and Padraic wearily rose to figure out a way to get to southern Turkey to rescue their friend Anthony, no doubt withering away through loneliness and depression. First they tried the train and found that the only service to the southeast left only once a day and took nearly 24 hours. Next, they looked into flying and discovered it to be prohibitively expensive. Finally, they made their way by tram and subway to the far outskirts of the city for a visit to the Otogar, or bus station, which they found just right. The bus to Adana (where they hoped to find Anthony) was inexpensive, relatively fast (only 14 hours), and departed every few hours. And the bicycles would travel for free. So, the boys purchased their tickets for the 5 p.m. bus and returned to the center of town to pick up their bags and bicycles.

Unfortunately, although the bus station is very well placed for access to the superhighways and the metro, its location is horrible for cyclists. To reach it, Ethan and Padraic had to launch themselves onto a major highway, dodging high-speed merging and exiting traffic. They arrived safely, though, with knuckles considerably whitened by the experience.

In Turkey, buses are the most popular and convenient way to travel. Cutthroat competition keeps prices low and the level of service fairly high. Most of the buses are huge and look brand new. All have an attendant, who looks after the passengers' needs, serving water, coffee, or tea, and every so often offering aromatic rose water with which you can wash your hands and freshen up. But because the buses are so popular and the competition so tight, the bus stations, particularly those in big cities like Istanbul, have evolved into enormous, colorful, and chaotic travel centers. Imagine a complex oval bigger than an American football field lined on both sides with hundreds of signs for hundreds of bus companies. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Each one of these companies wants your business, so as you walk around, people step out of their offices to see where you are traveling. Others simply stand outside and yell out destinations.

Still shell-shocked by the ride out of the city, after loading their bikes into the belly of the bus, Ethan and Padraic ducked into the shopping center in the middle of the station, where they picked up supplies for the long ride ahead.

The bus ride, though long and uncomfortable, passed fairly quickly and relatively painlessly. Ethan even managed to sleep from practically the moment he got on until the moment he stumbled out, while Padraic caught up on his reading. Now all this bleary-eyed duo had to do was find the long-lost Anthony.

Meanwhile, the ladies are cycling from Rhodes to Mugla, Turkey. You can read about their journey in their February 11-12 dispatch.

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Internet access while in Turkey was provided by Raksnet.

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