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The David B. Adair It's Not the Same World as it Used to Be Newsletter
Russia-Turkey-Israel-Egypt-Jordan-Syria-England-My Mom's House Edition
April 2, 1993
(I started, but never completed this newsletter about the end of a two year trip around the world, mostly in Asia. Read it at your own risk.)
Does anyone remember where I was when I wrote the last newsletter? I sort of do, but it seems like such a long time ago. I'm home now, mostly, but after only three months home it seems like I was never gone. Physically all of me has returned but mentally I'm sort of spread out all over the place. More on that later.
The last time I wrote I was in St. Petersburg, Russia and about to head south for Turkey. The night I mailed that letter five of us went out to a bar and met some friendly Russians. After buying us drinks, one of them boasted of his ability to drink massive quantities of alcohol. He poured a huge tumbler of vodka and said, "I can drink vodka. I am RUSSIAN!!" And it was, oh, about 20 seconds later that he threw up a fountain of vodka that went about halfway across the bar. To me that was even more impressive than the size of the drink, and he didn't even mention it. Luckily I was wearing my Gore-Tex rain jacket and I wasn't standing between Dimitri and the bathroom, where he was heading post haste. After Dimitri perked up a little, he and his three friends absolutely insisted on us going out to dinner with them. We thought, hey, this guy knows how to party, so we agreed. As we stood out on the street waiting for a taxi, two of the Russians (both men) got in the first taxi that came along with all three of the women in our group, and took off. My friend Doug and I looked at each other with that "uh oh" expression. We had no idea where this restaurant was or even its name, but there was nothing to be done about it now. I thought, this guy vomits on me, then asks us to dinner, and we said yes?!! I've read articles in newspapers about things like this, and I've always thought, what a bunch of idiots!
We were reunited at the restaurant, where we had bottles of champagne (at about $1 a bottle) and a decent, unexciting meal. One of the Russians kept referring to himself as Killer because he'd been in the military. Towards the end of the meal one of the Russians started hinting about not having any money to pay for the meal. More hints were dropped, including Killer saying in very broken English something about being killed. We finally confronted them with it and they admitted they didn't have any money. We didn't mind paying, but didn't like being taken advantage of. Dimitri tried a runner but I went outside before he could get away and hauled him back. The resolution was our paying for our portion of the bill and leaving a very frustrated Dimitri with his head in his hands sitting at the table. Killer was very anxious about the whole situation and said that he could be killed if he couldn't pay for the meal. I hope he was wrong. We left the restaurant at a fast walk and me holding my Swiss army knife in my pocket (don't mess with me, I'll corkscrew you and then file your nails, I swear I will!) We didn't have even the slightest idea where we were, but we turned out to be close to where we were staying. I'm sure there's a moral in the story about having dinner with someone who vomits on you, but I never figured it out.
Two days later everyone had gone their separate ways, and I left by myself on a 45 hour train ride to the town of Sochi, Russia, on the Black Sea. The trip (which cost $4 for a first class ticket) was pretty nice. It had been freezing cold in St. Petersburg but after travelling 1,500 miles or so south there were people in their bathing suits on the shores of the sea. I was met at the train by a friend of someone I'd met in St. Petersburg, and he showed me around town (it wasn't much of a show) and helped me get a ferry ticket to Turkey. The first ferry I was booked on was cancelled by foul weather, and the next day I went on a boat that holds maybe 100 people. Most of the passengers were Syrians and Turks. A couple of Syrians got really drunk, ended up in a fistfight and one of them tried throwing a table overboard. The trip to the port of Trabzon was about 11 hours and we arrived around midnight, but the immigration office doesn't open until 9 a.m., so we slept on the boat.
The Russian hookers were running amok in Trabzon, apparently. None approached me, as usual. What does it take to get a hooker to pay a little attention to me? A high percentage of the Russian women were recognizable by their bleached hair. Actually it was only about 90% bleached and the other 10% was dark roots. Turkey surprised me; it's much more modern than I expected. The buses are incredible; many of them are made by Mercedes Benz, and they're spotless. You never see a dirty bus, or one that looks more than just a few years old. After the buses I'd been on, that was a big change. They all have great ventilation systems and air conditioning, but the drivers refuse to use them, because for some reason the Turks think that you get sick if you have a breeze on you. I was on some sweltering rides where they refused to put on the a/c.
It was fun for me to remember back to when I was buying my round-the-world air ticket for this trip. I was really nervous about the whole thing, and I had to decide if I wanted to include Istanbul, Turkey on the itinerary. I thought, oh my gosh, what's Turkey like? Is it safe? Aren't they Muslims there? What if I don't like it? I decided if it was terrible I'd just get back on a plane for my next destination, or maybe not even leave the airport and get straight back on a plane. It was a great comparison from that panic-stricken state to my actual arrival, by boat from Russia, without a guidebook, and without any apprehension. If I'd thought before I left that something like that would happen, I think I would haven been paralyzed with fear.
My first day I walked to an old church and met a great Australian couple, Karl and Annie, who'd been travelling in Thailand and after Turkey were working in England before going back home. We spent the day together, then the next, and so on a day at a time for the next three weeks. That's one of the things I loved about travelling alone. I was almost never really alone, but I met great people all along the way. Karl and Annie are visiting me in May on their way back to Australia.
Turkey is a big country, compared to countries that are smaller. Of course, it's not that big compared to some bigger countries, but generally, I think we should just agree that it's bigger than some countries and leave it at that. My first bus ride was 15 hours to the town of Van in the far east of Turkey, only about 80 miles from both Iran and Iraq. We walked by a bakery and were practically hauled inside by a really nice Kurdish family who invited us over for dinner that night. The food was delicious and the family was amazingly generous. Kurds had been in the news quite a lot around that time because of the Turkish government's campaign to get rid of the PKK, a militant group trying to establish a homeland for the Kurds. We sat with this Kurdish family and watched a television news program showing Kurds who had been killed that day by security forces. It was so strange to be watching it with Kurds, and once again I was reminded of how little I knew about world affairs, and how little I cared. I had heard for years about the plight of the Kurds, but it had never meant anything to me, and all of a sudden I FELT it. I think it's peculiar how we can see or hear about these tragic battles being fought all over the world and not feel very much about it, but get completely incensed about the way the guy ahead of us is driving. Just two days before we arrived in Van the PKK had been stopping buses on the road and "educating" the passengers. We even heard about one tourist who sat in a bus as missiles were being lobbed over by the PKK on one side and the security forces on the other. They say that the PKK can be really vicious, killing an entire family if one family member cooperates with the police.
We went next to a 2,000 year old monument built on the mountaintop of Nemrut Dagi by a little pipsqueak king who thought he was somebody. He built huge a statue of himself sitting next to the Greek gods who were in fashion at the time, like Zeus and Diana. He had carved proclamations in stone declaring the 6th of every month a holiday because he was born on the 6th, and the 15th a holiday because he was made king on the 15th. I thought it was so funny that he built this monument so people could think how great he was, and 2,000 years later people are ridiculing him. He'd be mortified if he knew.
Our next stop was one of the more amazing places of my entire trip. It was the region known as Cappadoccia where silt from ancient volcanoes eroded over thousands of years and has left a fascinating moonscape. The sandstone is fairly soft and for the last few thousand years people dug homes, churches, and even whole underground cities in the stone. Two underground cities have been discovered, and they think that up to 10,000 people could have lived in them at one time. What a great place to explore! There are thousands of houses spread all over the place, many of them multi-storied, and some connected by tunnels that are so small you have to crawl on your belly to go through them. I really loved it. There's also lots of potential for risk-taking, if you're into that. I climbed down one narrow shaft, and two and a half feet square, and 50 feet down. I hoped it went out at the bottom, but it didn't so I had to climb back up. There were scooped out footholds to support you, and on the way up I started climbing two footholds at a time. At one point I had my left elbow in one foothold and my right hand in another and my feet slipped out and were dangling in the air. I love that kind of stuff.
(I didn't finish the rest; it's just notes, mostly)
- ephesus was great roman city, met a woman who told me about a ferry from turkey to rhodes, greece and then to israel, so decided to try it again.
- hitched and bussed to marmaris, 2 hour ferry to rhodes, which was nice, 2 day ferry via cyprus to israel. first night was wild weather, but trip was ok. slept on floor one night, on couch the other. on boat met a group of 5 people who spent the next 5 days together. doug was from s.f. and we'd gone to grad school at the same time
- israel was an amazing experience. spent first night on roof in the arab section of old city. "death to christians", birthplace of virgin mary, "either they kill all of us...", wall above the wailing wall, hacidic jews, palestinians, christians, guns everywhere, disco, gunmen drinking beers and dancing, couple arm-in-arm w/rifle over shoulder, palestinian line-up.
- day-trip to dead sea and masada, through occupied west bank. virtually every school teacher had a gun. how does that affect kids, i wonder? masada was fascinating
- problems of going to israel and then other arab countries. no evidence like coins or stamps. allenby bridge to jordan, point of entry. "occupied palestine", entry to egypt ok, but can't have evidence. can't have taba stamp.
- went south to dahab, egypt on the red sea. laid-back place. scuba-diving, lots of laying in the sun. coral formations amazing. blue hole about 600' deep. disco with mostly egyptian men dancing. incredible testosterone levels on the dance floor. every once in a while they'd work themselves into a mucho macho frenzy and be forced to take off their shirts.
- went to the port for ferry to jordan and saw the 11:00 a.m. ferry, turned out to be full, but was assured the next one was leaving at 3 p.m. spent my time relaxing under the intense scrutiny of the other curious egyptian and jordanian passengers who wanted to communicate with me but spoke no english. my limited arabic consisted of a few sentences like "i'm from canada", "yes, i do like saddam hussein", "i hate george bush, too", "shoot me? what's wrong with shooting that old woman over there?" anyway, boarded the boat at 6, sat there til 10, arrived jordan at 2 a.m. found taxi to Petra at 4, arrived Petra 6 a.m.
- petra was worth it. amazing setting without carved temples. shown in indiana jones last movie.
- awarded myself the bonehead of the month award for my brainstorn to hitch to amman instead of taking the 3 hour bus ride. 6 rides and 11 hours later, i tried to remember what made me do that. i'm still trying to remember. met some interesting people, including lots of locals who told me to take the bus instead of hitching
- in amman applied for the syrian visa. she says, have you been to occupied palestine? when i said no, she "never?!" when i gave her my passport, she couldn't find my entry visa into egypt and i said oh, isn't it there? that sounded really convincing to me, but it didn't convince her. i just played dumb, something i've mastered through years of practice, and said my tour guide had taken care of it, i don't know what happened. eventually worked. my friend, who didn't know how it worked, told the syrian embassy in ankara that he was "in transit to Israel", and the guy told him "you will NEVER get a visa."