After letting our fans down for two months because of intense vagabonding, we finally take some time to talk to you about Turkey.
Now in the south of Cyprus after staying 3 months in Turkey, we are missing something: food! Yes, it is not easy to loose weight when staying two months in front of the computer eating ciğ köfte and gözleme the one after the other, with halva and baklavas for dessert, and the famous tahin-pekmez mix for breakfast. And still, it would be easy if Simona was not taking care of us and making delicious and fat meals with the products of the market.
It is every week at the the big covered market of Antalya that we were loading up on fruits, vegetables, cheese and others locals delicateness like the carob, that we like to call the Turkish Redbull. It’s so easy to get fresh, local and mostly delicious products that in three months we’ve been to the supermarket only to get toilet paper. A food addict dream, but also a trap when the cheese girl takes out her smile and beautiful eyes and makes us go back with our hundreds kilos of cheese, yogurt and butter. « Did we buy some dates? No », ok let’s go for it and get enough to survive the week. A stop at Mister Olive’s place for the tasting and we are leaving with 2kg for the week to go with the beers.
Well beers is not really the best part, because even if the food price is more than reasonable, the beer is far more expensive, compared to the price of Bulgaria the neighbour country for example. In fact, we ask ourselves how the Turkish we see drinking in the street can afford paying for alcohol more expensive than in France with a salary approximately three times lower.
Before going to sleep, we started to have always the same tradition. Alcohol being too expensive and the city of Antalya a bit too boring, we decided to invest into a shisha in order to spice up our daily life. We sit on our balcony in our comfy sleeping bags, open a bottle of Marmara, the cheapest beer we could find, we challenge ourselves to make the most perfect smoke rings with the shisha, watching « les Guignols », a famous french satiric show on the computer that connect us back with the country of the 300 cheeses.
We were following the attacks of Charlie Hebdo from our balcony. They had repercussions until Turkey, even if some of the locals don’t really know what is was all about, only one opposition newspaper dared to reproduce Mohammed’s caricatures. We cannot say that the Turkish government, getting more and more conservative and pro-Islam makes a good job in term of press freedom, Turkey being the country with the most imprisoned journalists in the world. The way of governing of Erdoğan is not really appreciated by the Turkish we have met : he’s advocating a more fundamentalist Islam, make mosques grow all over in the cities and even in universities, strange fact from one of the first secular country.
When Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’, literally « Father of the Turks » build in 1923 the current Turkey on the ruins of the Osman Empire, he quickly started to implement a lot of very new avant-gardist laws, like rights for women and secular state. Since 12 years now it is the AKP and Erdoğan that rule Turkey and it’s a real retrograde step for all supporter of Atatürk and the secular state. Laws become more and more strict, the taxes on alcohol raise (‘çok çok problem’, big problem), the Islam plays again a new important role in society and in the official business. In Istanbul and the big cities, the trend is clear: people are against this government which has all chances to be elected again for the next election. But in the areas of the countryside the votes go to Erdoğan’s favour hanks to the state’s investments. All these investments result as thousands of hostels on the coast and ‘gorgeous’ buildings in the cities, in a perfect discord with traditional architecture and the beautiful Turkish landscapes.
Turkey is a country full of paradoxes. But well, maybe like in all countries? When we see Istanbul, all these pubs, the squats that are starting since the Gezi protests, and all these open-minded people, we feel we could be in any European capital. The countryside is still thirty years behind frozen in time. The people are divided between a will of European integration and still keep on having a very strong Turkish culture. The young people are all putting their seatbelts on while these are sometimes even cut in the cars of old people.
There is a marked difference as well between East and West of Turkey. Our trip has briefly brought us in Kurdistan. The Kurdistan is a geographical and cultural area mostly inhabited by Kurds and shared between four countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the Turkish Kurdistan remaining unrecognised by the government. Since the beginning of the Turkish Republic, Kurds are the victim of a huge discrimination, especially under Atatürk’s governance but it remains until now. During our stay in Urfa and Mardin in Turkish Kurdistan we discovered much more about this people and its fight. The cities we visited were clearly different of the rest of Turkey, more authentic, more oriental and less European. And they were by far the most beautiful cities we have seen in Turkey, the other ones only being a gathering of old and newer building made like nobody cares.
We talked much about the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, organisation that leads an armed guerilla against Turkey for several reasons. Recently they made themselves famous heard when they freed the Syrian city of Kobanî from the Islamic State’s occupation, thanks among others to their regiment of women soldiers. Whereas in the rest of Turkey statues and portraits of Atatürk are to be seen everywhere and is an idol for most of the population, here in Kurdistan we discovered the other face of the “Father of the Turks” that massacred many Kurds during his years of governance. If the Turkish are helpful and generous, it is even worth here in Kurdistan! We also have the feeling that Kurdish are more aware about the world’s issues, maybe thanks to the conflict they have that make them think about different things. What does not change is that both Turkish and Kurdish seem to remain placid to many things. You can easily hitchhike with five people on a snowy road and be taken by a car with already two people inside “problem yok” no problem, or you can sleep with 6 people in an hotel under construction and wake up in the morning under the smiles of the workers and having for only remark from the manager “you are my first hosts”, or even being three guys at night on the highway and stop a truck with ease. As a general fact Turkish are very hospitable and hitchhiking is a piece of cake. Tip of the day: if you are hungry in Turkey, just go hitchhiking! About one driver out of two will offer you food or at least a çai.
The çai, in English chai, is a tea that people drink all over Turkey, every time and everywhere. There is nowhere you cannot find one! There are even many sellers going on the streets with a suspended tray full of çai glasses, and gathering on their way back the empty glasses that are dropped everywhere. The çai glasses are typical, the same in all the country in the shape of a tulip, probably studied so that the çai does not fall off easily.
Turkish people generally don’t speak a word of English, some don’t even know what “no” means, or maybe they will just be able to say “where are you from ?”. While hitchhiking we learn how to imitate a baby to ask if they have children, and little by little we learn Turkish, a quite easy language. In 3 days of hitchhiking, we learn more than in one month in Antalya where we go out of the flat just to get some bread. So we managed to have conversations, usually basic, but not always. Depending on the skills of our driver and sometimes with a little help of internet on a smartphone, we could even go really far. And when a person stopped and spoke English, then it was a crazy, a complete surprise, and we could eventually ask all our unanswered questions.
We also noticed that even if the radio was often playing the same musics, it was rarely the ones of our radios. And on the TV, every time turned on in all houses or cafés, was playing mainly Turkish TV shows in between the news and the car crash videos. Actually Turkey has a kind of a local mass culture. First producer of TV shows in the world, yes, before the US, there is also a high music scene, in Istanbul or elsewhere. People know how to sing and they do it commonly in the streets or in the cars that stop for us, the bars often have live evenings with Moustache Man playing bağlama. As well as for the the food, even if the awesome soft bread and Nutella is coming into the supermarkets, the Turkish remain attached to the simits and other egg-tomatoes-cucumbers in the morning.
So here is the few reflections and global impressions we had in Turkey. We really enjoyed travelling in Turkey, country in which we still have a lot to discover. And particularly we would love to explore more Kurdistan, area where our short stay left us with an unaccomplished feeling. When we come back from our trip we will definitely go in the forest for a little training with a PKK regiment.
In the next article we will talk to you about the itinerary that we did in Turkey, be prepared for castle squatting, shisha smoking in hotels under construction and camping in the snow. All of that spiced up with unbelievable new protagonists, that we are sure you are gonna love.