|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia||
By Steven Abrams
We were up bright and early the next day and out by 7.30. It had rained heavily during the night and although there were large puddles everywhere, it was now very warm and sunny. Our first stop was the Blue Mosque to finish the sightseeing tour of Istanbul. It was also the place where tourists in camper vans parked overnight. We had hoped to meet up with the Glovers again but they were obviously spending a longer time touring in Europe and they hadn't yet arrived.
We caught a bus to Taxim Square and walked to the Hotel Ron where Laffy was staying. The night before when we telephoned him for details he sounded as though he was having a good time smoking the contents of the packet from the shoe shine boy.
While we waited for Laffy, Louis went to the Hilton Hotel to check American Express, but there was still no mail for us. He left instructions that any mail that came for us should be returned. One letter from my mother that arrived the next day eventually caught up with me over a year later when I was in Australia.
Once everything was packed in the car we headed for the ferry to cross the Bosporus into the Asian part of Turkey. On arrival at the ferry all the cars queued up in orderley lines ready to get onto the boat. It was not unlike the cross Channel ferries except that while we waited in the queue, we were also charged for the privilege. Fancy having to pay for parking while sitting in a queue. When the ferry arrived the resemblance to Dover ended and it became a free for all. All the cars left the queue and made a mad dash to be first onto the boat. Being unfamiliar with the routine we ended up being one of the last vehicles to board the ferry.
At 11.35 we left Europe and crossed over into the Asian part of Turkey. We then headed for Kantel to get another ferry to Yalova where there was an American military base. On the way we stopped at a roadside farm vendor and bought some grapes. Not knowing the cost of grapes and assuming them to be similarly priced to England we decided to buy 3 lire (2/-) worth between us. For that small sum we received a 4 kilogram bag of grapes that was more than enough for us all to make pigs of ourselves. We ended up throwing most of them away when a few days later they started to go bad.
When we arrived in Yalova, Laffy checked us all into the Hotel Sahil.
It was only a very basic hotel, but it was still a vast improvement on
the Yucel Hostel. We even had the luxury of a wash basin in our room.
While Laffy drove around to find the base and where the American families
lived, Louis and I had a rest and an opportunity to catch up on some letter
writing. When Laffy
That evening we set out to knock on as many doors as possible with our leaflets and samples of very expensive hand painted plates. It soon became obvious that the Americans were not buying, and looking back on it I don't blame them. One recently married couple invited me in and sat patiently as I went through my rather poor sales pitch. When I had finished they told me that they would have loved to buy some but they didn't have any money having just married. They did feed me, which was some consolation, and I ended up talking to them about my travels and plans to get to the Far East and beyond.
It was sometime after 9 pm before I met up with Louis and he had experienced a similar success rate as myself. It then started to rain heavily so we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel. Earlier in the day we had bought a loaf of bread. This was combined with the remains of our first pack of processed cheese to become our evening meal.
The next day, Sunday, I had a lazy morning and stayed in bed until mid
day. Louis went out early to see somebody who had shown an interest and
had asked him to return. It turned out to be a waste of time, which is
the conclusion we had both come to about the whole thing anyway. We had
decided to tell Laffy we didn't want to continue but he was nowhere around.
It turns out that he had gone to try to see the Commanding Officer at
the base. While we were sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for him to
return, one of the Turkish boys we had met the night before arrived. It
seems that Laffy had offered him our jobs and we were probably going to
By the time Laffy eventually returned it was almost 4 pm and he was an
a hell of a temper. Obviously his meeting at the base had not gone well
and he seemed to be in something of a hurry to get out of town. We were
told to pack our bags quickly and get into the car. Laffy settled the
hotel bill and twenty minutes later we were all on the Road to Ankara,
Laffy, Louis, the Turkish boy who called himself John and myself. The
journey was not an enjoyable one and Laffy was not his usual jolly self,
a mood that seemed to spread to all of us. Later that night we pulled
over and parked at the side of the main road about 6 km outside Ankara.
The people in the mini buses watched us packing our sleeping bags away and offered us a very welcome cup of hot coffee. We talked to them while we drank the coffee and found out that there were twelve of them in all, six in each mini bus. They came from Afghanistan and had been working in London for the last few years. Now they were all heading home with the vehicles loaded with all sorts of goodies they had bought in England. They gave us a lift into the centre of Ankara, dropping us outside the tourist office so early that it had not yet opened for business.
After waiting for goodness knows how long for the tourist office to open, a student translated the notice on the door for us. The notice in Turkish said that the office had moved but did not
We decided to walk to the Iranian Embassy to get visas. It was quite a long way and by the time we got there the consular section had closed for the day. The guard at the gate however had visa application forms that we completed and left for the visa to be collected the next day.
From the Iranian embassy we headed for the Afghan Embassy. On the way we stopped at a luxury hotel to use their toilet. This was to be the first place for a toilet roll swap. I had always made a point of carrying my own toilet roll wherever I went. This was because there wasn't always one supplied, or the paper that was supplied was either not too clean or was hard enough to be used as sandpaper. Whenever the opportunity presented it I would swap the almost finished roll for a full one in some luxury hotel or an Embassy. I would eventually be able to boast that I had travelled for three years and not once did I have to buy a new toilet roll.
At the Afghan Embassy we filled in our application forms for visas to enter Afghanistan. While we waited for the consul we were able to sit and read English newspapers, while the secretary gave us coffee and sweets. The Afghan consul came out and spent 10 minutes laughing and joking with us. Because of his cheerful attitude we left that Embassy feeling on top of the world. After the disappointments of the last few days he had lifted our spirits again. We looked forward to our visit the next day to collect the visas.
Back at the student hostel we collected our packs and made our way to the university and the other hostel. Unfortunately this hostel was only for Turkish students but the warden introduced us to an English speaking student, Naim Canturk, who took us to find a cheap hotel. Duly installed in a hotel for the princely sum of 7 lire (4/8 or 23p) we then walked back for our luggage.
One of the reasons we had been walking everywhere in Ankara was because we couldn't find any buses; This was because there weren't any. Ankara worked on a system of shared taxis plying the same fixed routes as the buses. The shared taxi was called a Dolmus, and once we had collected our luggage we took one back to the hotel.
Once we got back to the hotel we found that our room had been invaded by what seemed to be the entire fly population of Ankara. We spent the best part of half an hour swatting them furiously until they were all gone before we could settle down to an early night.
The next morning Niam woke us up by bringing us each a cup of tea to the room. He then offered to spend the day and show us around Ankara. It was an ideal opportunity for him to practice his English, and for us to have an unpaid tourist guide. We told the hotel we would be staying another night and headed off with Naim in tow to collect our visas.
Our first stop was the Iranian Embassy where we were kept waiting for about an hour. Also waiting for visas were some Swedish lorry drivers and a Swedish hitch hiker. The lorry drivers had done this route a few times already and gave us a few tips as to which way was best to go. When the consul brought the visa stamped passports out he firstly called the Swedish hitch-hiker. He held up the ragged, dog eared, folded and creased remains of a passport between two fingers and pulling a face asked him just where it had been. The hitch hiker just shrugged, while everybody else in the room expressed surprise at seeing a passport in such a state. I must admit that I haven't seen one like it before or since. When it was our turn he held the passports away from us at arms length until we had paid the visa fee. I don't know if he thought we would grab them and run away without paying, but he was not a very friendly man.
At the Afghan Embassy the door was locked. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," so we knocked on the door. The friendly consul came to the door and invited us all in. He apologised for the locked door explaining that when we had come the day before he had forgotten to tell us it was an Afghan public holiday today, and that the Embassy would be closed. Because he had promised us the visas today he opened up especially and duly stamped our passports as valid for entry into Afghanistan. Not that we were able to read it, the stamp was in the Farsi language and they use a script that appears similar to Arabic.
It was late when we heard the distant thunder. Not wishing to be caught out in a storm we said good-bye to Naim, exchanging addresses before heading back to our hotel. When we eventually reached Australia we wrote a long letter to Naim telling him about our journey and to thank him for showing us around. It was returned "not known."
Our first call the next day was a post office, or PTT as they are called in Turkey. We posted our letters home and bought some stamps for the next one before catching a Dolmus to the edge of the city.
The driver and passenger spoke a bit of English so we were able to strike up a bit of conversation. While we were in the ambulance Laffy passed us. He must have seen us because he flashed his lights and waved as he passed. He was by himself. The ambulance dropped us off in Corum. While walking out of Corum and hitching as we walked, a PTT van stopped for us. A short way down the road it stopped again and about 20 people got in. There was very little room in the van and we had to climb on top of the mail sacks to make room for the others. The other passengers tried to make conversation but our knowledge of Turkish was almost nil, as was theirs of English. They offered us money to buy our cameras, our jackets, our shoes, and in fact just about everything we possessed. The amounts that they offered us were ridiculously low, and even so, we were not selling.
The others got out of the van at various points along the way until eventually we were on our own again. At Harza the van stopped and much to our surprise a horse was put in. I suppose
The next morning as we walked out of town we came across a small printing works and stopped to look in. The owner was friendly and invited me for a guided tour around his factory that consisted of a single Heidelberg Platen machine and hand picked loose type "composing room." It was a far cry from the family business back in Liverpool.
Our next stop was a tea room for a bit of breakfast. While we were drinking
our glass of tea one of the Turkish customers noticed the flageolet (penny
whistle) sticking out from my pocket. He indicated that he wanted me to
play a tune and at first I refused, I was after all only just learning
how to play it. When a few more men joined in trying to persuade me, I
gave in and started to play the one tune that I could do well, the folk
song "the leaving of Liverpool." At the end of the "concert"
I was given a rousing cheer, and more glasses of tea arrived, compliments
of the management. I carried on playing for about 10 minutes even though
most of the tunes I
We could have stayed all day but we had some serious hitch hiking to
do. We used the 25 kurus to buy some dried apricots and headed for the
edge of town. Shortly after we were given a lift in a Turkish made car
called an Anadol. The driver was a lunatic and today must have been the
eve of a full moon. He travelled at a speed that was far too fast for
the type of roads, continuously sounding his horn to move people out of
the way, scattering groups of farmers who had the habit of congregating
in the middle of the road. During this headlong dash across Turkey at
breakneck speed, we passed the Afghans in their mini buses. We also passed
We reached the town of Ordu in record time and the driver dropped us
on the far side of the town to save us having to walk through. Almost
as soon as we started to hitch we were surrounded by a group of children
who stood and stared at us, which was quite off putting, although not
an uncommon occurrence. One of the older children came over to us and
tried to talk to us. Unfortunately we did not speak any Turkish, but this
didn't seem to deter him and he carried on with the one sided conversation
regardless. He seemed quite disappointed that we didn't understand him,
so he obligingly hailed a taxi for us. Unfortunately he chose the moment
Having a crowd of children surrounding us wasn't doing our prospects for a lift much good so we decided to walk up the road to get away from them. As soon as we had moved off, a lorry stopped for us and gave us a ride to Giresun, which was the next major town along the coast. It was now raining heavily and we were very happy to have the British Land Rover stopping for us within a few minutes of getting down from the lorry.
The Land Rover driver was an older man who spoke to us through a narrow gap in his partly wound down window and no doubt, a locked door. He told us he was headed to Australia but refused to give us a lift as he had no passenger liability insurance. We tried to persuade him to take us but he just drove off while I was in mid sentence, leaving us standing in the pouring rain.
To get out of the rain we popped into a roadside tea shop. They had the television on and it was showing some highlights from the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Although it was an Olympic year we hadn't realised that they had started or even what results there had been until we saw the television in this tea shop.
Before we got to Trabzon the van broke down. Apparently they had been having trouble all day, that is why they were so far behind the Land Rover that we had seen them with during our high speed ride out of Samsun. They didn't seem to know much about cars except that they had got it going again by jiggling some of the wires under the dashboard. I got my torch and looked under the dashboard and within a few minutes had located the culprit, a loose wire to the ignition switch. It only took a few minutes more to make a permanent repair and we were on our way again. To show their appreciation for the repair they offered to take us on to Erzurum.
The floor at the back of the van was covered in foam rubber and this was where they slept. They were headed for India and the van was their home and transport. They had their suitcases and hanging on each side was a suit. I don't know what they expected to find but there were not going to be any night clubs for them to wear their suits on this trip.
As we headed off into the Pontus Mountains it was getting dark. The road was very badly marked and although there was not very much other traffic, it didn't always have any lights. Driving at night along this road was not to be recommended, so we decided to look for a suitable spot to stop for the night. A few minutes later we came across a piece of flat land at the side of the road, and there was the Land Rover, curtains drawn, presumably asleep.
The two lads climbed into the back of the van to sleep while Louis and I prepared to spend the night sitting in the front seats. To make more room we put our packs under the van. While we were both trying to get comfortable I was startled to see that somebody was peering in at us through the window. We tried to chase him away but he just kept coming back again. He finally went away when we threatened him with the baseball bat that Chris and John kept handy in the front of the van. Before finally settling down we had a cup of coffee and a long chat with the two lads in the back. It was after midnight before we finally got to sleep.
To say we slept was a bit of an exaggeration. Sitting up in the front
of the van it turned out to be an uncomfortable night even though we managed
to keep warm and dry. At 7.30 am we got out and had a walk around the
van. We talked to the Land Rover driver while we were waiting for Chris
and John to wake up. He still kept his window only partly wound down,
presumably afraid that we were going to attack him if he opened it any
further. He was headed for Australia and he and his vehicle were booked
on the M.V. Chusan that was due to sail from Bombay on 4th December bound
for Freemantle. He was a motor cycle racing fan, a subject that I didn't
The road was one of the worst I had ever travelled along, and probably
one of the worst of the whole trip. It was narrow, unpaved and climbed
higher and higher until the car engine started to labour from the thinning
air. We went over the mountain pass at Kopdages (elevation 8000 feet)
then the road headed down again. Before long we got caught up in the first
of a number of flocks of sheep that all seemed oblivious to the vehicle
trying to get through. Before long it got dark and the next hazard was
the lorries without lights. Finally at about 1830 we arrived in Erzerum
and said good-bye to Chris and John. Erzerum is the most eastern city
in Turkey. With
We found a hotel without any difficulty. The cost for the room was 14 Lire, (7 Lire each). We were tired, but not so tired that we couldn't go out for a bite to eat. We even managed to celebrate having almost crossed Turkey by having some ice cream for our dessert. On our way back to the hotel we even enjoyed some hot chestnuts bought from a street vendor, eventually flopping into bed exhausted, for an early night.
Before setting out the next morning we visited a local tea house for our usual breakfast of bread and cheese. The second packet of cheese that we had bought before leaving Dover was lasting well, mainly due to us becoming experts at spreading it very thinly on our bread. The bread we bought from the local bakery before going to get our tea. Tea houses in Turkey are just shops with a few tables and chairs that sell glasses of tea and nothing else. They are probably the Turkish equivalent of the local pub, but they serve tea instead of beer and you do not see any women in them.
As usual we walked to the edge of town and started hitching. Within 10 minutes we got a result when an Opel Record with German international plates stopped. The two occupants didn't seem to care where we were going but just kept asking us for a fuhrerschein. We couldn't understand what they were talking about as neither Louis nor I could speak any German. Eventually by sign language we realised that they were asking us if we had a driving licence. We quickly produced our international licences and they both leapt out of the car, put our packs into the boot and held the back doors open for us to get in.
Neither of them could speak any English, but we still managed to find out that they both all from Iran and that they had been working in Germany. The driver's name was Mahmoud and the passenger was Khalil. It seems that they didn't have a licence to drive in Iran, and that is why we now had this lift. At Agri we stopped for lunch which Khalil paid for, and before setting out again we picked up a Turkish hitch hiker who was going as far as the border.
Just before we reached the border a flock of birds flew across the road in front of the car just as we rounded a bend in the road. It happened so suddenly and the car hit quite a few of the birds. We stopped to check for damage, but fortunately the car had fared better than the birds and was undamaged. We then set off again to drive the rest of the way to the frontier with Mahmoud driving.
The Turkish border with Iran was not like any of the European borders that we were used to. We had expected the usual border guards hut with the red and white striped barrier pole across the road but this was not the case. The first thing we saw was what seemed to be a car scrap yard in the middle of nowhere, then just around the bend we came to the border compound.
When you drive a car into Turkey Iran or Afghanistan, all the vehicle details are written into your passport alongside the entry stamp. When you leave again they are checked against the car you take out with you. If you don't take a car out, or if the details don't match you then have to pay quite a hefty amount of import tax before you can leave the country. If your car breaks down or is involved in an accident you have to arrange for the wreckage to be taken out of the country to avoid having to pay the duty. This presumably was the reason for the "scrap yard" at the border. Cars that had wheezed their final breaths up to the frontier, or had even been towed or brought on trucks were just dumped once their owners had their passports stamped.
The border compound was a large square surrounded by buildings. You entered the square through a large archway and parked in front of the immigration office on the Turkish side. After you had cleared immigration exit formalities it was the turn of the customs. There was also a "last tea house in Turkey" where we met a group travelling as fare paying passengers in a mini bus headed for New Delhi. They were a mixture of Australian, British and Germans and we discussed the route at length while we drank tea as we waited for the customs to clear us through. It was at this point that we said good-bye to Mahmoud. He was heading back into Turkey, and presumably would eventually make his way back to Germany. He had only