My last Behind the Lens was about my holiday to Athens and the Greek Islands in 1999. This Hellenic portion of my journey was a fantastic experience and a thoroughly enjoyable holiday, but the next leg proved to be more memorable for a number of reasons.
After two weeks relaxing and partying in the in the Greek Islands I decided that I wanted to also explore Turkey. I said goodbye to my friends in Greece, jumped on a ferry and headed off on another adventure.
The ferry ride from Athens to Kusadasi (Turkey) from memory was about 12 hours. When I set foot on Turkish soil around 6.30am there was a significant change in the landscape, architecture and culture. It may have been due to sleep deprivation, but the locals appeared to be a lot more welcoming and friendly towards tourists from what I experienced in Greece. I promptly checked into a hotel, showered and slept for 14 hours straight. It was just what the doctor ordered.
I woke up about 10 pm famished and eager to check out the beach side resort town of Kusadasi. The town was pumping with cafe's, bars and restaurants all doing great business. I polished off a rather large Turkish meal with several glasses of apple tea and then walked for two hours taking in the sights of this busy coastal town.
Around 12.30am I made it back to my hotel only to be stopped by a group of gorgeous German girls who convinced me to accompany them to a local nightclub. Being the gentleman that I am, I obliged. The club was absolutely packed and I spent the next four hours drinking 'Efes Pilsen' and dancing with my new German friends. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. I had a great night, but regretted it in the morning as I had booked myself on a seven day bus tour of Turkey and was being picked up from my hotel at 7am. However, after two cups of strong Turkish coffee I was ready to take on the day.
I boarded a 22 seater bus with a group of other young tourists. I'm sure that most of them had been at the same nightclub as me the night before because many of them looked a little worse for wear and there was a strong aroma of Raki in the air. Raki is a Turkish alcoholic drink, similar to Ouzo and has a kick like a mule.
The next seven days were spent touring western Turkey. I was blown away by the incredible ancient architecture of Ephesus which clearly defined the power and dominance of the ancient Greeks in the region.
We spent two nights in Cappadocia in central Turkey. It has one of the most unique landscapes that I have ever seen. It's famous for its fairy-tale scenery, cave dwellings, and remarkable rock formations. The cave dwellings which are scattered throughout the whole region date back to the prehistoric Bronze Age and were carved out by troglodytes (cave dwellers)later being used as refuges by early Christians. In more recent times the tourism industry has profited by turning some of these larger cave structures into hotels and tourist attractions.
Our next port of call was the stunning coastal village of Oludeniz. Oludeniz is renowned as a hang gliding mecca due to the mountainous terrain and the prolific thermals which are produced there. Every day the sky was filled with brightly coloured hang gliders and paragliders circling above. On our last afternoon there one unfortunate young man lost control of his paraglider and descended into the main street of shopping district. His flight came to an abrupt end when he crashed into the side of a three storey hotel. Myself and several others ran to his aid fearing the worst. Fortunately for him he was able to greatly reduce his speed prior to impact. He had a minor cut to his arm, a badly bruised knee but his pride and confidence suffered a little more damage I think.
After Oludeniz we moved on to the subtropical Olympos where we slept in treehouses deep in the Turkish forest. It was a fun and minimalistic experience shared with lots of international hippies and nature lovers.
We eventually made our way to Istanbul which is the largest city in Turkey and the economic, cultural and historic centre. Istanbul is a bustling modern city not unlike any other major city in the world. The only obvious difference to me was the call to prayer that echoed through the city streets from the mosque minarets five times a day, every day.
I loved exploring Istanbul's markets, eateries, bars, mosques and learning about the city's incredible ancient and modern history.
On my second last night in Turkey I retired to my room at around midnight and quickly fell asleep after a hectic day. Suddenly at 3am I was violently thrown from my bed as a magnitude seven earthquake struck. Despite never experiencing anything similar before, I knew instantly what it was. The sheer power of mother earth's seismic energy was unmistakable. The explosive side to side jolting movement was something I will never forget. It lasted for more than 30 seconds. I quickly threw on some clothes and raced outside. I could hear people screaming, babies crying, car alarms going off and emergency vehicle sirens in the distance. In the street people were hysterical and although I couldn't see any visible significant damage or destruction, 100 kilometres away in Izmit it was different story. Two days later, we started to hear snippets of information about how devastating the event was. The town of Izmit and other near by regional towns were completely flattened by the quake. All communication lines including phone and internet were down for days. My family knew that I was in Istanbul at the time but there was no way for me to contact them. Needless to say they were extremely concerned for my welfare.
I was due to fly out the following day and was obviously uncertain if that was going to happen. Fortunately my flight had not been cancelled and I was able to board my flight as planned. However, even whilst walking across the tarmac to board the plane the aftershocks were still rumbling beneath our feet. Even when I had boarded and taken my seat the aftershocks were vigorously shaking the aircraft. It was quite unsettling to all those on board. Many people let out a huge sigh of relief the moment the aircraft lifted off. It was only when I flew into Melbourne did the full extent of the death and damage come to light.
Official Turkish estimates put the death toll at 17,127, with a further 43,959 injured. However, many sources suggest the actual figure may have been closer to 45,000 dead and a similar number injured. Reports showed that 120,000 poorly engineered houses were damaged beyond repair and approximately 20,000 buildings collapsed, resulting in more than 250,000 people becoming homeless after the earthquake.
- Craig George, photographer
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