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Looking back - 4 weeks of Anatolian Turkey
Sunday, 03 September 2006

Turkey is a BIG country – long stretched from west to east on the Anatolian high plateau. We took the shortest route to Erzurum crossing the plateau from Bursa to Erzurum experiencing the many faces a country can have. It’s been a hot dusty ride – crossing big cities like Bursa and Ankara and small villages with nothing more than a few houses. This route is the east to west transport route with mainly Turkish truckers mixed with Iranians and Romanians.

Coming from Europe – Turkey has a pretty distinct identity. Life on the streets is typical and easily recognisable as Turkish. First of all by the overload of public transport and the many people using it. From small Ford Transit busses to modern Mercedes Travego’s coaches all hauling people from A to B – 24 hrs a day all over the country. It’s practically impossible not to find transport – it’s simply all around on the main routes.

Unmistakeably next is the presence of Police, Military and commercial guards all well equipped with all sorts of firearms. At first we got to think there’s something wrong somewhere but we slowly remembered this from our 2000 journey through Turkey.

The why of so much security is necessary remains unanswered to us. Turkey feels pretty safe with kind people almost everywhere we go. We haven’t seen much of the outer signs of what we associate with (western style) trouble. But maybe that’s just because of a society being policed so intensely. Maximum security can be experienced at airports as we’ve tested while looking for WIFI Internet hotspots. The amount of policemen per square meter quickly rises to at least 5 or more – specially when coming in with a big truck on a local deserted airport. Anyhow one thing we have found out while talking to people is that a government job is for life. Getting fired because of a organisation trim down seems not in the main stream vocabulary.

With Turkey being such a big country it struck us once again that you’re practically never ever alone. Within a few minutes of stopping the engine there’s always someone near. Just like we experienced in 2000. We know we draw quite a bit of attention, that combined with Turkish curiosity generally results in a small chat or the unmistakably “what is my name?” question from the youngsters. After a long day it’s hard to not say “I don’t know, Mohammed maybe?”

East of Ankara we came into a zone we got to feel as a “West meets East” area.
Western style products and advertising mixed with typical regional products and  advertising. To us typical Asian style advertising is making sure your stuff is out on the streets for display. Selling bottled gas? Simply put the bottles on the street. Got carparts for sale? Plaster your shop with any possible car brand sticker and hang the tires and mufflers outside.
All this mixed together in a street results in a typical chaotic eastern Turkish shopping street.  East meets West results in this street being plastered with HUGE billboards saying “Istikbal” (sort of Ikea) or “Aygas” (a gas company).

Western style of doing business branding products with a single screaming loud sign.
The normally chaotic eastern street now gets spaced out by the western way of doing things. Sometimes it results in bizarre contrast where the older generation of men sit for tea in a worn out tea-shack while next door the latest mobile phones are sold in a typical shiny, clean big window shop. Horses & cart with a cloud of flies just parked besides the shop, horse eating from a sack attached to it’s head outside. Customers browsing for 5 Mb pixel camera phones inside. Looking more closely the “meeting” part in most cases comes down to “dominating”.
Big chain supermarkets appear in the bigger cities. The Carrefour chain from France has several huge outlets in Turkey selling practically everything. Same for Lidl from Germany and a few other smaller chains like Champignon. It’s got to hurt the small street side shops as it did in Europe in the beginning of the 70’s for the smaller groceries in towns and villages. These hypermarkets are a huge success, lots of Turkish people go there to get their stuff. How can a typical Asian street bazaar seriously compete?

We notice in this part of Turkey these outlets affect traditional identity and culture. We wonder what people think who are living a strong traditional / religious life – where a bazaar is the place to be to get your stuff. When we walk the streets of Erzurum we feel the contrast caused by the western commercial wind. A big change is ahead and much here in Erzurum has changed already. The winter sport resort up in the hills near Erzurum breathes strong western values. It could just be located somewhere in the Pyrenees in Spain or France. The big Migros supermarket near the Erzurum train station sells beer and dog food – surprisingly it gets a fair share of men (alone) with neat shopping lists.

Stepping into a bank like Isbank or AK bank feels like we’re back in Europe. Well organised counters with printed queue tickets to get rid of chaotic scenes while standing in line. Traditional dressed Turkish men and women are nowhere to be seen. The female staff is dressed in the latest fashion. The latest mobile phones blast crazy ringtones. Outside we can hear the call for prayer and see traditionally dressed men and women stroll past boys sitting in line waiting to polish your shoes.

Within this contrasting economy we simply can’t figure out how the outrageous high fuel price in Turkey can last and doesn’t cause at least some revolt. One litre of diesel does about 2,41 YTL (2 September 2006) – which is about € 1,30 or US$ 1,64 a litre. (At the same time it’s an already painful € 1,05 a litre in the Netherlands.)
As a comparison a loaf of bread is about 14 eurocents. A 5 minute private taxi ride does € 1,63 (3 YTL). A 2 hour internet session on a modern PC + ADSL line takes about
€ 1,09 (2 YTL) including tea. A full dinner for 2 persons ranges between 20 and 30 YTL including soft drinks and tips.

The availability & popularity of public transport by bus comes in real handy with the outrageous fuel price. Busses are usually packed, a lot cheaper than driving your fuel inefficient Tofas (some Italian design) to work. Also we see a fair share of new fuel efficient cars too, like the small Toyota Getz, Honda Civic, Renault Cango and Fiat Panda’s. Nonetheless they’re driven with great ‘pedal to the metal’ passion and taken care of like it’s a gold plated icon.

And what about having dogs like pets? We’ve seen some, even in Erzurum; a nice white husky taken out on the main street. From experience we know walking a dog in Turkey gets you a LOT of attention. Ranging from the irresistible urge to pet Indra to near panic with an occasional scream of fear when a dog suddenly pops up behind you. To Indra it’s business as usual – she just walks the street to get to a field to play.

Our Iranian Visa might come in next week for € 50,- a pop. From there we roll out our plan to drive through Iran. This time we come well prepared with a day by day route plan  and marked destinations to spend the night – which is an unusual thing for us to do.
But first things first : lets get that visa first.

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