As of tomorrow I'll be BST +3 (UTC +4), not BST +2 as I currently am.
PS. All blog times and GPS coordinates are in BST.
Day 5. 29 April 2013.
Today is all about driving, about 500Km, from Goreme NE to, well, somewhere. There was no fixed camping point, we just found a suitable, and really rather pretty, space near on of the many rivers which flows through the valleys. Suitable in this case is flat(ish) ground with suitable cover so as to make a toilet - there are no facilities unless you make them.
I really like camping like this, it is wonderfully simple and generates a real peace in me - all you have to focus on is setting camp, cooking, and enjoying the food and the evening with your fellow travellers - the addition of (the endlessly hypnotic) camp fire to keep us warm and you have a properly happy time; there are no distractions and nothing to worry about. Heaven.
The evening was spent doing communal cooking, everyone mucking in to add to the whole, and talking - over the next few months we are all going to get to know each other really well, which will either leave us with friends for life or with people who we never want to see again.
The scenery on route was just stunning. I know I'm in for a glut of riches over the next year, the next 4 months especially, but as a start to the trip it was perfect - something to help remove the mind from the UK/London life and help adjust it to life on the road and a life of taking in and making the most of what is around you.
Alas I've got no pictures on the phone of the scenery on route on my phone and I can't yet extract them from my camera - I need to find a way of reading an SD card from a Google Nexus - so here are a couple from the camp.
Day 3. 28 April 2013.
As Day 1 was a long driving day we had created more time in Goreme to do things, the firstly of which is proof that this trip isn't pure rock & roll - a trip to the supermarket to get supplies for the truck.
Whilst utterly mundane, it is a small view of the everyday life in Turkey and it looks a lot like anywhere else in the western world - people buying all the usual items we all do, from a supermarket which felt too much like a Tesco for my liking (the blue & white "value" brand being the seal).
The truck was the source of much interest and amusement to a group of local kids - unlike other parts of the world where overland trucks are common, its must been fairly rare to have one parked outside a shopping mall (where the supermarket was) in the middle of an otherwise ordinary town in the middle of Turkey.
The afternoon was spent at the Open Zelve Museum, which is a UNESCO world site - a fascinating place and another chance to explore cave buildings, which yet again is an interesting mix of homes, communal facilities (cooking, larder, wine production, etc) and another Christian church within more stunning artwork, which is in far better condition condition than what I saw yesterday.
I think all of using who went (Kim, Brian, John, Rachel, Tony and Olly) all came away really glad we'd visited - well worth a few hours to slowly take it all in.
There is a real pleasure on having a couple of giggly 11(ish) year old girls come up to your group and practice their English - we got as far as names and where we come from. I think they went away happy that they'd spoken a little English, back to what's I assume is a school trip. It wish I could remember their names.
One small drama - an old lady from another group collapsed as she sat next to me. John thinks this was a reaction to me zipping my trousers into to shorts, which isn't impossible - I'd blame the heat and a lack of fluid.
One quick check of CABC later and the most useful first aid skill I'd got was to run like buggery to fetch help, leaving Olly and the others with the woman. As with running away from an unhappy elephant in the Okavango Delta a few years ago, it turns out I can move surprisingly quickly when properly motivated.
The group went out to a wonderfully touristy dancing night for food, drink ("all the alcohol you want is included" as promoted several times, which is all well and good if you're don't have a long drive the next day) and to watch traditional Turkish dancing. Yes it was very very touristy, but it was a good laugh - especially that the biggest cheer of the night went to a group of 5 older (late 50s+) guys, customers, who took to the dancer floor between shows and danced - easily the dance highlight, even if it's was (Turkish) (gran)dad dancing off the highest order.
I suspect the pictures I haven of Olly and Kim being "dragged" on to the floor as a part of a show will make good decoration for the truck.
Day 3. 27 April 2013.
After a must more sensible starting time we were picked up from them hostel for an all-day tour of the Cappadocia region. For those interested, Cappadocia (or one of the various other spellings) means Land of Beautiful Horses, based on the history of the region and some invaders whole got, unsurprisingly, beautiful horses from here - 100 of them, according to our guide.
The area is famed for the geology and thus the look of the place - the SciFi fans we'll recognise the look, even if Star Wars was filmed in Tunisia. Paperwork prevented it actually being filmed in Turkey, so they built a set in Tunisia based on the look of the place.
A combination of volcanic activity and water erosion has left a really stunning looking landscape - something I expect to say a lot over the next year.
It has also allowed homes to be carved directly into the rock, where a (far too short) look around one set on these was fascinating - a combination of places where people lived and ancient churches. We only had about 30 to look around, which is a real shame - I could easily have spent a good couple or hours poking around; the downside to a fixed itinerary.
One short drive and a short walk later and we're at another ancient home and church site, this time focused on the church - the areas where until really very recently (1960s) people lived; it just got too dangerous for people to live there (a family being killed was the last straw) , so they were moved elsewhere.
The highlight of the church was easily the wall paintings, which areas in a poor state - partly due to age, partly due to centuries old state sponsored vandalism, partly due to more modern destruction due to the people at the time being taught Christian images were a bad thing and partly due to the type of idiot who sees centuries old paintings and thinks the way to improve it is to carve their name in to it.
Another short drive later and we are at the one's of the many underground cities in the area, a places built centres ago as a refuge where, not if, invaders attacked - a safe space for 1000 people to live for a few week to sit outside an attack. The numbers of people who could live there is a clue to the scale - 8 levels of carved rooms, wells, ventilation shafts, a church and a place for the dead and more; all designed to withstand attack (small, single-file, corridors towards the safe areas and blocks stones (think Indiana Jones) with attack holes (think arrow slits in castles, just bigger)).
Fascinating to look around by itself, although the inner geek in me is amazed my the engineering of it all.
Alas, because it was a touristy tour it ended with a visit to a local factory/showroom, where we had the opportunity to look at how Onyx was cut (think turning wood) and then an array of tat which could become bought - I don't like this side to tours, but accept it is part of it. Still, it gave me 15 min sat outside in the sunshine.
The only thing I didn't do at the Onyx "factory" which I should have it tried the tea - pineapple and rather good, apparently. Still, fixed that with dinner - an underwhelming Turkish Pizza, but a damn good laugh with the waiter; we were trying to convince him that Brian and I were both the boyfriend of Kim, although that she was leaving us the next day to get married to a younger man - good times.
Day 2. 26 April 2013.
Today was the first driving day, kicking off with a 12+ hour, 800+ Km, drive to Goreme. The original schedule has today as a much shorter drive with bush camping on route, but a long day of driving gave us an extra day to explore Goreme - worth getting up at 0415 for a 0500 meeting outside the hostel.
The hostel itself was great - clean, safe, fun and on an interesting street (think a smaller version of Long Street). They are obviously use to working with Dragoman as at 5am they'd managed to provide us breakfast and coffee. I'd stay there again.
At 0511 the wheels rolled and we were on our way, Olly (the tour leader) driving for them first leg.
Driving through Istanbul pre-dawn and what is otherwise a very busy and manic city was calm, still and peaceful - a side to Istanbul which probably isn't seen that often. The full(ish?) moon providing a wonderful light, especially on the water.
By 0530 we'd crossed the bridges from the European side of Istanbul in to the Asian side - within half an hour of day 2 and we are on our second continent.
There was a very noticeable air of excitement as we drive through Istanbul, the feeling from all of us that this was real and the start of something exciting. Big smiles all round.
The next 12+ hours areas spent driving through increasingly more rural land, stopping a few times for a leg stretch; lunch was overlooking Turkey's second largest lake. My time is spent taking in the scenery and getting to know my fellow travellers, mostly of whom (4/6) are going all the way to Mongolia.
Arriving in the hostel for tonight and we have a well earned beer and a simple meal. We all sleep early, having been up at far-too-early-o'clock, within some of the group up early again for a hot air balloon ride - something I didn't do.
The soundtrack for today was a selection of music brought to me by D. Thank you, D.
This is Daisy and she'll be my home for the next 4 months.
Better pictures and a proper description to follow - we've got a 12 hour drive tomorrow, so a 5am start awaits.
For those emailing me... I've now got sporadic access to the Internet so replies may take days.
Although I've been in Istanbul for a couple or days, today is day 1 of the tour. By random chance I met one of the guys who it doing the whole 4 months whilst sat out on the hostel's roof-top bar terrace last night with the people I was sharing a dorm with and another over breakfast this morning; I met the other 3 (+ 2 crew) who are leaving Istanbul tomorrow this morning at the prearranged meeting point (the hostel I'm staying in - handy, and planned).
I spent my first day in Istanbul shattered in all the ways possible, so took it very easy. Slept a chunk during the day, wandered around during the evening, a little to eat and then, because it's a backpackers, drinking and smoking shisha (a first) until about midnight with two random Ozzies I ended up sitting with. One who had spent years living in London working as a chef before then working as a chef on superyatchs, now heading back to Oz; the other taking 3 months out to go around to world before doing his PhD in genetics. A great evening and one that helped settle my head into "this is real", although that really hit me as I was dozing on my bunk with the windows opened - the smell of cooking coals below, a sea of languages being spoken and the Adhan from the Mosques.
10 hours of sleep later and I was (more) human, so wandered around the old town, the Grand Bazaar (all the dust gathering tat you could ever need) and the outside of the Blue Mosque and the Ayasofya - the queue for entry being hours and that is longer than I'm prepared to wait, although it is meant for be worth it. Istanbul is a places I want to return to and do properly, so I'm not worried about not going inside to look around properly - as with everything in this trip, it's a trade.
Today it going to be another quiet day for me today as we've got a 0500 start tomorrow, which my body will think is 0300. An early start, but it's goes use more time in Goreme, our first stop.
Given that I've got no way to connect my camera to my tablet at the moment all I can post are snaps from my phone, but I'm taking "proper" pictures too - they'll appear once I've got the cable I need. Until then...
I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
I am here: 51 29.404 N 0 12.595 W http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:51.49007,-0.20992
After more last minute issues than I'd have liked, I have all of the visas which I can actually get in London. This is a good thing. This is a very good thing - the alternative is, was, something which caused a lot of stress.
I've not managed to get all the visas I'd expected to get, the Azerbaijan visa just couldn't be sorted out in time; thankfully it is "very easy" to get in Batumi, according to the Dragoman ops team. Having read the howto, it is - one form, a couple of pictures and some cash is what it should have taken in London and what it will take in Batumi; the difference is that it should take a few hours as compared to the wrong side of a week.
None to the issues have been due to Travcour, who have been absolutely invaluable and worth every penny of their (really very reasonable) fees - I'd not be able to do what they've done for me for what I've paid them and I would use them again without thinking about it. Thanks, Darren.
On Monday I collect my passport on my way to Heathrow, having said see ya later to yet more people, confident in the knowledge that I've got all the visas I need.
In the end I didn't need to move my flights, but I don't regret doing so - it means I have more time with people and that's priceless right now.