SUEZ CANAL to TURKEY
As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we had a wonderful time in Egypt. The people were friendly and hospitable and the sights were fantastic. Abu Tig marina (and the town of Al Gouna) was a veritable oasis in the Red Sea. Friendly staff, good restaurants and shopping, a secure place to leave the boat and fuel for 50 cents a gallon. Also, lots of water to wash the sand off.
After our land trip, we returned to the boat to learn that there had been an incredible sandstorm while we'd been gone. The marina staff had done a wonderful job trying to wash off as much sand as they could but it still took a full day to get clean again. After completing a few projects, doing some shopping and a quick trip to the local go kart track, we headed for the Suez Canal with some trepidation. We'd already learned to deal with small amounts of baksheesh (bribes/tips/presents) in our daily lives in Egypt but we had heard from fellow cruisers that the canal transit could be rife with baksheesh and other attempts to extract large amounts of money from the cruisers.
We studied all the notes from other cruisers, carefully measured our boats and calculated the expected transit fees. Loaded up with two cartons of Marlboro cigarettes - the currency of choice in the canal - we had an easy overnighter to the Port Suez Yacht Club at the southern entrance to the canal. Here we were "measured" (not really), paid our canal fees and were pasted with one final sandstorm (45 knots overnight - don't know how we slept through this one without noticing) that left the boat completely covered in fine sand - again! The wind finally stopped and the canal was opened. We had another delay - minor - to allow a flotilla of warships to pass. Upon spying the warships, Gail raced to display our American flag, something we had avoided for many months. While watching the ships through binoculars, we realized that the sailors were watching and videoing us. While it was a patriotic moment for use, we realized that, to them, we were the "tourist attraction". The pilot showed up to guide use through the canal - not like we could have gotten lost - and we were off.
We had an easy motor to Ismailya, the middle of the canal, where we spent the night and picked up another pilot the next morning. Another easy day motoring and we were done with the canal - two cartons of cigarettes and a few dollars lighter. Overall, it was an easy trip with some night scenery and some aggravation dealing with a number of hands in our pockets. Many of the cruisers have documented their transits to help the next group prepare and also to help Phil Jones (Abu Tig Marina) and others to bring about some change in canal procedures. We've included our letter to Phil for people that are interested in all the gory details of our Suez Canal transit.
Suez Canal to Cyprus
An easy 36 hours of motoring to Cyprus. We did have a moment at dusk when we were uncertain of our navigation. We were looking at land directly ahead when we knew the nearest land was at least 65 miles in that direction. After a careful double check we realized that we were looking at very high mountains and an extremely clear sky. No more sand or dust to obscure our vision. Egypt was behind us. Almost. It took a couple of days of cleaning with two hoses to remove all the sand. And, we keep finding more sand in nooks and crannies. When we rebuilt the winches, all the gears were caked with sand. Egypt will be with us for a long time. But, so will the wonderful memories. For any of the cruisers that are wondering if the hassles of the Red Sea, the moments of tension with the possibility of pirates and the few days of boat cleaning are worth it, the answer is and emphatic YES!
Limassol Marina in Cyprus was our entrance back into the first world. One quick stop at the marina office and we'd cleared in with customs and immigration. Of course, the marina separated us from large sums of our money. Prices in Cyprus - and the Med - are higher than anything we've seen so far on our trip. But, we were back in a modern country with all the modern facilities available. The women were particularly happy about not having to wear long sleeves and cover their hair when in town. One of our friends commented that "there must be something in the water" since we often noticed tight clothing and not much of it.
The marina was also a chance to practice our med mooring skills. The space between the boats and the room between the docks was tight but, with no wind, we were able to get tied up easily. The marina is clean, comfortable and secure. And, there is enough water pressure to get to the top of the mast. Jeff spent a few hours up the mast with Gail lowering him 1-2 feet every few minutes. In addition to the mast, every wire and line had to be hosed off and scrubbed. Then, with two hoses going, we each took a side of the boat and kept hosing. The sails all needed a solid rinse as did all the canvas. We also managed to hose each other off (can you say "Water Fight").
We rented a car and spent about a week doing day trips around Cyprus with friends on Tatanka. We visited ruins, castles, monasteries and tombs loaded with history. Ancient icons in small, out-of-the-way churches that were hard to find. We visited Nicosia, an ancient walled city that is now divided. Greeks live in the southern half of Cyprus while Turks live in the north. Technically, they have been at war for many years but had just opened the border between the two countries the week we arrived. We were some of the first tourists to be able to cross the DMZ to the north. We stopped for coffee in Paphos, an ancient harbor, checked out the Tombs of the Kings (not impressive after Egypt but still nice) and then went looking for a restaurant friends had told us about. After many wrong turns (it turns out that there are two Agios Georgios churches in the same area) we ended up taking the rental car up a 4wd track to a restaurant on a bluff overlooking crystal blue water. We don't even remember what the food was like. After shopping in some modern grocery stores, it was an overnight to Turkey.
With 70 million people, Turkey is a large country. While it is 95% Muslim, most Turks will tell you that there is a big difference between eastern and western Turkey. In the east you can see many of the woman still wearing the head covering while in the west it is rare. In the 1920's, the government outlawed the wearing of religious head coverings. That restriction has been lifted but most of the people wear western dress. We saw very little of the oppressive effects that were often noticeable in Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt.
We entered Turkey at Finike Marina. A few minutes in the marina office and the paperwork was taken care of. Again, everyone was friendly and welcoming and the marina is comfortable and safe. With friends coming to visit the first week of June we had time for a few days of sailing, a few days of boat work and a 10 day driving tour of Turkey.
Alan and Liza from Heartsong drove down from Marmaris and we set off first for Cappadocia, a region famous for cave dwellings carved out of volcanic cones of tuff - often called fairy chimneys - that look like huge stalagmites. We felt like we had entered Hobbitville. Although we are sure there were hundreds of fairies to do all the work, nobody will admit to having seen any of them. We'll get pictures on the web as soon as we can. Of the fairy chimneys. We haven't seen the fairies either. We spent a few days in Goreme at the Kelebec hotel. Our "cave room" was carved out of the volcanic tuff but included a bathroom, wood floors and a fireplace carved into the wall. Very romantic and comfortable. The power was out one night so the four of us spent the evening with a fire and candles.
Our days were spent touring the various cave dwellings, cave churches, monasteries, forts, an underground city and large river gorge. The cave dwellings and churches were almost always very high above the ground and providing protection for the occupants. Many of them were only accessible by climbing footholds cut into the shear sides of the rock. And, when the family expanded, they just dug another "room".
We visited a monastery set high up at the top of a group of fairy chimneys. Our "guide" - an enterprising local youth - took us up the "adventure trail", helping us to climb over and through slippery chimneys. He was wonderful with the women and kept them moving by continually telling them that there was "only one more" to go. After about 15 "only one more", we were finally into the monastery. Kitchens, sleeping rooms, meeting rooms, food storage and stables were all carved into this jumble of chimneys. We climbed and climbed until we were at the base of the tallest chimney. A set of nearly vertical "steps" were cut inside the chimney. 3 of us decided it was too dangerous. With a bit of trepidation, Jeff joined the guide to climb up further. At about the point where Jeff was starting to get nervous, the guide informed him that this was as high as it was safe to go. One the way back to the car, the guide took us down the easy way and we realized we'd been taken on the "adventure ride" and that the guide had earned his fee and a good tip.
We visited an underground city built 4000 years ago by the Hittites. There were many underground cities built in the area to protect residents from invading forces. Normally living and farming above ground, they would retreat into these dwellings when invaders were spotted. The entrances were camouflaged and sealed and complex systems were created to dissipate cooking fire smoke. They could live underground for 2-3 months when necessary. Over the years, more and more "rooms" and "levels" were added, but without any plans. The cities are a maze (thank goodness for the signs and a good guide). Our guide, Mustafa, was about 65 years old and had played in the city as a boy. Talk about the ultimate game of hide-and-seek.
Tired from hiking and touring, we returned to our hotel. Grandma Gail had spotted a woman in traditional turkish garb with her cute 2 year old playing in the driveway to the hotel. Gail dumped her gear in the room - and dumped us - grabbed her camera and headed back outside to grab a couple of pics. She's gone crazy with the new digital camera and has already wiped out all extra disk space on the boat. The young boy's mother enjoyed having pictures take of her and her son. She disappeared into the house, Gail thought, to bring back a small gift. Well, the "small gift" turned out to be a donkey. By the time Jeff went looking for Gail, she had ridden the donkey and the 2 year old boy was leading the donkey down the driveway like our kids play with a puppy. Jeff ended up on the donkey too and more pictures were taken. We were eventually able to find a photo shop that could print the digi-photos so we could send the family the pictures.
The region is also famous for pottery and hand-made Turkish carpets. We were able to view the various processes involved in making the carpets. Did you know that a single silk-worm cocoon can have almost 4000 feet of very thin silk on it. We watched the process to extract silk thread, weaving of silk thread, and dyeing the wool thread in copper vats. (Don't tell US customs, but Gail intends to try and smuggle a handful of cacoons in for the grandkids.) The truly impressive part of the hand-made carpets is the process of hand-tying every knot into the carpet. On a wool carpet, there are around 150 knots per square inch. There are 10 times as many in a silk carpet. We watched a number of women tieing the knots, tamping down each row and then trimming every couple of rows with a large scissor. We can understand why it takes months to make one carpet.
Cappadocia was idyllic and it was hard to leave. But, we headed north towards Istanbul with a quick stop in Ankara, we thought. Well, the Sultan had his revenge and both Alan and Jeff were too sick to travel so we spent an extra day in the hotel. Then, onto Istanbul, a city of 13 million people.
Split by the Bosphorus - the waterway to the Black Sea - Istanbul lies both in Europe and in Asia. Our hotel was in "Old Istanbul" and only a block or two from the key attractions - Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya Church, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. Topkapi Palace was impressive. The jewels in the treasury were spectacular. And, we're still wondering why the sultan needed 300-500 women in his harem.
The carpet sellers were out in force, aggressive and sometimes entertaining, sometimes annoying. We never ceased to be amazed at the various ploys they would use to get you into their shop. But, we've figured out how to make enough money to retire. We're going print and sell t-shirts that say "We don't want your @#$%^&* carpet" on the front and "What part of NO don't you understand" on the back.
We took a boat tour of the Bosphorus and saw some of the palaces built along the waterfront. Opulent would be an understatement. The tour bus was taking us back to the hotel and was moving slowly through Istanbul traffic. All of a sudden Gail started pounding on the window and yelling, "Immanuel". No, she was not having a religious epiphany. She had just seen some really close friends from the boat "Immanuel". This was very surprising since we think the boat is still in Egypt. We were hermetically sealed in the bus and could do nothing as we drove away. It turns out that it is a good thing that we were not able to get off the bus. After the bus dropped us at the hotel, we picked up our car while Alan checked on a "patient" he acquired in Istanbul. Jeff went into the carpet seller to rescue Alan and bumped into another tourist. They both looked at each other with some familiarity. It turns out the tourist was head of HR at Intel and Jeff had interviewed with him in 1993. Apparently, they were highly disappointed that Jeff didn't join them but asked Jeff to consider coming to Intel when we get back to the US. A wonderful end to a great visit to Istanbul.
Our next stop was Eskisehir, home of the Meerschaum pipe. Meerschaum is a soft, white, clay-like rock - the name means sea foam in German - that is mostly found in this area. Pipes carved from Meerschaum are prized around the world. Gail's father had pipe carved in the shape of a woman's hand. We searched a number of shops in Istanbul but were unable to find something similar until one shop in Eskisehir was able to show her a picture of a pipe they had done. We are waiting for their carver to produce another pipe to Gail's specifications.
From Eskisehir, we pointed the car southwards back towards the boat. Passing through Antalya, a large city about 2 hours from the boat, we decided to stop for dinner. Needing a bit of home, we searched out a Burger King. Alan rolled the window down to ask a couple guys on a scooter where it was. They said, "follow us". We joked about them taking us down an alley and robbing us. Well, they did take us down an alley - to a carpet seller. Where are those t-shirts when you need them.
We had a wonderful trip through Turkey. It is a great place to visit and, while it isn't as inexpensive as places we've been over the last few years, tourism is way down and there are good values to be had. We typically spent around $40-50 a night for a hotel that included breakfast.
We're back on the boat waiting for a couple of friends to visit. We expect to spend June in Turkey, July in Greece, August in Croatia and then head for Italy, however, all plans are firmly cast in jello.
Jeff & Gail