Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bus Trips From Hell

A word to the wise from one who knows.

If you're about to take a 12 hour bus trip and you're feeling a little peaky then think long and hard about delaying your journey.

Do not do what I did in Turkey last month. While eating dinner an hour before an 800 km trip from Istanbul to Goreme I started feeling slightly nauseous. Not wanting to be a big girls blouse and go through the hassle of rebooking bus tickets I decided I'd tough it out. After all how bad could it be??

As it turned out - very.

An hour into the trip I developed the worst case of food poisoning I have ever had in my entire life. Frantic gesticulation to the bus attendant saw paper towels delivered. Even more frantic miming of being sick finally got what I was after - a bag to be sick in. And only just in time too as I was literally handed said plastic bag at the exact moment my stomach decided it was time to blow the ballast. Thus began the 12 most miserable hours of my life.

Imagine, if you will, sitting in a superheated bus (for some reason Turkish buses are kept at about 30 degrees) while your stomach is tying itself in knots and you feel as if your intestines are trying to crawl up your throat.

Then, as you sit there in abject misery dry retching because there's literally nothing left to come up, you feel a deadly twinge in an area located just below your stomach and grimly realise that you're about to be running at both ends!!

Dear God please kill me now.

All I can say is I'm truly thankful that intercity buses in Turkey do make frequent rest stops. If it were not for them I believe - no know - an already gruesome situation would have been far worse.

And far messier.

I do have an extreme amount of sympathy for my fellow passengers. Especially the poor woman behind me who ended up being sick in sympathy, (the trend of one person chucking setting off others holds true) and the endangered soul in front of me who may have got a bit of carrot splatter from my first outburst. To those who suffered while I spewed I heartily apologise.

Actually there was a weird sort of symmetry to the whole occasion. You see the last time I was really ill from food poisoning prior to this occasion was on a bus, in Turkey, travelling to Goreme, exactly 11 years previously.


Suffice it to say I won't be doing that trip again ... ever.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Low Down Dirty Shame.

I've learnt a valuable lesson in travelling. Not matter how much you love a place it's probably best not to revisit 10 years down the track. Odds are it'll have changed and potentially for the worst.
That's what I discovered when I was in Turkey last month. Overall it's still a great country but tourism has, and is, harming it.

For example Istanbul is a lot more touristy than it was 11 years ago. In 1996 Sultanahmet had only a bare handful of hostels. Now it has dozens and is becoming very like Khao San Road in Bangkok. The character of the area has changed. What was once a nice slice of urban life is now overrun by bars, cafes, hotels, and tacky markets.

Prices are also much higher than they used to be. The Turkish Lira has stabilised and that's good news for the locals who now have some certainty about the value of their wages. But it's not so good for the budget tourist. A decade ago you could comfortably travel Turkey on about $US25 a day. Beers were 60c, a kebab would set you back 75c, and a 800 km bus trip would probably cost you under $20. Today travelling in Turkey costs about as much as it does to travel in NZ. It's cheap compared to most European countries but it's not the bargain it once was. This is also causing problems for the locals. One businessman I spoke to said the new strength of the currency and the higher prices is resulting in a major downturn in tourism.

On the subject of tourism, Turkey's certainly made a few changes. Sites that used to be free, such as the Yerebatan Cistern (below), now have a flat 10 Euro entry charge.

Some places, and Goreme is a good example of this, haven't been overly harmed by the impact of tourism. It remains a beautiful place to visit and is relatively unaffected by pollution. The cave dwellings and rock formations are as dramatic as ever.

However even here there are problems. The owner of one hostel I stayed at told of how unscrupulous operators, trying to make a quick buck out of tourists, are converting thousand year old cave dwellings into hostels. Historical relics that have been preserved intact for hundreds of years are being destroyed so certain people can make a profit. There are penalties for such activities - seven months in jail to be precise - but that's no deterrence given the amount of money people can make out of tourism.

For me the worst thing I saw in Turkey was Pamukkale. 11 years ago this place was the highlight of my trip and was, potentially, one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen. Below is how it looked then (and incidentally how they are still marketing it today).

But the reality is much different. Because local hotels have drawn off much of the mineral water that created the travertine terraces the mineral formations are now dry and dusty with barely a trickle running over them. Bathing in the mineral spring at the top of the cliff, near the ruins of Hierapolis, was once described as swimming in warm champagne. Alas the myriad carbonate bubbles are now gone and the ruined Roman columns in the pool are now clotted with algae and slime. But what's even worse is the impact industrial pollution in the general area has had on the mineral formations themselves. It's become so bad in the past decade that the terraces, once white and pristine, have become yellow and stained.

This is how they look now.

It's a crying shame that this has happened and the Turkish Government should be kicked soundly for letting a place, that is an international treasure, be defiled in this manner.