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Joel Stewart's travels and journeys

I will put some past travels up and use this as my current diary of regional trips

Diary Entries

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Location: Turkey

4/30/09 - 6 beers later - keeping up with JimBaBa - bloody Australians they know how to drink!

The motorcycle tour is over and most of the participants are on flights east and west. Exotic lands to get home - Singapore - Dubai - but JimBaBa loves Turkey and is still here swilling down the Efes beer like it is going to be stopped in production in 2 days (the time he gets on a flight and heads home). After a couple days of rest at a different hotel from JimBaBa and taking in some of the sights (archeology museum and grand Bazaar - as well as any little side street which makes pike street market look like a broad shopping mall) I gave JimBaBa a call early to see about getting together in the afternoon WELL MATE I HAVE BEERS AT NOON AND AT 4 AT THE COZY BAR - so off for a wander in the spice market and a couple of teas and fresh orange juices later I end up at the cozy bar. JimBaBa is somewhere around 66 years old and seems to have a few million packed away and main entertainment now is Turkey and Ferris motorcycle tours. He now has done the Turkey tour 9 times and throw in about 8 more in Morocco - Rajasthan - Himalayas - India - Bhutan and who knows where else. But with his 12 off color Turkish phrases he makes friends everyplace in Istanbul (of course the depth and color of his money does no harm) with a laugh and a smile he now knows about half the town. So a beer at noon turned into a six pack each and as the afternoon wore on the rains came and it made even more sense to sit and sip and watch the flow of tourist. The sellers in the grand bazaar seem to groan as JimBaBa comes by - he has the patience and bull to get their prices down to what seems to be the lowest price - but at the end they both smile and shake hands and wave goodbye to JimBaBa.

Chris (the guy who took a header into the truck) seems to be having setback after setback. At the hospital in Istanbul he has to go back into surgery every 2 days to get the wound drained. I am not sure what that means - sounds to be more than rewrapping the dressings. But to add insult to injury the travel insurance that he got in Australia for just this sort of mishap has determined that by Australian law he was riding a larger motorcycle than he was trained or licensed to ride (in Australia) and has voided out his insurance. Australian law says something like you are suppose to ride something less than 400cc for 2 years before you are licensed to ride a larger motorcycle - he was on a 650cc for this tour. So all of the hospital bills and the additional cost of flights will be on him. Also add to the financial hit that what he thought was a 500 dollar deductible on the motorcycle turned out to be a 1500 dollar deductible. The words THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I keeps coming back to me - also when I was on the suicide road along the Black Sea I figured out that I could be at a beach resort in Hawaii sitting in the sun having a Mai Tai and making a dent in the pile of books I always seem to have with me.

But given all of that, this trip has been memorable. Some landscapes that are so bizarre that they will come back to me in my dreams like some Dali artwork. Plus I now have some friends in Australia and may have a winter escape to their summer sometime.

May Day in Turkey is suppose to be a big celebration - according to the tour guide he said that it almost turns into riots and may not be safe to be on the streets - I guess I find out tomorrow. 2 days and I fly home - refreshed and the idea of working almost seems like fun at this point. I have worn off the travel itch for awhile and am looking forward to the daily life of Seattle and work - that is a sign that a vacation was good enough and long enough.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Location: Turkey

4/26/09 - Made it!!! 4000km around half of Turkey and back to Istanbul

Amazing to not have to get onto the motorcycle today and head another 300KM down the road. Coming into Istanbul yesterday traffic was jammed up for 20 miles and I crept along in 1st gear weaving in and out of traffic dodging cars trying to get another 4 meter further along. We come to a ferry terminal and road right onto the boat and were across to within a km of our hotel. Then 45 minutes negotiating bumper to bumper traffic to pull up and get off of the motorcycle for the last time. At this point I can say I know how to shift a motorcycle and negotiate some of the more horrendous roads that I have every seen, including mud 6 inches deep going down hill on a curve with a cliff on the right and a large truck coming the other way.

So now it is Istanbul for a few days - hotel hopping since it is the anniversary of Gallipoli and there are thousands of new Zealanders and Aussies, plus the town is just crammed with the normal crush of tourists.

It is hard for me to believe that I have done it. Thank god for the foam seat pad that I brought and the throttle rocker - a way to not have to clutch the gas all the time. I am not sure that I saw Turkey but having paid so much attention to the roads all I saw was the gravel on the curves and searching ahead for upcoming trucks on the curves.

Having gone with a group of Aussies I now have about 6 homes open to me in Australia, a motorcycle I can use, and invite to tour India and China, and a good bunch of friends.

More later off for the final day of the tour for a ride on the Bosporus.


Chris Sayer is the guy on the motorcycle tour that took a header into a truck on a blind corner - here is a link to his blog site with some pictures of the trip.

Third down on

After traveling in the bus for a few days he went in to get his dressing changed and the doctor in that town said he was stupid to not go into a real hospital right away - the same day he was flown to Istanbul and has been here 4 days and has had 2 surgeries and expecting one more. He is suppose to be here a week prior to flying back to Australia - his daughter came from Toronto and is here helping Chris and Anne get through this stressful time.

The local tour guide said that he was going to make a hotel reservation for me at the same hotel that a couple of the other tour members are going to be staying at for a few day - he dropped the ball so I had to rush to get a hotel reservation today for 5 days - I guess something big is going on in town in 3 days because it was hard to find a hotel with a room open. I may put more later on my view on industrial tourism and guides. I guess, as with everything, there are good ones and bad ones. But I am not sure I like the required process. It has been nice to get close to a small group of people but mostly that bonding came about by the shared travails of being on similar 2 wheel vehicles.

Off to the final parting dinner - at the hotel that the guide didn't make a reservation for me at – I’m irritated I guess.

Check out his Chris's blog.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Location: Turkey

4/21/09 - Holiday?

The main tour guide's main statement is that this is "NOT A HOLIDAY - I CHALLENGE YOU TO FIND THE WORD HOLIDAY ANYWHERE IN MY BROCHURE!"

I have forgotten the date, I have forgotten what day it is, and the only real important numbers is how many days left and how many KM we will be on the bikes today.

It seems that everyday or every other day he adds another degree of difficulty in the riding. Traffic one day, hairpin curves the next, traffic and hairpin curves the next, wind to pick you up off the bike on hairpin curves the next, cold the next, cobblestones the next, wet cobblestones the next, wet cobblestones going down hill the next. We have had the best weather one could hope for but the story is in a couple of days the rains is coming - and probably it will come with hairpin curves and traffic.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Location: Turkey

4/19/09 - In the home of the Flintstones and Bedrock

The 2nd of 3 days in one hotel - the longest we will stay anyplace. We are in Cappidocia - the cities and monasteries carved into the tuffa cones with a bolder on top - the main pictures that people see of this place is called LOVE VALLEY in the tourist books but here the signs say PENIS VALLEY - it is easy to see where they got the name. A number of the rooms in this hotel are 1/2 carved into rock - mine is not but it has a balcony that overlooks the main ridgeline where many of the old troglodyte homes are. It feels a bit like being in a hotel in the middle of Pompey – the center of some sort of ancient history museum.

The mode is fairly festive today. It is the type of humor after an engine on a plane goes out and all land safe - be not all of us did. We started out with 6 motorcycles with 8 riders. Now we are down to 4 motorbikes with 5 riders. The worst one was a couple of days ago when Chris was following the main tour leader along a twisty windy curvy bendy (this is to try to give the impression that there were about 1500 curves in about a mile) and the road was only about a lane and a half wide. On a blind corner a truck was coming at him and it swinging wide into his lane and he was not at the edge of his lane and they crashed. I got there about 5 minutes later and already the tour leader was over him and the military guard that happened to be at that corner were bending over Chris and stopping traffic. He looked bad - it looked like a compound fracture in his left leg and he was knock unconscious and was very dazed. Amazingly with a cell phone an ambulance was there in a half hour and that night after 2 ambulance rides he was into surgery. As it turned out no bones were broken but his foot was totally dislocated and all the soft tissue torn. His wife was in the van that showed up 20 minutes after the accident and they both a very long night but now they are back on the tour and he is in the hotel room with his leg up. After the accident I still had 100km to go before we got to a hotel and you can be sure that I was almost the slowest person on the road being very very careful.

The other motorcycle was a low riding cruiser and had already knocked the oil pan off while getting off a ferry. The oil spilled out and they hit the slick and slid down at about 3 mph. The couple riding it is about 77 years old (and the woman has MS) - after that they didn't really trust the bike and after Chris's accident decided not ride any more and got in the support van. There are some good riders on this trip and I have to remind myself that it is stupid to try to keep up with them. But I am reminded of a time, when I was probably in the 9th grade and trying to keep up with my brother who is 6 years older than me, climbing Hogsback mountain outside of Klamath Falls in southern Oregon - I would be huffing and puffing and dragging along and just catch up with them after they had a 20 minute rest waiting for me and as I got there they said it was time to go, always playing catch up and no real rest.

Turkey is sort of a mix of Italy and Mexico - All the amenities of a 1st world country but some of the poverty and good food of Mexico. 5 or 6 times a day I see a horse cart pulling construction supplies to a 1/2 built house. Unemployment is high and many many men sit in the road side tea shops smoking and talking. Kids wait at the side of the road trying to sell nuts or oranges. Many many little fruit stand and orange shops selling fresh squeezed orange juice for 2 dollars. Some parts of the beach are lined with hotels like Miami or Costa del Sol but you pass 5 or 6 flocks of goats or sheep in a day with the Shepard standing looking at them leaning on a staff. One road hazard the other day was 5 camels jumping out and crossing the road. Drivers are crazy here - there really are no lane and they all think they are driving a Formula 1 race even if they are turning in 400 meters - they just need to be in front of you and to do that they almost bump you with their bumper to get past you or try to tell you to get out of their way. I pull over and wait for the road to be free and try to make it so I can relax and just concentrate on the road and turning rather than being run over from behind.

The only place that I have been that the people are this friendly is Ireland - there they have the gift of gab and a story. Here everyone is friendly and try to talk to me. One big difference here is that I never feel life theft is a problem. The carpet salesman today (though being Turk) is a naturalized US citizen and lives in the Bronx in New York - you get him talking and he forgets to put the Turkish accent on and slipped into New York slang. But they know how to sell hard - at the carpet store when it was apparent that I was not buying they sent a friendly pretty buxom saleswoman out and she said "we have many rooms down stairs that you can see special carpets alone" - with them serving beer and wine I am not sure if I would have been able to get out of there with out a carpet - one woman in our group bought 4 carpets for $12,000 and another woman 1 carpet for $2500 - nice rugs but I am not that domestic and a homebody.

So the country is very varied and beautiful, the people and friendly, the food is good, the weather is stunning, the hotel is a delight, and I am being slow a careful and my goal is to finish the tour staying up on two wheels even if I get to the hotel 3 hours behind everyone else. So far I have 3 invites to go to Australia and many prodding to go on one of the India tours.

Time to take a shower and off to a barbeque and then a "cultural" night - Sufi dancing and all the beer, wine or Raki that I can drink.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Location: Turkey

4/15/09 - 1800 km and a third of the trip is over

Yesterday was a long day from Kusadasa to Kas - through high plateaus of green valleys and going over a mountain range that we got up into the snow line. Mostly on rural back roads going up and down winding hairpin curves. I got more than my share of practice at breaking - downshifting and careful turns making sure that a bus is not coming the other way. This is a lovely little Mediterranean fishing tourist town with a Greek island about 2 miles off shore, touted as the adventure capital of the coast – kayaking, hang-gliding, scuba-diving, and other such sports.

With this tour all the hotel fees are covered and all the meals. Mostly this means that we go to a restaurant and the guide orders family style and we pick off of plates. Sometimes it means we get a choice of 3 or 4 of the 22 items on the menu. But always the day gets long and at the end of the day, after dinner, the beers pile up and then they switch to Raki, the Turkish equivalent of ouzo - a liquorish drink that turns from clear to white as you add water. The table put down 4 bottles of that last night. It was a slow walk back to the hotel.

A bit of rain this morning with 4 or 5 rainbows - it is clearing and hopefully the road will be dry by the time we get on the bikes and head east. My hardest time on this bike is when I am at a stop or less than 3 miles per hour. It is hell playing Can-Can and kicking my leg over the seat. Also as the bike leans I am very nervous that the weight will tip it over if I don’t do it right - like one time before with my phantom kick stand. But up and running it is a solid bike and even the 50 mile per hour side winds weren’t bad except for it trying to tug my helmet off. There was some gravel yesterday and it was new to me on a big powerful bike. My riding mantra is slow slow slow and get use the skills required for getting to the end of the day without a mishap. Turkish drivers like to ride right up on my back bumper so yesterday I pulled over 4 or 5 times to clear the road behind me. It is so much more enjoyable to not have a car in front or a car behind and just shift and gas as the road requires.

Off on the wet roads today.

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