Thursday, 12 August 2010

Hostel Istanbul

We sit at the thre tables on the street outside one of the reputedly oldest backpacker hostels in Istanbul. I noticed some award on the wall with 1982 mentioned so it must have been here in '95 when in the same neighbourhood I shared a dank concrete room with a rat for a week. Maybe I couldn't find it. Maybe I couldn't afford it.
There are maybe eight or ten of us this evening. Sipping beers and chewing the fat. Next to me sit two young guys from Peckham. They are between school and university and are happy to talk about old haunts from my London years. I am surprised to learn how things have changed. Deptford has apparently had a wine-bar for sometime now and the mountain bike dudes are all now riding fixed wheel (no gears) bikes with super narrow handlebars. Though when I repeated my long retired anecdote about cycling through Peckham and having a gun pulled on me in a road rage incident they proudly said the old manor was still the same.
On the other side of me Brian the Aussie finished skypeing his mates back home and said in that endearing, lacadasical antipodean way that he had seen enough of the 'old stuff' and was just going to sit here a day or two and watch the people go by. Fair dinkum I thought and would gladly have joined him had I actually seen much of the Old stuff on offer. 'I got a lot of respect for you guys' he said, 'doing this by bike. Don't you ever get homesick? I met one guy' he continued 'who was walking round the world and reckoned it would take him seven years. I asked him why the hell he would do a thing like that and he thought about the answer for ages, as if no-one had ever aked him the question before and then he said 'I thought it might be interesting''.
Maybe the time the guy took was to weigh Brian up and think of an answer he might possibly understand.
In the corner were two Amarican students talking about beer and college fees. Next to them a young Polish couple who were hitch-hiking and the only ones who seemed to be on a budget. There was a quietly spoken young Canadian who let us all tell our tales of adventure off the tourist trail before admitting he had been to Afghanistan, thought it was poor and dirtyand a little scary and that anyone of us wanting to go there right now was a fool. Why had he been there? He was in the Army. He had seen no action, luckily, had been sent home after breaking his leg on the way to the gym, and was in Turkey with the goal of 'unpredjudicing'himself against Islam. Nice chap.
There was an Amarican racing cyclist healing from an accident, an Italian cycle enthusiast and Lee.
Lee was our favourite and we spent a day with him eating fish sandwiches and visiting the moders art museum. He had 'had enough of the Ottomans'. A 57 year old Daniel Day Lewis lookalike, bit of an old hippy type from Hawaii via Arizona or Vice Versa. Leehad worked for an aid agency in Etheopia in the '80s, had been all over the place and was now looking into going to the 'Other Iraq' as he called it. The northern part where the Kurds live is apparently almost an independent country, is very American friendly, is beautiful and developing fast. I read the guidebook Iraq section and found the 'Hamilton Road' section most interesting.
Hamilton was a New Zealand engineer and was commisioned by the British, I think in the '30s to build a road through this mountainous region linking the mediterainian coast to Tehran. It is apparently one of the most impressive roads in the world as it winds its way through massive mountain gorges andhe was Knighted for the achievement. It could be an alternative route for us into Iran though I imagine it would not be too easy a bike ride.

I quite enjoy dipping now and again into the backpacker world and find the crowd openminded and interesting and devoid of the social rules of say the British 'Traveller' club. But as the talk came round to who was heading off where and how I was glad we would be pedalling off slowly and camping in the woods oncemore. I found everyone too willing to hop on a plane if it were cheap enough. Some peoples trips involved an immense amount of flying. I liken it to leaving litter on a jetsom strewn beach; just a little more crap makes hardly any difference. Does it? Even with buses and trains the whole game seems to me a bit passive. Nobody going anywhere without burning oil and always a passenger, getting off at recommended points along the way.
Of course I have travelled this way myself and probably will again but I always felt a little frustrated. I remember alot of waiting, alot of sitting and alot of finally arriving in places I didn't really want to be. Luckily some years ago, I became a devotee of the righteous path of the pedal, a relatively new splinter group diverging from the ancient religion of pack and hiking boot. In the corner of my mind I still keep a little shrine to this older, purer cult and offer now and again my shoulder and calf muscles as sacrifice.
Kirsty asked me a few months back if I thought it might be the case that travellers see what they see and tourists see what they came to see? I might ad to this that explorers see what no-one else has seen and cycle tramps see what no-one else would want to.
So. Istanbul.
We visited the Blue mosque, the Grand Bazaar (both self descriptive) and the Modern art museum (also). We took a boat trip up the Golden Horn and walked through the cemetery to a high point overlooking the city. Where else other than in human cities can one find swarms of so many creatures? Are there 16 million ants in a nest or bees in a hive or bats in a cave or Wilderbeast when they migrate? Were there really so many pidgeons as they say in the American praries of old? Locusts. There must be that many locusts when they decide to have a get together. Though I doubt each one knows its mum and dad, Aunt and Uncle or little sister. That it goes to school, waits for a bus, reads books or cries when it looses a girlfriend. Everyone of us , though grouped together is uniquely alone with our thoughts and problems.
I become always a little afraid when confronted with large cities and looking down on Istanbul I tried to understand why. Our dominance over the planet is here so clear it unnerves me for sure but the fear? Perhaps it comes from the foriegn and unknown writhing mass of humans, but more, I think from the immense and unknowable mass of Individuality.

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