Friday, August 1, 2003
Samsun & Istanbul, Turkey
Awoke at 3:30 am in Otel Bayuk Samsun. Only three and a half hour of sleep. I took a cab to the airport ($45 US), The prices in Samsun are definitely higher. Got to Carsamba airport in Samsun. I went through a security checkpoint and after stumbling around staring at signs in Turkish, found the right line for Turkish Airlines to Istanbul.
After checking my bag I couldn't find the gate to the plane. I asked a security person, he looked at my ticket then told me I must go through passport control. Before I got in that line I asked a woman at one of the closed passport control booths if she spoke English. No English there. I got in the line with a lot of other travelers.
After about five minutes I notice the passport woman I had questioned before talking to a security person and pointing to me. Oh-oh, what going on here? As he approached I notice the other travelers in line slowly moving away. In faulting English he asked for my passport then questions me as to where I've been and how I got there (his English, though, is still better than my Turkish).
I told him about the expedition and National Geographic and his face lights up! He tells me that he likes the Discovery Channel and that he has a cousin in Texas. I noticed the crowd of travelers are now edging back closer, listening in. The line moved slowly but I finally got to the counter. Attilla and the passport agent talk then Attilla tells me that I don't need to go through passport control, here, because I change planes in Istanbul and will have to go through passport control there.
Attilla walked me over to the other gate and he explained to those security people what was going on. I notice it was getting quiet in the waiting area and travelers are watching us. I guess a lone American is a rarity in this part of Turkey and feel lucky to have an English-speaking security person helping me.
We stayed and talked in the waiting area and I showed him pictures of the expedition I still had in the digital camera. Everyone is glancing at us. We trade e-mails; I'll send him some pictures.
The "gate" emptied on to the tarmac. There was only one plane. I saw the people from the passport control gate at the other end of the building walking to the sane plane I was. There were two doors open for people enter the plane, one at the tail (the passport group) and the other at the nose (the non passport control group - me!). I get on the plane and sit next to a nervous looking Turk in a business suit. He never said a word throughout the entire flight. I think he saw me with security person!
The flight gets off 20 minutes late but it's a smooth 1 hr 40 min flight and everyone applauded when we landed. Was there something I should have known?
Once off the plane I followed other passengers to a shuttle, which brought us to the terminal and baggage area. A porter motions to me, miming if I want my bags carried. I only have one bag and a carry-on. I was about decline when a thought hit me. I said "Delta"? He replied" Delta Yes". I struck gold. I've got the hang of this! It pays to have a friend in a Turkish airport! My bag comes around and we're off!
Istanbul International is large and confusing, i.e. no signs in English. The Delta-Air France terminal seemed like a mile away, through God knows how many corridors and intersections. He brought me right to a Delta desk with an agent who spoke English. Hiring this porter was the best thing I'd done all day. There was no way I would ever have found where to go.
My next flight was to Paris, about three hours forty-five minutes long. I had the middle seat between two Turkish travelers. On my left, the window seat, is a man in his twenties who explains that he works in Paris. His English was not that good but I could understand him completely when our in-flight meal was served and he looked at the hunk of cheese with bread and stated dejectedly, "I ha-aate French food." I guess Paris doesn't appeal to Middle Eastern taste buds.
The passenger on my right turned out to be a young woman, a historical researcher traveling to Paris for a few days and then on to Madrid, Spain. Asli Karatas explained much about the recent political history of Turkey. She is half Kurdish and tells how, until recently the government limited Kurdish travel within the country. Turkey's desire to join the European Union has caused changes and allowed more freedoms.
Asli talked about her research, and explains why Turkey is such a mix of cultures and is unlike so many of their Arab neighbors. Over thousands of years this area of the Mediterranean, being the gateway to Africa and Asia, had be conquered many times and had conquered others many times always assimilating those cultures.
Her explanations tied in with what Expedition 2003 has been about. Cultures for thousands of years have been traveling these areas, leaving remnants of their passing.
Asli tells me that she is translating records about piracy in the Mediterranean. Pirate groups were more like mercenaries for hire and had much political influence on the region. The Turkish sultans kept very detailed record of their everything from ordinary household (palace) expenditures to payments to pirates and descriptions of the European officials who came to broker trade deals. Some of the descriptions of the Europeans had me laughing, 'hairy like apes', 'smelling worse than oxen!' and, "ignorant barbarians who neither bath nor cleanse their clothes and houses'.
The flight passed quickly. I felt that somehow fate had put me in this seat and had seen to it that I came away from my expedition experience with a more complete understanding of the peoples whose histories we had come to search for.
From Paris I traveled to Boston. It was raining when I stepped out of the terminal.