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Travels With An Airhead


— by Notch Miyake

This summer Margaret and I spent a month traveling in Turkey. It was a difficult but rewarding trip. One of those trips that take time to recover from and to fully appreciate.

We flew into Istanbul and stayed at the home of one of Margaret's former students from her Peace Corps days.

Istanbul is a crowded, noisy, worn, yet astonishingly beautiful city. Driving from the airport to our host's home, we were assaulted by the bold colors used in hot places, by the frantic traffic that created six lanes on a road striped for four lanes, and by the variety of vehicles from shiny double-decker intercity busses to dusty horse-drawn carts, all competing for every inch of forward progress.

There were not many motorcycles, but most were BMW GS's. Even the police use R100GS's. There were some 60's styled 2-stroke bikes that could have been Russian. But no buzzing swarms of mopeds and scooters like other European and Asian cities. Not even many bicycles.

"Allah Korusun" or "God protects me" is painted on most of the busses and commercial trucks. Fair warning for two-wheeled vehicles and pedestrians.

After a week in Istanbul, we flew to Eastern Turkey, which was recently opened to Americans. We rented a car and drove northeast to the Armenian border to see the ruins at Ani. From there, we drove southwest across the country, visiting Georgian Christian ruins, to the Syrian border where we visited the village where Margaret taught.

We spent two weeks in the east, far from any tourist areas. The landscape began as high steppes with the memory of cold and windy winters. As we moved south, we descended through dusty canyons onto open desert. The heat here was unrelenting. Hot breezes blew dust off the dirt roads, adding to the misery.

Out of Istanbul, the roads were usually deserted. I understood why the GS was popular since road conditions were rough. Lots of dirt and potholes. But we did not see a single motorcycle.

The road conditions were less of a problem than the drivers of the trucks and busses. The excitement of rounding a blind curve and finding a truck passing another truck in your lane, was common.

With no guardrails and gravel in most of the curves, motorcycling could be a challenge. If you try it, you might want to wear Pampers in addition to full body armor.

When we got home, I sat down to write about the trip for this column. I couldn't do it. It wasn't funny yet.

It still isn't. But I have gained back half of the seven pounds I lost in Turkey. And I have begun to understand our experience. More on Turkey next month.

— Copyright © 2001 by Notch Miyake.

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