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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

August 30th: Mashhad in Iran

On August 30th 1978 I was in Mashhad.  I was travelling with friends across Iran on my way to Afghanistan and India.  It was Ramadan and the political situation was dangerous.

We had arrived in the morning on the night train from Teheran.  Teheran had been tense, with Ramadan and a night curfew. The slums in the suburbs we passed through in the train were impressive.   There was a noticeable roughness in the streets of Teheran, which I had not noticed on previous visits, and there was the familiar huge contrast between rich and poor.  I had heard about a bombing and when I saw an ambulance and fire engines on the street I thought that maybe they were going to another bomb.  I saw an interview on the English language TV channel saying that there was a new government, all tried hands, loyalists.  Something was clearly going to happen.

In the evening in Mashhad we visited the area around the shrine of Imam Reza, with a friendly hustler from the hotel.  I was struck by the changes from my previous visit in 1972.  All the streets around the shrine had been knocked down to create a circle of grass around the shrine and to allow for many new buildings, including a museum, which we were able to visit, and some extensions to the shrine had been added; 500 kilos of gold courtesy of the Shah were being added to the golden dome.  Many Afghans were working on the building and sleeping outside, cooking food as we walked past after sunset.  They stopped and waved and smiled at us, recognising fellow foreigners.  The hustler took us, inevitably, to the carpet shop of his patron, who told us he represented the Islamic opposition.  "When water stagnates in one place for 37 years," he said, "the stink is terrible."

In the morning we visited the shrine again.  My friends went in to see the museum, but I stayed outside with their little daughter who was not allowed in; I was surrounded by women and children from all quarters; there were many Arabs in town.  There was talk of demonstrations and so we went back to the hotel.  In my hotel room in the afternoon I wrote in my journal:
Keeping inside at midday, eating in our room, keeping away from the demonstrations, one of which we were told was going to pass by the hotel.  Trucks full of soldiers and bayonets and machine guns, brimming with bullets, tension on the street.  People massing at one point.   The bazaar was closed all day, many shops didn't open - it is Thursday, the museum was open from 8 to 9.30 instead of 10.30, but who knows what's really happening.
In the evening we went into town, and as we walked in the centre, with all the soldiers out on the streets and the tension in the air, we felt the seriousness of the situation.  There was talk of the afternoon demonstrations from people as we passed; they had cordoned off some of the main streets and the ends of the bazaar, thrown plenty of soldiers and guns onto the streets and kept them either at the ready or moving about, a big presence.  As we approached the narrow street of the carpet seller, we were told that in that street someone had stoned a policeman and been killed.  There were police and soldiers all over, and gangs of youths hassling more than usual.  Closer up, the atmosphere was even heavier with an ambulance further off and the street was cordoned off.  There was what appeared to be a body lying in the street. So we left and went for an evening meal downtown on a square which was nearly deserted except for the army.  The restaurant was partially open and the table was right between two trucks each with a machine gun on top.  We watched the police come and go and the few cars they let through and the servicemen with the guns while we had the usual chelo kebab.  Everything downtown was shut as we walked back, they had even moved away most of the street hawkers.  

Shrine of Imam Reza, 2006:  Picture by Eliza Tasbihi, CC

Sunday, 28 August 2011

August 28th: San Cristobal de las Casas

On August 28th 1975 I was in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas in southern Mexico.

Chamula Procession, 2008:  Picture by Wolfgang Sauber,  CC
On this day I took a truck to the Tzoltzil Mayan town of Chamula, a few miles from San Cristobal.  The town was spread around an open sloping area of grass.  I sat for a while in the outskirts eating a papaya, pleasing the kids, smiling at the women, greeting the men; one man offered me some of his moonshine, others were playing music for the fiesta, of which this was the first day.  Almost everyone in town that day was Indian.  A crowd of people was standing outside the church, playing music, eating, drinking and sitting, occasionally going in, some people in very ceremonial costumes.  I looked in at the central square market, and walked up the hill where women were weaving.  Then I returned to the covered market, ate frijoles and cabbage soup before leaving.  It was a good walk back to town, sheltering twice from rain.  There were parties of women returning from town to Chamula, celebrating with high ululations.

The market in San Cristobal was a place of endless fascination.   One area of interest was the fruit, much of which I had not seen before, and it took many visits to try everything.  The market here was also one of the first markets I came across in Latin America which had prepared food to eat.  I tried tamales here for the first time and would come to depend on them as I travelled in Central America.  I found tamales and fried beans much more to my taste than the heavier dishes of more mainstream Mexican restaurants.

The market was always full of Mayan Indians from the nearby towns and villages.  I tried to record what they wore and were doing in my notebook:
Mayan Street Vendors, 2008:  Picture by Wolfgang Sauber, CC
In a stall in the market:  mainly an Indian scene, with people from different villages wearing different costumes.  The women most commonly with a black thick woven skirt, loosely wrapped around their hips and a white blouse with fairly simple decoration, a rebozo for carrying goods or babies, a black strip of woven material folded on their head, often with tassels, and a string bag for produce strung from their forehead.  A common variety is a white or gold/yellow/brown pinstripe in the skirt, and a rough brown blouse.  Some women near me are selling home-made bags and a little woollen doll of vaguely religious persuasion; they have bright coloured cummerbunds and ribboned plaits in their long black hair and a baby hangs on to the plaits as it sways around in the rebozo.  A little girl, in black serape with cummerbund, walks quite independently around beneath the tables, glancing at me.  The men with white trousers, often with white serape of fluffy wool and sombrero; sometimes without the trousers, just shirt and serape;  flat wide hats with dangling ribbons often darker in colour; black serapes, sometimes fluffy with long sleeves, pink cotton serapes with pom-poms and tassels, colourful decoration.  Double gourds highly polished.  Leather bags.  A woman with a huge dried fish.  A herbal medicine stand with a dead parrot or toucan.  Girls wearing a kind of shawl or cape covering shoulders and arms, thin pink white stripes, clasped by coloured strips, over the white, colourful blouses and plain black or blue skirts.  Women wearing light blue blouse with reddish decoration.
There was plenty to do in town.  The churches were interesting.  I noted at the church of San Martin "the Mayans worshipping, sitting in front of the candles, kneeling, and chanting and bowing, a man coming and chanting, standing, with his arms folded across his chest; the woman who looked after the place."  The churches very often had pine branches strewn around the open area in front of the altar and the images of the saints were often given a very Mayan look and Mayan clothes.  I visited the house of Na Bolom, where there was a museum and an institute studying the Indian customs and protecting the Lacandon Indians who survived with a distinctive culture in the jungle areas near the border with Belize.  There were even some young Lacandons to be seen there.  I went to a lecture on the weaving of Mayan huipiles (blouses) there, but I found the scene rather patronising.

Before I left, I walked with friends to the house of a friend of theirs from the USA.   We stopped to have a fruit juice at the barrio of San Ramon where there was a fiesta in full swing and crowds of people, and girls in white clothes.  Then it was through the fields to the restored farmhouse, with recording studio and 25 acres of farm, cows, vegetables and a beautiful milpa (corn field.)  With our meal of bread, fresh cheese and salad, I had two ears of the sweetest corn I've ever had, which I had just picked.  

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

August 24th: Van in Eastern Turkey

On August 24th 1978 I was in Van in eastern Turkey.

I had arrived with friends the previous day on the overnight train from Kayseri.  In the morning we passed along the narrow Murat valley with bare hills around, and reached Lake Van at Tatvan. We crossed the lake to Van during the middle of the day on a ferry journey which lasted several hours.

Akdamar, 2006:  Picture by Simon Hooks,  CC
This day we went to the island of Akdamar, without too much hassle, but I had the pleasure of finding the information and the transport, and getting together a party, 9 foreigners, 2 Turks and one child.  The ride to the island was good and the church was beautiful with all the reliefs on the outside, Armenian about 920AD, really ancient frescoes unprotected on the walls; the style, the inscriptions and the pictures were unlike anything I had seen before.  The lake water proved to be warm and slippery; we swam and sunbathed and enjoyed being in the country.  The mountains behind were bare and high, the little areas of green carefully kept, the few people friendly. Back in town there was a fine sunset.  We wandered around the backstreets, had a meal outside in a lively area, as men in turbans walked past.

Van Citadel, 2009:  Picture by Simon Taylor, CC
The next day we went to the citadel, a huge rock near the lake, a place full of history. There was a hollowed sanctum in the side of the rock and a huge Urartu inscription outside, from a kingdom dating back to 850BC. With a minaret at the top and the massive walls and crags all round, it was an impressive place.  The large site below was the old city of Van destroyed during the attack on the Armenians in 1915.  The outlines of the streets and houses and the four mosques was a poignant sight.   Beyond was today's agriculture, cows and horses and donkeys.  I sat high up on the rock and stared. 

In the late afternoon we walked out to the railway station to get the night train to Teheran.  I wrote a piece in my notebook:
First border hassle on the way east, getting out of Turkey, sitting around in the waiting-room wondering if the train is ever going to leave; first it was 7, then 10, then 12, so who knows at what hour we're going to get away from here.  There must be about 30 of us altogether, an English guitar player we met at the bank this morning, three English games players (I played declaration whist, bridge, backgammon) the Canadian from Urgup, the German/Swiss couple from the ferry, "nice" English couple going first class, 6 Pakistanis (4 roughish and a nice couple) sitting on the floor playing cards, 4 Germans we've been with somewhere else.  There are some Turks hanging around as well but I don't know who of them is travelling.  Lots of hassling over the changing of money: you've got to have a form saying you've changed so much money for the journey (took a long time in the Central bank this morning) and in addition a change slip for 500TL, which there was no mention of previously.  There is as yet no ill-feeling.  I thought it might be difficult.
And later on the train:
Fairly comfy Iranian train, the old first class couchette gives everyone space to sleep.  We didn't leave the border till 10.30 this morning, but no hassles, everyone polite.  Some beautiful mountain scenery with lovely greener hills and a river at the bottom, flocks of sheep and goats, and long tunnels.  Now we're in the plain or plateau, dull at first until we came to Lake Oroumieh which is vast and has green patches beside with cultivation.
I remember that we stopped at the huge station in Tabriz for a while around lunchtime.  It was completely deserted as was the vast square outside.  Not one person in sight, no officials.  Very strange.

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August 24th: Chiang Saen in Northern Thailand

On August 24th 1981 I was in Chiang Saen in northern Thailand, travelling with Mary.

On this day, our last day before heading south, we hired bicycles and made a tour of some of the hill villages in the area.  We rode through largely unspoilt country, paddies, cassava plantations, bananas, lovely Thai villages, a Lao village, an Akha village.   I remember eating soup at a good lunch-stand in the Thai village of Wiang Keo.  The Akha village was a small place, a few long, low bamboo and thatch houses, spread around a little slope.  The people became more friendly once they realised we didn't want to buy opium.  More than anything else the trip was nice for the peace and quiet and the best chance yet to see some fairly unspoilt Thai scenery, the workers in the fields usually happy to smile when greeted, the children always; the clothes blue mainly with large blue hats and tied-up trouser legs. 

Hill Village:  Our picture
We stayed by the Mae Kong a little way away from the town.  The river was very peaceful with Laos straight across the river.  For such a large river it was surprising to see so little traffic: in fact we can hardly have seen more than four or five small boats in our time there.  Further upstream you could catch a glimpse of Burma.  Many of the people around seemed to come originally from different places or countries, like the people in the hill villages we visited.  Our landlady was Burmese, married to a Thai, and smoked a cheroot incessantly.

The town of Chiang Saen was also quiet and rural.  It was full of ruins, mainly ruined temples.  Crumbling walls ran around much of the city.  We walked along one of these to another ruined temple, Tat Chom Kitti, going up a hill with a beautiful rural view out over the paddies, the hills and the distant river.   Walking around the town at night I felt I was really in Asia.

In a Hill Village:  Our picture

Roadside Food:  Our picture
Chiang Saen:  Our picture

Monday, 22 August 2011

August 22nd: Alexandroupolis in North-Eastern Greece

On August 22nd 1972 I was in Alexandroupolis in north-western Greece.  After a month lazing around Greece we were now driving to Istanbul.

We had stopped in Kavalla to buy food in the stalls around the harbour and drove on through the increasingly Turkish looking towns and villages of Thrace.  We stopped for a coffee in Alexandroupolis, a modern town on the coast, did some shopping and drove back a few miles to find an empty spot by the sea to pitch our tent.

Everyone in Greece who knew we were heading for Turkey implored us to be careful and take better security.  One thing which bothered them was the fact that the Land-Rover had no lock on the bonnet so you could easily get in and steal things or change the settings and so on and so forth.  So in Alexandroupolis we found a padlock in a general store and the next morning went to a garage to get it fitted.  The garage owner absolutely refused to let us pay anything for this, arguing that it was his duty as a Greek to ensure that we were not robbed by any of those Turks.

We carried on across the border at the Evros river and into the empty barren hills of European Turkey.  After an hour we saw our first camels and drove on to the Londra Campsite in the western suburbs of Istanbul.  We quickly discovered that Turks were every bit as friendly and helpful as Greeks.  They were amazed that we had managed to spend a month in Greece without having all our belongings stolen.

Road in European Turkey, 2008:  Picture by Dimitirs Kilimis,  CC

Sunday, 21 August 2011

August 21st: La Ventosa in Southern Mexico

On August 21st 1975 I was on the beach at La Ventosa near Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. 

I'm not sure why I thought that going to the beach was a good idea: surely the name La Ventosa, the windy place, would have given me a clue. 

I went to the market in Tehuantepec in the morning to buy supplies.  The market was an interesting place, run by the women, not unusual perhaps in Latin America, but here the women were completely dominant.  The women were tall, dark and good-looking, wearing long skirts and bright blouses.   As I walked around the stalls I was aware of being looked over by the women, a strange sensation for a man perhaps, though women the world over are used to it.  The previous evening I had walked up a small hill where I could see the river and the bridge and the walled central area of the quiet little town.  I could see these women striding grandly around, while all their men followed meekly in tow, just ordinary little men, inches shorter than their women; with down-cast Indian faces and drab white clothes, they just sat around and waited for the women to do whatever the women wanted to do, and when they were ready they carried the shopping and followed them back home several paces behind.

The beach was near the town of Salina Cruz with big waves but few palm trees.  There was a little bay in the centre where I swam in a rather dirty central area and a had good lunch at the cheapest restaurant run by a big mama in a hammock.  Then I crossed the river to find a good camping spot for my tent.  It was a windy night but it didn't rain till after midnight.  In the morning the beach had big waves and frigate-birds but the swimming was OK.  I walked back off the beach to a little lake which had pelicans and sandpipers and other water birds.

When I left I wrote this in my notebook:
Waiting for the bus back to Salina Cruz on a windy dusty road under a huge Dos Eques sign.  It's a dirty mean sort of place.  Seven or eight lazy restaurants, mostly thatch-covered around a little bay dotted with beer-cans and coconut husks, with a little swamp where the pi-dogs play.  Beyond is a river which you have to ford knee-deep and then the beach stretches a long way to the left.  Big Pacific waves make the dirty bay the best bathing, but there is always music blaring out loud and lots of Mexicans who come in taxis from town.  I camped two windy nights in the scrub and cactus behind the beach.   The villagers are somewhat more friendly than the tourists, but as I wrote it's a mean, rotten, disorganised sort of place, there must be a well, but they'd never think of showing you there.  Remember that the richer Mexicans who come to places like this have money, mainly for beer, they couldn't be friendly towards the villagers.  It's not that sort of society.
The Indians of Tehuantepec are Zapotec, similar to those of Oaxaca.  Their culture is sometimes seen as a matriarchy:  I don't know if it is technically, but it certainly seemed that way.  Pictures of the women here.

View Tehuantepec in a larger map

Friday, 19 August 2011

August 19th: Fang in Northern Thailand

On August 19th 1981 I was in Fang in Northern Thailand.  I was travelling with Mary: we had visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai and were hoping that we would find places that were more rural and less modernised.

Road near Fang:  Our Picture
We took a long afternoon walk towards the hills on the western side.  We began slowly through open rice paddies, seeing some birds almost for the first time in Thailand.  Eventually the threatened downpour came, just as we were beside the only house we saw with cold drinks, and we were invited in for the storm.  Snaps of young children kept things amusing and the owner played us Santana.  The drizzle kept on but we persevered, getting a little wet sometimes and sheltering, but it seemed worth while to get through a string of villages, albeit pleasant and the houses mainly wooden, and get a little bit into the hills.  At the first hill there was a temple and a market and a whole lot of hill-tribe people, and for the next few miles it kept much more rural and more tribal.  The hills themselves were green and grass topped, bright in the sun, but forbidding in the dark black clouds of the earlier part of the walk.  All the houses had flowers and gardens, the people smiling and friendly, curious, especially a group of schoolchildren who walked with us for a while.  On the way back we stopped for a drink in the first village in the plain and soon got a lift back in a driver in a pickup who took us a scenic back way and charged us an exorbitant fee.

Mae Kok River:  Our Picture
The next day we took a bus to Tha Ton, where we planned to take a boat down the Mae Kok River.  This was a recognised thing for tourists to do and a little group of foreigners duly assembled as we waited a couple of hours sitting by the river.  The boat ride was good, not exciting, but certainly worthwhile and beautiful.  Best was further downstream where the river passed through a narrow section, the jungle came down the edge of the river and there were almost rapids to get across.  The hills and trees were green and there were as few birds as elsewhere in Thailand.  As we came in to Chiang Rai an almighty rainstorm began.  As it eased off and the tourists landed wet, we went straight to a decent little hotel in the quiet  town which almost felt European.

Wooden buildings in village:  Our picture

Village people near Fang:  Our picture

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Thursday, 18 August 2011

August 18th: On The Road in Georgia and The Carolinas

On August 18th 1976 I was hitching north through Georgia and South Carolina.  I was spending a few weeks in the USA after flying in from Ecuador.

Two days earlier the plane had crossed the Caribbean islands and banked round Miami just missing a tropical storm.  There was a long wait for immigration and the man in customs gave me a good going over; I guess he thought a longhair with a beard coming from South America might produce something, but he did it with good humour.  I didn't feel like taking a bus downtown and, seeing on a map that the airport was to the north of the city, I just walked out of the airport and put out my thumb amidst the bright reds of the sunset.  Three lifts took me to Daytona for about 4 in the morning and I curled up for a rest.

The next day was hard going with very little progress.  I had a couple of lifts early on which took me to the Flagler Beach area, but then I got stuck.  I spent much of the day near a petrol station where I could get something to drink.  It was very hot and humid after the high, thin air of the Andes.  There were other hitchers too and that made things more difficult.   The cops were keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn't go up on the freeway.  In the end I got a lift to Jacksonville from a man who kept telling me that he didn't want to give me a lift.  It was now the late afternoon and the next ride offered to put me up at his home in Jacksonville; I gladly accepted and I caught up on a bit of sleep that night.

In the morning I made a reasonably early start in the middle of rush-hour, and I got a lift out of the central area of Jacksonville.  But then there was another wait and I felt the previous day's pattern emerging again.  I went into a truck stop for a second breakfast and got talking with some freak truckers heading for North Carolina.  They took me through the Georgia swamps and then we stopped all afternoon at a riverside just short of Savannah.  I had a swim and heard some heavy truckers' stories, watched people diving off a bridge and talked with the Georgian kids.  Then there was a catfish supper and peach pie and beer and I felt better.  We began the journey north at about eight when it got dark and the mosquitoes came out.  We passed through the old part of Savannah, with its old large wooden buildings, because they wanted to give me a tourist's view.  I fell asleep as we entered South Carolina. 

I awoke for the last time as it got light and we were entering North Carolina.  They tried to get me a lift on their CB radio, but this failed and they put me down near their home town of High Point.  I got a few lifts from black drivers to get me past Greensboro and then it was easy to get on to Durham where a friend I'd met the year before in Ecuador had invited me to stay.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, 2008:  Picture by numbphoto,  CC
After a week in North Carolina another friend drove me to stay the night in his parents' house on the edge of the mountains in Mount Airy.  We spent the evening sitting on the front porch having stilted conversations and my friend's father showed me his gun which he carried at all times.  I slept in an antique bed in the hundred year-old house surrounded by wonderful woodwork.  In the morning my friend drove me up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Roanoke.   I enjoyed the views from the hills when the mist cleared.  I appreciated the trees and the flowers and the way the road had been landscaped - a planned environment.  Getting a lift was easy, first just a few miles with a guy in a VW then with a friendly guy to Natural Bridge.  There I had my longest wait, maybe 20 minutes, during which I went on the freeway, and got a lift right out of the mountains and round the DC Beltway.  Then there was a final ride from a longhair in an old Citroen DS all the way up the New Jersey Turnpike.  He took me right into Manhattan around midnight to Broadway and 80th and I walked to the place that had been arranged for me to stay in.

I stayed with my friends in New York City for two weeks while I waited for a flight back to the UK.  Finally a cheap Loftleider plane took me via Reykjavik to Luxembourg.  I got back home on the overnight ferry from Ostend and stayed with friends in Oxford as the long hot summer of 1976 drew to its slowly drawn out close.

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August 18th: Urgup in Central Turkey

On August 18th 1978 I was in Urgup in Cappadocia in Central Turkey.  The area is famous for its thin sandstone which has been eroded into fantastical shapes.  The soft rock has long been carved out by humans as well as water, for underground cities, churches and monasteries, and for everyday houses many of which are still lived in.

In the afternoon I walked out into the country to try to record something of that unusual scenery:
Have walked a little way out towards Goreme to try to break a siesta somnolence while the people of the hotel cleaned the room.  The partially clouded weather and the breeze continue to make it fairly cool to sit here in the full sunshine.  The scenery is almost indescribable.  I'm on a rock-spur looking out northwest, the higher outcrops of the pink rock to the left and the outskirts of Urgup to the right.  There are green trees following the river and a road slopes from right to centre at a steep angle.  Below are several little valleys of deeply eroded white sandstone striped with an ochre-yellow, and green trees in the valleys.  Paths winding around the dozens of contours and the little fields and the "chimney" outcrops.  Fields are mainly grapes, with some quinces, loquats, apples, melons, nicely kept.  An old couple are picking some fruit in one field just to my left.  She with white headscarf and bent over back, he just rode in on a grey donkey with normal wooden saddle and a pair of white woven cotton donkey-bags.  Straight in front is one of the toadstool shaped rocks with a square-shaped hole cut  one third of the way up.  To the right is a sort of house by a large field of vines where I saw a man working earlier.  House of stone blocks, look unmortared and a couple of arches, with a downstairs built into the rock and opening on a little garden.  Shrikes clicking and occasionally screaming from the little almond-trees, nuthatches, warblers, doves.  And so - down a little into the biggest valley which is all tiered into little terraces, though only actively used this far down.  The rocks are so soft they crumble to the touch, but the dust is quite fertile.  Walnut trees, olives, tomatoes, peppers.  I frightened the wits out of a tortoise.  A beautiful male golden oriole.  A rufous-backed bush-chat.  Birds here are truly different.  A little arched bridge over a water-course.  A chimney hollowed out like a church with many little niches, and collapsed above, but I think it was quite recent.  Rocks carved out for a water-course.
I stayed in a cheap hotel in the centre of town which was picturesquely part of an old han or mediaeval inn.  Next door was a tea-house where old men congregated which was also ancient and may well have been part of the han. I liked to go there in the evening and play backgammon; the first time I played with one of the locals, he beat me ten games in a row.  I wrote in my notebook:
A tea-house evening, post eating. The men sit around, watch the TV, it's the news now, just had the ads for banks, the usual Western lifestyle.  Here it's mainly the old men, with their cloth caps or the woollen tasselled type, grizzled grey beards, jackets sober with wide-hipped narrow-bottomed trousers, greys, blacks, black dusty shoes, shirts buttoned right up but no tie.  One old man with a stick has a straight cigarette-holder with which he smokes his roll-ups right to the bottom, he sits cross-legged on his chair.  Curtains on the windows, the painting of Ataturk on the wall, the traditional rug-weavings of two peacocks facing each other.  Little tables and chairs, but we sit on a bench, there is a kilim along one wall of the room next door.  Strip lighting, blue and white above washed walls, concrete floor, tea-making area separated off.

In the following days I made the effort to get out to some of the sites.  As the transport was haphazard I chose to hitch.  First I went to Kaymakli, an underground city hollowed out hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago.  Several layers of tunnels were open for tourists with others being studied by archaeologists below.  Several of these underground cities have been discovered and, although they were used by mediaeval Christians fleeing persecution, they are much older.  It was good to have been able to visit one of these, despite the flocks of German and Italian tourists seething through its nether regions.

Another day I hitched to Zelve where there are churches and monasteries, lacking the frescoes of nearby Goreme (which I had seen in 1972).  I wrote this up in my journal that night:
Hitching again this time to Zelve, and spending a couple of hours sitting around the deserted village, and poking around the caves, trying to climb up the two little gorges behind one of the two main valleys.  Quite an interesting place, the varied good scenery.  Did walk quite a bit near Goreme and away from Zelve, then got a lift from a friendly family from Istanbul, the lady spoke English, who took me to Avanos, which was a quieter and less speedy place than Urgup, though a bit larger and more modern.  Lift back the direct road, one of the nicest of the whole region, climbing until you can look down on both Avanos and Urgup, then crossing one of the prettiest canyons, little visited, in pink sandstone.
Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of Cappadocia, including this one of Zelve.

Zelve, 2007:  Picture by Noumenon,  CC

Kaymakli, 2006:  Picture by Stephen Hill,  CC

View Urgup in a larger map

Monday, 15 August 2011

August 15th: Konya in Central Turkey

On August 15th 1978 I was in Konya in central Turkey.  The main intention of this visit was to see the Neolithic site of Catal Huyuk.  The previous winter I had taken an extramural course in Neolithic archaeology and was keen to see if anything was visible in this place which once had been the biggest and one of the earliest urban centres in the world.

I took a bus to Cumra and from there a taxi to Catal Huyuk itself.  There proved to be not a lot to see.  The guardian told me that the excavations had been flooded a year or so earlier and the site was little visited.  I notice that excavations started again in the nineties and the site seems well visited now.  On the way back through Cumra I wrote this in my notebook:
Been to see Catal Huyuk which proved to be more of a hassle than I'd have liked.  I didn't get much of a chance to sit there and cast my mind back eight thousand  years, because the taxi boys were hassling me to get moving all the time.  All the same I did see it, albeit a little annoyed, and it's just the fact that it's there that's so extraordinary, you can see the walls, bricks, the hearths and the setting, and imagine even just a little that there were people living there, building their fields amongst the trees, learning to herd their animals, hunting, trading in obsidian, making copper.  In some sense Catal Huyuk is where it all started.

Today it's a hot, dusty plain where they grow melons and sunflowers, and it needs irrigation.  Harriers and falcons and shrikes and magpies.  Houses with a stone layer, mud brick above, sometimes painted white.
In Konya I stayed in a hotel conveniently near the bazaar.  I wandered round a lot and was made to feel welcome.  The other tourists were all older and in groups, staying in the modern hotels or maybe in camping-cars.  I wrote a letter of condolence in English at the request of the man in the tourist information office.   In the bazaars there was the smell of Asia, a veritable traffic jam of horse-carts, street after street of bazaars, a cheese and olive bazaar, fruit, grains, clothes and so on.  There were beggars in the streets, the deformed and the crippled.  I enjoyed the food in the bazaar, good and cheap and very Turkish.  I discovered it was Ramadan and in the evening rush at 7.45 I had to compete or get the left-overs.  You could see all the men hanging about beforehand looking at their watches.  I visited the Karakoy shrine and museum, admiring the Seljuk tiles and the blue patterns around the dome. 

But I quickly felt the need to move on.  I took the bus to Aksaray across the near desert.  We passed a very few desert villages made of mud baked in classic desert style, little patches of wheat where the salt was not too bad, sandpipers and plovers on the salt margins.  There was a gypsy (or nomad) encampment with little green carts painted red and buffaloes as the main animal.  I changed to a dolmus at Aksaray and soon after passed a great caravanserai.  This great sweep of open country was a world away from the green hills of the Mediterranean.  The air was clear and high and the vistas huge.  I got a thrill of excitement to be moving east.

Catal Huyuk, 2005, Picture by Stipich Bela,  CC

Restoration, 2005:  Picture by Stipich Bela, CC

View Konya in a larger map

Sunday, 14 August 2011

August 14th: Otavalo in Ecuador

On August 14th 1976 I was in Otavalo in Ecuador.  Otavalo was one of the most famous markets in South America.  The local Indians made a huge range of handicrafts which they sold in the market, especially on Saturdays.

A couple of days previously I had tried unsuccessfully to find a bus in Quito, so I took a city bus out to near the airport and started hitching.  I soon got a lift from a computer programmer with Texaco but he only took me a short way and then I found nothing more.  I had to move away from a Chilean who was full of dubious advice and after an hour or so in the cold air a bus approached and I took it.

The next day I went for a walk in the morning.   I followed the road to Cotacachi, sat on the bridge by the river in town, passed a handicrafts factory and sat a while by a truly pretty river outside the town, enjoying the greenness of it all, the eucalyptus and the thick grass, a white mountain and a blown out cone, lovely and peaceful.  Back in town in the afternoon, I met friends with a car and together we drove to San Antonio de Ibarra to look at woodcarvings, which I thought very poor.  We looked into a fine church in a long narrow cross shape and lively paintings.  I enjoyed the scenery too, rich, many villages, and clouds on the broad mountains.  We looked in on another largish town and saw briefly a colonial church during  a service.  We drove back past fires burning in evening light.

Plaza de Los Ponchos, 2003:  Picture by Richard Uzermans:  CC
For the day of the market I tried to be up early to visit before the buses started to bring the hordes in from Quito.  The vegetable market was in full swing and around the Plaza de Los Ponchos there were already crowds.  It was a colourful scene.  The Indian men wore three-quarter length baggy white trousers, white shirts and blue ponchos; the women wore white blouses, white skirts with blue wraps almost around and blue headdresses. 

The quality of the goods made was excellent, though clearly not authentic in any way.  The Otavalans had taken the decision to make a living out of handicrafts as well as agriculture, and different villages specialised in different crafts, rather as has happened in Bali.  I believe that collectively they decided to travel beyond the village to merchandise their products, across Ecuador, across South America and eventually across the world.  It is a common thing in European cities and villages to come across Indians selling handicrafts and playing music; most are from Otavalo and the men can usually be recognised by their uncut plaited hair.  A man I met last year at a fair in a small village in France lived now with his wife and children in Spain but travelled around the fairs and markets in France and Spain, getting all the goods from his family in San Antonio.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

August 13th: Khartoum

On August 13th 1980 I was in Khartoum.  I was waiting for a flight south to start teaching, but had been marooned in the El Sharque Hotel for the three weeks since my previous entry

The River Nile:  My picture
It was the middle of the Eid festival marking the end of Ramadan and Khartoum was even more closed down than ever.  This day however I was able to get outside the city.   Two teacher friends were invited out for a picnic and I and three others went as well.  We drove out of the city to the riverside, through the suburbs into the country through citrus and mango orchards, said to be run as a prison farm.  It was a popular picnic spot with quite a number of people around, about 20kms upstream on the Blue Nile.  Nearby were brickworks and an enormous pump system and the African huts where the aragi (hootch) makers lived.  It was mainly a family affair, the family of one of the groups who came to pick us up; the women were beautiful and sat on a carpet in a corner but enjoyed the whole thing as well.  We drank beer and whisky.  I found space for a walk in the bush just to feel I was really in Africa and to look at any wildlife.  Later on the women began to sing and the whole thing really came together, at least for me, with clapping and dancing (it reminded me of Afghan dancing).  I talked with a group from Kadugli, one of whom was a waiter at one of the large hotels I visited.  We left at the height of the event, a good time to go, with copious farewells and an exhilarating return on the back of a Mazda pickup.

Tuti Island, 2009:  Picture by Petr Adam Dohnalek, CC
Tuti Island, lying in the Nile between the various parts of the wider city, was a good place to get away from the frustrations of the city and was best in the late afternoon.  It was really a village or a set of villages in the middle of the city.  On my first visit when I stepped off the little chain driven ferry, a man stopped me:  "How do you like Sudan?" he asked.  He spread his arms and continued, "it's the most undeveloped country in the world, just look."  I liked Tuti, the lemon orchards and little irrigated fields, and dark people living in little shacks.  As I walked back to the ferry another time, walking from the quiet edge of the river on the far side, I passed a number of nightjars flying along with their mouths open.  On the ferry there was a big delay with someone banging something in the engine room.  The boat got more and more crowded, and the women segregated themselves and made me move to sit on the baskets carrying lemons to the city.  There must have been several hundred people on board, as well as a few donkeys.  After an hour or so we left but in midstream there was an almighty crash, and the water level rose alarmingly close to the deck at the front; I think no one got swept away, but one or two were severely soaked.  We broke away from the chains and the men started jumping up and down and shouting while the women set up a huge wail and we began to drift down the river in the direction of Cairo.  Finally we pulled up near the bank somewhere close to the Hilton and scrambled across a piece of piping to reach the shore. 

As the Eid had approached the city had become a little more lively as preparations were made for the feast.  In the arcades in the centre of town they were selling sheep and happy purchasers were leading them away or putting them in their pickups.  At the hotel they were cutting up a lot of meat and giving the cats a field day with scraps.  The Eid, however, was not good news for the cats, of which there must have been fifty living at the hotel; they wanted to clean the place up and set up a restaurant in the courtyard and to this end they shot every cat with an airgun and then laid out the tables.  The obnoxious young Syrian manager made an effort to get rid of the teachers, but he was outwitted because some of our number had been entertained at the Syrian Club by one of the brothers who owned the hotel.

One day I went to the railway station to see off some teachers who were going to Kadugli in Southern Kordofan.  In my boredom I wished I could have got on the train with them; at any rate here there was a bit of the excitement of a railway station as the train pulled away, probably the only train on that day.   The main reason to be in Khartoum was to wait for a flight, but I was now working out the practicalities of taking the train to Wau or the Kosti steamer.  Most of the teachers departed, leaving only the ones going to the South.  Some latecomers arrived from London, got their postings and left, leaving the same people waiting in Khartoum.

After another two weeks of being stranded the word came that there was a flight to Wau in the morning.  I might finally be going to Rumbek.  I went out before it was light and came back with two taxis in five minutes.  Four of us teachers headed south and some well wishers all piled in with our luggage.  There was a long delay at the airport and then the flight was called and we got on the plane.  Looking down on the expanse of green before landing at Malakal, I realised it was all worthwhile.  And as I walked around Wau towards evening and sat in the Dinka souk with the blacksmiths, having chai, with cows behind against a background of green, I felt that six weeks of waiting in Khartoum might have been worthwhile.  

The Nile:  My picture

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

August 3rd: Mexico City

On August 3rd 1975 I was in Mexico City.

It was a Sunday and I went to the Zocalo, a vast square which goes back to Aztec times.  I made some notes as I sat:
Sitting on a stone bench on the corner of the Zocalo, 11.30 on Sunday morning, sun coming through the haze for the first time.  Traffic and pedestrians are also just beginning to increase.  The day starts late in this city.  The Cathedral is on my right, a huge building in a curious mixture of styles, and the only thing of real interest in the Zocalo.  On the left side is a big government building, probably 120 metres long, three stories high, red canopied balconies on the second floor and guards at the three or so entrances.  Opposite are a couple of other colonial-style buildings, 5 or 6 stories with deep arcades all around and not very attractive.  On the far right a block of shops and offices and maybe hotels, nice on the ground floor but less interesting higher.  The Zocalo is physically a pretty barren place, eight lanes of traffic going one way round, though not overcrowded, and a big bare area in the middle where not many people go, no grass and most of the flowers are in the sidewalk where I sit.

Mexico City Zocalo, 2006:  Picture by Audrey H, CC
But the people here are quite interesting as just about anywhere in the city.  Very mixed, more so than in most areas to the west of here.  Many people dressed up for Sunday and for the city.  Not the very poor selling and begging, but plenty of Indian families in their best clothes mix with the middle-class families and young couples in their smartish, colourful clothes.  Plenty of foreign tourists as well as Mexican tourists, couples in their late thirties from America and Germany and France with cameras.  Some older and some younger.  Occasionally a turismo bus stops and a big group gets out, the last lot American high school kids, aged 16 or so.  A shoe-shine man sits on his stand on the corner, not much business and hardly any shoeshine kids around; he wears clothes a bit like the uniform of the traffic cop who is sometimes blowing his whistle on the corner.  Not many people sitting at this time of day:  an Indian group of families on the steps of the Cathedral before going in, a couple on the stone wall of the dry fountain, and in front of me a couple of girls on a stone bench; at right angles to me a man of 55 or so, standing at ease beside this bench and staring at something .
The night before I had been to the market in the poorer east end which was full of people, especially Indian women with their colourful clothes and braided hair selling their goods in the streets.  I returned through thick crowds to the Plaza Garibaldi and was enjoying the scenes.  That is the little square where Mariachis congregate to play music at the request of young men for their girlfriends.  It was a happy scene, the music maybe not as good as in Guadalajara but there were many players, there were fine buildings around, and people were selling all sorts of things, including serapes, the Mexican ponchos, in the Saturday evening atmosphere.

I made trips out to some of the archaeological sites.  First I went to Teotihuacan which goes back to the first millennium AD.  While I was walking around it started to rain and I made some notes:
Teotihuacan, 2007:  Picture by Hector Garcia, CC
It's raining.  First real rain in the middle of the day and I have to choose this day to come here.  I'm sheltering in the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, one of the few places on the site which has real shelter.  I'm thinking about the fact that I'm probably going to have to get wet before this excursion is over, and just a tenth of my mind wanders back to what I've seen before today, which is pretty impressive.  The big temple first and the good sculpture, sitting among the red ants on one of the pyramids and realising how different are all the flowers and the birds and the insects, especially the butterflies.  Then climbing the super-big pyramid, so austere and savage, yet wondering at the daily life which lurked behind that savagery, what philosophical state of mind was required.  The excited voices of the American kids and the Mexican kids, the bourgeois Europeans and American couples, even two Japanese guys.   Mexican youths selling idoles.  Finally the humidity and tension in the air leading to the rain and the thunder and I came into this place among the rain refugees, two American families and a French couple.  Outside a few Mexican street kids run through the rain. 
When I went to Tula another day, I was determined to make more of the countryside and the wildlife.  Tula was the Toltec capital, and follows the Teotihuacan civilisation.  From my notebook:
Statues at Tula, 2005:  Picture by Nick Leonard, CC
The ruins here are interesting, the statues on the big pyramid, the friezes on certain buildings and the ball courts.  The scale is small and not so grandiose as at Teotihuacan.  Lots of interesting nature also.  I had just found a nice spot to sit and survey it all and to describe directly what I could see when along came this group of Mexicans with a couple or more Canadians, all young, and also the kids selling antiques.  And immediately the atmosphere was blown and in the end I left, and had to write this later.  What I can remember?  Swallows in the sky, making a lot of noise, some doves with rufous markings, the pied shrike, cactus plants with thick yellow juice in the leaves and yellow flowers, a bush with red flowers, little yellow and black daisies everywhere; the black-fronted blue behind butterfly; swallow-tails, little black butterfly with big white spots, also the mainly red bird on a telephone wire.  I looked down across the bushes and the little trees with leaves which hang down as 20 or 30 sub-leaves: a shepherd and his flock were ahead of me, and there was one little house by the river at the bottom and another on the hill on the other side.
I spent a day at the impressive National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park.  Seeing the anthropological exhibits made me look forward to getting further south.  The huge Aztec exhibits sent a physical shiver up my spine.  This feeling only left me when I saw the more sympathetic, though still somewhat disturbing, Mayan sculpture.