Features: Istanbul at a snail's pace

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Location: Ciroz Camping, Istanbul, Turkey
Distance so far: 16,256 km
GPS Co-ords: 37d, 42.321' N, 26D, 39.701'E
Dates: Monday 6th to Monday 13th November
Highlights: A 30 km drive 1163 feet above the sea along a track cut into a cliff face and the day we gate crashed the Istanbul Motorshow in search of a Land Rover garage.

No one was too sure when the next ferry to Greece was but if it left on Monday it would probably not go before 10 and definitely not before 9. We set the alarm to be in Samos around 9. We wound our way round the island through the steep narrow streets……..

bumble narrow streets

Again we persuaded the booking agent that Bumble was actually a small car, not too wise as you will see in a minute.

Prices were from Samos to Kusadasi:
Greek Drachma 8,000 per person (£16)
GDr 20,000 for Bumble (£40)
Departure tax GDr 3,000 per person (£6)
Arrival tax GDr 4,000 per person and per car (£8) (Sub total £116)
Visa US$ 18 per person (£12)
Car Insurance/Road tax GDr 3,000 for 1 month. (£6)
Total = £138

Rumour had it the Ferry only took two cars and boarding was at 3.30, so we hung around the vicinity of the port for the rest of the day stocking up with supplies and water.

As the time approached we bumped into an Australian couple with a UK registered Volvo who were taking the same ferry, the race was on. They headed for the port swiftly followed by us, just to ensure our passage I parked next to the gang plank. The ferry truly was a passenger ferry, resembling more of a private motor yacht with a small area at the back barely a car's length. As we waited for immigration procedures to start, a third car arrived and by no means a small one at that, a Jeep Cherokee. The adrenaline was pumping, hearts pounding, it was going to be a Le Mans style start of old, running from the pit lane, into the cock pit and off. In pole position was the Cherokee directly infront of the gang plank, on it's right flank was the Volvo and Bumble on the opposite flank. I was trying to cheat by waiting at Bumble's wheel ready for the off, unfortunately the customs officer thwarted my plan and I had to join Sue in immigration. This put us at an immediate disadvantage behind both other drivers in the queue!

By the time we had our passports checked and emerged from the immigration building both other cars had engines revving and were edging forward. First on was the Cherokee, wedged into the port side, followed closely by the Volvo squeezing into the starboard side, with barely enough room Bumble was ushered forward…….

loading the ferry

Once boarded the gang plank could only be hoisted just above horizontal, barely sufficient to stop Bumble rolling back into the sea. I had to exit via the side door as this is the only one I could open. Safely on board socialising began with various other travellers, most of the chat revolving around Chaka and Bumble.

The island of Samos is seperated by only 2km of water from mainland Turkey but the ferry had to sail from Samos' north coast round the eastern tip and then east to Kusadasi, in all a two hour trip.

We arrived in the dark and Bumble had to be unloaded before anyone else could get off. Customs was relatively painless, if a little expensive and they preferred foreign currency due to Turkey's rumoured high inflation rates, we paid with what Greek Drachmas we had left then in US Dollars, although GB Sterling was equally welcome. Now 7 pm we set about finding a quiet spot to sleep, ending up near Monkey Island, outside an internet café. Tuesday morning was spent catching up on emails, getting acquainted with Turkish culture and way of doing things. Kusadasi is unashamidly touristy and geared towards the cruise liners that frequent the port. We left at lunchtime shortly after finding a supermarket on route to Izmir.
We had a brief look at Ephesus but have been spoilt by Volubilis in Morocco and swiftly moved on.

Signposts, or lack of, and automotive chaos sent us left of Izmir in the direction of Cesme, in search of a parking spot for the night. We found a small fishing marina and settled in the carpark for the night.

This gremlin had been waiting to catch us out since leaving England……

water hose

There are 3" of travel in the suspension and when we negotiated a rather tricky section of ground the differential casing squashed the water hose against the fly wheel. To add insult to injury a small piece of redundant metal left protruding from one of the bolts on top of the differential casing pierced the oil hose. We had stopped about 50 km after the fatal moment unaware of the damage and were sitting in front of Bumble when I noticed steady stream of water dripping underneath. Makeshift repairs consisted of yards of duct tape; which seemed to stem the flow of vital fluids. We had lost 5 litres of water and about a quarter of a litre of oil. Next stop Izmir tourist office in search of yet another Land Rover agent. We haven't visited a country yet without checking out their Land Rover dealer network.

Tourist offices are a travellers best friend, staffed by English speakers and full of free information designed to extract your hard earned cash. We however had a different question, where is your nearest Land Rover dealer? After a slightly confused look the lady rang the Izmir Automobile Club who promised to ring back in 5 minutes. In the ensuing few minutes I tried to look as if I was interested in Izmir's tourist opportunities, but conversation soon turned to the camotion in the nearby hotel. There were numerous heavies in dark glasses hanging around, far too many Police directing the numerous limosines around. It was in fact the last day of Turkey's Environmental summit attended by all the key political figures, speaking of which news came over the radio that George Bush was the new US President!!! (or not!!)

The Automobile Club phoned back offering a local garage that would look after us! The lady phoned them and obtained directions, when she wrote down the name as Volvo, I think a little had got lost in the translation. The next garage on offer was BMW, eventually Otokar who dealt with Land Rovers was located. They asked where we were parked and said they would be there in 10 minutes, what service I thought, followed quickly by how much!

Sure enough our escort arrived and within 15 minutes we weaved our way through a hundred back streets of a suburb of Izmir. No one spoke English so I started with a simple leaking brake slave cylinder that had come back to haunt us again. No sooner had I pointed to the front right wheel than it was surrounded by an army of workers and was in pieces all over the floor. Again I had luckily packed a brake slave cylinder seal repair kit in the spares box. Turkey, like Morocco had plenty of labour but parts had to be ordered from Istanbul or England.

There seemed to be two principle mechanics in their late twenties/early thirties supported by 6 teenagers. Watching them work was like seeing a surgeon going about his business, no sooner had he asked for a 14mm spanner, it was handed to him followed by any number of tools, cleaners swabs etc. Within an hour the brakes were repaired and bled - remember my 1 week saga with the master cylinder!

otokar pitcrew

Otokar's pit crew - how many people does it take to change an oil filter?
This was actually a complete engine going back in.

Impressed by their efficiency I had a number of other jobs up my sleeve. The poorer condition of the roads and more frequent pot holes was causing the rear prop shaft to foul a chassis cross member. This I suspect is a problem caused by the engine and gearbox conversion. The front prop shaft is also hitting the bottom of the engine casting when the axle hits the bump stops. The proper solution is to re-mount the engine and gearbox correctly but our resources are limited and Capetown our immediate goal.

After much drawing of pictures, waving of arms and a call to the tourist office for translation help, a price was agreed for the job in hand. No sooner had I put the phone down and walked back into the workshop than the same operating team was assembled under Bumble and the prop shaft was on the floor. A couple of hours of cutting, banging, welding and painting, the prop shaft articulation had been increased to accommodate hitting the bump stops by creating a small 'bridge' in the chassis member.

After this they set about replacing the oil hose, re-routing the water hose out of trouble and removed the offending piece of metal.

The Turkish army are equipped with new Defenders and there was a constant stream of Land Rover's with well armed drivers. One soldier spoke English and told us that his officer was jealous because our's was bigger than his!

It was now 5 pm and they were preparing to close up. We had the familiar job of finding somewhere safe to sleep for the night in the dark again. We swopped pleasentries, website addresses and took the obligatory photo of Bumbles team……

bumbles pit crew

I reversed out into the road, touched the brakes but nothing happened. Trying not to panic I wrenched the handbrake on, and edged back in. They had done the deed on the leak but not adjusted the brake shoes. 10 minutes later we were safely on our way heading north.

We seemed to favour fishing marina's as a safe overnight stopping place and followed our noses to Aliaga. After supper we wanted to relax and sample some of the local culture so headed to the fisherman's drinking hole. Inside looked a little intimidating, full of craggy looking fishermen, barely visible through the smoky haze. We opted for an outside table and were served with two coffees or 'Nes' as they are termed in Greece and Turkey. They seem to brew Nescafe for local tastes as this instant coffee was extremely strong. A bold cat was taunting Chaka and then made a break for it. Chaka, not to be outrun, laid chase regardless of the fact that Sue was on the other end of his lead. She went flying back in her chair and let go before being dragged across the marina. It took a few minutes before Chaka and composure were regained, we promptly headed for bed.

Our goal for Thursday was to visit Troy and move onto Galipoli. Troy was a little dissappointing so we swiftly moved onto Cannakale for an overnight stop. The Lonely Planet guide suggested a number of campsites 15 km south but November spells the end of most tourism so the majority of hotels and campsites were closed up for the winter. We pulled back onto the main road for the uphill slog…….bang……and we lost most of our power.

I pulled over, leaving the engine running and took a look round Bumble. No smoke, no oil, no water, no unusual noises. We cautiously drove on a little, still at half power. I couldn't hear the familiar wine of the turbo and suspected this. We limped into Canakkale heading for the tourist office. We found a side street to park in and I waited while Sue went off in search of help. Being in the hub of tourism it wasn't long before I was approached. The tout was expecting a request for tours of Galipoli, not the nearest Land Rover dealer. However he was extremely helpful and came back with the name of a local garage. In the meantime I had been checking all the visible turbo hoses but nothing seemed to be astray. Sue returned with a diesel mechanic who led us to his work shop. They scrabbled around underneath undoing hoses, checking the turbo and drew a big blank. I pointed to pictures of waste gate valves, breather hoses etc but still nothing. The nearest Land Rover Service was either back to Izmir or onto Istanbul, wanting to move forward we chose the latter. Looking at the map the shortest route seemed to be crossing the straits and following the coast. A little money changing in the port with a perfume tout and we were soon on our way.

Eager to reach Istanbul while the roads were clear, wanting to make the best use of attained momentum and not being run off the road by large trucks we agreed to press on through the night. At 9 pm we stopped for a brief supper, consulted the map and agreed to follow the actual coast road marked as white on our map. The road soon deteriorated to a pot holed mess and shortly afterwards nothing more than a dirt track, our first taste of off-roading!

A car had sped off in front of us which we could see slowly climbing ahead. It wasn't long before we reached the same section and began to have doubts about our choice of route. Within minutes the route turned into a single track steadily climbing up the side of the cliff. We stopped but there was no way I could turn round on a track barely the width of Bumble and no way was I going to reverse in the dark. I turned on are newly fitted spotlights to find that one bulb had blown, cyclops it was to be. Bumble was beginning to struggle with the gradient so I changed to low ratio and we progressed at a stately 10 mph. I was now becoming a little concerned but did not want to show any fear for Sue's sake. On the left we had a shear cliff face going up and to the right was pitch black bottomless pit. In the moonlight I could make out the crashing sea surf directly below. I never looked again. At points the road had fallen away to the extent that I was dragging Bumbles wing mirror against the cliff face with the right wheels bumping down the crevis on our right left by a landslide. I glanced at the GPS and read an elevation of 1166 feet. It dawned on me that we were driving along a track cut into the cliff face above the crashing sea 1166 feet directly below our wheels, one wrong move and we would be driving a yellow submarine. One savour was that it was pitch black so to the right I tried to imagine a hedge and so forget about the reality of our situation. A car had driven off infront of us, so the track was passable.

After an hour of tense driving and memories of the Italian job perched on the edge of a cliff at the end, finally a reprieve. We had reached a fishing village back down at sea level cut into a gulley. The reprive was short, back again up the cliff only to see oncoming headlights. There was no way we could pass on this track and I would be in the outside lane. We reached a corner where the road followed the profile of the cliff inwards and the track was cut a little wider. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the oncoming vehicle to pass.

At long last there was a turning inland which we took without hesitation. At the next junction we stopped to compare the map with road signs and whilst doing so 6 armed soldiers approached us in the dark. Chaka felt threatened and sent them a warning bark, it didn't just end there, he was barking his head off jumping up and down in the front of Bumble. The soldiers already a little edgy by the prescence of what they thought was a bright yellow armoured vehicle become even more twitchy with Chaka's rendition of Bach. I waved the map out off the window calling in English and playing lost tourist. One soldier approached and then beckoned another that spoke English. Once they had established that there were actually humans inside and that Bumble was not populated by ferocious barking dogs the officer indicated that I should get out. Still waving map in hand I was asking the way to Istanbul. The officer was having none of it and wanted to see our passports and what was in the back of Bumble. Suitably satisfied we were sent off in the right direction.

By now the nights ordeals were too much and at 2 pm we settled down at a truckers stop for a few hours kip. Chaka still on edge, took it upon himself to take first guard shift, sitting upright in the front barking at anything that moved in the shadows. This didn't make for a restful sleep but insured that we weren't pestered.

We set off again a mere 80 km from Istanbul. The guide indicated the first Tourist Office was at the airport so we picked up the signs and headed that way. The roads were now busier than the single track of the previous night and dodging overladen lorries charging up the rear was proving a stressful experience. Negotiating the streets of Istanbul at half power I think proves that driving too slow is equally as dangerous as driving too fast.

At the airport Sue had to jump out whilst I went round the block. On my tour I found a quiet set of roadworks where I could catch breath whilst the never ceasing procession of impatient Turkish drivers josstled for space. I noticed in my brief moment of peace the Istanbul Motor Show was on next to the airport and thought, should the tourist office come up with nothing then this could be the place. Sure enough the tourist office were not equipped for Land Rover driving English people having never had one land at the airport before, but did come up with the same suggestion of enquiring at the motor show.

I drew the short straw so headed off to the entrance. Asking the ever familiar question 'Do you speak English' seemed to open a few doors in this instance. I was beckoned past the car entrance and onto the front doors of the exhibition hall. I then found someone who spoke English and asked if they knew of a Land Rover garage in Istanbul, he suggested that I visit the Land Rover stand inside. So there I was a Britsh tourist in need of a garage and had just been shown straight into the Istanbul motorshow free of charge, what hospitality.

The Land Rover stand was actually combined with BMW, Rover and MG (no Ford in sight yet!). After asking for someone who spoke English I was introduced to Cenk who would deal with me when he had finished with his potential Range Rover sale. I looked around the gleaming stand, staffed by an entarage of hostesses and salesman dressed in Land Rover Global Expedition merchandise. I then caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, grubby from 4 days on the road, unshaven, unkept and a pair of Timberlands with the sole hanging of the left shoe, but hey I was a real Land Rover driver, a living example of the Land Rover experience, they were privaledged to have me on their stand. I was now eager that Bumble should be with me, that would really pull the crowds, oops don't get carried away, I was just a grubby English inconvenience in their eyes. After 30 minutes of hanging around Cenk finally came to deal with me. To my surprise I was invited to the BMW bar where I was given the VIP treatment. All was arranged after an interesting exchange of experiences, a service engineer was to meet me outside in 45 minutes and show us the way to their workshop. I went back to join Sue and Chaka who had been waiting patiently in the car for well over an hour.

At 2 pm as promised the service engineer turned up but he was a little alarmed when he saw Bumble and promtly got on the phone. After a few calls we were handed over to Fikret of Otokar and given directions to the other side of Istanbul, the Anatolian side. Equiped with the Lonely Planet guide as our town map we set off optimistically in search of Marmara Oto. Another phone call, endless u-turns and we were there.

Fikret was an energetic and enthusiastic man who spoke perfect English, he showed us down to the Otokar workshop below Marmara and introduced his best engineer who set about diagnosing the problem. In the meantime we were being bombarded with endless interesting facts and figures.

Fikret was actually the son of a Turkish Ambassador and had spend many years overseas in such places as Ethiopia, Brazil, West Africa and so on. He was a keen historian so we had a quick lesson on the history of Turkey. We also learnt that Otokar were the licensed manufacturers of the Defender Land Rover in Turkey, used primarily for the military. This agreement had been in place since 1988 and Borusan, whose stand I had been on at the Motor Show had had the distributorship of Range Rover, Discovery and Freelander for the past two years as well as the BMW and Rover dealerships. Complicated for us as we had a Discovery engine and gearbox on a Defender style chassis, so no one garage could deal with all our needs. After an hour of probing the engineer diagnosed a blocked air filter, but I was not convinced. It was now 6 pm, their closing time so we agreed to return at 8.30 pm on Monday morning. We were in search of a campsite and Fikret new of only one near the airport. Before leaving I marked Otokar on the GPS and we headed back to the airport.

Having missed a turning we tried to u turn by pulling off the dual carriageway hoping to head over or under. Instead we ended up in a maze of backstreets. I was trying to maintain momentum up a particularly steep street when a car from the right thought about reversing into the road, then hesitated, I kept my foot firmly on the floor using what little power we had available. The car inched back but hesitated again, as we were within 15 meters he reversed straight back into the street blocking the road. I stamped on the brakes and hit every single light and horn switch I could lay my hand on. The offender jumped out of his car, so Sue and I hung out of our respective windows and basically suggested his manoevre was a little careless, but in raised voices. For good measure I gave him a blast of the airhorn. This incensed the offender who reached back into his car, turned off the engine car and proceeded to waive his car keys in my face. By this time Chaka had added his voice to the chorus and Sue was climbing out to start a fight. To try and keep Sue in the car I started to squeeze round the back of the blockage. Fearing for the safety of his car the obstruction was moved none too soon.

With nerves on edge we headed for the sea and made camp.

The next morning we located Ciroz camping and settled down for some much needed rest before resuming Land Rover problems on the Monday morning. The weekend was spent scrubbing ourselves and Bumble from head to toe and exploring the local surroundings.

On Monday we returned to Marmara at 8.30 pm, this time we removed Bumble's floor and engine cover to get to the air filter - and there it was - the turbo hose had blown off in the depths of the engine compartment. We fitted it back together and revved the engine, but it immediately blew off again. The engineer took it off to the workshop to flare the ends and so give the jubilee clips something to purchase against. Once back in place we went for a test drive, but pop the hose blew again. This time it was another joint, so for good measure all the hose joints on the turbo pressure side were flared.

Whilst the work was being carried out I had a nose around the workshops. It was like being in Land Rover Special Vehicles. There was an assortment of armoured variations prepared for the Turkish Military Police and mainly used in Eastern Turkey against the PKK. Otokar import the 300TDI engine and gearbox from the UK but manufacture everything else in Turkey no doubt at a fraction of the UK price.

As an extremely kind gesture and to help Enable Africa Otokar did not charge us for the repairs, a big thank you to the team especially Fikret Coruk.

marmara team

It was then back to Ciroz camping with a purring Bumble, a pleasure to negotiate Istanbul traffic at full power and on equal terms.

ciroz writing feature

The conditions we have to work under. Writing this feature at Ciroz camping, under the approach to Istanbul Airport.

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