Saturday, October 18, 2003  

To Mother on her birthday

Sorry for the belated greetings - Happy Birthday Mum!

If I were hanged on the highest hill
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me.
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!

If I were damned of body and soul.
I know whose prayers would make me whole
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!

posted by Shaun; | 8:42 AM

Friday, October 17, 2003  


Greece. Europe. I have just arrived having left Matt and Ilja on their way to Czech republic. I'll be here for a while.

more soon.

posted by Shaun; | 3:46 PM

Monday, October 13, 2003  

Visit to Gallipoli - Turkey

One of the greater battles of World War One was situated in Turkey on the Gallipoli peninsula overlooking the Dardanelles. This campaign also signifies a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand called Anzac Day.

The allied objective of the Gallipoli campaign was to force Turkey out of the war and to secure an ice-free sea supply route to Russia to open another front against German and Austria-Hungary. Four countries took part in the landings, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand with the last two a joint force called the Anzacs (Australia New Zealand Army Corp).

On the 25th of April 1915 the Anzacs landed at what is now called Anzac Cove on the western side of the Gallipoli peninsula - at the wrong point due to currents over night. Over the next nine months this disastrous campaign fought on and on with the loss of more than 36,0001 allied soldiers and 85,000 Turkish soldiers. In the end the allies withdrew to avoid further losses and the Turks celebrated their victory.

Of the 8,556 New Zealand soldiers that landed 7,447 were killed or seriously wounded in the battle.

The importance of this battle to New Zealand history made this an important part of my trip to Turkey. . .

Riding down the Gallipoli peninsula I was apprehensive about visiting these ancient battlefields that since childhood we have remembered every 25th of April on Anzac day. Gallipoli always held a compelling yet distant allure for me. So much history and so much bloodshed that turned out to be needless. Would it still be such an important event in our history if we had won? Images assaulted my mind from the history books and films I had seen on the even. I am curious in a melancholic way as to what it would all look like.

As we drew closer, we could see the Dardanelles and the mountains of Asia minor just across the way. Passing the city of Gallipoli (the campaign was fought on the southern end of the straight) we started riding along the coast with serene beaches and still clear water gently lapping at the shores. I am starting to feel emotional just thinking about what is ahead of me. I can almost hear the bombs, bullets and screams in the hills ahead of me. The helmet makes it difficult for me to wipe the moisture forming at the corners of my eyes.

We keep riding, looking at our maps which do not provide us enough detail as to when to stop. Finally we pull to the side of the road where a fruit stand sites in the warm afternoon sun.

I approach the fruit seller and ask whether he speaks English. Shading his eyes against the sun he shakes his head and mumbles in Turkish.

Undeterred, I plead "Anzac Cove" in the clearest English I can muster.

With an energy I couldn't guess where it came from, he sprang towards me with his hand outstretched.

"Anzacs - Australian?" he asks?

Relieved I nod - "New Zealand"

Eagerly he motions me over to one of his fruit stands and pulls out a book in Turkish which almost certainly is a picture history book on the area. Leafing quickly through the pages with his tanned hands he excitedly points to the pictures and explained to me in Turkish the significance of each one.

Before me, again, I am seeing pictures of trenches, monuments, graves and old pictures of soldiers. Seeing the images is different than before, as they are pictures of the mountains and seas just around me.

I nod to each of his explanations and he finally runs out of breath.

"Map?" I ask.

Understanding he points to one particular page where a map of the peninsular lies before me. It's the same as our maps and doesn't provide the answer we are looking for.

"Where is Anzac cove" I request hoping he can understand my words.

He does and points further down the road then motioning right. 2 and 12 km he writes down on a paper in front of me. I think I understand. Two kilometers ahead there is a side road where 12 km further takes us Anzac Cove, the Museum and the Cemeteries.

Gratefully I thank him, pat the dog at his feet and accept the two walnuts eagerly pressed into my hands. He waves good bye as we start our bikes and continue on our way as I wonder how many times he does this each day.

Just around the corner we easily spot the turnoff. English and Turkish signs announce the way and the distances. Around us the air is still and quiet with only the bark of a dog in the distance. The occasional farm tractor noisily drives by showing that not much happens down here anymore apart from farming. All the hills are brown and dry with few trees. It doesn't feel like summer nor does it feel cool enough to be winter.

Quicker than I thought twelve kilometers could pass, we arrive at the Museum. It is still quiet but I can see a tour group outside the doors. The first group of tourists we have seen for a long time. Besides the stairs leading up to the doors, souvenir sellers eagerly tout their wares of t-shirts commemorating the wearer as a visitor to the site.

I ignore the appeals for purchase and dismount from my bike and take a look around me. The museum is a modern structure surrounded by plaques, statues and various other types of structures paying homage to the past.

I stop halfway up the steps and question my being here. Would it have been better to just leave this as one of those places on the other side of the world and in the history books? Almost as if to answer me, a tablet to my right catches my attention and I turn to read it.

It finishes with the words:

and life returns to the soil
as traces of blood were effaced
turning the hell of the battlefield
into paradise on earth

Gallipoli now abounds
with gardensful
with nationsful
of burial grounds

a paradise on earth Gallipoli
is a burial under the ground
those who lost their lives fighting
lie here mingled in friendly compound

lying side by side,
as friends in each others arms
they may sleep in comfort and peace
in the land for which they died

Still feeling unsure, I continue up the steps where I pause for a second to listen to the tour guide giving the history to his flock. In the tourists faces I see a respect for the moment and they look afraid to miss any fact pointed out by the guide. Walking into the museum, the cost is 1,500,000 Turkish lira (1 USD) for which I receive a small ticket in return. It is a small museum which in a way is fitting considering the powerfulness of the displays. Shaped as a circle it takes the viewer round the outside displays before they make their way back looking at the inside exhibits.

The exhibition consist entirely of articles from the period starting with the tools used to dig the trenches, then proceeding to small seemingly insignificant possessions they carried such as lights, plates, forks and compasses. Time has made them all far from trivial though with the rust, aged look and the occasional object with a bullet hole in it.

Photos on the wall depict an allied soldier helping a wounded Turkish soldier, a soldier carrying a wounded comrade on the back of a donkey, a group of New Zealand soldiers looking solemnly into the camera while smoking a cigarette. They start to blur into each other while each individually becoming burned into my mind.

I read a letter from a soldier to his mother shortly before his death describing the events he has seen with emotional clarity.

I need to get out. Bolting for the exit, I breath the gentle breeze of dread and regret.

Outside, I persist and wander the various shrines commemorating the deeds and characters of the various soldiers from the battles. Interestingly enough there is an equal mixture between the memorials for the Turks and the invaders as they so put it. It's interesting that both parties are treated with equal respect by the builders - a sure sign that forgiveness is as solid as the walls surrounding the museum.

Once Matt and Ilja are ready we mount the bikes once more and head off to Anzac Cove itself about 6 kilometers down the way.

An innocent and serene beach awaits us. The cove is surrounded by large and formidable looking cliffs and waves gently lap at the shore. We first stop by a large monument that draws our attention on the southern side of the bay. Words form on the large tablet from the Turkish hero Ataturk who was later to become the president of the new republic after the Ottomans are overthrown. His prose is from 1934 and offers a consolatory pose to the returning veterans and there families that had started to appear to remember once relations were friendlier. It reads:

Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives . . . . .
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies1

and the Mehmets2
to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours . . . . .
You, the Mothers.
Who sent there sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears;
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are in Peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well.

A fitting tribute and sign of the strength of the Turks in forgiveness.

Continuing down the beach where the landings took place we come across yet another wall beside the road. With the cliffs in the background and in English a series of tablets tell the story of the war and its outcome. One of the pictures struck me with a view of the allies preparing to evacuate. In the backdrop I can see the cliffs that by just tilting my head I can view just 100 meters in front of me. The same crevices but almost 100 years later. The powerful feeling that comes from being able to view this in person is indescribable.

We spend the next couple of hours silently viewing the cemeteries that litter the hills above. Thousands of graves that are still unsure whether they belong in that particular area fill the senses to the total loss of life that was endured during those eight months. Reconstructed trenches run throughout these rises some as little as 4 meters from each other illustrating just how close the fighting was.

Finally, we must move on before the sun drops to low for us to find our way and we depart to Troy the scene of another battle that took place thousands of years before just 50km away across the straight.

I ponder over the next few days the significance of my visit to Gallipoli but still cannot come to an explanation of why it was such a forceful and emotional experience for me. I can only leave with the fact that I was glad that I had visited.

View more photos from Gallipoli

posted by Shaun; | 5:50 PM


Riding the Steppes

Going back a few months and countless miles of road, one of the highlights of the trip so far for me was riding the Steppes in Mongolia. There is no greater exhilaration for an adventure motorcyclist than gazing upon the horizon around you and picking a direction then going straight there.

No need for roads

No need for maps.

Our initial goal when we started the journey, was the southern portions of the Mongolian Gobi before heading westwards to the mountains. We never made it so far west due to time limitations but were able to ride the Steppes and beyond to our hearts desire.

Mongolia is still a country where the wide open country belongs to nobody and everybody. Keeping in the nomadic tradition, land is grazed before the family and herd move on to greener pastures so to say. This means that there are no fences and we didn't have to worry about riding and camping on somebody's land. These are the Mongolian Steppes. Wide open swathes of grassland that cover thousands of square kilometers.

There is magic to these wide open plains where the endless expanses are an invitation beckoning us in any direction that we desired. With the roads mostly dirt except for close to the capital, Ulaan Baatar, it was soon clear to us that with the aid of a GPS we did not have to follow these well worn tracks. Most areas of the steps were absent of rocks or other obstacles and the only danger was marmot holes which sometimes were large enough to swallow a front wheel so provided uninhibited travel in any direction

Bearing this in mind we could quickly get up to a speed as fast as 110km only limited by the riders daring. This and a straight line made the passage of time between cities not only enjoyable but swift.

The power of the GPS in determining our position though was not to be under valued. This tool is a must for anybody contemplating this area and we used it many times to make sure we were on track as there were few signs out there and most had seemed to be knocked down by some over zealous passerby who resented their presence in this pristine landscape.

Another easy way of identifying that we were on the right track, was keeping abreast with power lines which would always lead to some small town or city. This method we used when going from the town of Mondolgovi to Dalansagad on the borders of the Gobi National park. The only complication was when I got tangled up in some wire which quickly wrapped itself around my rear axle. Most likely wire used to build the power lines we were following

Sometimes however, surprises were in store for the unsuspecting rider. Dry lake beds littered the landscape and when truly dry provided a perfect hard surface for riding across. Some just appeared to be dry but on closer inspection would have a thin film of dirt covering up to two feet of soft clay. One of these traps lay in wait for us outside of a small town called Soctovo about 400km south of Ulaan Baatar.

We were held up for almost two days in this patch which may have only been the size of a football field. The difficulty lay in the clay which was soft and tacky. Filling in the grooves between the tire treads, it would make the tires smooth as glass providing no traction on the slippery surface. Also the large clumps of clay would build up between the wheels and the bikes preventing the wheels from turning at all. This meant a long and arduous process in practically lifting the bikes up and carrying them out of the lake bed. We were on constant lookout for more of these traps throughout the rest of the trip.

The dunes at the bottom of the country provided a change from the endless grass plains we had been riding on - not only from their spectacular beauty, but also the difficulty of guiding ourselves across the sands as none of us were familiar and experienced at riding on such a surface. Undeterred we gave it our best and dove in and out of the dunes with none of us surprisingly getting stuck. What a thrill for me it was, to be riding on the dunes of the Gobi on a bike that had only months earlier been dodging traffic on the 101 in Los Angeles.

Sometimes we would encounter a mountain range where there may or may not have been a road. Almost always these high ridges would have river beds flowing from them giving a release from the snows that would build up during winter. Testing our skills and providing a worth while challenge we would follow these now dry riverbeds up and down through gully's and ravines would offer a convenient if not a tricky passage.

No better landscape was more suited to camping than the Steppes. Open and flat with hardly a small stone, all we needed to do to find a place to settle down for the night was to decide to stop. Almost everywhere was convenient and the crickets would always provide a melodic and relaxing backdrop to our exhaustion at the end of the day. As we drew closer to Europe later and the difficulty of finding a campsite, I would remember those moment in Mongolia with a warm heart and miss the ease of finding a place to bed down for the night.

Many times a curious local would amble over on his horse to get a curious look at these strange foreigners. Always whistling or singing as he entered our campsite he would nod to say hello and plant himself in the middle of our camp with hardly an invitation, saying nothing and gazing upon us with bemusement while his horse placidly grazed nearby. At first this unnerved all of us but in time we grew to be accustomed to this strange habit and would chat with them as best as we could while offering any food or tea we had, to show that they were welcome and we were friendly

The joy at riding the least populated country in the world and the bliss felt in riding over such expanses without any hindrance in our choice of direction, is one that I will always remember and dearly miss. It is an experience not to be missed. Discuss this post

View more photos

posted by Shaun; | 9:40 AM

Sunday, October 12, 2003  

New Position Report

Istanbul - Turkey. 14,000 miles from the start and a new continent. Life is good.

posted by Shaun; | 12:31 PM








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