Joe’s Trip to Turkey 1999 (7 of 10)
The following morning, I got up, took another dosage of “Bars Radiator Stop Leak” and a healthy swig of bottled water and turned on the BBC. (I always carry a portable shortwave radio whilst traveling) It was early, before 0800 and that was the first that I had heard about the earthquake in Izmit.
I hustled over to the office and found the staff clustered around the telephone, perplexed as to why they could not get through to anywhere. I explained what had happened, they had not heard the radio reports at all yet. The news that I brought was immediately translated into Turkish for the benefit of the rest of the staff. Much rapid discussion ensued. I retreated to my room.
The 7.1 earthquake brought with it an array of inconveniences to we tourist folk. I felt quite guilty, as the minor annoyances that I was faced with were damn trivial compared to the prospect of losing your life while still in your nightclothes because someone got paid under the table to supply shoddy concrete.
Other travelers that I met up with spoke of the same conflict: So we couldn’t check our e-mail. Big fucking deal. Many had lost their entire families. There is a currently a noticeable lack of whining from my fellow travelers now.
I was still at my air conditioned luxury hotel, the one with the modern direct dial phone next to my bed. I tried calling the MCI operator repeatedly, but got only a busy signal. Perhaps I should have called them at dinner time like they always do to me. I tried ringing the AT&T operator as well, same result. The Fez office in Istanbul has a toll free phone number, but all I got on that one was the same ‘busy’ signal that I had gotten from the others. For all I knew, the Fez office was under a pile of rubble and my tour was over. Everything had gone pear-shaped all in one day.
I checked out of my luxury hotel and thanked the Manager for overlooking my previous grotty appearance. Of course, at check-out time, I was freshly laundered and shaven and was wearing a clean white shirt. (100% cotton, Cabelas)
My new convertible pack had been transformed from a shoulder bag into a proper backpack for this trek, and I hiked back though the sand to the pick-up spot in slightly under 45 minutes.
When I arrived at Kadir’s, the Turkish staff were all clustered around the lone television. Non-stop coverage of the Izmit quake was on, mostly live, some bits pre-recorded. The television station staff had not had enough time to edit tape, it was being shown as quickly as the content came in. Live shots taken from helicopters showed just how hard Izmit had been hit. Scenes of bloody, lifeless bodies being pulled from beneath rubble rated a close-up shot from the cameraman, the scenes of mothers and relatives screaming in anguish as their dead children were unearthed were captured by the microphones. Periodically, the screen would show tallies of the dead by city, Izmit got hit the hardest in terms of deaths, the total at that time was at 3,500. Now it is over 15,000. My sources of news was the non-stop coverage on Turkish TV and the BBC World Service on my Sony short-wave radio.
The Fez Bus “Offsider” finally showed up and my fellow passengers appeared with their ‘Mac Pac’ brand backpacks. Mac Pac is a brand from New Zealand and is the brand of choice among Aussies and Kiwis who comprise the bulk of the traveling populace.
I had a few minutes before boarding and decided to dial home again. Although I was not able to use my much-touted MCI World Com, I was able to direct dial to the States.
Not wanting to awaken friends of relatives, and not altogether sure if the news had even made it to the San Francisco Chronicle or if anybody I knew even gave a shit, I called the main number to The North Face and punched in the extension of a close co-worker. The bot voice still suggested that I could do what I wanted if I knew the right extension. This damn Turkish phone apparently did not generate true tones. I called back, this time to her direct line and left voicemail stating that I was OK and would someone please tell my Mother that I was OK?
Where I was at that moment was nearly cut off from the world. Internet did not work because not only was the power off (they were running the TV off of a small generator), but apparently the Internet was routed through Istanbul which, at that time, had no phones, water or power. Strangely enough, cellular phones worked fine. In Turkey you cannot drink the water but there is fabulous cell coverage everywhere.