20 - Into the Arabian Night

Southern Ukraine from the air photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-1] A last glimpse of Ukraine. An industrial port on the outskirts of Odesa.

Staff at the Turkish visa kiosks weren't overtly evil or opportunistic. Truth be told, it was a wee bit disturbing: no bulletproof screens; no sliding trays; no gun-wielding greeters or chocolate stealing inspectors. In fact, the kiosks looked a lot like amusement park, ticket wickets.

We sidled up to our corresponding kiosks. I went to one for Westerners. Elena, to one for those from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a.k.a. the CIS: a kinder, gentler, rebranded Soviet Union. I paid my money and received three one-month visa stickers in my passport. Elena bought visa stickers at her kiosk, and ta-DA, we were in Turkiye.

She gazed at the stickers in her passport. "I can't believe this is real. That it isn't going to be taken away."

I gave her my passport. "Better believe it, bonny lass. It's as real as it gets."

"Oye, Meg! You have three stickers."

"And you don't!?"

"Just two!"

So, that was a bit of a blow. Russians only get two months. Big spenders: Westerners like me, get three. Aye, that majorly sucked. Infinitely better for Elena, than a one way trip to a crazy house, I suppose.

Elena Vaytsel leaving the former USSR photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-2] Elena asked Meg to take this photo as they left the airspace of the former USSR.

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There's a wicked metabolic trick the autonomic nervous system plays on migraine sufferers. It initiates an attack, not as the tension builds, but when it eases. Just when you think you're going to make it, maybe be OK, that's when it hits, and it hits hard. It's subconscious payback for getting wound up in the first place. Several auras -- warning signs -- flashed in my visual field. It was a matter of minutes before I'd be doubled over, vomiting in pain with the likes of a headache defying literary description.

I stopped, took a deep breath, released it slowly. Counted to five.


Blink, blink, blink. "Bollocks," the auras were spreading. "I need a dark, quiet place! Lounge, restaurant, open source software convention -- somewhere dark and deserted."

She looked at me funny. Asked in Russian what I was talking about.

"Let's stick with English. Russian is too conspicuous." I blinked hard enough to evoke tears. No dice. The auras kept spreading. My vision was already compromised. My brain was making up missing data from a visual cortex starved of oxygen. It filled in the blanks with shattered stained glass. In minutes, arteries that had gone into spasm would dilate in a crippling overreaction, and I would be left with a headache from hell. Over the years, I've found that meditating to relax the blood vessels in my brain, before they did so on their own, was about all I could do to lessen the oncoming avalanche of pain.

The Istanbul airport was under construction, or I suppose it could have been under siege. At any rate, the part we were in was metastasising. Monster hubs are like that, always being taken apart and put back together. The corridors were a plywood labyrinth mined with construction debris. Workers drilled into concrete. Halogen lamps punched new auras into my visual field. I walked with my eyes closed. Opening them just a crack when Elena yanked my arm or shrieked a warning.

The Black Sea from 10,000 meter photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-3] The Black Sea from 10,000 meters.

"Meg, what is it: star alien sea yeh?"

"A great movie by Ridley Scott." For the life of me, I didn't know what she was on about.

She smacked a crude, plywood sign. The words "Star Alliance Lo" were spray-painted in screaming, atomic orange. The sign had either fallen prey to a reciprocating saw, or there was a special toilet for code-share passengers. Either way, it was good enough for me.

Mercifully, our onward flight wasn't for hours. All I knew, was that it was to some place as far away from Russia as we could get by commercial air carrier. A place on a map with a three-letter airport designation. A town called, Dalaman. I peeled off my tall boots and lay down on a rather utilitarian divan. With gloves over my eyes, I imagined we were drifting, like clouds, south, into the gentle, Arabian night.

freighter tracking toward the Bosporus Strait photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-4] On descent into Istanbul, a freighter tracks toward the Bosporus Strait.

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Bloody typical! Both of us had fallen asleep in the lounge. Sprinting for our gate, I heard the "final call" for our flight. Then, "Paging Dalaman passengers--" Blimey! The bampot on the public address broadcast our names for all to hear and know where we were scarpering to. Might as well have taken out a full page advert in the We're-Gonna-Nick-You Times. The boarding agents waved us down the flyway, and we barrelled onto a waiting Boeing 737. Business-class was empty. I flopped into the first seat I came to.

Elena looked past the heavy drapes demarcating business class. She scanned the economy section for familiar faces. I hadn't asked her to. Come to think of it, I hadn't even thought of it. I was thinking more about the throbbing ball of molten lava in my brain. Still, I had tears in my eyes. Maybe, it was a reaction to the migraine.

She sat down in the seat beside me, placed her hand on mine and asked, "How is your headache?"

I smiled and closed my eyes.

On final at Istanbul's Ataturk International airport photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-5] On final at Istanbul's Ataturk International airport, Elena snapped this photo as her last look at the Black Sea.

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The Dalaman terminal, like the one in Istanbul, was undergoing some kind of post-apocalyptic renovation. It was cavernous, dark and desolate. The night poured in through huge openings in the glass walls. A clammy breeze smelling of flowers wafted through the place. Other than a couple of baggage handlers in yellow coveralls, our fellow passengers were the only other people there.

Bleary-eyed, they gathered around a single baggage carousel. Some, including the pilots and flight attendants, simply vanished into the warm, black-velvet night through open wall panels. It was like Second Life but with way better graphics. Compared to the chaotic immensity of Istanbul, it was astonishingly quiet. Eerie. Sounds were swallowed by something vast. It could have been the night itself.

The baggage arrived. The passengers left. We held back, coming to grips with where we were and what to do next. A trance state: asleep on our feet, eyes wide open, too tired to blink. We were the only people left in the terminal. Beyond wide-open, glass doors was a passenger pickup and drop-off area. It was badly lit and barren. No shuttle vans. No coaches. No taxis. No cars. Not even a carnaptious camel and smarmy handler. Nobody at all. I wandered back into the terminal. "Hello? Aloha, anybody here?"

That's when I saw the old-fashioned, yellow telephone attached to a pillar. It was missing the dial and numbers. The sort of telephone you might have seen in the old days, labelled TAXI, and positioned near the exit. This telephone, however, wasn't labelled, or if it had been, its signage had long ago succumbed to slob-tourist, souvenir hunters. I lifted the receiver and waited. About to hang up, I heard a tiny voice rasping from the earpiece.

Elena Vaytsel in ambient light actually smiling photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-6] On final approach into Dalaman, a much-happier Elena.

"Hello. English?" I asked.

"Yes please, speak English. You want taxi?"

A modern people mover the colour of the telephone pulled up. A tall, dark, older man, whose voice I recognised, got out and opened the side door for us. According to him, there was no way a couple of hip, fun-seeking jet-setters would hang around Dalaman. He implored us to heed his sage advice, "Do not waste your precious holiday in this dull town."

"Is there a seaside with hotels near here?" I asked. "Maybe some place with bedsits?"

"Ah, the Turkish Riviera, such beauty, such luxury, but not so close to here." He pulled out a map and showed us the various places we could end up. We settled on the closest viable port, a place called Marmaris. Among the many virtues of this mythical, seaside paradise was that it hosted cruise ships and ferries to Greece. Our driver was deliriously happy with the distance, and frankly, so was I. Using cash to get that far away from the airport, meant our electronic trail went dark in Dalaman.

We each claimed a bench seat of our own and bedded down for the drive. I awoke off and on during the night. The dry, tortured, mountain landscape sliding by my window was mesmerising. I longed to see it during the day or even right then, but exhaustion had me down for the count. The next time I opened my eyes, we were pulling up at an apartment-hotel in Marmaris, and the sky was just beginning to lighten.

scrub covered hills of Marmaris, Turkiye photo elenameg.com

[Image 20-7] The scrub covered hills of Marmaris.

[[ updated Apr 23, 23:39 GMT ]]