Elddis had given us a brand-new Encore 250 – an improved and updated version of the motorhome we had toured around Europe back in 2016. (I will be doing a full review of the van later with all the details).
Our plan was to head for Turkey, then tour around for 2 months move into Georgia and on to Azerbaijan, returning through Armenia, taking another 2 months or so to do this, and then head back to France for Karen’s brothers birthday at the end of August. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, after a relatively simple journey through France, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece we made it here to Turkey on the 7th of March. Though we knew that the Coronavirus was an issue in Italy, and Greece had a few cases, we thought we had dodged a bullet as there were no cases in Turkey, compared to Italy 5,883, Greece 66, UK 209.
We spent the following week drifting down to Antalya, where we had arranged to meet some friends and play golf on the 15th March. Then suddenly the world changed. Chatting to our friends at the Gatwick as they were boarding the plane, EasyJet said that they were no longer taking UK citizens to Turkey. We were now on our own. The Hotel and golf were paid for, so we stayed the week along with a small group of other guests. In that week Turkey started going into lockdown. Bars and shops closed on the 17th and hotels had to close by the 22nd March.
Now we needed somewhere to stay and be safe - and fast. Luckily, nearby there is a campsite called Sundance and it was still open. Friends of ours had arrived and booked us in. On the 21st March we arrived at what has become our home for the past 6 weeks and for the foreseeable future. By the Monday the borders had closed, and you needed a permit to drive around Turkey. Suddenly we were stranded. On this date Turkey had 947 cases, but still we felt not much to worry about. Today, as I write this, the latest published total is 124,375. So, in six weeks a transformed world for all of us.
We, through the magic of the internet, are in touch with our families and friends back home and understand for them - and you our readers - lockdown is harsh, and for you reading our blogs over the past weeks it will seem like we are having a great time.
So, what is it like? Lockdown in Turkey? How do we social distance? What do we do all day? Is it just one great holiday in the sun?
What is it really like stranded in Turkey? To get straight to the point, I think not too different to you guys, but with a big household. When we arrived, there were only 6 of us: 2 Irish, 2 English, 1 French and 1 US. We knew the other English and Irish couple, as we had met on our 2016 trip and with the closing of Turkey, we agreed to stick this out together, and made friends with the other.
Sundance is a rustic place, set in a forest by the sea. Idyllic does come to mind, being honest, and there are approx. 12 locals living and working on the site. We were moved to the other end of the camp and had to stay away from the staff. After two weeks, we were a family and had been on site with no symptoms. We shared three toilets and three showers. We had divided them up into one per couple. So, we felt we had it nailed and we could move and continue with our adventures soon.
Then Turkey increased the severity of their lockdown. Children must say at home 24 hours a day and there were to be curfews. Suddenly 6 more vans showed up and the site allowed them to stay. Suddenly our social distancing was gone and we were nervous and slightly afraid. We had been joined by 11 Germans, including 3 children, plus two Austrians and two Belgians. It took us a day or so to come to terms with it and, realising that they were desperate as we were for somewhere safe to stay as we were, for the most part were wild camping with little interaction with others so the odds were very good they were not a danger to us or to anyone else. We followed the best process of social distancing we could and got on with it. Now, 4 weeks later, the site is a single household again! Like you, we are in lockdown. Not quite as restrictive as what we see happening in the UK and Ireland. So, what is it like?
Shopping is a weekly pastime and to get fresh food you must go to the market in the local town. This meant Saturday shopping. Suddenly, with just two hours’ notice, the Turkish government announced a 2-day curfew over the weekend. Not much food for us that weekend! But on the Monday we were able to drive to the next town 20km away and their market is much bigger. There you must wear face masks, which are provided free, and have your temperature taken before you enter. Social distancing is difficult and is your responsibility. The food available though is fresh and plentiful. The fish has been wonderful. For meat we go to the butchers and again, it’s good quality, especially lamb … but what I would give for a bacon sandwich or a pork chop! There are supermarkets but they are small and do not have a large selection. They do sell booze, thank God, but it is highly taxed here in Turkey. All in all, the food situation is very good and there have been no shortages of loo roll!
Sundance camp is approx. 10 acres and next door to it is a beach and a forest of about 200 acres - so plenty of room for us all. We are not allowed on the beach or in the forest on the curfew days, which are essentially any holiday days and the weekends. So far we have had one 4-day curfew and this weekend is a 3-day curfew. The local village has moved their market day to Tuesday, so we can cycle to it easily to top up.
We are now a very extended family and have barbeques and arrange joint activities. These include: Putting Boules (using a putter to see who can get golf balls closest to a stone), Boules, Hoop the Wine Bottle, Pilates, Ballet classes, Yoga, Cards (lots of variations), Table Tennis and so on. Sammy has even organised a table tennis tournament
Some of us, myself included, have taken up running, and, with the encouragement of others can now run 5km with a PB of 34 minutes. I’m over 6 kilos lighter than when we departed the UK!
Another activity available to us is working on the site farm, which only one or two of us have taken to. I find it quite therapeutic.
The pace is slow and for many of us the wildlife and the change of season has been enthralling to witness. Wildflowers and swarms of bees are mesmerising. Seeing tortoises, dolphins, all sorts of birds, not to mention the snakes is all new. Being on a farm with lots of chickens and being woken at 5.30am by the cock crowing is new, too. Believe it or not, after 6 weeks you can sleep through it!
There are the 6 camp dogs, plus 5 dogs owned by the other campers. Our fellow campers Hubert and Bianca have just adopted this local nutter, who is now called ‘Amour’.
Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I saw a full swarm of bees arrive. 1000s of these creatures arrived all at once and set up home in one of the trees. The noise was amazing.
As you can see, life here is different to being back home but in many ways the same, as we can’t leave and we are 3600 Km away from friends and family.
Looking at some Facebook motorhome groups I see people being criticised for still being abroad. I find this harsh, as though many people do travel for short periods, some of us go for longer - on this adventure we were looking at a year. Our home in London is rented out and so even if we were to return, we would still need to live in our motorhome. Also, to get back to Britain would require us to cross many land borders with lots of restrictions and quarantining as we move. This not practical and as some Embassies don’t understand that some people didn’t fly here, getting information on how to cross back into, let us say, Greece, and what would be required to do so is still unavailable to us. We watch the news and follow what is happening in each country and as each one loosens it restrictions, we plan our next move. We hope that we can go to Greece and stay there for a while and, slowly as this terrible pandemic eases, head back home.
We are so grateful to many people for being so supportive and want to give shout outs to them for their helpfulness and support.
Elddis: Yes, you know we would say that, but they have been incredibly supportive and not panicking that their van is stuck in Turkey. But also, for building it so well. When we travel, we would usually eat out a lot but having an oven, grill and large fridge really works when you are stationary. Plus, the quality of the build is exemplary.
A van with an Oven means today Roast Potatoes tomorrow fresh bread
Big Cat Travel Insurance: Some of the people we are travelling with have had their policies cancelled as the FCO advice is not to travel anywhere. When we contacted Big Cat, Christopher came back virtually instantly to confirm the policy would still cover us and as we had bought it and left before the virus struck, we were covered for it as well. So top marks to them as well.
Vodafone: Now we are stranded in Turkey, to have the means to speak with your family and friends is vital. Our tariff includes voice and data here in Turkey, but after an amount of time Vodafone could cut us off. Upon contacting them they assured us that they would not cut us off and they would also give us unlimited data to ensure we could keep in touch with home.
Sundance Campsite: These guys have taken in a host of lost motorhome people and given them a home, without question, at a fair price. The location is, as I have said before, idyllic - beach, forest – wild, but well serviced. When we can make the journey as originally planned, we will be back and if visiting Turkey this is a lovely spot.
The Irish Embassy in Turkey: When we were most under pressure to find answers on what we could and should do these guys were great. They have kept us informed and will call you back to make sure that you are OK. Plus, if you ask a question you will get a clear answer. Thanks guys!
The people of Turkey: While stranded here many, many people have walked up to us, given us their phone numbers and said ‘If you have any problems call, I will help’. Local people here have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and feel protected. Thank you all.
To those who Phone, WhatsApp, text, and email us For the happy messages and sad, keeping us in the loop sharing your stories and making us laugh. Thanks, keep them coming. Love you all and miss you.