Journey to the Middle East – Day 1

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Fifteen Years Later:

Journey to the Middle East

by João Gonçalves

edited by Martha Appelt


In 2003, João Gonçalves and Marcelo Ribeiro set off on a journey to explore the Middle East by land, a journey that couldn’t happen again today. They took very few things with them, including a digital camera and the much used lonely planet – Istanbul to Cairo on a shoestring.

These were days without internet, smart phones or selfie-sticks. Marcelo’s sister created his first email account before the trip and none of them had a mobile phone. Calling home was only possible from telephone booths.

At that time, the Middle East was relatively calm comparing with its turbulent past and present. When I learned about the existence of this diary I couldn’t help but feel it was the only way to have a shred of an idea of what it would be like to cross those lands, to know those people and to breath that air – fifteen years later.

The impossibility of making this trip today is what fuels my desire to share it, in the hope that perhaps one day, the possibility will open up again and new encounters like the ones that happened during this trip will happen again. The punk style of João’s writing is a breath of fresh air and it has let me enter this journey in a relaxed and genuine way. It also gave me a referential point of a generation long gone – the generation that travelled the world before the phenomena that was the surge of the internet. I’m sure the reader will appreciate the honesty too.

I would like to thank João and Marcelo for so generously sharing their adventures with me, me who loves travelling by land but who also delights in the journeys of the imagination.


                                                                                               By Martha Appelt



Day 1

(8th February 2003)

– From Salonika to Istanbul –

We left Salonika on a bus that was pretty alright and only had half a dozen people in it. Too good to be true!

A few hours later I was awaken by an old boy and a massive quantity of different smells (baklava, the Turkish pastries). It was the beginning of a series of holidays in Turkey related with the celebrations of Eid al Adha, and the Turkish residents in Greece were all leaving.


Salonika to Istanbul – 600km


An old man sat next to me gave me cookies and sweets and the old woman sat next to Marcelo was also given some. It was a 14 hour-long journey to Istanbul. We arrived at 4pm and it was all covered in snow.


Me on the left and Marcelo on the right when we arrived in Istanbul – no selfie-sticks, just a long arm


The Turkish flag


The bus station (otogar) had over 170 offices for the different bus companies. We got a place on a mini-bus and waited there until 7pm. It was a battle to find the said mini-bus. A Turkish man became our guide and asked for us where the mini-bus was until we found it. We managed to squeeze in two little holes in the back and were immediately overcharged when we bought the tickets. We paid an extra 5 million each, but we had better stay quiet, because we had no alternative apart from sleeping in Istanbul. So far everyone only speaks Turkish but they all speak to us. Everyone is cool, but a bit cold and distant on the bus…


(read Day 2)