Turkey- August 1999
Fly to Turkey
We added up all the flights we were scheduled to take on our trip. It was fourteen. We began in Kansas City and flew to St. Louis. Here we met a handful of the other 'chasers'. We found Tony & Judy from our hometown who'd caught a different flight. And, of course there was Cara who we bumped into by fluke in our own airport. Ninety or so Americans were on our tour and we already knew about twenty five or so. All the non-eclipse passengers waiting in the cold plastic chairs around us were getting rather annoyed at our party-like behavior and socialization. One woman was downright rude over her inability to see the television through our crowd of friends. Naturally, if she hadn't stolen my seat then we wouldn't have had this problem in the first place. But soon enough we were off to New York.
I had never flown into JFK, so I found this a very interesting experience with all the languages, cultures and styles everywhere. I saw more sarongs in one hour there than I'd seen to date in my lifetime. At least we had the security of the group of friends among us to find our connections together. "Why didn't you check your bags all the way?!" Asked Tony as we dragged our three cases off the conveyors. "We always put the bags on the last airplane going out of the country ourselves." said Vic. "They lost my luggage too many times going to Bolivia. This way I know I'll have my equipment." Six blank faces stared back at us as the terminal bus wagged us side to side down the road. "No chances." I repeated. Tony was not looking very happy about the size of our cases. He had volunteered to help us escort extra equipment to and from Turkey. Not only do they travel light, but they travel very light. We could see the concern build in the couples' faces as they glared down at the cases that seemed to grow in bulk for the duration our ride.
We had plenty of time to spare once we reached our terminal. A friendly badged travel agent greeted our group at the ticketing line. He was our agent's father and was well versed in small-talk silliness. I chuckled as the inexperienced traveler ahead of me in line tried to carry on a shopping cart sized amount of bundles. I covered my mouth to hide my laughter watching the clerk repeat her explanations to him four or five times about their restrictions. I suppose in dire circumstances, one could hold quite a large package on their lap for a flight. I had even heard of one team member bringing his sixty pound telescope along as carryon. But this was an eight hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. The packages were checked. Naturally, we were welcome sights with our bags in order at the counter when we arrived.
The group was now really coming together. We'd spotted Fred and Pat and were told that others were upstairs in the restaurant. This grouping assembled with growing tables in the bar was a very elite group of individuals. Bob and Wendy, Chris and Kenny, Fred and Pat, Mike, Sarah, and now us. It's more of a clique of eclipse chaser friends of our late friend and leader, Ken Willcox. We heard fun little pokes and jabs exchanged between the veterans. "How much food do you think Ken packed this time?" asked Fred. Apparently Ken Burtin came prepared for the trip to India and dragged an entire case of nothing but junk food. We compared our water purification bottle with the Bob Shambura's. He didn't approve of our model and said that his pump version was the only one to remove every contagion. "You should have seen us on the Inca Trail. The guide was about 200 feet ahead up the hill and I was dying." He glanced at Wendy to see if she remembered the incident. "But here was this ice cold stream right beside me. I had to try it. I did the little pump thing, and I gotta tell you that in my life, water has never tasted so good."
It would have been pleasant enough to merely sit at that table, mingle with good friends and chat all day; but we had a plane to catch. So, we left our companions and headed on toward our gate. I could spot it almost fifty feet away. Glimpses of faces from pictures and years past wandered in and around strangers near the point. We unslung our packs and had a seat in front of old friend Bill, who we met in Bolivia. Not very often can I remember being in the company of so many friends from so far away. It's usually only for weddings and funerals; never for such an exciting adventure such as this. We were introduced to new guests and laughed together with the old. The group pictures had started already. Mike Barret was toting his three inch refractor with him. I saw him take it into the men's room and wondered where he would set it down to keep it still secure. "Where's Dr. Littman?" I heard more than once. There were some team members missing. "What about Ken Burtin?" "He's flying in on Delta. Gary changed carriers from Delta to Lufthansa and Ken had already booked with frequent flyer miles." We were as excited as reuniting young students back from summer vacation and boarded with so much excitement I don't even remember sitting down.
Bob Shambora won the award for the first eclipse souvenir of the journey. He waived the Newsweek over his head on the plane, silently taunting us. Before long, I noticed that the sweet young oriental girl to my left was reading only the German magazines. Call me naive, but seeing the German language written is awkward and interesting enough, much less spilled in four inch type across a Mountain Dew ad. I wasn't distracted long. Just before takeoff we found that our emergency junior mint rations in Vic's fanny pack had all melted, leaking minty chocolate goo all over our most important possessions and paperwork. Poor Vic waved his twisted sticky fingers around in dispair looking for help. The plane had started it's taxi and the bathroom was not an option. "Lick 'em off." I mumbled, sucking the corner of his passport. This miniature choreography of emptying, cleaning and sorting all the sticky belongings from the bag made for our most complicated liftoff ever. Where do you put an exploded box of gooey chocolate candy in an airplane seat? When we ran out of napkins and towlettes, the young lady to the left passed hers quietly over with a smile. Later, I asked where she was from. She answered "Munich". Naturally, the stewardess had a very hard time understanding her oriental accent stretched across two of us to hear her drink preference. We knew the flight attendant's first language was German and I knew the girl's was the same. It took nearly five hours for the two to put it together. I must also comment on this airline's smart arrangements on food. Tidy, square prepackaged assortments of very good food were the standard. Plus the lid to the sandwich box could be torn off and mailed as a postcard! How handy.
By now the sun was coming up on our second morning of travel. I was not very happy to see the dingy gray clouds over Frankfurt. It's not a good sign to see such thick cloud banks parked over a region when you're awaiting eclipse day. Even if we were to go south to Turkey, many other friends had chosen Europe to see the last eclipse of the Millennium. Cold and gray. Certainly not the entire country was as dreary as I found the airport that day. After the 8 hour flight, our team of bright, excited enthusiasts were plodding wearily toward our next connection. It was so early that even the duty-free shops still had metal bars over the entrances. The money had changed. I glanced into the shop windows at all the impeccably crafted clothing. I thought how nice this dress would look on my daughter; until I saw the price tag with a figure in the 300's. No one knew the exchange rate off the top of their head and I staggered away in sticker shock. The gate was found. It was found to be closed. So, we dropped anchor and all collapsed on the floor. Like waiting in line for a concert, we each claimed our territory. Torn between closing ones eyes and losing personal safety versus possession of the first flat place to stretch out in over 24 hours, we each took turns huddling and watching.
Bob tried in dispair to sneak a call out to his office. There is always a trade Bob has to complete on his journeys. I personally think it was the purchase of more wine for his collection. Parched, Vic and I found a drink stand open and tried to buy a cup of something carbonated. "Four dollars?!" Ok, so it was airport food with a nasty exchange rate. We wandered to the postcard decks and grazed the universal reading material for a few minutes. I always try to find a tacky postcard for my friend back at the office. As ugly and tasteless as possible is the rule. "This is almost as good as getting our passports stamped here." I mentioned and Vic agreed. It wasn't worth the customs hassle. We justified the decision of not going through the trouble with imaginary visa costs. Then he spotted a sign with postcard prices. It had the Duetchmark cost and the dollar cost. Either we were very bad at math or each of these shops were using different exchange rates. We bought some up and wandered back home toward our spot counting on our fingers. We grazed the duty free shop which posted several currency exchange rates. These only did to confuse us more. Now I see why they started the Euro-Dollar. At least then, you know where to start calculating. "We'll ask Bob. He knows money." It was a mute point anyway, since we weren't about to buy anything else we needed to lug along for the next two weeks away. "No more chocolate!" Vic frowned my way, and I shook my head adimately in agreement.
The procession moved us into the holding tank, then the airplane for our final flight to Istanbul, Turkey. We were seated next to a quiet, well mannered gentleman of middle eastern complexion. As if he knew no English, he was quiet the whole ride until we started to descend over Romania and Hungary. Eventually, he began pointing out landmarks on the countryside. "Black sea?" asked Vic. "No," he said "This is the sea of Marmara and over there is the Black Sea. Bosphorus connects them." "Sea of what?" I whispered in Vic's ear. Turns out that Akim was a ship captain. He'd been to the US several times and we'd likely been in the same towns at the same times as he had. He was very concerned with the state of tourism in Turkey over the recent press revival of an old conflict that wasn't even a public issue anymore. We never learned what a Turkish ship captain was doing flying home from landlocked Germany. It was, however, fun to try converting temperatures into Celsius to compare weather with him.
So after about a day and a half of being pressed into size AA seats, sleeping with our heads cracked sideways and completely scrambling our number systems for time zones, currency and temperature we touched down in Turkey.
~ ©1999 Jennifer Dudley Winter