Sunday, August 23, 2009

When is a Safari not a Safari?

This blog entry recounts an experience I had in Turkey earlier this year, I’ve written it in a story-telling style, and it recounts an actual example of where the tourism and entertainment industries collide. I began writing this some months ago, but my computer crashed, and I lost most of it. However, having just stumbled across a rescued text document, I have found much of it in-tact, so have now completed it, albeit a little late in the day…so here goes…

When is a safari not a safari? According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, a safari is ‘a journey; a cross-country expedition, often lasting days or weeks, orig. in E. Africa and on foot, especially for hunting; now often with motorized vehicles, for tourism, adventure, or scientific investigation’, OK so I wasn’t in Eastern Africa, I was in Turkey, but when I booked on a jeep safari, I was expecting something that was slightly reminiscent of the dictionary definition of what a safari wrong I would be…

I’d arrived with my family in Icmeler, Turkey on the 11th April, we’d gone away for an Easter break, but unbeknown to us, the season didn’t start proper for two weeks, so the majority of pubs, bars, restaurants and facilities were either closed or being rebuilt / renovated. A stroll through the deserted town, did however reveal a number of tour bookers on street front stands who were keen to swoop on the very few tourists that were about, in order to try and sell a variety of tours and excursions. One of them obviously saw me coming, ‘hello sir, would you be interested in going on a jeep safari’…well this would be a first for me, as I’d neither been in a jeep or on a safari, so against a backdrop of closed entertainment facilities and deserted streets it certainly sounded interesting. The seller went on to tell me all about the wonderful inland sights that would be seen including waterfalls and traditional rural communities, ‘are there plants and animals?’ I asked hopefully, ‘oh yes of course, said the seller, many plants and animals, you will see many’, so with that enjoyable naturtainment experience in mind, the booking was made.

The day of the safari came, and we met the jeep at the booking office where we were the first on board, I should have had my suspicions aroused when the driver commented on my very expensive HD Digital Camcorder all £1,000 worth of it, and said ‘make sure you keep that safely covered’….’er no, this is a safari, and on a safari I want to film the scenery, why on earth would I keep it safely covered’? I quietly thought to myself. After setting off for a minute we collected the next ‘family’ who occupied the seats in front of us. Again my suspicions should have been aroused when upon sitting on that seat, water began to dribble out of the back of it, narrowly missing my feet. The jeeps were uncovered and it was entirely feasible that they’d been left out overnight and got rained upon. Yes that was it, that’s exactly what happened, nothing sinister at all going on here. Then we met our tour guides…and when I say tour guides I use that particular term VERY loosely, you see these weren’t your run of the mill fonts of ‘safari knowledge’ who command your respect for the vast array of facts and figures they know about local flora and fauna, or their identification with local cultural traditions and norms, this was a man with frizzy hair wearing womens underwear and carrying a camcorder in a watertight case (eeeeek), and his half-dressed cigarette smoking compadres, I didn’t get their names so I’ll refer to them as ‘Frizzy’ and ‘Ciggy’. ‘HELLO’ ‘Frizzy shouted as he climbed into the jeep over the bonnet (the doors did work), ‘your driver is a puff’ shouted Ciggy. Why did that knot in my stomach tell me that things were going to go from very confused to very bad, very quickly?

We proceeded out of Icmeler up the winding mountain roads, the views were stunning and I have to say that I was bitterly disappointed that the jeep safari drove past a viewing point that offered picture perfect postcard views of Icmeler. I secretly hoped that this was because we were going to an even better viewing point further up the mountain. I was wrong, we ended up in the middle of nowhere at some sort of taverna where the innkeeper laid out pots of honey before us, encouraging us to taste them, including one which he described as natural Viagra! There followed the inevitable sales pitch…yawn, I took my camcorder and went to film the rugged mountain scenery and a donkey that was precariously balanced on a steep roadside verge where the grass was certainly greener.

After leaving the horny honey man we proceeded further inland. Frizzy and Ciggy shouted the odd lewd remark before Frizzy took off and ran across several gardens in the style of a Looney Tunes character, he did look quite funny, but this was certainly NOT responsible tourism practice, and whilst I smiled at his antics, I couldnít help but feel a pang of remorse towards the tennant whose garden Frizzy had just run across partuicularly if this is a daily occurrence.

We then seemed to go around a roundabout all the way around, I then noticed the other jeep doing the same but in the wrong direction…..but why? My worse fears were confirmed when ice cold water was suddenly thrown over our jeep, some of it got me, thankfully my Canon HG10 camcorder escaped mostly unscathed. Unfortunately the ears of my fellow passengers didn’t, as in shock at the unexpected downpour (and in defence of my expensive digital camcorder) I turned the air blue.

The jeep screeched to a halt, and the driver of the other jeep (who threw the water) came running over to find out what was wrong. After I explained that micro electronics and water were not a good combo, he replied ‘but what did you expect? This is a jeep safari’. ‘Yes’ I said ‘a safari, a journey upon which I get to observe the local flora and fauna’, he looked at me bemused ‘what kind of safari is that?’, ‘the normal type’ I responded. My fellow passengers began to mumble until one of them asked ‘did you not know about this type of jeep safari’, ‘No’ I responded before telling them about how this particular product had been mis-sold to me.

So here I was somewhere on the Dalaman peninsula, but inland and miles from civilization. I thought I was going to be participating in a rich edutainment journey, but instead, was an involutary participative audience member on a godforsaken mis-sold journey of watery banality. I guess the more academic you get, the more stupid you also become, taking things on face value, rather than reading between the lines. Mental note for next time Stuart – READ BETWEEN THE LINES. At this point my beloved camcorder was put inside a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel, buried deep in my rucksack – and placed under my seat. I was here now, I couldn’t escape from it, and despite my Mark Corrigan-esque exterior, I thought that I might as well enjoy it as much as I could – let the merriments begin then….

We headed next to a ford (the type where a river crosees a road, not the automotive type), and proceeded to drive throught it at more than the recommended speed limit, well if I was a bit wet before, I was a lot wet now, and it was kind of fun, and certainly thrilling, (after getting over the mental adjustment of what the day was about). From there we went to the lovely but very cold Selale waterfalls, where we explored, viewed and sampled the babbling and very fresh torrent, before moving onwards for lunch, and then onto a Turkish rug manufacturer, where the art of rug making was explained, bringing elements of both edutainment and culturtainment to the day, as beautifully ornate Turkish rugs were flung before us. Then the sales pitch began, adding a little sellertainment into the mix, although there was little pressure to buy from the demonstrator.

We left the rug manufacturer and headed back towards the coast at Orhaniye Bay, Turgutkoy, where fresh water from an inland lake meets the sea, but is mostly separated by a long pebble spit. This enabled people to walk out to sea to a distance of about a third of a mile, yet only be in knee-deep water. This was quite an entertaining spectacle to behold, due to its novelty value.

After a while we headed off for more watery shenanigans, including driving at break-neck speed through rivers and then driving along river beds, again this was not responsible tourism practice, but it was definitely thrillertainment. Then the jeep broke down – in the middle of a river. I wasn’t too worried as I’ve seen every episode of ‘Bear Grylls – Born Survivor’ so was confident I would be able to find something to eat – even if it did taste like ‘a sticky bogey’. However, Ciggy and Frizzy were talented individuals, and after tinkering under the bonnet we were off again.

As we headed along a nice flat, tarmacced main road towards Marmaris I felt quite smug that I was probably one of the drier people on the jeep, ‘suckers’ I thought at all those poor sodden fools who opted to sit near the driver in the false belief that they would remain drier – he was drenched too. However, my near-dry delight soon turned to fear and then utmost panic as we headed towards a suspened hose pipe that was about to drench us all. This wasn’t any old hosepipe though, this was the anaconda of hosepipes, a great big HUGE hosepipe of biblical proportions, the type that God might use to water Africa every now and again, pumping out a gazillion gallons per second of icey cold water from a hole about a foot in diameter, this wasn’t even a spray, it was a blob of water, like that film the blob, only blobbier, colder, wetter and face slappingly stingier as it emptied down on to us. I’ve never had what I consider to be a near-death experience before, but in the nano-seconds that passed before that freezing cold oceanic blob of water hit, I remembered my first day at school / sitting in a poppy field in Darfield as a toddler / eating chesse sandwiches with my Dad / stabilizers on my bike / my first kiss / my first Music festival (Reading 92) / bacpacking in Australia / living in London / Great Yarmouth / meeting Linda…..then BLLLLEEEEEUUUUUUURRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH cold was not the word to describe how that icey torrent felt as it penetrated deep to the bone, raising my heart rate to about 200 and causing breathing to become so fast that I thought hypoxia might set in, as well as of course, hypothermia. I wasn’t smug anymore, I was wet, as wet as everyone else, and possibly with a cherry on top.

Ciggy and Frizzy were delighted and filmed the whole thing as they howled with laughter, they had been filming all day long, and I will take my hat off to how hard they worked. As I sat in the jeep, shivering as the wind howled and dried us at 50 miles per hour on the way back to Icmeler, I reflected upon the day. I didn’t get what I had been sold or expected, and had I known what they day was actually about I wouldn’t have gone on it, BUT to the right customer (and in Summer NOT April) the experience of a Turkish jeep safari would be great fun, and definitely constitute being Thrillertainment.

Upon arrival at Icmeler, the reason for Ciggy and Frizzy filming all day became apparent, they were offering to sell DVDs of the day, which they would deliver to your hotel within 24 hours. I didn’t purchase as I wasn’t that bothered, but this was an excellent example of entrepreneurial activity, and one business venture, supporting another.

The day had been predominantly a thrillertainment experience, but there was also some culturtainment, edutainment, sellertainment, and of course variety, in the form of Ciggy and Frizzy’s comedic costumed antics. If you are into thrills, don’t mind getting wet, can put up with lewd behaviour and language, the Jeep Safari is definitely for you. But if you want to learn about flora and fauna, read a book – or go to Africa!

Some views of the ‘dry’ parts of the day can be found in the video below.

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