Tag Archives: Turkey

Vegan Meals: Part II

Having done half of our journey, it is time to reflect on the vegan meals since our last blog post about food specifically.

Crossing into Muslim countries we were slightly unlucky in our timing, because we hit Ramadan dead centre. For those of you who don’t know, Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, and this entails no food or drink when the sun is up. This means that from sunrise to sunset it was virtually impossible to find open restaurants or cafes, and when we did find open ones, there would be nobody in them at all. Some cafes would have men sitting under the shade, talking, reading the newspaper, but nobody would be getting anything off the menu. Of course as travelers we stuck out among the locals in any place we went to, and therefore were not entirely expected to follow the fast, but you can imagine it is very uncomfortable to be eating in front of people who haven’t had anything in their mouth since sunrise.

The amazing thing about Turkey was all the fresh produce we could find on every road, being sold in fruit stands, supermarkets, small shops, and so on. The tomatoes had real taste and texture, the peppers were fragrant, the garlic enormous. We cooked most of our meals in the car, and I am glad we did, because it is rare to find such amazing fresh food in the UK so cheaply.

In Istanbul we tried our first falafel – and were greatly disappointed. It was just a usual fast food stand, they have billions of them in Turkey, mostly serving meat. The falafel was yellow on the inside instead of the usual green, it was soggy and fell apart easily, and the wrap had sad looking lettuce in it, and for some reason they put french fries in the mix? What a disappointment! The saving allure of Turkey was the coffee, which is my favorite type of coffee, brewed in a special little pot, sometimes with sugar and spices.

Next on the list of countries is Egypt, although something to be said about food in the Iskenderun-Port Said ferry: it was awful. The first day we were excited about food, because they served amazing bread, big tomatoes and olives – what more can a vegan want! But as the days wore on, the meals became more meaty and creamy and smellier, and the seasickness didn’t help either. We resorted to making tomato soup from a packet we still had in Troopy, basically a life saver.

Port Said Asian restaurant with horrible horrible curry... worst curry ever.
Port Said Asian restaurant with horrible horrible curry… worst curry ever.

Egypt for the most part was also a blur of self-catered meals or random snacks. The time spent in Port Said we either ate figs, grapes, packet soup or noodles, or went to the only restaurant serving beer during Ramadan, and the first time I ordered a “curry”, I got a mostly disgusting dish of curry powder and cornflour sauce with barely any vegetables floating in it. The second time I got a salad, which was a thousand times nicer. The third night out in Port Said we went to an Italian style restaurant and had a vegetarian pizza with no cheese, it was quite nice!

Port Said survival fruits
Port Said survival fruits

The rest of Egypt was a hit or miss. In Cairo we visited an amazing Lebanese restaurant Taboula, possibly one of our favorite restaurants so far on this trip. They had very fresh salads, and tiny pickled aubergines, very tasty hummus, and the other similar Middle-Eastern vegan delights. Shame we didn’t manage to walk there for the second time, because apparently their wines were nice as well. I think the only time we tried “real” Egyptian food was in Luxor, when I ordered a strange pot full of veggies, tomato-pepper sauce and overall it reminded me of ratatouille. In Aswan we mostly resorted to falafel and other sandwich-based meals. The falafel was amazing though! It was prepared by a brooding old man, who charged us pennies for our falafel pockets, and added grilled veggies inside the pita, and always asked if we liked it or not. Delightful! The other food was less impressive, from a different food stand, nevertheless it was sustenance during my giardia-ridden days, when any food looked like the enemy to me.

Kitty in Luxor restaurant played up the innocent side and got food out of it.
Kitty in Luxor restaurant played up the innocent side and got food out of it.

Enter Sudan, and we entered the land of the endless “ful” – fava beans cooked in water. Staying in Wadi Halfa for a week, with barely any variety of food to eat, vegan or not, we thought we might actually go off food altogether and start “juicing”. If you are into the juice fad, Sudan is the perfect place to go – orange, mango, guava juice stands on every corner, even in the desert town of Wadi Halfa. If you don’t want sugar in your juice, tea, coffee, any beverage at all, you might find it very hard to convince the person preparing your beverage that you really don’t want it sweet. They put so much sugar in everything – even the local brand of coke tastes mostly of sugar rather than syrup or any other flavor. But back to “ful”.

There are many varieties of ful, and many versions of how to prepare it. For some reason, every time we got ful, it was fava beans cooked in plain water, probably for a whole day, with no other spices or flavoring, and then when it was served in a bowl, about half a bottle of vegetable oil was dumped on in. You get pita bread to go with it. Sound like a tasty meal to you? We had it every day, although we got more sneaky and started adding fresh vegetables and salt. The only other thing we could have in Wadi Halfa was the falafel – the first day it was served with a nice salad in the pita, but every day after that it was just dry falafel in stale pita bread – sometimes with a “chili” sauce that just made everything mushy.

Best ful we ever had, consisting of mostly ingredients that we bought extra to go with the ful... it looks innocent here
Best ful we ever had, consisting of mostly ingredients that we bought extra to go with the ful… it looks innocent here

Moving onto Ethiopia. If you have never tried injera, you are seriously missing out. It is a traditional flat bread-pancake sort of thing, and you can have it with many different things. The point is to dump your sauce or veggies (or meat) onto the injera and tear off pieces of the bread to pick up the sauce with. The good thing about Ethiopia is that as an Orthodox Christian majority country, they have a lot of fasting days. The longest fast is before Easter, and then every Wednesday and Friday are also fasting days for most of the year. On fasting days you are not allowed to eat animal products, although in some places they still serve fish and honey as those are not understood as “animal” per se. Which is why you can walk into most Ethiopian restaurants and ask for “fasting” food, and you will have no problem as a vegan. The bad side of this whole thing is that Ethiopian tradition is bathed in meat and animal raising for killing. You don’t have to go far outside your hotel just to see it, and after every fast there is a big meal with many slaughtered animals.

Live sheep being transported to be sold in markets or (and) slaughtered. We saw a lot of these in Ethiopia
Live sheep being transported to be sold in markets or (and) slaughtered. We saw a lot of these in Ethiopia

We tried a few traditional “vegan” meals, and loved all of them. Tegabino and shiro are initially made from the same ingredients, but prepared slightly differently, and they consist of pea (or chickpea) flour with a mix of special spices, prepared with onions and other similar vegetables. Fasting fir-fir is a bowl of already torn injera pieces soaked in a similar red-orange sauce, a lot of people have it for breakfast. Then there is beyaynetu – a selection of different stews and sometimes unconventional items, like pasta, served on top of the injera. Possibly meant for one person, it is easier to share with someone, because you get a lot of food, and a great variety as well! Our favorite was at the Seven Olives Hotel in Lalibela. 

If you want to know more about vegan dining in Ethiopia, definitely check out Mesfin’s blog post about it, he knows better than us!

Mesfin with us! Vegan Ethiopia!
Mesfin with us! Vegan Ethiopia!

Overall, we are strong and have maintained our veganism. Some countries have been a lot harder than others, but the good thing is you can always find fresh fruits and vegetables in markets, and you can always find canned beans and pot noodles. The general idea in the Middle East is that you eat salads, hummus, falafel, and similar dishes.

Lebanese restaurant in Cairo Taboula, vegan meal
Lebanese restaurant in Cairo Taboula, vegan meal

A lot of countries we visited since Europe rely on beans, chickpeas, tomatoes and a variety of different breads. We are looking forward to discovering vegan options in the next countries, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and others further down south. Keep reading and hopefully you will get inspired to go vegan too!

A Tale of Two Cities

“Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is often understood to be about alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man’s attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.” Wikipedia’s description of Kafka’s novel might as well be describing our last few days.

Iskenderun to Port Said. Turkey to Egypt. One ferry, 40 truckers, 4 travellers with 4 passports and 2 vehicles, one purpose: get into Egypt.

We drove to Iskenderun after having called the shipping company, UN Ro-Ro, who said the ferry will sail on Saturday and we have a chance of being on it. On Saturday morning we got ready for the big adventure across the water, left our campsite and drove to Iskenderun. The misadventures began right there: the port is not sign-posted anywhere on the main road. We know the port is down by the sea, but how do we enter it? Which one of these roads leads to the right entrance? We accidentally almost drove into a military port, circled around twice, finally made it into some part of the port, had to get a security guard to help us find the right office. After much faffing around we finally got an escort to drive us to the customs office, who then pointed us in the direction of the office we needed.

“I remember during preparation for the trip that another traveller had posted a map with the entrance marked on it (Liman C). If my feet weren’t busy driving I’d have been kicking myself for forgetting to look that up again.” Jonathan.

As we drove towards the office, we spotted another over-lander vehicle. This must be the place, we thought. Soon after we were introduced to the boys in the Catoni office, and the people of the other over-lander came by: Humperdinck Jackman, travelling around the African continent to stop poaching with the charity Africality, and his travelling companion Cynthia Gibson. At this point it was still morning, everyone was smiling, Jonathan had to clear customs for the vehicle, and so on. We were told that the UN Ro-Ro has suspended its activities, but they have another boat they can put us on, which incidentally was not sailing to Damietta, as we had been told before, but instead to Port Said.

Waiting to Load
Waiting to Load

What followed was a whole day spent sitting around in the blistering sun, waiting for things to happen. But nothing was happening. We couldn’t even see the 40 promised trucks, or the truck drivers. The ferry was there but nobody else was, just us and some port officials. We spent the day talking, eating snacks, drinking coffee and juice, and waiting. Around 6pm things started happening, some trucks were being loaded onto the ferry, and around 8pm we were told we could drive on as the last vehicles. The ferry was definitely not luxurious: we were first given passenger rooms, which were spacious with a sink and bunk-beds, but the toilets were communal, needless to say, they were squat toilets.

The ferry didn’t leave shore up until about 10pm. That evening we were moved to “crew cabins” which were smaller, also with bunk beds, but they had private toilets. Soon after that we were told that dinner was being served, consisting of sliced tomatoes, olives, bread, cheese, and tea and coffee. Not bad for us, vegans (minus the cheese)! However, we soon discovered that the private toilets reeked badly of old plumbing. We flushed it several times with hot water, and that worked for a bit.

The next 36+ hours were quite miserable. The private toilets started reeking of rotten eggs the next morning, so we had to rescue our things from it and put a towel under the door. The ferry was very hot, outside and inside. The rocking motion soon became a bit much for my stomach, as I got quite nauseous. The food only got progressively worse. We were served various lumps and scoops of stuff, most of it creamy or with meat. Jonathan and I lived on bread, rice and our own tomato packet soup for the rest of the ferry time. I was juggling being nauseous and starving.

Finally Arriving in Port Said
Finally Arriving in Port Said

Monday morning we arrived in Port Said. And by “arrived” I mean we spent the day anchored nearby while we waited our turn to be docked. Finally as the sun was setting, we made it to shore. By “shore” I mean all the people were let out from the ferry onto the ferry ramp and the little area around it, to be attacked by people selling sim cards that semi-worked and charging ridiculous amounts of money for them. Everybody needed internet at that point, so we fell into that trap. We still didn’t have our passports by the way – and nobody knew exactly who or which authority had them. We sat around on the hard steel for hours in the dark, waiting for something to happen. Eventually a guy called Sherif showed up and tried to help us by figuring out what was going on and phoning people. We met the immigration people by chance for two seconds, and were told there was no problem. Then we were told to drive off the ferry. The real nightmare began then.

Still Smiling
Still Smiling

We drove off and had no idea where to go, we were getting directed by people who had no idea who we were, through the shipping container yard, full of screeching trucks, towing trucks, cars, screaming people, mopeds, all done in semi-darkness and without any signs of anything around, just containers upon containers. We were directed into a gated area full of Turkish trucks (not the ones we were on the ferry with), a very very dark ominous area with no lighting, no shelter, no food or water, no toilets, nothing at all. Forget being spooky, this was a place people get thrown in to be shot in movies. Or refugees get thrown in to rot forever. We still didn’t have our passports and we had no idea what or who had them and when we would get them. We couldn’t leave the port, we had no idea where to go, and nobody spoke any English or any other language that any of us combined could understand. The mood hit ultimate low for me at this point. I am not going to lie, I broke down and cried in the front seat. It was the worst moment of my entire life. Writing about this and reliving the memory is bringing tears to my eyes as I write this.

Eventually somebody came by and told us there was a problem with our visas: we couldn’t get visas upon arrival at this port because it wasn’t a tourist port. This is of course a complete lie, because every port of entry to Egypt must provide visas upon entry. I lost it a bit on this particular guy, and I am sorry to say, on some of our companions also. The guy told us we could go sleep on the ferry and we might be shipped back to Turkey the following day. At this point anything was better than that gated container yard. We drove back to the ferry, but it was being loaded with new trucks and we weren’t allowed on it until they were done. We decided to sleep in our cars just outside the ferry, at least there were more people around and more lights. Still surrounded by containers, homeless looking people, rabid scary dogs, massive trucks… I don’t think anybody really slept that night.

The best place we could find to camp in the Mad Max meets Waterworld nightmare that was the Container port.
The best place we could find to camp in the Mad Max meets Waterworld nightmare that was the Container port.

The next day nothing improved. We still didn’t have our passports for hours. We had no one to even call or ask what was going on. We had no shelter other than our hot cars, barely any shade, no water or food, again no facilities whatsoever. We could go up to the ferry for toilets but that was about it. The mood was beyond low at this point: it was frustrated, annoyed, angry. Sherif appeared out of nowhere and told us that the Admiral was phoning the shipping company to help us out, or something of that sort. Perhaps Jonathan can explain this all better. We were still lost Westerners with no hope of getting out. Somebody took pity on us and brought us water and some snacks, and then turned out to be an absolute angel helping us out with customs later on.

“I’m not going to go into the details of who played what part here, as some of them went beyond the call of duty and put themselves in vulnerable positions to help us out. There was basically a battle between reason and extortion going on, between friends and enemies, and meanwhile we were left in the dirt and rubbish of the container port to bake in the sun. If it weren’t for a few good people, we might still be there, or be heading home due to deportation or being bankrupted by the vultures.” Jonathan.

Some guy came up to us with passports and our visas were stamped into them. Each visa cost $25. He was asking for $100 for each passport plus $500 for who knows what, and that was even before the agent for customs clearance announced how much he wanted from us. Thankfully the passport guy was kind of dumb, because I managed to trick him into giving us our passports but then we just held on to them and didn’t give him the ridiculous amount he was asking. One small win in the big battle. Eventually we got rid of both of them and our angel friend showed us where we could go to start clearing customs. We drove around the extremely confusing port, stopping and asking and going back and forth. Eventually we found the correct office and Jonathan and Humperdinck went in to try and sort some stuff out.

Some time after (no idea how many hours…. hours have turned into days by then) we finally got out of the port (without our cars, we can’t get them still) and found a hotel. After days of no food, no facilities, all of the human stress imaginable on our shoulders, we collapsed on the beds and I slept for 12 hours. I didn’t even want to get up to get dinner, even though we hadn’t eaten properly in days.

The next day was a holiday so there was nothing we could do to get out of this hellhole, so we just waited. The day was spent walking around, scavenging for some food (Ramadan is still in full effect, and in Egypt it is very strict. You can’t find a single restaurant or cafe open or serving food), playing cards and drinking non-alcoholic beer. In the evening we tried out an Asian restaurant which served real alcohol, and we had our first full real vegan meal in probably a week. It was a strange night: there were two Russian men who worked for some shipping company or some such, basically they spend most of their time at sea. They were offering vodka (of course) and advice. The vodka was vile and probably shouldn’t have been drunk, but the company was pleasant enough.

The next day Jonathan and Humperdinck had to go back to the port, leaving the “women” behind. Probably for the best, because I spent the morning dry heaving over the toilet, and I don’t think the vodka was the only culprit here: eating a large meal after half-starving for a week was probably not the best, plus the stress and the agony.

“Yup, throwing up in the hotel room was luxury – I was similarly afflicted but found myself trying to discreetly chuck in a corner of the ubiquitous decaying rubbish outside the police station we were at on some wild goose chase. For me it was just vodka and the hot sun.” Jonathan.

Passing time with the cats in the Customs House while waiting.
Passing time with the cats in the Customs House while waiting.

The day spent at the port was not any better, the nightmare did not lift one bit. The problem is that nobody knows what fees we should be paying, they seem to be making up numbers and fees on the spot, and doubling and tripling after confirming the original price. The whole thing is just absolutely ridiculous and there seems to be no end to this. We paid yesterday some crazy fees (not as crazy as we originally were asked), but the cars are still at the port and we are still at the hotel. Today is another holiday so nothing will get done. Tomorrow, hopefully tomorrow, we can clear customs and drive out of here. But as in a Kafka novel, I think there might be no end to our nightmares.

Crossing a Minor Continent

This week has seen us cross Turkey from the West Coast to Iskenderun, probably completing our travels through Asia Minor. I say probably because nothing from here on is going to be as guaranteed as we’re used to back home. We intend to take the ferry to Egypt tomorrow, but (whilst there are lots of them running around on this little campsite) we are not counting our chickens. I’m leaving this week’s blog empty of photos for now as the photo gallery covers that. Actually, its late and we are tired and need sleep – I might add some later and also tag all the photos, but for now – here it is!

Looking back, we haven’t updated you on our travels since we left Athens so I’ll have a go at bring you up to date with the progress you can see on our map.

After Athens, we drove North towards Thessaloniki and camped in the hills South of Alexandria, where we were woken in the middle of the night by 2 uniformed officers of what they described as ‘Police for Hunters’, checking that we weren’t doing any illegal hunting…all very friendly and slightly amusing when they understood the Vegan Without Frontiers logo down the side of Troopy. All I got to shoot was some practice wildlife pics of some giant bugs that came wandering by in the morning! Check out our week 5 pics below.

Week 5
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After that we made good progress across northern Greece, stopping to look at Storks nesting on lamp posts and going for a swim in the sea, and then crossed into Turkey. As night fell we approached Istanbul with very basic maps and a little confusion, but Katana’s navigation once again came up trumps and we rolled up to the target camp site, where we were let through the gates and shown to a plot, shown around the facilities and wished goodnight. They turned on the lights just for us as again we were the only guests, but the contrast between this beautiful little site and the Athens creep-show could not have been greater. This was our base for visiting Istanbul and a happy refuge once we had endured the Ramadan traffic to get ‘home’ at the end of the day. Ramadan on top of a lack of available vegan food options did not make for happy stomachs, but was an interesting time to visit the Blue Mosque and see the city.

The evening’s entertainment was provided by an exuberant, friendly kitten we dubbed Zorro-Cat after his first appearance with a dynamic flourish at the rear window bounding onto the spare wheel.

After another day spent travelling mostly through Istanbul (we crossed out of Europe by ferry across the Bosphorus), we camped off road and off tracks on a hill with some goats. This set the pattern for much of our travels since, as we have tended to alternate a day on a camp site with a couple in the wilds. Katya seems good at finding the right sort of area, and we together have picked out some beautiful places to spend our evenings and wake up to. I am only half suspicious that she picks long winding dirt-tracks so she can get to practice driving, but its all good for me as I get to be a passenger and look at the scenery.

We visited Bursa, Çanakkale, the ruins of Troy and various ancient sites along the coast. We spent a day just vegging in the sun by the sea. We got on each others nerves, we got baked on the long road as we headed inland and stuck to our seats and were invaded by flies the minute we stopped anywhere. We camped by the roadside outside a mountain village and met lots of friendly locals – including Ufuk and Burhan who brought us watermelon and lemonade and joined us for a good conversation and some food, even though we didn’t speak the same language. We met some overfriendly locals, whose written note to Katana after 5 minutes of non-communication (translated by google as ‘you are so good – so beautiful’), blown kisses, and unrefusable wish to show us some remote springs in the mountains had us making excuses and running away to Pammukale.  There we walked barefoot in the ‘Cotton Palace’ calcite formations before heading further East, lunching by salt lakes and sunken volcano craters. We camped by mountain streams and took refreshingly freezing morning showers, got stuck in village traffic jams of motorised fully laden cherry carts – and now we are at the end of our Turkish adventure. Subject, of course, to tomorrow going to plan…

Katana here taking over for my additional impressions on the last few days. As far as veganism goes, I think the concept of not eating animals is understood here better than how most Westerners imagine. When we have communicated to various people that we do not consume animals, it was understood without any questions. One person even said “So? We have vegetables!” as if the suggestion that they might not have non-meat things was absurd. The other side of that is, people know exactly what consuming animals entails: it is impossible not to come in contact with animals alive, animal abuse, and animal carcasses and various bits of actual animal bodies lying around in shops. I think in a lot of ways Westernised culture has desensitised people to view meat as just a packaged “food” rather than once alive being. We saw cows and sheep grazing happily in fields, and then we saw a cow being driven to slaughter. I also accidentally saw three or four skinless sheep carcasses being hosed down right on the street.

As for the “female traveller” part that everybody always talks about when Middle East is the destination, I have mixed views. Unfortunately, I am viewed as a rarity, an easy target, I am constantly gawked at on the streets walking or when we are driving, and the incident with the note was also very upsetting. I do feel that a certain part of my freedom is restricted, but after a particularly low point I decided that I just don’t care. In some ways, it is what it is. On the other hand, I have found most Turkish people particularly friendly and welcoming, and also very polite and willing to chat even when there is no common language. The positive aspects of this huge and varied country far outweigh the negatives!