I’m pleased to welcome fellow Australian Craig Roach. Like me he’s passionate about Turkey and has a lot to share about his life and adventures in the country over the last thirty years. Here’s part one of his exclusive interview with Inside Out In Istanbul.
I was backpacking with some friends. We’d driven around the US then came to Europe, then the Mediterranean. We had this idea, seeing as I loved history so much, to sleep in as many ancient places as we could get away with. We’d slept in the Anasazi ruins in Colorado, old ruined castles in England and Germany and of course wherever we could lay our heads in Greece and the Greek Islands. We were talking about this while on Samos to a Canadian guy who said “You should go to Turkey! It’s totally amazing!” We thought seriously about a plan but considered the paranoia at the time, especially as Turkey was still reeling from the 1980 coup, and the movie ‘Midnight Express’ was fresh in our minds.
We threw caution to the wind and caught a ferry to Kuşadası. Kuşadası fascinated me. Turkey was a whole generation away from what it is now, there were no cruise ships with lycra-clad Brits. Unbelievably, I was instantly in love with this place. People looked at us as novelties. Can’t say I’d met friendlier people in my travels thus far.
It was June or July and in 1984 we had to actually hitchhike to Ephesus. In mid-summer the place was deserted. We wandered the marble streets, the theatres, the ruins, nobody else but us. We settled in for some rest time at the gate and chatted with the locals as best we could, waiting for our chance.
As it got closer to sunset, we bid them farewell and quietly wandered out towards the road. We passed the ancient Hippodrome, then outside the main site. We quietly slipped through the broken arches and found ourselves in an ancient and isolated realm, you could almost sense and hear the spirits that inhabited the place. We settled in for the night with our meagre supplies, totally immersed in an ancient universe no Australians back home could imagine.
We continued our journey by local bus, tasting ayran for the first time, along with local food we couldn’t have imagined. Naturally we hitched out to the Anzac sector of Gallipoli. Little or no tourist infrastructure existed at the time. It was then that I found my calling, my life’s work.
And so, here I am, 33 years later.
What’s it like to be an expat in Turkey? Tell us a little about where you live and your daily life.
From about 1989 onwards I dreamt of owning and running a pub or cafe in Turkey. My first idea was to open something in Eceabat and help those who wanted to visit the battlefield with transport and guiding. Unfortunately the state of Eceabat at the time was pretty sad. It was either dry and dusty or wet and muddy, and the water and electric supplies were sporadic at best. In 1995 I settled on opening a small bar in Göreme in Cappadocia. ‘Roachie’s World’ was born. The 1996 season was fantastic. We opened the bar just after Anzac Day and attracted 120 punters on the first day, 140 on the second and too many to count by the end of the first week. That was when I attracted the ire of local bar owners and it was the first of many times I was carted off by the Jandarma. Most weeks we did more business than all the other bars combined and it didn’t go down well with the other bar owners.
When I returned to Göreme the next year I decided it was time to be a part of the community, but the pressure on me to mind my own business was pretty tough. Luckily a tour leader who frequented my place often told me his company needed a freelance leader for the ‘97 season. I travelled to Istanbul and met my new boss, my future brother-in-law, and I began my career as a tour leader. I was based in Turkey and specialised in the entire country but mainly Gallipoli and Western Turkey and also Eastern Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Morocco and eventually India. Turkey was always my base though and I decided to buy and restore a 900 year old house in Avanos. I restored that beautiful house for 12 glorious years.
Working for the ‘Best little adventure travel company in the world’, the Imaginative Traveller, was great. It was then that I met my beautiful wife Sevilay, our office manager in Istanbul. I was surprised at how open and secular her family were and this tied the knot for me. We eventually became husband and wife.
To cut a long story short, after some years in Southeast Asia we returned to Istanbul for the first time. I worked for a couple of travel companies and my wife managed a small boutique hotel in the Old City. At the end of 2010 or early 2011, I returned again on a short contract as the Director of Operations for a Dutch travel company. Sev, my wife, decided to go back to government school teaching so we moved to Tekirdağ.
Tourism hasn’t been too successful since then, so apart from my own occasional clients who meander through Turkey, I’m also part of a group of ex-Imaginative Traveller colleagues who started Experta – Tours & Events. In the lead up to the Centenary at Gallipoli I was asked to come on board as an historian for Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours. I get to hang around with lots of Aussies and Kiwis and take them to visit my favourite people like Mesut, the owner of The Boomerang Cafe in Eceabat or Enver and Cecilia at the Tusan Hotel in Guzelyali.
Tell us about the tours you lead to WWI sites in Turkey.
Since returning to Turkey and moving to Tekirdağ, I try to spend as much time as I can at Gallipoli. I’ve enjoyed working with Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours and have made some great friends with Mat, Gil, Karen, Bianca and the rest of the team. After working in the higher echelons of international travel, for some unscrupulous characters, it was refreshing to find a company with such integrity and attention to detail, that treats everyone involved with them fairly and openly.
The second part of my Gallipoli Story is my art. I’m a great traveller but a horrible photographer which led me to sketch and paint my way around the world. I don’t know how many times I sketched the City Gate of Ugarit, the Growing Nandi of Mysore or camels in Egypt, India and the Sahara. So I decided to try and incorporate my art with Gallipoli and WINE! The painting has been a fabulous distraction through these dark periods of tourism and war in our neighbourhood. I was thrilled to enter one of my favourite paintings in the prestigious Gallipoli Art Prize in Sydney and even more chuffed to have made the finals! I’ve sold a few pieces and even though my style is improving, some of my earlier paintings have been my most successful and favourite. You can follow my painting exploits on my website or Facebook page.
You can read Part II of this interview here.