(written May 2008)
If it seemed like we had just arrived in Antakya it was because, well, we had.
We had been in Antakya for just three weeks and already we were back on the 1,000 kilometre trek, heading north to Istanbul. I had seriously considered taking the train back, but as we had a video shoot planned in Antakya in June, and as a consequence, I needed to bring lights, and our home-made Teleprompter and other bits of video kit back with me. Practically speaking, we had no choice but the car.
It was not that long ago that I would have completed a trip like this in a single day – it is, after all only a 13½ hour drive. However, it seems that time, and dare I say the reality and effects of diabetes, have taken their toll on my stamina and physical resources. As a result, we now split the journey over two days. The plan is the first day, when we are freshest, will be the longer day and the second, when the freshness has grown a bit stale, will be the shorter day. That is the theory at least…
We commence the journey on a dual-carriageway for the hour long drive from Antakya to Iskenderun, crossing over the Amanus mountains via the only pass in this part of the mountain range. This pass was known in ancient times as the ‘Syrian Gates’.
Having successfully traversed the pass, travelling through the wee village of Belen and passing under the shadow of an old Church bell tower – the last remnant of the former Christian presence in the village – we then join the motorway. This is a six lane modern motorway whereby the landscape has been tamed and now the roadway consists of gentle inclines and smooth curves.
For the next hour we travel up the plain between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, past the battlefield where Alexander the Great with his much smaller army of Greeks and Macedonians decisively defeated Darius III, King of Persia. This spelt the end of the mighty Persian Empire and the dawning of Greek ascendancy under Alexander.
The motorway turns westward at the end of the bay and then strikes across the fertile Çukurova plain, amidst vast crops of cotton.
After another hour and a bit, we approached and passed through Turkeys fourth largest city, Adana. This high rise city lies straddling the Seyhan River.
The motorway crosses the river just north of the ancient, 13 arch, Roman stone bridge. In the beginning, when this bridge was first constructed, it consisted of 21 arches, but over the nearly two thousands years it has stood over the river, the banks have been stabilised and the width of the river reduced. Consequently the over -all length of the bridge has been reduced.
It is remarkable that until recent times this was the single main crossing point in the city. Even as late as the early 1980’s the bridge was open to motorised traffic, cars, buses, lorries, and well overloaded lorries – those Romans knew how to build.
Passing through Adana at speed, it was now in our rearview mirror as we carried on towards Tarsus, another half hour, forty-five minutes down the road. Tarsus was the birthplace of the apostle Paul.
Just prior to Tarsus we turned 90º to the right and proceeded north, paralleling the course of the ancient Roman road.
Travelling at motorway speeds it is not long before the plain was left behind us and we entered the foothills, forging forward on our way towards the Taurus mountains.
Motorways are truly a marvel; bridging, spanning and, at times, removing vast amounts of mountain to enable a high speed motorway to pass.
Remarkably quickly we are up into the mountains, travelling up an ever-narrowing valley until the valley narrows to a point where the left and right mountain sides are almost touching and the minuscule passage between is the bed of a river which occupies all the real estate at the bottom.
This is the famous Cilician Gates, one of the few passes through this coastal mountain range. Once there was a Roman road that traversed this narrow valley and through the profoundly narrow pass. It was upon this ancient way which the apostle Paul would have trudged on his second journey.
When the season is right, the river would dominate the pass as a raging torrent.
Today, the massive stone mountain sides that descend to the bottom of the pass have been blasted and reduced, making the narrow pass wider. Then a concrete span has been built from edge to edge and above the river. It is upon this newly created space, just wide enough to to carry the six lanes motorway.
The motorway continues its’ climb through the valley at a challenging incline, our wee Fiat Uno straining to maintain a reasonable climbing speed.
Finally we complete the passage through the Cilician Gates. We crest the top of the pass and immediately begin dropping down the opposite side towards a valley below. This new valley winds its way up through the high mountains that are now surrounding us.
When we made this passage in 2008, following our decent into the valley, the motorway came to a sudden, complete and abrupt end. This main transportation link between the west of Turkey, the major cities and the fertile region to the south and east, once again reverting back to a simple, two lane roadway.
In 2008, we were somewhat tormented as we could see that the motorway, all six lanes of it, were being pushed, thrust and blasted forward into and through the mountains. The new motorway paralleled us for a while, massive concrete via-ducts soaring over the raging stream in the bottom of the valley – the only way that you could create new space for the roadway.
To complete our passage through these spectacular mountains, the old road turned left up the old, passable valley whilst the new section of the motorway turned right up a different, and fully impassible valley (that is, until modern building techniques and a massive amount of determination was thrown at it). But with the liberal application of tunnel after tunnel connected by vast concrete via-ducts to join up the tunnels and spanning the wild stream which owns the bottom of the valley, this new motorway would be possible… but not on that day…
We carried on with a two lane road winding its way through narrow valleys. Impressive mountains rising all around us as we travelled, on a constant, steep incline up through the mountains towards the vast interior plateaux.
The next 40 or more kilometres is a mixture of breath-taking scenery and occasionally, breath-taking driving as the two lane road is clogged with heavily laden lorries slowly trudging up the mountain passes.
We fell in behind a smaller lorry and were slowly proceeding up the valley when we happened upon a straight section of road. In the mountains, these are rarities and only when traffic allows, do they present the only hope you have of passing over-burdened transport lorries labouring up the inclines. Behind the lorries, your best speed is set by the capabilities of and state of the lorries, but, if you can get by the lorry, then you may be able to travel closer to the posted speed limit of 90 kph. Otherwise, the passage will be dictated by the slowest crawl of the lorries. Additionally, we will be treated to breathing in the vast clouds a pitch-black exhaust that they are continuously belching out.
I took a quick peek and the road was clear, so I indicated and moved into the on-coming lane to overtake. However, as I manuoevered, simultaneously the lorry in front of me did likewise.
It seems there was an even slower lorry struggling up the road in front of him. Now, instead of a smooth acceleration to overtake the lorry, I am reduced to the speed of the lorry in front and to its rather limited ability to increase speed.
After a ponderous start, the lorry abandons his attempt, slowly slows and pulls back in. Before me the reduced length of the straight section of road continues for a distance, but now, being in the opposite lane as I am, I have a clear view of the challenge and my eyes take in the fact that there are actually three slow moving lorries, hunkered down and plodding up the hill. It is a moment when you have to make a split-second decision.
The lorries are tightly packed together, each one following the one in front with the most minimal space between.
The decision, made in the twinkling of an eye, is to press on and pass all three.
As I down shift, our little Uno does its rather feeble impression of a race car, the engine noise increases as does our speed – the engine noise increase is greater than our speed increase. The engine sounds like we are flying – the speedometer indicates that our increase in speed will not make it into any record book.
In these seconds T.’s telephone rings and I become aware that the road markings have changed from ‘passing allowed’, to ‘passing not permitted’.
However, I am committed, we are in the act of passing.
We are past the first lorry and abreast of the second with the third to go; our speed is increasing and the engine, roaring , throbbing and straining with all its diminished might, is giving it all it has.
Then ahead, at the bend, I see a car round the bend and coming in our direction.
I am not mathematically inclined. I do basic maths, er, basically. And yet in this situation, my mind, at some unconscious, subconscious level is calculating the distance yet to travel, my speed, my rate of increase in speed, the speed of the vehicle I am passing, the speed of the on-coming car and the distance left between us and him. Calculating all of this data, doing an incredible amount of assessment and evaluation (not me consciously but, automatically, somewhere deep in my mind), the conclusion comes to my conscious mind: “hold your course”.
I don’t know how all those calculations have been made. I do not know the math or the trigonometry or whatever other math is required to complete this complex task and couldn’t do with my conscious mind as I have never learned that math.
But I trust the result of the calculation. I don’t know how it has been done, but I trust it and act on it.
The accelerator can not be depressed any further – it is already on the floor. The wee Uno is giving its’ all. There is nothing left in reserve, nothing more to call upon.
The decision has been made, we are now passengers as events unfold, literally, before us.
The frenetic roaring of the engine fills our ears, I hear T. on the phone saying “No, I’m not driving…” – the person on the other end would have been reasonably alarmed if she had been.
There is a palpable tension in the car.
“Hold the course” – the calculations have been made, the speed and distance are all still within acceptable limits.
Somewhere, deep in my mind, the calculations are being continuously updated and checked.
There is no need to panic, yet. There is no need for draconian, emergency measures, at this point…
I breast the third lorry, space, time and distance remain… just. I indicate and as soon as we fully clear the last lorry we return to our designated side of the road, shift gears and the engine reverts from its maniacal raging to its normal din.
We traverse the last kilometres of the two lane road section and as we descend onto the vast interior plain of Anatolia the road reverts once again, to a four lane dual carriageway.
This interior plateau is a vast plain dotted here and there with proud mounds, often still covered in scree – the remnants of the last volcanic eruptions some time in the very distant past.
Our mid-trip destination is a town an hours’ drive across the plain. The town is built at the foot of a massive volcano – extinct I trust. This mountain soars into the sky, dominating the plain and seen from a great distance.
The road itself stretches off to the horizon, straight as a die with no wiggle or curve, just a straight line leading all the way to the end of sight.
In spite of it being a dual carriageway and basically dead flat and straight as an arrow, the speed limit remains frustratingly posted at 90 kph. Driving on this plain is easy driving – but, from a driver’s point of view, rather boring.
Traffic is light, and anything that we do encounter that requires overtaking, well, is the antithesis of our experience in the mountains and the two lane road. Overtaking is a doddle as we have our own, dedicated, overtaking lane.
This last hours’ drive before we stop and rest for the night is neither exciting nor challenging. The task is dead simple, hold a steady speed and hold a steady course. There are no hills, no curves, no movement to break the monotony.
Even with the lack of challenge, as a driver, you are always scanning ahead for potential risks, and ahead I see a rare side road that will soon intersect with our dual carriageway. On the side road, coming straight towards our road is a rather large blue tipper lorry.
He is barrelling towards the dual carriageway with speed and determination – one could almost say with ‘reckless abandon’.
Once again, sub-consciously, a calculation is being done; our speed versus his speed, our distance to the ‘meeting point’ and his distance to the ‘meeting point’, the distance by which if he hasn’t stopped (as he is incumbent to do), we will have had to stop…
Now, Turkish drivers rarely slow down before they have to. Possibly in the West, some drivers may let off the fuel feed and allow the vehicle to begin to slow naturally before having to apply the brakes, but not so here.
We are advancing at 90 kph – holding our course, he is approaching at what I would estimate to be the same speed. The distances are closing rather sharply and he is showing absolutely no signs whatsoever of relenting.
It appears as if he is claiming right-of-way.
Somewhere deep within my brain the calculations have been made and continuously updated, and now the word comes down “Do NOT hold your course”.
This, by interpretation means “STOP”.
I vigorously apply the brakes and quickly downshift and our wee Uno begins to slow.
It is at this juncture that the large blue lorry must have become aware that he was approaching the dual carriageway, that he didn’t have the right-of-way and that it was incumbent on him to stop.
The lorry was also now in sudden stop mode.
Quite a sight actually, seeing this rather large vehicle decelerating so.
He stopped. We slowed. We passed one another.
At one time it was appropriate to “hold the course” and at another the message was “do NOT hold the course” – both times as the result of complex, subconscious calculations. These calculations were not performed by my conscious mind; I was not party to the various deliberations and evaluations – all was done silently, at a subconscious level with only the result being sent to my conscious mind. And yet I trusted the result implicitly.
Different situations, different calculations and clearly, there was and is no easy rule or simplistic determination to be applied in all situations.
This could be construed as a microcosm of life.
As we travel through life, various events adorn, intrude and otherwise encroach on our path. Some of these are planned, some are welcomed and many, well, they just happen, intrude and ‘are’. Indeed, some are extremely unwelcome and yet, there they are.
As we manoeuvre through our life, encountering and dealing with these events, the planned and many that, well, that just intrude, we seek the best way forward, the best choice. This can be fraught with pitfalls and dangers – the right choice can mean life and the wrong choice…
As one who has trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, to guide and lead and, well, be ‘Lord’ of my life, yes, I use the mind that God has given, I apply logic, I reason, but now, in addition, I have access to the leading of the ‘Spirit of God’. Now, I can listen to the ‘still small voice of God’. In this way, in addition to my logic, in addition to my reasoning, both which are God-given, I can listen for the voice of God and can learn when to ‘hold the course’ and when ‘not to’.
Logic is good. Reasoning is essential. God does not call us to live illogically – He, after all, gave us reasoning and logic and gave them to us to be used.
However, to successfully engage with, respond to and overcome the multitude of challenges that daily crop up in life, it is essential that as I trust the unseen and subconscious reasoning and calculations done in my subconscious mind and to also trust the ‘unseen’ and yet more trustworthy than all my logic and all my reasoning, the ‘still small voice of God’.
May God continually give me ears that hear what the Spirit is saying.