# 45 - One Last Laugh
Jeff Willner - 10 June 2002
(Goreme, TURKEY) – Crossing the border into Turkey
was like coming home. It really is like Europe Lite. Hotels with toilet
seats, restaurants with buffets, and pop and chips at the gas station
(though we sorely missed Iran’s two cent per litre diesel). As we neared
Cappadocia I got more and more excited. Eight months earlier I had come
north from Syria through Cappadocia to Istanbul. We were about to close
the loop. An entire westward circuit of the globe! Maybe we would have
an accident just 100km away, or the truck would have some catastrophic
breakdown. Mad images were spinning in my head and I slowed down just
in case. Fifty kilometres away, then twenty. And finally we were there,
Kayseri, Turkey – the around the world expedition was complete. Everything
else was denouement, just the process of going home.
It had taken thirteen months to drive the Land Rover
Defender just over 78,000km through 57 countries.
End of the Road
Shortly after Kayseri we arrived in Goreme. I had visited it with Jody and
Gulin in our first pass through Turkey back in September of 2001, but Sally
had been back in Australia, so we spent a day in the underground city of
Derinkuyu and the Fairy Chimney houses carved in solid rock. It was a bittersweet
time. Stacey and I would continue on to the coast of Turkey, Greece, Italy,
and up to the UK before flying back to Canada. But that day in Turkey was
really the end of the expedition.
We had started in Victoria Falls at the end of May
in 2001. Sally deFina and Jody Finver were the two original crew and
I still remember meeting little Jody and thinking there was no way she
would last more than three months (she did). Gulin Akoz joined up in
mid-June on our way north and her first experience was being smuggled
in and out of Malawi because she didn’t have a visa. Along the way we
were joined by some intrepid friends; Rob Smoot, Devy Santiago, Mike
Faulkner, Victor Pomichal, Janet Porter, Kathryn Mertes, and Stacey Madge.
Gulin and grandma
Gulin hit her limit in Argentina shortly after the
accident (she settled in Buenos Aires for several months to explore at
a more sedate pace). She brought her own style to the trip, caring and
introspective. She faced danger head on, though sometimes she may not
have realized it. We all still chuckle about the time in northern Sudan
when she wandered off at night to “walk in the desert” without telling
anyone. One of the villagers saw her and raised an alarm, worried that
prowling hyenas would kill her. Within minutes thirty Arab men in long
white robes were tracking her out into the desert assisted by our spotlights.
After an hour of searching, a stuck vehicle, and increasing concern,
she wandered back into town surprised at the fuss.
Jody taking charge
Jody was quite the trooper and surprised us all (and
her parents) by sticking with the expedition even in “terrorist nations”,
war zones, and other spots where a US passport was a serious detriment.
She had a dazzling smile and ability to work her halter tops to get free
stuff. “How much did you pay for that? Oh really, mine was free.” We
were briefly and unofficially married from Sudan through Syria and I
know now the pain of spouse abuse. Ok I joke. It was a lovely unofficial
We had some great times together. I had never been
away from my family during the holidays and I remember Jody deciding
that she would take me out for a nice dinner in Ushuaia on Christmas
eve. We had some pretty expensive Argentine bbq and watched the moon
come up over the southernmost point of South America. It was a pretty
sweet thing to do. So ten months into the trip we were all surprised
and deeply disappointed when she had to drop out in SE Asia. She contracted
some type of muscle or nerve disease in Thailand that really debilitated
her, and after several weeks in hospital realized that her trip was over
(she was flown home later to the US for more treatment). I remember her
misty eyes in Bangkok when we had to leave to start China. I know it
killed her to miss the last part of the trip. She would definitely have
wreaked havoc in Asia - little cutie.
Sally the Sudanese
I met Sally while on exchange at London Business School,
and we were roommates at a flat in Covent Garden. As the stock market
was bursting, sponsors disappearing, and my net worth plunged like a
shot pheasant it looked as through the expedition was not going to happen.
We were chatting about the trip one day in the apartment and Sally's
eyes lit up, “Hey that sounds like a great trip – I’ll go and pay an
equal share!” She was the inspiration for me to advertise and find Jody
and Gulin (who also paid equal shares). Her commitment to the trip was
solid even when she met a new boyfriend. And as a super experienced traveller
she often had insights that shaped our plans. It was always a special
pleasure to see Sally take on the bureaucracy, “You want to charge us
how much for that? Are you mad?! We’ll pay half and not a cent more.” She
was a tenacious bargainer and saved us a ton of cash over the course
of the trip.
I knew when we were on the road that if something needed
to get done she would get it done. Often in big cities we had limited
time and a list of embassies, travel offices, and vehicle repairs that
had to get done. I would often disappear to a Land Rover garage and she
would lead the charge to the embassies. Sal was my confidante, voice
of reason, and often the kick in the pants I needed to just smarten up.
There were times when the strain of keeping the expedition on the road
seemed too much, but I would glance over at her knowing she had been
through it all with me and was still going strong, and find the energy
to keep on keeping on. Fine, I'm getting weepy here, but she's quite
a friend. The trip would have been near impossible without her - and
she was there from start to finish.
So on that final day of the expedition in Turkey there
were some misty eyes and a few hugs. Weird to think that in a few days
we would be behind desks, chained to a laptop and churning out Powerpoint
slides. We packed up slowly, joked about the number of souvenirs and
secretly wished we had bought more. Not much was said as I drove slowly
over to the bus terminal. We sat side by side on the bench outside in
the chilly air. “How long is the bus?” I asked. “About eight hours to
Istanbul” she replied. “That’s good. It’s a good bus.” “Yeah.” “Yeah.”
minutes late but still too soon, the big double decker swept into the
parking lot. We lugged the bags over to the side. “How many people going
to Istanbul?” asked the porter. “All these bags for you!” He looked at
Sally with wide eyes. “Hey be sure to get a porter or a taxi to take
your stuff for you when you get there – don’t lug this all by yourself.” “Don’t
worry Jeffy,” she tended to call me that sometimes, “I’ll be fine.” As
she got on the overnight bus I turned to say something to the ticket
agent and before I knew it the bus had pulled out of the parking lot.
Running across the lot I dashed onto the road to wave goodbye.
See ya Sal. It was a hell of a trip.