Friday, June 24, 2016

Turkish Mini Tour - End of our European Cycling Journey :-(


  • Caught a ferry from Chios (Greece)  to Cesme (Turkey) , followed by a bus into Izmir
  • Three days in Izmir with a day trip to Ephesus
  • Caught bus to Akhisar to connect with Ege - a great new friend
  • Cycled from Akhisar through Bergama, Kozac, Bagyugu, Burhaniye, Aksay, Assos, Ayvacik to Canakkale (See "We Love Maps" for route diagram & places we stayed...)
  • ANZAC Gallipoli tour
  • Bus to Istanbul and a few days exploring this great city!
  • NEXT - Phase 2 - Operation Cycle Tour SE Asia.  We'll shortly be plucked out of Istanbul & dropped into South East Asia for 3 months, starting in Myanmar, then through Northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia

Leaving Chios

Pondering life
It was a strange feeling indeed to be boarding a ferry in Chios harbour, looking across to the camps and thinking of the thousands of people stuck there, unable to move on or return!  The crossing was dead calm, perfect 'refugee (crossing) weather' and the small dinghies they use were forefront in my mind as we crossed the 10km stretch of water.

Our experiences in Chios have remained pretty vivid in our minds and, as time slowly passes, we think about our friends we left there. We've also come across more people with different perspectives on the situation, which has caused us to challenge some of our newly formed opinions!! Things are much the same on Chios though - there's been a wedding in the camp (fun!), a new swing set erected at Souda and more people arriving.

Two of the young boys we remember from Deputhe (Photo credit: Tim S)


We've arrived! In the original plan, we were going to be spending quite some time here, however plans change frequently when cycle touring, so we ended up having only two weeks - waaaay too short a time! What resulted has been a mini-tour, with maximum generosity from the Turkish people - something that other travelers have also experienced. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to end our European leg here before travelling onto Asia.

The city of Izmir

After settling into Karen's house (friend of a friend), we ventured out to discover the goodness of Turkey and to get our heads around a new language, currency and culture! Imagine a busy city street - men in cafe's drinking tea, women with prams, bread stalls, corn sellers, fruit shops, tooting taxi's and motorbikes - a vibrant mix of people, food and business happening all around us. Izmir is a city of 4 million, set around a big bay with a cool waterfront area - it felt like a pretty cool city, very much with a somewhat western feel.

We wandered into a cell phone shop to investigate whether a Turkish SIM card might come in handy (decided not) and after attempting conversation with gestures, diagrams, pointing and english - a young man was bought in from next door. We didn't get his name, so we'll call him Arzu. His english was super useful and he then invited us next door to his family restaurant where we sat and drank tea and then had ćorba (chourba) and pide (soup and boat-shaped pizza bread). Arzu was great to talk with, to learn some more Turkish and just hang out. At the end of the meal, he charged us only half of what we should have paid, refused any extra and sent us on our way, feeling very welcomed, stoked and keen to return tomorrow!

The following day we met up with Ayhan and Neshe & their daughter Kaya - an amazing family who Andy has had a small connection with for about 10 years since he was in Turkey last. It was such a privilege to stay with them for a few days, enjoy home-cooked Turkish food and to feel like we had been welcomed into a home away from home. It was fascinating to hear their stories about life in Turkey, as well as their perspectives on global politics - often different to our own but really fascinating to be able to chat through some big issues (refugees, Christian faith, Islam, Trump etc) and learn from their experiences and lives.  They were an inspirational couple for us.

So great to finally meet this awesome couple and a lovely place to learn about life in Turkey!


Almost every Turkish person we met told us "ohhh you must go to Ephesus", so that was up next - it was actually really cool to wander through the ruins and imagine life back in the day. The library of Celcus and the amphitheater are probably the most well-known bits and they certainly were very impressive. Andy got sidetracked checking out some surveyors who were involved in an archaeological project and I sat in the smaller amphitheater and read a few chapters from the Bible which took place among-st the ruins some 2000 years ago - very cool!.

The main amphitheater of Ephesus

The Library of Celcus

Generosity Overload!!

The Turkish hospitality and generosity was continued and taken to a whole new level when we met Anna and Ols' friend Ege. We'd been anticipating meeting him for weeks, having been put in contact by them after Ege hosted them during their own cycle adventure a few years ago. He certainly lived up to his reputation as a FAST cyclist, great friend and generous host!!

First stop - icecream with Ege!
 We had a lovely evening comparing notes over bicycles, routes, life in NZ and Turkey, a skype call to Anna and Ols and getting ready to bike on. The following morning I was feeling quite apprehensive about getting back on the bike after a month off - particularly about the heat but Ege accompanied us on our way out of town, which was a great start! We were pretty torn between staying and hanging out more and being back on the journey.

Bike Gang!

Ugh! The bakehouse!!

After a relaxing morning biking on a small coastal road we suddenly found ourselves slogging our way up a huge hill in the midday heat. Think 38 degrees, on a hot tar-seal road, with no shade in sight, your water quickly disappearing and the road winding on over the hills! Flip! Talk about sweat-central!

This seemed to be the Turkish norm for us and we ended up biking form 6am to 12-3pm and then hiding out in a cafe or supermarket for a few hours before venturing out again to find a campsite! We've loved the quiet country back roads, learnt to avoid the "drainage holes of death" (set a good 20cm below the tarseal surface, with the slots going the same way as your wheel!!??) and secretly enjoyed the early mornings on empty motorways, which stretched a long way downhill in front of us (leaving Ayvacik).

Sussing out the route, Kozac
Sunset over Akhisar, Turkey

Watermelon season! - Bergama

Arriving into Bagyuzu, Rural Turkey

Check out his air horn!! This kid accompanied us out of his village with copious amounts of air horn tooting, which was pretty awesome. 
Lunch stop at one of the many roadside water fountains en route through the hills!

Spotting the sea for the first time again, Yabanćular

The Bakehouse Road! En route to Ayvacik

Boats in the harbour - Kepez, Canakkale

Things random people gave us over 2 days cycling...Legends!

  • 2 bottles of chilled water (separate occasions)
  • Bag of sultanas (from a guy out of his car door, as we were biking past)
  • Dinner and a bed for the night - thanks Hasan!
  • A demonstration on how to pick good berries from the tree in the park
  • Cucumbers and apples
  • Directions to the best bakery in town and strict observance to ensure we got there!

I'm actually so happy in this photo, the smile just hadn't made it to my face yet!! Appreciating ice cold water from a passing motorist!

This guy had no idea how much I LOVE sultanas!! Thankyou friendly man in Ayvacik!

Gallipoli - The Legacy of Terrible Leadership (And a Special Place to Visit & Imagine)

(NB: Some wordy reflections follow - Continue at your own risk or just look at the photos)

Looking towards ANZAC cove, The Sphinx and the hills above
Andy:  I left the Gallipoli Peninsula feeling angry. Gallipoli. It is a popular pilgrimage location for Australians, New Zealanders and for many Turks. It is sometimes conjectured as being a key part of the birthing of NZ as a nation separate from the British motherland. Here, many people have died. Many needlessly. From the stories we heard, there has been both incredible leadership shown and terrible leadership shown.

It's hearing the stories of terrible leadership that has left me angry. Especially because it hasn't just affected financial success or organisations, it's directly affected the lives of thousands of soldiers and those of their families. Often needlessly. Futility made all the more futile. Seeing the individual graves there and imagining their stories has helped to bring this home for me. Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkey) seemingly lead from the front and rose up the ranks for his quick-thinking leadership abilities, whereas, the allied Generals seem to have found themselves decried to infamy because of some terrible leadership.

Some such examples are from the August 1915 offensive, designed to break a stalemate that had gone on for months. It was in this offensive that the NZ's were meant to capture the key objective "Chunuk Bair", which they did for a brief time while other diversionary attacks and a British landing took place.

Some of the ANZAC old trench remains near Lone Pine
The plateau, and hills above ANZAC cove, with Suvla Bay in the background from near the Neck

It was 3pm on our tour and we emerged from our air conditioned bus in the blazing June heat into a piece of land in the hills called "The Nek". A story was told of utter madness, one that many of the readers will have heard before. We're standing looking at the grassy grave-site and surrounding pines, trying to imagine this piece of land bare of vegetation in the midst of war. The front line being where the road was now. Trenches between the Turks and ANZACS being only 8m apart in places.

The Australian Light Horse Brigade was to attack at a certain time after a Naval Bombardment had finished. They were put in the difficult situation, when the bombardment finished inexplicably early and they waited another 10 minutes till the correct time. By then the Turkish machine gunners were back up and waiting. The first of four waves was sent out with 150 men. Completely mown down. The second wave readied to go, because, they were the second wave, they had to. Again, completely mown down. The officer in charge of the 3rd wave, questioned the decision, as being "bloody murder". He was unsuccessful in having it stopped. The further 4th wave largely followed the same fate. The 370 men that died that day lay there till the campaign ended. We were now looking at some of their memorial plaques.

Furthermore, the landing of 10,000 British at Suvla Bay further up the coast, intending to support this offensive ended up in a dis-organised mess, with Generals being too far removed from the situation and good leadership no-where to be seen. While, these stories are an overly simple take on this situation (war, I've got no doubt, is way more messy and complicated than is described here). I find it hard to believe the disconnect of the leaders from their troops on the Allies side, and the needless casualties this lead to.

Being on this peninsula has actually seemed more special than I thought it would. While neither of us have any direct relatives that have fought here, we are glad we've had this opportunity to be on the ground. To imagine some of the stories we've heard of in school and around Anzac Day, to reflect on the futility of war, to see the memorial plaques, to hear some stories from the Turkish side too, to feel proud being a New Zealander.

The Dardonelles in the background from Chunuk Bair. They key strip of water the Allies wanted to assist them in sailing up to Istanbul & into the Black Sea
Anzac Cove back in the day and today - Our guide Bulle on the ANZAC tour

One of the many cemeteries around the Gallipoli peninsula

Ataturk - this guy's photo, statue and face are everywhere! The founder of Modern Turkey, plus
the army (eventually) general who led the Turks to victory over the Allied Soldiers in Gallipoli.
His famous speech where he said that ANZAC men who had fallen in Turkey were now sons of Turkey
was an attitude that we found reflected in ordinary Turks, which was pretty cool.

A display on the waterfront in Eceabat of what the front lines looked like and how far apart they were in a lot of places.

I liked this kid's thoughtful correction to his memorial cross. Lone Pine Memorial

Istanbul - Excerpt from Miri's Journal

"The call to prayer echoes and wails out around me, seemingly from every direction, various mosques competing with each other. On one side of me, men are washing their hands and feet in preparation to enter the mosque. Behind me is the spiders-web complex of the grand bazaar with sweet turkish delight, dried fruits, tea, gold and silver. Just beyond that, colourful piles of spices line the walkway. In another direction families are relaxing under the shade of trees, men asleep, corn sellers and bread stalls. Music is playing from somewhere.

The call to prayer ends and within seconds, it feels more like a city i might know, with taxi's tooting and trams and boats coming into the dock. It must be a tough place to do business these days - places you expect to be packed with tourists are empty - metro stations, bazaars. Optimistic salesmen call out "Sir, Sir, spend money for your honey.." "Yes, madam, hello. Tea? Spices?"

There's a mixture of people - some western tourists, fully covered women, police with dogs and guns, tour guides ("2 hour tours!!") and carpet sellers ("Sir, have I got a chance??")" It has been so nice to wander around the streets, take in the atmosphere and get some jobs done in preparation for the next leg. "


Ridiculously expensive dried Fruit!

Spice Market, Istanbul

Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Goodbye To The Tent (Home)...

It's a bit sad but we've sent the tent and cooker home as from now on we'll be hitting up the guesthouses of South East Asia and the fine street-side restaurants! Despite the average start with the sand-storm in Morocco, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX has been a great wee home for the last three months. There's a real sense of familiarity when we crawl inside and get cosy together in our sleeping bags.

Here is a quick video that attempts to show some of daily routine and places we've called home for the night (sorry, some footage is a bit ave due to our average computer processing & upload speeds, but you'll get the general idea)...

The road from here....
On Saturday evening (25th June) we'll be winging our way to Dubai, Bangkok and into Yangon, Myanmar. We'll spend about 2 weeks there before cycling across the north of Thailand and catching a slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang in Laos. We are anticipating a bit of culture shock, being plucked from Europe and deposited in the midst of SE Asia, but we'll take it in slowly and hopefully the biking, and the good food and great people will tie all our experiences together nicely!

Miri and Andy

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Continuing Cry for Freedom & Peace - Two weeks in Chios (Greece) with those seeking refuge

Chios Island - 10km off the coast of Turkey and one of the closest parts of Europe 
for those travelling from Syria and other countries.
Chios, a small island 10km off the coast of Turkey has been our home for the last two weeks. We have spent our time here volunteering with "Drapen i Havet" ("Drop in the Ocean"), a Norwegian based NGO focused on simply being a drop in the ocean for the hundreds of refugees stranded here. It has been an incredible privilege to serve here, to sit and talk with refugees, to be invited into their homes (tents or containers) to share delicious Syrian or Kurdish food, to hold their babies, to play with their children, to help prepare their meals, to smile with, to laugh with and to cry with and for them. I have been blown away both by the desperate situation they are in, as well as the determination and strength they show day after day, living in very average conditions.

We have made friends with lawyers, teachers, engineers, railway station managers, mothers, children and babies. These are very normal people, all with stories of heartbreak, survival and great bravery in getting this far on their journey. They are all desperate to leave this place and continue the journey, but for now they are stuck here, victims not just of war in their homeland but also a political war which refuses to let them continue their search for safety and security. I have many questions - and I imagine there are few answers.

Andy getting a massage from a Syrian sports team therapist
Me chilling with the ladies at Deputhe camp
My breakfast friend at Deputhe

I count myself as lucky having had the opportunity to serve here but I am also so aware of the unfairness of life - tomorrow I will freely board a ferry bound for Turkey. It will be a sea-worthy vessel and we will travel in daylight across the 10km stretch of sea to Turkey. It will cost me 30 Euro, which includes a bus transfer to Izmir. In comparison, every refugee here, paid around 1000 US Dollars per attempt for the same trip. Instead of a comfortable journey, with the assurance of safety and arrival though, they were bundled into a car in the middle of the night, driven to the beach, packed into small rubber dinghies and sent out into the night.

I heard a story of a boy who refused to get in the boat, as he said it was not sea-worthy. The smugglers poured hot water on his arms, burning off several layers of skin, before forcing him in. The lucky ones make it over the water in one go. If your boat is found by the Turkish coastguard (before the halfway mark) you are returned to Turkey and you have to pay the hundreds of USD again for another attempt. One man told me it took 9 attempts before he made it here (to Chios, Greece). These last two weeks have been a time of heart-break, inspiration, questioning and learning. Hopefully we can share some of what it has been like with you.

DISCLAIMER: It's quite long - feel free to look only at the pictures, or to save this to digest over a cuppa!

Chios Island - Background Info
Three refugee camps:
1) "Vial", a government run "hotspot", complete with barbed wire fences, armed police at the gate with limited aid and NGO's on the inside (we are currently not allowed inside to help). Home to about 1000 refugees.
2)  "Souda", which I learnt means "rubbish pile" in Greek. Home to 1100 refugees, in a mixture of containers and small tents.
3) "Deputhe", a small makeshift camp in the middle of town, home to about 550 refugees.

Most refugees have been here on Chios since mid March, when the borders closed. Before that, people simply stopped here for a few days before heading onto Athens. Apparently there are 5000 more refugees waiting around Izmir in Turkey to come here .... but, realistically, there's no room! It is likely all of those already here will be here for many more months yet.

Souda Camp
 At the entrance are two large white tents, filled with sleeping mats & smaller dome tents, which house families and individuals. Beyond that is the main gate, with some management containers, then a collection of housing containers, more large white marquees and white UNHCR tarps attempting to shield people from the heat and dust. To the left is Souda port, with kids swimming and playing with the life jackets pilfered from the most recent 3 rubber boats that arrived from Turkey with 130 people on board.

Inside Souda Camp
Souda Camp washing line!
Kids playing on the beach outside Souda Camp

Deputhe Camp
There are no containers here, only tents inside the abandoned church and shelters constructed out of tarps along all the walls available. Among them is Walid's tent at one end (who is seperated from his wife and kids in Germany), with Mohammed and Fatima (the teachers) on the left, along with Ahmad the lawyer and his family. On the right is Achmed and Armani - a lovely young couple with little Maria and another one due in six months. They often ask for a fan as it is getting hotter and hotter. Just beyond their tent is the makeshift prayer area, which was set up especially for Ramadan that started this week. To the right of this is the church and a toilet/washing up area. To the left is the way out to the street, where we distribute food, play with the kids and sit around chatting.

Lining up early for food at Deputhe
Looking from the street into Deputhe
Shade modifications once Ramadan had started
Main street Deputhe, from Walid's tent
People and Food
As usual on this journey, highlights for us have been meeting with people and sharing food. There are some of the chefs who have treated us over the last week.

A family group cooking and inviting us to be part of the fun
Hevie and Salmon's family cooking Syrian flatbread, eggplant and rice
Eating curried egg, eggplant and tomato with Walid's tent
Amar and Ghiath
"Tomorrow my friend! You will come tomorrow! We are glad" We have received so many dinner invitations and we finally settle on a day that will work, between our work obligations. Our hosts are Ghiath and Amar and it's amazing what we are presented with - fried rice, beans, tomato eggplant, bread, water and potato.

With no kitchen facilities, family groups share several open fires down on the beach, which they take turn about to cook on. We spend the meal discussing Syrian food (much better than ours we are told!), Syrian history, having English and Arabic lessons and general dinner banter between friends. They encourage us to keep eating ("Why have you stopped??!")

When we finally convince them that we are full and really do not want any more, our plates are exchanged for hot sweet tea and the left over food is carefully plated up for the next door family, who do not have the money to buy food to supplement what we distribute. It is lovely to have reversed roles, with us being the ones receiving, and our new friends being the ones with plenty.
A spread of plenty! Inside the big tent at Souda Camp

Breaking the fast with Hevie and Salmons family - An excerpt from Andy's Journal
"It was 8:15pm on Tuesday 7th of June and our last night volunteering here. It was also the second day of Rammadan.  At Souda Camp we re-joined the family, who formerly had a restaurant in Syria (see the photo of Hevie and Salmons family from above).  An amazing spread of dishes began to appear on the mats laid in their space between two portable sleeping containers.  There was orange juice being poured into glasses, fried bread cooked in a large frying pan on the open fire on the beach - some with rice, peanuts and raisins inside, others with tomato and cheese, another dish with eggplant, tomato and oil.  Our food packs paled in comparison.

As the time got closer Salmon, a bit younger than us, sat on a white plastic seat near the main walking road and kept us updated on the time till we could eat.  "Two minutes" he'd call, "30 seconds"  and finally "now eat!", as a call went out over the whole camp.  Everyone took a big swig of their juice and launched into eating.  Silence rained, as hungry stomachs were re-filled after a day of no food and water." - Andy

Here in Chios the fast lasts longer than their home countries (longer daylight hours), there are no fans or cool indoor areas, there are no dates or pomegranate juice (traditional Ramadan snacks), no call to prayer echoing across their neighbourhoods, no mosques, and families are often missing some of their immediate or extended family that would normally be with them to break the fast. Instead there is only flapping tents, a makeshift prayer area in the middle of a gravel yard and a different mixture of people.  I am amazed at the determination of people to fast in this place, when they are already going without so much. I was particularly touched by the man on the megaphone on day one who encouraged people to wait - "The sun is still with us, don't break the fast yet!". A really cool community vibe, despite being in such a foreign place, often with foreign people. I wonder how my faith would change if I were in their position. - Miri

"After dinner, we sat talking over çayı (black tea with sugar) poured from an electric jug, with it's once white nozzle browned with the copious amounts of tea poured from it over the last couple of months. The father shared with us, in tandem with some hand-drawn maps, some of the history of the Kurdish people.  A neighbour Ahmed, from Aleppo, popped his head around the corner and after a "salam alaikum", started interpreting for us into English.... His Kurdish ancestors were formerly in a place with no borders.  Local rulers were in control over their areas, who were characterised by wisdom, education, respect, power and justice.  Then, borders were drawn up and they found themselves suddenly split within Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.  A people not liked by either Turkey or Syria, stuck in the middle and just wanting some respect, he explained.

There was a strong sense of identity coming out as he talked.  He described how he was in the Syrian Military some years ago and got shot.  If he was a Syrian he would have got a medal, but as he was Kurdish he felt tossed aside.  DASH (IS) also hated them, hence they had to flee.  He went on to describe their journey through Turkey and then to this Island.  Later, a circle of men formed around a game of cards, as we left in the darkness for home along the gravel road through to the gate." - Andy
Amazing food with Hevie and Salmon's family - see the cooking photo from above
The power of the Story
One thing that has blown me away has been the stories of survival, heartbreak and determination that each family has come with. They were often keen to share their story - Ahmad, a lawyer from Damascus has even written his out on paper and sent it to numerous government agencies and news stations in a hope of getting fast-tracked for asylum. There are many stories, each with similarities about fleeing, IS causing chaos and the desperate hope of family reunification as the final hoped-for goal. One that was particularly striking was that of Rahad.

I got talking to her one day as I sat waiting for one of our planning meetings to start in a small cafe close to Souda camp. She and an older lady were often here, and I welcomed them to sit with me. It turns out Mirivad is Rahad's aunt, not her mother as I had assumed. Rahad, 9, has travelled alone, and her aunt was the one person selected from their family to go with her. Rahad asks if I want to see her drawings. I sit in stunned silence as I slowly turn the pages, with Mirivad explaining some of the pictures when needed. There's a lot going on these pictures!

This is Rahads' story
Notice the tears
She explained the Syrian leaders were meant to be drawn in the bottom right
of the page, but she left them out for safety reasons.

She definitely wanted me to see the snipers. People in their group were injured.

Their first attempt at getting to Greece ended with several hours in the sea as
their boat floundered.
Notice the Turkish officials throwing their bags overboard once they had been
Their second attempt being in the woods for two days unsure of their location
Such a profound picture i think. The smuggler is thinking only about money
while they pay out with the hope of family reunification.
Notice the piles of discarded lifejackets - so accurate!

Now, she is often just sad, being so far form home.  Wow.


The Basque kitchen - lots of energy, music, food and fun!
Food packing assembly line - 1600 meals - GO!!
One of the lunch menus - chickpeas, coleslaw and watermelon
Abeer and Cecelia waiting to start checking off food cards in the lunch line
Andy organizing a football game in the park opposite Deputhe camp.
Abeer - our amazing translator. She is from Syria, on her own journey. Her 4 daughters
are still in Istanbul with her parents. She decided to stay and help out other people 
before travelling on through Greece, and then the borders closed. She is n ow stuck
 here too, hoping for family reunification and ultimately resettlement in Norway. 
Without her, we would be so much more limited in what we can do. She is amazing!
Ahmed the lawyer (beside Andy) and his family who invited us in for a cuppa, even
 though it was Ramadan and they couldn't join in. "No problem, no problem" they
assured us as they bought out only 2 plastic cups...

A FEW OTHER STORIES... The not so usual events

Frustrations boiling over
There have been some tense times, as well as fun times. On Sunday, we were sitting talking with Mohammed and Achmed, hearing about their journeys from Syria there seemed to be some commotion out in the camp and a lot of people milling around. Andy popped out to see what was going on with Achmed, and it turned out a group of young men about 30m down the road had upturned rubbish bins, bought gallons of petrol, set it alight and were burning the office containers, Marquees, smashing in windows with sticks and were very angry.

As the black smoke rose into the air, families started frantically grabbing what would fit in backpacks, piling prams with bags, grabbing their children and heading for the back entrance of the camp. I saw a young girl carrying her disabled brother to his wheelchair, before pushing him away from their container. We decided to bail, with the rest of the family and headed for the back exit.

It was heartbreaking to see the anxiety on the faces of women and children, women fainting, crying or wet from water poured over them and the men depositing their families on the grass outside and then heading back into the camp to make sure no-one looted their containers and tents amongst the confusion.   It reminded me of how earthquake aftershocks can bring old anxieties to the surface for people in Christchurch, and  this certainly took people back to confusion, chaos and fleeing form danger.  The words of one women have stayed with me, "war in Syria, war at the border, war here, SYRIA, no good"

How do you help in this situation? With instruction from Janne, our co-ordinator to meet at a nearby cafe in 10 minutes, we did a sneaky supermarket run to the closest supie and bought as many water bottles as we could carry - at least if they had to sit in the sun they could get a free drink! We felt so helpless, and keenly felt like in the midst of crisis we wanted to be sitting with people, not retreating to a safe haven. However, personal safety first and all that - very wise but it was a tough situation to face!

We were so pleased we were given the go-ahead to distribute dinner as usual a few hours later. I've heard the 20 who got arrested are headed for prison in Athens before being deported back to Turkey...I guess their asylum cases just got a whole lot slower!

It turned out the men were angry about the pace of asylum claims and believed that Syrian refugees were getting better treatment than those from elsewhere. Such a shame that such destruction was based on rumour and not fact. As a result, the whole camp lost WiFi (got burnt), the doctors and NGO's moved out (felt unsafe), the asylum claims are now going slower (there is now no office), about 150 people lost their tents/space, as two of the large UNHCR tents were completely destroyed Ironically and sadly, there was a also protest from a small contingent of local Greeks against the refugees being here, trust me, they don't want to be here either!

Looking towards the chaos from the container we were in
A refugee inside his burnt out tent. Gutting. Photo Credit: Gustavo Vilchis

And still they come
One still calm morning, as we headed into town to deliver breakfast, we heard there had been three boats arrive during the night. 130 people, in three rubber dinghies with just the things they could carry. We arrived to the port with a car full of bread rolls and oranges and seeing so many people, joyful at having arrived in Europe really shook me. Surely they knew the borders were closed? Why would you still risk the journey? It was infruriating to see them having to pay to get on the bus which would take them to the registration centre (Vial), and hearing of one women whose husband was not allowed to accompany her to the hospital, despite the fact she was in labour and had lost one of the two babies already. Oh! Gutting.

130 people in these 3 boats!!!!!
Waiting in the shade for instruction, transport, food, asylum....
A family washes their hands with the precious water before eating breakfast.

New business ventures...

Sand Mosaics made by Mohammed in his tent - his new business enterprise!
5 euro for a bottle - I was so impressed by the fact he is doing something to keep himself
busy and to get money for his family.

Well done if you made it to the end! There seems so much to share and it is hard to do justice to the fun, energy, frustration and boredom we've seen here. I imagine our thinking on the whole situation will continue to change as the weeks go by and we process things more - my hope is that we do not forgot those we have met here. This whole situation is still in full swing here, even though we don't see much of it in NZ. We have learnt so much, we are so thankful to have been here, and we are hopeful for our new friends, that one day, they will find a safe, secure, friendly and welcoming place to call home.

What can you do to help?
Some have asked us what you could do to help from a distance.

1) Remember & advocate - get more refugees to NZ!
2) Donate money
3) Volunteer your time here in Greece

Where to next for us?
Over the next 10 days we plan to cross over to Turkey & head northwards up the coast towards Istanbul, continuing our cycling journey after nearly a month with off the bikes.  Our first stop is Izmir where we plan to catch up with some friends & then we will cycle up the coast towards Canakkale/Gallipoli & to Istanbul.

Thanks for reading and sharing the journey with us!

Miri (& the now beardless Andy)

Before.... Mountain Man
After - School Boy