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The Independent Travel
I would like some observations and experience concerning independent travel in Turkey. My wife and I are planning a one-month trip in September, using intercity buses.

Joe Kimble

San Carlos, California

The travel editor replies: I have been travelling around Turkey on buses for years and have always found it a very pleasant experience.

The buses are run by private operators who take obsessive pride in providing a superior service to their rivals. Even in the remote east of the country you will find vehicles to be extremely modern and comfortable. Standard on-board services include cold mineral water on request, plus the periodic distribution of eau de cologne for passengers to splash about their faces. There'll be stops for tea and snacks every couple of hours.

Schedules are very frequent and extensive: you'll have no problem in finding buses to take you right across the country on any given day. An important consideration to bear in mind is the contrast between the buses and the trains: Train travellers should reckon on a good 48 hours to cross the country from east to west (even if they are lucky enough to have a train going in their direction). Buses will do it in half the time.

In very large cities bus stations can be enormous and utterly chaotic places, with numerous companies competing enthusiastically for your custom. Each operator has a small stand advertising their destinations; you have to walk round looking for the one that suits you. Very often touts will appear asking where you want to go, and then lead you to the appropriate operator.

For many journeys, services will be so frequent that you can afford the luxury of rolling up in the station and just waiting for the next bus. On long-distance routes, especially in the coastal areas, you should take the precaution of booking a day in advance. You'll often be able to do this in downtown shops rather than trailing all the way to the bus station.

Prices are cheap: from Istanbul to Ankara for example, a 450 kilometre journey, you'll probably pay about US$15.

One downside is the fact that nearly all the buses are full of smokers. Do try asking for non-smoking buses; but you'll be lucky to get one.

My husband and I wish to spend a week in Madeira but we do not travel by air. We are finding it difficult to find an alternative form of travel, except a cruise which allows only a few hours in Madeira. We are flexible as to dates and places of departure within Europe.

Anthea Hutchinson

Madrid

The travel editor replies: Madeira means "wood", but getting there afloat is as hard as an old chunk of mahogany. As you have found, and as the Portugese tourist office in London confirms, there is no longer a regular passenger service to Madeira by boat. All the nearby ports - Cadiz, Gibraltar, Casablanca - only send cargo ships.

Travelling on a cargo ship can be arranged through a company called Strand Voyages (0171 836 6363). Three small, modern German ships make the voyage year-round. The boats depart from Hamburg and stop in Rotterdam and Felixstowe, though for technical reasons, you will probably have to embark in Rotterdam rather than Felixstowe.

The trip from Rotterdam will take about six or seven days, and the price, including all meals, is pounds 900 per person each way sharing in a twin cabin, or pounds 960 in a single. Accommodation will be comfortable rather than luxurious. Regard the trip as a cruise and it will not seem so expensive. There are plenty of departures throughout the year.

Additional research by Gidon Freeman

I'm scared of insects that burrow into my skin. Am I being silly?

Is it true that there are some forms of spider/insect that can bury their eggs in a person's skin, which then hatch out and develop by living in the flesh? There seem to be so many stories floating around about this subject, but I wonder if any of them are true. Have you witnessed this? Where does it happen? What precautions can be taken?

Mrs Swinbourne

Chester

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: There are indeed insects, found mainly in the tropics, which lay their eggs beneath the surface of the skin in order to provide maggots with a good meal. Infestation amongst travellers is not common, but I have heard the odd gruesome story. The problems such maggots can cause are not actually that serious, although infestation from a pregnant jigger flea can lead to gangrene. Of course, psychologically their presence can be quite distressing.

One of the best known culprits is the Tambu fly which tends to lay its eggs on clothing that has been left out to dry. The maggots penetrate the skin and small bumps appear before a maggot about 1cm in size emerges eight days later. The Bot fly maggot is somewhat larger, takes longer to develop and can be felt moving around underneath the surface of the skin. The fly actually lays its eggs on a mosquito, being deposited in the skin following a bite. As mentioned, small jigger fleas can infest the feet and toes if walking bare foot.

If removing maggots it is important not to let them break up under the skin as they will cause quite a nasty skin reaction. There are some exotic methods described for removal, which mainly involve suffocating the maggots by covering their small breathing holes with tape or vaseline and grabbing them when they come up to breath. Removing jigger fleas safely is a particular fine art as the whole insect has to be removed from a hole carefully picked out by a needle. It is probably best to find a local familiar with such techniques.

Avoidance is the best solution, by liberal use of insect repellents and covering exposed skin as far as possible.

Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.

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