Saturday, August 14, 2010

Adopted by Boat Crew

It was time to leave the very very hot southeast and go to far eastern and cooler Van. We returned to our breakfast place for an amazing breakfast before finding a bus to the bus station and bording the Best Van Tur bus. Although we were told the trip would only take 4 hours, it actually took about 5.5 We encountered a rockslide, tons of road construction and then a Kurdish demonstration that took the form of a parade of cars, filling the main street of a small town. Finally, we entered Tatvan, to be told that we would not be taken past the ferry boat terminal as promised, but instead be left somewhere in the middle of town. Very grumpy we took a taxi to the ferry terminal at the edge of lake Van to see if there would be a boat going accross. When we got there, we were told that there would definetly be a boat at some time, but it could be in one hour at 5:30, or it could be as late as 9 or 10. The trip would be 4 hours, and it was only 5TL. We decided to wait. The reason for the unclear time of departure, we found out was that we were waiting for the transasya express, the 3 day train from Istanbul to Tehran. Whenever the train turned up, it would be loaded on the boat and we would leave. Indeed, the boat had been lined up so well that the train tracks that ended on the bank now lined up with the train tracks on the boat (!) so the train would be able drive straight onto the boat.

Having had no idea what time the boat would leave we had rushed from the center without eating, and had not eating anything since breakfast. Asking one of the captains, a man with glasses and a plad shirt if there was time to go back into town, he said maybe or maybe not, but the iskele bufe should have food. After asking them and scolding them for not having anything he invited us onto the boat for food. We walked along the traintracks on the boat and back to a table in the back with a couple of chairs and a bench. We took a peek in the kitchen where the chef was chopping up an enormous piece of meat. The captain, whose name we found out was Atila told us to sit, the food would be ready in 10 minutes. While that seemed unlikely we sat down. A few of the other guys came over too. To avoid too much male attention since we didn't know how long we would be waiting, I pretended to only speak a little bit of Turkish. The captain's english was fairly good though and we had a broken english conversation. He told us that 25 people work on the boat and he was one of the three captains. He was in charge of stowage - unloading and loading the boat. There were also engineers and and machinists. The cook was also the ticket taker. He brought out three rolls of cookies, and then went to get us tea from the guys at the other table. We told the guys that had come to sit down with us and they asked how many children we had. Insallah I replied - If god wills it - which is always a satisfactory reply to that question.

The food was not going to be ready, and after learning that the boat went twice a day, that it took cars as well as trains, and other things, we excused ourselves to go take some photos. Once around the corner out of earshot I started calling hotels in Van to make sure we would have a place to stay when we got in at midnight or later. We took some photos, then returned to the iskele where we sat, and played many games of uno. At long last, although it was really only about an hour, we heard a train whistle, and it was one of the most exciting things I've heard in a while. We immediatly jumped up, but a guy told us the train wouldn't arrive for another half an hour. And then, suddenly the train had arrived and many many iranians were flooding off it with all their stuff and rushing to the boat. We were taking photos until we realized that we too needed to get our stuff on the boat before there were no more seats. We abruptly got our stuff and left, realizing on the way we had probobly missed our chance for food.

We threw our bags on some seats in the main cabin, watched two of the train cars get loaded onto the boat and then went to the bufe to get some toast and drinks. Sitting on the rather full top deck we ate and watched the boat as it pulled away from shore. The view was fantastic and the weather was no hot. After some photos and a bit of exploring by Mark, captain Atila found us. He first took us to get our tickets, something we hadn't figured out where to do yet, then took us upstairs into the crew's area, where one man was eating dinner. He insisted that we sit, than put large bowls of kuru fasulye (beans) in front of us, along with cacik, rice and a whole loaf of bread. It was fantastic. He told us that he had already eaten, but had only eaten cacik because he was on a diet. I noticed the wedding ring on his finger and asked about his family. His family lives in Tatvan and he has a 16 year old son that will finish high school next year, and an 8 year old son with downs syndrome. He told us that he's on the boat for 9 days and only gets 1 day off after that. Not good for seeing his family. But he does make 3,000TL a month, which is good money considering the minimum wage is 630 TL a month. He is from Antalya, and after highschool did an internship before he got his job.

After I finished my first bowl of kuru fasulye, and tried to indicate I was full by patting my stomach, the captain insisted upon filling it. We were not allowed to help clean up, but then moved to the other table to eat watermelon. I ended up saying Mark had a watermelon allergy so the guy wouldn't be offended by his not eating it. We also took out our remaining pistacios from gaziantep, and insisted upon leaving them in the crew area for the other guys to eat.

After sitting and talking until the point that my fakely bad turkish would allow no more, and declining a nap in the captain's cabin we got a quick glimse of the engine rooms before going up on deck. The deck was like a massive party. People were dancing and singing. Others were playing cards. Others, too tired, were just sitting or sleeping. The captain told us that the train after Van would be an Iranian train, and all the women would have to cover up after leaving the boat. He said that going the opposite direction the women get on the boat, and start to take off layers of clothes. So this was their last partying for a while. We started to play uno, and soon the captain had come over, as had a bunch of Iranian guys. After playing a few games, we invited the captain to play. He played one hand, and seemed to be catching on, but decided one was enough. Next, an iranian guy with fairly good english took a turn. Other guys were standing around trying to help him as we explained the rules. One guy in particular seemed to understand, and wanted to know how many cards there where, so he could see if that was possible. But when I said I didn't know, he told us it was boring, and decided he didn't want to play when we invited him. After a while our crowd faded.

Soon the captain returned and told us he wanted to show us the navigation room. We abandoned uno and went to look. At this point the captain realized that I was understanding too much not to know Turkish and told me so. One guy was steering, and another of the three captains (who had taken the pickle from Mark's toast with wink and eaten it) were in the room. We were shown the radar with the map of where we were going, the compass, and other important stuff. We were once again asked if we had children. The other captain told us he had three but wanted five. We walked out to the front where we could see an incredible amount of stars and the milky way, as well as the last captain sleeping on the ground.

We returned to the deck, which was slowly emptying of people. Eventually Mark went down to get my hoodie and camping pad to sit on. It got cold enough that even he had to get his sweater. When it was finally too cold we sleepily returned to the main cabin for the last few minutes, and after we docked left the boat.

One of the crew was ofloading his pickup truck, and after seeing that there were no taxis the captain told the guy that he should take us into town. He agreed, and after the offloaded a massive harvester, we put our bags in the back, and got a lift. He left us off at a traffic circle, which turned out not to be the one on our map. So we got a taxi, and turned up at our hotel at midnight completely exhausted and happy to be there.

And thus it was we were adopted again.

Closed Due to Fallen Rock

We took daytrips from Diyarbakir the next two days, enjoying the fact that we didn't have to take our big packs with us and find a new hotel. I had always heard about Mardin, and so the next day we were up early and to the minibus area. The minibuses go when they are full, and in this case ours was quite full. One mother had gotten two seats - for her and her three children. Other mothers had children up to what looked like age 12 on their laps. I understand having children perhaps up to five on one's lap, but beyond that it gets silly. That, and the kids are not protected by the minibuses insurance. And three kids in one seat is just insane. There was a long discussion between the driver and one mother, which only ended when one of the girls in question told them to stop it. Before the end of the trip, one girl, who was finally old enough (about 15) to get her own seat went through her entire English repetoire with us, which took a maximum of five minutes.

The old city of Mardin is built on a hill, with the new city sprawling below. We got off the bus on the main street, which runs along the hill about halfway up. After walking a bit, Mark looked through a doorway, and discovered a view, as well as a cafe looking out at that view, so we stopped for a coffee, feeling a bit out of place to be sitting and looking at the view instead of staring at the screen of a laptop.

We visited the very impressive Sultan Isa Medresesi, the gorgeous post office, and attempted to see the Forty Martyrs Church, but true to form it was closed to renovation. I did get us in to look at the inside, but it was covered in wooden scafolding and dust. The buildings in old mardin, or the old ones at least are made of a honey colored stone, and many have amazing carvings and elaborate decoration.

After our wandering we went to the Cercis Murat Konagi resturant for my belated birthday lunch out (thank you Mike and Marie Riddle!). It comes very highly recommended by the lonely planet, a place where the women of Mardin do all the cooking. The building is amazing - an old christian courtyard house that has been redone. Our waiter was a flamingly flamboyant gay guy in a pink shirt. He insisted on explaining the very complicated menu in English, although had he done it in Turkish I would have understood better. We ended up getting some icli kofte, a very impressive platter with small amounts of mezze in metal ladels, and a stew with plums, lots of pits, chick peas and lamb. It was all really good and a bit amusing.

After managing to get out of our chairs, we walked through the baazar area. Because there are lots of steps going down the hill, cars can only use the main street, and don't enter the baazar. And so we saw donkeys. And guys making saddles and one rolling black stuff onto what looked like wax paper. He explained what he was doing, but I managed to not understand a word. We made our way down to the bottom of the hill through the maze of streets. At one point we passed a boy crouched down. Instead of saying hi and then asking for money he worlessly handed us both cucumbers, something that's never happened to me before.

At the bottom of the hill we gazed up at the city, and then made our way to the bit hotel, which is a very faded four stars, and where the amazing view of the city that is on all the postcards was supposed to be found. The view was amazing, and the drinks horribly expensive. After taking many photos, we caught the bus back home, exhausted by the time we got there.

Our second daytrip was to Hasankeyf. Hasankeyf was the one of the few places I really really wanted to go to on the trip. Perhaps the one I wanted to see the most. I had no idea what it was that was there, only that it was supposed to be amazing, is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is supposed to be flooded when the planned dam on the Tigres is built as part of the GAP project. So we needed to see it soon, before it was flooded.

To get to Hasankeyf we took a minibus to Batman (yes, there is a town named Batman!) and then changed to another that would pass Hasankeyf. The bus went along the river before crossing it at a bridge, where we got off. We immediatly walked back accross the bridge for views back across the village. From there we could see the massive pillars that remain from a much earlier bridge, as well as the castle, caves and village. We also passed a large number of goats using every inch of shade under the few trees to sleep.

Back on the other side of the bridge we stoped in a corner store to get water, and were told that the site was closed as a rock fell and killed a six year old. We were a little shocked, and wandered on until we were overwhelmed by a familiar scent - gozleme! and had to stop and eat some. Across the street was a little office with the photo of a very pretty blue bird. We stoped in to ask where we could find the bird, and the man, telling us he was working against the dam said it would be very hard to find and the site was closed, but he could recommend an alternate route for us. Walking with him a little farther down the road we came to a gate. We could go no further. We were shocked. Every bit of the old village, caves and castle was closed. And it wasn't just a rock that fell, but part of a cliff, a massive piece of rock. We were very dissapointed. We had gotten to the place before it flooded, but a month too late to explore.

The guy told us that we could go up and around and get a view into the valley, and then up and around again to have a look at the caves around the back. Figuring it was better than nothing, we took his advice. The first view was very nice, and we were trailed by a purple shadow, maybe 10 years old, who never said a word. Up and around again we climbed on the roof of a cave goatshed to get an even better view. There was a house behind us and all the children peeked out, put underwear on the baby, and then brought him out and begged for a photo. So Mark took one.

We walked a bit through the valley behind, but a little paranoid about more falling rock, and also a bit hot didn't walk too far. I had been very excited about eating at one of the platforms over the river while dangling my feet in the water, but the road down to these had been closed off along with everything else, and this was not to be. Instead we ate at a resturant with a balcony over the river, and a view of the bridge. But it was a view over the Tigres river, and we had some very lovely fish.

Exploring the village a little more we found that the cave cafe we wanted to visit was also in the closed zone, but there was a garden resturant, that at first seemed nice, but got less so as they started watering the plants and it got muddy and soaked the bottom of my backpack. After visiting the mosque we decided that we had seen all that was left to see, and it was time to go. It is quite an amazing place, and even though it was closed, I'm very happy to have gotten there before the water reached the window at the top of the minaret. At least the stork's nest on the top would remain out of the water.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Big Stone Heads

We left early from Urfa the next morning, catching a bus to Kahta. We got to the otogar, and took a minibus that was supposed to go straight to Kahta. Except that it only went to Adiyiman, and when we got there we were told we had to wait for the next vehicle. So grumpily we sat and waited and I drank tea. The next bus had some dutch people in it - the first westerners we had been in transport with in a very long while. A bit later a Spanish guy got on. He too was planning to go to Kahta. And the reason one goes to Kahta? To visit the giant stone heads at the top of Mt. Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı). Arriving at 1:30 at the hotel recommended
to the Spanish guy, we were just in time to book onto the tour leaving at 2, dump our stuff in the room (no AC) that we had just gotten, change our shoes, and grab some lunch before getting on the bus.

There were six of us on the bus - the three of us and three koreans. Our driver knew barely any English, and Mark and I were sitting up front to avoid me getting carsick, and so I once again slid into the role of translator. Our first stop was a burial mound, the Karakuş tümülüs. Surrounding the mound are three pillars with statues. One was an eagle and one a lion. The are very large and impressive. After walking around the mound we once more got into the van, to stop a little farther on at the Cendere bridge which was built in honor of the Roman emporer Septimus Severous. On one side of the bridge we saw a large group of people dancing to a loud drum, and others picnicing and swimming. As it was Sunday everyone had left the heat of the town to find some cool. Next came the very cool but disappointing new fortress, disappointing because it had been closed to visitors for 10 years. After wandering up to it, and taking photos we returned to the cafe accross the street where our guide was lounging and used the opportunity to drink lots of water. The temperature was somewhere up above 100.

Next came the selcuk bridge, which, although there has been a new bridge built, is still used by cars. We walked across the bridge, then walked down to the stream running underneath it where we waded accross. And the guys stripped down to their shorts/underwear and went swimming. But because it was eastern turkey only the guys got to swim, and I had to stand there in the sun and got harrased by a guy. I was a bit jealous, and very glad that I had Mark along for the journey, as this was one of the few times I got harrased.

Our last stop before the summit was Arsemia, which was the summer capital of the Commagene kingdom. We saw several friezes with greek carved into the back, one tunnel that was blocked off and another that extended down for some 158 meters. I went in maybe 30. Mark went until it ended and emerged later very dirty and happy. We walked up to the top to see the view, and then came back down to find our guide.

And then it was time for the big heads! The sun was getting low in the sky as we headed to Mt. Nemrut, but our guide assured us that there would be enough light. The road was much better than the lonely planet indicated - the guide said it had been repaved a few years back. We were left at the parking lot, and along with everyone else, started walking up to the top of the mountain. The top 50 meters of the mountain was created by the same guy who ordered the big heads. They used rock chippings from that and other things to make a huge cone on top of the mountain. It's incredible. Although the temperature was a little cooler, the hike to the top was still a bit of a hike. We first went to the eastern side. The bodies of the heads are in their original location, but the heads have fallen or been taken off and are sitting on the ground. They are absolutely incredible. The western terrace heads are even more amazing, although the bodies are no longer standing. We took lots of photos, and then sat, eating our antep fistik, and watching the sun set. It was magical. And then a guy blew a whistle and told everyone it was time to get off the mountain. So slowly slowly we did.

The way back was much longer, but it was on a bigger road. Back at the hotel we had a mediocre dinner, and then the worst night ever as we tossed and turned in our 90 degree room. The fan seemed to blow hotter air than what was coming in the windows. We ended up sleeping with wet towels for pillows as they cooled us down a bit. It was horrible.

The next morning we caught an early dolmus to Siverek. The old road to Diyarbakir, our final destination for the day, had been flooded by the making of the Ataturk Dam, and so now the dolmus goes on a very small and rickity ferry for about 20 minutes accross the lake. The dolmus was so full and people had so much luggage ours had been tied to the top. In Siverek we caught the next dolmus to Diyarbakir, and from the minibus terminal had to take another bus into town. We were staying in the old town, which is surrounded by massive intact basalt walls. There only seem to be two roads in the old city that buses go on, and so we had to walk a bit to the hotel area. The first we tried was horribly expensive. The next expensive. And the third one, as luck always seems to have it, was just right (okay, it could have been cheaper, but it was about average). We immediatly left to get food around the corner and then came back to our lovely airconditioned room to have a nap. Mark was exhausted as he hadn't slept the night before at all. Two hours in the cool and dark later we emerged to try to find dinner. Diyarbakir seems to have few resturants, and the ones it has are all kebab places. We walked on and on and then found a small shop that said it only had breakfast. And so we went in. And what an absolutely amazing breakfast it was. So amazing I am going to detail all of it. We had kavurma eggs - eggs slow cooked with lamb meat and spices (Mark is contemplating marrying the man, his eggs are so good), sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, crumbly cheese with butter on top, homemade yogurt, fresh blackberries, van style herb cheese, white cheese, kasar cheese, a small plate with sliced banana and fig with kaymak (like clotted cream), honey and walnuts on it - the food of the gods we decided, and lots of bread straight from the bakery. And tea, water and fresh orange juice. It was the best Turkish breakfast I have ever had in my life.

After a night in the airconditioning we felt much better, and after eating the hotel breakfast, which had great honey, but was otherwise disappointing after our amazing breakfast of the night before, we went out to explore Diyarbakir. Diyarbakir gets a bad reputation, mostly because it's the Kurdish capital, and so has seen a lot of violence. But everything was calm when we got there. We had absurd numbers of kids saying hi to us, and then many of them asking us for money. We either said no, or Mark asked them for money.

We first visited the walls of the city, at the opposite end from our hotel. We walked all the way down the main street, and found ourselves in a park. The walls were cool, or should I say very very hot. We had a nice view of the area outside the walls, and people on the roofs of houses outside waved to us. As someone afraid of heights though, walking on a narrow section of city wall sometimes unnerves me a bit. After returning to the ground we walked through many narrow and twisting streets to the Church of the Virgin Mary. It was supposed to be closed for lunch, and when three kids answered the door they told us it was indeed closed. But Mark looked very sad and told them we had come all the way from Australia, and the little boy let us in. A man showed us around the church. It was incredible. It's a Syrian Orthadox Church, and they speak Syriani. Next we visited the Behram Pasa Cami. When we went in a kid ran in in front of us and turned on all the lights. He proceeded to give us a tour, taking us up to the balconies so we could get a good look over the mosque. It was beautiful, both the inside and the black and white striped stone outside. When some other kids arrived and told us to keep going so we could see the roof, the kid in charge told us not to and so we didn't. At the end I was sure he was going to ask for money, but instead he asked us to put some money in the collection box. He must have only been about 9 or 10, but he was taking his job very seriously.

After discovering a closed house museum and that it was call to prayer time, we decided that it was lunch time. We walked back down the main street, stopping in the cheese market to buy some Diyarbakir cheese in a small flat disc. It was so salty and curdy it seemed it couldn't possibly melt in the heat. We also got some peaches and bread and returned to the park along the walls for our picnic. It was a lovely picnic. And then it was time for more old buildings. We found the Chaldean church was open, so we had a look inside. The courtyard is incredible. The other house museum was very closed and banging on the door many times yielded no results. So we walked north to the citadel. No one seemed to know where it was. Inside was a very non-exciting mosque, and the poorest part of the city we had seen so far. We walked a bit of the wall, but couldn't see the promised roman bridge with 10 arches, and I was feeling a bit sick from the heat so we returned to the airconditioning for a bit.

Later it was still hot, as we made our way to the ulu cami, and then discovered the first house museum we had visited was now open. It had some amazing white stenciling on the black basalt walls of the courtyard. The insides of the rooms had not very exciting displays with wierd manakins. Walking back we went past the han we kept meaning to investigate and noticed that right in the entryway was a sign advertising manti and icli kofte. We went in immediatly. The food was amazing, the guys seemed very amused to have us there and we left very full and happy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sacred Fat Fish

We left Antakya after breakfast the next morning. Erdem insisted upon walking us to the otogar even though we knew the way. After the guy there sold us our tickets he called the bus driver, telling him to come pick up the tourists. The minibus showed up, picked us up, and took us to the minibus terminal where we waited for more people. There were only a few other people on board by the time we left, and in hopes of picking up more people, spent over half an hour crawling out of Antakya, honking at all the people walking by the side of the road, as if this would make them realize that they suddenly had a very strong need to go to Gaziantep, or Antep for short. No one had an instant change of heart though and finally we started to go at a normal speed. The airconditioning barly worked, and gave up completely halfway through the journey. And the host guy kept yelling into his phone, sometimes in Turkish, and sometimes in Arabic or Kurdish or possibly both. He also elbowed Mark in the head. Then, unfortunatly it was his turn to drive, and he continued screaming down his phone and passing people as Mark and I sat there a bit scared. It was the worst ride of the trip so far, and then the driver couldn't even drive us into the otogar to let us out properly. We then took a very scenic drive on a city bus, which did eventually lead us into the center of Antep. We went into the Güllüoğlu hotel, which is above the güllüoğlu baklava shop and asked for a room and then looked pitiful and asked for a student discount. The cut 10TL off the price so we decided to stay.

Starving, Mark took the bags up for the room and we immediatly left to find some food. We got some food around the corner, but after eating it realized we were still hungry. Walking around the area Mark got a liver sandwich from a street vendor and I got some very yummy banana milk. And then we went up into our nice airconditioned room, and slept in cool bliss.

The next day we woke up to find that Mark's liver sandwich might not have been the best thing to eat. After breakfast we went to the train station to find a nice, but completely clueless guy behind the desk. He thought he could make us a reservation for the Ankara-Istanbul train, but had no idea there was a train from Kars to Kayseri and told us to call that office. After he suceeded in making the first reservation, which took a great deal of fiddling with the computer on his part, he realized that he could do the same thing for the second ticket. The first two days we asked for were full, but in the end we left the slightly more confident man with two sets of train tickets.

The train tickets too all our remaining money, and so we had to walk past the museum, back to the center and take out money before returning to the museum. Which was closed for lunch when we got there. We spent nearly an hour reading in the gift shop/cafe waiting for it to open. The museum is amazing, incredible, beyond words. The site of Zeugma has been partly flooded by the GAP project, and so the museum did a large number of rescue excavations and moved the incredible mosaics to the museum. There's a model of what they looked like in the site, and it must have been wonderful to see them there. The mosaics are mostly intact and phenominal. The biggest was about 20ftx12ft and completely intact. Words don't do it justice, I shall post photos soon.

After the museum we walked up to the castle, decided it was too hot to climb up to it, and instead went around the side of it and through the market. The focus of the market is copper and tin work. There were a few guys sitting around, etching pieces, and another couple polishing. Good thing I have no space in my bag, because I wanted to buy a number of things. After wandering through the market we found the famous Imam Çadas resturant and baklava shop. They claim to have the best baklava in Turkey. Antep is famous for it's pistachios, so all the baklava is pistachio baklava. The ayran (yogurt drink) came in large tin bowls with a spoon like ladle for drinking. We had lahmacun and then very amazing baklava, but I still maintain that mom makes the best baklava in the world.

We couldn't leave Antep without buying what Mark declared were the best pistachios he had ever eaten. Those purchased we got our stuff, and took a less round about bus to the otogar. Entering, there were two companies going to Şanliurfa, one on each side of the entrence to the platforms. We were going to the left, when all the guys on the right started gesturing madly to us. So we went to them. They had a large bus showing on their tv monitor and told us it was leaving immediatly. It left another 15 minutes later, but that's pretty immediate for Turkey.

The bus ride was lovely, cool, short and direct. Sadly, the Urfa otogar is also about 6km out of town. A guy that was talking to the driver told us that he would take us to the center as he was also going there. Looking at eachother we agreed. He told us about the things we were passing and in a friendly Turkish way asked too many questions about where we were going. I told him we were going to look around, and so he insisted upon letting us out in the area where all the tourist stuff was, even though we wanted to get out half a mile before. He handed a package in a black plastic bag to a guy, and we said goodbye and left. We walked back to our hotel, which turned out to be shorter on foot than in a car. The hotel was on a back street, had airconditioning (good as it was 110 F or 43 C), and was cheap. The walls were so think though that we could feel the heat radiating out of them as the airconditioning tried to cool the place down. Leaving the hotel we discovered that the entire town seemed to shut down at 8pm. There was nothing open for dinner, or nothing open that had içli kofte. We ended up sharing a medeocre kebab outside, and then, still hungry walked back to the area where we were earlier and had a toast and slushie before returning to the airconditioning. Next time I visit southeastern Turkey it will be in April or October!

Urfa is said to be the place where Abraham was born, and where he was put on a pire to burn. Except that he got knocked off and was saved and the coals from the fire fell in a pool and turned into fish. Today, a part of Urfa is a park with the sacred lake of fish, numerous mosques, and the cave where Abraham spent the first seven years of his life in hiding. It's a lovely place. We first went to the lake of sacred fish. Sacred and very fat fish. All the visiting pilgrims want to feed the fish and make a wish, and so when you stand next to the pool and raise your arm, all the fish rush over, even if there isn't actually any food in your hand. It's also forbidden to feed the fish, so the pool is very full, and fish that have escaped the pool wind up all over town in various waterways.

Next we visited a couple of mosques and then the cave where Abraham was born. There are seperate entrences for men and women. The women's entrance was quite full and had women crowding around the two fountains, pushing a bit, and filling up large numbers of bottles full of the water which is supposed to have healing properties. I got a glimpse of the cave and then left.

We walked up almost to the castle to have lunch at the cift magra (double cave) resturant. It is, as the name suggests, in a cave, and it was amazingly cool inside. We sat on benches covered with cusions at the back of the cave to eat. We both had içli kofte - spiced ground meat wrapped in a bulgur wheat dough and then fried and cacık - a yogurt and cucumber salad. It was quite delicious and we followed it up with tea and then Mark followed up his tea with a coffee, which we then both followed up with a walk through the heat and a visit to the internet cafe.

Walking through the park we had found several cafes surrounding small fountains, and one of them had nargile (water pipe). Finding a seat next to the fountain Mark smoked his nargile, and I caught up in my journal. The area is without a doubt the nicest park I've been to in Turkey. After leaving the park we went for a walk in the baazar and got lost in the backstreets of Urfa. After our first pass of the baazar we hadn't found the sites listed on the map, so we dove back in. We found the covered bedestan selling lots of scarves, and then stumbled out into a beautiful two level han where lots of people (mostly old men, but one family) sat around drinking tea and playing backgammon. Inspired, we sat down for a tea too. On our way back through the bedestan I stopped to look at scarves at a stall with three women dressed in a traditional style. A lavender colored scarf with white emrodery seems to be the typical thing here, so I stopped to look. The vendor wanted to put it on me, but instead I asked one of the women. She took a black and white silk scarf and wrapped it tightly around my head a couple times and did a fancy tucking in thing, then loosly wrapped the lavender scarf around my head. She was also wearing a very sparly overcoat in purple and gold. Mark looked at a scarf too and the guy tied it on for him. Deciding we hadn't bought anything really touristy on the trip we decided to buy them.

Leaving the baazar we had to return back to the center of town to find money and visit our hotel and then walk all the way back down to a resturant with a terrace we had spotted. We had Urfa kebab for dinner - a must when in Urfa, right? It was lovely and much more spicy than the Istanbul stuff. Despite all the warnings of Urfa as a very conservative town, we found ourselves very welcome there, and I think it's my favorite place in the southeast.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

adopted in Antakya

Lovely Antakya wasn't nearly as hot as Antalya, which suprised me a bit as it's inland. I had been in Antakya twice before. The first was in 2001 when we spent the summer in Ankara for Mom's research. The second was in 2007, when I took the bus from Istanbul to meet Mom there so she could help me through the Syria border so I could spend Christmas with her and William in Aleppo (see for more).

We arrived and took a service bus into town to the old otogar. For some reason they keep making new otogars for all towns and cities which are on average of 6km from the city. From the old otogar we found many hotels, which all seemed overpriced at first, but we eventually settled on the Divan hotel. It had airconditioning, but there were no rooms with double beds left, so we went for lunch while the guy took our stuff up the stairs and pushed the beds together. We had lovely pizza and slightly cold fries and felt better. Overnight buses leave one quite hungry. Returning to the hotel we basked in the airconditioning before venturing out to the internet and then the market. We found more slushies and some pancake things and then bread with pepper and cheese on it. The market area is awesome and has everything. We found the Habibi Neccar Cami. Habibi Neccar was from Antakya but was a christian or something and is buried in the mosque with two saints. I'm a little confused about the story, but the mosque is very impressive.

Feeling we should eat dinner we found the best iskender place in Turkey. I had been there in 2007, but none of use could remember the name, just the general location. I remembered what the upstairs looked like, so I went upstairs in a couple of resturants (which confused the waiters greatly) before finding the one we had been to. The Iskender was superb, although some of the old photos on the wall were missing - apparently they were stolen. And then it was time to sleep in a stationary bed yay!

The next day we ate a breakfast of pastries from little shops on our walk to St. Peter's church - the first cathedral and the place where christians were first called christian. And by going on a pilgramage there one also gets a plenary indulgance. It's a pretty amazing place. Back to the center we shared some Kunefe, the famous dessert of Antakya. It's made of very thin hair like wheat noodles with cheese layered on the inside, baked and then drenched in syrup. Maybe it sounds weird, but warm and fresh from the oven it's amazing.

Mom and William's friend and fellow couchsurfer Koray met us with his car at the PTT (post office) and took us around. We went to a place called the Anadolu House for lunch. The resturant is in a restored old Antakya house, and Koray ordered a selection of traditional dishes. We had wild thyme salad, olive salad, hummos, ali nazik (a bed of eggplant cream with meat on top), an eggplant salad, a very spicy paste of red peppers and walnuts and I think that's all. It was absolutely amazing. Koray had gotten married a few days before, and had only gotten back from his honeymoon the night before. He works at the university and is also the founder of the Antakya youth center. He was great to talk to and knows a lot about Antakya. After lunch he took us to the salkıev (hidden house) cafe. We tried a very strange neon pink drink called haytali. It's made from rose oil as well as sugar water and has sort of tapioca cubes and ice cream in it. It's refreshing, but at the same time a little strange. We sat until 4 with Koray, and could have sat and talked longer, but it was time for our next visit.

We went back to the hotel, collected our stuff, and were picked up by Mihriban Teyze. Mihriban is my friend Ömür's aunt, and Ömür told us we should go visit. The family lives in the old part of Antakya around a courtyard, where all the cousins and more distantly related relatives live. When we arrived we were taken out into the courtyard for tea. Melik, Mihriban Teyze's son was playing a game with three of his cousins. Mihriban Teyze's cousin and her two grown daughters were staying at the house while theirs had work done on it. Ömür's mom and her grandfather also lived in the house. Tea of course was not just the drink. There was pepper bread made by Mihriban Teyze, some cookies from the nearby town of Salmandağ, and some from Syria. Relatives, hearing that we were visiting, kept dropping by to say hi, getting up, and being replaced by more relatives. One was Erdem, who lives in Bahrain with his family, and learned English from the American soldiers at the base there.

After many cups of tea and cookies, we went up the hill to another relative's house to have coffee. We sat in her courtyard and she served Turkish coffee. There was an orange tree and some other kind of fruit tree and a couple of turtles, which we looked for but couldn't find. After a full evening of Turkish, we were shown the upstairs flat, helped to take the dust covers off, an fell into bed.

The next day I awoke late, it seemed had everyone else. We had breakfast around noon. To get freshly baked bread the family doesn't even have to leave the house - they just call the bakery accross the street, which delivers. Breakfast was fantastic, and included a Syrian specialty which one of the women named TNT. It's eggplant stuffed with hot peppers and perhaps pickled a little. Mark loved it. I thought it was good, but maybe a bit too spicy for breakfast. As we were finishing Cemile and Hatice, Ömür's younger sisters arrived from Istanbul.

Soon after, Erdem came over, and we walked to the minibus which took us to Samandağ. We thought we were going to meet Ömer's mother, and so were a bit surprised when we got out at a resturant. Erdem talked to one of the guys and then we got into his car. Turns out he was Erdem's uncle. Erdem's uncle took us to the school where Ömür's mom is principle. We had some tea, and at Mark's request visited a kindergarden class. Then we got back in the car and she got into another car and we drove out to see the titus tunnel. First there's an archway over the river. Samandağ apparently had a problem with flooding, so the emporer Vespasian started and his son Titus finished a tunel that would control water flow. The water today is almost non-existant, especially in summer, so we could walk through the tunel. It was a bit dark, but really amazing. The best part though was the cradle cave or Beşikli Mağara. It's a cave with three or four arches at the front, and completely filled with rock-cut graves. Sadly everything has been stolen so there's nothing left inside the graves. The place is absolutely fantastic, and yet it's not in the lonely planet, even though it's just a few meters up the path.

A bit muddy, we returned to the cars. It had been Erdem and his uncle's first time visiting the site as well. We went a few hundred meters down the road and then stopped at a resturant where Ömür's mom ordered us balik ekmek (fish sandwich), which turned out to be amazing, and far more exciting than the stuff in Istanbul. Back on the road again they had to go get petrol, so we stoped at the side of the road, watched a very full tractor go by, as well as a guy on a donkey, watched the lizards Mark found, ate a bunch of grapes we stole and waited. Soon they were back and we continued up into the hills. The view over Samandağ, the mountains and the sea was stunning. Our next stop was the Moses tree in the village of Hıdırbey. The tree is around 1500 years old. It is supposedly on the spot where Moses visited with Khid (the green man). The tree is hollow, and supposedly at one point there was a little market set up inside it. The inside has many strings tied as this is supposed to grant a wish. We had a glass of tea in the shade of the tree and then continued on. At this point Erdem's uncle needed to return, and so we crowded into the backseat of the other car.

Somehow we missed the turnoff to the last Armenian village in Turkey, and continued on to another village that had a church that had never been finished. It was dated 1134, but didn't look that old, but perhaps it was. Ömür's mom said that because it was built on stone instead of soil it wasn't damaged in an earthquake like so many of the other buildings of area. The sun was setting and it was quickly getting dark. We continued along, going down now. The man driving the car, another relative whose name I have sadly forgotten dropped us off at the main road. After eating very fresh fried dough soaked in syrup and getting very sticky we managed to find a minibus with space which took us back to Antakya. When we got there Cemile and Hatice were waiting for us with the car. We went back only to go to Erdem's family's house for coffee. And soon after we arrived so did many other family members. Soon we left, exhausted from the wonderful day.

Flames from A Mountain

Olympos was not quite what I expected. I expected a few hippi treehouse places out in the middle of nowhere, near the sea and the ruins with no cars, birds singing, and lots of flowers. Maybe that's how Olympos used to be, but it's not anymore. Turning off the main Fethiye-Antalya road, it's another 11km twisty and narrow road with mini buses going far too fast. Past the first few camps/pensions/tree house places the road is paved, but then it becomes a red clay mess with too many cars, and parked cars and pedestrians. It looks like a one road tourist town mess, and that's what it turns out to be. Our driver insisted on driving us all the way through to the tiny V-Go hut, where we told the guy there we had arrived and then walked back up the road to the place we were staying - Şaban. To be fair, Şaban is awesome. It has lots of places to sit in the shade and read books and have cold drinks. It has hammocks. It has free internet in a hut with airconditioning, and it has little wooden huts on stilts - tree houses in the olympos sense. We had a tree house to ourselves, with matreses on the floor and breakfast and dinner included for 30 lira each.

Dropping our stuff in the hut, we went back to the main area to have a drink and the manager Meril came over to chat. I had apparently gotten very dehydrated and was fairly out of it until I had drunk 1.5 liters of water. We used the internet and waited for dinner. Everyone lines up to get their food - it was very remenicent of summer camp as kid. The food, however, was much better. We had salad, an eggplant salad, mucver (fried zucchini patties), pilav, and fried fish, with enough for seconds. After dinner we went for a walk, found the Canadians from the boat, discovered the tatoo place only did Henna tatoos, and I got some very exciting earrings. We then collapesed into bed, discovering that the way to keep the place cool was to leave the door open.

The next day we did almost nothing. I say almost because Mark and I seem incapable of actually doing nothing for an entire day. In the morning we read, wrote, used the internet, had lots of beverages, ate breakfast, wandered around a bit and read some more. Around 4 we decided we ought to go see the beach and the ruins, and so joined a crowd of people going in that direction. The beach was packed, and it seemed packed only with Turks. The water was lovely, but the beach, like most Turkish beaches was very rocky. We swam a bit, not that swimming is necessary. The water is so salty that you can float in a standing up position without moving arms or legs. After floating around we decided to climb up to the ruins of a tower or castle thing. The views were amazing, but Mark's hat blew off, and landed at the edge of a sheer drop, and so we had to leave it there, in that beautiful place, and hopefully it is resting happily.

Down from the tower thing we walked back along the very empty river, through very cold springs and pools, on a trail through the woods under an arch to see some sarcophogi and broken mosaics and then back to Şaban for another lovely dinner. We then boarded a very full minibus, and took the narrow twisty road back up to the main road and after less than 50m on the main road turned down another narrow twisty road, went through a little town, and stopped. We were at the enterance to the Chimera, a site where gas comes out of cracks on the side of Mt. Olympos and burns upon contact with the oxygen in the air. As it's best viewed at night, that's when we went. It was a steep uphill walk for 15 minutes in the dark, by the light of Mark's very bright head torch. And then we were there. There really aren't words to describe how cool it is to see fire just emerging from the earth. A few guys were cooking sausages over one of the fires. And everyone else was just wandering around and staring. We couldn't stay too long though because the bus was leaving, and soon we were headed back down and gulping water, then back on the slightly scary journey and to our home sweet tree house.

The time had come to leave major tourist areas, and so the next morning we caught a bus after breakfast up to the main road, another very crowded bus (people sitting on stools in the aisle) to Antalya, and from there booked our 15 hour overnight bus to Antakya in the province of Hatay, which is still considered part of Syria on some maps. For more information read my mother's book which will be in print in February. With a few hours to spend in Antalya we took a bus into the center, got a map, and walked back out to the museum slurping blue slushies. The museum was amazing. They have more statues and sarcophogi than they really know what to do with. And they are all in amazing incredible condition. At the end of two hours looking at things from the paleolithic period to the present, my eyes were a bit glazed over.

We had a picnic of crackers and sardines on the grass nearby, took a look at the crowded beach and decided we had no desire to go there, and took a tram back in the center to look at the old town. It was nice, although perhaps a bit too nice to be real. We found a lovely cafe with a view of the harbor and sat for a bit to escape the heat, and then had some pasta before returning to the otogar and boarding our bus. It was a surreal ride. I listened to hours of Harry Potter 6, and then when that messed up Harry Potter 4 on Mark's Ipod. Mark read my Harry Potter 3 book. It soon got dark, and we started to doze off. I would wake periodically to road construction on the very very windy coast road with views of the full moon, sea, fog, and mountains. It was very eery and surreal. We stopped twice, the second of which was at a place on the sea, where we could see the yakamoz (the light of the full moon on the sea - 9 words in English, 1 in Turkish). We were very glad to arrive in Antakya the next morning. 15 hours is too long on a bus.

a very blue sea

Brenden drove us to the V-Go office Tuesday morning where we checked in, and then waited with an ever increasing number of people and bags. After looking at booklets of all their offered tours and thinking we might never leave, it was time to go to our boat. Our boat was Ömer Kapatan 1, and the captain's name was indeed Ömer. The rest of the crew included his wife and his 12 year old son Ismail. There was also their 5 year old son Hasan and 13 year old Osman, a friend of the family who would be going with us as far as Kaş. After being instructed by the V-Go representative that there were no shoes to be worn on board, no toilet paper to be put in the toilets, and that we should shower off when getting back on the boat after swimming. And then we were off! Although the boat was a sail boat, the sails never went up. We didn't have enough crew to sail anyways.

We motored to a small bay near Fehtiye where we went for our first swim. The water was crystal clear and oh so lovely. When lunch was ready the bell rang and we all sat down at a large and very solid wooden table at the back of the boat for salad, green beens, bulgur pilav and yogurt. The other people on the boat - there was an Iraqi family with two daughters - one in medical school and one hoping to start medical school in a year or two, a brazilian girl, and four candians - a mother and daughter, as well as the mother's best friend from highschool and the daughter's best friend.

After lunch Ismail pulled up the anchor and we departed. The water was a bit rough and the boat rocked a bit and I got a bit sick. And then realized I had motion sickness medication in my bag. We went around a large point, past Ölüdeniz, saw a bunch of paragliders, and went accross the bay to kelebek vadesi (butterfly valley). The water was incredibly blue - like the color of a blue crayola crayon. We anchored there and swam ashore. Brenden told us that the famous waterfall had no water in it and was a waste of time and money, and we didnt't have time to walk there anyway, so we just walked around the little hippi tent village. And didn't see a single butterfly. Back on the boat we went back the way we had come and stoped next to St Nicholas's Island for the night. As soon as we were anchored among about 15 other boats, a boat came by with ice cream and Gözleme (like crepes). And old lady was sitting there in the boat with a big cast iron griddle rolling out and filling the Gözleme. Mark and I were sharing a lovely chocolate and banana one when the bell rang for tea time. By this I mean tea the drink, not tea the meal. So very civilized having tea, coffee, and buscuits on a boat.

After our tea, the captain took us over to the island in the little dinghy. St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) spent some time on the island, and as a result it's completely full of ruined churches, which are amazing. There's the long remains of a tunnel which used to be a procesional way connecting the palace at the top of the island and the church at the bottom. Mark also found a bat cave with hundreds of bats inside. They freaked out a bit as we looked in and started to fly out just past our faces. We reached the top as the sun was setting and then returned back to the little peir where the three kids came to pick us up in the dinghy. As soon as we got back it was dinner time - I guess they had been waiting for us. We had grilled fish, eggplant salad, salad and fruit for dessert. The mother of this family is an amazing amazing cook! I was exhausted as soon as it was dark. We all slept on beds at the front of the boat, bringing our pillows and blankets up from the cabin as it was much much to hot to sleep inside.

We were awoken at 5am the next day by the sound of the anchor chain and the motor starting. Soon we were yawing from side to side and, with my bed at the edge, I was feeling I might slide off. Switching with Mark I had a bed on the inside, and managed to sleep a bit more over the next 4 hours as we went along. Finally, we stoped at Firnaz bay where we immediatly got in to swim and then had breakfast and swam some more. The bay is also named Aquarium bay, and after breakfast we went snorkeling. It was amazing! The water was crystal clear, and visibility was great. Paddling around we found lots of plants growing on the rocks, fish and more fish, and then I spotted an octopus in a rounded hollow in a rock. Two fish next to it seemed to escort it to another rocky outcrop where it dissapeared. And Mark found a small moray eel. I felt like I was doing well with my go-fish with real fish on the cards game tally. Have you got an octopus? Yes!

After leaving the bay we went towards Kaş. We stopped a bit outside the town to have lunch, then went into the harbor. We had about an hour to explore the town, but it was very hot, and I had adjusted to the boat so well that the ground seemed to be rocking if I sat down anywere, and especially if I went into a small space like a bathroom. We wandered around, sat in a tea garden, looked at lots of tourist stuff and earrings and then got back on the boat. Osman left us to go back to his family. Happily back on the boat we left for another bay, more swimming, more snorkeling, and a lovely dinner with barbequed chicken once again falling asleep just after sunset.

Day 3 fortunatly did not start with the sound of the anchor chain at 5am. Instead, we all slept as late as we could with the sun up and blazing, and then swam and had breakfast. After breakfast we motored to a small cove filled with daytrip boats. Told we were only going to stay here 2 hours, but instead staying about 4, we didn't actually go into the cove until the very end as we kept thinking we were leaving. Grrr. When we did leave, we went past and over the partly sunken city of Kekova, which was cool, but not as impressive as the name sunken city would lead one to believe, and were going to the village of simena we spotted a huge amount of smoke. Heading back we saw that one of the day trip boats was on fire. We think everyone jumped overboard and was safely rescued, but there was no hope for the boat. We all stood and watched as it burned and part sunk. The family stood at the prow with horrified looks on their faces. The mom said she had never seen a boat on fire before. We could tell they were thinking about their family - what if this had happened to them, their family livelyhood could be gone just like that.

Turning away we went to Simena. With no room to dock we dropped anchor and went ashore in the dinghy, 4 at a time. The Iraqi family choose to stay on board. They hadn't swum either, most likely because they didn't know how. The village is very cute. We followed a group of obnoxious astralians from another boat up up and up to the castle, which has amazing views out over the water and the rest of the village. The views would have been better though if there hadn't been three girls sitting in the place with the best view and complaining about everyone on their boat. Back down again we explored a bit, visited the sarcophogus in the harbor and then got back on the boat to go into a bay with a small enterance and many branches - perfect they said for pirates. We snorkeled more, but visability was not great as cold water and warm water kept mixing. We could see the density waves in the water. The evening passed the same as the others - swimming, snorkeling, dinner and bed. I now have quite an impressive tan (for me). Hasan, the 5 year old has just warmed up to all of us, and has discovered he has a lot of new playmates.

The last day we woke up latest of all and were still in the same place long after the other boats had departed. All a bit confused I asked the captain, who told us that we were waiting for the place to become a bit less crowded. Good to know, the problem was that the family spoke very little English and I found myself translating quite a bit. Not that I mind, and maybe they would have spoken more English if I hadn't been there to translate. We went past the pirate's cave and had 10 minutes to swim around inside it before heading off to Demre where we pulled in, had a last lunch and most delicious lunch, filled out evaluation forms and got a small boat to a small bus. There was supposed to be an opportunity to visit the ruins of Myra and St. Nicholas's church in Demre, but in reality there was time for neither. Just time to get a popsicle, look at the outside of the church and go to the bankmachine. And then we were off on the bus to Olympos to stay in a tree house.

Monday, July 26, 2010

a village and more pork

Our bags when opened tend to explode. In our last two days in Fethiye our stuff had managed to get all over the house, so we spent Saturday morning convincing everything to go back in our bags, and taking out what we would need for our next adventure. We were going to the village of Minare, near the ruined lycian city of Pinara. Brandon and Ayse had a house in the village, and Brandon had volunteered to drive us out for a few days when they returned from Marmaris. After packing we returned to the beach for another lovely full English breakfast. On our way back we bought food for the village (no shops there) and pork sausages at the pork shop. Everyone had returned from Marmaris when we got back to the house, but we had to wait until about 5 when the Danes returned, as only Brandon's car could make the trip to the village. So we sat around. And talked. And read. And I learned to make Gozleme. And then the car returned and we loaded in our bags and all our food and the very fat dog and headed out of town. On the way we narrowly missed three people who decided to run out in the road, and after a very narrow windy road arrived at the village.

Brandon's house is at the top of the village. And it is absolutely amazing! I still haven't seen the promised photo of what it was like when they bought it, but I think it was pretty ruined. Now it's amazing. The building is stone and has two floors. But there are no interior halls or stairs. All the rooms open to the outside, not onto eachother. The stairs are also on the outside. Half of the top floor is a covered terrace and the other half is two bedrooms. The downstairs has a kitchen, a bedroom and a livingroom complete with TV and DVD player. The garden is wonderful, and after we got there Brandon put out two benches, a hammock, hammock swing, and another swing. The toilet is in its own little building. After goldie sniffed everything and Brandon set everything up and had a cup of tea, they left. Mark and I went for an explore around the place. Everyone was highly confused as to why we were still there when they had just seen Brandon drive off. Everyone I could understand that is. I found teethless village women a little bit difficult. We passed a very noisy cow that wanted to be milked immediatly and a guy walking around wıth a shotgun on his back. Back at the house the neighbor who was hanging around earlier didn't want to leave. And he didn't seem to realize Mark was there, talking only to me. I thought somehow having Mark around would make it okay to speak Turkish without sending the wrong signals, but this doesn't seem to be the case. After getting him to leave we made mashed potatoes and sausages...mmm pork!

The next day I woke up without an alarm when I got really hot. So moved out onto the terrace and read there. It was a thoroughly lazy and lovely and hot morning. Which stretched until 5 when we decided it was cool enough to go look at the Pinara ruins. Mark mostly remembered the path, although we took an accidental detour to visit some lycian rock cut tombs that he hadn't seen the year before. Then it was up to the ampitheater and along the ridge to visit even more tombs. The tombs are amazing, but were all broken into ages ago, and now nothing remains inside. We went into the site the back way, and stayed up on the ridge. As we were finishing and nearing the main road we heard a car. Hiding behind the trees, we watched the site caretaker/ticket takers drive past, saving us from paying the site fee. The natural setting is just as amazing as the tombs themselves. Returning back to the house I made spagetti for dinner and read to the sound of cicadas.

The next day was more lovely reading and doing nothing. And sewing Mark's ripped shirt while he surveyed the territory which was very amusing. Brandon arrived with John and we packed up the place and he drank some of the sweet tea I had made (I think the first sweet tea I've ever made). Then we were off in the car in a new direction. Up and around and through and then parked the car at the edge of the lycian way and walked up to an abandoned house for a spectacular view of the sea. And Brandon, on his return to the car asked Mark what he thought of a chuck of land nearby. Nice was the reply. Good, said Brandon, because it's ours. We continued on to a village and then on a very sketchy road to the yediburun lighthouse botique hotel with an amazing view of the seven noses or seven points. A lovely place for a beer, or to spend a weekend, or to write a book. And then it was back to the house, to meet the new Turkish guests staying in the house next door, and another barbeque, even more massive than the first. And there was an adorable 2 year old that drank too much coke and got very silly and giggly and dogs wanting the chicken bones. And after all that one last swim in the amazing swiming pool before going to sleep with thoughts of boats in our heads.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mud baths and gorges

Fethiye was lovely. And the reason it was most lovely was because of our hosts Ayse, Brandon, and their daughter Aylin. One of our good friends Simay is the nice of Ayse and Brandon, and Mark had visited them the year before with Simay. Brandon told him to find a girlfriend and come back, and Mark had taken him at his word.

We arrived at the otogar not knowing how to get to there place, having a vague idea of where we were going. Waiting at an intersection for a dolmus a man stuck his head out of the window of his old blue station wagon to ask where we were going. Hearing we were going to Calis beach, he told us to get in. He pointed out the bar where he worked on the way past, and dropped us right at the beach before going to have a beer there. He refused our offer to buy him a beer, so we started the trek away from the seaside to Ayse and Brandon's house. Mark remembered the road, and so with no wrong turns we arrived at their house soaked in sweat. Although they already had five visitors they were very happy to see us, and we arrived in time for the barbeque.

Brandon's cousin John was visiting, as well as one of Simay's other aunts, who now lives in Denmark, her husband and two of their friends. Ayse invited us to come with them on their daytrip to Dalyan the next day and we happily accepted. After moving tables into the garden and watching Ayse grill mountains of chicken we all sat down and ate and ate until we could eat no more. And then the happy dog goldie got to eat the remains.

The day trip to Dalyan was incredible. Mark, John and I were in Brandon's car, and as Brandon doesn't like the new tunnel that they've built under the mountain so tourists can avoid the narrow windy mountain road, we took that narrow road. And the views were spectacular, although we got into a small amount of trouble later. At Dalyan Ayse negotiated a boat for us, and a young looking captain in a pink shirt with a mullet crazy looking hair cut took us out in his boat. Although he didn't look it, he did turn out to be a good captain. He first took us through the reed lined chanel (supposedly used in the shooting of the film The African Queen) to the sandbar beach which separates the lake and fresh water from the beach and sea water. Lots of sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach, and no one is allowed to be there after dark. On the way there we passed some spectacular lycian rock cut tombs on the cliff face. The beach was amazing - clear blue water, sand going out forever, small waves. Boarding the boat once again we went over to the crab boats to pick up our crab order, and to watch as guys threw crabs on lines out into the water trying to lure turtles up to the surface. One did pop up for a short time, but was apparently too full to reemerge. But still, I saw a leatherback sea turtle! And then sat on the boat and ate some amazing crab.

Our next stop was the mud baths. Basically, you go in, laze about in a warm muddy pool smelling strongly of sulfur. Then cover yourself and others in mud and wait for it to dry before rinsing off. Then you are sprayed down by a guy with a pressurized hoze before going into the very hot hot pool, which smelled even more of sulfer. And at the end the hot air feels cool, and your skin feels like a baby's. This is the mud that they export and sell for lots of money as facial masks. And it's oh so fun to play with. The final stop was a swim in the lake before going back to shore for some food and ice cream before returning to Fethiye and a dinner of leftovers and chips (fries).

I should clarify - Brandon and Ayse have two houses that share a well. So the Danes were staying in the other one. And the second night we slept in our tent in their garden after stealing their daughter's room the first night. But the next day all the inhabitents of the house we were in went off to Marmaris to visit relatives, and left us with the whole house to ourselves for two days, which was great. Our first day we went into town to explore Fethiye, and it's pork products. Calis beach is full of brits, which means it's also full of all day English breakfasts, complete with bacon and pork sausages. For a teacher living in Istanbul and very pork deprived (Mark more than me as I'd just been in France and the UK) this was food heaven.

Convincing ourselves we could move after our breakfast, we walked along the beach, and then took the water taxi into the center to research our boat trip. Lonely planet gives dire warnings about what can happen if you don't research your trip well enough, and we were scared. We walked on two boats and asked lots of questions, but in the end those boats didn't have space or weren't going on the right days. In the end we chose V-go, which had been reccomended by one of Mark's friends. That task down we wandered the center, visited the fish market, got some fish for dinner and went home. Mark cooked the fish to perfection.

The next day we visited the natural wonder of Saklikent. It's a canyon that's been cut into the stone, and is so narrow at most points that they daylight doesn't penatrate. We took a dolmus through villages before arriving at the entrance, renting plastic shoes and hurring in to be ahead of the large group that was massing. The first bit is a wade through an icy stream where they take your photo, but after that the water is shallow, and it's a bit boring until the canyon narrows, and then it's over rocks, up small waterfalls, all the time walking in the water. At time bolders are stuck above between the walls of the canyon. It's an absolutely incredible place. We hiked a couple of hours before deciding it was getting a bit too difficult, and we were getting very hungry after only sharing a toast that morning. We were a bit slower on the way back as we lounged in pools of water and found an amazing natural rock waterslide. The way into the gorge is on a walkway but for the brave of heart (or crazy people) for the return you can be swept away in the freezing river for a few hundred meters. Of course we went this way. Then you pull yourself out of the river onto the platforms of the resurant located there. We sat on a platform overlooking the river and shared quail and omlet before returning to Fethiye. Back in Fethiye we went for a swim in the sea at Calis beach and then had fish and chips to bring back a bit of Mark's childhood.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

ruins galore

It's been a very ruin filled week. After leaving Ayvalik we headed to Selcuk. The buses don't go directly there though, so we had to take a bus to Izmir and then change to a mini bus to Selcuk. Selcuk is the closest town to the ancient city of Ephesus, which is why we were going there. After calling the local camping place, which refused to tell me the price of camping, we decided to stay in a hostel. The room was lovely, and it had a shower and air conditioning, both of which were very welcome after one night on a bus and two camping. Our first day and a half in Selcuk, Mark started and finished at least one book, we visited the Ephesus museum, the ruins of the impressive basilica of St. John, found a camping pad, saw the remains of the aquaduct and its nesting storks, and wandered the market. And this was the day and a half we had given ourselves for down time. Apparently we are horrible at doing nothing.

Ephesus is about a 4km walk from the center of town. We got there fairly early in the morning, so it was empty when we started. It didn't take long though for large groups of tourists led by guides bearing umbrellas started to flood in. The area is absolutely amazing. There's a theater, a smaller theater called the odeon, the library of celsus (the image seen on all postcards) which has been reconstructed by the Austrians, the latrines, the baths and more. By far the best place was the terrace houses. There is an extra charge to get in, but it's well worth it. The houses were built into the side of the hill, and seem to be part of an ongoing archeological restoration. They've been piecing together various bits of the marble wall siding and frescos that fell off the walls. There mosaics on the floor are just as incredible as the decoration on the walls. Walking up the hill, we passed more ruins, which are in a more ruinous state than the ones below. Only an arch or a pillar remains standing.

The road back proved longer than the road there, and we had enough time to get our packs before walking to the bus station. When our bus turned up, however, there wasn't enough room for everyone. The bus station in Izmir had oversold the bus. And so we had to wait for the next bus, which turned out to be a half sized mini bus, and more like a dolmus (shared taxi) than a bus, stoping for everyone by the side of the road. But it had airconditioning, and it got us there.

As we got off the bus in Pamukkale (cotton castle) we were mobbed by people wanting us to stay with them. Fortunatly we had called ahead, and one of the guys in the crowd was for the dort mevsim pension where we were planning to stay, so he put us in his van and drove us there. It was a good deal - 7 lira a person to put up the tent, as well as use of the internet and swimming pool.

Pamukkale was created by a very calcium rich spring which now puts forth 260 liters of water a second. It used to produce even more. When it comes in contact with oxygen the calcium precipitates out of the water as calcium carbonate, which then settled on the hill making white pools and just generally covering the place. The romans thought the water was healing, so they built a spa city named heiropolis above it, and so now you can visit the natural wonder of pamukkale, and the roman ruins as well.

We spent the entire day there. The entrance is at the bottom of the hill, and then you walk up through the white area. Shoes are not allowed because it damages the site, and so as Mark pointed out, we saw our first barefoot security guard. We visited all of the ruins, including the octaganal temple of St. Phillip the Apostle, supposedly built on the site where he was martyred. It was up a large hill, and there was no one else around. We saw the theater and the ruined temple of apollo, and were shocked at the price to swim in the ancient pool and so didn't, and visited frontius street and a bit of the necropolis while consuming about 5 liters of water. It was hot. On the way back down we watched the sun start to set as we swam in some of the man-made travertines (pools).

Our second morning in Pamukkale we spent most of the time in the calcium rich swimming pool - fed by the same spring up the hill. I feel I should somehow have stronger bones after sitting in all that calcium. Midday we caught a ride back up into the village to catch a bus to the seaside town of Fehtiye.