Too much wind

Turkey_Goreme_Ashley_5

LAZY JOINS ME AS I READ AT THE HOSTEL PHOTOS BY COLIN RIGLEY

Pro tip for anyone traveling to Turkey (and if you’ve read my previous Turkey post you know this was a difficult lesson for Colin and I): You are expected to put your own luggage on the bus. This means that if someone from the company takes your luggage and hands you a token, they are merely placing your luggage in a holding room. So while we were in Goreme wearing the same clothing we’d been wearing for three or four days, our luggage was sitting in a waiting room in Istanbul.

While we were waiting for our luggage to arrive, we checked in to Ufuk Pension, which is run by a man named Orhan. We were given the cave room, which he insisted was the warmest room during the cold Goreme nights. It sounds cheesy, and in fact it probably was, but when you’re surrounded by fairy chimneys, some of which are lived in by actual Turkish families, well, you might as well embrace the cheese. The room was actually really cool, although despite the fact that it was decently sized, I could see how you might start to feel claustrophobic if you spent too much time there.

Orhan was incredibly gracious and helpful. He immediately booked us for a 5:30 a.m. hot air balloon ride the following day and got on the phone with the Metro company in Istanbul to ensure that our luggage was safe and would be arriving in Goreme the next day.

Colin and I travel sans technology—no cell phone, no laptop, no tablet, nothing. Every couple of days we either find an Internet café or use the hostel computer to message family and friends and let them know we’re alive. But it’s kind of nice not being chained to a cell phone, and I think my experience of a place is more profound without a screen in front of my place. However, that does put you at a bit of an inconvenience when you need to call a company to figure out where the hell your luggage is (not that we could carry a conversation in Turkish anyway). So we did find ourselves more dependent on our hosts at the hostels where we were staying throughout the trip. Fortunately, our hosts were gracious and almost everyone went above and beyond to make our trip the perfect adventure.

Orhan had a cat named Lazy who strutted her way around the facilities, rubbing against ankles and occupying laps according DSCN0071to her whim. According to Orhan, she was a stray and he got her fixed, after which she stuck around and became his cat. She was clearly enamored with him, ignoring me despite my best attempts to woo her when he was around. I was particularly impressed by this because Turkey was overflowing with stray cats and dogs, none of whom had been fixed and many of whom had clearly given birth to numerous litters of kittens or puppies. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big, big fan of kittens and puppies. But I’m also a big fan of animals receiving the necessary nutrition and medical treatment that they need, and many of these strays were in dire need of medical treatment. So the fact that Orhan got Lazy fixed meant a lot in a country like Turkey.

Completing the cycle of enchantment—both with Goreme and Ufuk Pension—the hostel made good on its promise of hot water 24 hours a day. It might sound spoiled, in fact it is spoiled, but hot water is such an incredible comfort when traveling and does marvelous things for one’s morale. I lost count of how many showers we took but it was definitely more than one per day. If our trip to Peru last year taught us anything, it’s that there’s no guarantee of hot water while traveling—even in a hostel that claims to have hot water—so Colin and I have learned to appreciate it when we’ve got it and take quick showers when we don’t.

We hiked out to the fairy chimneys several times over the next three days. I say “hiked” but it was an easy 20 minute walk Turkey_Goreme_Ashley_4from the hostel. We shared the paths with horseback riders in helmets being led by young Turkish men and ATVS roaring along and startling everything in its path. There was something unearthly about the fairy chimneys, especially the narrow rectangular windows high in the sky. On one occasion, a dog befriended us on our walk out to the fairy chimneys and followed us throughout our hike. We offered her water and, at one point, pulled her out of a ditch she got stuck in. She was our buddy for an hour or so and then, as we made our way back to the city, she just kind of wandered away. That would happen a lot throughout our trip, in part because I’m a sucker; later in the trip I started buying loaves of bread for 1 lira (about 50 cents) and dispensing chunks of bread to stray dogs we met on the road. This quickly resulted in a small pack of dogs almost perpetually following us through whatever town we happened to be in. I also got a few dirty looks, mostly from older Turkish men, but a lot of people laughed or smiled when they saw me petting or playing with a stray. Even on the other side of the world, it was easy to identify my fellow animal lovers.

As I mentioned earlier, Goreme was filled with strays—so many cats and dogs they nearly tumbled on top of each other. I fell Turkey_Goreme_Ashleyin love, adopted and fed cats and dogs every couple of minutes at least. Some were in terrible shape. Others were happy enough. Many animals darted beneath your feet at restaurants trying to get a bite or even climbed on my lap trying to get some food—not that I discouraged this behavior.

We had finally been in Turkey long enough for me to start making observations about the customs and habits. For example, everyone in Turkey seems to smoke and it is nearly impossible to escape the stench. It is in restaurants, in offices, in bathrooms, in shops, on the street. And nobody seems to think anything about it, even when someone blows a nostrilful of smoke right in your face.

Also, the call to prayer took some time to acclimate to; it was perhaps the greatest and most startling mark of difference between the two countries. I believe the Muslim call to prayer is called adhan in Arabic, and ezan in Turkish. I had a rough idea of what was being said, but according to Wikipedia (yes, this is very rudimentary research, but I didn’t want to write about the call to prayer without at least giving some idea of what it all means), this is what the caller, or muezzin, is saying:

Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest (x4)

I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. (x2)

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. (x2)

Hasten to worship. (x2)

Hasten to success. (x2)

Prayer is better than sleep. (x2)

Allah is the greatest. (x2)

There is no God but Allah.

Of course there are variations of the prayer, I suspect depending on sect and nationality, but this is roughly what we were hearing (in Turkish). It started at 5:30 a.m. and continued throughout the day, and I believe the final call was around 7:30 p.m. As a visitor I found it beautiful—a brazen, lingering call broadcast across the entire country. The stray dogs seemed appalled by it. Early in the morning as we were waiting for our pickup for the hot air balloon tour, the call went off and a dog sleeping in the nearby bushes groaned and howled with misery. Later, as we walked back from a hike the call went off again and a husky set up a cry that seemed to match the call. If I actually lived in Turkey, I imagine the call would start to feel like an unwanted religious intrusion—a reminder that my religious beliefs very much made me a minority. Not that I’m unaccustomed to being in the religious minority; atheists in the United States are often treated as little better than criminals, but at least I don’t have to hear about it at 5:30 a.m.

Our first attempt at ballooning did not go as planned. We were shuttled to a restaurant where we—along with about 50 other tourists—picked at breakfast and waited. And waited. And waited.

The street was awash in baskets being driven here and there, as well as shuttles carrying tourists to their takeoff location. But there was no takeoff. All morning they released red balloons into the sky, testing the wind. Apparently the balloons failed the wind test. They bundled us back into the shuttles without a word of explanation. We resolved to try the next day. Orhan booked us with a different, and slightly more expensive, company.

If you’re wondering about the cost of hot air ballooning in Turkey, the companies have a really annoying habit of quoting everything in Euros. It always bothers me when I arrive in a new country and people quote prices in a foreign currency not their own. Mostly, it feels sort of dishonest, like they’re trying to trick me. The exchange rate between the Euro and the lira is something like 3 to 1, so everything is a lot more expensive in Euros. Also, though, I came to Turkey. I’m excited to use the lira. Plus it adds another layer of conversion in my head, because now I’m bouncing between the Euro, the lira, and the dollar. In any case, the cheapest hot air balloon tour company charged 110 Euros, and the most expensive charge upwards of 160 Euros. Best I can tell, there’s not much difference in terms of the services. The breakfast beforehand might be a little fancier for the more expensive tour, and you’re more likely to get picked up by the shuttle on time, but it was nothing that justified spending an extra hundred bucks.

From there we raced to the Metro bus stop to await the bus that hopefully contained our luggage. The grumpy guide gestured us forward when the bus arrived and sure enough we saw my bright blue suitcase and Colin’s hostel kid backpack. “Teşekkür ederim!” I gushed over and over. Thank you, thank you.

Our second day a different shuttle picked us up and took us to a different, even fancier breakfast. We waited. We waited. Everyone was sitting at tables in groups according to race and nationality. Just to be difficult, we sat at the Asian table. For some incomprehensible reason they were playing smooth jazz—early morning saxophone was a little too much to bear but apparently that’s what they think the tourists like. But the weather was once again against us.

Against our better judgment we decided to stay a third day to try again. This time we waited in the driveway at 5:20 a.m. and nobody showed up at all. No baskets rattled by on the road. No vans filled with eager tourists. It was as though the dozens and dozens of balloon tourism companies lost their faith.

So we left Cappadocia with no hot air ballooning severely disappointed and a day or two behind schedule, which had Colin extremely antsy.

But first we rode horses and laughed at Chinese tourists.

On our second day we agreed to go on a horseback tour, likely as part of our effort to make sure we wasted as little time as DSCN0097possible. And I’m so glad we did. Colin’s generally not a huge fan of horses, which he doesn’t trust, so it was kind of a big deal when he proposed that we do the horseback riding tour. Of course, he’s also not a fan of heights and he agreed to go hot air ballooning, so I guess this just goes to show that I’m dating a champ willing to overcome his fears.

We met for the “sunset” tour which was forced to leave early due to the threat of rain (which had it actually materialized would have enabled us to go hot air ballooning the next day). Colin rode Luna. I rode Anita, once I answered in the affirmative that I had ridden a horse before.

Our companions were three Chinese tourists—two boys and one girl, armed with every available form of technology and very little appreciation of horses. After being lifted onto her horse, the girl shrieked and whimpered until they told her that she had to stop or the experience would be too much for the horse. The guide led her horse by a rope.

The rest of us were free, which meant that the two in the back constantly dropped their reins and rode their horses into DSCN0103bushes where they stopped to eat everything in sight. When one of these scenarios occurred—frequently—we would be alerted by a high-pitched whimper. I truly believed there was a young, distressed girl behind us. At one point I heard this wail and looked back to find the horse stopped in the middle of the road and the young man staring down at his phone.

“Pull the reins!” I yelled again and again. After one or two feeble tugs, they would turn and we would be on our way.

On the return trip I heard music and looked back to find one of them watching a music video on his phone. While riding a horse against a backdrop of fairy chimneys. Truly. I would have been angry if they weren’t such entertaining characters.

The guide—a young Turkish man who expertly rode a horse that regularly reared—looked back and laughed as though he too was enjoying the show. During a break he candidly told us the trio were bad riders and when I asked him whether people ever fall off their horses he doubled over laughing and nodded his head. I couldn’t blame him for finding it all so hilarious. Colin and I mocked them the entire way back and they didn’t seem to notice.

In fact, the girl almost got herself killed standing directly behind her horse while she was taking photos of a friend. I considered telling her that she needed to move—the first thing my parents taught me when I was learning to ride a horse was not to stand directly behind one unless getting kicked in the head was part of my life plan—but I was already tired of my role as the bossy member of the tour, and I figured if she didn’t get herself kicked in the head, she’d just find another way to injure herself.

We were required to wear helmets, though I don’t know how much good they would have done. Considering that we never signed insurance forms or received any instruction about how to ride a horse, I figured the setup was pretty informal. And truthfully, it was refreshing not to be confronted by a half-dozen insurance forms. There was a degree of liberty in knowing that we needed to take care of ourselves; there wouldn’t be any helicopter rescue if someone got lost or did something stupid. That might not be how I want to live my life normally, but taking a break from technology and bureaucracy felt really damn good. It’s too bad the other three people on our tour will never fully understand that.

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