Not enough wind

Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_16

PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY; TRADITION OF TAKING TRAVEL PHOTOS WITH JESUS BY ME

Prior to arriving in Turkey Colin and I spoke no Turkish. I was actually kind of hoping the couple Arabic phrases I picked up in Morocco would be of some assistance, but they never did come in handy.

I always try to learn a couple key words and phrases before visiting a country. This is, in part, because I never want to be one of those Americans shouting loudly in English at some poor Turkish man or woman who has no clue what the hell I’m saying. Also, I’ve mostly learned that if you’re polite and make a genuine effort with the language, people will forgive you for not speaking it fluently.

So I learned to say “merhaba” (hello). I learned to say “teşekkür ederim” (thank you). I learned to say “hesap lütfen” (the bill, please). The latter is primarily owing to the fact that when we were in Peru Colin and I realized we were stumped over how to politely ask for the bill, resulting in some embarrassing gesturing and confusion before we eventually figured it out (“la cuenta por favor”). I also learned “ne kadar” (how much does it cost?) which may have been silly because as soon as they quoted the price to me in Turkish my face went blank and I had no idea how to respond. We usually got around this by having the shopkeeper write down the price, and many could quote it in English, although by the end of the trip I did start to recognize a few numbers. I knew “evet” (yes) and “hayir” (no) and it was these two words that most often drew a smile from people when I tried them out. And I learned “bay” (man) and “bayan” (woman) very quickly while sorting out the bathrooms.

I also knew “vejetaryen” (vegetarian) though I don’t think I could have spelled it to save my life. Most of my other Turkish words centered around food and drink, because that is what you mostly talk about. The Turkish tea which everyone drinks constantly is called “çay” but pronounced chai. “Kahve” is coffee, and it turned out that I didn’t much care for the thick Turkish coffee, which severely disappointed me. “Portakal suyu” is orange juice, and I ordered it constantly, the way I did in Morocco.

I wanted to learn a few more phrases, particularly “Do you speak English” and “I don’t understand.” Unfortunately, we could not pronounce, much less remember, these complicated phrases.

“Ingilizce biliyor musunuz?” Not so much. We basically remembered that it kinda sounded like “English” and then a bunch of “u” sounds.

And “sizi anlamıyorum”? I guess it’s funny that I couldn’t understand how to express that I did not understand. But mostly it was just frustrating.

We departed Goreme after our third failed balloon expedition, taking a 10-hour bus ride to Olympos. The Metro 10 a.m. bus was sold out so we wound up buying tickets from a different company leaving at 11 a.m. rather than stay for another 24 hours. Technically, the buys dropped us in Antalya and we hopped a one-hour mini-bus to Olympos, which dumped us at a rest stop high above Olympos around 11 p.m. We asked for a taxi and found a man to drive us down the steep, winding path to Olympos.

Even in the dark we could see that it was beautiful—teeming with trees. Olympos is the type of place that Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_4you can figure out with just a single deep breath of the air.

We arrived at Saban Pension where we were greeted by a cheerful woman who encouraged us to take a bungalow on the grounds that the weather was too cold to sleep in a treehouse. Originally, we really wanted to sleep in a treehouse in Turkey but the truth was there wasn’t much difference between the two and Colin was suffering from an unpleasant cold, so the prospect of a cold night wasn’t particularly appealing. We stashed our stuff in our bungalow, which struck me as being remarkably cabin-like, and joined our host for a drink around the campfire.

I should add that we didn’t have reservations at any of the places we wound up staying. Because our Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_7schedule could potentially change from one day to the next we didn’t want to make any concrete plans. Fortunately, we were traveling during the off-season so we could arrive at a hostel at 11:30 at night with no reservations and never had a problem obtaining a room. It made us both a little nervous, but Saban Pension was located on a dirt road lined with hostels every couple of yards so we had plenty of options.

The entire stay in Olympos felt like camping—fresh air, lots of trees, a stunning beach, and a very laidback Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_9approach to life. Our hostel boasted wooden platforms where people would stay up late and talk and drink, swathed in blankets, under our hostess’ watchful eye. Our first night we listened to several Germans, one Spaniard, and one Turk discourse on the subject of international tax law while a trio of Americans in the bungalow behind us loudly bewailed the fact that Scott wouldn’t tell one of them that he loved her. “You’re so much better than that …” “I’m gonna be really fucking honest with you …” The drunken chorus was all too familiar.

The following morning’s buffet breakfast was delicious, especially since I was finally starting to eat again Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_5after my prolonged bout of vomiting entering the country. Turkish breakfasts are all different depending primarily on the quality of the establishment you’re staying at but it was inevitably variations of: cucumber, tomato, cheese, bread, honey, and a boiled egg. The fancier establishments included omelets and an array of cooked dishes that mostly included meat. Colin enjoyed the combination so much that he’s been assembling Turkish breakfasts each morning since we got home.

We followed breakfast with a walk to the beach a mere 15 minutes from our hostel, swim in the Mediterranean, hike in the rain, followed by an incredible dinner that our overachieving hostess prepared herself.

Then—finally—we went to see the Chimera flames.

We loaded into the van at 8 after dinner—about 10 of us in total. As was always the case with any tour we signed up for, we had no idea where we were going, how long it would take, whether there were any additional stops on our itinerary. We became unquestioning, trusting fools in Turkey, allowing people we didn’t know to direct and instruct us, and following their orders despite our ignorance. And it seems to work out. Which is funny because back home I question everything, trust no one, and generally try to control every situation, which is probably why my body copes with the situation by vomiting whenever I get particularly stressed.

We drove along steep, narrow roads for a little more than half an hour before the van stopped in what passed in Turkey for a parking lot. There were several tents operated by people selling tea and snacks. Our guide handed us each a flashlight, walked us to the start of a dark path, gestured upward, and told us he’d meet us back at the van in an hour. We had no clue how far we would be climbing.

It was a steeper hike than expected, and for a while we wondered if we were even on the right path. I was worried because we had to be back at the van in an hour, which meant we’d have to turn around in half an hour whether we had seen the flames or not.

About 20 minutes in I suddenly caught a glimpse of fire through the trees. And there they were—the Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_11flames erupting from the ground, a dozen or so fires of varying sizes licking their way from holes in the ground. It was eerie and comforting all at once, and after the darkness of our hike all I wanted to do was sit beside the flames. Colin moved from fire to fire obtaining photos and video footage, while I mostly stared at the ground, worried that I would accidentally step on a tiny flame I hadn’t noticed. I don’t have a strong background on the Chimera flame, but to the best of my knowledge it’s caused by gasses escaping from vents in the rocks on the ground. According to Wikipedia the majority of the gas is methane with a small percentage of hydrogen, nitrogen, light alkanes, carbon dioxide, and helium mixed in. The site derives its name because majority opinion seems to believe that it is the ancient Mount Chimaera.

I would have loved to have camped there, but our time was limited and we had to rush down the hill to Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_13meet the van (mostly because I was nervous we would be left behind if we were late). As it turned out, Colin and I were the first two to return and though the majority of the hikers returned within 10 minutes we wound up waiting over half an hour for the final three. Our agitated guide eventually found them ordering tea at one of the tents and chased them back to the van.

The next day, after another delicious breakfast from our hostess, we hopped on a bus bound for Fethiye, Panorama_Editintending to visit Butterfly Valley. We were several days behind schedule—owing to illness, lost luggage, and poor weather for ballooning—and upon arriving in Fethiye and securing our hostel, we queried our host about a trip to Butterfly Valley. He didn’t provide any helpful information so we instead decided to explore Fethiye and depart for Pamukkale early the next morning. We did some shopping and a great deal of walking—ultimately winding up at a giant tomb in a wall at the top of the city. It was enormous—quite old, quite grand, but someone had spray painted graffiti all over it, including a shabby red heart on the door of the tomb.

We were desperate for clean laundry at that point and our host promised us clean laundry for 30 lira (about $15). The laundry was supposed to be done while we were out and returned to us that evening. Instead, we returned from our jaunt that night and were unable to find anyone willing to tell us where our laundry was. I went looking for our laundry the next morning and found a bundle of wet clothes in a laundry basket sitting beside the washing machine. They had been sitting that way overnight and we stood no chance of drying them before we had to catch our bus.

Clean laundry is a lot like a hot shower when you’re traveling; you know you’re mostly going to go without, but it’s such a delightful luxury when you don’t. I’m happy to wear the same pants a week in a row, and even willing to wear the same shirt three or four times but once you’re out of underwear there’s not a hell of a lot you can do. The problem with handwashing stuff in the sink at the hostel is that if you only have a single day in one place there’s not enough time for it to dry and nothing stinks up your luggage like damp underwear.

We left the hostel—me carrying the pile of wet jeans I refused to place in my luggage—and neither of us very pleased with the hostel.

Our next stop was Pamukkale, which boasted one of the top four things I was excited about seeing in Turkey: the travertines.

To be thruthful, Pamukkale was kind of a craphole that probably would not exist were it not for the travertine pools. We accidentally booked an exceedingly fancy hotel, which made us both feel guilty, as though we had done something extravagant and expensive, but really it was a very nice place for a normal price.

We immediately grabbed out swimwear and walked the 15 or so minutes to the travertines—huge pools of Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_21water tumbling down long, white hills. You take off your shoes at the bottom and wade, splash, and squish your way to the top. The water was slightly warm in places and very soothing, and the ground beneath our Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_18feet felt lovely as well. There were tons of tourists of all nationalities and we made our way to the top where there were ruins, a gift shop, and a pool built over ruins. It cost an additional 32 lira each but Colin was determined to swim in the pool so he paid and we put on our swimsuits and spent an hour gliding over columns in very warm water while tourists took Turkey_Fet, Oly, Pam_Ashley_19pictures of us. I felt like an exhibit at the aquarium but it was certainly a unique experience.

After that we got some dinner—there’s not really much in the way of exceptional food in Pamukkale—and, on a whim, we decided to book paragliding for the next day.

We began the next day with an enormous breakfast that involved an omellette plate, individual plates with the typical offerings of olives, cucumbers, cheese, a hardboiled egg, and tomatoes, and two bread plates. Then a van picked us up, stopped at the storefront to pick up a third paraglider and our three instructors, and started winding its way up a cliff above the travertines. The higher the van climbed the more nervous everyone looked. When we got to the top the van took off and we stood there—three nervous tourists, three guides, and three bundles that we hoped would keep us alive.

They strapped us in and my guide asked if I had ever done this before. I said no. He asked if I had run before. Yes. Ten years of track and field, baby. And he said, “Good. You run very fast now.”

It turned out that there wasn’t enough wind. Ironic, of course. Too much wind for hot air ballooning, not enough for paragliding. I asked him if it was still safe, assuming of course that he would say yes. Instead he told me that if we didn’t run fast enough with no wind it was very dangerous and we would crash. My knees began to wobble at that point and I grew very determined to run very fast and not crash.

Suddenly a guy was holding the straps on Colin’s chest, pulling him forward and Colin was doing an G0011222awkward high-stepping run and he was off in the air, still running as they were aloft.

We waited a long while, apparently hoping the wind would kick up before my guide threw his hands up in a “what the hell” gesture and we started to run for the cliff. To my extreme delight we were up in no time and I was comfortably looking down over the countryside. The guide kept yelling at me to look at the camera, wave at the camera, pretend I was an eagle (the exact type of annoying crap that happened when we went skydiving because they want to sell you the video after the fact). I went along with it, smiling up at the camera when he told me to, and then GOPR2197.MP4_000225281immediately looking back down at the ground below us. We were flying over the ruins near the travertines and I found myself kicking my feet delightedly at this new perspective.

The landing was a little bit rough, we started to fall, caught ourselves, and my ankles were sore for several days afterward but it was well worth it.

I had been skydiving before, and I enjoyed it, but I think I actually enjoyed paragliding a little bit more. Skydiving felt like falling; paragliding felt like flying. There was a huge rush of adrenaline and relief when we landed. It’s kinda nice to be reminded how much you love life, and that’s the type of thing you find yourself thinking when you’re at the top of a cliff strapped to a guy with a giant gash on his arm (no, I didn’t ask where it came from) and he’s telling you that if you don’t run fast enough you’re going to crash.

Watching the video after the fact, I realized that I had my stubborn expression the entire time I was running. My jaw was set and I was pulling like some kind of crazed plough horse. Some day I’m going to die. But it was not going to be that day, if I had anything to say about it.

Everything always feels mundane after an adventure like skydiving or paragliding. We decided to embrace the dull and immediately hopped our final 10-hour bus bound for Canakkale (or rather, we caught a 20-minute bus to nearby Denizli where we caught the 10-hour bus to Canakkale.

Next installment: Gallipoli and Troy.

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