Turkey is possibly one of the only places in the world you will see a seventy year old man herding sheep, wearing aviators and a suit.
We are driving through western Turkey on a bus from Selçuk to Pamukkale and there are new landscapes and surprising people at every stop. I use the word “wow” here more than any other word and all other adjectives in my vocabulary are fading. We are enjoying (as the Canadians say) blueberry days (cloudless but with fridge settings rather than temperatures.) On the agenda is the exploration of ancient cave dwellings, Roman ruins and calcium covered mountains.
This country is really big. When you look at it on a world map it looks big, but it’s bigger. A month is not enough time to see it! We have taken a lot of overnight buses to knock off the longer trips; a great idea until you sit behind a snoring man or crying children. The buses trump Australian public transport really easily; most are Mercedes Benz, clean and comfortable. But there are only so many bus trips a person can take in a four week period. We stop every few hours at pit stops called “karavanserai.” Karavanserais definitely make it onto my top ten list of Weird Turkish Experiences. They are set up along old trade routes and the name comes from caravan. Traders en route from city to city could stop at these karavanserai in outback Turkey and get something to eat, sleep, or even have a Turkish bath. They are always open, (at 1am, 3.30am, 6am), always blaring Turkish pop music and always filled with bundles of Turkish people ignoring the no smoking signs and looking incredibly functional for 3.30 in the morning. You can buy coloured tricycles, genuine fake watches, Polo Ralph Lauren knockoffs, hair pins, cheese and halva (strategically covering all bases for early morning impulse shopping.)
We arrive in Pamukkale and Wojtek informs us he needs to shave his teeth. There is a downside to traveling with disgusting Polish guys. This town is anything but class, the place we stop at for lunch is using coloured loofahs as decoration. But it’s worth it because this calcium mountain thing is like wow. Pamukkale means “cotton castle” and it looks like one, or a giant wedding cake, or an evil ice queen’s house, or anything big white and amazing. It’s like snow you can walk on with bare feet, and the hot springs plus gentle rapids make this the ultimate spa party (“omg it’s warm!”) The calcium turns to white gudgy mud in the pools and it’s so much fun to play with. Our feet soften like baby skin which makes the walk back down painful (ow, eee, ouch, ahh), but I completely understand why Cleopatra was obsessed with this place. The ruins are cool too; the highlight for me is Plutonium, a chasm named after Pluto god of the underworld. Eunuch priests used to “control” this chasm which emits poisonous gases. They would throw birds and small animals into it to watch them die, impressing the Roman public. A few years ago some tourists got too close to the chasm and… but now there are plenty of danger signs.
I think Claire needs to come with a “do not leave unattended” sign because if we leave her alone for two seconds a Turkish man attempts to abduct her with apple tea. “Do Turkish people actually drink apple tea?” we ask; “No, no, no” our waiter laughs, “apple tea is tourist tea.” It’s a gross drink actually, just like sugar and water with a tiny bit of chemically rendered apple flavouring. Our next stop is Goreme, and I finally have a hamam (Turkish bath). I walk in with my little note in Turkish explaining what I want and not to charge me more than 45TL. My masseuse is Seratina, she’s; (to borrow a line from Disney) “roughly the size of a barge”, missing several teeth and she smiles a lot. One of my friends recommended getting a hamam said she was slightly weirded out by having her head battered by the giant breasts of her masseuse while her hair was being washed. I opt not to have my hair washed. Stage one of the hamam involves being plastered by a brush with a green mud masque and sitting in a sauna. I’m not sure long to stay here for, and I think Seratina has forgotten about me. Yes, she has. I turn a bright red colour before I decide it’s best to leave the sauna. The all over body-scrub amuses Seratina, she laughs at the amount of dead skin that comes off my back. I don’t think this is fair. Then I get soaped all over with a bubbly thing that looks like a pillow case. The all over body massage is great, but I don’t think I need so many knots worked out of my stomach. If you have a hamam don’t have dinner first. Seratina talks to me in Turkish the whole time, pinching my cheeks and my chin. I get a big hug and a kiss from her at the end, (I’m sure not everybody gets this), and then I float about in a pool for twenty minutes. The whole experience is very relaxing – you don’t even need to dry yourself; you just get wrapped in a heap of towels and fed Turkish tea on banana lounges until you dry naturally. I walk back to the hotel and collapse on a pile of cushions. It’s immensely relaxing, I feel like I smoked a joint and Claire keeps asking me if I have taken any drugs. I sleep really, really well on the bus.
Cappadocia is famous for funky cave dwellings that date back to the first century AD. The communities were Christian, and I don’t know if I never noticed before or if Cappadocian painters were particularly observant but Jesus Christ was ripped. We climb around in these houses for a while, scaling the walls with footholds made thousands of years ago. We have a unique tour in Mazi; climbing seven storey vertical columns but discovering at the top that our harnesses weren’t attached to anything. These communities are so interesting; each underground cave city had up to 10,000 inhabitants – and there were cities in every hill – and there are lots of hills. The houses are well kitted out; from Indiana Jones style booby traps (rolling rock doors and guillotines), to pigeon post (you heard). They had rooms for crushing grapes to make wine, rooms to keep animals like goats, little Flintstone-like windows, dungeons and decorative panels. The cliffs the houses are built into are made of a crumbly material that erodes quite quickly – sometimes breaking off in sheets. Walking through the valleys you can see apartments and churches that have been broken open as the rock face fell away. Hiking through these regions and the Ilhara Valley as the sun sets on the pink stone is spectacular.
Mazi isn’t just amazing for underground cities; it also has an awesome primary school. We were walking past snapping photos of the town and decided to stop and watch the school soccer match. Within minutes we were surrounded by little bouncing children trying to get us to take their photos and impressing us with their five words of English (my name is, hello and Facebook). They practically carried us into their classroom where we met their lovely teacher and watched a traditional dance they had been practicing for Children’s Week. We did a great job of hyping them up and then escaped, leaving their teacher to enjoy an afternoon of hell.
Now we are relaxing on the coast (finally). We’re making up new uses for Roman ruins like playing sardines in them, (Claire has an advantage because she bought a rock coloured jumper), and searching for geocaches (this is so much fun!) We found a super chilled restaurant in Antalya where you can order dishes with names like “Jim, your mission is to finish this meal,” “the mood of the vegetarian chef,” and “poor chicken, lucky you.” I never want to leave!