Tuesday, July 27: The morning is quiet, and I feel I am the only person alive in this strange rocky netherworld. I linger in bed, taking pleasure in last evening’s memories. Freya Stark’s quote echoes in my mind: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” Yes, it’s quite pleasant. Quite.
my cozy room at the Antik Cave Hotel
On the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel, I’m alone. I wonder where Bob and Sezen are, but they’re obviously “honeymooning” this morning. Why not? They should be doing such. The waiter brings me my breakfast and asks what I’d like to drink. He is tall, very thin, but extraordinarily handsome. His eyes are dark and a little sad.
a black cat on the steps to the terrace
I eat my breakfast alone, the effervescent bees hovering over and lighting on my orange juice, the apricot preserves on my bread, my sugared coffee. I’m afraid I am going to bite into one that has landed on my food; I’ve done this before. Once while hiking, I bit into a cracker and cheese with a bee on it; the bee stung the inside of my mouth when I chomped on it. I spit it out immediately, the crushed thing, but it had inflicted its final sting inside of my cheek. Ouch. If you have done this even once in your life, you’re always leery of doing it again when bees are nearby.
the courtyard of the hotel…another angle
I enjoy my breakfast on the terrace. How can everything be so lovely here? Every moment is a treasure. I finish, and Bob & Sezen have still not emerged, so I head down to the courtyard, collect my journal, and sit on a bench in a small alcove off the courtyard. I write, absorbed in my own (mis)adventures. I really want to capture last night, before it escapes me, but alas, the head waiter’s name still eludes me. Memories can be so slippery. Suddenly the handsome Antik Hotel waiter is there, asking me about myself. Where am I from? I say I’m from America, from Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
my 1st night’s room is not in a cave but near the outer door
He tells me his name is Hakan, and he sits in a chair beside my bench. He asks if I am married and I say I’ve been separated for over 3 years. We haven’t divorced yet, but we are separated. He doesn’t understand and I explain it a couple of times, but he says, I’m sorry, my English is not good. He says, so are you finished? I say, yes, finished. He asks me if I have children. I say yes, I have 3. They are 17, 19 and 26. He says, 26? But I thought you are in your 30s. I laugh. Well, thank you, but I would have had to have my daughter when I was 10 years old! I don’t think he understands. Oh well, it’s like communicating in Korea. I’m used to this. He tells me that tomorrow he will accompany his brother on the bus to Istanbul. His brother will fly out from Istanbul to Tokyo, where he promotes Turkish tourism to the Japanese. He tells me he has two brothers, this one going to Japan is the middle one, and his older brother is Selim, our tour guide from yesterday (and today). He tells me Selim is 36 years old; Hakan himself is 26, the baby of the family.
the courtyard at the antik cave hotel
Hakan asks me if I’d like to go to a Turkish bath, a hamam, in the mountains, this evening after my tour. It’s where the local people go. He says for 60 lira (about $40), he can take me. I say, what will I get for the 60 lira? A Turkish bath, a massage? He says yes. He says about it’s 25 km away. I haven’t yet done a Turkish bath, and I know that hiking today I’ll get dusty and hot and tired. Maybe the Turkish bath will be a nice end to my day. But, I hesitate. I might want to go back to the Dimrit tonight, to relive last night’s experience. Possibly I can go there after the hamam; it shouldn’t be too late. This sounds perfect, so I say sure, I’ll go. I also tell Hakan I would like to arrange to go on the balloon ride tomorrow morning at sunrise. I say I am willing to pay 110 euros through Turista, so if he can arrange it, I’ll be happy. He promises to take care of it. I also tell him that my room last night never totally cooled off, despite the staff’s assurance yesterday that it would since it’s a cave room. In reality, my room is near the outer door and not really in a cave.
I take off for today’s tour. Selim is again our guide. But. Sadly, the group has changed. Except for Bob and Sezen, who finally surfaced from their honeymoon cocoon, none of yesterday’s group is here. We have 4 new people. There are two young ladies from Hong Kong and there are two women, possibly older than me (?), who are from Brazil. Eight of us all together. Where, oh where, are the Italians and Brazilians from yesterday?? The two ladies from Brazil just arrived this morning on the overnight bus, and they haven’t even changed out of their street clothes into something appropriate for hiking. One of the women is Sylvia, the other’s name I can’t remember because I ended up not liking her. (Haha, I’ll show you! If I don’t like you, I’ll forget your name!) … Hmmm… but I LIKED last night’s head waiter, and I forgot his name….. a sad state of affairs.
our group today: 2 girls from Hong Kong, Bob & Sezen and 2 Brazilian ladies
Selim asks us today if we have ever tried rakı, the official Turkish drink. I raise my hand since I just tried it last night at the Dimrit. He says it’s a clear brandy made from grapes and raisins and flavored with anise. When mixed with ice or water, it turns milky white. Turks often call it Lion’s Milk because of its color and strong alcoholic punch. It’s similar to Greek ouzo. Selim says the belief is that if you have one rakı, it’s good for the stomach. If you have two, you will do the samba in the street. And if you have 3, you will fly home on a magic carpet. I think about last night and know that, even with one rakı, I flew home on the magic carpet.
devrent imagination valley & fairy chimneys
We head off to the Devrent Imagination Valley, where the volcanic rock formations are of such unlikely and distinguished shapes, that you can imagine they are animals: a crocodile, a lizard, Snoopy the comic strip dog, a squirrel, a camel, a bulldog, a dolphin, and other reptiles. It’s like lying in the grass as a child and looking for animal shapes in the clouds. It is already hot, but the air is dry so it’s tolerable. Selim quizzes us. What is that? What do you see there? I never know which rock he is pointing at so I can rarely guess. I see the crocodile. I never see Snoopy.
the resting camel rock formation
an alligator shape in the rock formations
rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley
more unusual rock formations 🙂
Devrent Imagination Valley
more rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley
me at the devrent imagination valley ~ a lunar landscape
Some of the rosy cone-shaped rocks have flat mushroom tops on them. Apparently the mushroom tops are a harder stone, the rock underneath is softer, so it erodes in the weather. Differential erosion. Eventually the mushroom tops fall off, and then the real erosion to the cone-shaped stem begins. Eventually, all the rocks will erode away to nothing.
I say goodbye to a resting camel rock, and we head off to see the Fairy Chimneys. Apparently, there’s a myth that someone came across a fairy inside one of the rock caves, thus the name Fairy Chimneys. Geologists call them mushroom rocks, or some such, and they were formed when erosion wiped out the lava that covered the compacted volcanic ash, leaving behind these stand-alone pinnacles. Some are as high as 40 meters, have conical shapes, and have caps of harder rock on their tips. This park is one of the most beautiful places here in Cappadocia. We hike through lazily, linger and lollygag.
land of the fairy chimneys
more fairy chimneys
what geologists call mushroom rocks
on traveling alone…
Selim is not in a playful mood today. I don’t know why. Maybe he is thinking of his “imitation” fiancé in New York. Maybe he’s really in love with her and misses her. Anyway, the group dynamics are different today. There is some kind of conflict going on between the two Brazilian ladies. There also seems to be tension between the two Hong Kong girls. Sezen and Bob are happy as larks, but sensing this tension between the two pairs of women, I am happy to be traveling alone.
the lone traveler
I was so worried before I came on this trip about traveling solo. In May, when I took a trip to Seoul, I had a miserable time alone, and it was only 3 days! Part of the reason for my bad experience was that I was going through a hard time over a messed up “relationship” I had been involved in. The weather was dreary and cold and, of course, I was in Korea, where no one EVER randomly strikes up a conversation with you. I was also depressed over losing that person who I cared about.
Here, in Turkey, I love traveling alone. I am on a quest for an adventure of any size, shape or color. Being alone invites adventure my way. Many of the things I’ve experienced on this trip would have never happened if I had been with anyone else. I love it! It helps that I’m in a culture that is outgoing, energetic and a little on the edge. I am planning a trip to China in September, and admittedly, since China is an East Asian culture, I’m worried about finding myself incredibly lonely. Frankly, Asian cultures are simply not open to Westerners, in my experience. I’ve been to three Asian cultures, Singapore, Thailand and now Korea, and I have found this reticence, this passivity, this near-deadness, this lack of openness, in each of them. This is why I’m hesitant, and worried, about going to China alone. As this trip will only be 6 days, I hope I can survive it. I am going, despite this hesitation, because there are some things I want to see there, The Great Wall for one, and because it’s a shame NOT to go when it’s right next door and cheap.
I see the tensions between the two pairs of “friends” on this trip and I wonder how long after they return home they will remain friends. It is difficult to travel with anyone. You must be of like minds, or of like temperament, for it to be pleasurable to both parties. I know I could never travel with someone really strong-willed or moody or too serious. I couldn’t travel with someone who is uptight and headstrong. I COULD travel with my friend Jayne, or Nani or Pat or Lisa, or with either of my sons or my daughter. Mike and I used to travel together nicely as well, but being married you can NEVER have these kinds of adventures… Simply put, there are many people with whom I would NEVER consider traveling. Making this trip alone was the best decision I could have ever made!
the sales pitch & lunch in a cave
We head to a pottery factory in the town of Avanos to see the process of pottery-making. Crossing over the Red River, Selim tells us that this river is the source of the red clay used to make pottery. Here, we get the sales pitch. Every tour involves some kind of sales pitch. In a country where 26% of GNP is derived from tourism, I can understand it. But it does get annoying, nonetheless. Avanos is now, and was historically, famous for the production of earthenware pottery.
the pottery factory
I love the ceramics and am almost temped to buy 3 pieces for $190! But the shipping back to the U.S. is $160! I back out of the purchase. It’s just too expensive.
a potter at the pottery factory
We go to a cave restaurant, Uranos Sarikaya, for lunch. I have a delicious lentil soup and eggplant kebab. Today, the group is boring. I feel boring. I try to talk to Sylvia’s friend, who is a lawyer, but she’s not very friendly and I lose interest. Sylvia herself is a teacher and lively and fun. During the course of the morning, I have messed up several times with the Hong Kong girls by asking them about their lives in Japan (!!). I think they ignore my blunder the first couple of times, but the third time, one of them says, WE’RE FROM HONG KONG! I’m so embarrassed. How could I forget? It’s funny, right before I came to Turkey, I finished a great book called The Piano Teacher that took place in Hong Kong during WWII and 10 years after. The book made me want to go to Hong Kong. I told these girls about this when I first met them. How could I have been asking them questions about their lives in Japan? How??? What an utter idiot I can be sometimes!
lunch at the cave restaurant
a waiter at the cave restaurant
göreme open air museum and pigeon valley
After lunch we go to the Göreme Open Air Museum, one of Turkey’s World Heritage sites, to see a nearly infinite number of churches, chapels and monasteries mainly from the 11th century, carved in rocks. The Chapel of St. Basil, The Elmali (Apple) Church, The Chapel of St. Barbara, The Chapel of St. Catherine: cruciform shapes, frescoes in red of mythological figures, Christ, Mary, the saints. We climb, we explore the cool or stifling interiors (each varies), we kick up dust.
A huge church carved into the rocks
more rock-cut churches
Finally, we go to Pigeon Valley where we see boatloads of pigeon houses carved in the rocks. Pigeons were important in Cappadocia, as they were in many places, because their dung made fertilizer. By this time, we are all tired and sweltering. We meander through the open air shops, sit on a couch overlooking the valley, sit at another table and drink cokes and Turkish tea, and then head back to our respective hotels for the evening.
Comfortable seats around the rim of Pigeon Valley
at the top of pigeon valley
sitting at the ridge of Pigeon Valley
relaxing in the shade at the top of pigeon valley
Selim, who knows that his brother is taking me tonight to the local hamam, says the bath, where the locals go (!), is fed with hot springs right from the mountain. He thinks I will really enjoy it.
hakan takes cathy to the local turkish hamam
When I arrive back at the Antik Cave Hotel, Hakan is waiting. He has arranged for me to move into a larger and cooler cave room for tonight; I’m happy since my old room was so hot. After moving my belongings, I throw some things in a bag, including my purple knit dress in case I go afterward back to the Dimrit. Hakan carries a plastic bag filled with mystery items. I tell him we must make a stop at an ATM so I can get the 60 lira to pay him. He stops in Avanos, his hometown, where several guys are sitting alongside the street across from the bank. He speaks to them as I get money. I find out throughout the evening that he either knows or is related to nearly everyone in the area.
hakan driving to the hamam
We begin our long drive in his old and iffy car, through the countryside and quaint villages of stone and terra-cotta houses; it seems longer than 25 km. At one point early on, Hakan mentions that his mother is ill; he can’t explain it in English but it’s something with her pancreas. I remember the guidebook admonitions about men in Cappadocia who strike up romances with foreigners and then ask for money for sick family members. I brace myself for a question about money, but it doesn’t come.
the view from the car on the way to the turkish bath
It’s a little awkward at first because I think this is just business for Hakan. I have paid him 60 lira. But he’s being a little flirtatious, as much as he can be in his limited English. He keeps asking me if I am happy. I say yes, I’m happy, are you happy? He says yes, he is happy. He is smiling a lot and looking at me. At one point I pull out my camera and snap pictures of the scenery from the car. He says, take a picture of me.
I snap him driving. We come to a beautiful town on the hillside and I ask him to stop so I can take a picture. He says, take one of me. I do. Then he wants to set the timer and take one of the two of us together.
hakan in front of the pretty little town
I wonder, is it really possible to fall in love with someone in one night, when you know it will only be for one night? When you know there is no future, when the age difference is too great, when you live in different countries, when you can’t even speak the same language? I don’t know if it is really possible, but in this one night, I think I fall a little in love with this sweet man.
When we stop to take photos of the lovely hillside town, I think, Oh! This must be where the hamam is. But no. We drive right past the town; things start looking a little shabby. There are shacks, dilapidated farms; there is trash here and there. Hmmm. We finally drive into a dirt parking lot; downhill sits a long, one story concrete rectangular building; its bright yellow paint is peeling off to reveal big hunks of gray concrete. Perpendicular, to its left is another smaller concrete building painted, just as shabbily, in royal blue. Women in floral headscarves wander about, along with kids in bathing suits and bulky local men. I am a little nervous about this place. We walk through a passageway in the yellow building, where Hakan shows me the pool in the back. It’s a long, narrow rectangular swimming pool, but it has seen better days. There are two sections to the pool, and it is filled with men, about 50 altogether. Not a woman in sight, except out in the parking lot, wearing headscarves! I say, Hakan, I can’t go in that pool! There are all men there!
I am thinking: This is a Muslim country! I am a westerner. As a woman, wearing a bathing suit & no headscarf, I cannot go into a pool full of 50 men!
hakan and me
Hakan calms me down. He has a calm & sweet voice. He says, it’s ok. No problem. Soothing. He says, you’re a westerner; westerners come here all the time, usually later in the evening. It’s no problem. He takes me to a small dirty and empty tiled room to change into my bathing suit. Thank god I brought my tankini that covers my stomach, and not a bikini! I would have never had the nerve to go in with a bikini. I change in the small room and put all my clothes in my bag. I brought a measly hand towel from the hotel; it’s grossly inadequate to use as a cover-up to walk out to that pool. I come out of the room, holding the small hand towel over my front. Hakan goes into the same room to change into his bathing suit. I am left feeling over-exposed in the passageway.
Hakan up to this point has been wearing jeans and a long sleeve white shirt. This must be his work uniform. In his bathing suit, the sharp edges of his ribs are visible. He is so thin he is almost not there. The hair on his chest and legs is heavy and black. He seems shy. I hold up my hand towel, say, this is all I brought. I wish I had a bigger towel! He pulls a large towel out of his plastic bag and chivalrously hands it to me. He takes my hand towel in exchange.
Before going to the pool, I ask him what I should do with my bag. I am worried about it. He says, I’ll put it in the car. I say, please lock your car. This bag has everything in it, my passport, my money, my credit cards, everything. Most importantly, my camera. He says, No problem. He runs to the car and is back in a few moments. I’m uneasy about my bag being in his car. But he seems not the slightest bit worried.
We get into the pool. The water’s warm and the night air is cooling, so it feels especially good. We soak. I’m still not sure if this is just a tourist service by Hakan. I feel comfortable enough, now that I’m submerged in the water, that I could release him from his “duty.” Maybe he has friends here he would like to talk to. I say, Hakan, if you’d like to go talk to your friends or something, I’m okay now. He says, No problem. I stay here with you. We float. We are in the hotter pool and he asks if I’d like to go to the cooler pool. We go and it is cooler but still warm and we float in that one. We race across the pool. I beat him and he says, you are younger than me… You won! We go underwater and look at each other. He says, let’s see who can hold breath longest. We go underwater and I start to crack up, so I pop up for air. We laugh. I speak English to a Turkish boy in an orange inner tube, but clearly he can’t understand me, so I say nasılsın? (How are you?) He says iyi (good). I’m happy. I’m learning a few Turkish words.
on the way to the hamam
By this time I feel relaxed and happy and I truly enjoy Hakan’s company. He can’t speak or understand much English, but he stays by my side the whole time; he is taking care of me in his way. He has a gentle but persistent nature.
We go indoors to another pool, where I swim up and down the length several times; he chats with a solitary man. I say, I may as well get my massage now. Hakan changes back into his work clothes while I stand outside the door, and then he walks me over to the royal blue building. The massage room is an old tiled room with a large tiled HOT bath and an enormous tiled ledge. Hakan says, I’ll be in the car. I sit in the hot bath, but no one shows up and I get out of the tub because it is so steamy; I’m boiling. Finally, a hairy burly guy in an orange-flowered bathing suit comes in. He motions for me to get back into the bath. I protest: It’s too hot! He waves me back to the pool and leaves the room. I sit in the pool and sweat profusely.
When he returns, he motions for me to get out of the bath and then to remove my bathing suit. I point to the bottom. This too? Yes, he emphatically nods. I’ve never had a Turkish bath before and I figure, OK, I guess this is how they do it. I take off my bathing suit and lie face-down on the big ledge. He comes back into the room and proceeds to scrub me vigorously with a scouring mitten covered in soap. He scrubs and rubs. The whole thing is disconcerting. I feel it isn’t supposed to be like this, me totally naked with this man scrubbing me down. After he finishes with my back, he motions for me to roll over. I feel really strange doing so, because here I am lying totally bare and open. He scrubs me all over the front. Then he says to me, You have sex with him (meaning Hakan)? I say, NO! He says, You have sex with me? I say, With you? NO! He smiles this weird smile: You sure? I say, Yes! He keeps scrubbing and I can’t help but notice he is excited! He keeps scrubbing, but he doesn’t touch me inappropriately. I figure the minute he does I will scream and Hakan will come running. IF he can hear me from the car….
Rub-a-dub-dub. Again, he says, You sure, no sex with me? He winks. I say, NO! Thank you, but NO! Immediately I wonder, why did I say thank you? I am way too polite!! I try to be calm and cool and collected. And really, despite his totally inappropriate comments, he never touches me in even a remotely sexual way. Other than of course scrubbing the entire front of my body. Finally, he says, Finished! And he walks out the door. I shower, wash my hair, and put on my purple knit dress. When I open the door, Hakan is standing right there. I motion with my hair dryer that I’d like to dry my hair. He takes me to a ladies’ restroom where the only outlet is in the open doorway. I dry my hair; it seems surreal, my white hair is flying all around my head and there is Hakan standing outside the doorway, mesmerized. I say, Hakan! You don’t need to watch me! But he doesn’t understand and he continues to watch.
As we drive back, I tell Hakan what the massage guy said to me. I explain it 3 times before he understands what I’m saying. He says, Oh no. That is a problem. He asks, Did he do anything to you? I say, No, it was fine. He asks me again to repeat what the guy said; he says again, That’s a problem. Please don’t say anything to Ibrahim (who runs the Cave Hotel). I say, Don’t worry. I won’t say anything. But I’m a very laid back westerner. I think it would be scary to most other women. I wouldn’t take other women there, Hakan. He asks again if the guy did anything to me.
along the drive to the hamam
Hakan asks me what my shampoo is. Is it Turkish? I pull it out of my bag. I bought it in Istanbul: Clear. He says it smells good. Then we drive in silence. Hakan finally says, Are you happy? I say, Yes, are you happy? He says, Yes. We drive through a dark and deserted area on the way to Avanos, and he says, Are you afraid? I say no, I’m not. Why would I be? He says, because there are no lights and no people. I say, If I was by myself, I might be afraid, but you’re here, so I’m not. When he finally understands, I think he is pleased.
I ask him if he could drop me somewhere in Ürgüp to eat. He says, No problem. Would you like to eat in a restaurant or take food out to a park? I say, either one is fine with me. So. I guess he is planning to have dinner with me. We get to Avanos and he goes into a little take-out joint and orders some kind of meat in a pita. While they’re making it, he takes me to the mosque next door to use the bathroom and to watch the Imam, who is his friend, conducting a prayer service. We drive to the Red River in Avanos, walk through a field of grass and mud flats to a bench and eat alongside the river. He tells me he thinks I’m a very sexy lady. He asks me numerous times, Are you happy? I say, Yes, I am really happy. Are you happy? He says, Yes.
the red river separates Avanos from the rest of cappadocia
After dinner, we walk by the river and he asks if he can kiss me. I say yes, of course. I am happy he finally asks. Lovely. He wants to go for a drive and we do, to a secluded spot along the river. After stopping, he decides he doesn’t like the spot after all, but his car won’t start! He tries several times, and finally it goes, but he says, I should go home and get my father’s car. So we drive down a dirt road to a 2-story terra-cotta house surrounded by billowy trees and he gets out, invites me to get out of the car. A breeze stirs the poplars and the weeping willows. His father walks out carrying a little boy. He is genteel and kind and speaks good English, asks me where I am from, tells me I am welcome here anytime.
We drive in the father’s brand new Jeep-like vehicle and I say, I like your father very much. I ask him, Who was that little boy? He says, It’s Selim’s son. I say, Selim is married? Yes, Selim is married and has two kids. They all live together in the father’s house: Hakan’s parents, Selim and his wife and kids, and Hakan. I am shocked. I don’t say anything, but I wonder what was that whole story about Selim’s “imitation” fiance?? Was it all made up? Just a goofy joke? Or is he truly hoping to have this woman from New York visit him, despite the fact that he’s married?
the red river in Avanos
We drive further and Hakan says, Will you take me to America with you? I say, What would you do there, Hakan? He says, any kind of work, driving, waiting tables, anything, it doesn’t matter. He says he is studying to improve his English. I can’t help but wonder if this is what he wants from me, just a ticket to America… Everyone here, it seems, wants something from me.
We drive back near the river and the river swirls by. The Red River with its red clay, clay shaped for centuries into vessels and tiles and plates and bowls. Hakan is a sweet and kind man. His eyes are sad, but he seems happy and I’m happy and we don’t need to talk anymore to know that we both enjoy each other. We sit, along this Red River in Avanos, the longest river in Turkey, that separates Avanos from the rest of Cappadocia. We are in a world of our own; really I am in Hakan’s world, but I feel welcome here. I feel like I belong. Here. In this moment.