pamukkale & hierapolis, an aussie fellow traveler, and the bus ride from hell

Thursday, July 29: My bus arrives at the Denizli bus station, 7 a.m., without incident.  A shuttle picks me up from there, and lo and behold, it is full of Koreans!  Of course none of them can speak English except one, and I tell her I am teaching English in Korea, in Daegu.  We all are excited to discover each other here in Turkey, at least on the surface.  Lately I have tried to adopt a slogan that I hope to believe (aka, in the style of The Secret): “I love Koreans and they love me!”  I try to tell this to myself repeatedly in Korea, especially when I’m on the metro or walking down the street and getting glared at by everyone.  But, in the end, I too often resort to feelings of irritation at so much of the culture.  I do try though, I try so hard.

the hotel poolside cafe where I have breakfast around Pamukkale

the hotel poolside cafe where I have breakfast around Pamukkale

So. On this shuttle, I’m happy to see these Koreans in Turkey, these people with whom I have been living for 5 months.   But.  On another level I think, Oh no!  I came to Turkey to escape Korea.  I cannot, please, I CANNOT, spend an entire day of my vacation on a tour with them.  We chat a bit more and then, relief, the shuttle stops and drops them all off at a Korean tourist agency, its windows covered in Hangul, the Korean alphabet.  I breathe easier, I admit, and immediately I feel bad that I feel this way.  Why do I have such conflict inside of me about this culture?  It is a clean and hard-working culture; many Koreans are fun-loving and truly kind-hearted.  Yet.  I am not comfortable in Korea even after 5 months.  Here in Turkey, I am comfortable in one day.  It’s NOT ethnocentrism, a feeling that American culture is better than all others, because Turkish and Egyptian cultures, which I love, are certainly not remotely like America.  It’s just that I feel more at home in some cultures than in others.

at least the poolside cafe is lovely... can't say as much for the room

at least the poolside cafe is lovely… can’t say as much for the room

I feel salty and dirty from my overnight bus trip and hold out hope of a shower before the tour starts.  I get dropped at a hotel in Pamukkale where the hotel owners allow me to use a filthy room to shower and change clothes. I don’t even care that it’s filthy; I’m happy to clean myself up. I can’t check into a hotel today because this evening, I will take a 3 hour bus to Kuşadası.  There, I can check into a hotel.  But here in Pamukkale, I’m in transit and have no place to call home.

After showering, I eat a lovely breakfast by the poolside.  I see a lone traveler about my age, but he seems engrossed in himself, and I get the feeling he’s not friendly.  After breakfast, I sit in the lobby waiting for the tour shuttle, and he introduces himself.  His name is Neville, he’s Australian and he’s on a 78-day around-the-world trip.  He’s a business/computer teacher in Australia.  Later in the day, he tells me he’s taking this around-the-world trip because he was stressed out about work and his marriage fell apart.  He needed an escape.  My first impression about him is most definitely misguided; he is friendly and easy-going, and we end up hanging out together most of the day.  There is no chemistry or anything like that, we are just companionable fellow travelers.  The rest of our group is composed of a family of 11 Pakistanis and 2 Korean girls who keep to themselves.  Neville and I just have each other.

the red waters of karahayit

Emre, our very young guide for today, takes us first to the Red Waters of Karahayit where Muslim men and women are bathing, fully clothed, and slapping mud all over themselves.  I wade in the pool.  These waters are considered to have healing properties.  I don’t really need healing, so I neglect to slap the mud on myself, but I do wander into some shops and buy a black onyx and mother of pearl ring for 25 lira.  I can’t believe this is my 7th day in Turkey and this is my first purchase!  I’ve been determined not to buy anything that I will have to carry with me.  Happily, I don’t think this ring will be much of a burden. 🙂

the red waters of karahayit

the red waters of karahayit

me at the red waters

me at the red waters

muslims bathing in the healing red waters

muslims bathing in the healing red waters

hierapolis

We then go to Hierapolis, an ancient Greek city on top of hot springs; it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The hot springs have been used to heal ailments since the 2nd century BC.  At the opening of the ancient ruins is the necropolis.  Odd that they put all the dead people at the entrance to the city.  The city was founded around 190 BC  by the king of Pergamum, and was a cure center used later by the Romans and even by the Byzantines.

emre our guide tells us about hierapolis

emre our guide tells us about hierapolis

The city lies along the crest of a hill.  We see the necropolis first, tombs galore, including the Tomb of the Gladiators; the slab above the entrance bears images relating to gladiatorial combat: an amphora for oil offered as a prize to the victor, a trident for combat, and a circular shield.  We see the marble sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius, carved with garlands.  We see Tumulus, a subterranean funerary chamber.  We see poplar trees and a silvery ground cover.  We see Roman gates and the Basilica Bath, later converted to a church, and the main street, called Frontinius Street. Emre gives us a funny demonstration of how the public latrines were used and described how men were separated from women by a curtain.

the marble sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius

the marble sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius

one of the roman gates

one of the roman gates

pamukkale’s travertines

At the far end of the hill crest, we reach the travertines.  In the earth beneath Pamukkale and Hierapolis, there is a huge source of water heated by volcanic lava; it dissolves pure white calcium, becomes saturated with it, and carries it to the surface of the earth, where it flows out and runs down a steep hillside.  When the calcium cools, it solidifies and forms white calcium cascades that turn to stone.  These are the travertines. Pamukkale’s nickname is “Cotton Castle” because of these unusual stone formations.

neville the aussie at the travertines of pamukkale

neville the aussie at the travertines of pamukkale

Emre leaves us when we exit Hierapolis and tells us we can explore for an hour.  Neville and I walk down to the travertines, first removing our shoes as required.  Countless tourists wade in the ankle-deep pools, clad in bikinis.  It’s said that the travertines have been abused over time by people, and many of the pools are now restricted.  Visitors today only have access to the ankle-deep wading pools.  It’s difficult to walk barefoot over the gravelly surface of the pools.  The crowds of tourists look pretty tacky.  Neville says sarcastically, Everyone thinks they’re a model!  This is because girls in bikinis are posing in every sort of position for photos.  After we walk almost to the end of the pools, feet punctured with pebble marks, we backtrack to meet the rest of the group near the Antique Pool, where we could have taken a swim for 20 Turkish lira, but didn’t.  As we reassemble, Emre informs us that we have to walk all the way through the pools again to get to our lunch destination.  Everyone protests that we already took this walk, but alas there is no other way to get there.  So we walk again across all the travertines, gingerly trying to minimize the pain from the gravel on our bare feet.

tacky sunbathers at the travertines

tacky sunbathers at the travertines

Earlier, before we separated from Emre, he kept smiling and looking at me.  It was funny; maybe he was just trying to figure out where I was from or something.  As we take the long trek back across the pools, he walks beside me and we chat.  He asks me where I’m from and I repeat my story once again.  I tell him how difficult it’s been in Korea.  I also mention how nice it’s been to get male attention in Turkey, something I have sorely lacked in Korea.  He says, I’m sure you do get attention here.  You have such a soft voice.

the travertines ~ off limits to bathers

the travertines ~ off limits to bathers

I can’t help but laugh at this.  Everyone knows I have a really loud voice; I must, because people are always telling me to shhhh… Keep it down!  Anyway, maybe today I have been quieter than normal.  Sweet.

the view from the top

the view from the top

We go to lunch at a huge covered, but open-air, buffet place; the food is mediocre at best, as is the atmosphere.  It’s hot and still.  The two Korean girls sit together, as does the Pakistani family.  Neville and I, the non-belongers, stick together like two lost souls.  After lunch we stop at another onyx factory to get yet another sales pitch.

at the end of hierapolis before the travertines

at the end of hierapolis before the travertines

looking from the grassy area to the travertines

looking from the grassy area to the travertines

 

the bus ride from hell

When I get dropped at the bus station to take the 3-hour bus to Kuşadası, there is some confusion about my ticket, none of which I understand.  A 12-year-old boy is manning the tourist office and he finally prints me my ticket, after answering 3 phone calls. I sit fidgeting, bursting with impatience and irritation.  I think, this is sure to be screwed up!  Where are the adults??  On the bus, I get moved to several different seats like a pawn on a chess board, and finally I’m told to sit in the very back where the seats are 5-across.  My seat is flat up against the right window, and right behind one of the exits from the bus.  In front of me is a metal panel.  My knees are right up against it.

At first there are only 3 of us on this 5-person seat, but at the next stop, a mother and her two children get on, so there are suddenly six of us!  I can’t move with this metal panel in front.  The bus is stifling hot and we ride for 2 long hours without a break.  Finally, when the bus attendant comes by, I say, Toilet?  He doesn’t understand.  Toilet?  Toilet?  Are we going to stop for a toilet?  I guess I figure if I repeat it enough he will understand.  Someone finally does translate and he asks the driver to make a stop at a gas station. I get out along with about 20 other people.  I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks a stop is long overdue!

This is the most miserable 3-hour ride of my entire trip in Turkey.  As a matter of fact, this is my least favorite place, my least favorite group of people (except Neville), and my least favorite day.

i finally reach my destination after the bus ride from hell

i finally reach my destination after the bus ride from hell

Finally, we arrive at the Ozdelick Hotel in Kuşadası at 9 pm.  The hotel dinner ends at 9:30, so I drop my bag and rush downstairs to gobble down the buffet dinner.  I sit on the patio looking out at the Aegean Sea and have a glass of wine.  I see the Pakistani family at another table; surely they must have had a better bus trip than I did.  I am so exhausted and irritable, I go straight to my room after dinner and get comfortable.  Sleep.

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imaginings versus reality

When I travel, I conjure up a whole magical city in my mind.  Usually this city is very small and accessible, easy to navigate and not overwhelming.   Often this figment of my imagination is my undoing.  When I went to Bangkok, I imagined a place very exotic, based loosely on the movie Brokedown Palace, and on stories Mike told me about his lovely memories of growing up in Thailand.  I imagined bustling pedestrian-only streets filled with Thais and multitudes of foreigners in colorful and exotic clothing.  I imagined a place strikingly strange, colorful, and enticing.  Instead I found in Bangkok a mostly Western city with some elements of Thai-ness, but not to the degree I imagined.  I found traffic-clogged streets, pollution and nothing that really spoke to my heart.  Except the food.  Astounding food.  And lovely, relaxing & cheap massages.  

Now on my way to Turkey, here’s what I imagine: a much more colorful and exotic Cairo. I imagine blues and greens and mosaics and magnificent mosques and a dancing turquoise Bosphorus, with Hagia Sophia dominating the landscape in every direction.  I imagine the somehow comforting call to prayer 5 times a day.  I imagine a city glittering with a fresh breeze.  I imagine friendly and gregarious people.  I also imagine a bit of a dark underside, based on a movie I saw right before I came to Korea; though it takes place in Germany and Istanbul, the main characters are Turks: Head-on.  It was a dark and painful love story.  Another movie I want to watch that I’ve heard much about is Distant, another melancholy movie.  

The book I’m reading now, The Black Book, makes me imagine a place of heaviness and density, a place of shadows and mystery, but I don’t want to let that place take over my imagination; I’ll keep that place on the fringes of my mind.  

I am writing all this so that when I get to Turkey, I will see how it measures up to my dreams.  The reality in travel is many times absolutely antithetical to what you imagine it to be.  This was not the case in France; where everything was as I imagined, from years of reading Ernest Hemingway, or even better.  England was great, but in a way different from what I imagined.   

There is a Turkish guy I met here in Korea.  He is shockingly innocent for his age of 35.  He believes the Quran to be absolutely perfect.  He loves Turkey and loves his mother, who he says is an angel.  And he is very kind-hearted and shy.  I wonder if he is representative or an anomaly.   I guess I will begin to find out in two more days, when I arrive in Istanbul, suitcase in hand, ready to learn about this ancient world, new only to me.  

One of my stops will be in  Cappadocia, in eastern Anatolia, land of cave dwellings and fairy chimneys, where volcanic eruptions formed rocks which have eroded into spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved the soft rocks out to form houses, churches and monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center between 300—1200 AD.  This sounds like a romantic spot and guidebooks even give warnings that in this magical spot,  local men may flirt with women and try to form relationships with them, only to pull out sob stories later of how their sick mothers need money for operations, etc.  I probably won’t have to worry about this happening!  

Next stop, Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish. The city contains hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water. It is located in Turkey’s Inner Aegean region. The ancient city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “castle.”  People have bathed in Pamukkale’s pools for thousands of years.  

My next stop will be in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city, and later a Roman city.  In the Roman period, it was the 2nd largest city behind Rome.  Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia cited in the Book of Revelations.  It is also thought the Gospel of John may have been written here.  It also has a large gladiator’s graveyard.  The house of the Virgin Mary is supposed to be the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It is a place of pilgrimage that has been visited by 3 popes.  

Finally, I plan to return to Istanbul, where I will try to take a cruise down the Bosphorus and visit the Grand Bazaar.  Here I imagine gold, silver, beautiful painted tiles, Turkish carpets, mosaics, all allure.  The stuff of dreams….  

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