Saturday: After eating the Hotel Sozer‘s pathetic excuse for a breakfast, I become embroiled in an altercation with the staff. On my way to breakfast, I tell them I have no hot water. They assure me they will fix it. After eating, I check in with them and they haven’t even had anyone follow-up. A boy follows me up to my room and tells me I should leave the water to run for 10 minutes. I do and it remains coolish-lukewarm. This is upsetting to me because I have not run across a bathtub in ages (only once at the Antik Cave Hotel); Korea has few or no bathtubs, and Turkey is lacking as well. I have my mind made up that I will take a bath at this hotel, and they are foiling my plans. In addition, the phone in my room isn’t working, so each time I have to make an inquiry about the water, I have to go all the way downstairs again. I do just that after running the water for 10 minutes and finding no change in the temperature.
Another staff guy comes up and sticks his hand under the water. He says in a snide voice, What? This isn’t warm enough for you? I say, No! Are you kidding? He says, Let it run 30 minutes. I say, 30 minutes!! That’s ridiculous! He says, You have no choice. You have to wait. He leaves and the water runs, never changing from its original temperature.
I go downstairs again. They brush me off, say there is nothing that can be done. I ask about my phone. I say I need to call my travel agent to make arrangements for my overnight bus tonight and I have no working phone. They say they will get someone to check on it. I finally go take my lukewarm SHOWER (a lukewarm bath is no fun!) and still, when it is time for me to leave for my boat trip at 9 a.m., no one has come up to fix my phone. I go downstairs and tell the desk staff I need to use a phone because mine isn’t working. They grudgingly make the call for me, but it’s too early; Turista’s office in Istanbul isn’t open. By then I am furious at their attitude. As if I am the one being unreasonable! I must check out of the hotel and leave my bag with them for the day because I will not return till 5:00 from the boat trip. I tell them before I leave that this hotel has terrible service and I am not one bit happy. They shrug. Obviously service matters not to the Hotel Sozer.
a cruise on the aegean
I am the first one on the boat. A woman with scarlet-dyed hair and a tight-fitting camouflage/leopard print top offers a drink.
The air is blue and breezy and the water shimmers and bounces in the sun. It’s a lovely day for a cruise. I sip a Coke and wait. Two tall unshaven Turkish men (they look like brothers) are readying the boat for the day, moving ropes and anchors and cushions, chopping food in the gallery below, filling coolers with ice. Birol, the one who booked my trip, shows up briefly to say hello, hugs the other two men, and then vanishes.
A large group of 12 arrives; they are all Iranians. One of the women, wearing huge sunglasses, sits beside me on the cushions; she is quite pretty but she looks miserable and says she has a horrible headache. Another nice young lady, Mitra, tells me she teaches English in Iran. She’s Iranian, though, not a native speaker.
Other people arrive in pairs and smaller groups, Belgians, Turks; I am the lone American. Finally the boat pulls out of the marina and we are on our way. We cruise along the northern shore until we reach a rocky cove with some caves. Several of the guys jump overboard and swim. I am not warmed up enough yet for swimming, so I just watch.
After a half hour or so, we head out into the wide blue sea. At first we can’t even see land on the horizon. It’s a bumpy ride of at least an hour. The Iranians are drinking beer and I swear there is some Persian music playing and they are dancing all over the boat, snapping their fingers over their heads, twirling around and around. They ask me if I’d like to dance, but I’m not really ready to start drinking & dancing at 11 a.m. I enjoy just chilling and watching.
The Iranian girl with the sunglasses is turning white. She is getting progressively sicker and is now vomiting into a plastic bag. Her boyfriend, a handsome gray-haired guy in his 40s stays by her side, bringing her ice, holding her, letting her lean her head against him. She looks horrible. He is patient and kind. I know it’s really tough to travel with someone who is sick when you feel just fine.
Finally, we arrive at a pretty cove with a beach and a couple of trees; a rocky ledge and silvery bushes border the inland side of the beach. Five other mid-sized cruise boats are anchored in the cove. People on some of the boats are dancing and singing. The seasick Iranian girl climbs off the boat and swims to the beach, where she lies like a dead person under a shade tree the whole time we are anchored. I descend the ladder into the water. Shocked by the cold at first, I am soon soothed and cooled. I float and swim around and around. Three little Turkish boys, maybe 12 or 13, keep saying Hi! Hello! to me. (This sounds like my students in Korea. They’re always saying Hi! Hello! But they can never take the conversation any further.) One of the boys with a pimply face keeps winking at me!
The two men and the scarlet-haired lady serve us a huge lunch at a big center table. I have a beer now as it is after noon. The three Turkish boys are sitting on the ledge at the back of the boat. The pimply one keeps smiling at me and winking. Boy, they are trained early here in the art of flirtation!
After lunch, and my beer (!), I lie in my bikini (which I never wear around anyone I know!) on plastic cushions covering the bow of the boat and sleep. I sleep so soundly that when I wake up, I find we have moved to an entirely different cove! I never even felt or heard the boat moving. I must be exhausted. 🙂
We stop at 3 different coves, each time for about an hour. Each time, I dip into the cool turquoise water and swim. After, we take the long ride back to Kuşadası. This late in the afternoon, the water is quite rough, and we bounce roughly home. By this time the seasick Iranian girl is practically wearing the plastic bag around her mouth, puking into it constantly. Her face is pale and her eyes are black and sunken. I have never seen anyone so seasick. Her boyfriend remains kind and patient; he sits on the floor holding her, pulling her hair off her face, rubbing her back.
I sit toward the front of the boat as we chop & bounce along and chat with the scarlet-haired lady and her husband. I find that she is a nurse from eastern Turkey and they have been married a long time and have a 17-year-old son. Her husband is Birol’s brother and the brother of the other captain on the boat. They all look alike, tall, lanky, a little sun-weathered and grizzled, but handsome. She and her husband look into each other’s eyes, laugh together, seem incredibly happy, even after being married a long time.
I think I have found true love. Yesterday, at the Virgin Mary’s house, I drank from the fountain of love, and I made two wishes hoping to find true love here in Turkey. Sadly, I forgot to wish for true love FOR ME!! I think on this cruise today, I find true love multiplied by two. The Iranian boyfriend taking such good care of his seasick girlfriend and this couple, the scarlet-haired lady and her weathered captain husband. I realize that this is probably the closest I will come to having my wish come true. 😦
After the cruise, I go back to the haman for a pedicure. Though yesterday’s bath and massage were quite lovely, today’s pedicure is amateurish. The lady holds my feet on her lap and dries my toenails by blowing on them! She never applies a clear protective coat. By the time I return to the hotel from the hamam, the nail polish is already chipping.
On my way back, I stop at a cafe and eat a quick mushroom omelet, then I wait at the hotel to get picked up for my last overnight bus back to Istanbul. The hotel of course had never called Turista as I had asked them to; finally, I connect with Marina myself; she tells me someone will pick me up at 8:00 and he will have my bus ticket. I am squirming because the guy doesn’t get there until 8:30. I imagine the worst: having to stay another night at the Hotel Sozer!
Finally, I am transported to the bus terminal, where I have to wait 45 minutes in the grungy, dirty outdoor terminal. I am miserably hot and sweaty. I board the bus, finally, at 9:30. Next to me tonight is a fat Turkish woman who falls promptly asleep and leans in my direction like the Tower of Pisa all night. Each time we stop for breaks, I have to climb over her; she never even flinches. Her legs are like tree trunks…. it’s a good thing she’s asleep. Otherwise, she would be someone serious to contend with!
Again, the long overnight trip with the sporadic stops. The bus terminals bustle with Muslim women in colorful floral headscarves, sunken-eyed children, rough-looking Turkish men smoking and standing around in some kind of secret brotherhood. Always these pretzel-like things for sale, which I never get around to trying. The light in these places is always a dirty yellow; in it, the shadowy faces look sallow and sickly, including my own. The toilets have bidets to clean your undersides, like all good Muslim countries, & big washtubs for washing before prayers. These terminals have a seamy underside that is partially mitigated by the covered Muslim women; they somehow make these surreal places seem safe. I figure they are prayerful women and they’re in charge; the men are rough and tired from the wear & tear of their hard lives. These women look like peasants; they’re different from the covered women in Egypt or Dubai. In Dubai, especially, the covered women seem to wear the classic and simple all-black hijabs.
Anyway, I can’t help but think that in all this heat, in Turkey, Dubai, or Egypt, the covering seems silly. I sympathize with the modesty factor in the religion, but I cannot truly understand why these women choose this, or submit to it.
Back to Istanbul… for my last 3 days.