Pools and Ruins

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Man, next time I'm bringing my own computer with me! Right now I'm sitting in an Internet cafe surrounded by young boys playing computer games, loudly exclaiming their progress to each other. (I don't know why they aren't in school - it's Monday and as far as I'm aware, not a holiday. I'm counting on leaving here with a headache.) Internet cafes are harder to find here than in SE Asia.

We are now in Pamukkale (pronounced pam-moo-ka-lay) to see the travertine pools. We were dropped off at the otogar by Karla and Rhett - it is so interesting to see how people who have chosen a different lifestyle live and we had such a wonderful time with them. Even though they barely knew us when we arrived, they immediately made us feel at home and their hospitality was second to none! Everyone has to pass through security checks at the larger bus stations, though we have yet to see someone getting checked even if they do beep!

Our bus was fine; Martin was happy that he had lots of leg room for a change! This time the bus boy did serve tea, coffee and snacks - pound cake with dried fruit which I suppose would be the equivalent of our fruitcake, as well as cookies and crackers. I noted that there were a quite a few people on the bus who at least drank something. The driver also smoked occasionally, though no one else was allowed to. (Thank heavens!)

The fellow behind us heard us speaking and kindly offered to help us should be need assistance in speaking to anyone. We chatted with him a couple of times when the bus stopped for a break. He had lived in LA for thirty-six years and was an electrical engineer who had designed computers. He recently returned to Ankara to live and was on his way to Bodrum on the south-west coast to meet a friend to go sailing. In our brief conversations he said that he felt the US was "getting out of hand". He had been to Canada several times and felt that "Canada is the way the US should be". It was obvious that the current situation in the US was one of the reasons he had retired to Turkey.

None of the long distance buses we have taken thus far have had toilets which can be a bit of a problem when the bus only stops every three or so hours! At the stops, the bus empties and all the passengers head for the "tuvalet" (toilet). We are in the land of squat toilets, but sometimes you'll find one western-type toilet in washrooms. (The squat type can be particularly challenging when you get a cramp in your thigh - I have firsthand knowledge!) Most toilets at bus stations charge a small fee for usage and the money goes toward paying someone to keep them clean, ensure there's toilet paper, etc.

The bus drivers seem very particular about keeping the bus clean. If it's raining (as it was on this trip), there are newspapers or towels on the steps to absorb moisture that's tracked in. It also seems like they have the bus washed at nearly every stop; attendants was the bus with the hose attached to a push broom. (Then there's the obsession with spraying the aisle - which is immaculate - with stinky deodorizer.)

At one of our stops, we noticed a young woman who was crying saying goodbye to her family - mother, father and sister. She kissed her mother and father's hands and held them to her forehead (a sign of respect for elders). Our Turkish-American friend commented that she was probably not going any great distance, but had also never been far away before. We have noted that young people are very respectful of elders; if there are no vacant seats on the bus, it will be the young boys who will be standing.

If one more of these kids yell in my ear . . . !

The landscape intermittingly changed from flat to hilly to slightly mountainous and back again during our six and a half hour trip. In some areas there were lots of coniferous trees; I also noticed Lombardi poplars. The soil, for the most part, looks very arid and rocky. We saw marble quarries, brick factories (houses here are made of bricks), porcelain factories and, closer to Pamukkale, various crops: grapes (for wine - Turkish wine isn't bad at all), corn, cotton and fruit, such as apples and pomegranates. Tobacco is also grown in this area. There were also flocks of sheep en route.

Cell phone mania has taken off in Turkey, as it has in so many other countries. Just about everyone seems to have one. Compared to SE Asia, though, the rings are rather innocuous. I have yet to hear "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" or "M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E".

At least I've figured out how to change the keyboard from Turkish to English - makes typing a lot faster!

Of course, you see plenty of mosques here, just as you would see churches at home. Every small town has at least one, even if it consists of a simple building (no dome) and a single minaret. In Istanbul, you could see domes and minarets in every direction you looked.

The bus depot we arrived at was in a town nearby Pamukkale and we had to take a minibus or "dolmus" (intercity bus) to get to our destination. A fellow on the bus convinced us and a Swiss guy travelling overland from Istanbul to Kathmandu to come to his brother's hotel (listed in Lonely Planet).

At the hotel we were met by Mohammed, the owner's brother-in-law. (Most of the hotels here are family businesses.) He was from a family who had traditionally been nomads, moving their sheep as the seasons necessitated. Once they decided to settle in one area, they had to find work to support them, so organized a wool cooperative. Mohammed had left his family at the age of 18 because they had found a wife for him (many marriages are still arranged here) and he refused to comply with his parents' wishes.

We spent only one night at the first hotel because of the lumpy bed and pillows that were like slabs of cement, but the real turn-off was that Mohammed spent all his waking hours trying to sell us tours at double/triple the going rate! We'd already fallen for a similar sales pitch in Vietnam and weren't going to be sucked in again!

Pamukkale is a small town of only 3,000 people. The place is very busy in the summer, but, except for a few backpackers (like ourselves) and the daily busloads of British, German and French tourists who come to see the pools (many of whom are wearing rather skimpy clothes which is hardly appropriate), it is very quiet right now. (For that reason, it's been a good time to travel - you can even bargain for your hotel room.) Last night while we were out walking, a number of bar owners tried to come get us to have a drink - the bars were empty and didn't seem to get any fuller at the evening progressed. A bad night for business I would guess.

At Pamukkale, a Unesco World Heritage site, hot calcium-laden mineral waters used to flow through a ruined Hellenistic city (Hierapolis) before cascading over a cliff. As the water cooled, the calcium precipitated and clung to the cliffs, forming snowy white travertines, the white stone waterfalls or "cotton castles" (pumakkale). People used to bathe in the travertines, but much of the area is now off-limits because of the damage done by bathers. (As you walk in the townsite you can see - and hear - the water running down from the hillside above.)

At the base of the pool, visitors must remove their shoes and carry them up to the top where they put them back on. Warm water runs over the chalky white calcium deposits as you pass by various pools. At first, it seems that the surface should be cold because it looks like you're walking on a glacier it's so white (unlike any such places where I've been before where it's yellow from various minerals like sulphur and smells very unpleasant!) It's about a 1 km walk uphill to the ruins and, although quite smooth, tender foots have to watch where they're walking! Once at the top we wandered around the ruins of Hierapolis (dates from the 2nd century BC), the most impressive ruin being the Roman theatre.

I just growled at a kid. Time to leave . . . .

I came back just before breaking of the fast, so this place is a lot quieter!

The weather has been fairly warm (15-20C), but it certainly cools off at night! Not many of the hotels have central heating so I'm glad I have my "furnace" (i.e., Martin) with me!

Like most tourist areas, people here speak more English that, say, in Ankara and Safranbolu, though some phrases tend to come out of their mouths kind of funny. For instance, when someone wants your attention they'll say, "excuse me", but it sounds more like "squeeze me". Hee! I've also noticed that no one seems to know written English from German from French from Spanish. On more than one occasion, I've been given information/menus in all four languages!

A woman who worked at the Canadian embassy in Ankara asked about our plans to travel to Syria and warned us that if we had different surnames and weren't wearing wedding rings that they might not give us a hotel room together! (We left our wedding bands at home - one of the rules of travelling is that you never take anything with you that you care about losing - besides your passport, money, etc. that is!) Thus, we have been scouring shops for cheap silver rings that could pass for wedding rings. No luck yet, but we should be able to find something.

The hotels here offer supper for their guests, so we arranged to eat at our hotel the second night. What a feast! The meal consisted of tomato soup, a green salad, green beans cooked with tomatoes, lamb meatballs with rice and pickles and corn on the cob! I barely ate half of it and Martin didn't eat much more. We were roundly chastised by the hotel owners, "Eat, eat!"

Also present for supper was a fellow from Italy. He was an architect who lived in a city not far from Venice and spoke very good English. We had a great time laughing with our hosts and it was a very memorable evening.

Time to leave - the natives are getting hungry! (And I can't blame them after not eating all day!)
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