It’s a dark and stormy night. Really, it is. They call it the something something rusgar. It’s a wild and crazy wind that occasionally blows downs from Siberia crosses the Anatolian Plateau and smashes into the Mediterranean coast. School classes are cancelled, people run for cover and the landscape gets somewhat remodeled. We experience this phenomenon on the third day of our trek. We are making the long slow climb upwards from the paradise that is Kabak beach to the village of Alinca which sits on a ridge high above the sea. It’s late afternoon and we are almost to the top when the bright and sunny day suddenly transforms into a dark and stormy one. For the last half hour, the wind swirls and rages all around us like the world is going to end. I don’t think we will make it but we do. We find refuge at Bayam’s pension on the outskirts of the village. It’s my kind of place; for forty lira a person they will give us dinner, breakfast and a cabin on the hill. The cabins are flimsy and very small but they are tucked in comfortably among these giant boulders to protect them from the elements and there is a Mediterrranean view from each one that is worth way more than forty lira. All in all, it’s a fine place to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
The truth is, I never even heard of the Lycian Way before I went to Turkey. But I met this American guy at the lost luggage office in Istanbul and he told me that he was in Turkey for that very purpose… To trek the Lycian Way. He was on some kind of pilgrimage to find himself and he believed by walking the Way he would discover something important. He compared his journey ahead to walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, Appalachia in the states or the Inca trail in South America. Apparently, the Lycian Way is high on the list of great walks for people who like long distance walking in faraway places. My curiosity was peaked so I did some Internet research and mentioned the trek to Ms. B. on the telephone. My research revealed this amazing possibility. The Lycian Way is a trail that runs along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey from Fethiye to Antayla. It goes for over 300 miles along ancient cobblestone pathways and eternal goat trails. It passes through tiny villages with olive groves and bustling harbor towns with big boats. There are ancient ruins and pristine forests; there are isolated and forgotten beaches and endless stretches of rocky shoreline. The next time I speak with Ms. B. she is as excited by the possibility as I am. “Let’s hike it together when I get there in February,” she says. So, here we are, two months later taking the first steps of our pilgrimage along the Lycian Way. Continue reading →
It’s kind of wonderful sometimes to have your misconceptions smashed. Reality appears and it’s nothing like you imagined it to be. This happens to me in Turkey a lot. I’m not sure where my inner image of Turkey came from but it does not coincide at all with the Turkey I actually experience. We were going to skip Antayla altogether. It’s another big city of over a million people but its not famous or trendy or hip like Istanbul. I imagine a crowded, smelly Third World port city with too many humans and too much garbage per square inch. We want to go on to Olympos; the small isolated coastal village famous for its laid back vibe, but we arrive at the bus station in Antayla in the late afternoon. There’s no minibus to Olympos until tomorrow. We will have to stay here in the big city for a night. Conveniently, there’s a metro tram right outside the bus station. We climb aboard and get taken to Kaleici, the old harbor side neighborhood which is the beating heart of town. Wow! Holy smokes! This place is way better than we thought it was going to be. A multileveled, winding maze of walkable cobblestone streets is cut into the hillside above the harbor. This delightful little labyrinth is lined with restaurants, pubs, cafes, boutique guesthouses and pensions. We find a cheap place to stay in the midst of it, drop our bags in the room and head out to find the sea. Ms. B. has never seen the Mediterranean. I haven’t seen it since I flew from Cyprus to Cairo a few months ago. I swear to the universe, it’s like a miracle for the eyes. The cobblestone network releases us onto a sea side patio up on a cliff above the water. Our timing is perfect. The sun plops down into the western horizon. The pure blue waters sparkle in the afternoon glow. A Mediterranean Sunset; what a great place to be.
The next big ticket item on this years traveling agenda is our incredible plan to hike a section of the Lycian Way. But the trail begins in the vicinity of Fethiye on the coast and we are presently in Ihlara in the very center of the country. It’s a very long ways from here to there but we do have time. It’s also true that there are fascinating and fun places to stop en route. No hurry, no worry, chicken curry… It shall be an enjoyable odyssey by public transport across the Turkish landscape. Continue reading →
So, here I am on a tour bus, feeling like a rebel school kid on a mandatory class field trip. “Okay everybody,” says the guide in her best bubbly American cheerleader voice, “it’s time for introductions. Please tell us your name and country when I point to you.” I have an urge to smash the window, leap outside and run away… run away. It’s not as if I dislike tour guides, I just feel better when they are not around. Honestly, most of the guides I have met in my life have been friendly and kind human beings and this one today is no exception. I know they have difficult jobs and I can appreciate their day to day struggle to earn a living. I also understand why people choose to go on tours. Traveling in foreign countries is complicated and paying someone to lead you around and explain things simplifies the process. Nevertheless, in my opinion, there is a fundamental problem with the tourist business in the context of the modern economy and that fundamental problem drives me a little bonkers. The problem is difficult to articulate but I would describe it as the commodification of the traveling experience. Human to human cultural interaction and genuine personal exchange are replaced by a business model designed to generate income as efficiently as possible. Thus, when you visit a foreign country as a tourist, you don’t make friends and experience the way of life and culture. Instead, you pay a fee and get taken for a ride through an amusement park. The actual experience is basically the same no matter where in the world you go: Thailand, Turkey, Mali or Ecuador. You sit on a crowded minibus, you listen to a hyper friendly local speak English with an amusing accent, they follow a script of historical information interspersed with occasional jokes and you stop to take photographs at the specially designated attractions. I don’t mean to be superior or judgmental or condescending. But if this is traveling, I’d rather stay home, save my money and read about it on Pat Ryan’s travel blog.
The Ilhara River Gorge in Cappadocia is advertised as the Grand Canyon of Turkey and it is, therefore, very high on my list of places I want to see. Unfortunately, its not very easy to get to from Goreme. Although the town of Ilhara at the entrance to the canyon is only 50 or so kilometers away, there is no direct public bus connecting it with Goreme. Instead, you have to take a minibus to Nevesehir, another bus to Aksaray and then change to a third bus that eventually arrives in Ilhara. This roundabout journey can take 3 or 4 hours instead of the 45 minutes a direct trip would take. When I ask for info about it, everyone says I should sign up for the green tour which includes the gorge in its itinerary or rent a car to see it on my own. Of course those two options are inconsistent with my modus operandi so I convince Ms. B. that we should take the indirect public bus route. As we are checking out of the hotel, however, the friendly guy at the Sunset Cave tells us of another option. One of his friends who runs a Green Tour has empty seats because it’s the off season. For the same price as a public bus ticket going the long way around (15 lira each) we can catch a ride with a Green Tour and get dropped off in the town of Ilhara. As a bonus, we get a free stop at the Pigeon Valley Lookout and the Derinkuyu Underground City along the way. In other words, Ms. B. and I find ourselves as not quite willing participants for part of a packaged tour. Continue reading →
Apparently, the effect of dried apricots on the human digestive system is a well known phenomenon. After the fact, I did a search on google and I didn’t even have to finish the question before I got hundreds of hits. Dried apricots and… Indeed, some of my readers may have experienced it themselves and they can guess how this story will end. But in case anyone out there is not yet aware, let me be explicit and clear. If you are planning a romantic excursion with a special someone and you are hoping the excursion will conclude with a healthy display of warmth, tenderness and intimacy, don’t bring dried apricots to snack on during the excursion. They will ruin everything!
We take the 12 hour overnight bus journey from Istanbul to Goreme, the center of the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Ms. B. is feeling slightly ill when we begin with a sore throat and body aches. She climbs aboard the bus, almost immediately falls asleep and barely stirs until arrival. Goreme is a nice little tourist town with more hotels and pensions per square inch than people. We reserved a room at the Sunset Cave Hotel for fear the town would be crowded and rooms would be hard to come by. But that is not the case at all. True, Cappadocia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and Goreme is the center of it all, but right now is still the off season so we could have stayed almost anywhere. No matter, the Sunset Cave is fine. They pick us up at the bus station and welcome us with a delicious breakfast buffet. Afterwards, they show us to our cave. That’s right, we are living in a cave but it is definitely not primitive accommodation. With modern fancy hot watered bathroom, big bed, powerful heater, mood lighting and wifi, the novelty of cave living is counterbalanced by the luxuriousness of reality. With her superb skills of adaption, Ms. B. immediately derives the best possible use for the environment. She pretends like the B in her name is for bear and she hibernates. She crawls under the covers, gives in to jet lag and sickness and exhaustion and collapses into a deep dark sleep. There she will remain for almost the whole day. Continue reading →
My stories have fallen way behind my reality so I am going to jump forward closer to the present and pick up my journey at my return to Istanbul. There are still three more stories from Jordan but you will have to buy the forthcoming book if you want to read them (or wait until I post them at some random future date).
If the worst things that happen to me make my best travel stories afterwards, do really wonderful things necessarily make the worst stories afterward? If so, well, this story may be a dreadfully bad one… How excited am I? How big is the anticipatory smile on my face? Is it really a beautiful universe or is something going to go wrong? I am about to arrive in Istanbul after traveling for 2 months solo. If all goes according to plan, I will meet up with Ms. B. in the airport and it will be a pretty gosh darn wonderful moment. For once in my life let things please go according to plan..
So, here I am in Istanbul again. I’ve cleared Immigration and now I just have to get my luggage and go through customs. I wonder if Ms. B. is here yet? Her flight is scheduled to arrive 20 minutes ahead of mine but she’s coming all the way from the U.S. while I just popped over from Jordan. She’s also flying Delta so there’s a good chance of delays. I check the arrival board and see that the plane she is supposed to be on landed a half hour ago. Maybe I can track her down at luggage retrieval. Continue reading →
So, here I am, sitting on a sand dune in Wadi Rum, Jordan watching the sun set over the massive red rock formations. I’m all alone and due to a minor miscalculation, I won’t be staying in a camp tonight. I have a warm sleeping bag and the dune is fairly comfortable so I should be fine until morning. There’s plenty of water in my bottle and food in my backpack and the changing desert skyline is way more entertaining than television or movies. All in all, I look forward to a pleasant experience. What could possibly go wrong? As the sun falls closer to the horizon, the sand all around me starts to sparkle. The sky transforms from blue to pink to purple. Is that watercolor, acrylic or oil? It’s hard to believe its real. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ve fallen asleep already and this is some kind of psychedelic dream. It was a long walk in the hot desert sun. Perhaps my brain melted and synapses fused together to produce this effect. Wait a second. What’s that? In the sand a few feet away from me there is a shining prism of light. With a scene so spectacular, so vast and so incomprehensible, how come this tiny little thing captures my attention? It’s a concentrated dollop of magic in a great big beautiful world. The entire sand dune is shimmering but this one tiny spot is more intense than the rest. I have to lean over and stretch to reach it. I plunge my fist into the dune and grab a handful of sand. When the many tiny particles leak out between my fingers, all that remains is a singe clear crystal about as big as my pinky nail. Oh my goodness gracious! Holy weasel critters! Bodacious bouncing Buddhas! Shimmering shaking Shivas! Jumping Jehovahs! Is that a diamond?
My journey from Egypt to Jordan is relatively uneventful but as a metaphor, it’s rather idyllic. It’s a four hour ferry ride along the Red Sea on a ship crowded with locals. I have to hand in my passport upon boarding and pick it up again at the port so for the duration of the voyage I’m a man with no identity. Four hours without a country, four hours in the neutral zone, four hours in the space between borders, four hours free. I am surrounded by the lands of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. But on this big old boat in the middle of the sea we are not on anyone’s territory, we are all just brother and sister humans. If only the whole world could be this unencumbered. Continue reading →
It’s merely a fine line which separates divine inspiration from a serious mental illness. If Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha, or Moses were alive today and telling stories about their special spiritual powers, they’d be given a diagnosis from the DSM IV, be prescribed some medication, and probably be committed to a supervised care facility. Thankfully, I personally have no such special spiritual powers. I just like to smoke weed in really awesome places and philosophize about this amazingly beautiful universe in which I live.
It’s shortly after I come down from Mount Sinai, that the dark mood descends upon me. It’s certainly not a severe depression or anything like that. Just some unfocused anxiety. An inner sensation that something bad is about to happen. Perhaps it’s karmic payback for spoofing on the Ten Commandments. Or maybe my biorhythms are on a downward flow. I don’t really know. I only hope it doesn’t last long.
My original plan was to head immediately to Jordan after the mountain because I’m running short on time. Yeah, I know, it seems crazy for a guy who takes four month vacations to complain about a shortage of time. But the fact of the matter is, I am meeting Ms. B. in Istanbul on the 20th of February, it’s already the third and there are a whole lot of things I want to do in Jordan. Nevertheless, I hesitate. For reasons I can’t explain, I feel strangely compelled to stay in Egypt a few more days… Perhaps, I just need some serious beach relaxation time. I’ve been going and going; visiting ruins, hiking and doing stuff non-stop ever since the moment I arrived in Istanbul a month and a half ago. Dahab was good for snorkeling and fun to hang out in but it wasn’t exactly the laid back world of sand and sun that I was envisioning. The ferry for Jordan leaves from the town of Nuweiba. The guidebook mentions a few hippie beach places in a suburb of Nuweiba called Tarabin. Maybe I will go there for a day or two and recharge my batteries. Continue reading →