My Turkish is bad, but his English is worse. When he charges into the back room to retrieve my laundry shouting, “Fuck it, Fuck it, Fuck it, Fuck it!” I am fairly certain that he does not fully understand the meaning of the words he is exclaiming…
It is a fundamental rule of the traveling universe that the closer you are to a “great wonder of the world,” the more likely it is that you will be ripped off, cheated, insulted or otherwise abused by the local population. I’ve observed and written about this phenomena many times before. I’ve seen it in Macchu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Kilimanjaro and Bourbon Street. If you think about it, the reason why this happens is fairly understandable. “Great wonders” attract visitors like protons attract electrons. At first the visitors are seen as a welcome opportunity injecting capital into the local coffers. But after a while, familiarity breeds contempt. The more annoying, disrespectful and rude tourists that locals have to deal with, the more they start treating tourists like invading microbes. It’s a downward spiral that perpetuates itself. That’s why, in general, I prefer the not so famous places. But that doesn’t mean I avoid the “great wonders” all together. On occasion, I will go forth amid the throngs of tourists and prepare myself for the inevitable mistreatment. Thus I find myself on a bus to Selcuk because I want to visit the world famous ancient ruins called Ephesus.
Seriously, in my first two weeks in Turkey, I did not have a single bad encounter with any Turkish people For that matter, I didn’t have a single bad encounter with anyone. Well, okay, I was somewhat aggressively harassed for drinks by some unattractive prostitutes when I tried to stop in for a quiet drink at a bar one evening. And I was also given a complimentary salad to go with my dinner in a restaurant and then charged 5 lira for it at the end of the meal. But those were very minor incidents and they both took place in Bergama which is the location of what might be called a “minor wonder of the world.” You do the math: minor wonder = minor incident.
So anyway, I’m on my way to Selcuk when I deviate from my normal travel technique. Perhaps that deviation is the underlying cause of the problems that later arise. Usually, I show up in a town and wander from cheap looking place to cheap looking place until I find a room that suits me. I’m not really an advance research and booking kind of guy. But I met this Aussie guy, and he was booking all his rooms in advance on his computer, and I do have this new ipad now, so why not put it to use? I don’t need to make a reservation, but it would be nice to show up somewhere with a destination in mind. I have a look at hostelbookers.com. and my objective is simple. I want a room for 25 dollars or less and I want a place that does laundry because my clothes are now filthy. Bingo! The ipad gives me an answer. “jimmy’s Place” is only $17.60 a night (40 lira) with laundry listed as one of the “services” they have.
Guess what? Computers lie. Or maybe hotels do. Dropped off at the bus station, I ask directions to “Jimmy’s”. It’s very easy to find. But surprisingly, it’s not a cheap little local pension but rather a fancy looking real deal hotel. Seriously, if I was following my usual technique, I wouldn’t even have gone in. It looks pricey from the outside. But I am armed with computer info so I go inside to ask. Smooth talking, smiling Jimmy is there to greet me with perfect English. He’s Turkish but he oozes salesmanship like a recent graduate of a fly by night marketing program. I should turn around and walk back right out the door. But I don’t. I am tired from my morning scramble round the ruins of Pergamum and the four hour bus ride to get here. I want to take off my shoes, hand over my dirty clothes somewhere and relax on a comfortable bed.
“How much is it?” I ask.
“50 lira a night,” he says.
“Really,” I say, “that’s more than I expected. Can I see a room?” I am on the fence. It’s a little over budget but the same price as Istanbul. This is Selcuk, the access town for Ephesus, the tourist highlight of Turkey. I am expecting higher prices. This was the cheapest place listed on line and it does seem nice. Maybe I will take it.
Jimmy sounds angry. “Do you want a room or are you just trying to bargain for cheaper price? It’s very expensive to run hotel. You think discount because winter slow season. But I have to pay heat.”
Again, I should walk out the door because of his attitude. But I can sort of sympathize with the guy’s frustration. Scruffy backpackers are always haggling… nickel and diming the locals. I don’t want to be that way. I only seek fairness. It is a decent looking hotel. It is a big tourist town. It does have wifi. It’s not an outrageous price.
“I didn’t ask for a discount,” I say. “but I looked online and it says 40 lira.”
“Online price does not include breakfast and we have best breakfast in town. Real coffee. All the filter coffee you can drink.”
He’s full of shit about breakfast. Every place in Turkey includes breakfast. That’s the way it works. But the hot drink at breakfast is usually tea and nescafe. I’m a sucker for good coffee. “Real coffee?” I say in disbelief.
“Yes,” he says, “all the filter coffee you can drink.”
“How about laundry,” I ask.
“No problem,” he says, “bring laundry down tomorrow morning.”
“All right,” I say, “I’ll take it.”
That particular evening is spectacular. Every once in a while, the universe conspires to show us traveling a folks a miracle. No doubt, it’s not an easy life. Long uncomfortable bus rides, sickness, room hassles and scoundrels can really wear a guy down. But sometimes, because of my wandering, I just happen to be in the right place at the right time. As a preliminary to tomorrow’s visit to the world wonder of Ephesus, I go for a quick look at the nearby Artemis temple around sunset. Wow! Holy shit! Is that a UFO taking off and landing on the temple?
Actually, it’s only the moon, but it’s pretty damn awesome anyway.
The next day, however, is not awesome at all. The problems begin with coffee. Yeah sure, the first cup is not bad. But when the many breakfast eaters finish the first pot, the server does not bother to change the grounds for the second; he just adds more water. Thus, my second cup is brown liquid with no flavor at all. What a deal. I don’t bother with a third cup. The server adds still more water to the same grounds and the liquid becomes beige rather than brown. Golly gee, unlimited filtered coffee huh?
After breakfast, I bring my laundry down. Of course the hotel has no laundry service. But they direct me to a laundromat a few blocks away. It is, quite possibly, the most expensive laundromat on the planet earth. The somewhat unfriendly man does not weigh the bag and charge me by the kilo like most laundries in the world. Instead, he dumps my clothes on the floor behind the counter and does a professional assessment. My one pair of jeans, 4 pair of underwear, 4 tee shirts, one sweatshirt and three pairs of socks will cost me 35 lira to wash and dry. That’s almost 20 bucks for a single load of laundry. I express my exasperation probably less politely than I should…
The man insists his price is correct. Jeans extra because heavy. Socks extra because white. He shows me a receipt of another customer who paid 45 lira. What I should do is charge behind the counter, grab my dirty clothes and take them somewhere else. But I don’t. “Fuck it,” I say. My clothes need to be washed. It’s only money. I want to go to the ruins and I don’t want to be bothered.
“Will they be ready today?” I ask as I fork over the money. “I’m leaving town tomorrow morning.”
“First thing tomorrow, 8 o,clock,” he says.
“Okay,” I say, and I leave to go to the ruins.
My reaction to the ruins of Ephesus is mixed. No doubt, they are truly incredible, spectacular, fantabulous, mind boggling and awe inspiring. Choose any adjective you like and it will be hopelessly insufficient. Perhaps a simple WOW! Is the best articulation. But the ruins are also completely swarming with tourists. Again, I shouldn’t complain about tourists. I am one. Tourists are the natural by product of any amazing world wonder. But why does there have to be so many? This is the off season. It’s supposed to be quiet now. I can’t even comprehend what it must be like here during the on season. I spend most of my time trying to frame photos without humans… A near impossible task. At the end of the day, I sit by the upper entrance sipping coffee waiting for the last of the tour groups. I’m hoping to have a last walk through around closing time in relative peace and quiet. But there is no such thing. Bus load after bus load after bus load. They just keep coming. Oh well. What can I do? The world is what the word is. Paradise is packaged and the consumers are many. It’s time to leave this “ruined” town.
The next morning before my brown water breakfast, I go to retrieve my laundry at precisely eight o’clock. Big surprise… my clothes aren’t ready. “I say eleven o’clock, I say eleven o’clock” repeats the man who I now think is a little wacko.
“But I thought you said eight. It’s been almost 24 hours. My bus leaves at ten.” Seriously, how long can one load take? This is not third world old ladies scrubbing in buckets of water in the back room. It’s first world Turkey and I see the big machines washing and tumbling from where I am standing.
“Come back ten o’clock,” he says.
“If you haven’t started them yet. Why don’t you give me my money and dirty clothes back. I really have to go to catch my bus.” I swear to God, Buddha, Allah and Ganesh that I make this request in a pleasant voice and as politely as possible. Nevertheless, laundryman does not take my words well. Ahh, the complications of communicating with people who don’t speak your language. He totally flips out.
“fuck it, fuck it, fuck it!” He shouts over and over again as he raises his hands in the air, waives them around crazily and rushes into the back room. It is truly a very bizarre reaction.
“Calm down,” I say, “it’s no big deal. I’ll come back at ten.” And I thereupon exit the laundromat.
Truthfully, my breakfast on this second morning at Jimmy’s is not too bad. Definitely not the best in town with the fairly typical single hard boiled egg, bread, olives and a little cheese. But at least the server changes the grounds in the coffee maker for each pot today. I have two better than average cups. Hmmm… coffee.
After breakfast I shower, pack and check out. I arrive back at the laundromat at quarter till ten. Before entering, I take the time to look up the phrase, “I apologize for the misunderstanding. I don’t speak Turkish.” I use the phrase on laundryman and he is all smiles. He hands me my clothes nicely folded inside a plastic bag. Strangely, it seems a bit heavy. But I don’t bother to open it. I just shove it all in my pack and run to catch my bus.
You can probably guess what happens. When I reach my destination of Pamukkale six hours later and unpack my clothes, everything is still very wet and starting to smell of mildew. It really is an unfair universe sometimes.