“The Middle East” is not a real place. It is a symbolic place, a metaphorical place, a mythological place. In reality, Egypt is part of North Africa, Turkey is closer to Europe, Iran is Persia and a thing in and of itself and the people of the Arabian Peninsula are rather distinct culturally from the Mediterranean coasters of Assyria/Palestine. Indeed, the legal/cultural/economic “experts” generally refer to the region as Western Asia. The people who live there certainly don’t refer to themselves as “Middle Easterners” or even discuss a place called “The Middle East.” Actually, if you think about it, the very words, “The Middle East” make no logical sense. But alas, I was born and raised in the United States and the American educational/entertainment system has taught me to believe in a far away place called “The Middle East.” In the Winter of 2012-21013, I decided to go there to search for the difference between “truth” and “fiction.” My most recent book is the story of that journey: Buy the e-book here. A Journey to the Middle of the East.
A Journey to the Middle of the East
It’s about time… My brand new “literary masterpiece” and “fun adventure story” is now available for purchase as an e-book. It is called, “A Journey to the Middle of the East,” and I really hope that everyone will want to read it. You can buy it here: New book
In the Winter of 2012-2013, I went for a real life four month “wander” around a few countries in “The Middle East.” Over the course of my travels, I wrote a whole bunch of stories in my spiral notebook about my various experiences as I traveled. Some of the stories I posted on this website as rough draft travelogues while I was actually on the road. Other stories were only outlined on the road but I worked on them when I got back and posted them randomly over the next several years. A few of the stories were never posted in any form. All of the stories have now been edited, refined, shaped and sculpted into a single continuous narrative… The fictionalized story of my own personal quest to discover the meaning of “The Middle East.”
I really hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It was a truly amazing process. Sort of like watching a flower grow or a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. To some degree, I was strangely removed from the final creation. I wrote each of the stories as individual units and then attempted to unite them as a “symphony” of stories afterward. But, ultimately, they came together in a way that I had not imagined before hand at all. It was almost as if I discovered a very old story hidden inside my brand new story. Wow… that’s about all I can say.
Only the e-book is available for purchase at this moment. I am planning to give away “Free” paperback versions as a promotion sometime very soon. The paperback will be available for purchase eventually and maybe even an audio version.
Buy it now: A Journey to the Middle of the East
Thanks so much,
See you somewhere…
Here is another one from the archive of hand written notebooks. It is also a chapter in a new book I am working on about traveling in the Middle East.
The Lycian Way II (The Cost of Being Alive)
Patara, Turkey March 2013
Everything is free… Nothing is free… Aye… there’s the rub; the fine line which fractures humanity. The question arises every single day. Why do we have to pay money for food and shelter? The spiritual traditions tend to teach the opposite…love your neighbor; practice compassion, the golden rule. For me, at least, the spiritual traditions are but metaphors to describe an instinct that is real and present in all humans. Indeed, to push the concept into the realm of the radical, I would even suggest that the instinct is not just a human instinct but rather a fundamental force in the formula of the whole darn universe. The prophets call it kindness or love. Scientists call it entropy… the opposite of energy. The truth is; humans and all living things have a communal or social instinct.
No doubt, we have an individual instinct too. The other side of the equation. The energy that opposes the entropy. The two forces counter-balance one another and free will comes forth from the center. Unfortunately, these days, civilization is way out of balance. The controlling economic system penalizes the social instinct and rewards the selfish instinct. As such, finding that middle path in between love of self and love of others can be rather difficult. In other words, it’s not always easy to “be nice.”
As the cold rain pours and the harsh wind blows outside, we are warm and cozy inside with candle lighting and amazing food. Ms. B and I are in the common room of a guest house on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We are the only guests so we have the place to ourselves. But then, an angry young woman comes forth from the storm to interrupt our private romantic dinner. I am correct in my guess about her nationality. She is American. She is mad because she had arranged a free place to stay in the nearby village of Alinca but found the house closed, locked and empty upon arrival. Furthermore, the Turkish cell phone she bought for the trek is not functioning so she can’t call her friend back in Fethiye to find out why the house is locked and nobody’s home. The blowing wind and rain is a nightmare outside so she can’t set up her tent. She desperately needs a place to stay.
“No worries,” I tell her, “they have plenty of room here. It’s only 40 lira (20 bucks) with dinner and breakfast and the food is really amazing.”
“But I don’t have any money with me,” she says. “I was planning to stay everywhere for free.”
This week’s episode is transcribed from my archive of handwritten notebooks.
A Modest Proposal
Istanbul, Turkey; February 2013
The rock is special. I found it at Wadi Rum when I was camped alone on a sand dune in the middle of nowhere. It sparkled in the setting sun and grabbed a hold of my attention. Its crystal structure bent sunlight into all the colors of the rainbow. It looked, quite literally, like a droplet from heaven. I even thought it might be a diamond. But now I’m not so sure. In the plain light of day and the harsh glow of fluorescent light, the stone does not look so magical. It’s still nice and all, but I have my doubts. It might be technically worthless.
Nevertheless, my plan is to give it to Ms. B.. Ideally, the presentation of the rock should be both dramatic and romantic so that she remembers the experience for the rest of her life. A spontaneous overflow of emotion would be nice. Perhaps even some tears of joy. I’m hoping to push the metaphor of our love story long into the future and the rock giving game as a symbol of commitment is a human tradition that goes way way back into the past. The modern world has, of course, spoiled the narrative with crass commercialization, sentimental clichés and legally binding contracts but the underlying story is still a good one. Two individuals decide to become a single unit… a couple… a family. It’s a radical move. It’s an optimistic bet on the future of the world. The giving and accepting of the rock is the moment of destiny; the climax of the love story. It is the moment when the happily ever after begins…
Welcome to Istanbul! There is a convenient metro station below ground at the airport. It is cheap and efficient so that is the route we take into the city center. Ms. B. is exhausted after 20 hours of travel time from New York via Amsterdam. Dinner time now in Istanbul is breakfast time in New York and poor Ms. B. has been up all night. I, however, am as chipper as cricket in a field of flowering clover. It was a short two hour hop to get here from Amman, Jordan and I had a good night sleep and a healthy breakfast. I was also here in Istanbul a couple of months ago so I know my way around a little.
The metro journey to the Sultanhamet neighborhood takes a bout 45 minutes total. We have to switch from tram to train about halfway there. On the train we have seats. Ms. B. leans into me and rests here head on my shoulder as we exchange a few words but the train is crowded and the scene is not appropriate for much conversation. She nods in and out of consciousness as we communicate non-verbally. Ten thousand miles from my apartment on a subway in a foreign city but with Ms. B. asleep on my shoulder, I feel right at home. After we switch to the tram, however, we no longer have seats. It’s very crowded and we are lucky to find space to lean our backpacks against a center pole. We hold on with one hand each as the tram rumbles slowly through the busy city. Ms. B. keeps blinking her eyes open. She looks dead on her feet… like she might collapse. I look around at the many passengers on the crowded tram car. Ms. B. and I are both rather blonde and we definitely stand out amid the dark haired, olive skinned locals. Nevertheless, there is no sense of stress, discomfort or anxiety. The other passengers pay us little mind. Tourists with backpacks on their way to Sultanhamet is a fairly common sight on this tram.
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