Days 33 Onwards: Serious Lesson in Procrastination

Notice the date.  It is February 2013 and the Gees are only now wrapping up the account of our holiday that took place in July 2012.  Talk about poor form.

Why the delay, you may ask.  Well, procrastination.  And unhappiness.  And a bit of a time shortage.  See, after Day 33, our time in Cappadocia quickly wound up.  We spent five days there in entirety - ate FAR too much pottery chicken and chicken shish, took in amazing views at every turn, and soaked up the rural Turkish hospitality.  G1 especially loved this destination and would be very happy to return in the future.  G2 was a bit over it all.  He tends to get to bit grumpy towards the end of a big, international holiday.  Craves familiar food, wants his own pillow, those sorts of things.

After the Cappadocian portion of our holiday came Istanbul - and then home.  I challenge anyone to visit Istanbul and not mentally chant, “Istanbul, not Constantinople; Istanbul, not Constantinople,”  It was on a continuous loop through my head as I took in the bustling streets and character-laced squares of this remarkable destination.

Istanbul is truly an incredible city, one that spans two continents, as remarkable as that is to consider.  One side of the Bosphorus is Asia, the other is Europe: a meeting place of two very different histories and cultures.  Istanbul pulls off its delicate crossroads position with great expertise, a teeming city of conundrums.  Translucent Irish backpackers, all knobbly knees and freckle-dappled bare shoulders bump against hijab-adorned Muslim girls, eyes fringed with thick, black lashes absorbing their surroundings like lost does.  Calls to prayer reverberate across the outside seating areas of world-wide fast food outlets.  Ottoman mosques and Byzantine cathedrals stand side by side, giants of the city’s faith.  The city swells with every combination of food, dress, and language, a proverbial melting pot the size of America, condensed into a single heaving city.

G1 does not normally like cities.  There are exceptions, of course.  New Orleans was the first to make that list - a city worth revisiting.  Next to be added was Paris.  And now, Istanbul.  A city worth the frustration, the crowds, the heat, the jostling, the noise, the just-barely-covered chaos.  Remarkable, no?

Getting to Istanbul by air was something I was moderately concerned about…but having been completely petrified and unbelievably uncomfortable on moderate-length bus rides already, I figured it was worth a shot.  Using the spotty internet at our Cappadocia hotel, I booked in with Pegasus Air.  Cheap as chips, and the website was easy enough.  Strangely enough: Pegasus was spectacular.  I was so uneasy about a small, local carrier in Turkey, but their service was brilliant AND we were in a completely brand new airplane.  By brand new, I mean there were still pieces of protective plastic sheeting on some areas of the seats!  The flight was flawless.  Kudos, Pegasus.  You’ve got an awesome name and your flight ranks 9.8 on a scale of 1, dragged along by a vulture through a cactus patch, to 10, actually riding on a winged horse.

We arrived in Istanbul very late at night.  Deciding to skip the drama of finding our own way a few kms down the road to the official dolmus (minibus) stand, we decided to splurge on a direct taxi ride.  Thanks to my procrastination, I can’t remember exactly how much it was.  But it was expensive.  ($120?  Something like that).  We were watching the meter tick and tick and tick.  And tick.  The ride was almost an hour!  But that’s a misleading figure to use to judge distance.  Because an hour in a car going 60 kms/hour is different to being in one going 170 kms/hour.  Because that’s how fast we were going.  No exaggeration.  Gee Two remembers topping out at 180.  It was a nerve-wracking hour, but not as much as you’d think.  The road was very wide and straight, and nearly everyone else out that late at night was driving just as ridiculously fast.

Obviously we made it safe and and sound.  And broke as a joke, thanks to that ridiculously expensive fare.  Deposited at the front door of our pre-booked hotel, we were already imagining the warm happiness of a shower and bed in a REAL room, not a cave like we had been occupying in Cappadocia.  The cave is cute at first, but after a few nights you start wondering if the dust you’re constantly inhaling is going to result in some sort of old age chronic lung disease.  Watch this space.

At the front desk, we were unceremoniously told that our room had been sold out from under us because they attempted to run the credit card I had given as security and it was declined.  Uh - yeah, with an excess of $5000 standing credit on the card, it had been declined.  Add in the fact that our reservations, right there in my hot little hand, covered us until midnight, and we walked in the door at 5 past 11, and they had one angry American on their hands.  I was ready to demand an upgrade when the desk clerk flat said they were completely booked out.  Awesome.  The boys behind the desk started scrambling through their tiny black books of competitors, desperately trying to secure a replacement room so the little blonde in their lobby would stop screeching at them in pseudo-Aus-merican.

It was tense, but eventually something was dredged up.  Toddling down the road with our suitcases, trailing one of the hotel employees, we found ourselves with a room at last.  As much as sleeping on the streets of Istanbul sounded like an awesome adventure, the end of Gee holidays are not the time for adventures.  They are the time for relaxation and settling down, soaking up sleep and comfort in anticipation for the long trip home.  Being roomless in a bustling international city is only acceptable at the beginning of a holiday. ;)

We sadly spent little time in Istanbul - I would love to go back and see more of it in the future.  I know my own distaste for big cities, so booked in one day before flying out the following evening.  With only ONE day to explore such a huge city, we focused on only two destinations.  First: the Blue Mosque, one of the most well-known tourist spots in Turkey.  There’s no doubt it is beautiful, but with the high temperatures and inconvenient lines, we decided against “suiting up” (covering up) to gain admission to the inside.  The outside was remarkable enough. :)

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So, that was a minor stop on our day - the number one destination of our time in Istanbul was the Grand Bazaar.  THE Grand Bazaar.  You know, the name doesn’t suit it.  It’s not grand, it’s INCREDIBLE.  It’s ANCIENT.  It’s STUPENDOUS.  Having been built in the mid-1400s, right after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, it remains one of the most ancient covered markets in the world at 600 years old.  More impressive than its age is its size - it spans SIXTY ONE streets, housing more than 3,000 shops.  These stalls offer up everything from custom created leather jackets to hand-crafted glass lanterns to a daily customer base of 250,000-400,000 visitors.  Yes, nearly half a million visitors in one single day!

So what’s it like in real life?  Absolutely mesmerizing.  High karat gold glittering, incense burning, vendors chatting, a haze of sweet clove smoke hovering over the crowd.  The morning was quiet and relaxed, as the intensity of the crowd slowly built over the course of the day.  There was something colorful, something new, something enchanting at every turn of the head.  Soft cashmere pashminas, knockoff jeans, sweet treats, and silver tea serving sets.  A million trinkets I could never use, and a million trinkets I wanted regardless.

The time we spent there slipped by quickly for G1, who loved every second and took the opportunity to stock up on gifts for special family members.  G2 tolerated the experience, as men are want to do when it comes to shopping.  Before we knew it, our Turkish adventure came to an end as we boarded our Australian-bound Emirates flight that evening…only to come home and promptly forget to finish this blog.  What an excellent lesson to learn though - the freshness, the enjoyment of a holiday is so well relived through written words.

Next year when the Gees travel again, blog entries will be at the top of the list of holiday responsibilities!

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Day Thirty-Two: Up

Our alarm, in the form of G2’s cell phone, buzzed its signature tune at a disturbingly early time this morning.  I’d let you in on the secret song we’ve chosen to wake us up…if I knew it.  For some reason I don’t ever hear it.  It starts soft and escalates in volume as time passes; G2 always wakes up and shuts it off before it actually registers in my brain.  The last time I remember actually HEARING it, it was a Beach Boys’ song.  Perhaps it has changed since then.  Regardless, my wake up this morning was a nudge and a moan.  A moan that only has one meaning - it can’t seriously be time to get up.

But time it was.  We got ready quickly, speaking in excited whispers, like children on Christmas morning.  There was a nervous giddiness in the air, the feeling we were about to do something monumental.  We chose to stay on the rooftop terrace while waiting to be picked up, as it provided a vantage point of both of the hotel’s access ways.  The entire area was quiet and still, a blanket of velvety darkness settled over the land.  The only background noise was soft cooing of pigeons from their carved out stone nooks and the faint drone of an engine in the distance from time to time.  A pair of lone headlights made an appearance once or twice as vehicles crept to a stop outside of a nearby hotel, bundling passengers away for their own morning adventures.

In due time our own chariot arrived in the form of a large white van, ready to whisk us to a pre-dawn breakfast and introductory talk.  We paused at other hotels along the way, friendly hellos passed around each time the van door opened to admit new passengers.  Our destination for the moment was the head office of Butterfly Balloons, where we converged with other vans that had traipsed around different areas of accommodation, picking up additional customers.  There were a fair few of us vying to get checked in and pick up breakfast, but it was an efficient, well-run process.  The company employees were obviously experienced professionals who perhaps should consider hiring out their services in riot control.

We discovered upon check in that we were, happily, assigned to Mike Green.  An English immigrant, Mike moved to Turkey with his wife and family in 2000 and remains one of the most experienced pilots in the area.  He has even flown over the North Pole!  It was reassuring to know that we were in extremely capable, skilled hands during our flight, as accidents do happen (including one British tourist plunging 150 meters to his death in a 2009 incident).

Hot air balloon flights the world over are expensive.  The initial equipment purchase costs, the necessary maintenance, the education of pilots and ground crews - it is a costly business to run, and these expenses are recouped through generous pricing structures.  I don’t think ballooning is something that anyone does often; having traveled through 28ish countries (in 28 years, strangely!), it still hadn’t been checked off my list of things to do.  Knowing the rarity of such an occasion, the Gees decided to splash out and sign up for the longer “Butterfly Beyond” flight.  This secured us a minimum extra 30 minutes in the air…plus more champagne on arrival and a Butterfly Balloons commemorative pin.  If a balloon-shaped pin isn’t worth 75 extra euro, I don’t know what is! ;)  In all seriousness, we quickly discovered what set this flight apart from its shorter counterparts and its competitors very quickly.

Having bolted down our breakfasts quickly, we made our way outside to a line of 5 pristine white vans.  Methinks there is a good discount on the color white in Cappadocia car dealerships.  Each van had a placard standing next to it announcing the name of its corresponding pilot - I remember seeing Mustafa, who is also well-known in the region and handled my booking, before we popped into Mike’s vehicle.  Butterfly Balloons reputedly have some of the least crowded flights - 18 passengers is the limit for any of their baskets, with 12-14 being average.  With the peak tourist season cranking up, I think it would have been safe to say that the vans around us were probably full, with 16ish guests for each regular flight.  It sounds like a lot, but with competing companies lugging around nearly 30 guests in their baskets, 16 is quite a comfortable arrangement.

Being on the more ‘elite’ tour, we were happy to note that there were only going to be 8 guests aboard our balloon, 4 couples with the Gees doing a great job of dragging down the average age by at least 20 years.  With the pricing prohibitive for most young people who are scraping by in their backpacks and Havianas, it wasn’t terribly surprising that our fellow passengers sported a range of gray hairstyles…if they actually had any hair at all!  They were still good value though and we had a really good time conversing with them during the drive to our launch site.

Our driver wasn’t Mike himself, as he was busy getting things set up and ready over to the west of Goreme.  We found him looking very busy and capable in the early morning dusk light when we pulled up at Butterfly’s launch site perhaps 15 minutes later.  The scenery out to the launch zone was unreal - with in excess of 10 companies operating with a minimum of 5 balloons each, they were spread over the land far and wide.  As the sky grew pinker, more balloons lifted sleepy heads to the sky, preparing themselves for the day to come.  In contrast, our balloon remained flat and still.  Mike wasn’t pleased with the wind conditions and held off on our launch for some time, whipping along the nearby ridge lines in his neon green Jeep, letting off helium balloons at strategic locations.  Other companies seemed to think everything was fine and progressed without interruption.  Considering the extremely rough take offs and near collapses and collisions we saw around us, we were pleased with the decision to wait.  About 35 minutes later the sun popped over the nearest hill, intensely bright, and instantly killed the wind.  We were ready to leave.

Take off was smooth and unremarkable.  There were 5 segmented compartments in the balloon, 2 on each of the left and right sides for the 8 passengers, and a large central area for Mike and 4 tanks of gas.  The heat coming off the gas burner was especially welcome - the early morning chill was penetrating, despite my hoodie and wonderful Irish wool scarf.  Neither Gee really knew what to expect from a balloon ride, having never been before, nor having ever given it much thought.  I suppose I thought you’d blast straight up to a decent height and chug along on an even plane.  Not so.  We stayed quite close to the ground at all times, adjusting altitude up and down with the topography of the land.  Silently gliding up cliffs and dipping down valleys, we were at times only a few feet from the vines and fields below.  Mike explained that not only did you see more detail when you hugged the ground, you also had a longer flight as the wind remained softer at lower altitudes.

It was absolutely serene up there.  The landscape was incredible, stretching out all around us.  In the distance we could see the volcano that provided all of the volcanic ash in the area, resulting in the gorgeous palette of pinks and whites of the cliffs and crevices.  The nesting pigeons looked out at us from their little chiseled abodes, unsurprised to see yet another bright intruder in their space.  Knowing that the ride was going to last around 90 minutes, we were a bit concerned about G2’s comfort - being a bit of a wiggle worm and easily distracted, there was a high likelihood he was going to get bored.  There’s not much he can do for 90 minutes uninterrupted that doesn’t involve a set of drums in a live stage show.  He was actually lamenting not bringing his Kindle, he was that certain that boredom would creep in and the end of the ride would be torture.

Amazingly, this wasn’t an issue.  He was as rapt as I was, peering this way and that.  It was lovely having so few people in the balloon; every single one of us had a front row seat with uninterrupted vistas and photo opportunities.  The time passed on a steady breeze, drifting us around 10 kilometers on our tour of the Cappadocia region.  White undulating stone hills, jagged pink precipices, the silvery-olive of endless grape vines and squash fields, fading into shades of ochre and pine of wheat fields in various stages of harvest.  Being one balloon of many was the icing on the cake - photos of the region are made even more beautiful by the multi-hued gentle giants, hovering on the horizon.

Before we knew it, Mike started scouting for places to touch down.  The wind had carried us further than his normal landing area, so improvisation was necessary.  After a few descents and re-ascents to avoid power lines, houses, and crops, he found a suitable field for landing.  Watching the pick up crew racing underneath us in their lime green access vehicles was amusing - they’d roar past, stop at a likely landing area, then Mike would radio for them to continue ahead as an obstacle was spotted, and they’d race off again, kicking clouds of dust up to the heavens.

As we boarded the balloon prior to taking off, we were clearly and explicitly instructed on the ‘rough landing’ position.  Told it was a formality as most landing consisted of a few soft drags on the ground before stopping upright, we weren’t too concerned.  But we did pay attention.  Like I said before, accidents have happened.  With the wind moving at a great clip at the end of our ride, I wasn’t surprised to hear Mike tell us it was going to be a rough landing and would necessitate the brace position.  As I was on the outer edge of the basket, with G2 closer in towards Mike, I could clearly see the ground rushing past us through an open handle built into the side of the wicker basket.  We had turned around facing backwards to the direction of travel, as instructed, and hunkered down, holding on to some of the rope handles that were firmly sewn into the sides of the basket.  The back lip of the balloon, on our side of the basket, absolutely SMASHED into the ground and we bounced all over the place as the wind dragged us across the open field.  We were actually tossed back up into the sky and became airborne again, as the wind manhandled the balloon above.  The Gees could hear at least one of their fellow passengers, a woman, screeching and wailing.  Not in pain, just surprise and perhaps discomfort.  KABANG!  We hit the ground again, but this time Mike had been able to release enough air from the balloon that the wind let go and we remained in contact with the ground as we were schlepped through the field.  Rollings clouds of dust surrounded us and the Gees quickly stuck their noses and mouths down into the clothes, all the while tipping closer and closer to being completely backwards.  And then we did tip over - thankfully we were told this would happen and were prepared.  It helped that the sides of the basket were well padded, leading to no discomfort.  Besides G1’s hair being ripped along between the basket and the ground, no damage was done.  We eventually came to a stop and the giggling started.

What great fun.  Honestly, it beat any soft landing I could imagine.  It was like a hot air balloon ride and a roller coaster all in one!  Everyone was pleased as punch, despite being a bit dirty from the dry landing zone…except the one shrieking woman.  She was uninjured but distressed - I suppose she hadn’t really paid attention to the rough landing talk at the beginning of the trip and was caught unawares.  I had a hard time feeling sorry for her.

After a few photos were snapped of our interesting landing positions, the greeting ground crew quickly produced wonderful local champagne (among the best I’ve ever had) and fresh chocolate cake.  An impromptu celebration party was had, complete with flight certificates and the fabled Butterfly Balloon pins.  After finishing off the bottles of champagne, it was time to load up and head back into Goreme.  It took us a fair while to get back, having traveled an unexpectedly long distance in the air.

All in all, it was incredible.  We arrived at our hotel still walking on air, rapturous.  Within this 5 week holiday, it was by far our pinnacle memory.  I hesitate to ever claim something is the ‘experience of a lifetime,’ but among my travels it honestly ranks as a top excursion.  The Gees wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone, and would especially recommend the longer, more personalized experience.  Butterfly Balloons did a top job; this will remain a favorite memory for the Gees for years to come.


Day Thirty-One: Making Tracks

Having relied on our feet for transportation around all of our destinations so far, we decided to brave the roads of Goreme and rent a scooter for Day 31 and 32.  We’ve done the scooter thing before - Indonesia and the Cook Islands - and it is liberating.  There’s something to be said about getting to beautiful places under your own gumption, but we did our hard yards in the Swiss Alps.  It was time to broaden our horizons and get mobile.

The attitude with scooters is pretty lax in Goreme.  The Turks absolutely race from hinder to yon, over all of the hand-laid, uneven brickwork paved roads.  Most twist around a labyrinth of blind corners, merge with surprise alleyways, contain a variety of stray animals, and are crammed with overloaded tourist buses/manure trucks…at times they’re difficult to tell apart.  Some of these mini-dragster drivers don’t look old enough to have an accurate idea of where babies come from, let alone hold a handwritten, $1.50, what-passes-for-a driving permit.  Perhaps it is a second world version of natural selection?  Regardless, they’re hardy little urchins, quick reaction times for sure.  We saw not a single accident, not even a near miss.  If anyone was a risk, it was these two well-educated, mature, validly licensed adults.  We managed to muddle through though.

G2, naturally, was the driver.  A) being a man on the back of a scooter is belittling, emasculating, I gather.  B) G1 hates motorcycles, scooters, motorbikes, whatever 2 wheeled vehicle you propose operating.  Seriously. hate. them.  There have been no bad experiences in my life, I just hate them without any rational basis.  I don’t like how precarious they are, I don’t like how loud they are, I don’t like what they look like.  I don’t even like the people who drive them.  They’re obnoxious.  They’re dangerous.  They’re skanky.  They look ridiculous, they behave ridiculously.  I know those are broad brushstrokes to paint across all motorcyclists, but that’s my Perth-based experience.  There are definite exceptions, but overall, that’s my rule.  The only drivers I detest more than motorcyclists are regular cyclists.  Cyclists are the bane of my driving existence here in Australia - no one is more arrogant, rude, dangerous, or infuriating.  So there you have it.  There was NO chance I was driving a scooter, it was a major concession that I even rode on one.  Scooters are a vacation bonus for G2, and generally only get use in quiet destinations.

Procuring a scooter in Cappadocia is simple.  You walk up and say that you want a scooter.  They fall all over themselves to get one, show you that it’s full of fuel, and ask if you want a helmet.  Of course the ONLY safety mechanism you have on your side while on a scooter is optional.  Makes me roll my eyes.  Anyway, it was affordable and we were done in no time (though we did refuse to leave a passport with the company, choosing to surrender G2’s WA driving license instead).  G2 did a quick lap in front of the rental shop to get his bearings on the right side of the road - and it was considered his ‘driving test’ for the shop owner, who watched him with one uninterested eye, the other appraising the next potential customer strolling by, a cigarette hanging languidly from his lower lip.  He was obviously satisfied by G2’s road skills, commenting with a chuckle that he was “more better than many.”  Well spoken, I tend to agree.  His is more better than many. :)

Once on the scooter, our horizons expanded.  Goreme is a naturally hilly, twisty, uneven sort of place - it makes walking any distance nearly impossible, and makes a 150cc scooter greatly appreciated.  In no time we had whizzed over to the other side of town, rear brakes squealing down every descent, smiling faces passing on every side.  We were in search of G1’s mecca.  A Turkish Bath.

Turkish baths, hamams, are a long standing tradition, adapted from the old Roman (and Greek) style community baths.  As Turkey has become more tourist-friendly and progressive, a variety of bathing styles have developed.  The traditional style was a series of three rooms: a hot room, a warm room, and a cool room.  While the Romans used the cool room, complete with chilly swimming pool, as preparation for the other processes, the Turks use the cold room as a place of recovery and rest, hence its position at the end of the procedure.  While there is naturally a presence of steam in the hot room, it is not a sauna per se.  The Russians focus on a dry steam in their saunas, but the Turks focus on hot, running water.  The steam is moist and is a byproduct of the presence of rejuvenating waters.

What generally happens in a Turkish hamam:  You enter, agree to the pricing of a particular treatment or package, are led to an individual change room, and are given a traditional wrap/towel.  You shed your unwanted clothes, as it is already quite warm at this point, and wrap yourself in the towel.  On your exit from the dressing area, you are given a pair of traditional wooden clogs to use for your bath time.  The floors of the hamam are marble and other slick stones, covered in standing water in places, wet footprints leading in every direction.  Fearing serious injury, the wooden shoes give you good traction in an otherwise precarious situation.  At this point you are generally introduced to your personal bathing assistant, in the case you have signed up for a traditional Turkish bath.  This woman will stay with you while you soak in their ultra-warm mineral bath water, covered in bubbles to protect some degree of modesty.  After sinking to the proper degree of pruniness, she grabs a pumice stone and goes to work scrubbing every inch of dead skin off your body.  Again, not so much that you’re uncomfortable - modesty is respected, but the Turks are in general not shy about body image.  Many women, especially locals, choose to enter the baths completely nude, or at least topless, and think nothing of seeing others fully nude.  But back to your lady: after she finishes scrubbing you, she moves on to your hair care, shampooing and massaging your scalp into happy oblivion.  Clean and soft, you dry off and move on to the warm room, where in most cases you have a body mask applied.  Lounging in a quiet cave room, sleepy and content, the mask dries over a period of 15-20 minutes.  When your time is up, you’re taken back to individual showers to wash the green goodness away.  This concludes your assisted Turkish bath time, with individual time being spent in the cooler area, having little pieces of cake and cool drinks to replenish your energy after such a hot, mellowing experience.

My Turkish hamam was in one of the local hotels, Hotel Kelebek.  Kelebek translates to ‘butterfly’ in Turkish, and the hotel is unsurprisingly owned by the same person who operates the Butterfly Balloons hot air balloon company.  The hotel is fitting of the name Kelebek, absolutely opulent and luxurious.  I had contacted them for availability when we booked and was unhappy to hear they were fully booked.  Upon visiting I can understand why it is not unusual for their rooms to be full up to a year in advance.

I did not go for the traditional Turkish bath, as I am a pansy and don’t like being scrubbed.  If I’m forking over for a spa, I don’t want to spend the majority of the time cringing away from a rough pumice stone.  I opted for the more traditional route of oil massage.  The beginning started the same, with the change room and wrap, plus I got a nice warm shower in the hot room.  I spent less time there than if I had the Turkish bath though, being moved along to the warm area fairly quickly.  I wasn’t disappointed - the hot room was a bit heavy if you weren’t actually in the water.  My first port of call was a lovely face mask, lounging on one of their traditional linen-clad chaises while it dried.  Time passed quickly in the quiet warmth and it was dried, and subsequently washed off, in 15 minutes.  I was then ushered to my own private massage room and handed over to my non-English speaking masseuse.  It’s funny - talking isn’t really a requirement for a killer massage.  A few motions is all that is necessary to make sure everything is aligned, comfortable, and enjoyable.

In all of the places I’ve been, I try to go to the spa just once.  I associate spas with complete relaxation and extravagance.  It’s something I never do in my normal life and is representative of a treat that each annual holiday has to offer.  With all of the massages I’ve had around the world, this was the BEST.  Ever, ever.  That lady was pure magic, and the aromatherapy oil she used left me all sleek and fragrant.  It was 45 minutes of pure bliss.  When it eventually ended, leaving me all woozy and floppy, I found my way back to the cool area and topped up with some cold water.  Changing back into street clothes, I met G2 in the lobby and bid the Kelebek hamam and fond farewell.  G2 had spent his time driving around the town, breaking in the scooter, and reading in the air conditioning.  While this area of Turkey wasn’t as sweltering as the southern coast, it certainly did get warm around midday.

Our next point of call: the Dalton Brothers Ranch.  Started by a reputed horse whisperer, Ekrem Ilhan, there is a write up about his company in the Lonely Planet book on Turkey.  It is not a surprise that he had a steady base of customers, despite the presence of the older, more established Goreme Ranch directly across the road.  I’d like to think that people choose to ride with Ekrem because his horses are clearly more healthy and well cared for, but the fact is that sometimes they just need a book to tell them what to do.  Lonely Planet describes Ekram’s efforts to rehabilitate and ‘break’ some of the ill and injured wild horses from the region and describes him as a “Cappadocian Clint Eastwood.”  And you know what?  Lanky, dark, tight Wranglers and a black cowboy hat embellished with silver decorations…he is a Turkish Eastwood ringer!

Picking our way around his plethora of farm animals - dogs, cats, pigeons, parrots, quails, kittens - we found him to be kind and welcoming, with very good English skills.  He told us he had another 2 spots remaining for that evening’s 2 hour sunset ride so we signed ourselves up.  G2 paid while G1 hunted wily kittens and patted some of the haltered horses in the arena.

We returned not much later, at 5:15 for our ride.  We were both marked as intermediate riders and put astride two bay mares, both locally raised Anatolian horses.  Fine boned, they somewhat resembled Arabians in structure, and had erectly held, beautiful tails.  Of course as trail ride style horses, they were not the most unpredictable lot.  Thankfully they weren’t broken to the point that they insisted on plodding nose-to-tail, so the ride was still enjoyable and did require some active handling.  The stock saddle I was put in was a) at least 2” too big for me, b) more than likely a fixture on Noah’s ark, retrieved from the top of Mt. Ararat, and c) (obviously) uncomfortable.  Posting to the trot on a stock saddle with guards is…impossible.  So the ride was, at times, bumpy - with the extra seat space I wasn’t even able to settle in properly to absorb the trotting gait.  I muddled through.

The scenery from the back of the horse was so beautiful, natural soaring rock formations skirted by the white waves of wind-sculpted cliffs.  Our ride was punctuated with a stop for the restroom/drink and a chance for our two accompanying ranch dogs to have a bit of a rest.  The two of them go out with every ride of the day, a period of about 6 hours every day.  Talk about keen mutts!  The terrain we maneuvered over the course of the ride was incredibly steep in places.  My darling horse, Sultan, who may have suffered from ‘girl with boy name syndrome’ raced up the hills, lunging forward with good momentum…but when it came to going down, she was the most steady, stable horse I’ve ever been on.  Each foot was planted precisely, she shifted her weight to her hindquarters, and dug in deep.  I could have been doing jumping jacks on her back at a 45 degree slope and I reckon she still wouldn’t have slid a centimeter.  It was a definite advantage to having a local horse, bred for navigating mountainous terrain.

Our ride wrapped up just as the sun was setting, casting beautiful orange light across the arid landscapes, long shadows following us along our gravel track.  The horses were upbeat on the way back, one back in the corral for a good 5 minutes before the rest of us managed to catch up.  A couple of very tasty glasses of homemade wine shared with the ranch crew, and we were off for dinner and an early bedtime.  Having made a firm booking with Butterfly Balloons for Day 32, we needed to get a full night’s sleep or our 4 am ballooning start would knock us flat.


Day Thirty: Land of Fairy Chimneys

The area of Cappadocia is peppered with a variety of caves and underground cities, mostly dating back to the Bronze Age.  They were presumably first created as a means of escape from natural predators of the area, though were later used as a means of escape from other men.  The natural volcanic rock formations were easily carved out into dwellings and churches, some still housing mosiacs and frescos hundreds of years old.  The sprawling and complex underground cities that later developed were actually inhabited by early Christians who were fleeing religious persecution by Roman soldiers.  It is believed there are in excess of 100 of these subterranean reinforced establishments, though only 6 remain open for public viewing.  In order to get a feel of the history and tradition of the region, many visitors choose to stay in a cave hotel during their time in Cappadocia.

Spending the night in one of the area’s many, many (seriously - many) cave rooms was a lifetime experience for us.  The Gees sort of wish it was a ‘ONCE in a lifetime experience,’ but we booked to spend all 4 nights in the same cave dwelling.  The first night?  Quaint, exciting, an adventure.  But…also damp and oppressive.  The air inside the caves is heavy, it takes effort to fill your lungs with air.  You find yourself not wanting to take deep, fulfilling gulps of oxygen because a) it’s hard work, and b) you can’t be sure exactly what is hitchhiking into the depths of your respiratory system along with that desired O2.  There seems to be an odor of mold hanging in the air within these caves, and the Gees are none too sure that it’s the best environment for one’s health.  In fact, after doing a bit of poking around, there was a study published that determined 50% of deaths in one area of cave dwellings was due to a form of mesothelioma, which is traditionally caused by asbestos exposure.  Seems that the local families who were predisposed to a form of mineral induced mesothelioma were dropping like flies.  Thankfully the chances of the Gees receiving those predisposed genes are pretty slim, and surely 4 nights won’t kill us.  Right?

Regardless, we spent most of Day 30 outside of our room, in the sweet fresh air of the countryside.  Our hotel was etched into the side of a cliff with an elevated open patio offering beautiful views over the rest of the town.  Enjoying a breakfast of Turkish bread, honey, rose jam, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and the like was relaxing and refreshing.  It’s amazing how good fresh food makes you feel.

Our day consisted of checking out our surroundings - getting the lay of the land, so to speak.  Walking trails crisscross the entire region, covering presumably hundreds of kilometers if you were to actually walk them in totality.  At times they were no more than a broken track among the scrubby growth that covers arid ground, sharp prickles hovering on the edges, just waiting to latch on to any unprotected ankles that may wander near.  Other times they were wide gravel trails, traveled by a myriad of scooters and ATVs.  Lazy, dust devils were whipped up with little provocation, a testament to the oppressive dryness of the region.

In an attempt to take a shortcut to the “Goreme Open Air Museum” which consists of primarily caves previously used as churches, we found ourselves off the bush.  Yet again.  Both of us commented, simultaneously, that we hoped our off-the-track maneuver would go more favorably in Turkey than it did in Switzerland.  Thankfully it did - a few skids on loose, sandy gravel excluded, we got to where we thought we were going with little difficulty.

The waves of rocks seemingly swallowed us whole as we descended.  White rolling cliffs dotted with the only the most tenacious bushes seemed to suggest we had entered an early moonscape.  It was surreal, almost like walking through a painting.  In that way it resembled the Alps - so incredibly gorgeous that it seemed impossible to exist.  But exist it did, and as the moonscape around us drew back, leaving us in a valley of sorts, we were greeted with towering rock formations.  Jutting to the heavens, their shape alone confirmed that we had our way to Love Valley.  Love?  Perhaps because these rocks were so phallic-shaped, it was hard to believe their existence wasn’t some frat boy joke.

After giggling our way through some photos, we were ready to have dinner and relax for the rest of the evening on the patio.  Keen to try a native Cappadocian dish, we chose a restaurant at random (goodness knows there are plenty of offers shouted out as you walk past all of the eateries) and settled in.  We simply couldn’t go past the specialty of Goreme - Pottery Chicken.  The dish is put together raw and then cooked in a sealed terracotta-type pot for a number of hours.  It traditionally consists of chicken, peppers (capsicum), tomatoes, and garlic.  It all melds together into a sort of stew, percolating away in its pot and blending flavors.  The top of the urn is open, in order to prevent explosions during heating, and traditionally the hole was covered with raw bread dough.  When the bread was crispy, the dish was done.  We did see quite a few pots covered with aluminum foil though, a sure sign of modernization.

This pottery chicken dish was absolutely incredible.  The chicken was tender and flavorsome, and all of the tomatoes and peppers blended together perfectly.  It was, by far, G1’s favorite dish of the holiday.  And one that is surely to be repeated many times over in Cappadocia.  The only let down of the meal?  No baklava.  Our generous restaurant hosts made it up to us with a local dish, a baked rice pudding that was almost as lovely.

Off to bed, with a full Day 31 on the horizon.


Day Twenty-Nine: In Transit

While Turkey has a plethora of baklava, calls to prayer, and evil eyes, it does not have a multitude of transportation options when attempting to travel between smaller towns.  Unlike in other European countries, the rail system is underdeveloped and leaves whole chunks of civilization unconnected.  The list of cities in Turkey boasting airports, even small ones, is short and sweet.  With one of the most celebrated areas of the country, Cappadocia, off the train map and without an airport for us to access from Kas, we had to do things the old fashioned way.  The Gees hit the open road on another Turkish bus, losing the entirety of Day 29 in transit.

Cappadocia is a region of Turkey, not unlike the Badlands of America or the Bungle Bungles of Australia.  It is not a strictly defined area and often refers primarily to the province of Nevsehir.  The landscape of Cappadocia is what is generally thought of when referring to this region: to say that it abounds in natural beauty would be an understatement like no other.  The Gees were particularly excited to arrive and begin exploring what many claim to be the greatest destination in Turkey.

Getting there was convoluted.  It involved leaving our cheerful hosts in Kas and heading across the road to the dreaded otogar.  Bus station.  Honestly, both Gees are bit over buses and behold them with squinted, distrustful expressions.  We have never been able to shake our aversion to them after having the terribly fast and dangerous bus ride at the beginning of the holiday.  However, in this case, if we wanted to experience Cappadocia, our backs were against the wall.

First came the 4 hour bus ride from Kas, east along the southern coast, to the city of Antalya.  Along the way we passed through what may well have been the vegetable patch of Turkey, similar to the breadbasket of America.  Stretched out as far as the eye could see were rows of greenhouses, their clear plastic ceilings crinkling in the breeze.  Vague, fuzzy green shapes were only just visible from the road, but there is no doubt it was a massive portion of the country’s fresh veggie supply.  We never drifted far from the ocean on this leg of the trip, the Mediterranean flitting in and out of view, engaging us in a game of tag.  We appreciated her beautiful blue vibrancy for as long as we could, knowing that around the time we arrived in Antalya we would be saying goodbye to her for good.

Antalya crept up on us slowly.  The outskirts were like any other small village we came upon when traveling.  Dogs lazied in the shade, local men sat around folding tables, smoking endless cigarettes and drinking tea so sweet it could sustain hummingbirds, kids raced each other around on dusty, well worn Huffy bikes, and the women clustered around a line of drying clothes, presumably gossiping, stopping only to give the bus an appraising look as it lumbered past.  After a few minutes of these familiar sights, our surroundings continued to grow.  Everywhere we looked there were half-completed apartment buildings, telecommunication stores, laundry services with colorful bubble signs, and service stations catering to increasingly flashy cars.  It was becoming very obvious that we were entering an actual city, not one of the little country towns to which we had become accustomed.

I have read that Antalya is a lovely seaside destination.  I saw none of that.  I saw a city: big, busy, and a bit dirty.  However, these observations were limited to the route we traveled on our way to the bus station and nothing else.  There were some lovely fountains dotted around though, something that Turks seem to enjoy and build in multitude.  The bus station was fairly confusing, as there were far fewer English translations hanging around than we were accustomed to seeing in the other places we had visited.  Asking where we needed to be, we happily received directions from yet another helpful Turk.  The helpful locals are as numerous in Turkey as the panoramic vistas are in Switzerland.

Our next trip was to be a long, miserable one.  A bus ride for 9 hours, from Antalya to Goreme, a town in the Cappadocia region.  We had some time to kill in the bus station, but eventually the clocked ticked around to 10pm, our time of departure.  This route is only serviced by overnight buses, so we had to make the best of a bad situation.  For us, ‘the best’ consisted of taking sleeping pills and desperately attempting to sleep at least 2-3 hours.

But sometimes you’re simply buggered from the beginning.  This was one of those times.  Sitting directly in front of us, across both sides of the aisle, was a mother and her three children.  Two older daughters, perhaps 14 and 11, and a son, around 4.  The older girls were lovely, quiet and demure, exceptionally lovely children.  The son though?  A spoiled, obnoxious, whingy little brat.  One of the worst I’ve ever had the joy of traveling with.

We’ve seen this situation a bit in Turkey.  It appears that as a culture, the girls are expected to be well-behaved, steady and responsible.  They are allowed no shenanigans whatsoever, and moreso, they are expected to care for the younger children as if they are parents themselves.  The level of maturity the girls possess is remarkable.  The boys though?  They are little terrors, running amok, screaming, scurrying away, and then biting, kicking, smacking their sisters who helplessly chase after them.  The parents are often too busy in their own social conversations to pay a lick of attention to these horrendous little boys, leaving them to be labored over by the female children of the family with no assistance.  It makes me sad to see - those boys will grow up to be entitled, pompous men and the women will have enjoyed no true childhood of their own.  The best they could hope for as little girls is to never have a male sibling born.

Back to the boy on the bus.  He whinged, he shrieked, he squealed like a pig stuck in a bear trap.  He DID NOT SHUT UP unless his mother herself was holding him to her chest like the baby that he no longer was.  That is ALL he wanted, to be held by her.  It is a physical impossibility to embrace a large 4 year old for 9 hours on a bus.  So the woman kept handing him over to his sisters to care for while she attempted to recline and get some sleep.  Yeah, like that was going to happen.

Huuuuuuuuuh…Muuuuuuuuh…HhhhhhHHHHHHmmmmmmm…Huh, Huh, Huh…Wuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh…WaaaaAAAAA…MaaaaaaaaaHHHHHHHHHH.

The whimpers would start within seconds and just carry on, and on, and on.  Nerve-fraying, headache-inducing, temper-provoking whinging.  I have never seen a child who so desperately needed a strong smack on the butt and a serious lesson in behavior.  But the mother did nothing to discourage him, to admonish him.  Absolutely nothing.  He would be kicking and thrashing and squealing while the oldest daughter attempted to hold and soothe him.  He would hit her, claw at her, bite her.  She would resist and try to rub his back and whisper sweet sentiments.  Nothing would work.  For the life of me I have no idea how she managed to keep her temper and not lash out in reciprocation.  He just went on and on and on and on and on until eventually the mother gathered him back up against her chest and he immediately shut up again.  He had that woman so conditioned to fulfilling what he wanted, it was like seeing Pavlov’s dog drooling on command.

I was miserable.  And outraged.  I had next to no sleep and knew the world was going to inherit the most miserably demanding man imaginable in a few short decades.  I was so on edge that I could hardly appreciate the beautiful morning breaking around us as the bus arrived in Nevsehir.  Thankfully we transferred on to Goreme, leaving the family in question far behind.  I parted ways with them thinking only positive thoughts for those poor girls.

On the way to Goreme, the landscape surrounding us was stunning - huge rock formations jutting up to kiss the blushing sky, waves of white stone coursing through open valleys, entire homes and hotels fashioned in caves, glass windows glinting in the strong summer sunrise.  I finally felt myself relaxing in the peace of early morning, surrounded by a vista of such wonder.  There was no doubt the Gees were going to very much fall in love with Cappadocia.


Day Twenty-Eight: Rerun

After a fulfilling day bonding with the animals of Kas yesterday, the Gees decided to do their own version of vacation rerun and head out to the open waters on a boat trip.  Like Leo.  Again.

Like in Oludeniz, the boats available for trips and excursions are lined up shoulder to shoulder, vying for your attention, but not on a pebbly beach this time.  The town of Kas has a lovely U-shaped harbor instead, peppered with discarded pieces of traditional boats (and sometimes nearly the whole boat itself!) and vendors selling freshly grilled corn on the cob and iced almonds.  The boat owners call out as you pass, hoping to tempt you with sweet tidbits of foreign destinations.  Strangely enough one of the most common endpoints is an scrubby hill directly off the coast - it is the island of Kastelorizo (often called Meis, a shortened version of its common Greek name).  Meis is actually a Greek island, despite the fact that it is located nearly 600 kms from the mainland of Greece, but a mere 2 kilometers from the mainland of Turkey.  It’s strange to see where the lines in the sand are drawn when ancient civilizations develop and divvy up land to become modern nations.

Considering how pleased we were with the Cherry Tree experience after following TripAdvisor recommendations, we decided to again head for a boat with glowing TA reviews.  Even after searching the marina for two days, the Batik II was nowhere to be found though.  The most heavily internet complimented boat appeared to be MIA.  Regrouping, we were satisfied by other reviews posted for the Tayli, who was obviously front-and-center in the marina, so a safe bet.  We were not disappointed.

Like other Turkish businesses, the Tayli was obviously a family-run affair.  The captain took care of most of the logistics of sailing while the wife whipped up the most incredible, plentiful meal the Gees have had thus far.  Their two children, a big sister and little brother, were periodically minded by a set of grandparents on board - but spent a massive portion of the day splashing in the water with glee, chasing each other around the deck, nibbling on treats, and generally living the best childhood life ever.

The Tayli itself was a fairly small yacht with beautiful, well-maintained wood paneling.  Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous, we were riding in style.  She was tidy, functional, safe, and comfortable.  And she had a flawlessly functional toilet, something noteworthy in the land of poorly working squat toilets!  What more can you ask for when you’re headed to sea?  Our tour group was a mixed bag - us, an lovely English couple, and 2 German couples who ate more combined than is served at most traditional Thanksgiving meals.  I wonder if the wife anticipated them when she cooked up enough lunch for a legion of men.  Everything made for a quiet, relaxing trip as we skidded across the top of small waves on our way around the Kas area.

It was undoubtedly an enjoyable day, full of beautiful scenery, interesting wildlife, and plentiful swimming opportunities…but honestly, it was more of the same.  The first boat trip in Oludeniz was a novelty so it shines brighter in our memories.  This was a repeat: a bit grainer, a bit lower quality, like a recording of the top 10 from the radio when you were in middle school.  Never as good as the original.  The rock formations were not as breathtaking, the ocean was not as vibrantly colored.  But it was a full day out with a brilliant lunch, soft ocean breezes, clear blue skies, and plenty of time to read (G1) and swim (G2).  Worth the price?  Absolutely.


Day Twenty-Seven: KAF

After a few boisterous days in the touristic bedlam that is Oludeniz, alighting in a village like Kas is an unexpected breath of fresh air.  Knowing very little about the area or the people, Kas was chosen as a destination for the Gees through favorable online reviews, and ultimately its physical position on the southern coast of Turkey.  Working our way clockwise so we can eventually arrive in Cappadocia and Istanbul, Kas provided a good ‘in between’ destination, a stop over.  Now that we’ve experienced this gorgeous slice of the Mediterranean, we can attest that it is worthy of being an end-point all of its own, a true haven for home-cooked cuisine, hospitality, and relaxation.

Kas, like many towns that skirt the Mediterranean, runs down a hill to meet the sea, perched on precipices and clinging to crags.  It is organic; restaurants and shops, homes and pensions, all slot into whatever stable position they can, dipping and protruding as necessary.  This form of architecture results in a great number of balconies and other elevated lookout points, perfect positions for absorbing the astonishing blue of the sea.  The town, which only boasts around 7,000 residents, is literally dripping with flowers.  Terracotta planters, kiln-fired pottery, glass dishes, children’s simple vases, wooden crates, even discarded and halved metal olive oil drums are packed with fertile soil and their cups runneth over with exuberant blossoms.  Pansies, petunias, jasmine, bougainvillea, irises, tulips, marigolds, roses.  They spring from every spare inch of Kas - no one seems content with a few token blooms.  No, each resident endeavors to create virtual gardens on their porches, their lobbies, their terraces.  Why have three potted plants when you can easily cram in twenty five?  There is something inherently lifting about a tumble of multicolored flowers, so you’ll hear no complaints from the Gees.

If the Turkish people are among some of the most hospitable in the world, the subset of Kas residents take it that little bit further.  The Martha Stewarts of Turkey, perhaps.  Their places of business are immaculate.  Their decor is vibrant and energizing, never tacky or garish.  Their cooking is simple and wholesome.  Their manners are impeccable.  They are always smiling, always laughing, never rowdy or unruly.  The front desk staff at our hotel (all from the same family, of course) actually stand when we enter the room, always ask after our happiness, and have assisted us with arrangements without hesitation and with great skill.  The residents of Kas are simply incredible.  While it may sound a bit “Stepford Wives: Traveler’s Edition,” these acts and gestures are honest, genuine.  It is easy to look into someone’s face and know they are truly happy to have you in their home.

One key aspect to Kas that thrilled the Gees is their fairly western approach to handling their street animal population.  Turkey as a whole is not particularly sentimental about stray animals, though we certainly have seen worse treatment in Greece and Indonesia, among other destinations.  The Turkish people generally have a ‘live and let live’ policy in regards the homeless dogs and cats that roam their streets.  They don’t seem to go out of their way to assist with sterilization or feeding, but they also don’t unnecessarily mistreat the creatures either.  It is a dog eat dog, natural selection sort of system for most of Turkey.

Again, the people of Kas, in large part due to efforts of English immigrants in the area, go above and beyond.  To start with, a great number of their street dogs are not homeless, they are just ‘free range.’  A beaten leather collar or even a simple piece of twine with a gleaming silver tag attached are clues, along with the fact that the animals do not appear emaciated or diseased, that these dogs do in fact have owners.  They are allowed to slouch around the town square at their own pace, in their own time, creeping from one shade patch to another.  Most are large dogs, German and other Shepard crosses, who hoover up scraps of tourist meals with cartoonishly large brown eyes.  They’ve got the pathetic act down pat, but they happily trot off after their owners when the end of the day comes calling.  There are a few unclaimed dogs that don’t go home when night falls, but they are almost treated as common property - all of the local children flock to them, with handfuls of goodies and pats to be given all round.  These dogs are less neglected than some in Australia that actually have owners.

Standing proudly in the middle of the Kas town square is a statue of Ataturk, one of Turkey’s most acclaimed leaders - and next to the statue, without fail, is a large white bucket.  Curious as to what its purpose was, I investigated.  It contained copious amounts of fresh water, placed there specifically for the town animals.  And thankfully in the blazing hot Turkish summer, it was far from being the only source.  Restaurants and shops alike had coffee cans, mixing bowls, even children’s dump trucks full of water for the animals’ use.  While eating dinner, we regularly spied them being topped up by the residents concerned with the soaring temperatures.

The cats of Kas are a slightly different story.  Turks don’t seem to care for cats, for the most part.  But again, they are not abusive.  This is an important fact to make crystal clear - unlike the cats I saw in Greece, knotted with scars from being covered in hot oil dumped from a kitchen window, we saw absolutely no cases of mistreatment.  But while dogs are allowed to roam as pets, the cats of the street didn’t appear to have owners to collect them at the end of the day.  I suppose in some ways this is not unacceptable.  Cats do often prefer to keep their own company, and in an upcoming tourist destination like Kas, there is no shortage of human affection for them when the mood strikes.  Moreso, being a fishing village, there also seem to be a sufficient number of food sources for them.  There were only one or two cats we saw that were on the skinny side of healthy, but again, not starving.

One way that the cat population has been kept in check is through systematic sterilizations.  The sure sign that the felines have been desexed is a missing tip of their ear - when they are under anesthetic for the sterilization, one ear is lopped, making them identifiable as having received vet care.  We saw a lot of cats in Kas.  Often they were in the same places, presumably each has their own domain established.  Out of all of the cats we saw, on the docks, in restaurants, in back alleys, I would guess that maybe only 20% were UNsterilized.  Perhaps even as few as 10%.  The great majority of them were sporting a wonky ear, which was wonderful to see.  The only way to keep happy, stable community-style cat colonies is to keep their birth rates under control.  It allows the population to survive with limited resources, without risk of starvation or rampant disease.

The credit for this good work, within both the cat and dog populations, goes to Kas Animal Friends.  KAF is a group of volunteers, from both Turkey and overseas, primarily women, who endeavor to assist the street animals of Kas.  They manage and run the local council-built dog sanctuary, and also spend massive amounts of time and money on sterilizing the stray population.  Their trap-neuter-release program is a lifesaver to the street dogs and cats in the Kas area.

Wanting to see the dog sanctuary for ourselves, we contacted KAF through their Facebook page, seemingly run by a British expat who now resides in Kas and spends copious amounts of time and energy caring for the local animals.  I was informed that we could visit daily between 3-5, so that was Day 27’s activity.  Supporting the local animal rescue.

Our first stop was the local taxi rank - with the sanctuary located 12kms outside of Kas, on the road to Antalya, we didn’t think it would be wise to walk there in 40/105 degree heat.  As if we would have made it.  But getting across our destination to the small crowd of taxi drivers was nearly impossible.  Our Turkish is non-existant, their English is subfunctional and supplemented with the writing of numbers on one’s palm with one’s index finger.  We kept trying to say “12 kms TOWARDS Antalya.”  They thought we wanted to go TO Antalya, which was a 3-4 hour trip.  I could see money signs flitting across their eyes, like virtual 777 slot machine results.  Then when we mentioned dogs, one of the drivers kept asking, “How big?”  He walked over to the taxi, made gestures of varying sizes, which must have been representing different sized dogs, and then pointed to the trunk and the back seat.  He thought we wanted to go pick up a dog and bring it back in the taxi!  Can you imagine a dog in the TRUNK of a car in 105 degree heat?!  Finally, we asked for “animal doctor” and received interpretable directions to a place around the corner.  We followed, and lo and behold, it was a vet’s office.

A few minutes with the vet, who scribbled Turkish on a Post-It, and we were back at the taxi rank.  Their eyes lit up, they made a few exclamations, and we were  on our way in no time.  To this day the Gees still don’t know what the note said - we laughingly speculated that it was something to the effect of, “Take these white people anywhere.  Maybe the beach.  White people like the beach.”  We arrived 15 minutes later and after some gesturing and payment, we sent the driver back alone.  One of the lovely English volunteers said she would happily drive us back to Kas herself, so that saved us time, money, and a world of difficulty explaining for the taxi driver to wait for us.

The dog sanctuary, like all pound systems, is a shock to the system at first, even knowing what to expect before you arrive.  I must admit, it was miles ahead of the Balinese shelter we visited though.  The poor dogs were packed in so tight in Indonesia that they almost had to move in unison in order to get anywhere in their pens.  I’m not quite sure how many dogs were at the KAF sanctuary, perhaps 100?  There were some that had free rein of both inside and outside the gates surrounding the property, some that had free rein inside the gate, and others that were kept in runs and pens.  They all had ample shade, mental stimulation, and were housed with others that they got along with.  Other than a few skirmishes over a bone, there was no aggression whatsoever.

The youngest pups were about 4 weeks old, just gorgeous.  Oh my heart melted.  There were increasing litters then, with another 2 litters being obviously “puppies” and a few that were getting to be months old and generally looking like dogs…but very energetic dogs!  We spent a good amount of time with the various volunteers, being led around all the kennels and patting every dog that seemed interested in attention.  Most were quite keen to get a head stroke, but it was obvious they were not starved for attention.  Besides cleaning cages, tending to injuries, and keeping the dogs fed and watered, the volunteers spent time taking the dogs for walks and generally interacting with them.  It was lovely to see; they were honestly doing a wonderful job with a bad situation.  Animal rescue is never easy but KAF is a remarkable organization.  We left them with a sizable donation, as we try to do each time we visit a local animal welfare organization, for which they were very thankful.  One volunteer with eyes lit up exclaimed, “Are you fabulously wealthy or something?”  Not particularly in the way you’d think, but we are wealthy in the ways that count. :)

Of course I fell in love with one of the dogs.  Not the littlest, or even the cutest, but she was a steady hand in the middle of a hurricane of activity.  Fergie, a ruddy-brown smallish dog, has been at KAF since she was a mere 4 weeks old, just like the fluffy puppies they’re caring for now.  She is now over 2 and has spent her whole life in a kennel environment.  She looks like a gorgeous little fox and has the most intensely saturated greenish yellow eyes (though they photograph brown).  I absolutely adored her.  When the rest of the pack were bounding around the yard, skirmishing over bones and digging in the kiddie’s wading pool of water, she was tucked in beside me, head on knee.  She was calm, docile, submissive to the others, and oozed love.  An old soul looked out of her eyes and I melted.  Life is truly not fair for animals in this world.  I would love more than anything for Fergie to have a home.  I may have even been able to convince G2 to make our household a three dog one, if not for the fact that we live in Australia and the quarantine process is so incredibly complicated, consuming, and expensive.  KAF regularly relocate their dogs to more manageable and affordable countries around the world though, primarily the UK and US.

So if anyone out there loves dogs, and wants a good one, Fergie’s waiting for you!

Fergie at KAF


Day Twenty-Six: The Aftermath

Here comes the entry dedicated to sun smart activity.  Growing up in the States, G1 was IGNORANT about the sun.  She ate up the idea that tans made you look healthy and vivacious, like you live in a constant state of tropical bliss, surrounded by cabana boys holding umbrella drinks, caressed by gently wafting breezes carrying the melody of Jack Johnson songs.  She sat out in the sun, at home and on vacation, for hours upon hours without sunscreen.  Hell, at times with baby oil rubbed in to increase the UV goodness!  Bonus if she got burnt - nothing’s more fun than peeling a flaky sunburn.  But most times, thanks to a relatively quickly created olive complexion, the burns were few and far between.  That suited the miniscule, itsy bitsy part of her giant scientific brain that tried to pipe up with, well, reason.  Because no burn equates no damage, right?

Wrong.  The sun, to use an Aussie term, really stuffs your skin up, burnt or otherwise.  It took moving to the other side of the world, and into a very sun smart culture, to understand that.  The tanning beds of my youth, the silly little star stickers pasted in the same position over and over to monitor the nicely toasting skin, were suicide.  Especially at the tender age I decided to give them a whirl - high school, really?  Was being a bit darker in my prom dress worth the risk to my health?  Many places have actually gone as far as to ban under 18s from using tanning salons, thanks to the tidbit of health info that you increase your chances of malignant melanoma in your lifetime by 78% if you choose to do so.  Between the ages of 18 and 25 for your tanning bed use?  Increased by 41%.

Tanning is addictive though.  Ask anyone who has done it.  Firstly, it’s relaxing.  It feels good.  It’s a splurge on you.  You lay down in this luxuriously quiet, warm room, all by yourself, angle a nearby fan to skim over your sun-kissed body.  And you zone out, you sleep, you meditate, you switch off, you compose haiku, you pray.  12 minutes.  15 minutes.  20 minutes.  25 minutes.  All to yourself.  For a busy mother, a teenager in the middle of finals, a business woman, well, it’s heaven.  You get a mental holiday to quickly recharge, and you (according to mainstream society) walk out looking thinner and healthier.  Why on Earth WOULDN’T you go three times a week?!

Well, for smokers, cigarettes are as elementary as tanning.  You, at a certain age, look cool.  You shed stress.  You keep your metabolism high.  You have an instant social connection to others.  Why NOT smoke?  Oh…that’s right…because it kills you.  And so does tanning.  Just like with smoking, it has no certain fatal end.  It’s not like putting a loaded gun to your head.  But it is like adding a few extra bullets to the chamber in the game of Russian Roulette.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is in deep denial, a state of willing ignorance.  Flip through any medical journal and the facts are there in black and white - and sometimes gruesome shades of red as well, when they’re illustrating a surgical melanoma removal.  Nothing says you had a great day at the beach like a 4 inch gaping wound.

Australians know all about sun safety, primarily because they’re the ones who have had to deal with the dreaded Ozone Hole.  Dun, dun, dunnnnn.  No, in all seriousness, the amount of UV protection that is in place over Australia is severely lacking in comparison to many other places in the world (with the exception of far south South American countries).  A bit of quick research tells me that for most of the midwest United States, the UV index average during the month of July is around 8.  For Perth?  Try 12.  13 on days with extra clear skies.  You know what that means?  Don’t leave the house, period.  But who can live like that?  No one.  So the government of Australia does the best it can to inform people of the damage that is being done to their bodies when they’re living it up on gorgeous summer weekends, and people have responded.

Slip, slop, slap.  They’ve been slipping, slopping, and slapping since the 80s, down under.  Growing up in the 80s/90s in the States, I can attest to seeing exactly zero government initiatives, on tv and the radio, about sun safety.

Slip on a shirt.  Slop on the sunscreen.  Slap on a hat.  Plus the lesser know seek and slide.  Seek shade.  Slide on some sunglasses.  In other words, protect yourselves.

So, despite thinking that I do indeed look best all golden brown, toasted like a little almond on the hearth of life, I am an informed adult who cherishes her health, so I slip, slop, and slap all the time.  It really irks me and I wish I could bring myself to rebel — just one more summer, just one more holiday, just one more tan.  But no, I went cold turkey and I will remain as pale as is normal.  I don’t avoid the sun, as you can tell from my boating adventure of yesterday, but I do cover up and put on copious amounts of sunscreen.  Apply, reapply, and reapply again, just to be safe.

It was no surprise that I nagged G2 to put on sunscreen on our boating adventure of Day 25.  Having some of the most delicately Scottish skin known to man, he can start to burn in the matter of a few minutes, on a midsummer’s day in Perth.  We actually carry sunscreen with us in the car, for unexpected stops and excursions.  I not only reminded him once, or twice, but probably three times to put on his sunscreen, especially since he would be spending most of the day in the water, totally exposed.  He finally confirmed that he had done so, and off he toddled.

He did put on sunscreen.  In some places.  But somehow the slopping of sunscreen failed to cover his back.  Day 26 commenced with a stifled groan of pain from G2, who woke up with a back the color of a well-cooked lobster.  Woe was him, it was a disaster indeed.  Copious amounts of moisturizer aren’t even going to be able to prevent the inevitable peel.

Our day consisted of little more than packing our things and moving along to the next destination: Kas.  But the ‘s’ of Kas has a little curlicue underneath it.  A cedilla.  This means that it makes a soft ‘sh’ sound, so we were actually Kash-bound.  Leaving behind the tourist mecca of Oludeniz was a bit sad, but having heard how beautiful and quaint the former fishing village of Kas was, we were unlikely to be disappointed with our new temporary home.  It was onwards and upwards, at least in temperature.  With Kas clocking in around 39 degrees (~102F), and air-conditioning not being a common feature of public areas (like bathrooms, restaurants, museums), we spent our afternoon resting up in the cold a/c of our hotel room.  G2’s back couldn’t take another afternoon of Turkey solar excitement, so we cut it a break.  We’re back in the saddle of Day 27 though, with a trip to the local animal sanctuary on the books.


Day Twenty-Five: On a boat (like Leo)

The stretch of boats moored to the beach in Oludeniz is a sight to behold.  It’s not that there are an overwhelming number of them, or they’re in poor condition, but they’re a novelty nonetheless.  Varying in size, they are primarily wooden, bobbing in place like well oiled corks, tethered to the beach by nothing more than a few flimsy ropes.  They rest together on the shore at night and then escape en mass every morning, bound for destinations radiating out from Oludeniz.  Plastered with colorful advertisements boasting itineraries or allied booking companies, none could be mistaken as twins.  Some are capable of carrying perhaps 50 people, some as few as 12.

The cruises themselves vary as much as the boats.  You want to go to a neighboring island for the day?  A quick paddle around the lagoon?  A multi-island excursion?  Perhaps to another major Turkish coastal town?  All possible on one of the boats bumped against the pebbled of Oludeniz…for the right price, I reckon they would have sailed us back to Australia at the end of our holiday!

The Gees decided to spend their entire day on an island hopping, swimming/snorkeling boat cruise.  You can’t go past the awesome Turkish value - two people, 8 hours of paddling around, and a lovely BBQ lunch included for 70 Lira.  Around $40.  It would be a bargain at twice the price.

When confronted with so many boats, and so many extremely helpful/slightly pushy tickets agents/skippers/owners/barnacle scrubbers, it is difficult to choose exactly which ship shall be your fair maiden.  Never fear - TripAdvisor to the rescue!  A few threads of the forums perused and we had nailed down the boat which offered exactly what we were looking for: The Cherry Tree.  Boasting not only a sweet name, the Cherry Tree was reputed to be safe, fairly small, and came without the blasting top-20’s Brit pop that many of the larger boats seemed to favor.   It’s not possible for my day to be ruined any faster than if I have to listen to bloody Kylie Minogue on repeat…

Arriving at 9:15 for a 9:30ish departure, we were actually the first people on board!  The rest trickled on slowly and it seemed that we stayed back for a while extra, in an attempt to snafu a few indecisive tourists wandering the beach at departure time.  Even with those slowpokes on board, there were perhaps 20 of us.  It was a nice, laid back cruise.  And I knew it was going to be good when the first song played on the modest and discreet sound system was “California Love,” followed shortly by a plethora of other early 00’s music.  A blast from the past, my boat trip morphed into a walk down the memory lane of college. :)

And…Eminem.  Dr. Dre.  Snoop.  Who knew the Turks were so into rap?  Not I, but I was thrilled.  I’d take that triple threat of gangstas to Kylie any day of the week - especially since our music was being played at about 10% the volume of other ships we passed during the day.  The general vibe for the large cruises seemed to be frat house party.  Sounds like fun, right?  Wrong.  100+ degree heat, copious amounts of alcohol, and a lurching, not entirely gentle sea.  I can only imagine the disasters that took place under the late afternoon sun.  And I’m a sympathetic puker.

The sun was blazing but on the water the breeze was heaven.  The ambient temperature was promised to be in the range of 38 (100ish) and in the direct sunlight, it was easily that, probably more.  However the deck was partially covered and dotted with sunbeds, and considering there were so few bums in seats, there was plenty of room for everyone to move around as they pleased.  G1 would sit in the sun until the sweat started beading up, then move back to the shade, cool down, and go back to the sun.  Repeat.  G2 didn’t spend a lot of time anywhere on the deck - he was far too busy splashing through the crystal clear Mediterranean waters like a big, gleaming fish.

Our boat waved and bobbed its way from one swimming hole to another, beautiful shades of blue water mixing and melting together as we passed intricate rock formations on shore.  At one point we visited what the captain jokingly referred to as “Hot Water Bay.”  I guess a few people hadn’t actually paid attention to the destinations on this particular tour because they jumped right overboard - into frigid, zesty waters!  The real title of the location was “Cold Water Bay,” aptly named thanks to the intensely cold freshwater spring that fed in from a nearby cove.  G2 climbed on to the railing of the second level deck, accepted a short pep talk from G1, and plunged straight over, an easy 10/10 dive.  Popping back up, a shivering, slippery white mass in otherwise crystal waters, he had a few teeth chatters and then swam off to poke around the nearby cliffs.

At one of our stopping points, hawkers on jetskis peddled their wares.  “Hey miss, you want ice cream?  So hot out, such cold ice cream,” they crooned up at me.  Yes, it was hot, but no, my stomach couldn’t handle the concept of potentially curdling milk.  I stayed in the shade and read my Kindle (Stephen King, gets me every time!); G1 went off to explore the shore.  Running back up the stairs to the top deck a few short minutes later, he snatched up his wallet and cried over his shoulder, “Just renting a jetski.  15 minutes for only 40 Lira.”  Really?  Of all our Turkish bargains, this certainly wasn’t one.  But, boys will be boys.  He returned 5 minutes later, down in the mouth.  It was “boring” and he had already quit.  Again, boys will be boys.

And that’s the way the day went.  We enjoyed a delicious barbequed chicken and rice meal on the deck, stopped in at least half a dozen different locations, and passed the whole day in sinful relaxation.  It was bliss.  Watching the scenery drift by, zoning out to the gentle rocking of the sea, reading more than I’ve managed to in the last 6 months combined.

By the time we got back to shore, G1 was pleased as punch about the whole day’s events.  G2 was the COLOR of punch, having neglected to put sunscreen on his back during a 9 hours stint in the sun.  What was that?…Ah yes, boys will be boys.


Day Twenty-Four: Up, up, and away!

Excited, the Gees were up fairly early, but both faked a steady level of nonchalance about the day’s paragliding activity.  “Nervous?”  we both asked.  “Uh…no…” was the response, in that tone of voice that clearly suggests that nerves are definitely starting to fizz nicely.

We stayed in bed as long as possible, not wanting to bum around in the suffocating heat of another healthy Turkish day.  Breakfast/lunch was had at a restaurant around the corner (may I recommend that you NEVER get the cheeseburger at Joseph’s in Oludeniz?  Honestly, my stomach was a bit twitchy before and that post-processed, is-it-beef-or-is-it-not rubbish only added fuel to the fire) and we plunked ourselves back on the beachfront benches to survey the morning’s arriving paragliders.  We figured it would be best to pay more attention to the logistics so that when our turn came we didn’t go sprawling down the length of the boardwalk, embarrassing ourselves and incapacitating our pilots!

We rocked up to the meeting point a few minutes early, which was perfect — there were two other girls going up with us already there.  One was twitchy and pale (even more pale than normal for a UKer coming out of winter), beyond nervous.  Amazing how someone who is even more worried than you takes stress away from the situation.  I spent so much time reassuring her that it wasn’t scary or difficult (from when I had been parapenting in Austria), that it reassured me at the same time.  Self-soothing, works like a charm I say.  Regardless of how much better I was making myself feel, this poor English girl didn’t stand a chance.  She was like a turtle all clammed up in the middle of the road, scared to go ahead and scared to go backwards.

We finally loaded into the van and started heading up Baba Dag, the largest mountain in the area.  It lies behind one of the other local hills, so the true height of the jump site was hidden from view in Oludeniz.  The Gees assumed that it couldn’t be too high, based on the ranges of hills we passed on our way here.  The Alps they were not.

The van was a white monster with a storage rack on top for holding all of the harnesses and parachutes, and on this particular trip, housed 2 English girls, the Gees, the driver, and 4 instructors on the inside.  Squeaks and groans, creaks and rattles.  Lots and lots of rattles.  It was like an old surfer dude’s van, no maintenance excepting a bit of cold water on the engine at the top of the hill.  The way up had to be experienced to be believed.  I’m surprised they didn’t charge extra for the inadvertent Swedish massage we received, thanks to the lack of shocks and several kilometers of pothole-ridden gravel roads.  G1 was actually compelled to take a video of the event.  It went something like this: (trees bouncing up and down outside of a dirty, mud-streaked window) with a background soundtrack of (rattle, rattle, raaaaaaa-ttle, bump, rattle, squeak, rattle, creak, raaa-raaa-raaa tttttle, weeeeeek, rattttle, bump, groooooooan, ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ttle, rattttttttle, rattttttttle).  For 30 seconds.  Well, the video goes for 30 seconds.  The general cacophony went for much longer.  The Gees just locked eyes in disbelief.  It was like being in a satire of ridiculous road trips.

As mountain passes tend to be, the road was twisty and steep.  Each time we hairpin-turned to the left, we were rewarded with an exceptional view back down the way we had just come.  The road slithered along like a serpent.  It’s a shame our van did not do the same.  No, the van regularly lurched between “off like a jackrabbit” and “stopping on a dime,” if you want to use coined phrases.  There is no doubt that van has driven the exact same route no less than…maybe 10,000 times.  5-6 jumps/day, 360 days/year, 5-6 years.  That’s giving it some real credit too.  I wouldn’t be the least surprised if they had been using that same vehicle for their mountain transport for a decade or more.

Somehow, the van, and its accomplice driver, instinctively “knew” the road.  Unfortunately the rest of the passengers did not - and were just short of peeing our pants on the way up.  Again, no guardrails.  Dropoffs of perhaps 50 feet, in places far more.  Loose gravel.  Switchback corners.  And all along we’re just getting higher and higher and higher.

We did, obviously, arrive at the top eventually.  G2 looked at G1 and said, “Somehow jumping off this mountain is preferable to going back down in that van!”  Someone with a bit of money, perhaps the council or the paragliding companies themselves, had paved the end of the road and launch area, which was a nice touch.  Despite the van’s shortcomings in the realm of comfort, it thankfully did seem to have sticky tires and functional brakes.  Standing at the top was a bit exhilarating though - it was honestly far taller than I had imagined.  I didn’t remember passing any mountains of this size, but there it was.  Reaching for the sky and claiming the glory.

Being the smallest of jumpers, G1 was paired with the heaviest pilot - and being the largest of the jumpers, G2 was paired with the lightest pilot.  Now, about G1’s pilot.  He was Borat.  Seriously.  He may have not LOOKED like Borat, and he perhaps weighed more than Borat, but he sounded just like Borat.  I spent a fair amount of time in his company trying not to laugh.  I expected him to ask about ‘making sexy time’ at any point in the conversation.  He stuck to primarily clean jokes though, which is more than G2 can say for his pilot.  Mine’s favorite line was about this being his first jump and how nervous he was.  He did eventually divulge that he’s done 5-6 jumps/day for the last 6 years once we were safely in the air and he felt able to drop the pretense.

For some reason, Borat McJumperson felt it necessary to be the very first ones away.  He immediately whipped out the coolest looking flight suit you’ve ever seen for G1.  It was black and gray, and only about 20692 sizes too big.  6 inches of excess leg material was bunched at each ankle and I had to push the sleeves up all the way from the shoulders in order for my hands to stay out.  I suspect that it was my outfit and backup chute all in one - a paraglider’s multifunctional wonder cape.  If I slipped out of the harness, just whip that puppy off during the fall, hang on to each corner, and I’d be good as gold.  Thumping a huge helmet on me, he proceeded to get our chute laid out while I took a quick photo from the top.  Securing our harnesses together, we were running for the edge of the cliff before anyone else was fully dressed - I hardly even got a parting wave to G2.  Honestly, it bothered me a bit.  Despite the fact that I felt perfectly safe and was confident nothing would go wrong…things do, you know?  It would be nice to at least have a smooch with your spouse before one of you plummets to their untimely death!

Paragliding generally goes like this: climb to top of mountain; get expensive chute laid out, open, on the ground; do not tread on chute (who would do something like that?!); put harness on people; attach harness to chute; take a few steps forward, flicking the chute up in the air to catch the massive updrafts on top of the mountain; begin running towards edge of cliff; be picked up by wind and away you go.  There is no bravery needed.  One minute you are on solid land, the next minute the air itself has lifted you into its embrace.  There isn’t a heart-stopping moment where you’ve stepped off steady ground into an abyss with the possibility that perhaps the flimsy piece of nylon above you won’t hold.  With paragliding, you’d never get off the ground in the first place if your parachute wasn’t fully functional.

And so began a 40ish minute soar around the skies of Turkey.  The day looked hazy from the ground, but from the sky it was all picture perfect.  Of course the instructors attempt to capture every moment, so there is a never-ending parade of instruction to “smile” - their little remote camera takes 5 seconds to capture, so that smile has to be held for an annoying amount of time.

The flight itself was incredible.  Really, really, really amazing.  You felt totally weightless, but yet very secure.  G2 experienced a bit of turbulence on the way down, but G1 was sitting pretty the whole way.  There was no danger of falling out of the harness, as I was sitting in a sling sort of contraption; I didn’t have to hang on to anything; and from so high up it looked like the whole world was my oyster.  There were jet boats zipping around, dragging tiny water-skiers behind, and larger masted boats moored at areas around the bay.  The pebbled beach was a gorgeous sandy white and stretched for miles, engulfed by the surrounding mountains.  Warm greens and turquoise waters seamlessly melted into the characteristic vivid cerulean of the Mediterranean Sea and it was stunning.  I felt like I had slipped into the pages of a National Geographic, where the beauty of real life actually matched that of photo-shopped imagery, and overtook it.

At no point did either of us feel unsafe.  We had chosen a reputable company and were met with total professionalism.  G2’s landing was picture perfect (literally, I took pictures!), and G1’s wasn’t exactly as expected, but smooth nonetheless (we overshot the runway and landed on the sandy beach instead).  Would we do it again?  In a heartbeat.  But it would be difficult to find a landscape that would match the beauty of Oludeniz from the sky.

Yes, we were the suckers that bought the photos.  And for those who wondered, the little English girl soared with no issues.  Her smile was a beacon for miles around when her feet were back on solid ground. :)