Dazzling Pamukkale and Hierapolis

Dazzling Pamukkale and Hierapolis

From Fethiye we headed to Pamukkale. The four-hour bus ride unexpectedly turned into 5 1/2 due to road construction. This was very much the exception as the bus systems in Turkey are extremely good and very efficient. And the drivers are characteristically helpful getting you to the right bus and making the right connections. Getting to Pamukkale was a great example. Despite the delay, a myriad of traffic lights and stops in the industrial city of Denizli, the dolmus was dutifully waiting to take us right to Pamukkale. There were two other passengers, women from Montreal, who said they had only been waiting about 10 minutes for our bus to arrive.

Travertine pools

Natural travertine pools

It's supposed to cure all ya' ills!

It’s supposed to cure all ya’ ills!

Travertine path

Travertine path

Entrance to the Roman baths

Entrance to the Roman baths

Back in the day, Cindy and I used to tour sites early in the morning to beat the crowds. Now we tour late in the day. Aside from beating the heat, certain sites draw hundreds or even thousands of cruise boat tourists as early as 7am. And since we have the luxury of having more time, when we will arrive at a destination, we drop our bags at our hotel and then either hang out and wait, or, depending on the timing go right to the site. We got to our hotel at about 4:30pm and ate an early dinner before walking a few hundred meters to the entrance of Pamukkale. We stayed until sundown at about 8 to see the travertine pools and Greco-Roman-Byzantine-Crusader Hierapolis. As required, we took off our shoes to walk on the travertine. It was not slippery at all and had water running over its surface right where we walked.

Stoa at Hierapolis

Stoa at Hierapolis

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Tourist season begins

Biking around Fethiye harbor

Biking around Fethiye harbor

The plan after the Blue Cruise was to stay in Fethiye for one night but as we were going to work our way to Istanbul via Canakkale/Gallipoli knowing we would be in a series of mostly one-nighters, we ended up staying three. Fethiye was bigger and had more to do than originally thought. The harbor was filled with gulets and tour boats and the town was filled with tourists

I rented a bike for the day exploring the coast around Fethiye. Riding on sidewalks is not unusual and is definitively safer that riding on the streets. Bike rental facilities do not provide helmets and although many drivers are deferential to cyclists, riding remains a somewhat sketchy endeavor. Heading north I followed the waterfront pedestrian/bike path until its end, about 5km outside of the center. They were still working on expanding the path; another example of the investment the Turkish government is putting into public works projects. Heading south from our pension, I rode along a large peninsula that jutted way into Fethye’s well protected harbor. This road was not flat at all with big rolling hills. I had no water bottle holder so had to stop for snow-cones along the way to cool down and quench my thirst.

Snow cones and lots more. Strategically positioned at the top of a hill.

Snow cones and lots more. Strategically positioned at the top of a hill.

All in a day …

Today we spent over an hour with a young woman at MNG Cargo trying to get the correct information so we can have our credit card shipped to Istanbul. She didn’t speak a word of English.  We used Google translator and passed my IPad back and forth.  Thank you Sukran and GT!  Then our taxi driver tried to rip us off.  I guess he thought we were rich Americans or he deserved a really big tip! After that, we didn’t have a prepaid card to take a bus, but the bus driver let us ride for free.  Last night we almost ate at a bar and cafe that was really a whore house. The police are still outside our hotel with their water cannons ready.

Hopefully things will get quiet again as we head to Bergama tomorrow.

The Blue Cruise

The Blue Cruise

To advance our way west by northwest along the Mediterranean coast we took a gulet –a traditional wooden sailing boat– named the Alaturka 2 from Olympos to Fethiye; a standard voyage also known locally as the Blue Cruise. Our mode of transportation went from land or air to ship at sea for 4 days and 3 nights. I didn’t think of it as being on a “cruise” but as soon as I stepped on board it occurred to me that I had, in fact, signed up for my first cruise. And despite some breaks in small walks or stops in small towns, I was bound to life on a boat with limited access to the variety of activities and things taken for granted being on land — I couldn’t just get up and go for a walk — and I would be with the same 16 people for the entire time.

Cindy takes a plunge!

Cindy takes a plunge!

The gulet was 25 meters long and our cabin turned out to be the best available; at the stern, it was a corner cabin and had 2 windows (3 including the one in our private bathroom) which were at right angles to each other giving cross ventilation. An awesome benefit given the usually stuffy nature of boat cabins. And as long as the boat wasn’t moving, the sound of the water lapping at the stern was a constant reminder of the beautiful turquoise Mediterranean sea that surrounded us. The crew consisted of Captain Suleiman, Mourak, the cook and number 2 in command, Only (his nickname, and a great one at that!), the all-round ‘do it all’ crew-member, and Osman, Only’s number 2 man and ship trainee.

Butterfly valley from our gulet, the Alaturka 2

Butterfly valley

There were 16 passengers consisting of 3 Americans, one person each from Argentina, the U.K. and New Zealand, and the remainder were all Aussies. It was a great group of folks and I really enjoyed getting to hear about Australia as it’s a country/continent) I’ve wanted to visit since picking up a National Geographic book about it while in grade school. It just looked so cool and I remember thinking, “I’ve got to go there!” And since we will be traveling there it was great to get some resident advise on what a visit of a few weeks might look like. The group demographics included a family with two young children, three siblings traveling together and one other married couple. The kicker was that we were by far the oldest passengers, probably by at least 10 years; the guesstimated median age was likely around 30 years old. We certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least and we all got along famously, but it was quite unexpected and a bit sobering for Cindy and I to admit to each other we were way on the highest end of the age range.

In the evening, St Nicholas Island (yes, Santa Clause Island!) on the right.

A serene evening at St Nicholas Island (yes, Santa Clause Island!) on the right.

I had heard there would be an opportunity to paraglide along the cruise and I didn’t give it a second thought until Ulundeniz harbor came into view with several paragliders soaring thousands of feet overhead. At 6550 feet, Babadag Mountain makes this one of the world’s best places to paraglide. We continued sailing towards Ulundeniz and as I watched them appear in the sky one after another and land gently on the beach it didn’t take much convincing to break my budget and spend about $90 for the totally gonzo experience of jumping off a cliff for what looked like an easy and gentle ride down.

Paragliders at Ulundeniz Harbor

Paraglider at Ulundeniz Harbor

Eight of us, or fully half of the passengers decided to partake in this opportunity. We were met on the beach by a rep from the gliding company who said they’d completed over 140,000 sorties. We rode up the mountain together but since there were only 6 pilots (who control the glider from behind you on the ride down), the father and son team waited at the top until the rest of us made our way down and two more pilots could be sent back to the top to bring them down. My ears popped 2 or 3 times as we ascended the mountain in a van for what seemed like a long ride. When we got to the top or take off point we were assigned pilots and a take off order very rapidly, I assume to mitigate the chances of anyone chickening out. The flight deck was concrete and curved downward so you couldn’t really see where the edge of it was located.

Me 'n Ebo gettin' ready.

Me ‘n Ebo gettin’ ready.

Just after take off. Ulundeniz straight ahead.....and down.

Just after take off. Ulundeniz straight ahead…..and down.

The sails were un-bagged and as I helped unfold mine I watched the other sails with pilots and passengers in line before me instantly billow up with the cool adiabatic wind that rose from the sea below. Before I took off I saw Tom from our boat already in the sky hundreds of feet from the tarmac and perhaps 50 higher from where I was standing! I expected to have to take a running start but I bearly took a couple of steps and the next thing I knew I felt like I was floating thousands of feet over the mountains and sea. It was hard to get any points of reference as I was so high above the earth and we were moving through space so smoothly. The air rushed by my ears as I tried to keep track of Tom and his orange sail to have some point of reference. In time, the ground grew closer but quite slowly.

The Alaturka 2 waits for us below; second yacht from the right. The Blue Lagoon is at the top of the pic.

The Alaturka 2 waits for us below; second yacht from the right. The Blue Lagoon is at the top of the pic.

The flight lasted about 20 minutes and the landing was as seamless and smooth as the take off. The landing runway was a pedestrian pathway parallel to the beach or on either the grassy area next to it, or the sandy beach on the other side of it. My pilot, Ebo, instructed me to stand up as we landed and the next thing I knew I had gently landed on sand, again taking one or two steps once on the ground. Ebo had been taking photos of me with a camera attached to a telescoping wand which, of course, they tried to sell me once back at the office. But as I noticed my bald spot had gotten bigger it was one hard-sell as I didn’t need to know what I can’t see anyway!

The landing strip ahead is the pedestrian walkway that appears as a continuation of the street.

The landing strip ahead is the pedestrian walkway that appears as a continuation of the street.

This is the only activity I’ve done probably since childhood that did not require signing any indemnity waiver or document. And I found out later that the brochure says, “If you don’t land, you don’t pay”. I wondered if that included refunds if you pay ahead of gliding.

Landing is as easy as it looks.

Landing is as easy as it looks.

The boat was anchored right next to the Blue Lagoon –the same one which served as the locale for the movie starring Brooke Shields– and when we got back, we were witness to people jumping off a 25 foot cliff into the water. Only, our man-friday crew member, feigned fear as he ultimately dove off the cliff. I’d had enough adrenaline rush for the day so I was content to watch.

Cliff diving/jumping by the lagoon.

Cliff diving/jumping by the lagoon.

The only drag about the Blue Cruise — or our room, actually– was that it was situated next to the engine room which was pretty loud. Although the yachts are sailboats, they all motor. The first day, the captain started motoring at 6am and the second day he started up at 5am. After the 5am start, I took my blanket and pillow and stretched myself out on the long seat at the bow. It was windy there of course, so I pulled the blanket over my head and went back to sleep quite soundly as we plowed the Mediterranean, or as it became, the Aegean Sea.

We landed in Fethiye two days ago and tomorrow we leave for Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle” in Turkish.

The Saklikent Gorge

The Saklikent Gorge

The Saklikent Gorge is located about 30 miles from Fethiye, Turkey, taking about 1 1/2 hours by public bus to get there, going around mountains, through small villages and gravel roads. The bus honked its horn while passing through villages to let the locals know it was passing through. No bus stop needed.   It stopped wherever anyone flagged it down.

The gorge itself was amazing.   It’s about 1,000 feet deep and over six miles long, one of the deepest canyons in the world.  The hike started out easily enough on a boardwalk but soon things changed.  We had to cross over cold,  fast running water which required us to hold on to a tethered wire so we wouldn’t get washed downstream. But right after the rushing water coming from the mountain, the water warmed up as it came from a different place, but it didn’t slow down much.

Cold Rushing Water trying to push us downstream

Cold Rushing Water trying to push us downstream

Watch for falling rocks!

Watch for falling rocks!

imageBill was leading the way, sometimes giving me a helping hand when I couldn’t manage climbing to the next level. It was all very exciting. Water shoes were a requirement and I can see why. Walking over all sizes of submerged rocks made it quite difficult going forward. The water was murky and you couldn’t see the bottom. Sometimes the water was up to my ankles and then the next step I would be up to my knees or thighs. The water continued rushing past us. At certain points, the water was rushing so fast that it pulled my legs out from under me and I would  land on my butt, laughing all (or at least most) of the time. In fact, my new water shoes ended up with holes in them by the end of the day.

Sliding down wasn't easy

Sliding down wasn’t easy

We continued going forward, the crowd thinning out as the going got tougher.  I began to wonder if we should turn back as well, but I was having too much fun. At times, you had to find invisible footholds located somewhere under the water.  When we decided we couldn’t go any further because it was too steep, slippery, and no available toeholds, the fun continued, except going back down proved to be more treacherous.  At one point, I couldn’t figure out how to get down to the next level and a guy that was resting at that point advised me to slide in the water down the narrow passageway. It was all fine and dandy until my foot got caught on the side and the next thing I knew I was doing a split with one leg pointing upstream and the other downstream — with the water rushing over me up to my chest.   Somehow I managed to lift my leg over the rock and continue sliding down. At the bottom, I plunged into the water up to my head. That was as deep as it got, luckily.

imageWith all this excitement, it was hard to remember to look up to  enjoy the beauty of the rocks overhead.  The gorge was as wide as 10-15 feet at some points and sometimes so narrow that you could reach both sides with  your outstretched arms.  You could see rocks that had fallen from above and land in the narrow places of the canyon. I had to laugh when I saw people wearing helmets. It wouldn’t have done them much good if a rock had fallen from above. We all would have been crushed to death for sure.  After a few hours, we were returning to Fethiye with our shoes hanging out the window trying to dry them.

We ended the day with a delicious seafood dinner where fishmongers sold their fish in the center stall, cleaned and filleted them and then delivered them to any of the surrounding restaurants where they would prepare them for you.   The meal, consisting of bread, salad, water, soda, french fries, fried calamari, grilled salmon and sautéed shrimp, came to a total of $24. Add an extra $3 for the ice cream dessert.

The video below was taken by someone else. We were correctly advised not to take anything that you didn’t mind getting wet.

On to the Turquoise Coast

On to the Turquoise Coast

Cindy was a bit burned out from the 6 hour hike the day before so she took a dolmus (mini-bus) and I rented a bike and we met up at the fairy chimneys (featured in the pic in the last post and partly visible behind us) on the way to Urgup. It turned out the town was still a couple of kilometers from the chimneys. As luck would have it, some locals were there taking pics, too, and offered her a ride to town.

En route to Urgup

En route to Urgup

Urgup from Wishing View Point

Urgup from Wishing View Point

Urgup is a bustling, sprawling tourist town much larger than Goreme. Actually, I would call it a small city. We enjoyed our visit and were glad we were staying in our quiet, peaceful hamlet. We ate lunch in Urgup and shortly thereafter it started to pour. I waited a while for the rain to ease and then headed back in a drizzle. Cindy took a dolmus but this time passed me on the road. I got back to town with dirt stripes on the back of my shirt and shorts. Of course, the sun came out just after I returned the bike. Doh! It was a 20km ride (10k up/10k down) and oddly my lats feel sore 2 days later. Perhaps it was a combination of big hills and no cleats to help get up them. It’s been tough staying in shape on the road.

Urgup/Goreme road.

Urgup/Goreme road.

How did he do that?

Last hike in Cappadocia. Those fairy chimneys sure do look funny.

We stayed one extra day and left Goreme last night taking the overnight bus to Olympos. Cindy fared much better than me as she was able to sleep–and quite soundly, even through one of the two stops the bus made! The buses are run very well here; we arrived in the big city of Antalya and immediately caught a connecting dolmus (pron. Dole-mush) to Olympos, and a second dolmus right to Saban Cabins where we’re staying the night. We are set deep into a valley surrounded by craggy mountain tops over a high pine forest mountain range. We drove off the main road and descended so far into the valley I was somewhat surprised to find out we’re only a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. It is reminiscent of two Greek islands we’d been to, Lesvos 9 years ago, and Rhodes 29 years ago on our belated honeymoon. Both islands are extremely close to the Turkish coast and we played with the idea of taking a high-speed ferry and going to Rhodes for a day of nostalgia. I doubt we will, though, as tickets are 95 Euro each, and we’re about to splurge on a 4 day/3 night cruise from Olympus to Fethiye.

Chillin' at Saban Cabins, Olympos

Chillin’ at Saban Cabins, Olympos

Olympos Beach

Olympos Beach

Crossroads

As we’re working our way towards Istanbul the protests and our safety is on our minds. We raised some eyebrows when we told everyone we were starting our trip in Egypt. Our eyebrows were raised, too, as we were well aware of the problems there. So we researched all we could by checking the news and State Department updates, reading blogs of people who were there during the revolution two years ago, and continuing to watch the latest developments until it was time to ‘pull the plug’ and decide whether or not to go. In the final analysis, it came down to not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Our new friend, Jim, had crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon 30 minutes before the explosion). Of course, not too far into our journey in Egypt we caught news of riots in Istanbul so once again, we’re watching the news and looking for alerts from the State Department.

Cappacocia livin’

Cappacocia livin’

We’ve been in Goreme about 5 or 6 days and are loving it. It’s a small, quiet, low-keyed tourist town surrounded by wonderful scenery and tons of things to do and see. We’ve been staying at a place called the Rock Valley Pension which costs 90 TL (~ $45.50) per night. It’s a great place, very clean and excellent facilities including a pool, and Ahmet the manager, is a primo ‘answer man’ who lends help on a multitude of issues from directions to restaurant recommendations to helping me add minutes to my local phone. We’re lucky enough to be in a triple so the extra bed has all our stuff laid out on it. There are primarily younger people (backpackers) here who also have the option of staying in a dorm room for about $15. They’re from all over: Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, Turkey, the UK, etc.. and, of course, the US. There’s also a good guy we met here, Richard, who lives in Jamaica Plain and has been teaching at Emerson College for 20 years!

We took an excursion of sorts one evening to “Turkish Night” where we were treated to food, drink, music (live and recorded), Whirling Dervishes, several different traditional Turkish dances and a belly dancer. The hall held about 250-300 people. Each table sat 8 people and we shared ours with 4 young adults from the Shanghai, China area and a couple from Turkey. I sat next to the Turkish woman who was a first year physician from Istanbul who, when asked, said she’d treated people who had been gassed. Her boyfriend “schooled” me in drinking their version of Ouzo (can’t remember the name)–cut it with water!

Belly Dancer replete with, ahhem, enhanced assets!

Belly Dancer replete with, ahem, enhanced assets!

When giving directions New Englanders standard tongue in cheek answer is, “You can’t get there from here”. Cappadocian’s should have one, too: You can get here from everywhere! There are tons of trails going all over the place. There must be at least 10 direction signs on rocks like this to the Rose or Red (or Rouge) trail….

Trail sign. Red Valley, Rose Valley, and Cavusin town.

Trail sign. Red Valley, Rose Valley, and Cavusin town.

The signs in Turkish indicate two “Red Valley” trails, calling them I and II. In English they are called the Rose Valley and the Rouge (“Red” in French) Valley which sits just due North, er, make that due South of the Rose trail. This next set of signs are beauties since they seem to point to the same places and/but are oriented at right angles to each other. Goreme actually sits about 1/4 mile directly behind where I’m standing.

Gorkundere sign. So, I should go which way?

Gorkundere sign. So really, I should go which way?

They are numbered so I assume there is some key to them somewhere. I only wish I knew where they kept the key! There are other trail signs that have (satellite?) pictures of the trail but are unintelligible anyway. We went out in one area one day and ran into several people who were totally confused looking for a trail or turning back because the trail had disappeared or seemed to have come to an end.

And then there are the maps. In short, they suck. The one I’d been using of Goreme (pron. Gore-em-ay) and the area was actually published upside down, that is, South on top. Hence, my comment above. But it was the best map I could find so I used it. There was one for sale in the tourist office for 10 TL (Turkish Lira) but at a glance it wasn’t any better than the one I had…once I got used to South being at the top.

The bottom line is that you can’t get too lost, and what the heck, you’re in a beautiful place!

Rose Valley-Halci Church

Rose Valley-Halci Church

Halci Church Fresco

Halci Church Byzantine fresco

The hike we were on (two pics above) was supposed to have been 3-4 hours and ended up lasting 6 hours. We hiked up to the plateau that straddles 4 large valleys and walked along the top of the plateau until we came to a parking lot where I had to ask a local juice vendor directions to the “Meskendir Trail” head. The guy gave me general directions so we followed the road hoping to find the trail head. When we finally found it we were rewarded with a descent into an amazing green, lush valley with tunnels that had been created by thousands of years of flood waters rushing through. Byzantine era residents probably had a hand too as there were plenty of caves, rock houses and pigeon nesting holes as well.

On the Meskendir trail

On the Meskendir trail

On the trail we met a terrific couple close to our ages (or Era) from New Zealand who have been camping their way from the U.K. through Europe. They’d been in Turkey alone for 5 weeks. Way to go, Sue and Dave!

Every rock house needs a satellite dish.

Satellite reception! The finest in rock house living.

Hanna-Barbera meets Cappadocia.

Hanna-Barbera meets Cappadocia.