Fairytale land

Napping is a beautiful thing. When I wake-up from a nap I feel refreshed. Revived. Renewed.

I woke up mid-afternoon in Goreme and quickly emerged from the damp cave to take in my surroundings.

Scotty sat outside at picnic bench, working on paper work.

A few minutes later, Claire emerged from her bed, too.

Claire and I had been reunited in Olympos on our last night.

“I’m on your bus,” she said as we sat in the tree house bar.

I was thrilled.

She and I bonded over the gross stories of Murat and decided to hang out in Goreme for three days, along with Scotty.

We didn’t do much in those three days. We ate. We lounged at the pool. We walked around town.

But, mostly we marveled at the sheer beauty of the town.

Goreme isn’t big. In fact, it has a distinct small town feel. It has Old Man Alley, where old men (of course) sit at a cafe and stare at you as you walk by.

Like they’ve seen you naked.

Everyone at the shops knows everyone else at the shops. They tell you were to go (because they get a nice kickback), they give you “good deals.” Restaurants are abundant and delicious, specializing¬† in clay pot meals where they cook the food in terracotta pots all day and then bring it to your table and crack it open, displaying a mix of veggies and meat in a delicious sauce. They serve amazing homemade wine.

There are locals and then there are tourists of all kinds, all in town to see one thing — the cave homes and fairy chimneys of the land.

The homes and chimneys jut out of the ground, big hunks of light-colored rocks, some with windows, some with doors, some housing entire hotels.

They are freaks of nature in the coolest sense possible.

I loved it.

At sunset, the tall caves would echo the sky, turning pink and purple and orange as night grew closer.

I wanted to take tours, to go on the hot air balloon ride, but instead, I just relaxed. Money was a bit tight, so I was OK with hearing every one’s reviews of the tours and experiences they had at night as we sat around enjoying the delicious barbecue.

On my last night in Goreme, I went out with Scotty, Claire and another Fez tour guide. We went to a cave bar and sat around, listening to “We Don’t Speak No Americano” and “Waka Waka.”

After we were done, we ran into a local Scotty knew and hitched a ride in a pimped out van to the desert next to the city.

For about 20 minutes, I just looked up.

The stars were like Koygeicz, sparkling in the vast black sky.

It was a good way to end my time on the Fez tour.

I was ready to go back to Istanbul the next day and to have my reunion with one of my favorite mates from Down Under, Chris.

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The Fez night bus of discomfort

“All aboard,” Scotty said, standing outside the Fez bus as a group of 16 of us loaded ourselves in.

It was 8 p.m. and we were leaving Olympos, headed to Goreme in the Cappidocia region of Turkey. The ride was going to be a long one — 10 hours — and get us in to our next city at 7 a.m.

No one was looking forward to the ride.

About an hour in to the trip Scotty nudged me.

“Look,” he said, gesturing to the driver’s console. “We have no gas.”

“What?”

I looked. The needle clung to empty.

“Well, that’s no good,” I said. “Maybe we should tell the driver to stop at the next station.”

“Yeah,” Scotty said.

We drove for an hour before we passed civilization again. The air-con was off.

Not a good sign.

Then, a few kilometers up, I saw the twinkling lights of a gas station.

“Oh, good,” we both said, sighing with relief.

We drove past it.

“Seriously?” I said, looking from Scotty to the driver.

There is no way in hell I am pushing this bus up the mountain.

“Oh my god,” Scotty breathed. “We have to stop.”

“Say something,” I urged, every second was precious since we were likely running only on fumes.

“I don’t speak Turkish!”

Instead, Scotty gestured to the driver, telling him we needed a bathroom break.

Anything to get him to stop.

Twenty minutes later, we were at the gas station.

“If he doesn’t fill up now …” I began.

Luckily, he did.

Before we got back on the bus, I popped a Tylenol PM. I needed to get some sleep. I still ached from falling.

But, for some reason, Fez doesn’t use nice buses. They are the most uncomfortable buses I have ever been in. Barely any cushion. Barely any leg room. No bathroom. Clearly, the money spent on the tour doesn’t go to taking care of the customer’s comfort.

For the remainder of the night drive I teetered between awake and asleep, adjusting and re-adjusting.

A few hours later, when the sun was rising over the desert, I was awake for good.

The scenes before me were beautiful. Orange sky touching sand, giving way to early-morning blue.

As we drove into Goreme, Scotty woke up the bus.

“That is the hot-air balloon ride you can go on,” he said, pointing out the window.

It was magnificent.

Hundreds of balloons, all different colors, floating at different heights, lingered in the sunrise over a valley of cave homes and fair chimneys jutting up from the ground.

Stunning.

At 7 a.m., we pulled into Shoestring, a cave hostel with a pool on the highest terrace.

After a quick breakfast, I dropped my bags in my room and crawled into bed, thankful the cave I was staying in had no windows.

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The return of the Hair Snob

I ran my fingers through my hair.

It had grown a lot since I had it cut back in January.

And it felt gross. Fried.

“Arlene, this is disgusting,” I moaned, tugging at my sun-damaged locks. “I need to fix this or it will drive me nuts.”

Fortunately, Arlene’s pre-travel life included being a stylist.

We sat on a picnic bench in Kadir’s as I combed my overly-dry hair with my fingers, scowling at its quick descent into unhealthy.

“I give you good price,” she said, imitating the shop owners trying to hawk their goods. “Ten lire.”

“Sold.”

The next day, my last day in Olympos, I got my hair cut.

On the porch of a tree house.

My hair, which was spoiled rotten in my previous life, was wet around my shoulders as Arlene pulled out her stylist tools she brought on the road with her — a smock, scissors and a squirt bottle.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, she chopped and layered and spritzed my hair as passersby stopped, stared and questioned us in various languages as to what we were doing, then smiling and nodding once they figured it out.

“Well, we don’t have a hair dryer, so your hair has to dry before I can finish the cut,” she said, pulling off my black smock. “Let’s go take photos.”

The two of us walked around Kadir’s, snapping images of the tree huts, the towering rock faces behind the site and people. Then, we had lunch at the pizza hut.

“OK,” she said. “We can go and finish your hair.”

I produced a tiny flat iron — one I have only used on rare occasions since I started traveling, but kept it just in case.

She ran it through my hair quickly and then we were back outside on the porch and she provided the finishing touches to my hair.

“Finished,” she announced.

I got up, ran my fingers through it and was delighted. It no longer felt like a broom.

I looked in the mirror.

This is the best my hair has looked since I started traveling.

There were no fancy products in my hair. There was no blow-out and styling done. But, it was perfect for where I was.

Backpacker perfect.

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Heat = Sea

Olympos was hot. Walking outside immediately caused sweat to pour from my body. Sitting in my room was an option, but only a kilometer or so away was the sea.

And, that was a better option.

Arlene and I strolled down the small road to the sea, dodging cars and trying to stay cool.

On the way, one of the shops sold frozen bottles of water, so we grabbed those up quickly.

After paying the entrance fee to the park, we continued our quest to the beach surrounded by Roman ruins.

Finally, there was an opening in the rocks and there, before us, was the vast blue Mediterranean — along with thousands of people, crowded on top of each other, fighting for their piece of the sand and sun.

We found a little spot and dropped our stuff, and then submerged ourselves in the water.

I expected it to feel refreshing, but instead was greeted to bath-water-warm sea.

Not great. But, it’s the sea. I can’t complain.

We swam and relaxed in the water for awhile, while around us was buzzing with life.

Men on little fishing boats dropped anchor in the water, producing beer from coolers. Women walked on the sand, selling grilled corn. Picnics popped up on towels. Couples laid leg-over-leg.

This place was alive.

Even if it was crowded, even if the water was warm, even if the sun beating down on us was nearly unbearable, the energy emitting from the people-covered beach was undeniable.

After a few hours, Arlene and I called it a day, heading back to Kadir’s and the free dinner, followed by drinks and the club.

Of course.

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Summer camp for grownups

A few hours after my para-falling incident, the Fez Bus pulled into Kadir’s Tree Houses, the first “tree houses” to open in Olympos, Turkey. There had been a fire earlier in it’s history that devastated the site, but it had since been restored. And, subsequently during this time, other entrepreneurs followed the popular “tree house” theme and opened their own sites dotted with log homes down Olympos’ main road to the Mediterranean.

I walked off of the bus, ready to embrace a more calm and tranquil environment.

“You are going to get dirty here,” Scotty turned to me and said.

A gentle breeze kicked up, swirling red dirt on my skin.

Oh, yeah, I was.

I stopped and looked around at the entrance to Kadir’s. Tree huts painted with whimsical, hippie images on each cabin. A main tree hut with tables and benches on the first floor and upstairs, a bar in the center with views of the entire site.

Reception was hut. Another hut served pizza. And another was a night club.

Wow.

I walked with a few of the girls to our dorm.

“There is no air-con,” they announced.

I stood there, still in immense amounts of pain from plummeting earlier in the day.

No way in hell.

I walked to reception and asked for a private.

“We have one left,” the guy at reception informed me. “It is behind the night club so it is loud, but there is air-con.”

“Fine,” I said. I didn’t care about loud. All I cared about was not being in pain and getting some rest.

I dropped my bag in the room. A tiny wooden room with uneven wooden floorboards,  a single bed against a wooden wall,  a baby bathroom and a hose to shower, and a big, beautiful white air-con unit fastened to the wall above my bed.

One good thing about backpacking is that it makes you care a little less about where you rest your head. Train station. Bus station. Airport. Rickety room behind a night club with barely a shower.

It was perfect.

As soon as I stepped out the door and back into the blaring Turkey sun, I realized Kadir’s is a summer camp for adults.
Everywhere, people sat around, drinking, smoking, chatting on cushions in the middle of the site, in front of a smoldering fire pit.

At 8 p.m. every night, they served a delicious meal, and in the morning, the same, complete with an omlette station.

Once the sun set, the site came alive. Upstairs, the bar served up drinks and had a DJ until 11, when everyone was ushered down to the night club, a large, open air complex with wooden walls surrounding it and a fire pit in the middle.

I didn’t want to go there, but every night, something took over my mind, and as I was ready to crawl into bed, somehow I ended up there.

With Scotty and Arlene, a girl I had met earlier on the Fez Tour and had been reunited with in Olympos, and a few others, we would walk across the dirt to the club.

Each evening, we would become part of this amazing atmosphere, kicking off our flip flops and dancing together around the fire to “Waka” and “We Don’t Speak Americano.”

Bodies everywhere, fire crackling. It was primal. It was sexy. It was pulsing with passion.

Then, I would walk two paces to my room and crawl into bed, music still pumping loudly, permeating the walls.

But, I didn’t mind. It fit with the ambiance of the site. I would pass out quickly and wake up each morning feeling refreshed and alive.

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Para-falling

I never thought my Bucket List would be my Death Wish. But, early Saturday morning in Fethiye, I nearly died.

I should have known better.

I had been talking about paragliding in Turkey since I started my trip. It seemed safe — you just run off a cliff and then float over the bluegreen gorgeous water and land on the soft sand.

I was wrong.

I had signed up the night before, after the Fez bus arrived to Fethiye from Koygeicz.

“I would like to go paragliding,” I announced to Scotty, who called and arranged for me, Corrine, Jeni and another girl from our trip, to take the jump early the next morning.

I went to sleep early that night, adrenaline and anxiety pumping through my blood.

Sleep was not fulfilling. In my dreams, I did not jump. It was rainy, which meant there would be no sailing down to earth from the sky.

Which was fine with me.

I almost had myself convinced I would not be jumping because of rain when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m.

I got out of bed, tied my sneakers and headed down to meet the others.

The ride up to the sky center was scary enough. Piled into the back of a truck on benches, the four girls paired with four men who would jump in tandem with us, bounced and held on as we maneuvered dirt roads, clung perilously close to cliffs and finally reached the top.

“One of us could die,” Jeni exclaimed, bright smile on her face, totally joking at the sentiment.”

Foreshadowing.

I looked out at the peak above us. Dirt, rocks, more rocks, jagged edges, a road below, then a straight drop down the mountain.

Oh. My. God.

Strapped to instructors, people were walking, then running off a cliff 19,000 meters up … taking flight over the mountains and down into the vast sea below.

What was I doing?

Panic mixed with fear mixed with excitement coarsed through my blood, sending a multitude of different thoughts through my head.

“Here,” said the man who would jump with me. “This is your jumpsuit.”

My hands fumbled with the zippers, so he began to zip me up, then placed the helmet on my head, leading me to the ledge where other jumpers had gathered.

For a moment, I watched them. Walk walk walk walk, run run run run, fly fly fly fly.

You can do this, D.

He began to tell me what to do.

“When do I sit?” I asked him.

“Don’t think about sitting,” he ordered. “Listen to me and do what I tell you to do.”

Easy enough.

And then, it was our turn.

“Stand here,” he moved me to a rocky spot a little bit down the steep hill. He began strapping himself to me.

My heart raced.

“Wait …” I said, second thoughts charging through my mind, along with the hefty price tag for the jump.

“The wind is good right now …” he began.

“OK,” I said, closing my eyes. “Fine. Let’s just do this.”

And we were off.

A guy pulled me by a front strap down the mountain, walking at first and then breaking out into a run.

I felt wind catch the parachute.

And then all hell broke lose.

Suddenly, I was facing rock. Falling down … down … down.

There was one moment before we plummeted 20 feet that I thought we would actually take off. Then, I was looking at brown rock. 

Oh my god. We didn’t take off. We are falling. I am going to die.

And then, we bounced from sharp boulder to sharp boulder to sharp boulder.

I’m still alive … I’m not hurt …

And then more falling and bouncing …

We have to stop.

I put my feet out, tried to grasp something, anything to keep us from catapulting at the speed we were going down the cliff of rocks.

I am still alive … I’m not hurt …

Then, we went over the edge.

I died paragliding.

We fell about 10 feet and landed on our asses, my pilot still strapped to me. The road below had stopped us from going over the edge of the mountain.

My body began shaking uncontrollably, my first though being my pilot.

Was he alive? Did I kill him?

“Are you OK?” We asked each other simultaneously.

I broke out into tears.

“Yes,” we both said.

I was still breathing. I was alive. I was hurt. My body was in serious pain.

Check for bleeding.

I thought for a moment about the places that hurt the most — my legs — and lifted up my jump suit and my pant legs. Blood. Cuts. Skin peeled back. But, nothing that required stitches.

“Get this off of me,” I cried, trying to unhook the multiple harnesses strapping the pilot and I together.

I sat there for another moment, taking in the extent of my injuries, the enormity of what had just happened.

I looked above. There were about 20 men who had dropped what they were doing to help us.

The parachute was caught on rocks, some which had landed on top of the fabric after our fall.

“Go and sit over there,” the pilot instructed.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” I repeated through a tear-soaked face.

As a group of people worked to free the chute, I sat on another rock, far from the scene and cried. Big, fat tears. Of pain. Of disappointment. Of anger.

What happened?

I knew, deep down, I had panicked. I had done something that had toppled both the pilot and I down a cliff. I had put myself in danger. I had put him in danger.

And now, I was beating myself up for it every which what way possible.

As others, those not affected by the terror they had just seen as we disappeared off the mountain, jumped and sailed away, I sat in silence, the only noise ever coming out of me were sobs.

After our accident scene had been contained, the pilot and I walked back up the hill.

I was mortified. I didn’t want to face any of these people who had just witnessed my body failing itself.

“You sat too soon,” said one pilot. “Two more steps … that was all you needed …”

Two steps. D. Two freaking steps. And, I couldn’t take those two steps off of the cliff.

I sat, causing the wind in the chute to pull down, causing us to fall down, down, down.

“Next time, don’t sit,” he said.

Next time?

“Are you ready to try again?”

Did he not just see me plummet 30 feet down a mountain and live to tell about it?

“Oh, no no no … I am not doing it again.”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded my head.

I got back into the truck and headed back down the mountain, every now and then breaking into tears.

When we got back to the office, Corinne and Jeni were there, waiting for me.

“You nearly died!” Corinne said. “Oh my god. We were so worried about you. All we knew was that you fell … ”

I burst into tears yet again.

On the way back to the hostel in Fethiye, Jeni relayed what she had seen of the accident.

“I saw you start, then I saw you sit, then the two of you fell over each other, fell down some rocks, and then … I saw you go over the edge, him go over the edge and then the chute disappear.”

“You nearly died,” Corinne repeated.

I got back to the hostel and saw Scotty.

“I’m so sorry for making the bus late,” I said to Scotty, once again sobbing.

“I’m just glad you are OK. All I knew was that you stopped, dropped and rolled!”

“I just need a hug,” I said, and he pulled me in and hugged me, making me feel safe for the first time that day.

“We are getting you drunk tonight,” he informed me before we boarded the bus.

The bus ride to Olympos was miserable. I sat in terrible pain, discovering new bruises nearly every moment. When we stopped in Kas to hit the beach, I opted for the bus.

I did a quick tally of my injuries: two cuts on my leg, bruises on both shins, a massive bruise on my thigh (my dad swore he saw Jesus in it) and a sore, sore back. For days, I could barely move without being in pain.

You are lucky to be alive, D.

In Olympos, everyone wanted to know the story. I was the exception to the rule — the girl who bit it when paragliding.

After my accident, I received detailed instructions from the USA: stay on the ground. Keep your feet on the ground. No jumping. No riding on motorbikes, ATVS, scooters, no nothing …

When we arrived to Kadir’s Tree Houses in Olympos, I upgraded myself to a private room with air-con so I could recover.

After ample drinks that evening, I felt better. Not recovered, but not in pain.

The next few days would be all about relaxing and being thankful Corinne could only say “You nearly died …”

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Seeing stars

SCOTTY.

I had never been happier to see someone walk down the hill as I was to see Scotty.

“Hey there,” he said. I didn’t even let him finish introductions before I grabbed him, pulling him into a hug and expressing just how glad I was he was there

I quickly filled him in on what had happened in Kusadasi and he immediately promised me I would be safe now, taken care of.

That night, I finally got some sleep. The next morning, I caught the Fez bus and we headed to Koygeicz, a lake town near the Aegean Sea. But first, we had to stop at a leather factory for a fashion show, and a ceramics factory for a demo and tour.

Once we arrived to Tango Hostel, we got our rooms sorted and made plans for the evening — a boat cruise on the lake, followed by a stop at the mud bath and thermal bath, then a little night swimming.

It sounded great, especially after the week I had prior.

About 12 of us boarded the boat after nightfall, clad in our suits and ready for a fun night out.

The captain on the little wooden boat mixed up some punch which was passed around, and we headed off to the baths.

Corinne, another tour guide who was on the bus with Scotty, and I sat together and talked about our experiences in Turkey. It was nice to tell someone my story and not be in the midst of it still.

It took about an hour to get to the baths, which by day produce a carnival-like atmosphere, packed with people, but at night create a serene and lovely place to get clean.

“You have to walk past the stones in the mud pit and then dig in,” Scotty instructed us as we walked tentatively into the clay.

I could feel the tiny stones digging into my feet, the sea grass brushing against my ankles and shins.

“Dig in!” Scotty once again instructed.

I reached down into the wet slop and grabbed a chunk of clay.

“Now, smear it all over you!”

I did.

Gross.

After being thoroughly covered — from hair on my head to heels of my feet — I hopped out and sat on the bench, waiting for the mud to dry before washing it off of me.

About 20 minutes later, our group was jumping into the lake, a cloud of mud spreading like ink in the black waters.

The water lapped against me, cool, refreshing.

Then, we went into the thermal bath. It was similar to the one I went to in Budapest — it had the same sulfur smell — but tingled my skin more. Maybe because I was so clean from the mud?

The time passed midnight, and we all got back on the boat. On the way back to land, I stepped outside of the main seating area, onto the bow of the boat and looked up.

Stars.

The most magnificent sky I had seen in years.

The Milkyway stretched before me.

In that moment, I had such a deep appreciation for where I was. Who I was. What I was doing. The experiences I had the days leading up to this.

I was thankful to be there.

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