8/23/2008

Antalya, Side & Cappadocia



Checking through Turkish customs, I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I learned that I could indeed afford the visa, although only a couple lira remained in my pocket (almost two dollars). 


Just past the counter I met a kid heading to Adana in a full car. I believe he was the only person in the building who spoke English. He offered his house if I could just make it to Adana. According to him, a shared taxi ride to Adana was only a few dollars. Sadly it turned out that he was wrong (or all the drivers were wrong): a ride to Mersin, only halfway to Adana, would cost about 25 dollars per person, quite a bit more cash than I had. 

Luckily, in the parking lot, I had the happy chance of finding Khedir, an Arabic speaking taxi driver, who heard my tale and decided to drive me to Mersin. He was almost as excited as I for being able to speak Arabic. We reached Mersin late, and by 1am we were just hanging out at his friend Khalid's little souk. Knowing that I'd have a roof that night I was pretty content to tag along until Khalid finally shut down hıs little porto-store and Khedir and I headed to his humble home. His wife came to the door and busied herself with being hospitable, immediately directing me to the water room. I remembered that it had been a while since I'd really showered, including a night in the street. Out on their little porch, I tiptoed between several occupied beds to my own, and lied awake awhile, wondering at how I'd come to be sleeping in a Mersin suburb, inches separating me from Khedir the taxi driver friend and his wife.



In the morning my socks were hanging out to dry, secretly washed by Khedir's wife. After an incredible Arab breakfast with the family, I made my first attempt at the bank, hoping to end my dependence and get to exploring Turkey. It didn't work, although I still don't know why, but ıt led to an entire day of kicking it with the taxi driver and his friends. Khalid's house was my favorite stop - full of kids just young enough to be impressed with my little coin tricks. 
After a few hours in the souk with Khalid and Khedir's son, Rafiq, I went online to try and hammer out the WU transaction once more. By the time I was ready to try again it was 4:30; plenty of time considering there was a bank right around the corner. Eight banks later and dripping with sweat after racing down Mersin's main street in a frantic search for just one WU carrier, Rafiq and I finally found success, pushing the doors open at almost exactly 5pm: just in time to end my dependency.

Stepping outside the bank I gave Rafiq a sweaty hug and bought him a drink with my newly acquired funds. We made the walk back to the souk along the coast, slowly covering the distance we'd just sprinted across and taking in a sunset along the way. I felt good. Completely weightless, no longer reliant on my kind new friends. The only need at present was to get out of Mersin and start moving again. 

Thanking Khalid and Khedir for the rides, the bed, the food, the internet, the company and the washed socks, I took the night bus to Antalya. It was a last-second decision, based on a vague memory of reading up on the city, said to be the San Francisco of Turkey, one of the most beautiful cities in the world; and also based on the free lodging that awaited. I woke up several times along the snail-paced journey to see that we were still winding up and down along the mountainous coast.

A fellow couchsurfıng member, I'd found Murat online a few days before. He'd kindly offered his house during my stay in Antalya, and when we met at the Sara Hotel he happened to be hosting another kid, from Poland. The heat and humidity forced us indoors for most of the afternoon, where we watched Turkey win its first gold of the games in wrestling. I caught some USA basketball for a nice dose of Deron Williams. Filling the house were Murat, his mother, sister and girlfriend. I didn't understand a word from his Turkish-speaking little sister, but we got along like BFFs. She seemed to enjoy just looking at me for a bit then breaking out laughing, and it was something that could be repeated on end. 


The lot of us walked to the beach that evening for a swim, where Murat and I discussed the future, hopes and dreams, discovering we have much in common. In the morning I thanked Murat and his family again and took off to the Antalya otogar. I hadn't decided on a destination until a few minutes after arriving at the station, where I'd scanned through the various options. Only an hour away and the site of an ancient Greek city dating back to the 7th century BC, was Side.




I arrived with almost the entire day to spend at the ruins, the beach, and around the town. In its explanse it reminded me of Umm al-Jamal, although for being centuries older, several buildings were suprisingly well in tact. For a few hours I found myself alone, surrounded by ancient neighborhoods half-covered in weeds and half-buried in sand. A probably-crazy old bearded man was the only person to spot me, and as most odd people seem to do, he made a bee-line right for me. I walked towards him as well and soon dove into the wild gestures, twisting of eyebrows and deep grunting - no English/Turkish. We sat under a tree for a while, and whenever he would point to something invisible in the distance, grumbling in Turkish, I would point the same way, nodding and grunting in agreement. After some comfortable silence, I left him under his tree and headed for the ocean.

 

I'd spend the next two nights on buses. The first, another last-second choice, had arrived in Cappadocia by the time I woke up from my short, uncomfortable rest. The early morning light painted the bizzare landscape of rocky domes 
in brilliant pink and white. Carrying my backpack the entire way I covered almost 20km before sunset, hoping to see as much as possible in my short visit. Aside from an afternoon break in a Goreme cafe to watch the Olympic semi-finals, I was under the sun all day, running into surprisingly few human beings on the valley trails. Etched into hundreds of strange rock formations reminiscent of Australia's pinnacles, the rough haphazardness of the carvings brought to mind the crosses of Lali Bela. I climbed several ancient high-rise apartments carved into cliff-faces, moving from one cave to another on smoothed stairways. I caught the last bus back to Urgup in order to make yet another night trip - this time to Istanbul.