Kamran is working on a project to pipe water to the Leliani community school. Right now, there is no running water for drinking or hand-washing inside the building. This type of project is great for several reasons:
- It solves a basic but very important need
- It will positively impact 300 kids
- It can be quickly completed
- Local suppliers and workers will benefit
- It has a small budget ($550!), so your help really does make a difference
If you would like to contribute to the Leliani school water project, you can read all about it and make your secure donation here: http://appropriateprojects.com/node/1286
Our friend Kelley, another Peace Corps volunteer, has a similar water project that needs funding in Akhaltsikhe. You can read about it here: http://appropriateprojects.com/node/1271
Want to read about a completed water project in Georgia? Our friend McKinze wrote a great blog post about how the staff of an Akhaltsikhe nursery managed to care for 60 toddlers without running water.
The ruins of Sagalossos rest high on Akdağ (“white mountain”) in the Taurus mountain range. At one point in its history, it was sacked by Alexander the Great. Like a lot of ancient places in Turkey, people decided to stop living here after one too many earthquakes. The site only began to be excavated in 1990 and as more sections are uncovered, it is expected to be larger than Ephesus.
One day, during our leisurely two weeks in Egirdir, we decided to visit it.
Turkish and Belgian archaeologists work here during the summer months. We came across two different groups of them, and they happily showed us the nails and bits of glass they were scraping from the soil, and told us what they were learning about the particular site they were working on. We thought they might be annoyed to stop and speak with us, but they were excited to have visitors who bothered to leave the path and come say hello to them. They also reminded us to watch out for snakes and scorpions.
The site is so full of artifacts and still has so much left to be discovered that it’s nearly impossible to walk across the ground without crunching bits of centuries-old pottery. Some of the ruins have been re-assembled, but most of the carved stones lay in orderly rows in the grass, like a giant’s puzzle pieces, waiting for the day when they will rise again.
We spent that whole day with the McLellands, a lovely couple from Glasgow who have already done the whole world travel thing and gave us lots of good tips for Asia and Oceania. We had lunch with them and another fellow traveler who knew a lot about Turkey told us all of his adventures working in the tropical fruit industry. He taught us some interesting things, including a useful bit of body language from that part of the world: the up-nod + tongue click combo. It means “no” and explained a confusing encounter we had with a local the previous week.
It was decision time. Where do we go next? Tony had a design job to work on and we needed a while to just catch our breath and live someplace without worrying about what we “ought” to be doing or seeing.
We examined our last several weeks of travel and realized a few things. First, we’re really happy when we’re in proximity to large bodies of water, like when we were in the Black Sea coast cities of Batumi and Trabzon. Second, the blazing Turkish summer is so much easier to bear when the air is dry like in Cappadocia. Third, we really enjoyed being in places where you can walk down the street in peace without being seen as a big walking dollar (or lira) sign, like we could everywhere in Georgia.
So we checked a map and looked for a big lake in the mountains, and then picked a small town on one of those lakes. Lake Eğirdir, here we come. The dreaded night bus wasn’t too bad since we reached our destination by 2 a.m. and Ibrahim, our pension owner, met us at the bus stop. It’s always interesting coming into a place in the dark and waking up to a whole new world. From the first peek out the window in the morning, we knew: great decision.
We explained to Ibrahim that we’d like to stay a while, and told him what our budget was. Ibrahim and his family own Charly’s Pension, but they also own a few other guest houses next to it, and only a few days before had purchased a worn-out pension on the same street. He said we were welcome to stay in a private room for the price we wanted, as long as we didn’t mind that the building had seen better days (renovations hadn’t begun yet).
The front door opened by pulling on a string attached to a bit of wood, and if the string broke, you could always just reach through the broken glass and open the latch from inside. We thought this was excellent. For one thing, it was a great sign that neighborhood crime was pretty nonexistent. For another, it meant we were far, far away from the slick and soulless tourism machine. (I’m sure if you were to go there today, there would be a proper latch!)
We stood on the white tiled roof and agreed that this was surely the best view in town. Even the hotel halfway up the mountain didn’t have a 360 degree view like this. We shook hands, and Ibrahim had someone put a table and chairs and a wardrobe in our room. It felt so good to unpack.
We spent the next two weeks having long breakfasts at Charly’s, swimming in the lake and watching its colors change with the passing clouds, wandering through the streets and markets, reading books, gorging ourself on impossibly delicious fruit, and just generally having time to sit and be.
We had “our” restaurants, particularly the cheap one over the otogar and the almost-as-cheap one across from the Atatürk statue (every town in Turkey has one). We had “our” ice cream guys and “our” grocery store and “our” family of red-necked grebes that we watched dive for little silver fish. We made sun tea on the roof and took entirely too many photos of flowers and sunsets.
This summer, Eğirdir was beseiged by an insurgency of midges that came in greater numbers than usual and stayed for far longer than expected. They didn’t bite, but they did make walking outside at dusk interesting.
One night, we had a campfire on the beach with fellow travelers Naomi and Patrick from Brighton and Robert from Hamburg (hello there, if you’re reading!). Another day, we went to explore the ruined city of Sagalossos. But other than that, our days were satisfyingly ordinary.
We could have done a lot of other things in Eğirdir. We could have filled every day with something fun and exciting. We could have gone windsurfing or sailing or canoeing or mountain biking or fishing. We could have even hiked in the footsteps of an apostle on the St. Paul Trail. But we didn’t. And it was great.
The Day We Went For a Long Hike, Met Some Narcoleptic Turtles,
and Hitched a Ride Back to Town With the Turkish Air Force.
On our second-to-last day in Cappadocia, we decided to hike from Göreme (the town our hostel was in) to Uçhisar via Pigeon Valley. Things started off rough. We lingered too long over breakfast and didn’t get started until just before noon. There was no breeze, the sun was hotter than ever, and despite the fact that we were in one of the most beautiful places on earth, we were both a little grumpy.
Eventually, the discovery of a little stream, some shade, and the stillness of the valley softened us. Pigeon Valley is a beautiful place.
About three-quarters of the way to Uçhisar, we saw a cardboard sign that read Hasan Tea Garden. Now, the last thing you want towards the end of a long and sweaty hike is a hot glass of tea. But when you are on said long and sweaty hike and a shack with benches and cushions and a man with a teapot appears out of nowhere, you stop.
We were still out of breath from the last pitch and Hasan intercepted us before we sat down. His face was expressionless. “You have reservation?” We stared at him blankly for a moment, and then his eyes crinkled and the three of us laughed together. He served us tea and little cookies and a dish of peanuts. The sparrows fearlessly begged for some treats, so we crumbled some of the nuts and tossed them at our feet.
When we finished our tea, Hasan asked us if we had seen any turtles. We said that we saw a turtle shell earlier in the day, but no live turtles. “I have turtle. She sleeping.” He motioned for us to follow him. He brought us to a tree that had a ladder leading up to a platform with a pink blanket on top. “Turtle sleeping. You look.”
He herded a thoroughly skeptical Tony towards the ladder, and as soon as he started up the rungs, Hasan turned to me and pointed excitedly at my camera. I waited for Tony to gingerly lift up the corner of the blanket.
Hasan was very pleased with himself. He generously sent us back on the trail with one of his turtle’s “babies.”
The landscape smoothed out into soft pink ripples as we approached the top of the valley. We finally reached Uçhisar. We stood in the sun at the main road and realized we hadn’t checked the bus schedule. Not a big problem. Since we had just hiked uphill the entire way to Uçhisar, the road back to Göreme would be an easy descent.
We hadn’t gotten very far when we saw a blue van pull off at a scenic overlook, and some men in blue camouflage and berets got out to take photos of the valley and of each other. We said hello and exchanged the usual friendly “where are you from”s and continued on our way. A few minutes later, the van pulled up alongside us, the side door slid open, and the man in the front passenger seat offered us a ride.
The one who spoke the best English told us they were members of the Turkish Air Force on their way to report for duty. This was three days after Syria shot down one of Turkey’s fighter planes. We weren’t sure if it was related to that or not, but we didn’t bring it up. And we didn’t take any photos. They laughed and joked to each other the whole way and dropped us off a few blocks from our hostel. We wished them good luck, headed back to our cave bunks, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the swimming pool.
We had been looking forward to going to Cappadocia since before we even sold our house. We saw a photo and, in our best Liz Lemon impersonations said, “I want to go to there.” So we did. After a few days orienting ourselves in Trabzon, we took a night bus to Göreme, in the very center of Turkey. (The night bus itself is another story for another time.)
Besides the epic hot air balloon ride at dawn, we also were able to get our Indiana Jones on. We hiked through dusty canyons and scorched ridge lines and felt our skin cringe and shrivel under the relentless sun. We climbed up and into and through only a few dozen of what must be thousands and thousands of cave homes and churches carved into the soft and strangely eroded volcanic rock. It was exhausting and exhilarating and we always stumbled back to our hostel completely filthy.
On one of our hikes near Rose Valley, I had wandered off to stare at some wildflowers, as I am wont to do, and when I returned to the spot where I left Tony, he had already made friends with Brooks From Atlanta. We took each others’ photos and exchanged email addresses and went our separate ways. Later that evening, Brooks saw us having dinner in town and we made plans to meet up the following day and hike through the abandoned cave city of Zelve.
Zelve was inhabited by Muslims and Christians (mostly simultaneously) for over 1,500 years before the citizens were evacuated from their increasingly unstable cave homes in the 1950s. Today you can hike through the three valleys on the nice government-installed footpath, or you can be a little more intrepid and blaze your own trail.
Other than the sunbathing lizards and the flocks of swallows and martins zipping through the air like mini fighter jets, we mostly had the whole place to ourselves.
As you are reading this, Brooks From Atlanta is now Brooks From New York City, since he just moved there to go to law school. It’s so great when we cross paths with people who can share our adventures with us for a day or two. Those are the best days of all.
4:30 am – Wake up in our cave-dorm to be shuttled away by Ürgup Balloons
6:30 am – Jump into a basket that is just about to win against gravity.
Far off in the distance, over 100 kilometers away, stands the extinct volcano, Mount Erciyes. Legendary site of St. George’s dragon slaying, and source of the geologic material that has eroded into the Cappadocian wonderland. You can just baaarely see it here.