A Travellerspoint blog

The last two months

New year!

I haven't updated in a long time, clearly.
Since my last fall, I've gone on a number of trips. In November I went on a week long trip to Antalya and the surrounding areas.
It wasn't the best trip; however, the scenery was gorgeous and the people were wonderful.
Antalya itself isn't a very nice city, but the old quarter is and the views are spectacular as it has mountains as well as water (it's on the Mediterranean I believe).

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Nearby there's a town called Olimpos, which we also visited. Near there we saw Demre, where Santa Claus is supposedly from. This kind of killed my childhood, but that's alright. The highlight for me was visiting the Chimaeara. Unfortunately I've been extremely lazy and haven't bothered to research most of the places I've travelled to - aside from looking briefly at highlights of where I should make sure to go. Apparently these flames (the chimaera) have been burning for thousands of years on this mountainside emitting methane gas; however, it's said that the source is unknown. There's a connection with ancient gods too, but that much I didn't get.

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Funnily enough, I went on a mini tour, but it consisted of me and one other English speaker. There was a small Turkish family who also went, but they also seemed fairly confused about what this tour entailed. We arrived at the location and received no instructions or explanations, so we all just wandered up the hill, went looking for knowledgeable folks, couldn't find them, took in the sights and headed back down hoping that the van to deliver us to Olimpos would still be there (fortunately it was).

The woman at the hostel was surprisingly appropriate for me at the time, as I was quite upset and she ended up telling me some very personal story about having to overcome physical obstacles (being bedridden), and how she coped. It's amazing what people get through; it's also shocking how open people are to sharing when you're a stranger. In the long run though, wouldn't you rather divulge your most personal secrets to someone who you'll probably never see again?

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I received a lot of advice on that trip, both solicited and not - as well as an impromptu marriage proposal from a waiter who I unfortunately burst into tears in front of. I also led my friend on a camel ride, since the worker decided I could clearly manage steering a camel on my own. It was a diverse trip, but I learned a lot about Turkish culture and actually improved my vocabulary two fold.

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Side note: we also spent a day travelling to Side, Aspendos and Pergemmon which was well worth it. I suggest googling and looking into these sites, as it's really interesting.

From what I can tell, in Turkey, people are decidedly positive about the future, and when there's uncertainty there's a sense of letting things naturally fall into place. You hope for the best, but you deal with what you get. It's a similar experience regarding death. I've gone through an unfortunate series of events in the past 2 months, including a death in the family. I mentioned it briefly to a friend, since it was unavoidable, and she seemed slightly confused. Pragmatically, she told me to stop worrying and that death happens. You remember the deceased loved one, but you don't dwell. There are times here when I'm struck by similarities between cultures, whether it be Turkish and Mexican or any others. People are people in the end after all.

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In December I went on some more enlightening and relaxing journeys. I happened to watch the Mevlana in Konya, which was an amazing ceremony. From what I gathered, it all began because of Rumi, who was like a philosopher monk but decided that instead of silence he wanted to use music and dance to inspire others and share his beliefs. His mentor at some point disappeared, reappeared briefly and then died leaving Rumi broken hearted. Quite possibly as an homage to him, he began spinning/dancing - in order to express his grief.
Again, this is what I took from the guide, but supposedly the ceremony as it's held now was initiated by Rumi's son. The idea is that the men take off their black jackets at the beginning, and begin spinning in order to let their souls ascend to heaven. When they finish the ceremony they put them back on, and are once again with the spectators. Everything is symbolic. It was mesmerizing. There was a feeling of unity, but at the same time each person was following their own pace and had no conscious need or desire to acknowledge those in the surroundings. Drifting through in waves, all following the same steps but at different paces.

"In anger and fury, be like the dead"... "Either appear as you are or be as you look" - these were the two quotes by Rumi which resonated with me. Maybe at a later date I'll explain why.

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After Konya, I travelled to Pamukkale for Christmas with Cynthia. I was really glad to get away for a night, and it was appropriate that the two of us went together. I can say that I think it's the most relaxing vacation I've had in Turkey. The place was excellent for Christmas day, because there were no crowds and we scaled a small mountain which is covered in limestone and looks like the setting for a Father Christmas film. We spent our time wandering through ruins after walking up through the thermal springs, which were lacking in water and also not very hot (apparently it's best to go in Spring or Summer for that, although then you need to navigate through the sea of people). We discovered a path on a hill, and were led by a stray dog through some more ruins and past some tombstones. I found the church we saw really interesting, because of the symbols marked on it and also the way that the arches had managed to survive over time. We spent the night walking with some locals of the town, who we got into a bit of an argument with. I think occasionally cultural differences cause conflict when it relates to perception of gender roles. It was fine though, and in the end it provided some entertainment. We finished the night off with some tavla, a very common board game, which I had never played in Canada (backgammon, it's called in English). We also managed to visit another town nearby where we didn't see much, but we enjoyed our time wandering.

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January 1st, I started off the new year with a trip to Eskishehir with two girlfriends from Bilkent. It was also a very peaceful trip. We spent the day wandering the pedestrian streets, looking at the river which ran through town and so on. We went searching for the museum; however, it was closed, so instead we wandered into an artists' studio and spent about an hour chatting about animals, cookies and war with the men who worked there while sipping on some tea. Their work was beautiful; they made limestone creations, including monstrous pipes, one of which I almost bought as a novelty gift for my father before realizing that it would just reaffirm his false belief that he is in fact Sherlock Holmes. We wandered through some more shops, and then headed to a nearby park which has a gorgeous vista of the whole city. I want to go back. It also helps that I met a really sweet medical student who lives there. Funnily enough, I had met him the night before, and then when I went to his city he stayed in Ankara, but I saw him that night before he went home again regardless.

Life has been a lot better. I think there are many factors, but one is going into the city more frequently, which also means meeting more people. When I meet Turkish people who don't speak English, it finally feels like there's some kind of challenge here. Life feels more like a game. I need to decipher, and so do they. What meaning can we share? It's gotten to the point where I've pretty much made up my mind that I'll stay on another year. I want to learn Turkish, and I've been saying this since I arrived, but I think now that CELTA is over I'll make more of an effort. I hope, at least. My new year's resolutions last year failed miserably, and I've already been doing horribly at a few of mine so far, but in┼čallah this changes.

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Anyway, to sum up, my final trip (before France and Morocco next week) was to Ephesus and Selchuk. The point? To watch camel wrestling. This may seem odd coming from someone who for 5 years was a vegetarian (I gave it up about a month ago, which is a whole other topic for an entry). This trip entailed two overnight buses, and a lot of walking. I saw a mosque, ruins, museums and some beautiful little streets in the city of Selchuk. Ephesus itself is ruins; it's only about a fifteen minute bike ride away, which is what my friends and I did. It felt wonderful riding a bike on a Saturday afternoon.

So, I spent the morning wandering alone while the others slept. I then met some people at the hostel, partook in conversation while waiting for my friends, and then we headed off. I have to say by far the most impressive part was the library. The stadium was also incredible; it took about 60 years to built and could seat roughly 45 000 people. I can't imagine what it must have been like to watch gladiators fight. I'd rather not in any case. After our wandering, we headed off to find the Seven Sleepers. After this we ate the most delicious gozleme lunch I've ever had. It was tahini mixed with a variety of ingredients including walnuts and honey, but it tasted like rich peanut butter.

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The next day was the most important, this was when we watched the camel wrestling. I was slightly skeptical about this whole spectacle as I thought there was potential for it to be cruel. In the end, I think it was alright. I mean, it was exploitative as any show involving animals performing for humans would be; however, the camels who didn't want to participate gingerly trotted off and that was that. There was one camel who had blood spewing from his nostrils and that was disturbing, to say the least. The camels were surprisingly agile. They typically wrap their necks around each other, get each other on their knees and then wrestle from that point. It's quite bizarre.

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What I really appreciated was that this wasn't put on for tourists; this was genuinely a Turkish event. It felt like I had been placed in the middle of an entirely foreign culture, whereas I don't get that feeling often in Ankara (or particularly at Bilkent). It was predominantly older Turkish men in attendance, which some exceptions. They had brought raw meat, grills and garnish and spend the entire morning and afternoon out there picnicking on the hills while occasionally bursting into song or yelling at the camels. We also almost saw a human fight, but it rapidly ended when the one man's friends dragged him away.

This entry is ridiculously long, so I apologize to anyone who will read this. I'm sure I could have expanded on a lot more, but I just wanted to summarize some of my travels in recent months before I head off on my next adventure to France and Morocco on Friday.

Posted by madrugada 01:47 Archived in Turkey

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