A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

The West (South and North)

From kayaking in Kekova to oil wrestling in Edirne...

So, in the spirit of some of my other extended entries I've decided to tackle a number of locations in one long post - address all of my final wanderings around Turkey before our (hopefully temporary) break up. This means I'm going to be covering (superficially, I'm sure): Antalya, Izmir, Istanbul, Edirne and my mini tour around Kaş , Patara, Fethiye and Rhodes (the Greek island).

To begin with I should make it clear that my intention on these travels was nothing but seeking fun. At times I travel with the aim of learning about history, for example; however, with these trips I just wanted to enjoy myself. Along the way, fortunately, I did end up learning more about the fabulous cultures that co-exist within Turkey. The first trip I'll describe was over the weekend of the 18th of May, and to be frank I was dreading it. Associations are difficult to erase, and my last trip to Antalya was quite possibly the most hellish one of my life. Although the setting was the same, the conditions were different and that meant everything. Instead of traveling with a verbally abusive misogynist, I went with my three best friends. We had decided to stay in the old part of town, Kaleiçi, and it worked out great. After yet another night on an overnight bus we arrived fairly groggy, but extremely excited for the warmth of Antalya. The first wonderful surprise was that we had been upgraded - instead of small dorm rooms we had our own mini villa, complete with two floors, two living rooms, two bedrooms and a grand pool in our front yard. We had been accidentally appointed royalty. We decided immediately to set off for Termessos and Karain - the first being an ancient city (dated B.C.) housed inside a lush national park nestled in between the Taurus mountains while the second is a spectacular cave which has evidence of human life dating back to 200 000 years ago. Neither one is very far from Antalya, but we found ourselves in a flash thunderstorm that did delay us a bit. It also made for quite the mystical/magical feeling while hiking through the hills of Termessos, and especially when stumbling upon the theatre.
The rain and mist also made for quite a feeling of humility when I split from the group and wandering alone came across a number of tombs - decayed, but still balanced so delicately and beautifully on top of each other. Visiting ancient sites has to make one wonder about their place in the world, particularly when they're found in such stunning natural settings. What has our culture contributed to the world? What would my legacy be? As the world works it's the representative who's remembered; unfortunately it's not typically the builders who are honoured, but rather the king who commanded it be made. Travelling Turkey makes you really think about what you mean to people, because of the amount of history that's layered on top of itself there.
Speaking of layers, Karain cave was one of the more spectacular ones I've ever been in because of its height and the lighting. You could wander quite far inside, although still not nearly as deep as the cave cities in Kappadokya. The cave is clearly home to a number of bats, as well as a huge number of spiders and other creepy crawlers. Thankfully I didn't come into contact with any - only their sloppy trails. For anyone interested in caves, I'd actually recommend South Africa. Some amazing evidence of ancient civilizations has been found inside caves there, as well as being worth a visit for just being incredible - like the Cango Caves. In both cases, I really enjoyed wandering and climbing around the caves wherever possible - my only constraint is not wanting to run into massive spiders. I can try to understand how people can get claustrophobic, but I can't actually feel it myself - which is probably a positive thing. I remember when in the Cango Caves my dad almost had an apoplexy, because he and my mother get claustrophobic and the guide told us that there hadn't been an earthquake in a certain number of years and typically earthquakes happen every certain number of years so really there should have been one coming up. His humour was lost on them as they scrambled for exits through the tunnels. In any case, I feel quite at home underground.
For anyone visiting Antalya, I would recommend going to both Termessos and Karain, but also trying to do a tour of the ancient sites like Aspendos and Side (which I visited and wrote about last year). The city of Antalya itself is quite pretty, thanks to the multiple beaches (Duden and Lara), as well as the mountains but it's mainly the old part that I adore. On our second day instead of going white water rafting as planned we decided to spend the day wandering around the city, eating well and visiting the beach. This could be partially attributed to the night we had, which involved an intense round of the question game (every question must be answered with another, got it?), some delicious dinner given to us for free at the Yağmur Cafe by the owners who then serenaded us with Kurdish music and culminated in us swimming in our front yard's outdoor pool from about 1 to 2 a.m. I should point out that due to the earthquake in Van, which claimed many lives and ruined much of the city, many inhabitants have had to move on to other places. One of the men explained to my simplistic claim of, "well, lots of aid was received, wasn't it?" that indeed aid was sent, but that much of it was hoarded instead of being properly distributed so many people even now are still without essentials like blankets. It puts our problems in perspective. Complaints about a broken nail can't really measure up against a man asking for help because his daughter was killed, his house destroyed and he has not a penny to his name. Then again, it's not those situations we're thinking of when we become absorbed in our mundane issues, is it?
In any case, the second day we wandered around the beach, but it was far too cold to swim. We watched paragliders, while reminiscing about our own experiences last year in Fethiye. We also watched other people on the beach and then decided to bury Cynthia under the rocks. She became the legend of the rock. What I found to be hilarious at the beach was that a Turkish man approached me and asked whether I could take a photo, to which I said wait a second while I asked Cynthia (assuming he wanted a photo with the girl buried under the plethora of rocks). She agreed to it, and he handed the camera to another friend and then walked over to me. I, confused, asked what he thought he was doing. He responded that he wanted a photo with me, not for me to take the photo.
I can't say I understand a thing about Turkish men, but I can say that for some reason I seem to be appealing to many. That being said, I won't miss being mistaken for a prostitute, which happened on numerous occasions. My striking resemblance to Russians/eastern Europeans was apparently my "fault" in those cases. After the collapse of the USSR many women came to Turkey looking for work in the sex trade, because they couldn't find any "legitimate" work back home. Apparently, this has normalized the assumption that any Eastern European woman could be a prostitute. In addition, Antalya is basically the capital of tourism for Russians in Turkey, a subsection of whom come to Turkey for sex tourism. There's a whole dark underside to the tourism industry that I came to learn about while living in Turkey. I also befriended Turkish men who had worked in Alanya and Antalya, which permitted me insight into what it's like to be "exploited" in a sense by these tourists. However, these men did take advantage in every possible way themselves, so in reality it's more of a mutual understanding than anything else (from what I gather). The issues are complicated and nuanced. While in Antalya I was approached by a foreigner (European), who pretended to trip and fall onto me on the streetcar and then proceeded to invite me vehemently to his rented house, which I kept politely rejecting. There's a subtle feeling of sleaze that sits for a while after leaving these kinds of tourist spots sometimes, like Antalya and Bodrum. At times I felt more like a dismembered individual than a woman, because of the way my body would be analyzed by the men passing by. On the beach I took advantage of my body parts to use my legs as a frame of sorts to house the prettiest little rocks I could find.
For a few weeks I stayed in Ankara, before hunting bigger rocks in Kappadokya, but that journey I won't describe in detail here other than to say that it's amazing how small the world is. In November I went to Greece and befriended a fellow traveller named Jonathan, who then took Eilidh and I to Austria when we went to visit Munich in December. This same friend then came to visit me and we hiked about 40 km over a weekend, chatting about everything from Nepal's political system to the joys of eating kebap. Life really is beautiful.
The weekend after my hiking trip with Jonathan I went to Izmir with Eilidh, Cynthia and her boyfriend. It was sort of a disjointed trip in the sense that Eilidh and I went off to Çeşme and then Ilıca by ourselves only arriving in Izmir Saturday night at which point we met up with the two of them - although by that point everyone was tired and a couple of people were feeling sick, while I was burnt to a crisp.
I had been dying to go to Izmir even before I landed in Turkey, so it was kind of exciting for that dream to finally be realized. The city itself has an important legacy due to its position under the Ottoman Empire. It had been home to a thriving Jewish community, which is where my interests lay. On Sunday, while exploring the city we went in search of the Jewish quarter which amounted to nothing but an alley with some fishy looking fish mongers. I truly hope our sense of direction was off. While travelling I've taken to exploring Jewish sites from synagogues to graveyards - not once have I seen a community center that's in use, which is unfortunate as it says something about the lack of Jewish community in most of these once thriving cities.
Izmir on Sunday was so hot, and everyone was feeling so off (myself included, thanks to my burns) that instead of devoting hours to wandering we chose instead to have a very long meal. I had fish ("levrek" or sea bass), which came with some special vegetables from the sea that were delicious ("şevket-i bostan"). The food in Turkey is something I'm going to miss. Although quite frequently it didn't sit well, it was always tasty - the "mezeler" like "şakşuka" in particular. The picture is of the aforementioned lunch in Izmir, which lasted about 3 hours! The heat really was intolerable, for me it was because of the burns which covered about 30% of my body in the strangest patterns imaginable. I would post a photo of that too, but I'm not sure about how appropriate that would be, or how frequently I want people laughing at my distorted tans. Food will suffice.
Speaking of food, let's move on to my next trip and some of the best meat I've ever had - fried liver in Edirne (northern Turkey). At a friend's birthday party Jackie mentioned that she was planning on attending an oil wrestling event in Edirne, to which I chimed in that I had wanted to go since I witnessed camel wrestling the year prior. She urged me to join, and I did the same to Kate and suddenly we were a group of six - five girls and Rob. Yet another overnight bus was ridden, and another groggy morning lived, but this time we arrived to quite a sight - a number of animal statues contained in glass cases in the bus terminal. Afterwards, Jackie, Katie and I were the representatives who went to buy the tickets at the stadium while the others wandered the town trying to figure out how we would get to Istanbul that evening. It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen: shiny young men in leather capris everywhere, old men making bets, and cows roaming wild. After waiting for an old man in front of us to finally ante up the 20 TL he just didn't seen to want to pay, we each bought our 50 TL tickets. We opted out of the 70 TL seats, our reasoning being that a) we weren't knowledgeable enough to deserve those seats b) we were too cheap for them.
Essentially, Edirne is a sweet little Turkish town which used to be very important during Ottoman times as it was the capital prior to that honour being bestowed upon Constantinople (Istanbul). The history between Bulgaria and Turkey is quite interesting too, and one which I knew little about before moving there. This area forms part of Thrace or "Trakya" in Turkish. Many Turks had history in Bulgaria but were basically forced to move back to Turkey after numerous attempts at Bulgarisation, which resulted in them having to change their names and then ultimately being shifted out because of mounting violence toward the large Turkish population. In the 1980s hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian Turks left Bulgaria to move back to Turkey due to the increased violence and hatred they felt they were facing. A number of them settled around Edirne (supposedly), and are also presumed to look more European. I was even mistaken a few times as being a Turk of Trachian origin because of my unique accent and light features (by students in Ankara). In any case, contemporary Edirne has a beautiful river, pretty downtown and a number of nice mosques including the Selimiye Camii... The highlight of course though is Kırkpınar - the oil wrestling contest that dates back to the mid 1300s!
So the oil wrestling itself has quite a long and varied history. The prizes used to mainly be comprised of livestock; however, Ataturk changed all that. In order to modernize the event he decreed that the prizes should (in European fashion) be medals or trophies. In addition, over time the rules have changed a bit, like how long matches can last for. In the past, for example, they could literally go for days while nowadays there's typically a 40 minute limit. So how does this wonderful sport unfold? Hundreds of men all gather on the grassy areas of the Edirne stadium in order to get slathered in oil. There are professional yağcıs whose job it is, is to walk around and make sure the men are oiled up at all times. Unlike how this would probably unfold in North America (women in bikinis winking at cameras and being grabbed by men), in Turkey it's men who do this job usually and who wear uniforms and take it quite seriously. This was nothing like how I imagined it, trust me. As well, there are many different categories so you have everything from the BÜYÜK BOY for example, who are bigger and slower to the küçük boy who are more lively since they're smaller and typically more agile. What it amounts to is men grabbing frantically in order to get their hands down each others' pants so that they can get a grip and effectively pin the other to the ground. I can imagine given the tons (literally) of oil used that this is no easy feat.
I found this whole event highly entertaining, but unfortunately a lot of Turks don't see things the same way. Funnily enough I had people tell me they were disappointed that I gave into this type of outdated cultural farce of sorts. They don't see it as entertaining, but rather just an attempt to preserve a culture that's no longer in tune with contemporary Turkey. I don't see it the same way. I see it as a part of the Turkish history. The country was created in 1923, but it wasn't built from nothing. Anyway, I decided it would be worthwhile to try to catch the wrestlers from a closer angle, so with a friend we entered the wrestlers' gate (with no great fuss, really). While in there I started snapping photos and really just trying to take in everything I could, including the lacerations all over the backs of many of the wrestlers - it didn't look that painful from far away! At one point I noticed that there were no other women around, and soon after a female police officer approached me. The only thing she said was, "bayan yasak" - women weren't allowed (in that area). I smiled, took some more photos and then left. Getting up close with the wrestlers was worth it, no question. There are so many events and traditions in Turkey that are male dominated; it shouldn't be surprising yet somehow it still is. Even at night in the smaller towns, it's the men who are out playing tavla or drinking çay while the women are nowhere to be found. Gender relations - definitely something I'd love to look at in more detail in the Turkish context.
After we'd had our fill of sitting around for a few hours in the close weather in the stadium a few of us set off in search of meat. Wrestling will do that, won't it? Make you crave meat... This is the point at which I had the most delicious liver I've ever had, as well as an interesting dessert that looked like squash, but was actually a form of helva. Later on we went to Istanbul, which took 4 hours (normally it should take about half, or less that time). We had quite the night out - celebrating the streets, broken sidewalks and basically our first and last trip together. I made friends with a little green man who became my accomplice as I performed a number of stupid stunts like trying to jump onto a motorcycle which was behind a gate, picking up a metal road block pylon and trying to hand it to a man who was (at that time) riding a motorcycle or running away from the group desperately in search of magnums and cookies. Everybody seemed to enjoy my antics. The green man stayed with me the whole night, and I even took him on a tour of the Bospherous the next day (luckiest straw man ever, I'd venture to guess).
Later that night, when everyone had gone home after the bar/club except Rob and I we lived quite the strange events. I ended up getting into a minor fight with an employee at a bar, because I was offended that he wouldn't accept that we spoke Turkish and he had said something I took as very rude - I told him he had no honour. We then continued on our way past a very seedy neighbourhood, to which we then returned so Rob could eat something at a specific restaurant he had heard of. It happened to be across from a sex club. This meant that I sat there watching some disturbing stuff while Rob waited inside (for what seemed like forever) for his wrap. In the process I watched a North American man loudly yell that these women were too old; "where are the 12 year olds?" he earnestly asked. I held back my fists... and vomit, for that matter. After that perverse encounter, I then watched a prostitute do coke on the entrance counter of the club. What a night! Thank goodness my encounter only came as close as my creepy spying on these events from across the street, while Rob silently waited for his meat. Shortly thereafter we began the long trek home (to the hostel) near Galata Tower. We slowly walked the length of Istiklal, happily praising the beauty of Istanbul's never-ending nightlife. I've never seen such a vibrant city of such a size at night. Hvar, Croatia is a party island, but Istanbul is significantly larger and still has the same feel except amplified - from spontaneous street concerts involving accordians to people being carted around like sacks of potatoes, it's a crazy vibe. The next day was far more tame, but still fun. I'm going to reminisce about these trips and my friends, and the sites I've visited for decades to come (assuming I live that long). Sunday involved a series of thoughtful walks with Kate to some of my favourite sites, after a lunch with Kim (who had taught with us last year). Life moves on, people change but the memories remain.
A final anecdote I'll share about my last trip to Istanbul, that I thought was quite funny. Istanbul is a city of chaos - there's always people everywhere, and at times it feels that nothing ever stops. Nothing can ever be brought to a standstill. So, while walking down Istiklal Caddesi (the biggest and busiest pedestrian street of all), a dog caught our attention because it had stopped right in front of the tram to do its business. The best part was that the tram honked, so the dog moved two feet to the left and continued. Of course it didn't move out of the tram's way, so all those people on the tram and the crowd that had now formed stood and sat around waiting impatiently for this dog who clearly was experiencing performance anxiety to take care of his scatological matters. I couldn't stop laughing. People think themselves so important, and sometimes it takes a bit of dog poop to bring them back to earth.
So to conclude, I'll tell the tale of my final trip to Southwestern Turkey. Cynthia, Eilidh and I decided to tour around some of the more beautiful areas before leaving: this meant two nights in Kaş, one night in Patara and one night alone in Fethiye. It was one of the hottest trips of my life (temperature-wise, at least). We couldn't stroll much as the temperature didn't really allow for it, but we did swim and spend lots of time on the beach. At night the temperature cooled and we were able to go out.
The second day involved a day trip to Kekova, where we proceeded to kayak over a sunken city - more accurately beside the ruins of once important cities. We kayaked for hours, and my partner was the guide. I didn't realize how hard it was going to be on the forearms, wrists and thumbs - I expected to be a failure based on my lack of bicep strength, and nothing else - I was mistaken. We had a lot of fun kayaking around each other, and yelling out taunts. Eilidh and Cynthia had opted for the same kayak, which is why I was assigned to the guide. In kayaking, three's definitely a crowd. My guide kept me entertained by being critical of every single subject I broached. I mentioned his job, and how beautiful the location was - he asked how I'd feel if I had to do it every day. I then said that we had just come from Antalya, which was quite a lovely place too, to which he laughed and then railed on about its misgivings. He told me that apparently the Russians flock to this area, especially on Sundays because they come to see where St. Nicholas was born and grew up (nearby), and then also like to see the sunken city as a bonus. We were kayaking on a Sunday, and it was evident that this man was not a liar. As we kayaked along, boatloads of Russians would speed by, snapping photos of the ruins and us in the process - red faced and wet from their boats' waves. We finally settled for lunch in a town called Kaleköy, which has a Lycian half sunken necropolis around it and a Byzantine castle overlooking it. The view from the top was stunning, as I tried to capture in my many photos. It was one of those places where you arrive, and just stop. You can't do anything but sit and stare for a few minutes trying to come to grips with the fact that views like this can really exist.
We later moved on to Patara, which is famous for being the longest stretch of beach along the Lycean way (a gorgeous hiking trail all along Southern Turkey). It's supposed to be about 18 km of white sandy beach. The weather was so hot that even in flip flops walking along the sand was killer, so we settled in about 200 m from the boardwalk. There would be no exploration for us. We had fun playing in the water, while Eilidh waited on her lounger because she had fallen and cut herself as we were arriving. Cynthia and I attempted to jump high five each other and failed. We also played in the waves, and she laughed as someone walked by, smiled at me and then turned around and splashed me. It was great just playing in the water. The greatest part is knowing you have friends who you can basically have fun doing anything with: whether it's jumping over baby waves, dreaming up rap songs or discussing feminism. It makes you want to jump for joy ;)
I left the two ladies in Patara, and went off by myself after a very relaxing night's sleep in the Flower Pansiyon in Patara. I went to Fethiye and stayed at the same place as last year - Vgo's. It's a gorgeous location overlooking the marina, and also has a swimming pool. The hostel employee remembered me from last year, except that this time my Turkish was considerably better so we could have real conversations in Turkish. After chatting for a while with him, I went to the center of the town to wander alone. I ended up getting into quite a long conversation with a jewelry store owner who concluded that in spite of everything (all the politics and religion) we're all human. I love travelling alone partially because I can go where I want whenever I want, but moreso because I find myself more often than not involved in long conversations with people who typically have similar conclusions - they want to learn about others, and they want to share their stories. People who have time for others see life in a very awe-inspiring way. I like listening to them, because it makes me feel hopeful for the future.
I later went off in search of the castle, and some other ruins, which I never managed to find. I did find the theatre this time though, which I hadn't seen before! Dinner was spent alone, as was my quick stint at a bar after (mainly so I could watch the ships docking) and jot down some thoughts. Being alone shouldn't be seen as a shame, it should be embraced. I never understood that when I was a teenager. The thought of going to even a movie alone horrified me, and now I can better understand its function. That being said, I'm too social to be alone for long and when I went to Rhodes (the Greek island) I joined forces with some fascinating families.
I showed up to Rhodes feeling quite shaken, as the hydrofoil we took there had encountered really choppy waters. Even though I had drugged myself I kept coming to and then falling back asleep again because a loud German lady wouldn't stop yelling. Her son was busy vomiting and she wanted pills for him, but for some reason she was going about this in the most obnoxious way possible. It meant that she kept waking me up, which made me nauseous. In any case I arrived without real incident. I immediately found a synagogue, and linked myself up with an English speaking tour group. The tour guide it turned out was from Sea Point, which is where I'm from in South Africa (and everyone else on my dad's side too). He spoke to us about how the Jewish community was treated under the Ottoman Empire (very well), and then subsequently under the Italians before finally the Nazis invaded. The community was decimated, and at this point there are only about 10 Jewish families on the island, all of whom have been encouraged to move there from mainland Greece. It's amazing how vibrant these communities were, and how it's only symbols that are now left - a menorah, photos or tefillin. The Jews of Rhodes were quite varied, although mainly speaking Ladino there was a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews which meant that traditions merged. I was fortunate enough to meet the one living survivor of the Rhodes Jewry, who had been sent to Auschwitz and then later lived in the Congo and Italy. He spoke to me in Spanish/Ladino, and because I was the only person fluent in it I acted as translator. It's really interesting being put in a situation where you feel comfortable asking a person about themselves without actually knowing them - formality disappears when you have that much admiration for someone and they're so humble. His story was incredible. It took so much bravery to be able to survive; not just physical strength, but mental courage. It took him decades to feel comfortable enough to share his experience, but now in his old age I think he sees it as a duty. We have to preserve culture, and more importantly share stories so that people understand the depths and dangers of ignorant hatred. Speaking to him made me miss my own family greatly; my grandparents including my granny who just passed at the age of 97 and also our family friends in Canada who have always been like family to me. It's true that with age often comes wisdom. After all the work I've done studying the Holocaust in Germany and Poland, you'd think I'd have become a little less emotional when faced with situations like this at the synagogue in Rhodes, but it never fades. The overwhelming grief of what happened never dissipates.
I spent the rest of the day in Rhodes with two Jewish families who were fascinating to talk with. We discussed business, and also human relationships in general - how people find happiness and meaning. I don't think I can find words to express how happy I feel while travelling alone to be taken in like this, to be included. As a lone traveller sometimes you crave silence and solitude, but when you find a group with whom you can instantly bond it's an amazing thing. As the jewelry store owner said, we're all human after all...
My mother has a suspicion that dolphins will one day show us up as the most intelligent creatures of all, but for now I think I'll rest comfortable knowing that there are many, many smart people out there - be it in a massive city like Toronto or a tiny town like Patara, there are people who shine as brilliantly as the night stars.

Posted by madrugada 15:01 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]