DATE: 19 October 2005
CURRENT LOCATION: Wadi Rum, Jordan - a tent in the desert in the shadow of Lawrence
GPS COORDINATES: I left it on the bike, which is an unnecessarily far walk away
Ok, I'm getting a little behind in taking note of what I've done. Hell, I'm all the way in Jordan now and almost clear of the middle east and I still haven't committed anything to paper from beyond my first day in Turkey!! Not being lazy, just been moving too fast, enjoying myself, or having a terrible time. But I must keep up as I find I have a strange psychological memory problem: unless I can turn events and things into humourous anecdotes, I tend to forget them. I have whole swaths of my childhood and other years of which I can't seem to remember much because I didn't seem to turn them into interesting stories meant for the entertainment of myself or others. So I'd really better take some more notes or memories will simply evaporate from existence
Turkey. I love Turkey. It's huuuuge and there is so much to enjoy. It's got beaches and drinks and sun fun; it's got ruins and ancient sites and it really is a central crossroad of history and cultures; it has out of this world settings and environments; and all the while having a very different but still amenable culture to interact with. Just don't buying a carpet after that cup of tea.
After nearly ending my trip on the slippery sloping byway out of Kusadasi, I headed straight onto Pammekale - site of the white calcium mountain and brilliant alien pools of briny water cascading downwards. It was an ancient and Roman baths / spa site, with the city of Hieropolis growing up strong beside it. Like I said before, it has been a place that had caught my imagination since I was a kid. I had missed-out on seeing it before during my post university Euro-backpacking adventure nine years ago and damnit if I was going to miss it again!
An interesting ride outwards. The highways in Turkey surprised me, they were generally fairly well organized and the drivers fairly well behaved. Plenty of signs and directions. Petrol stations are absolutely everywhere. Every 5km another one would appear. I think they're money laundering stations, which was a common tactic by the mob in Kosovo (where there are more stations now than war crimes). They sell the gas on the black-market and make up the fake receipts on the side with padded laundered dough. Just a guess that the same thing is happening in Turkey, because there's no rational reason for their incredible profusion.
Arrive in Pammekale, which as it turns out is very much a one-horse town. I still get lost of course and can't find my hostel. Luckily, there's always the ever-helpful Turkish hotel touts waiting in ambush at the entrance to town. I zip past most of them; however, I under-estimate their tenacity and before I know it one has climbed aboard his scooter and come flying up beside me! He's gesticulating and shouting, good price! good price!. I try and wave him off, I know where I'm going. I have a reservation at the Meltem Guest House (lying of course). Oh no, that's not strong enough to deter this gentleman. Oh no. He decides that the best method of salesmanship persuasion is to run me off the road. Cuts right in front and brakes quickly, swerving to prevent me from passing. Wow, I bet he thought he had me all buttered up for the sale now. I definitely always opt for the guy who tries to take my life. I regretfully decline his very special price, special offer and he obliges me with directions to the place I was hunting for.
The Meltem comes very highly recommended in the guide. Supposed to be good fun and lots of travelers, with a welcoming management that puts on movies and sorts out tours. Wow, how things change in the off-season. I was greeted and booked in by the 13 year-old sons? nephews? grandkids? selecting a bed in the dorm room. 15 beds and only little old me. It turns out that I am only one of two guests in the place, the other being a very nice Taiwanese chemical engineer who decided on her own room. Hell I paid a fifth of the price for the dorm and still ended up with my own room. She was very nice, but, again, I was expecting a little more action packed traveler's hostel atmosphere. They don't organize tours, the internet is down, and the only movies are Turkish dubbed on the satellite dish (the remote for which is dominated by a sometimes drowsing older gentleman who I just don't have the heart to disturb for my own selfish needs). Pretty dead. It's mid-afternoon. I was planning on getting in during the afternoon, check out the town, chat with travelers, organize a tour for tomorrow, and get some sleep for the big day. Ok, so no tours. So I'll do a recce of the town and see what else is on offer. Then some good rest. Circled the town on foot in about 15 minutes and found myself at the base of the mountain at the ticket booth. Hrrmmm. Looked at the map and looked up the hill and it was all there. I had another three hours of daylight and thought, awwww what the heck - it's cheap entrance, so I can do a quick look myself and then get the full tour and trek tomorrow.
I cleared the site and saw mostly everything in an hour and a half. A little let down. It's not so much a mountain as a big white hill. It is a natural wonder - a few mineral streams over millennia have left their deposits to create this mountain (hill?) and you can see the natural pools cascading down to one another. Problem is that no water is actually cascading - the magical pools are mostly bone dry. They have the water shut off most the time because it promotes the growth of algae and moss. So they only release the water sporadically in order for the pools have a chance to dry out and settle, or when they want to take stunning marketing pictures - so please buy a post card instead, because you wretched bastards have dashed a childhood dream!!
It was nice walk around. You take off your shoes and walk barefoot up a pathway cut into the face of the hill (mountain?) where a water channel gushes down to man-made pools that you can actually strip down into your swimmers to splash around it (as many Eastern European tourists of many different shapes and shades of pale were in many different shapes and shades of swimwear I distinctly recall gold and leopard print being two popular style choices). There was a nice view from the top of the valley below. A few ruins of Hieropolis, though beyond a fence. You get to feel the healing (you are a healed!!) properties of the mineral water on the highly exfoliated soles of your feet that have spent the last half hour being sanded by the calcium walkway. And that's about it. Finito. Kaput. A resigned shrug later and I was back down to the base, back to my lonely hostel, back to planning what on earth I'd then do tomorrow?
I splurged on dinner. Went to Mahetmet's lounge. Nice older, genial Turk - reminds me of Papa Mario (of the Corsi clan). It was more like his house than a restaurant, with great views of the mountain (hill?). Propped myself on his floor cushions after dinner for tea and a ponder of what next to do..?
I had an open invitation to spend some nights at the hospitality of friends of Mandy's family (Barbara & John) in a small coastal town called Gocek, which is just around the corner of Fetihye. I made a call and let them know that I was coming a little earlier than planned, like tomorrow if it was alright?
The gods were not happy with my decision. I was awoken at 5am by the sound of thunder and pelting rain - I got back to sleep but with nightmares of my slide-out in Kusadasi I did get up at 7am, to shower and have breakfast so I could make an early start, take it easy on the ride and arrive at a reasonable hour. But the rain kept coming. I put departure off an hour, then another. Then another. Wow, though, was I bored. Ran out of reading material days ago and I wasn't finding re-reading my travel guides very enthralling. Finally at about Noon, the rain broke and there were some genuine patches of blue sky up there - time to go!
What should have been a 3 hour ride at most turned into the most grueling test of my riding skills yet - I know that may not be saying much! But I dare an experienced rider to even give what I did a go. Things were fine for the first hour, the rain had come down and for so long before that it wasn't very slippery as a lot of muck was washed away. But after that first hour, and heading into a high and twisting mountain range, I rode right into the middle of the storm. Incredible wind coupled with absolute sheets of rain. I was soaked completely to the bone in 15 minutes. Water was gushing out of my boots in the few fuel stops I made - most of the pump jockeys gave my waterlogged appearance a strange look. The wind wasn't so much as some one smacking me about with a plastic baseball bat as sustained full-bodied blasts. I would have to squeeze down into a compact ball and hold on with my legs even all the while leaning into the wind a few degrees. Being up in the mountains, the air was freezing cold; however, the layer of water in my jackets and clothes actually formed a sort of 'wet suit' and seemed to prevent me from dying of hypothermia outright. Even so, I went through some bouts of shivering, which made steering sometimes difficult through sharp corners and wind. After an hour of this and no sign of the storm dissipating (in fact, it kept getting worse and worse) I realized that it was a very bad decision to have gone out. This could get me killed. But it was a bit like climbing part way up a mountain face - it would be just as dangerous to stop and climb back down the way I came, probably the best way is to keep going and get it finished. Sooner or later I would come down from the high ground as well to the warmth of the coast and dry off some. And at the very least, there was a safe port with hot showers and kind hospitality waiting for me. I just bit the bullet and kept on going. Another 'character building' experience I'm sure my Mum would say (probably after giving me a smack for doing something so stupid).
I arrived after about a 5-hour ride, still sopping wet (though my hunch about drying about riding through the heat of the coast was proven correct). After a friendly handshake with John, put the bike away, peeled myself off, and relaxed in the front room with the nicest cuppa tea I had had in awhile. And in a few hours, I was going to have a proper Sunday roast dinner. Wow, karma works in funny ways.
So Pammekale - hrrrmmmm, give it a miss. If you must go, ask if they've got the water turned on and try and get the day tour from Kusadasi. Then at least afterwards you can drink and bar-top dance your disappointment away with 16-year old English lassies
ps. Oh, I'm in Wadi Rum at the moment, the place of the Arab Army's and Lawrence of Arabia's encampment before their lightning assault and capture of Aquaba from the Ottoman Turks in World War I (No prisoners! NO PRISONERS!!!). More on this later - now I've got to go and look at the high, bright full moon that has risen to wash-out the full-stretch of the Milky Way that I was previously viewing from the Bedouin tent in which I'm writing. Can you see it from the front flap of your tent..?