After Istanbul our next stop was in Göreme, where Amanda, Luke, and I, stayed in a fairy chimney hotel. These were rock formation that had been eroded away into conical shapes, that had rooms carved into them, with some brickwork to divide up the space.
We went on several tours that took us around to many of the highlights of the area.
We visited Derinkuyo, the underground city that's 16 levels deep, 8 of which we visited. It was quite similar to the Chu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, but generally much taller, although we did go down a few very very short & dark ones where you pretty much had to crawl. We were told that the estimated capacity of the city was about 5000 people.
We took a walk though the Ihlara valley, a very scenic valley lined with caves, pigeon holes, a cave church and a creek running down the bottom. Actually seeing real life pigeon holes gave me a real "wow, I'd never even though about that" moment abut the pigeon holes that teachers have in their staff rooms; they really do look quite similar.
We were taken on a tour of a carpet making factory which had silk dyed in all the colours of the rainbow. We saw a woman making a carpet with 100 knots per square cm, which is quite a lot.
We were taken to a show room and shown a bunch of carpets, each unrolled with a lot of showmanship, and told how to tell a real fancy silk carpet over a cotton one, but in all honestly I thought the cotton ones felt a lot nicer and softer and were hugely cheaper.
One night we went and saw a traditional dancing show, show casing many kinds of traditional Turkish dance. First up was some whirling dervishes dressed in white, spinning under UV lights with all the other lights dimmed down. Although seeing them was actually the original draw card for me, I didn't actually find them all that interesting so I was glad their part of the show was short.
There were many other styles of dancing with the men and women in some very fancy costumes, and of course some belly dancing.
In one part of the show they had some crowd participation where they got everyone up on their feet in a circle around the middle part of the room. Amanda kindly volunteered me for one part where I had to go out in the "stage" and copy the "seductive" dance moves of one of the guys to try and win a kiss from another female volunteer from the audience, which I of course fail at doing (they later pick her partner out form the audience, who surprise surprise is the one she kisses).
I got up early my last morning in Göreme to see the hot air balloons flying over. We didn't actually go up in one because we'd only just done a balloon ride in Africa a few weeks earlier but it was beautiful to see so many balloons floating over the town.
From Göreme we got the night bus to Antalya down on the Mediterranean coast, and learnt our lesson in "a night on a bus does not really get you an extra day anywhere" because you sleep so poorly that you just want to nap all day once you arrive. It was a pretty decent coach, with in seat entertainment for every seat just like a plane, but it stopped every few hours and was generally hard to get any sleep on.
I made myself go out exploring in the heat that first day there and found the very modern main street surrounding the old city (where we were staying), with a water feature running down the length of it between the road and the tram line.
There was a cool pedestrian street with 100s of open umbrellas making a sort of shade over it which made some great photos.
Pretty much every inch of pavement in Antalya (and just about everywhere in Turkey) was made of marble, polished by the millions of people walking on the, which makes them very slippery and nearly put me on my arse more than a few times. I hate to think what it would be like in the wet.
Luke and I had a "small" night out where we went over the road to the bar across from where we were staying for a few quiet beers, which lead to a lot of very noisy beers, which somehow led to us crankingNeelix over the bar sound system, the bar tender rocking out to it, me breaking out the poi and attracting some locals to come and watch the spectacle.
Luke and I woke up the next day with no recollection of having paid, and returned sheepishly later that afternoon only to be told that it's all good and we apparently had. Quiet drinks fail.
We had nasty hangovers that could only be cured by going and getting a decent breakfast at the beautiful Castle Cafe, with stunning views over the Mediterranean,
Followed by an afternoon down at a private beach were we could laze in the sun under umbrellas and read, swim and snorkel a bit.
While in Antalya I made a visit to a 600 year old Turkish bath, an experience that had come highly recommended from just about everyone I'd spoken to about them, and it lived up to the expectations.
Nobody in the place spoke English so the whole process was carried out with pointing and gesturing. I was sent into a little room with a towel to get changed into, which then turned out to double as a giant locker to lock my stuff up in.
I was then sent downstairs into the actual bath area into a small marble room containing a hairy man sluicing water about. He sends me into the next room with a bit of a grunt and a point of his finger.
The next room is built in the shape of a large cross with very high vaulted ceilings, and several smaller rooms opening off it. Inside it was quite humid but not hot. There nobody else in the room with me and every move I make seems to echo quite loudly. I sit for a while wondering if I should be doing something, then try sluicing myself with some water and wait some more until eventually the hairy man returns and gestures that I follow him.
He gets me to lie face down on a marble slab, with a semi-circle pillow under my face and a bit of pool noodle under my shins. He then pours warm water all over me, then scrubs me down with a loofah glove. Next he gets a pillowcase-like sack that's full of soapy suds, fills it with air and then squeezes it out through the sack to make foam for the soap massage, which seems like pretty much a normal massage but with soap.
I'm turned over and the process is repeated on my front, with the addition of some quite rough amateur chiropractic work involving crossing my arms over to the elbow and shoving until there's crack.
Finally I'm rinsed off with water, then led out to cool off and drink some apple tea and eat some fresh fruit before heading back into my change room to get dressed. I certainly walked away feeling cleaner than I had since going to Africa. It would be the perfect thing to tack onto the end of Rainbow Serpent Festival each year! :D
Our next stop was Pamukkale, which is famous for its massive salt formation hill thingy which we first saw from right where the bus dropped us off. In looks a lot like a ski slope except the weather is painfully hot and it's covered in women in bikini's posing for their boyfriends for their next Facebook avatars.
Most of the slope has water running down it most of the time (I'll come back to this later) and there are signs everywhere warning that it is wet and could be slippery, but we quickly found out from out first step that it's actually quite a roughly textured surface and not at all slippery. There are pools all the way up the slope which look man made, each pool being slightly warmer than the last as you make you way up to the source.
At the top you see there's a lot of plumbing and artificial terraces, making it feel a bit like a natural treasure that's been destroyed. I did some research and found out that the state it is in today is actually way better than when it got UNESCO conservation status in 1986, before which it had been royally screwed up. There used to be a bitumen road right up the slope (where you're allowed to walk today, and where the man man pools are) and hotels built at the top on top of the ruins of Hierapolis; incredible to think they could let that happen. The waste from the hotels had just been pumped out onto the salt slopes, staining the whole thing dirty brown colours instead of pure white.
Them turning off the water to various parts actually gives the sun a chance to bleach parts of the salt slope to try and undo some of the damage, so even though it feels a bit artificial I think it's a good thing what they're doing.
We went back a second time and found that the water was routed a completely different way, creating new waterfalls in places and stopping others. I went up the top and explored the ruins of Hierapolis, probably the only place in the world where you'll find bikini clad girls posing in an ancient amphitheatre, and on other ancient ruins.
Our next stop was in Selçuk where our accommodation, Wallabies Hotel has a lovely view of the aqueducts that run through the city, although the bathroom door is missing the handle and we need pliers to open it, there's no hot water and there's some festival going on outside until late into the night making tons of noise and the windows block nothing. In short it's a bit of a shithole, especially considering the travel agent who organised it claimed how he had lots of very fussy Korean customers and none ever complained. I've stayed in plenty of worse hostels, but they weren't claiming to be hotels.
The draw card around Selçuk is the ancient ruins of Ephesus (or Efes), a 1000 year old Greek city. Tour buses seem to arrive there at regular intervals so you need to time your movements so you're in between the hoards of 30-40 people in each group to get a look at the place without it feeling like your at some sort of circus, but when you time it right it can feel like you've got the place almost to yourself.
There are some very impressive terrace houses there, once owned by individual families. The archways in them and the mosaic floors would be considered quite impressive features in a modern house so it's sort of mind blowing to think that individual families dwelled in such luxury thousands of years back. Naturally the families were high up in various religious groups *rolls eyes* so very philanthropic they tend to be.
Another thing of note the façade of the ancient Library of Celsius which is really cool. The architects used thinner columns on the outside and thicker ones towards the middle to add even more grandeur to the already impressive size of it using optical illusion. Pretty amazing technology for 1000 years back.
There was a long marble avenue that lead down to where the harbour used to be, but it was roped off not far down from the amphitheatre. I wanted to see what was down there, so I found an unmarked path through the scrub that led in the right general direction which eventually came out at the very far other end of the avenue. I could see no signs of the port, but looking down the avenue back towards the city it was easy to imagine how vastly wealthy the city must have been back in it's day.
I took a slightly different way back that led past harbour gymnasium, parts of which looked like they could fall down at any minute and actually stated to feel pretty unsafe, wondering if there could be large not-yet-excavated caverns below me, so I quickly made my way back to the normal path. Just as I got back where I was supposed to be I passed a security guy going the other direction talking on his radio. I like to imagine that I got spotted from afar and he'd been sent off to tell me to get out of there, but he was probably just sneaking off for a lazy break or something.
While in the area I made a day trip to the beach. On arriving, the forest leading up to it felt pretty much like it could have been somewhere on the north coast of NSW, lots and lots of spaced out gum trees. Seems to strange to find them in large numbers in other countries of the world.
As I approach the beach it looks brown and pretty unappealing, but as I reach the water I find the water moving over the sand actually makes the sand sparkle like gold glitter. It's extremely pretty, but not an effect that translated very well to still photos, or even video, but trust me I tried!
After Selçuk I parted ways with Luke and Amanda as they were flying on to Rome and I had decided that I wanted to spend more time along the Mediterranean coastline. I hate saying goodbye in general, I never seem to be able to pick a moment that feels natural, but longer goodbyes are the worst. It was at least nice to know it was only for a month or two before we'd cross paths again, and in a way it felt nice to have the freedom to do whatever I felt like doing again, without having to consider what anyone else wanted. Maybe a little selfish to be thinking that way, but so what?
My first solo stop was in Bodrum, where I visited their underwater archaeology museum, which is in the Bodrum castle. Bodrum itself was a pretty horrible resort town; think beached completely covered in sun-lounges with loads of bright red tourists sunning themselves laid out on them... really not my sort of place. My lack of interest in the city combined with the inspiration to go diving from seeing all the information about how they lift the shipwreck relics from the sea bed had me leaving pretty quickly and heading for Kaş.
It was fantastic to get back in the water and dive again once I got to Kaş. I went out with a shop called Bougainville Divers with a fairly advanced divemaster/guide, Peter, who dives with a side mount setup (no tank on his back, they're clipped loosely at his sides instead), a setup I'd heard about but never actually seen anyone using before. It sure is an interesting way to rig your gear and actually lends itself to travelling with your own gear quite well. From the feedback I got from him, it seems that all my shallow water pier diving back in Melbourne has paid off in spades and my trim in the water looks like that of someone with two or three times as many dives as I have done. A nice little ego boost!
Marine life in the Mediterranean is actually pretty sparse compared to everywhere else I've ever dived, the area has been heavily overfished and even with Kaş being in the middle of a conservation area there's not a lot of fish around. I did see a lot of tiny stuff like nudibranches, but pretty much no schools of fish, and even very few individual fish.
I got to do a dive at the Dakota, a Turkish Red Cross plane (a DC3) which was bought, stripped and sunk as an artificial reef. Because it's not a plane that's crashed, the whole thing is intact and it's really quite surreal to see what is a somewhat large plane, 30 odd meters underwater with fish swimming through it. It's pretty cool to get to have a look through the cockpit window and swim around and have a look at the propellers and the tail fin, and even penetrate into the hull of the plane.
I also dived a few shipwrecks in the area, some steel ones that were quite obviously ships, and some wooden ones of which very little was left. Some of the wooden ones were at least somewhat modern, as the things that remained were PVC piping and a ceramic toilet! Others were much much older, with broken amphora (ancient ceramic jars) and ancient stone boat anchors being all that was still evidence that it was a ship.
While in Kaş I got in touch with some people through couchsurfing and met up with them; Ümit, a Turkish dude who spun fire poi and Maie-Anna, a girl from Germany who lives in Kaş now and was bursting at the seams with energy. I ended up going out dancing with them at the very basic local nightclub that played very trashy music but it was lots of fun.
After Kaş I headed to Olympos, a sleepy little village right near the ruins of the ancient city of Olympos. I stayed in a great hostel that had a huge outdoor area consisting of tree-house lounges and hammocks, which I made extensive use of in the week I stayed there.
Every morning there was a huge buffet breakfast that filled me up enough so I didn't really need to eat lunch, and then also a huge delicious buffet dinner, all included in the accommodation. All for ~$20 a day!
It was a great chance to unwind after travelling too fast, for too long, and finally de-stress a bit. I had lots of much needed alone time, sometimes wandering off and finding a spot to myself where hours would pass without even hearing another person.
My week consisted of walks down to the beach, practicing my poi, and lying in hammocks reading. It was a lovely way to unwind.
One day I climbed up to the ruins of an old castle up on the hill. The path leading up to it passed by lots of overgrown brickwork up to the castle, where the remnants of a two storey building with a few arch doorways were still standing. I could see where the floor of the second floor would have been, with the regularly spaced holes in the wall where the floorboard supports would have been. Another day I swam out to a not-so-secret cave and found that some of the ground I was standing on taking photos that earlier day was actually on top of an huge arch, probably 40 meters above the water and rocks. Eeek!
The last place of note I visited in Turkey was up to Mount Chimaera, where fire spews out from holes in the ground which was really neat to witness. Apparently the locations of the fires change daily as some fires go out and others new ones spark up. Stories tell that the fires used to be bright enough for the ships to see, so it was sort of like a ancient lighthouse for the area. It's also where the original Olympic flame came from, and has reportedly burned continuously for 2500 years