Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Photos, at last!

It took me a while, but I have some more photos of Turkey ready to go, thanks to a lot of spare time and a nice high-speed internet connection.

Rather than post them on this blog, I'm going to send you to the actual photo gallery here: https://picasaweb.google.com/bfeigert/TurkeyAprilMay2011 . The blog doesn't do a good job of showing more than a few pictures at once.

As I looked through the 3000-plus pictures (don't worry! I cut them down to about 150), I noticed that there weren't very many photos of my bicycle, or of anyone else cycling. Partly, that's just a problem of not having a full-time documentary filmmaker follow me around. I'm interviewing for that job, though, and I encourage anyone who's looking for an unpaid internship to get in touch. The real reason for the dearth of bike pics is that bicycling--actual road riding, covering miles--was not the main point of this trip. It's a great way to get around, and as I noted in my last post, it opened doors everywhere I went, as people were drawn to the story of Turkey by bike. But as important as the bike was, it was just a key to those doors, not the entrance itself, and certainly not the people and places that lay just over the threshold.

I hope you enjoy the photos. Thanks for following along on the trip!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pickup Basketball, Flooding History, a Rail Journey

Good news and bad news: I took some really great pictures this week. But they’re in my camera, which is in my bag, which is hiding in a German airport until someone can find it and bring it home to me. I’ll post photos soon!
Riding out of Mardin in eastern Turkey, I followed backroads through terrain that could have been New Mexico: small streams running through rocky scrub slopes, topped with red-rock outcroppings. Every 20km or so, a minaret appeared in the hills, and then a village of mudbrick and concrete block homes, above the green farmland. The mosques’ metal domes shone brightly in the sun. I imagined John Wayne or Alan Ladd riding this land on horseback, drawing a bead with his sixshooter on the minaret’s squawky loudspeakers broadcasting the afternoon call to prayer, then thinking again and lowering his gun. He'd ride into the sunset, because it’s a Western.
Just before sunset, and after a long day of riding the hills, I passed through Şenköy (literally, Happytown, a common name here).The local kids had been tailing me for a few blocks on their own bikes, and when the parade came to a halt at the corner store, we had a crowd. I traded high-fives with the kids, hellos with the older folks on the stoop, and talked a little with the guys inside about last night’s big football match. People stared outright. (Turkish folks, especially out in the country, don’t have the US habit of pretending not to stare. Instead, they just lock on to the oddball foreigner, take three or four steps closer, and won’t look away for anything.)
One of the teens, with a sleeveless t-shirt and a basketball, asked me if I like the NBA. LeBron? Lakers? Kobe? Yes, yes, and yes. Then, he asked if I wanted to play. It’s hard to turn down an earnest invitation like that. I thought I had to show these kids how the game is played, American style. Probably I felt this way because I was irrational and delirious from the heat. I was twice as old as these guys, hot and tired from riding all day, and no great hoops talent under the best conditions. 
We walked down the street to the rotten asphalt of the playground and chose 3-on-3 teams. The rest of the kids gathered on the wall and cheered. I fouled relentlessly, traveled when I could get away with it. Shot a little, missed most. But I had one weapon, the bounce pass, which these guys had never seen and could not defend. So I fed our sharpshooting forward ball after ball, and he kept sinking the twos. The wall urchins yelled YesYesYes! and YouAreWelcome! We won big. I drank a Coke and rode off into the sunset, flanked by my victorious teammates. (Did I hear a “Shane! Come back Shane....” in the wind?)
A few days later, I followed the Tigris river to Hasankeyf, a 1300-year-old castle and village that’s been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. Hasankeyf’s cliffside homes and fortress walls were of such strategic importance that they were occupied by Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, and others who wanted a foothold in the region. It’s threatened now by a gigantic dam project that will flood the valley under hundreds of feet of water. 
I talked with the owner of a small restaurant who bemoaned the coming of the dam: “My work is finished. The town is finished. Everything is finished." The government is already building the roads for the new Hasankeyf, far up the hill on the other side of the river, but it’s not clear who will live there once the old city is flooded. There are more optimistic voices, though. I spent the warm evening drinking chai with Idris, an archeologist overseeing excavations at the site. He told me that the dam is a “fifty year old government dream.” His grandmother, he said, grew up hearing about it, and when she died as an old lady, there was still no dam. Idris believes that when he is an old grandfather, the dam will still be a dream. 
After Hasankeyf, I rode up and out of the Tigris valley to a wide farming plateau, and on to the city of Batman. (Yeah, the locals all know about our Batman and Robin, and they like to joke about it.) The guys at the Batman rail station, which sees three trains a week, dropped everything to sell me a ticket west for the next day. A manager, a cargo guy, and a maintenance man sat with me the office for an hour drinking chai and talking about the virtues of rail travel. If the conversation slowed, they’d rally to find another topic, call for more chai, and keep me in my seat. I don’t think they were lonely for company, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to milk the story of the American visitor for a few months.
The train ride and sleeper car were everything the guys said they would be: comfortable, scenic, long. Two days of travel through Turkey’s interior was a nice way to see the country in reverse and with far less effort. The landscape shifted from rocky buttes to grassland and steppe, to green mountains. We followed rivers to find the low twisting passes through the mountains. I made friends with Omer, a young man who was going to Istanbul to live with his older brother and work in a textile factory. His entire traveling kit was a bag with a t-shirt, a pair of socks and underwear, and some jeans. It made me feel like I’d been laying siege to Turkey, with my four bags full of camping gear and clothing for every occasion. 
Back in Istanbul, I reconnected with the amazing host family of Aysun Cervatoglu, her sister Asuman, and nephew Gökay for my last three days in Turkey. I visited Asuman’s elementary school again and watched teacher Murat lead his kids in a Turkish folk dance (super-cute video here). Murat took me out to drink raki with Gokay and teacher Emel that night. It turns out that raki is 45% alcohol, which is enough to just wreck an American; my Turkish friends handled it with ease. The next evening, we visited the hilltop park of Camlica, where newlywed couples posed for photos, the Istanbul skyline and the Bosphorus in the far background. A boy of eight or nine walked past in a white gown, a bejewled crown, and a prince's scepter. His proud parents trailed close behind. Asuman told me it was his circumcision costume--a Turkish tradition for every boy. 
So: that’s it. My time was up. I got myself and my bike on the airplane, with considerable logistical help from Gokay, and came home. Checked my mail, sorted the bills. Tried to overcome the jet lag. Before I sign off completely (I'll make one more post with some pictures), a few more things:
  1. Lance Armstrong is wrong. It is about the bike. My bicycle put me in places I wouldn’t otherwise be, and opened real and conversational doors with people who might otherwise keep them shut. Because of the bike, I could play basketball with village kids and dance at a Kurdish wedding. I could share a picnic with a farming family far from the official tourist sights. On a bus, whizzing by at 100km/h, I would have missed those opportunities. Many of my best moments in Turkey came when I was between places on the map. But there’s more: the bicycle is a tool for and symbol of joy, freedom, wonderment. People in Turkey were drawn to it--and eager to share in the story of their country as seen by bicycle.
  2. As you could tell, I had a great time in Turkey. But it’s a deeply divided culture, especially in the eastern part: men and women exist in separate spheres, with the latter almost invisible to me. Men gather in chai houses and on the street corners of every town. I could comfortably sit with them and chat. I don’t know if a woman--especially a single woman--would feel as warmly accepted into the extremely male public culture of Anatolian Turkey. Maybe there’s a way for a woman to see inside the female world that I didn’t have access to. 
  3. Non-Turkish friends: You should visit Turkey. (And you should consider doing it by bike!) For the history, the people, the culture, the great food. It sounds exotic, and in many ways it is, but Turkey is an easy place to travel. I think you’d love it. Please go, and let me know so I can connect you to some of my new good friends there. 
  4. I really want to thank the super people of the Anatolian Mountaineering Club, who helped me with routes in western Turkey, and who suggested some adventures in the East. Thanks especially to Oguz Tan, an experienced cyclist who spent an hour looking at maps with me, and who set my mind at ease early in the trip. 
  5. The google tells me some blog readers are from Germany, Singapore, the Netherlands, and the UK. I’m really curious to know who you are! If you’re one of these readers, please send me a note at bfeigert@gmail.com and tell me how you found this blog.  

Statistical stuff. Let's do the numbers: 1800km of riding, and about 15,000 meters of climbing. That’s almost as much as going from sea level to the summit of Mt. Everest twice, which makes up for the relatively small distance I managed to cover! (Thanks to Aussie friend Greg’s GPS, you can see some of the daily rides and maps online.) One flat, on my last day of riding. One worn-through tire that bravely suffered weeks of bad pavement and washboard gravel roads. No other mechanical troubles, bike or body. Approximately 87% high-five rate, mostly with schoolkids who would line up on the street to get ride-by high-fives. YesYesYes! Welcome! (Search for my pal Pete’s High Five Running page on facebook. It’s cool.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Holy Carp, a Handgun Wedding, and the Devout East

Everyone wants to know about the holy carp. Okay, I'll get there soon. In fact, skip this next paragraph if you need to know now.

I've been reading a book by Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, called "Snow." Early on, the protagonist visits a devout eastern Turkish city and gets drawn into a heated conversation with some students about love and faith--so it wasn't a surprise for me when I rode into Sanliurfa, a devout eastern Turkish city, and got corralled by a team of young students who wanted to ask me pointed questions about love and faith, repeating the dialogue almost word-for-word. Fortunately, I had just read that chapter in "Snow," so I knew all my lines. For several hours, I walked with Ahmet and Muhammed and Murat through the markets, up and down the alleys, in the bookstores, talking about God and girls. I'm inexpert in both, so I just counseled faith in God and patience with girls. Or maybe faith in girls and patience with God. There were some translation issues.

Feeding the holy carp
The holy carp: The prophet Ibrahim--that's Abraham to the Western world--was in town, prophesying, making trouble, preaching monotheism. King Nemrut--Nimrod to the Western world--sentenced him to death on a burning pyre. God intervened in a nicely dramatic way, turning the fire into water, and the coals into fish. Now, the holy fish reside in a lovely reflecting pool in Urfa's large city park, and visitors feed them endless dishes of fish pellets, bought poolside for a few cents.

Urfa is a Kurdish town. The women, and many of the men, wear lilac, lavender, purple headscarves. Spangly bright green and red mirrored gowns, nose rings. Kurdish people are proud of their heritage and announce it first thing in a conversation. Nuri, the guy who sold me a kebap and some chai, made a point of his Kurdishness, as did the fishfood man, the woman at the city's historic castle, and the hotel owner. We always moved on to other topics--America, politics, the weather--but Kurdishness is first.

Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was in town, making a campaign stop in advance of the June 12 elections. As I walked through Urfa's bazaar, men and women sat on low stools watching the broadcast, halting the frenzied business of buying and selling for a while. The bazaar is a warren of alleys, branching off into hans, or old imperial storehouses, accessible through narrow passageways and opening up into stone courtyards framed by arches and balconies, variously converted into chai gardens, textile or spice bazaars, even motorcycle repair stalls. The chai men clacked their metal saucers like castanets, calling chaichaichai chaichaichai.

From Urfa, I took a late afternoon bus a few hours east across endless farms to Mardin. I wasn't happy about it, but there was no way across farmville except the superhighway. (I was also cranky about the bus departure time. The details aren't important, but let me say that the assholes in the Urfa bus station run that place with a combination of sneakiness and mob-style omertà that should put them in jail.) The bus dropped me and my bike in the dark, two kilometers from town. It didn't help with my bad mood. I emphasize the cranky part, because it frames the next part of the story.

Across the street, in a dusty lot between two concrete buildings, a few hundred people gathered for a wedding under a strings of lights and danced to live music. Purple scarves, spangly robes, Kurdish songs. I rode by, stopped to watch on the edge of the party. Not a minute later, Ahmet (a different one--there are a lot of Ahmets here!) found me and led me upstairs to meet the men, drink chai, and watch the national championship soccer match. In the smoky room, I asked if this was a Kurdish wedding. It was like walking into a New York bar mitzvah and asking if, like, this is a Jewish thing. Laughs all around, hearty claps on my back--and for the next few hours, I was introduced to everyone as the American who asked if it was a Kurdish wedding.

Ahmet and his pals pulled me into the line dance, following a young man waving a colored scarf. We circled around the bride and groom, who sat in the middle at a table, looking a little tired. The lone musician played an electric saz and sang tunes everyone knew. That sounds folky, I know. In fact, it he rocked the hell out of it, playing through a distortion filter and accompanied with hard disco beats from a drum machine. Later, word came that the favorite soccer team won the match, leading to wild celebrations up and down the street. Cars and semi trucks streaked by, waving flags and honking non-stop. It was a lot to celebrate, so when the young guys started firing pistols in the air, it seemed appropriate. I ducked instinctively, though, so I started getting introduced around the party as the American who asked if they were Kurds, who also didn't know a thing about guns. (See a video of the wedding here.)

The next day, I walked around Mardin, high on a mountaintop above the Euphrates valley, and only a few miles from the Syrian border. Mud-brick houses mix with modern buildings and 5th-century Christian churches and 12th-century mosques. Many people here grow up speaking Arabic. As I was leaving one mosque after evening prayers, a man gently tapped my shoulder, offered his hand and a said a gentle "welcome." His friends gathered around as we put on our shoes, all giving me handshakes and welcomes in Turkish, English, German, and Russian. Later, I spent some time fixing kids' bikes with Karem and his father Munir at their auto-body shop, using none of the right tools.

Take your shoes off before entering the mosque.
Yeah, you too, buddy.

From there, several wonderful days riding through deserts and oasis towns, following streams and valleys planted with poplars and deep-green crops. This morning, I crossed the Tigris river on the way to Batman (holy history!), thus completing our 9th grade unit on World Civilizations.  

In next week's installment, I'll write about my visit to Hassankeyf, a castle and town occupied since the 4th century, soon to be lost forever under the dammed waters of the Tigris. Also, a basketball game with village kids (my team won--serious ballers, yo), and my efforts at high-five cycling.

As usual, bridge traffic is terrible. I-90 is your best bet


Friday, May 20, 2011

Folly in the Mountains

Readers of last week's installment will recall that Kemal at the Malatya tourist office said that it was just not possible for a cyclist to go up to Mount Nemrut, and that it was pure folly to think of going over the top and down the other side. I'm glad to report that he was wrong, mostly, about the impossible ascent. It was terrifically hard, though; I'll have more to say about that in a moment.

Dinner with English teachers
Before we arrived in Malatya, my Aussie cycling friends Greg and Dorothy had made contact with an American English teacher who met us with some of her local friends, helped us find a hotel in the middle of a torrential rain (about the foul first rooming house we saw, Fatma said "I think this is not a good place." It was kind of an understatement, and I appreciated her saying what we all thought), and took us to dinner across the street. The gang of English teachers, young women from around the country who had been sent there by a placement agency, toured us around the city's restaurants (many) and bars (one), and they took us to English Night at their primary school, where students performed sketches and musical bits. The women all hated the city: provincial, they said; nothing to do; boring; dusty. But I really liked Malatya, especially the apricot market.

When you buy Turkish apricots anywhere in the world, they come from Malatya. The city has devoted a special bazaar to apricots, and when we were drawn into one shop by his offer of chai and a seat in the shade, the owner made a point of emphasizing that the dried fruit has the benefit of being a natural Viagra. He mentioned it eight or nine times. Maybe it's my graying hair. 

Cycling folly
We cycled out of town after waiting out some terrible weather, heading up to Mount Nemrut with Kemal's warning echoing in the wind. There's no easy way up to the top of the 2000 meter mountain, but we'd picked a particularly hard way, climbing for two days through villages almost as high as the summit, and then descending into a deep valley, only to do it again a few times before the top. The road was mostly torn to pieces by an endless construction project.

Naturally, because this is Turkey, we stopped for chai and food with villagers and shepherds along the way, and every truck driver honked and waved and yelled encouragement.We stopped to rest at the top of one pass and were mobbed by a group of school kids who'd traveled two hours to Malatya to see a movie. The principal ran over, shook our hands, and took pictures. Kids swarmed us with hellohowareyou! and whatisyourname! Sweaty celebrities.

Still folly, but at least
the sun is shining
Finally, chased by rain and hail, and with lightning in the next valley, we made it to the top and enjoyed a happy rest at the Gunes Motel, a rocky redoubt in a green valley just below the official summit. Lonely Huseyin and his pal Murat looked after us with a warm meal and a fire, and, of course, chai. We were pretty shattered by the ride, and slept soon after dinner. 

Mad King's Folly 
Mount Nemrut is capped by a 50-meter tall burial mound of rocks (technically, a "tumulus," which sounds kind of dirty) left over from the construction of enormous monuments to King Nemrut and the gods, more than 2000 years ago. It wasn't even discovered until the late 19th century. Historians have a pretty good understanding of who the egomaniacal King Nemrut was, but I've been made so dizzy by the parade of Assyrians, Hittites, Turks, Ottomans, Hatti, and Arabs, that it's not really clear any more. Here's what's clear: the place is amazing. We were alone at the top for about half an hour before the inevitable parade of Germans came through, diminishing the scene not one bit. 

We coasted down from the mountain, on a winding gravel road that made our ascent look like a four-lane highway, through a deep rocky canyon with shepherds and goatherds and cowherds and only one car in 15km. They stopped and shook our hands, took some cellphone photos. An absurdly steep climb into another village led to a long conversation over chai with ex-tour-guide Fatih about the history of his village and the decline of its tourist trade, with the building of a new and improved road to the summit. (Note--we never found that road.) (Also note: I screwed up reading the map and led us up the hill to Fatih's village. It was not on the way to anything or anywhere. Total mistake.)

Middle East Analyst / Shepherd
Two nights later, we camped in a forest above the Euphrates river valley, which is very 9th-grade history, minus the quizzes and bathroom passes. A shepherd (yes, there are a lot of shepherds this week) came by and talked to me and Greg for a few hours. Mostly, it was a one-sided lecture about American interventionist politics and the follies of the Bush government's involvement in Iraq. But he had some strong words about Obama's middle east doctrine, too. Anyway, that's what it sounded like he was talking about. There's a good chance he was just describing his neighbors and their damn dogs who won't shut up at night.

Two more days of hard cycling through the sunny Euphrates valley and its vast irrigated farms, and we arrived in Sanliurfa, home of holy carp. More about that next time. Also next time, a full report on my continuing efforts in High Five Cycling. Tomorrow, Greg and Dorothy return to Istanbul, and I'll continue riding east towards Mardin and--here's the best part--Batman. 

Yes, Batman.

English Night! Note the American costume with cowboy hat.
Local cookie and tea providers
Fatih tells us about the neighborhood
Follicles covered by sculptural folly
Graves of cyclists who didn't make it to the top

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Visit to Low Walley

After a few weeks in and around the coast, freshly shorn by the kind barbers of Antalya, I though it was time to take my new Turkish look inland--to see Konya, home of the whirling dervishes, and Capadoccia, the desert region that either was, or was not, featured in Star Wars as Luke Skywalker's home planet. (It depends on who you ask, and I asked plenty of people. Consensus: maybe, but it's hard to tell with all the computer stuff, plus also Yoda was a distraction.)

Rumi, the founder of Sufi mysticism and an all-around holy man, something like a saint in the Muslim world, got his start in Konya and developed a religious practice that involved meditative and trance-like states in a search to unite with the divine. In other words, he encouraged his followers to spin around like tops, whirling for hours, until they knew God. Rumi also died in Konya, I think, and tens of thousands of Muslims travel there each year on a pilgrimage to his tomb. They also go to the gigantic stadium where actual dervishes whirl, each Saturday at 8:00. I don't have any good pictures of the whirling (I have some videos, which I'll post next time), but here's a shot of the crowd. 

Two things to note about the show: 1) The women/men ratio in the audience was something like 80/20. I don't know why, but it made for a great display of colorful headscarves; 2) The whirling--and here I don't want to insult a religious tradition several times older than my own country, but here it is--is pretty boring. Accompanied by live music, twenty young men bow, one at a time, to each other. This takes five minutes. Then they whirl about, heads tilted, arms spread wide, long white tunics spiraling around. After five more minutes of whirling, the music stops, they get back in line, the theatrical lights change color, and they go again. The cycle repeats four or five times. An object lesson in how personal religious devotion can only entertain a crowd for so long: by the time the lights had gone from blue to red to green, half the audience was gone, like Mariners fans leaving a 7-1 game in the sixth.

From Konya, I took a bus to Capadoccia, Turkey's geological answer to Utah. For centuries, monks and others carved churches and homes into the rocks, starting some time in the 11th century. The Seussian landscape of "fairy chimneys" (the euphemistic name for the 100-foot tall phalluses of Love Valley), cave houses, and undulating waves of rock is now tourism central, and few people actually live in caves any more. Fortunately, a 50-meter walk away from the buses takes you into the country, and away from 98 percent of the visitors. I biked and hiked all day, from one valley into the next, passing only farmers tilling the sandy soil.

Capadoccia is also home to a gigantic hot-air-balloon fleet, which takes off en masse every morning at dawn. I hadn't planned to go (expensive, and what's the big deal anway?), but found a good deal and got myself up early to fly with Captain Nuri. Though we were one of the last balloons in the air, Nuri took good care of us and flew us deep into Love Valley (the Turks pronounce it Low Walley) for a treetop glide past the towers. When he sensed our interest was flagging, the captain cracked wise: "Everyone is have fun? First time balloon? Is me, too." And "Okay, is time jump. No one jump? Okay, I go." 
Aside from a few kilometers between bus station and town, and a nice day ride in Capadoccia, I hadn't been on the bike much in several days. So the Aussies and I were happy to ride out of town under blue skies, to Kayseri, where we'd catch a bus to the east of the country. It was a perfect day of cycling: getting lost on a dirt road that looked like a good detour, but wasn't; pushing our bikes over fields and goat paths; getting surprise help from a young man in a car who saw us lost and confused, from across the river, and raced to our aid, driving 15 kilometers out of his way down rutted roads and across faraway bridges, to make sure we could find our way back to a paved route. 

It wasn't a great week of personal connections with Turkish people, but the small and unexpected moments like the helpful driver have stood out--unsurprisingly, the best experiences have come when we're riding our  bicycles, in and between villages, far from the big roads. We continue to drink tea everywhere, with everyone. And Malatya, where we are today, has been a fantastic place to meet and befriend locals. More about that next time. 

Tomorrow, we're pedaling south into the mountains, to see Nemrut Dagi (google it!). Friendly Kemal, in the Malatya tourism office, says,  "My friend, it is impossible to go there by bicycle! It is too steep. Too far!" Then we ask if cars can go there, and he says, Of course. So no problem. And then we ask, Can we go over the top, and down the roads to the other side? "My friend, it is impossible!" So we're going to give it a try. After that, maybe Sanliurfa and Mardin, but who knows?

Friday, May 6, 2011

On the Coast, Sort Of

disappointing finish
When last we met, gentle Reader, I was in Fethiye, a coastal town full of British tourists and expats. The English-language newspaper offers columns of legal advice for potential landowners, tips for those seeking the best traditional English breakfast, and news from back home; last week, it was all about the royal wedding. You can also find carpets, trinkets, and a surly guy who wants to charge 20 Lira for a half-assed tour of the local ruins. In case you're reading, Mister Unpleasant, "Why you want make trouble?" isn't a great pitch for more of your limited services. Fethiye was playing host to the finish of a stage in the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. The results weren't what I'd hoped, but I'll train harder next year. 

wild-eyed sunstroke-victim cyclist;
friendly but disappointed villager

After a brief rest there, it was time to head east with my Aussie friends, to cities and villages farther down the coast. Turkey doesn't make it easy for the cyclist: because we wanted to avoid the main highway, every morning included a long, steep climb out of town and then a rollercoaster ride into the next valley, only to repeat four or five times before we reached the coast again. At the top of a long climb one day, we were waved down by old men parked in plastic chairs in front of a small house. Most of the village was there for lunch, in advance of a wedding that night. They poured us tea and soda and coffee--and we had to talk them out of feeding us, since we'd had a big lunch. Kids posed for photos with our bikes; the old men chatted amiably with us about the weather. (Weather, by the way, is a great conversation topic for these meetings. My whole Turkish vocabulary is nouns and occasional adjectives. Sun, I say. Yes, they answer: Water. Party?, I ask. Wedding. Married?, they ask me. No--bachelor. Women walking by cluck and shake their heads and frown. This takes about 10 minutes and by then it's time for more tea.)

Another family stopped us for a picnic between Kas and Ucagiz, on a hillside with olive trees, goats, sheep, and beehives, far above enormous plastic greenhouses of tomatoes and peppers. Their car stereo played traditional Turkish music. A little weather talk (Rain? Maybe.) and we shared bread, olives, cheese, roast red peppers. Grandma encouraged me to taste the fresh green peppers. Sure--how spicy could they be? I'm from Texas, right? The family assured me they're not hot. Better to let the pictures tell the story of my three bites of green pepper:

Pepper bite 1. Left to right: friendly, curious, bored

Pepper bite 2. Left to right: amused, amused, amused

Pepper bite 3. Left to right: bemused, mocking, amused, amused
Grandma pushed the bread my way, made me eat yogurt dip. A few cousins tried, politely, to keep their laughter under wraps.

It turned out that the old man's son-in-law runs a pension near the harbor, and that Telemen is a good cook. So we pointed downhill to Ucagiz, also known as Kekova, also known as Simena, with bags full of peppers, tomatoes, bread, cheese, and olives (Grandma wouldn't let us go empty-handed) for two days of hiking and eating. In Ucagiz (a.k.a, etc.) we had a short boat ride with Mehmet the fisherman to see the famous Sunken City, which fell into the sea after an earthquake in the 5th century. Verdict: exactly like all the other ruins, but wet.

Warrior of lost maritime tribe,
 in traditional paint-sanding

As we made our way down the coast, the towns, tour boats, and buses were smaller and smaller--but there's no undiscovered corner here, no hidden gem, only places more or less overrun by big-bus and big-boat tourism. On a long ride in to Antalya, I spun past enormous Las Vegas style hotels and towns completely given over to resorts. The prediction is that nine million Russians will take their holidays this year on the Mediterranean.

Here in Antalya, I got a haircut and shave, which isn't really a great story, except that: 1) the young guy cutting my hair spent an hour carefully snipping and shearing and straight-razor shaving, and then I got the standard shoulder and scalp massage with three or four different skin-tightening agents, with a cup of chai after, all for about 12 US dollars; and 2) after I left the barber, the nice folks at the restaurant next door fawned over my new Turkish look. The chef kept asking me if I'm Muslim, and if I like Barack Obama. He was eventually satisfied with No and Yes. For years during my youth in Texas, well-meaning Baptists would ask me, What are you? Greek, Italian? Lebanese? But it's been a long time, as my transformation into run-of-the-mill White seems complete. So it's a great relief to recover some long-hidden ethnic identity, even if it's not my own.

A new Turk
Tomorrow, a bus to Konya, home of the Sufi mystics and whirling Dervishes. Then, probably, another bus to Capadoccia, where I'll (finally!) explore Love Valley.

Jokesters, do your worst.