chapter 2, kapadokya

trules finally makes it to oz

may 27, 2010

goreme, turkey

we forgot just 1 thing about gihan's 8 day itinerary... the all—night bus trips. we swore off these moving torture chambers long ago, having barely survived the poorly—paved brick roads of the javanese rain forest from 10 at night 'til 8 in the morning, from volcanic mount bromo in the east to shadow puppetry yogakarta in the center. no sleep, crying babies, snore—breaking rest stops every 4 hours. annoying. anti—restful. anti—relaxing. in other words, hell on wheels. but here we are again... on a 10 to 8 all—nighter from istanbul to goreme, the small town tucked neatly into the heart of turkey's emerald city i.e. cappadocia. (i like to spell it the original greek, phonetic way, "kapadokya".) we're "back on the bus" because we just couldn't resist the double—dip discount: first, the price compared with the plane fare (about 15%) and second, the opportunity to save a night's hotel bill by sleeping on the bus. but c'mon, there are perks and comforts that money saved can't buy. i'm old enough to know that!

nevertheless, i've caught more shuteye than da wife. she's refused to use the inflatable neck doughnut that i've packed just for this occasion, so she's cranky and hungry when we get off the bus in urgup instead of goreme. yep, they unload us in the wrong town. maybe because we're not on a tourist bus, just the local inter—city from the main bus station in istanbul. whatever. but when we get off in urgup (end of the line), we're the only munchkins there. gihan's promise that we'd be met by the local tour operator has turned out to be a bust. the wife is pissed. me? i'm just the problem solver; i don't get to be cranky or ornery. i call gihan in istanbul. (yeah, that's the idea of getting a local SIM card. you get to talk to the locals!) "sorry, sir. just wait there a few minutes. someone's coming for you." "when, gihan, old boy?" "soon, sir. very soon."

hey, that's my hat, achmed!

well, gihan's right. achmed shows up within minutes and apologizes to us profusely. "very sorry, sir. your bus came in late. i was here waiting for you for half an hour, but then i had to go back to the office." "ok, achmed, no worries. the bus did leave half an hour later than scheduled. just get my wife something to eat." "of course, sir. let's go back to the office. you can leave your bags there, we'll get some breakfast, and then we'll drive you to your hotel in goreme." "ok, achmed. sounds like a plan. thank you." "no problem, sir. no problem." "good, achmed. remember... breakfast... ASAP... if you want a happy customer!" da wife smiles tightly. "ASAP, sir?" "never mind, achmed. breakfast!"

the wife has become a much better traveler over our 10 years together. just feed her regularly and give her a clean shower and she's over the hump. she's become much more flexible, if i do say so myself. and that's definitely a good thing, what with my make—it—up—on—the—fly, kind of improvisatory decision making. we've survived and graduated from the "i wanna stay in a long house/i wanna stay in the sheraton" kind of battles we used to have... understandably, with my coming from da long island suboibs and she coming from a rural sumatran village. we just had different needs... different agendas. now we try to split the difference... or at least alternate our accommodation's plumbing and décor. if i just stick with a reasonable eating routine and a clean bathroom, the rest is gravy.

achmed is true to his word and he even pays for a tasty little breakfast: the standard eggplant and rice for da wife, something a little meatier for me. then, back at the office, achmed more than makes up for his tour operator's temporary act of generosity. "so, my friends, do you know about the hot air balloons of cappadocia?" "yes, we do achmed."

how could we not? just coming in on the bus early this morning, we must have seen more than 50 dotting the sky: anatolia balloons, mercedes balloons, emerald city balloons... all colors, all sizes. "well, when do you want to go?" "i didn't say we did, achmed." "sorry, sir, i just thought...." he's back to the "sir"; back on the defensive. "well, how much does it cost, achmed?" "well, sir, that depends..." "depends on what, achmed?" "well, sir, you have the very large balloons, like the 'anatolia' balloons. they're mostly for large tour groups, 50 to 60 in a balloon." "and...?" "and then there are the smaller balloons, sir. they carry only 16 passengers and the pilots are better trained." "you mean the big balloon pilots are dangerous, achmed?" "haha. not at all, sir. it's just that the small balloon pilots can manipulate their balloons much better, getting very close to the fairy chimneys." "and the difference in price?" "very little, sir. 100 for the large balloon. 120 for the 2nd type. 130 for the best." "can we go this afternoon, achmed?" "oh no, sir. only early in the morning. around 5 or 6." "really?" "oh yes, sir, the winds, you know?" "no, i didn't know, achmed."

i look over at the wife. she's sitting right in front of a giant poster of a goreme hot air balloon. she's already dreaming. and me? i've wanted to go to oz my whole life. how can i pass it up? (beat) i can't! "ok, achmed, tomorrow morning. what time?" "be ready at your hotel about 5:15, sir." "ok." we're stoked. "which balloon, my friends?" notice the shift of power again? "uh... we'll take the hundred." "really, sir, how often in your lifetime will you get the chance to do this, sir?" i look at the wife. i recognize the look. she's getting impatient with my negotiations. she just wants to get to the hotel and take a shower after the all—night bus ride. i catch her drift. "ok, achmed. we'll take the 120. it better be good." "you won't be disappointed, sir." i whip out my trusty credit card and pay. 120. twice. "i thought it was 120 for the both of us, achmed." "haha. oh no, sir. it's 120 each." i pause just a moment... look at the wife... and... pay. 120. twice. EUROS! it's a hundred and twenty fucking euros. twice! that's about 190 bucks. each! "this better be a good fucking balloon ride, achmed!" "haha, you will not be disappointed, my friends. be ready tomorrow. 5:15 at your hotel."

having scored the big kahuna with us, achmed finally has his driver take us to our hotel in goreme. the star cave. run by a handsome young turk, razadan. it's very cool. the rooms are carved into the stone landscape, just like the old christian churches... but with designer perks: new bathrooms, comfortable beds, hot water... definitely not early christian. but razadan wants to put us in the corner cave. "c'mon, razadan, we came all this way from hollywood, california to be part of kapadokya. part of the landscape. part of the sky. don't stick us in the corner. how about up above?" "sorry, they're all booked." i look up; the doors are all open. sorry, but razadan is becoming more and more like frank morgan's dissembling, blubbering wizard of oz in the movie i've seen at least 10 times. "c'mon, razadan. what can we work out?" "take a look at the room at the top. it's the only one free for tonight and tomorrow." "ok, razadan. if you say so"

we climb the winding stone staircase up to what appears to be the "sultan's" palace. the room is huge, about 4 times as big as the corner room downstairs. with a giant bed, a long, beautiful carpet, a big bathroom, a turkish, hand carved table, a fluffy couch, sitting chairs.... and... a patio... to the sky. i fly back down the stone staircase. "we'll take it, razadan." "ok, fine. but it'll be 150 more for both nights." "lira?" (it's 1.5 lira to a US dollar.) "no, dollars." there's no "sir", no "my friend" here. just cold, hard cash. "c'mon, razadan, we already paid you through the tour operator." "for the corner room." "ok, ok, how about 100?" "130." "105." "120." "110." "115." "ok." "ok." i hand him the cash... and as soon as i do... i start to feel this lump of guilt in my gullet. it must be my jewish guilt gullet. i'm out of my league here. over my head. i've never paid for the presidential suite before in my life. what am i doing? "wait a minute, razadan." i reach out for the wad of cash in his hand. he closes his meaty fist over it like a vice. he smiles. hey, i'm in the emerald city. there's always a first time.....

the wife is shocked at my extravagance. but hey, she does look good up there, doesn't she? on the patio of her giant cave? with her little trendy netbook? against the kapadokyan sky? just like the early christians, eh?

it's 5 a.m. achmed has just called and told us to hold our hot air horses. we'll be in the 2nd round of balloons going up this morning. be ready at 6. ok......... but as we look out on the sunrise horizon, we can already see a myriad of balloons floating... flying... what exactly do they do?

finally... it's our time to find out. we're over at the office of "butterfly balloons", run by a lovely couple from great britain, don't you know? we've been shuttled over around 6 and they've started us off with some earl gray tea and some crackers with olives and cheese. a nice touch. next we get shuttled over to the take off pad, an empty lot, slightly out of town. the balloon crew is hard at work testing levels, firing her up, holding the expanding dirigible down with cords. it's a major operation.

we're going up with 13 other brave souls, including a young korean group, just graduated from law school. either they're out trawling for personal injury clients, or from the way they're nervously buzzing about, they're convinced that they're going to become ones themselves. i'm excited. i step over the maze of ropes into the growing belly the balloon and come out with my camera clicking. i'm definitely not in kansas anymore, toto, and i'm finally going somewhere over the rainbow. to... oz!

lift off. smooooooooooth. we're all dressed for the early morning cold, but it's balmy up here. and calm. it feels like we're just standing on air. some of our balloon mates are shaking and twittering anxiously, but i'm surprised how relaxed we are, da wife and i. we gain height and survey the great kapadokyan plain of central anatolia. like the grand canyon, or the mysterious nazca lines in peru, or the yellow brick road cutting through a field of sunflowers leading to the emerald city, it's really mind bending imagining who/what force of nature carved up the land in this way.

our one hundred and twenty euro pilot, is, in fact, worth his weight in expertise. he dips and dives... into "pigeon valley", where the main occupation of the locals is to collect crop—aiding pigeon shit from the tiny bird caves in the stone. he glides in and out of "rose valley", so named for the subtlety of the stone's hue.

he hugs a valley, climbs its wall, only to barely miss colliding with one of the canyon's palisade peaks. damn, he's good. and our blue and white butterfly balloon, he tells us, is brand new. it has all the bells and whistles of a clean, mean, fighting machine. or of a free—floating, fantasy machine. or of a hot air—propelled, dipping and diving machine. whatever the hell he has it doseying and doeing.

we're hovering over the yellow brick road... see it there? through the heart of kapadokya... except the road's not yellow... and there are no lions or tigers or bears, oh my. probably just snakes, and rabbits, and lizards, oh yeah!

the wife took this one. we're coming down to our landing point, after about 62 minutes in the air. the wind has been just a little friskier today than the pilot anticipated, so we've been carried just a little further than the pick up team anticipated. hell, at this rate, our clever pilot informs us, "we could reach istanbul... in about 40 days."

and look what greets us down on the ground. the pilot... and a nice little spread of... champagne. we've survived. we're hot air balloon virgins no longer. cheers, dudes!

there's only one thing i'm disappointed about. i mean, i've finally made it to oz... or at least to goreme, turkey... deep in the heart of ancient kapadokya, which, with its fairy chimneys, turkish carpets, and whirling dervishes, might be the closest this trules ever gets to the emerald city. yet.... here i am... back on the ground.... and i never even met the mayor of munchkin land? i never saw hunk who turned into the scarecrow. hickory who turned into the tin man. zeke who turned into the cowardly lion. and where were the flying monkeys, the wicked witch of the west, glinda the good witch of the north, auntie em and uncle henry... and toto? where the fuck was toto?

i mean, here i am... back on the ground... back from my hot air balloon ride to oz... with the same heart.... the same brain.... and the same lack of courage!

fuck me! i mean, oh my!!!

as for the dervishes........

patience, my brothers and sisters.

they're whirling in from konya,


just... wait....

ever the cowardly lion,

or perhaps now,

the kapadokya kid