chapter 5, pa-mooooo-kuh-lay
a little nooki-nooki for yuki and noori

june 2, 2010

pamukkale, turkey

mercifully, the bus trip from olympos to pamukkale is only about 4 air conditioned hours. and can you believe it, we even make it while there's still daylight? of course, we do have to take another private shuttle from the main bus station in downtown denizli, an urban wasteland in the middle of southwestern turkey, but we are greeted in pamukkale by our pension host, who walks us to the artemis, just a minute from the one horse bus station.

now pamukkale's claim to fame is its astonishing white "travertines", its calcium-rich terraces made of sedimentary rock deposited by water from the local hot springs. actually, these "cotton castle" (literally, the translation of the turkish word, "pamukkale") travertines are the reason da wife wanted to make the demanding 8 day trip through anatolia in the first place. "it looks like snow," she says entranced in gihan's sultanahmet office in istanbul. "that's what everyone says. but they're not," says gihan, ever the agreeable salesman. but if gihan knew just how magical snow was for my lovely wife, having come from equatorial indonesia... or had he seen her amazement and delight when she saw snow for the first time in her life in new york city in 2002, the first time it snowed in manhattan in 30 years on christmas day... then he would have known... the trules were already going to pamukkale!

but in addition to the cotton candy "travertines", we picked up another reason to go to pamukkale... teri and shihan, a friendly couple who we met in kapadokya, who invited us to stop by and see them at the hotel they operated on the main street in pamukkale when our tour deposited us there. they were an interesting mix – a catholic, italian-american woman from boston and a born and bred anatolian muslim male turk. but what kind of mix, we wondered? one made in heaven or in hell? because from what we'd already been seeing and hearing, turkish muslim men seemed to have the "lay" of the land, literally speaking.

we've run into several solo-traveling asian women all through central turkey. young south korean women, japanese women... traveling alone through muslim turkey and syria. pretty amazing, upon first glance, what with the reputation of muslim men unflatteringly preceding them. but these women, speaking a thickly-accented english, seemed to be having the time of their lives. "syrians are even more friendly than turkish people. of course they hate jews and americans, but i've been traveling for 6 months, and i haven't had any trouble." this was yuki, a short-haired, stylish 21 year old japanese girl we met at the star cave in goreme. she was having an affair with noori, a gregarious, fun-loving 35 year old turk, who according to his friends, teri and shihan, was already married, and just had these "harmless" serial affairs for days to weeks at a time with any available asian girl passing through kapadokya. seemed like a mutual admiration society, young traveling asian girls, hungry muslim men. nooki-nooki for yuki and noori. hey, who were we to judge? but... i think maybe i'll just wait to visit syria....

anyway, here we are in pamukkale, visiting teri, shihan, and the now yuki-less noori at their nicely appointed pension on main street. brightly colored turkish carpets, hand-dyed turkish table clothes, local beer, delicious food cooked on the premises, and a turkish prositute or two, down the street, scoping out and procuring business from the 2nd story window. this is the first we've seen or heard of this. the oldest profession in the world, right here in mineral-rich pamukkale. certainly the hard-looking ladies couldn't be collecting from the local turks, could they?. that would be un-muslim-like, and probably warrant a stoning or two. but... the tourists? they were fair game, right?

we're sitting on the main street pension's outdoor patio, and teri is the one who points out this otherwise invisible sex action to us. boston-bred, she is an attractive, middle-aged italian-american woman who has now been living in turkey for over half a decade. she's left her first passionless marriage for shihan, but the lines on her face and the sadness in her eyes reveal more than she feels free to say. yet... she really seems to open up to surya, my lovely wife, who knows more than her share about muslim men's treatment of women, having grown up in indoneisa, the the world's most populous muslim nation.

teri hasn't left her pamukkale pension, by herself, in months. shihan won't allow it. "not that he doesn't trust me, it's just that he thinks it won't look good with his friends and family." "right," i say in disbelief, "you mean you can't go shopping by yourself? or even go for a walk?" "no," teri says matter of factly. "but how can you live like that?" "i have no choice," teri smiles with a sad, heart-breaking resignation. "you don't know turkey and you don't know muslim men."

"well, i have an idea," i say hopefully, knowing my wife's enthusiasm for morning hikes, along with her predilection for getting extremely lost in foreign countries. "maybe shihan will agree to let you go with surya on a hike tomorrow morning. as her guide." teri lights up like a prisoner who's just been let off death row. "yes, no problem. i can do it!" "are you sure?" surya asks hesitantly. "yes, positive. the last time i went out by myself was with aliyah. she's a turkish girl who works for us." "how long ago was that?" i ask sceptically. "about 3 months ago," teri says. "what time should we meet?" "the earlier the better," surya says. "ok, fine. how about 6 o'clock?" surya looks to me. what? i'm not her jailer! "well, our tour starts about 10," i say. "should be fine." the three of us look around like muslim-breaking confederates. we smile and high five each other 3 ways. we have a plan. it's up to shihan to nix it.

praised be to allah! he doesn't. so the next morning, surya is up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5:30 a.m., thanks, of course, to my alarm watch. but as she pulls on her shorts, shirt, and hiking shoes, i somehow manage to dose back off to sleep. the next time i see her, it's 9:45 and she's rushed back from the jaunt with teri just in time for a nice little turkish serve-yourself breakfast at the artemis with the now standard hard boiled eggs, fresh white bread, multi-colored olives, cheese spread, and coffee. "how was it? i ask, a little too enthusiastically. "i can't tell you," she says definitively, as if i didn't already know her answer. "is she happy?" stupid question, duh. "not really. what time are they going to pick us up?" "in about 10 minutes", i say, knowing that i've heard the last about teri and shihan that i'm going to hear. da wife is expert at changing the subject when she wants to. and as master dylan said, when it comes to certain feminine wile type things, i was "just a pawn in the game."

but now we're out on our post-muslim, free at last, all-day pamukkale tour. that is, the one for tourists. it starts, pleasantly enough, in the roman necropolis. for those of you not up on your ancient greek, necropolis means, cemetery or burial ground. and this one is huge. hundreds and hundreds of tombs, which inidcate that although the romans built this large city in asian minor around the curative powers of the calcium-rich mineral waters of pamukkale, apparently many of the "cures" were less successful than had been wished for.

nevertheless, the roman city of "hierapolis", with its large roman amphitheater, its eye-popping travertines, its multitude of roman baths, and it's "appian way" through the sprawling necroplis, has made modern-day pamukkale the site of over one million visitors a year. and here in the ruins of the necropolis, we can see the vast range of burial options for the citizens of hierapolis: everything from the open air burial pits for multiple members of the same family, to the massive monuments of the rich and powerful, overlooking the great valley from points of greatest prominence. not much different, in fact, from the burial privileges of any other age or civilization, where the rich get the best and most glorified burials and entombments, while the poor are just exhumed and burned at the group discount rate.

take, for example, the contrast between the glorious mummification of the powerful egyptian phaorohs in their massive and eternal pyramids - and the public cremation ceremonies for the poor in bali, where the bodies of those not having been able to afford the proper cremation rites upon their deaths, are dug up five years after their burial, run through the streets and sprayed with water, pamplona style, only to be burned en masse in a public ceremony, open to locals and tourists alike. tout ca change, et tout ne change pas, eh?

next, we finally get to the good stuff, the cotton candy... i mean, the cotton castles. the beautiful travertines.

and beautiful they are. look. they say a picture is worth a thousand words, right?. well, maybe so. but can a picture, even a perfectly framed, 10 pixel-digitally resolved one, come close to approximating or revealing the actual experience? simply put, no. well ok, maybe ansel adams does a pretty good job at yosemite with his larger than life, black and whites of el capitain, but for we simple photo slackers like myself and da wife, sorry, you just.... hadda be there.....

so... before we move on to our next, pre-paid package tour stop... to ephesus, the largest roman outpost in all of asia minor during the early christian, byzantium years, let me just say....

how strange and beautiful it is to be here in central analtolia in 2010, knowing the ancient history of the place... where at one time, romans, chrisitians, jews, and finally muslims, all peacefully co-exisited in a grand, arid, camel-driven melting pot. before popes and sultans and wandering jews all came together to fight and define themselves as mortally different from each other. before borders and boundaries, nations and religions, predominated, and before women were forced to cover themselves with burkas and head coverings - to protect themselves from the predatory hunger of muslim men. before teri had to ask shahan to go on an early morning walk with surya, the young "american" woman from lala land, where she has discovered the one thing she cherishes above all others: freedom. freedom to be herself. freedom from being judged for what she wears, who she marries, for who and what she chooses to be in life.

and for that, i too, am surprisingly and sincerely... grateful.

best from the land of camel drivers,