(This article was first published on July 26, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
PAMUKKALE, Turkey — At the edge the Pamukkale village, visitors encounter a mesa covered in a white rock that I still can’t convince my parents is not ice.
For 400,000 years, the edges of these naturally made white “pools” of rock appear to spill over like beer foam on the brim of a glass, one after another cascading down the steep hills overlooking the houses below.
These white rock formations, known as travertines, are unique in the entire world. Steamy hot water spews forth from a spring and other fissures at the top and flow downhill. Emerging from the earth at temperatures between 95 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the waters cool on their way down leaving hardened white calcium deposits in their wake. The Turks gave the formation the name Pamukkale, or cotton castle.
We made our off-season hike up the travertines on one of Turkey’s cooler days. We began our shoeless ascent up the ivory cliffs feeling a chill in our bones. Turkey banned shoes to protect further degradation of the deposits. However, that chill didn’t last as we crossed two warm sapphire pools. Staring into these placid mirrors, you could see the village and mountains behind you.
It’s no surprise why the Greeks and Romans believed that Pamukkale imparted supernatural healing forces. During our climb, we spent nearly half an hour letting our feet dangle in a rushing current of thermal water that felt better than any Jacuzzi.
The Pamukkale’s rock is not smooth, but layered over and over similar to the thin pieces of bread Turks pile on top of each other to make a dish called Borek. But it’s also hardly rocky or sharp, and the ridges of the deposits make climbing the cliff easier.
During peak season, the travertines are filled with tourists in bathing suits (sometimes revealing more than the eye would wish to see). During a later visit, my fellow climbers included U.S. exchange students visiting Turkey on a Rotary Club tour.
At the top of the cliff, you can see all of Mother Nature’s patient creation. The white rock stretches out for nearly a mile, and the village below seems helpless in the fact of the tide of white approaching it.
And the top of the plateau is no less disappointing. The 2,200-year-old city of Hierapolis provided a stunning finish to the 600-foot climb.
Archeologists say the city became a healing center due to the thermal waters pouring from its natural fissures. The massive cemetery in Hierapolis suggests that many terminally ill people came to the city in hopes of a miracle, according to researchers. An antique pool is located in the center of the city where steamy waters continue to pour in. It is still in use today by tourists and locals.
“When you bathe in the waters of Pamukkale, your body is healed,” said village resident Mehmet Guleç, “Our waters are special.”
Pamukkale’s waters continue to flow, with the deposits inching further downhill every year. In 1988, the site became a UNESCO World Heritage site in order to protect the travertines from excessive damage by tourism and development.
Today, people still come from all reaches of the world to see and experience the waters of Turkey’s Cotton Castle.
With any luck, the tradition will continue for another 2,200 years.
Last weekend, I traveled to Kayseri, Turkey to visit Erciyes University, where I will be teaching this fall, and also to get my first look at Cappadocia, one of the most fantastic regions in Turkey. I was treated wonderfully and had some great experiences (stories coming soon). However, one thing surprised me so much in Kayseri, I just wanted to quickly post the video. I’ve always heard the the fish was amazing in Turkey, and very, very fresh. In fact, most places in Turkey don’t even scale their fish, and I have seen grocers literally gutting the fish in the morning and shortly after putting them on the stand to be sold. However, I never expected to walk down a street in Kayseri (which is a land locked city by the way, no ocean for at least a hundred miles) and see fish so fresh they were flapping on the street. I’m not exaggerating either. See for yourself.
WARNING: This video is not suitable for all stomachs.
After two months, this blog can finally begin to live up to its name, the Turk FILM Project. Below is the first of what I hope will be many videos to come. I’m still getting adjusted to filming in Turkey and getting comfortable with the language, so this video is very simple with no interviews or voice over. However, I believe the images coupled with the sound of a live Turkish street band provide a perfect little introduction about life on this side of the world. The video is a very tiny peek at Turkey’s largest and most visited city, Istanbul.
For over 3000 years, Istanbul remains one of the most important cities on Earth. As Byzantium and Constantinople, the city served as the capital for two of the world’s most influential empires, the Byzantines and Romans. The city continues to play a major role in world and was recently named the cultural capital of Europe. This is a very small glimpse of the incredible city known as Istanbul.
I want to thank all of you who are already regular readers; I’ve gotten some great emails and feedback about the site. If you are reading, please feel free to make any comments public. You do not need a user name to comment on any of the articles, just simply type in your comments with a valid email addres. I hope that this site can be a malleable tool where visitors can help steer content by asking questions and posting their curiosities about Turkey.
And now, please enjoy Turk Film’s inaugural video: A Glimpse of Istanbul.
This video was filmed during my past two visits in Istanbul. The images are primarily from some of Istanbul’s most visited sites including the Hagia Sofia, the Sultan Ahmet Cami (the Blue Mosque), the Spice Bazaar, Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace, and from various locations on the Bosphorus. The band’s name is unknown, but are playing on one of Istanbul’s most vibrant avenues, Istiklal Caddesi.
In Turkey, traveling between cities in large, comfortable coach buses is one of the most efficient and cost effective ways of getting around the country. Turkey is served by at least 15 different bus companies, although that is a pretty conservative estimate. However, Kamil Koc (Coach), Metro Turizm, and Pammukale are the three largest bus companies serving Turkey. So far, I’ve made the 5 1/2 to 6 hour trip between Ankara and Istanbul four times, but no trip was more memorable than my first when I met a spirited 20 year-old from Kenya named Joel (pronounce Joe-el).
In the spacious bus, I was sitting in my window seat watching the crowds pushing and shoving their luggage across the gates of the Ankara’s Otogar (bus terminal) when the tall and lanky Joel took the seat next to mine. Joel was escorted in by two, young Turkish men who were smiling from rim to rim, and before leaving, each gave Joel the “infamous” two cheek kiss.
I always jump at the chance to practice my Turkish, so the few words I said to Joel and his friends were in Turkish. This led to a funny moment as the bus pulled away from the station. Joel and I started to say a few words in Turkish to each other, and attempted some sort of conversation. It took us about 5 or 10 minutes before we realized each of us spoke perfect English.
After that, our conversation really took off. I learned that although Joel and I lived on two very different continents (Africa and North America), we had some very similar experiences and interests. Joel was interested in going to college for technical theater and film. I told Joel about my work as a lighting technician in Boston, as well as some stories about my time doing production work for ESPN and local television outlets at home.
I have to admit my scope was widened during the four or five hours Joel and I spent chatting about film, today’s technology in film and theater, living in Turkey, and our own countries. I’ve spent 23 years living in an American Bubble that has certainly allowed me to paint some very generic pictures of the world. Even though one of my college roommates and best friends is also from Kenya, I never would have expected IF a Kenyan visiting Turkey sat down next to me on a bus that his interests would be in technical theater and film.
I told Joel this, mentioning that many Americans I know picture Kenyans as an incredibly skinny people who spend their days running across deserts while living among lions and elephants. He laughed, and added that many Kenyans picture Americans and other Westerners as people who live in “a fantasyland.” From the Kenyan perspective, “the West is a place of no problems, no sickness, and plenty of money,” said Joel.
“But when you travel (to richer countries),” Joel reflected, “you realize issues that effect humans, effect them everywhere.”
With that sentence alone, I think Joel summed up the main purpose of the Fulbright grant and why I’m out here documenting my trip. We all have had visions of people in another country living in a carefree environment. For example, today’s proponents of health care trumpet the happiness of Canadians, Brits, Danes, and etc. However, we can’t deny that the world is much more complicated.
For this reason I do hope readers of the blog will be able to get a more clearer look at Turkey and its different communities. More importantly however, I hope this yearlong expedition will help make me a better journalist. I expect to have many more “bubble bursting” moments. I can only hope that through these experiences, I will be able to write and pursue stories in the future with an enlarged and more careful perspective. Whether I end up covering local, national, or international issues, my ability to carefully process information without making rash generalizations will be critical.
It’s true that I’ll be a teacher while in Turkey. But, I am the real student. Turkey is my classroom, and the people I’ve met, people like Joel who have helped burst my bubble, are my teachers.
Here’s hoping I’ll get an A.
Already, I’ve mentioned a few instances that illustrate how giving Turks have been of their time to help me while in Turkey. Well, I couldn’t believe what happened during my first day in Ankara while looking for a map. I walked into a small Turkish bookstore down a narrow side street in the busy downtown of Kizilay. I walked in and took a quick moment to check my guidebook for the phrase, “I’m looking for a map of Ankara.” I walked up to the shop owner, Ercan (pronounced Air-jan) Bey, and asked about maps. He clearly recognized me as a foreigner, smiled, and instructed another man using very fast Turkish to find a map.
While this was playing out, Ercan Bey asked me where I was from, why I had come, and how long I’d be in the city. His eyes lit up with pride when I mentioned I’d be staying in Turkey for a year. After introducing me to his 16-year-old daughter Zeynep, he asked me to have some tea, like any good Turk would do. An offer I decided to turn down mostly because I really intended to just make a quick stop. I should have realized there are very few “quick stops” in Turkey.
After about 10 minutes went by, the “map scout” came back with no results. At this point, I expected to thank Erjan Bey, Zeynep, and the trusty map scout for their efforts and then be on my way, but Erjan Bey would not see my needs go unmet. Instead, he turned to his daughter and again, in lighting quick Turkish, he instructed her to take me to another store further in Kizilay that might have a map.
So under the hot afternoon sun, I followed Zeynep down into the heart of Ankara’s downtown. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Zeynep pushed through the crowds, and helped me cross the busy streets while looking for a map. We walked around for about 10 minutes before I got the feeling Zeynep may have been a little lost also. She must have noticed what I was thinking because she looked at me quickly and said, “One minute,” and asked a store owner in Turkish about the location of our much sought after map. We did this three or four times as Zeynep continued to get her bearings. At one point, I tried to explain, “It’s okay, I don’t really need the map. Let’s forget it.” Zeynep was determined not to disappoint me. She again said, “One minute,” and asked another vendor. This time, she seemed to get some good information because she smiled and her pace quickened down the street.
On the way, I noticed a man selling maps! “Perfect”, I thought, “now I can do something.” I stopped Zeynep and motioned to the merchant in front of the Post Office. We looked at the maps. I asked her in Turkish, “Do these look good?” She said, “Yes, but come first.” Zeynep would not be deterred from bringing me to our final destination. A few stores later we came to a photo and electronics store where Zeynep asked about maps. Unfortunately he was also out of maps, but luckily we just went back to the P.O. for our prized possession.
After the journey, Zeynep smiled and asked, “You’ll be all set now?” After I answered in the affirmative, we said goodbye and wished each other well. I hoped she would take a little something from me for being so helpful.
As I expected, not a chance.