Pamukkele

We had a long drive ahead of us. Three to four hours to the east of the port city of Kusadasi was a mysterious place far inland, a place called Pamukkale, that friends had advised us to visit. Pamukkale—a mere sound, not even a Turkish sound, something more of an island in the Philippines. From an ounce of internet research I knew that it had these unique calcite pools and ancient ruins, but was that enough to travel so far, to spend so much on gas and lodging for what might be something underwhelming, or even worse, a scam.

 

On we went. We drove up the mountainside away from the sea and said our goodbyes forever to the Mediterranean Sea. We were now pointing east. Soon I was feeling beneath our tires the weight of Turkey, of this enormous country with such a monumental history. Out our windows on this clear day, with the temperatures in the low 70s, were images of Turkey itself: of hillsides filled with rows of olive trees, of plains with rich soil and fields of produce. The tractors are at work in those fields and on the roads. In fact, all of Turkey appears to be at work and appears to be working. This is not Greece, where the landscape and the emotions rising off that landscape have a feeling of loss to it, a feeling of neglect and worry. The rocky soil of Greece gives life to olive trees upon olive trees—and only that. Here in Turkey the olive trees give way to the other foods needed on a plate—to orchards and corn and potatoes and a whole market full of splendid food.

 

On this brief glimpse out our windows at Turkey, Turkey is doing well. Its roads are modern and its men are working on those roads. The cars are not rusted out. The businesses along the side of the road are not boarded up. The country is in motion and the country is selling things, and the overall sensation is one of satisfaction. Take that, euro. Had Turkey been tied to the euro like Greece, it too would’ve faced austerity and 27% unemployment and all the shame that comes with Germany telling you what to do. Instead, Turkey could manipulate its currency and make adjustments like the kroner in Sweden and the pound in England to mitigate the effects of the recession. Paul Krugman of the New York Times, take a bow: You’ve been right, yet again.

 

We pull off the road for gas. Two young men trot out to our car—and yes, they did trot. In Turkey as in Greece (and Oregon and New Jersey), others fill up your car with gas. I showed one of the young men a fifty-lira note ($25) to make clear what I wanted, and with a great show of deference he went to work. The other man, meanwhile, was inside the station, emerging with a tray of two teas and cubes of sugar. He held the tray out to me and then over to Dolora still in the car, and the two of us took our teas. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing: the hospitality of tea, even at a gas station. This gesture brought me back to Athens, where the attendant at a gas station brought me a cup of espresso—free, of course. Would this ever exist in America? Something as pedestrian as getting gas is given a personal touch in Greece and Turkey, and in America is kept corporate and functional and cold. Warmth and cold, warmth and cold—that’s a good and simple way to look at things as vast as a country and education (Waldorf vs. public ed) and as small as a gas station. What’s more, after the tea and the fill up the man gestured for me to do something. I reasoned that he wanted me to pull the car away from the pumps to drink my tea, but that’s my American conditioning—or rather, my American starvation—at hospitality at work. Instead, he was motioning for me to stand away for the car while he and his co-worker—are you ready for this?—washed the entire car. And this was no mere washing but a power-washed cleansing that pulverized all dirt that ever existed on this Fiat. One man worked a brush with lots of suds while the other worked the hose, all done with such meticulousness and care and, dare I say it, pride. Because I’m at root a jerk, I was off to the side thinking, Do they want money, what’s the deal here? But no, it was free, they stepped away at the end and waved us goodbye. Dolora leaned her head out the window and said a formal Turkish “thank you” to them, and they replied the informal “thank you” back to us.

 

It was amazing, it really was, and yes yes yes I know I risk absurdity by making too much out of a single incident in the countryside of Turkey, but for what it’s worth, that ten-minute event was full of so much loveliness—of tea, of kindness, of work and pride, of a man with his family traveling 7000 miles to this gas station, of an American no less, of cleaning a car because there is a pride in a clean car. At the moment that I am writing this I am overwhelmed with this truth. My eyes are welling up with tears at the kindnesses that have been shown to us time and time again, of a young man bringing me tea on a tray, of another young man here at my hotel at 8am asking if I’d like a blanket to throw over my knees. Who knows, maybe a small element at work is that this is a Muslim country and that these are Muslim men. They know George Bush. Often we’ve had snippets of conversations where the name George Bush has arisen and the spite for him has been clear. In our small way here at a gas station with a cup of tea and a thorough washing of a car, we are trying to bring a tiny measure of peace to the world.

 

There in that gas station I thought, Yes, it’s worth it, it’s worth it all. Going to Pamukkale is a lot of trouble and a lot of money and lot of anxiety to drive on foreign roads. Hell, going around the world is a lot of trouble and money and anxiety. But it’s all worth it with this single cup of tea that a young man in his early twenties has brought to us on a silver tray.

 

Onward to Pamukkale.

 

As I said earlier, we were yanked in the direction of Pamukkale by the weight of a recommendation and a few images on Google. More than that, we had this rental car for a while longer so: Why Not. That’s one of our mottos: Why Not?

 

We drove into the small town with the hillside of white calcite to our right. Somewhere up in that calcite nothingness is supposed to be clear turquoise pools from the runoff of a natural hot spring, descending the hillside for centuries in just the right way and with just the right chemical makeup to create something astonishing. Before exploring it we needed to find a motel for the night, so around the town we went, making our decision on a quick snap evaluation of the outside and our own feeling. Yes, feeling is a big thing with us, and it is feeling that led us away from the House of Venus with its aggressive owner stopping us in the street and over to Hotel Ozbay. If you ever find your way to this place in the universe, stay here. Just stay here. One wife and mother are over there poking fork holes in olives to prepare for curing; over there is one of the brothers making juice from pomegranates; over there is the grandfather playing with this two-year-old boy. We sipped our tea—yes, the ubiquitous tea—and dropped our bags and headed up the white mountain of Pamukkale.

 

To be brief: The next four hours rank as the finest of my life. At one point Dolora said, “I was just thinking that if I die now, I’ll die happy.” Liam was fully engaged and fully aware that we’ll have to search far and wide to find a place as magnificent, surprising, beautiful, peaceful, mysterious as this.

 

Pamukkale—no longer a word but a transcendent event in life. And one that will take more than the 10 minutes I have before boarding a plane from Bodrum to Istanbul. The photos in a gallery may tell part of the story: of a place like no other place, its natural pools on the side of a white mountain, these warm turquoise pools that in another setting are the infinity pools of the rich. You pay an entrance fee, and then you walk to a spot where you remove your shoes and sandals, and then you walk barefoot up the slope of this mountain along with hundreds—thousands?—of others. From a distance the human train resembles a scene of the gold rush in Alaska, a row of ant-like humans trudging up the side of a snowy mountain. At Pamukkale the white is a smooth layer of calcite with ridges that make climbing easy. In certain spots the warm water trickles into the path but the footing remains sure. As you rise in elevation the shallow pools become apparent. We walk through them, our toes squishy in the chalky mud. So do others, many others: Japanese tour groups, young Turks, French women in bikinis, many Russians (Ukraines?), and three Americans with their jaws down to their ankles.

 

At the top there is an official place to go swimming. Lolling is more like it, since what you do is slide into this large luxurious pool that is naturally heated and whose bottom is full of…–are you ready for this?–… full of pillars and stones from the Roman ruins.

 

All amazing, and amazing as we headed down at sunset and ended our walk in darkness.

 

Gotta run. Flight to Istanbul.

 

Istanbul!!!!! Why not Istanbul, I say.

 

Let the great world spin.

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Susan Day

    Sounds like you all are in the vacating recreating flow now. I love hearing about these times of yours and remembering our times like this.

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