Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day 60-something: Turk Hitchin' (Spring Break Adventure)

There was something wrong with his wrist–like it had been sliced open and stapled back together by Frankenstein. "No thanks, we're not going that way" Banu told him in Turkish and closed the door. The truck began to pull off but stopped again. As Banu walked to see what the driver wanted she motioned for me to come and stand with her. When she opened the door here was no mistaking, the driver was covered in blood. He still wanted to give us a ride and his confusion to why Banu asked if he was OK was eerie. As he merged with the highway traffic bloody and alone, we both breathed a sigh of relief and laughed.

Our first ride with a truck.
Bed time!
Poppies for poopsie.
Here's the fascist with the pink phone. We ditched him.

Hitch hiking in Turkey over Banu's spring break was an incredible experience. We met some interesting folks: a fascist with a pink phone, a road-hardened trucker who protected himself from hitch-robbery with his gun, and a fellow hitch hiker who had a butterfly tattoo on his neck and just had been released from prison. But don't worry, Mom. We had the good company of nearly everyone we met and were constantly taken care of. Roadside restaurants gave us free tea, breakfast, and even a free motel room. Drivers went out of their way to help us, driving out of their way, finding us rides, or paying for food and drinks. Despite all the grit we encountered I never felt unsafe and I've never had so much good faith in humanity. Our adventure lasted the nine days of Banu's spring break and I can't imagine having a more satisfying time.

At least he brought us to a beautiful lake.
The moon goddess would brush her hair here.
Spring was the perfect time to travel.
After we ditched him we passed him on the highway. Awkward!
Getting artsy with the truck mirrors.

Leaving from Istanbul, our hitch South was nearly exclusively with truckers. We hitched through the night and in a 24 hour period we waited on the road for less than 20 minutes total.

From Istanbul we hitched to Izmir, then Bodrum, and finally Fetiye and Öludeniz.

Most of the drivers didn't speak English but I enjoyed listening to Banu speak with them and even asked a few (very few) questions of my own in Amerikish.

An ally in Bodrum.
The sandals I bought in Bodrum were hand made by this dude.
Banu even makes hiking sexy.
Thawing out in the sun after a freezing swim.

We camped in a tent for some nights and took a hostel or cheap hotel on others. The nights in the tent were long and brisk as we only had one sleeping bag having expected the weather to be warmer. Though this struggle enlivened us, hearing the first call to prayer and knowing we would soon be warm was incredible.

Compared to our the tent, the time that we spent in a hotel in Fetiye were cushy. The room was comfortable, breakfast was çok nefis, and for 25tl each (about 12$) per night it was a welcome respite from camping.

Mornings are most beautiful after a night in a tent.
Hiking up one of Bodrum's hills.
The view from the top was amazing.
Our version of packing light.
This is not Sasha, this is Karabaş who watched over us all night.

During the day the sun was warm and we enjoyed time at the beach, shocking ourselves with the cold water. One day we met a dog named Sasha. We fed her salami and played with her in the water.
All of the geography was beautiful. When we were hitch hiking we saw lots of rolling green hills, orchards of olive trees, mountains. The water was a clear sapphire blue and had an saturation that almost seemed unnatural. This beautiful landscape was best seen from the air.

Bodrum's beaches were deserted.
Oh how Banu loves hitch hiking. Wee!
Almost there...
Ooooh, BEWARE!

With the exception of kite surfing I've never done any extreme sports so jumping off of a mountain with a parachute was new for me. Despite being famous for paragliding, when we arrived at Öludeniz I wasn't sure if I wanted to go paragliding or not. It was a cloudy day and I was a little put off by the price of 150tl (about $90). I also felt like I shouldn't need this sort of rush to feel alive. Banu said it was going to rain while I insisted the weather would improve, secretly hoping to paraglide. Sure enough in the late afternoon the sun broke through the clouds. Taking this as a sign we quickly went to the nearest place. Since the tops of the mountains were still smothered with clouds the instructor recommended we jump tomorrow morning.

Banu enjoying the water.
This is Sasha. She loved the water.

Shortly after 11AM the next day we found ourselves in a van winding its way up a dusty mountain road packed with us and a disproportionate number of instructors, all very interested in Banu. The mountain took about 40 minutes for the van to climb. It was incredibly high–most of their fee probably pays for gas. Snow crowned its top.

I'm still confused how there's snow up here even in the spring.
Ok... jump!
Those who paraglide together stay together.
The camera has no way of expressing how far down it was.

At first I didn't feel too nervous because we were jumping tandem, meaning we were strapped to certified pilots. But when my pilot told me "When we take off don't stop running" I got excited. In order to take off you run with your instructor towards the edge of the mountain, doing so fills the chute with air and after a few steps you become airborne. While this was the theory, some people came pretty close to scraping their butts on the ground while taking off. Also the big crack in my instructor's helmet didn't instill me with great confidence.

Oh yeah I feel safe with you. Look at your helmet!
The moment of truth for Banu.
There were many other people enjoying the skies.

"She's a good runner" my pilot told me as Banu lifted into the air. After some waiting it was our turn and we began running. It only took a few steps before the chute lifted us up and we were flying.
Floating is a unique sensation. Seeing the ground so far below and not being inside anything was remarkable. Sort of like the difference between riding a motorcycle opposed to driving a car, only 6,000 feet high. It was perfectly smooth and the air rushing over my skin created an odd dichotomy of relaxation and tension. After a period I relaxed completely so we did some aerobatics which negated that.

The mountain we jumped off of.
Öludeniz is best seen from the air.
Paragliding–more expensive than hair gel.
We jumped off the top of this and survived!
Almost time to land.

Seeing the geography from different elevations was interesting. At first we could see far, even past Fetiye where our hotel was (a 40 minute drive). As we got lower and lower more details were visible in the ground and soon we were floating over the building tops of the town. Landing was exciting and thanks to the skill of my instructor, easy. Banu was already on the ground and we swapped stories. It was worth every Turkish penny. That night when I closed my eyes I got the sensation of floating.

Needed to relax after that!
A beautiful end to a beautiful day.
These dudes bought us drinks AND chocolate!
Free hotel, compliments of Banu's charm.
Too bad we didn't get this ride.
Our last driver was our favorite. Don't mess.
Turk hitchin.

From hitch hiking to paragliding I had an incredible time with Banu on our spring break adventure and wouldn't rather travel with anyone else.

Returning to Istanbul I felt like I was coming home. Whenever I have experienced this feeling while traveling it has always felt strange and enjoyable.

Okumak için teşekkürler. Güle güle!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 21: I-Stay-Bul

Entering my third week in Istanbul I feel myself changing. I was blown here by the excited winds of tourism, overwhelmed by a strange land. While adjusting to my new surroundings I've been considering my life and what I'm doing with it and the use of my return ticket is becoming less and less appealing.

The Blue Mosque, seen from the apartment of someone found on Freecycle.

Returning to the States after my backpacking trip was a wonderful feeling. I was homesick and returning to my family and friends who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. I was also immediately swept up in a promising new job so I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn, started renting it, and I felt satisfied.

Everything changed on January 29th. Simultaneously Banu arrived from France and my landlord called and warned me to stop having guests. Since my job hadn't blossomed as I hoped I couldn't afford the rent without renting, staying in NYC suddenly soured, and I soon found myself back living at home trying to figure out how introduce Lola to Ginger.

The floor of Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom).
Apparently the light in this mosque is legendary.
I bet no other mosque in the world has imagery this diverse.

Now that I'm in Istanbul, looking at my life from across the Atlantic has given me new vision.

If I return home at the end of this month I will be living with Dad and will need to find some sort of job to support myself. I feel cautious of getting a design job because I want to be location independent.

I've been saying "I want to be location independent" ever since I returned from Europe. Only now I'm realizing what good is being location independent if I'm not traveling?

As I am young, have healthcare until I'm 26, and have no location-anchored responsibilities, I see this as a prime opportunity.

Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Too bad they weren't still gas.
A lifetime's worth of ornaments on the ceiling.
Inside the dome.
Everything ornate.

If I stay here in Istanbul I have not only the opportunity to experience a new country and culture but I can easily get a job teaching English while continuing freelance design work. To compound that, Turkey's favorable currency exchange rate and relatively cheap expenses allows me even more flexibility.

But I just see this as a first step. I'm getting my training wheels before I take off for real. My heart tells me that I would like to live like this for the next few years. Istanbul is a great sandbox because it's foreign for me but I have Banu to rely on if I need help.

Ultimately I'm realizing that I can take what I will learn while living here and apply it to living many other places.

Galata tower seen from the Bosphorus bridge.
People fishing for fun or for dinner.
The epitome of Turkish humor–mashed potato sculpture

But everyone isn't as excited about this idea as I am. Understandably both of my parents were surprised when I shared my new intentions and expressed their concerns–thankfully mixed with their support.

Nearly all of my relatives are concerned for my safety. Given their degree of knowledge of Turkish culture, what they see about Muslims on the news, and rising tensions between Iran and Israel, I understand their anxiety. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by people who care for me and support me even though they wouldn't want to be in the same situation. I will take some precautionary measures, like getting in touch with the US embassy and staying in closer contact. Additionally I hope that my blog serves as a window into my life and Turkish culture.

In addition to concerns for my safety, Dad thinks I'm running away from responsibility. To some degree he is correct, though I would phrase it as "meandering away from the rat race." Ultimately I see no need to rush into a career where I will likely work the rest of my life without experiencing the world first. I'm 23 and carefree but that doesn't mean that I'm shying away from responsibilities–I just don't to be controlled by them.

I think I have the best parents in the world. Just remember, it's your fault I am this way.

Salespeople at Banu's sister's local market asked me to take their photo.
They must have felt satisfied by their produce.
Basket rides 20TL.

Overall I am feeling safe, relaxed, and open to this new experience.

Good news for today is that Banu and I found an apartment and we're moving in tomorrow.

I suppose that means I will be updating again soon.

Güle güle!

PS: Rather than update you on my Turkish vocabulary, I've started free lessons at Live Mocha.
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