Yesterday was a day of familiar and friendly faces, even in a foreign land. Cam, Rachel, Adam, and Joel were all on our bus today, as were Keith and Sandra, an Australian couple staying in our hotel. We all signed up for the tour to Pamukkale and Hieropolis, just as we had gone to Ephesus together the day before, so we were looking forward to seeing one another. The biggest contingent of the rest of the people on our bus was made up of three generations of an Indian family with whom we had shared a boat ride on our tour along the Bosphorus in Istanbul a couple of days ago. We recognized each other as well. Here, in a country foreign to us all, we, who came from four different countries, traveled as companions. By the end of the trip, we knew we would all be headed in different directions. But we were together for the day.
Hieropolis and Pamukkale are a three hour drive from Selcuk, so we had plenty of time to talk, read, and sleep a little, too. We wound through the Anatolian countryside, through the heart of the agricultural area, past olive trees, citrus groves, and strawberry fields. Turkey is still a land of family farmers, rather than giant corporate farms. As we drove, Aysha (who was also with us yesterday) filled out heads with historical, geographical, and cultural information. We also stopped for tea along the way, of course.
Our first stop was the largest necropolis – “city of the dead” or cemetery – in Turkey. Only a small portion of it has been excavated; much of it has been broken and looted by shepherds in the area over the years. The graves stood as markers to more than the people who had been buried there. They were scattered across what is now a beautiful hillside, stones that have lasted far longer than the people who stacked them. Though there are some inscriptions in ancient Greek and Latin, most of the graves are anonymous monuments, pointing to little more than the fact that a dead person was laid to rest there. In the cracks of the stones, life is breaking through in the form of wild flowers and lush green grass. The cemetery next to our church in Marshfield tells the same story with newer graves that still bear the names. If life is a sentence, these stones are the final punctuation.
We moved on up the hill to Hieropolis where the stones were stacked a bit differently. The path up to the arena let us enter at the top of it, which gave us an incredible view of the valley below. Farther up the path stood two walls that were all that was left of a church built to honor Phillip, one of the disciples, who was said to have been martyred on that hill. From there we could see stacks of stones in various places all down the mountainside that have yet to tell their stories; only three percent of the site has been excavated.
Back down near where we got off the bus was a thermal pool, fed by the hot springs in the area, that the citizens of Hieropolis even used. Cleopatra was said to have swum in the pool; we didn’t because they wanted fifteen dollars for the privilege. Even though it was raining lightly – it rained all day, we walked farther down to the terraces for which Parmukkale is famous. We didn’t come all this way to miss the sights because we didn’t want to get wet. As the hot water cascaded down the hillside and evaporated over the years, it left calcium deposits that created terraces and pools. Most of them are dry because of earlier mismanagement by the Turkish tourism industry, but the ones that are left are incredible. It’s a landscape unlike any other I have seen.
Adam and Joel headed down the hill into the village to catch the bus to take them on the next leg of their journey before we got to tell them goodbye. I was sad about that. We dropped Cam and Rachel off in the town of Pamukkale where they are going to hang out for a few days – and got to wish them well — and then we started back to Selcuk. In conversations around the terraces, we talked with the Indian family about our mutual connection to Kenya. Keith, Sandra, and I talked most of the way home about all sorts of things. We said goodbye to Aysha when we got to our hotel, went up to the room to change into some dry clothes, and then went back down for dinner.
I haven’t gotten to talk about food as much as I would like so far. (I’m afraid you’ll have to wait on recipes until I get home.) The food here at the Hotel Kalehan is worth talking about. So is our server, Mehmet. He has waited on us both nights and he has been great, especially because of his knowledge of what’s on the plate and how it has been prepared. He is a gentle and kind man who is thoughtful and unassuming and full of knowledge and conversation. He has also been willing to endure my questions about everything he has brought to our table. Last night the menu was vegetable soup, cheese rolls, beef with eggplant puree, and chocolate cake with ice cream (all for $16). With every course I made some sort of inquiry and he answered everything.
I need to back up a step. The first thing that has greeted us each night is fresh bread with a side of herbed olive oil. Aysha told us this is the olive oil producing region of Turkey, so we expected the oil to be good, but the stuff last night was amazing. We asked Mehmet and found out that he is an olive grower and presses the oil the hotel uses himself. (Needless to say, some of it is coming home with us.) He told us his family has grown olives for years, but he just bought an olive farm – 220 trees – and is now doing it himself. He went on to tell of the restaurant’s commitment to buy only fresh organic produce (you should taste the tomatoes) and make everything fresh everyday. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen here in Selcuk, but I’m going to tell you to come here mostly to have dinner.
When we got up from the table, Mehmet asked, “Are you here tomorrow night?”
Yes was our answer. We will be the last of our impromptu band to leave this little town for our next adventure. But we have one more night for one more great dinner, for a couple of hundred questions about Turkish food, and for one last encounter with a friendly face who has made our meals richer by being there.