Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bulgaria: Day 1

Riding a bear in a communist era park full of scultptures in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Since we left our trek early, we decided to go on a mostly unplanned trip to Bulgaria and Greece. Armed with several Lonely Planet travel guides, we jumped on the 10 pm night train from Istanbul to Plovdiv, Bulgaria - it's second largest city. We passed the night asleep in a bunk cabin with only a 2 hour stop at the borders at 3 am, which was largely unremarkable (no smugglers or drugs this time).

We got to Plovdiv around 8 in the morning, and set off for the bus station. Well - Plovdiv has three bus stations, and I guess I was a little tired when I was reading about them because we ended up wandering around for two hours looking for bus stations. We passed the one we unknowingly wanted in our first 10 minutes, and spent the rest of the two hours criss-crossing rail road tracks and back-tracking.

We finally managed to buy bus tickets to Bansko, a Bulgarian town about 3 hours away nestled at the base of a ski resort. After a few hours wandering around old Plovdiv checking out more Roman ruins and things left over from the Soviets, we jumped on our bus and went to Bansko - a largely unremarkable town with a fair bit of air pollution.

Traditional Bulgarian dinner, Bansko, Bulgaria


Bryan setting up top rope on a VIII (~5.12)

We got together with some friends, and set off to go rock climbing in a canyon about an hour from Istanbul. We managed to pick the only day in months when the weather decided to feel wintry. During the drive there and the approach, it snowed. The rock was relatively dry enough to still climb, but you still had to go as quickly as you could because after only a few minutes your hands would be so cold you couldn't feel anything past the palms. We still had a good time!

Ralf, of Germany, on our snowy hike up to the rocks

Trek: Day 4

Bryan riding in style.

Some of our tractor bed buddies who got a kick out of me trying to take pictures of everything tractoring down the rocky road to town.

The woman on the left of the driver was the mother who so graciously let us into her home and rescued us from our misery.

The view from the tractor of Karacaoren Lake

So, after we put bake on our wet coats and boots, we followed the gesturing mother back down the road in - to see at the end two tractors, a motorcycle, and at least a dozen people. We climbed into the trailer behind one tractor (Turk Fiat!) with several older men of the village, who had looks on their faces like we were the funkiest thing they'd seen in a while. With great smiles, we set off down the muddy road in the luxury of the rumbling tractor with no idea where we were going or what was really going on. It was great! We crawled on slowly for a while until we came to what we figured was the rest of the village - where we stopped, and after several minutes of good hearted yelling back and forth, even more people piled into the bed behind the tractor - one woman settling herself onto one of our packs and grabbing onto the back of my jacket, cackling, smiling, and talking to me non-stop. I couldn't understand a word - which didn't seem to bother her or slow her down in the least.

We drove all 10 k down to the town this way, with a gorgeous view of the mountains and a lake the whole way until our driver finally pulled into town around noon. After being delivered in style, we asked if there was a bus that day to any of the nearby larger towns. He thought there was a bus to Isparta at 2, leaving from the fish house. So - not having any idea where the fish house was - we wandered off into the huge metropolis of Çandır (maybe pop. 3,000?).

We found the fish house a little way out of town. It turned out to be a fish farm, with a restaurant and things everywhere. We finally found someone to ask about the bus. He told us there was no bus that day, to anywhere, they all left early the next morning. Right then, however, a man came to the doorway behind us and said he was going to Egirdir, the smaller of the nearby large towns, and that he could take us. He said he was leaving "5... 6... 7... 8...." from the fish house.

Hannah sitting outside the fish farm restaurant on some magnificent pleather furniture.

We ended up sitting in the restaurant drinking tea and playing cribbage for the next 6 hours. At 7, the man (he turned out to be a restaurant owner in Egirdir, who just happened to be in town getting supplies for his restaurant with two open seats in his truck - sweet!) walked in and after packing the back of his truck with crates of fish and bags of cabbage - we set off. It was maybe the most uncomfortable hour long drive we'd ever had. He took the hairpin mountain road turns at maximum speed, wheels churning precariously close to where the dirt road dropped off into blackness.

Well chilled near the middle-end of our journey

At one point the tops off one of the crates of fish almost blew off. The first time we told him, he stopped his truck and fixed it, giving us a second to open the doors and escape for a moment the stifling Death-Valley-esque heat of the truck. The second time the lid just blew off and he didnt' bother to stop - so the open box of fish bounced all the rest of the way without a care. When we arrived at town, he dropped us off at the bus station where we picked the fish off our bags before hauling them out of the bed of the truck. Despite its uncomfort, however, we were still really grateful for the ride!

We walked straight into the bus office, and managed to get on a bus leaving for Istanbul in 20 minutes. After a bit of a mix up at the Isparta bus station, we managed to get back to Istanbul with all our bags almost exactly 24 hours after we began our trek bail out.

Trek: Night 3

The sunset before our 24 hour evac.

That day, we hiked on the trail for more than 8 hours with significant elevation gain, using the GPS and locals to continue on the right path. Around 5 pm, we stopped again for water on our snow covered mountain road. I accidentally left my hand-carved Turkish walking stick the goatherd gave me at the spring - so after hiking back to retrieve that and continuing on - we didn't get to the pass we were heading for until around 6:30 pm, so now the sun had almost completely set and we were both pretty tired.

The road we were hiking on was a 3 or 4 meter wide swath clinging to the side of a steep mountain ridge, with a serious drop off on one side and often precarious rocky cliffs and overhangs on the other. The guidbook said the road was often closed due to rock slides, but we found it difficult to believe that the road was ever open with all the huge boulders and major washouts. Because of where we were, however, our choice of campsites was very limited, so when we got to the pass between a jutting rock shoulder and the main ridge, we pulled off to the side of the road, pitched our tent in the dark, and dined by moonlight on yufka and olives.

Around 8 or 9 in the evening, the air that had been so calm during the day revved up and soon a pretty wicked wind was slamming into the ridge and rushing with gale force by our tent (Hannah, thanks to her amazingly warm sleeping bag and position in the middle of the tent, was asleep for this bit).

The barometer reading on the GPS started to drop - and just kept dropping the next few hours until the power of the wind finally managed to wake Hannah up. We kept vigil for the next few hours until almost 3 am - when we decided to lie down again and maybe try to sleep since Bryan's amazing new tent seemed to be holding it's own (even though it was only designed for up to 45 mph winds... and the winds that were gusting past us definitely blew at atleast 60 mph). By 4:30 or 5 am small raindrops began to fall, wicked clouds had lowered over the peaks and the pressure was still dropping. When the lightening and thunder started around 5:30, at Bryan's command we executed a pitch-black pack up of camp. It took both of us to disassemble the tent: one person to pack it up and one person to hold onto everything so it didn't blow away.

We were both dressed in multiple layers - most of the clothes that we had were on, including multiple rain shells. We started hiking out just as the rain really started to fall, lashing is visible sheets. I've never had the sensation of being cold and wet from rain falling on the backs of my knees, but that morning the rain managed to get everywhere (though thanks to Bryan's obsessive use of Ziploc bags, nothing really sustained any water damage.

Thankfully, we only had one other pass to cross and then it was an all downhill walk to the small town of Çandır we were headed for - down the forest road we thought we saw on the map, having abandonded the trail at this point in favor of speed getting out of the mountains (besides, we couldn't have seen the marks in the snow).

We hiked through the icy snow on the road for almost an hour before we reached the next pass. By this point, the rains had become torrential and mixed with sleet and hail and every part of us was soaked. It was not quite cold enough to be snow, but only because I think the wind was blowing so hard it didn't have time to freeze completely. Masochistically, I wanted to try to capture a picture of the crazy storm at the pass but the camera got wet and frozen when we tried to take a picture.

We continued hiking for another two hours, literally slogging through snow until we lost enough elevation it became mud. Our boots became completely waterlogged as we hiked on, by now in the murky gray daylight. Finally exhausted by trying to poke fun at our situation through weather reports, "Today's forecast: the weather today will start clear, slowly moving into a torrential downpour quickly changing to a weather pattern we like to refer to as 'completely insane.'" The wind had unfortunately not slackened as we hiked down into a canyon and it was so strong at this point we had to fight to even take steps in the generally right direction. At this point we decided our status was officially the definition of 'absolutely miserable.'

After about three hours of this, we walked into a group of houses - a village we later learned was named Yıldız. Bryan suggested we stop and ask for directions at least, but I was feeling so tired, cold, hungry, wet and all around miserable I didn't even want to stop or even attempt to speak Turkish. We walked all the way through town until we got to a fork in the road at a cemetery.

Now, the road the map showed on it had no fork in it. We weren't sure what to do but didn't like the idea of standing around so we started walking down one path. After a bit we decided to pull out the GPS. Standing under a bush, completely soaked, digging through a pile of soggy Ziplocs for the GPS there was a huge flash of lightening. We looked at each other, through our stuff in the backpack - and turned around and hiked back towards the houses.

At the first one we came to, we slogged up the driveway until we came to a group of buildings. Not sure which one might have people in it, and seeing no sign of life - we chose the one with a yamaha motorcycle parked under the side. We wadded past chickens, and after about 5 minutes of discussion, "should we go up the stairs? should we not? Are they here?" I finally climbed up the outdoor staircase, yelled, "Help, please!" (in Turkish ... it's about all I could manage) and knocked on one of the doors.

The jaw of the man who opened the door dropped, but his wife, who was right behind him - pushed by, took one look at the crazily dressed, completely soaked foreigners on her porch and said, "GEL!" ushering us into their one room with only turkish carpets on the floor, an old TV, and a piping hot woodstove.

In a furry of activity, we were stripped of all our outside wet gear and huddled into the one room of this family, a father, mother, grandmother, and daughter without a lick of English. Bryan and I could do nothing but huddle by the wood stove for at least a half an hour, mumbling thank yous at frequent intervals.

At one point, the mom came in and took me away to another room, where she had me strip off the clothes I was wearing and put on a pair of too short mens pants and a flourescent pink overshirt. She and her daughter took one look at me, standing there dripping in clothes that didn't fit, not quite fitting into the low ceilinged room and burst out laughing. The mom then pulled a big skirt over my head and sent me back into the other room. Acting the gentleman, Bryan managed to hold in his laughter in front of the family.

After a bit more thawing, much to our amazement and delight, the family brought in a tray with loaded fresh eggs, yoghurt, cheese and walnuts and of course, tea. The mother then came in with a plastic container about the size of a laundry basket. She opened it up and it was chock full of ... MORE yufka! As we ate, overjoyed at the site of food and filled with gratitude for this family's amazing hospitality, we talked more with them, and found out the eggs were from their chickens (of course) and the milk and cheese from their cow, who lived in a room right under the one where we sat.

We also talked about where we were trying to get to. Much of their conversation was lost on me - but I managed to figure out they were talking about some kind of car, or tractor in the village that could take us out. I thought I told them it was okay, we could walk the last 10 k since the weather had cleared significantly at this point.

Apparently... something was lost in translation there...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Trek: Day 3

Around the highest elevation we reached the whole trek... hiking towards what was to be our last campsite.

Bryan on the terrace with another Oren family eating popcorn

We continued to walk through town, winding among various farm animals (I had to help Bryan get by the donkey) until we heard a call. Looking up, there was a woman on her 2nd floor porch calling to us, "Gel! Gel!" (come! come!). So we smiled, said okay, struggled out of our boots and packs and spent almost an hour sitting on the porch of the house built by the family with a breathtaking view of a mountain canyon. The grandmother spent the entire time we were there grinding corn on a stone mortar and pestle while one mother air popped popcorn over a wood fire.

When we finally left that family - the mother insisted on giving us the rest of the popcorn - as well as a bag of olives and ANOTHER bag of yufka! (needless to say - we ate a lot of yufka the next few days).

Two sons and their grandfather, who has lived in this town his entire life. His daughter gave us an entire bag full of yufka (a really thin long-life bread).

Due to a series of events during the first days of our trek, by the third day we had decided that unless we obtained more food, we would have to bail from the trek to find something to eat. The only problem with this is we were days worth of hiking away from the next place where we could buy food.

We finally arrived at the town of Oren around 2 in the afternoon (population: mmmmaybe 50). We walked into town and were greeted by this elderly Turk standing outside his home. During the course of our conversation, his daughter went into the house and came out with a bag full of yufka, and her little boys ran shyly up to us and gave it to us. In exchange for candy, they posed for Bryan's camera. They were so friendly!

Walking up one of the main public roads in Oren

A view hiking along towards the village of Ören (Haskızılören)

Bryan at a spring refilling our water bottles

Bryan with the family, our first "major cultural encounter"

We started hiking the next day - uphill, of course - and after a few hours we started hearing what sounded like cow bells. We finally figured out the sounds came from goats. The trail lead right through the mountainside pasture of a goatherd and his family who were up for a few weeks while the kids had some time from school off. They said they don't normally come up in the winter but the weather waas mild so they drove all 120 goats up the mountian from their village in the valley, so lucky for us, they were around!

The father and son were planting peach trees, and took time off to talk with us while the mum and sister made tea - and a whole delicious meal of vegetables from their garden (at this point we'd been eating nothing but noodles and rice for a few days so we were really, really happy to see the tomatoes and onions!). The whole time they were talking to us I could understand about half of what they were saying, but despite the language difference they were still super friendly and welcoming. We left that family in very high spirits.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Trek: Day 2

Bryan making dinner during sunset, night 2.

Bryan walking along a ridge through Belen (tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny village) made of old stone and wood houses and housing lots of goats and yappy dogs. We talked with one woman who lived there and was hacking down trees on our way in with a blunt machete. I think we were probably the strangest thing she'd seen in a long while.

A cow and mountains viewed from the mahalle of Belen. Bryan dubbed the area 'the Squamish of Turkey' after hiking for a few hours longer he changed his view, saying 'Squamish is the Southern Turkey of B.C.'

Bryan walking through another unnamed tiny village with lots of olive trees and goats.

I bought a new sleeping bag recently, and I was so happy to be warm and cozy down to 0 degrees Celsius (especially in the future).

A Roman cistern (a giant rock lined hole in the ground filled with fresh water)

Part of the trail was on an ancient piece of Roman road.

Day 2 we got up and set out - continuing to gain elevation steadily until we got to the ruins of an old Roman town, complete with walls, gates, arches and eventually to a huge old cistern. We were particularly glad to find the cistern because somewhere in the ruins we got lost and ended up bushwacking through manzanita on a scree slope to find it. This was the 2nd time we had to whip out our GPS after completely losing the waypoints.

The first time was about half an hour before this when the directions in the book said, "go along an olive grove until you turn left at the large tree." This was all well and good except there were at least half a dozen olive groves.

Day 2 was our most GPS intensive day - we had to whip it out a few more times before we finally stopped for the night 6 hours after we started hiking. We only went a few miles that day because of detours, getting lost, and lots of elevation gain; the weather was still clear though!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Trek: Day 1

Uçan 1 waterfall

In the beginning: dry, clean, and (almost) smelling good.

The first waymark! (over an hour in hiking)

After a short trip to Cappadoccia we finally were ready to hit the trail. We spent all night getting to Antalya on the bus (11 hours) to find that the bus we were supposed to catch didn't exist, so we traveled by taxi and a few dolmush to finally get dropped off in a guy's driveway.

Fortunately the driveway was within a couple kilometers of where we were actually supposed to be so we finally ended up in the right river valley and started hiking. After an hour of hiking we finally came across our first waymark. These red and white stripes would come to be our best friend for the next week. We appologize to anyone now if we happen to exclaim any time we find a similar looking mark of paint, it's hard to break habits.

We only hiked a few hours the first day, because a dog adopted us for the last hour of our hike so we had to hike back and tie him up so we wouldn't have a permanent new companion. His owners didn't seem like the friendliest bunch so after a quick retreat we discreetly camped away from the trail, but still within hearing distance of the shotguns.

The Trek: Prep

My living room pre-trek

Bryan came to visit, and since he was going to be here in Turkey for so long, we needed an activity that was cheap and would last a long time. This didn't happen in the end, but before we knew that we decided to take a long trek in the south of Turkey.

St Paul Trail was established and waymarked in 2004 and is one of the newest long distance trekking routes around. It's stretches about 500 kilometers from near Antalya and climbs through Turkey's lake district north following (roughly) the path of St Paul through ancient ruins and gaining over 2000 meters by the end.

We can't remember now who came up with the idea first, or where we got the idea from to go on this trek, but it looked interesting, not overly traffiked, through a beautiful area. So we bought the guide book, a new GPS (among other new gear), and started trying to figure out what the heck we were doing. Winter wasn't necessarily the most recommended time to go - but it was extra dry this year, and warm, so we decided to at least try for it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kapadokya Kısın or Cappadocia in Winter

On the top of the never ending hill, lounging in the mud after feasting on a leftover bread crust.

On the lookout for bicycle chasing dogs and speeding trucks

We wanted to visit the underground city of Derinkuyu. It's over 30 k away from where we were staying though, and it ended up being our best and cheapest transportation option to just rent bicycles. So we got bicycles, and a map which looked like it was drawn by the most talented 3rd grader at the local school. Anyway, needless to say, we ended up not lost, but definitely taking the long way around through an industrial center, the muddy streets of small villages, and along a rocky highway shoulder next to high velocity traffic. Also, despite biking in a circle, we always were biking uphill. We're not sure how that worked. Anyway - we didn't make it to the underground city, we did get a nice 20 k or so loop of some of rural central Turkey with only a few instances of attacking dogs and strange activites.

It's all mine! (Lucky us walking is free!)

There were many open graves around the old churches and dwellings of the museum. Most of them were empty, however some became temporarily occupied much to the amusement of Asian onlookers.

Overlooking a valley filled with the classic fairy chimneys of Kapadokya

We tried to take a passably decent photograph of the two of us ... this is about as close as we got.

This is just to show that it was cold when we were here - there was snow on the ground and temperatures stayed around freezing most of the time. The heat in our pansiyon was on though, which was handy, and many restaurants had wood stoves we sat next to while we ate, staying just far away enough to keep from completely melting our clothes off.

A two story church cut into the rock, complete with columns and painting and over 900 years old!

Bryan smiling it up in a window between underground rooms in the Göreme Outdoor Museum

Staring down an ancient wall in an 11th century underground church.

Bryan and I left Istanbul at 9 or 10 pm on the bus, and only 10 hours and a few 3 am stops later we arrived in Göreme, the backpacking capital of Kapadokya. Kapadokya is a region of Turkey famous for its strange rock formations referred to in English as fairy chimneys. The area was used as a hiding spot for Christians from persecution during the 11th to 13th centuries or so, and is filled with all their old dwellings, which were carved out of the rock. A few are even still used today by Turks still living here.

We finally found a pansiyon that was open (a lot closes down for the winter) and then we went exploring. We went to the outdoor museum, which has over a dozen churches carved into the rock and lots of other rooms and things, still in pretty good shape that you can wander around in. The next day we rented bicycles and did a small bicycle tour of the area.

Bryan had some photos a friend had given him that she had taken 12 years ago of a wedding party in Göreme. She had never managed to give the photos to the people they were of, so gave them to Bryan. We brought them with us, and in the course of our hour long conversation with the rental guy figured out that he knew some of the people in the photos, and so he delivered them to the family that was in them. Pretty cool!

More of Istanbul in January

We stopped in Ortaköy to grab some kumpir and a kiss on the docks.

We went bowling with Alex and his sister Mary. We finally found the bowling place, and it was the sketchiest looking entrance to a bowling alley we'd ever seen, but it opened up into a nice place. We were just a little skeptical at first of the creepy-back-alley entryway.

Peppers and tomatoes in a vegetable display at the morning market next to school that we frequented after my hideous environmental exam. It's on a tiny, winding cobblestone street with each side lined with vendors. A truck was trying to back up down the space between the stalls and got massively stuck and huge cabbages were escaping from the back of it and rolling down hill among the feet and legs on the hill.

Sunrise breaking over Asia and the Bosphorus as we walked up the hill on the way up to Etiler.