Monday, February 03, 2014

a day like no other

This day! It had everything: a hike, a crazy ambulance ride, hospital visits (two hospitals!), sunshine, kindness -- so much kindness, and finally a gorgeous sunset, and dinner for me, on a tray, at home.

So which do you want to hear first?

I vote for chronology.

We go down to breakfast.  The hotel kitty loves my untied shoelaces.

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We eat in the lovely dining room of the Fresco hotel, where sunshine streams in and gives such warmth to the meal that for a minute, we forget that it is only in the twenties outside.

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We have this last day here, in the central Anatolian region of Turkey. A region where people move slowly and have no harsh words to offer, especially not to strangers, and especially not to foreigners. I am nostalgic, that's for sure. If Ed is staying away from travel for a while, then this is it! Our last fling! So yes, I want a lot from this day!

The plan is to take a bus and have the driver spit us out at the entrance to the Zemi Valley. After a hike (3 hours? 4 hours?), we'll call Mustafa to take us in his cab to the underground cities of Kaymakli. And then home!

It's a glorious day to be outdoors! The sun is even brighter, the skies are bluer than blue!

We walk to the bus stop in our village. There's a whole 'nother world down here! Commerce, movement, village people going about the business of getting the week off to a good start...

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(carrying things: on your back)

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(carrying things: on your head)

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(hurrying to the store)

I tell Ed -- I have to come down here to explore this side of town. Maybe after we get back this afternoon. Ha! Little did I know then!

The bus driver, with the assistance of a few passengers, finds the spot where we are to locate the trail.

Uff! This one will pose challenges! Off we go!

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This is a longer trail than the one we took yesterday, but in retrospect, I'd say it's more uniform in what it offers. Yes, the same stunning cliffs, candlesticks, caves.

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Yes, made more brilliant against a blue sky. But less varied. Stunning, but more consistent in the presentation.

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It is colder this morning and when we dip low into the narrow ravine, there is plenty of ice covering the trickling streams of water. But, we're in good spirits. The hike of all hikes. The last day of what I love so much about traveling with Ed -- the exploring of pockets of the world that are quieter, more isolated and therefore, in my eyes -- so stunningly beautiful.

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(a narrow passage)

We're about an hour into our hike. We hear dogs barking up ahead. What's that all about? Is someone with them? Dogs barking in Turkey is part of the scenery. Dogs roam village streets and even city streets -- Istanbul has them, every town has them. They ignore you,  you ignore them. Datca had them, Akyaka had them, Bodrum had them. Ho hum.

But these dogs are on this narrow trail just ahead of us and they are barking up a storm. They're not village hounds. They're in a pack. And they're getting closer.

I always take the lead on our hikes. That's an Ed sweetness: he knows I want photos, unobstructed photos. I set the pace, too. So I walk in front. And I am in the lead now.

But as five angry, barking, gnarling dogs hurl themselves at us, he pushes me back and jumps to the front. And he does the right thing: he stays calm. He doesn't try to overpower them. He's steady. But they will have none of it. And as they lunge at him, barking, showing rows of ferocious canine teeth, he and I retreat off the path, to give them space, yes, give them space!  But they're a pack of hounds out for a joyride and they wont leave us alone and I scamper into the bushes and Ed takes the bite from one of them for the both of us. And then, gnarling, barking, they move on. In the direction from which we came.

I ask Ed if he is hurt. At first he says no -- that they didn't even tear his jeans. I'm relieved. But also in no mood to continue the hike. But what to do? We can't retreat. We'd be heading right in the direction where the pack ran. Go forward? No! If they come back, we're in their path!

 We take the risk of going off trail. There is a wider offshoot that looks like it may be a road heading up toward civilization. I tell Ed -- let's get back on the main road and hitch a ride. I'm done with hiking. One good reason to get out of that valley is that we know the pack of dogs is still there. The second time may be an even bigger struggle than the first.

So we climb up this random path and hope for the best. I carry a heavy stick now. Ed picks one up as well.

And here, we encounter three hikers. Native Cappadocians! We ask directions to the main road. I explain that we'd been attacked by dogs. They're surprised. For the rest of the day, anyone who hears our story is surprised. It's rare, really rare to have wild dogs roam the valleys here.

In fact, it would be ruinous to the tourist industry to have people resist coming here to hike the trails, explore the region because of fear.  Our hotel proprietor said that when the press started writing about the political protests in Istanbul last month, she received many cancellations from prospective travelers. We hear Turkey is dangerous now!  -- was a common refrain. She shook her head sadly when she told us this: it has nothing to do with our region! Still, people suddenly saw us as part of the Arab Spring and they were scared. Then, philosophically, she added -- I suppose I would be afraid to travel to Teheran, not knowing what it's really like there.

Our new hiker friends -- three burly men -- tell us they're going down in the valley along the trail and if we want to hike with them, we could band together. They hike here often. The one who speaks some English tells me -- each time, we find something even more beautiful here!

There's safety in numbers. They equip themselves with hefty sticks and we go back on the trail. I feel five of us, four rather large and muscular, one -- well, that's me, a little bit less so, but still, we are five. I am not afraid!

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It is a wonderful half hour that we spend with the three guys from Cappadocia. I'll never forget it. They show us hidden gardens where grandfathers of cousins once grew fruit trees and grape vines.

They explain the path system, teaching us to ignore the offshoots leading up, to concentrate on the path leading further down into the ravine. And they share their delight in finding berries that their people pick for jams. And mushrooms, growing wild, to be brought home to the mushroom expert who will evaluate them for safety.

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But at one point, as we wait for them to return from a mushroom hunt, I ask Ed if his leg was really clean after the attack. He rolls up his jeans and I see the bloody, messy red lines and the teeth marks. I tell him -- you need to see a doctor.

He resists. He's Ed. Ed doesn't see doctors. Ed is never sick enough, never injured enough. I tell him -- you don't have to follow the advice, but I know from my trip to Ghana (we were well instructed in this), with wild dog bites, you can't wait until you get home: time is of essence.

We leave our hiking companions to their mushroom hunt and pick up the pace a bit. They tell us that they will be close at our heels and that we need only shout if we run into trouble.

The trail is by no means easy. My tail bone is protesting heavily as we scale and descend  the boulders.

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But never for a moment do we neglect to appreciate the beauty of the valley.

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Not for a moment.

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We come to the main road and I use the nifty cell phone provided by our hotel proprietors to call them now (it's a father and daughter team and man oh man, if there are nicer people on the planet, then I don't know them). I explain what happened. She will contact the doctor at the Nevsehir hospital.

The hospital sends an ambulance. Ed is mortified. A tour bus full of Germans had paused along the road for a photo-shoot and bathroom break. They gather around the ambulance eager to see the drama. I swear, had I not been there, he may have ran away from it all.

But the ambulance people are no nonsense types. They push him to the back of the van, work on his leg, and we all speed, and I mean really speed to the Nevsehir hospital. 

And now we get a sense of health care delivery elsewhere. I'm not going to go into much detail. It's different. It's less structured. It's a million times less expensive. Did I say this? It's different.

Ed has a team of nurses, translators, an ER doctor who then feels she needs to consult with an internal medicine specialist. All that in this small hospital in the middle of the Anatolian plane, far far from the urban chaos of Ankara or Istanbul. I've been in many hospital emergency rooms in my life, on both sides of the ocean and I have never seen such calm in any of them. A family comes in, their infant gets a shot, an older woman has her bandage changed. They come, they leave. I hear no beeping noises of machines. Tea is delivered to the staff every now and then.

Our hotel proprietor drives over to Nevsehir with Ed's passport. And all docs agree -- Ed will need rabies shots. And we're so backward in our information about this that it sends chills down the spine: those terrible horrible rabies shots, right in the stomach, pain supreme! But, I tell him I'll hold his hand and it surely will be easier than childbirth.

There is much paper work to be done. An American has experienced a medical emergency. A pack of dogs was involved. Papers must be completed, forms must be signed. He becomes an international statistic. And it takes forever and I want to tell them all  -- look, one more minute and he's gonna walk out of here. I take on the job of keeping the various form filling staff people out of his hair, to answer all the questions and to fill in the details and soon enough we are being transported to yet another, bigger hospital where the injection will be performed.

After a huge number of additional forms are filled out. By hand.

So now let me tell you how unfortunate it is that we have all these archaic ideas about how complicated and painful rabies shots are -- because they are none of that. In the last two decades, they are simple, quick and a real no big deal. (Though he needs repeats every several days. So, to be continued in America. The medical staff seem a tad skeptical about this -- like, are you sure you can take care of it there? Well alright then... )

After all this is behind us, Gamze, the daughter in the father-daughter hotel team, suggests we do some fun stuff. She tells us -- I'm free from the desk for the rest of the day, let's go and explore!

How wonderfully kind she is to us! We go with her to the castle in the village of Uchisar.

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From the summit, Ed and I watch the sun dip below the hills of Cappadocia and I think -- how lucky, how incredibly lucky we are to have had this trip!

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(once an active volcano, now a beautiful snow-covered summit)

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(day is done, gone the sun...)

Gamze asks -- should we go to another good viewpoint? Or a potters town? Your choice!
A potters' town! And so we drive to Avanos. The pottery capital of the region. It's a beautiful place, twinkling away now in the early evening. And a shopper's paradise. Gamze keeps telling me, just look. You're not here to buy. But this is not possible. The stuff is so beautiful! I ask her to take me to her favorite shop. She looks for it -- he has moved... Ah, this is it. My husband's friend works here. You'll like him. He'll show you the different things they make in the region.

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I am mesmerized. We drink apple tea and I ask questions about the uses of the various clay pots and jugs. I do purchase something, but not much. A small bowl or two, a flask... Just to remember. Because I really want to remember this part of the day -- the end to our travels, so beautifully culminating in friendship and good will.

As I wait for my one or two small purchases to be wrapped, a potter at the shop shows us how he makes the traditional tear jugs: ones that catch the tears of women who wait for their men to come home from war.

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As I admire the hand painted designs, Gamze says -- these designs are very true to the region! Our teacher at school made us learn them!

On the ride home we talk about what it's like to go to school here. Gamze, in her non-hotel time, is a math teacher. Her husband is getting his Ph D in Ankara in industrial engineering. But their home is here now. In Cappadocia, where it's quiet. Where people offer apple tea anywhere you go. Just because it is the way life moves forward.

I eat supper on a tray brought up to our room from the kitchen of the hotel.  No, I'll never forget this day.