Friday, July 2, 2010

Olympos to Antalya to Istanbul to London to Boston to Newton (Turkey, England, USA)


Sorry this post is so delayed, I’ve been busy readjusting to Eastern Standard Time. Over the past few days I’ve been talking to a lot of friends about this trip and what it’s like to travel alone, and it made me think about the ending of my trip. In Olympos I hung out with a group of Aussies, Kiwis, and a Canadian—and I really do mean “hung out.” Other than the beach and a few ruins, there is absolutely nothing to do in Olympos except chill. And chill we did. In the dorms, in the communal lounge areas, at the hostel’s buffet breakfast and dinner, on the beach, on the way to the beach, on the way back to the beach, and at the occasional odd meal we had here or there, the goal was always to chill. Doing nothing was considered an accomplishment, an art form, and we really sought to perfect it. I had wanted to end my trip on a relaxed, reflective note, and while I had originally wanted to go to Kabak, a tiny seaside village to which you must walk in order to access, Olympos ended up being at least as rejuvenating. The first night I arrived, I was exhausted and went to bed early and slept in. I got ready to go to the beach after the first shower in what felt like at least a week, but was actually just two extremely hot, wearisome, sleepless days, and thought I might meet up with some of these Australian and Kiwi friends there. I found a shady spot under a cliff and lay down there, beginning to understand that Olympos ideal of doing nothing. After a while an older guy sat down next to me and started talking. Not entirely comfortable with the conversation, I asked him where to get lunch around there and then picked up my stuff to go. At this point he decided it would be a good idea to accompany me. This is the part of traveling that is a little complicated: we were on a public beach with few options for lunch, so how can you tell somebody to get lost when there is literally nowhere to get lost to? Needless to say, I ate quickly and then left in search of the others from my hostel. At this point, Bianca, Ange, John, and Tom were together on the beach, and I threw down my towel next to theirs’. Bianca and Ange were from Australia, though they didn’t know each other there, and John and Tom were from New Zealand. They kept making fun of each other’s accents, which was a bit confusing for me because honestly, other than a few distinguishing words, they all sounded about the same to me. The only marked difference was the Kiwis’ use of the word “choice,” to mean something along the lines of awesome. Luckily they did not set in on my American accent, but at one point the Canadian guy who joined us (who had been traveling with Tom for a while) and I “politely” discussed the more entertaining aspects of Canadian English. For a while we stayed there, on the beach, but thunderclouds rolled in and we soon sought refuge back at the hostel. There, Ange read aloud horrifying facts from her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver about American beef production and chicken farms. Two other Australian girls were arguing about the tradeoffs between having cash to spare and spending money on unique experiences while traveling. They were going back and forth for a really long time, to the point where it seemed likely that they would miss out on cool experiences just because of the argument. I think there is a certain point where you have to draw the line and stop arguing. While we listened we ordered $3 chocolate/banana gozleme, or Turkish pancakes, similar to crepes but tougher and chewier. They came with a side of cucumbers and tomatoes, like every other dish, sweet or savory, we ate there. We went back to the beach that afternoon, and as we waited for dinner back at the hostel that evening we watched the hostel staff scramble to keep seat cushions and tablecloths dry as the storm finally hit in earnest. That night some Dutch and German guys joined us, and we all discussed traveling in the region, where we’d been, where we were at in our lives. I told them about Minga ( the organization I founded when I was fourteen to help end the child sex trade. They were all graduated from college and most had worked for at least a couple years (John was a practicing junior doctor in New Zealand). I think the fact that we came from a variety of life-stages, jobs, backgrounds, countries and families was much more interesting than if they had all been my age, and it enriched our discussions. I learned a lot during this trip just from talking to other backpackers in addition to all of my own individual experiences.

The next day I lounged around the hostel and the beach after checking out, since I had to head back to Antalya that night to catch a bus back to Istanbul. In about the last five minutes before I headed out to catch a minibus up to the main road, I looked around at my new friends, including one girl from Australia named Emily who Bianca picked up as she walked to the beach, and realized that all seven of us set out on our respective trips as solo travelers, and yet none of us were actually traveling alone. It was a really cool feeling. The myth of the backpacker’s community web was doubly confirmed as I looked up, about to leave, and saw a few of the Canadian boys I had met in Cappadocia. They had run into my two English friends in Antalya earlier that day. It was this type of experience, meeting all these people, that helped assure me that next year’s trip won’t be lonely. It’s likely that I’ll meet some pretty incredible people next year, and I’m now really looking forward to it!

The hostel staff told me not to worry about a bus ticket, even though I explained my difficulty with getting a bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia when I tried to get a ticket the day of. I should have trusted my gut instincts with that one, because by the time I got to the bus station in Antalya, every single bus company (there were about thirty) had sold out of tickets to Istanbul that night. A bus station worker was very helpful and showed me around, helping ask about tickets. Eventually, he seemed to be negotiating some sort of under the table deal, and as it turned out, he more or less was. He managed to get me the 47th ticket on a 46-seat bus. This meant that for five hours, until nearly two in the morning, I sat on the fold-down seat next to the driver. In addition to the discomfort involved in having no floor to put my feet on (I was sitting over the stairs out of the bus), I also had to get off the bus in order for anybody else to get off the bus, which meant that every time the bus stopped I had to be awake and moving. And this was Turkey. The bus stops about every half hour, to get gas, for bathroom breaks, for snacks, from random 1am meal stops, for cigarette breaks, etc. The novelty of this particular adventure was wearing off when a seat became available, and for the rest of the bus ride, I slept.

I woke up the next morning in Istanbul to a beautiful day. Arriving back at my old Istanbul hostel felt a bit like returning home. I was sad to be leaving Turkey, and enjoyed my last day by going back to the Istanbul Modern art museum’s extraordinary air conditioning, eating 5 eggs throughout the course of the day, eating more chestnuts, visiting all my favorite bookstores and then spending too much time on my computer, and going to sleep too late. The hostel owner practically forced me to write a good review of his hostel, which made me want to write a less-than-stunning review, but since I knew he could find out who wrote what, I stuck with a basic, complimentary description. I had almost perfectly worked out how much Turkish money I needed, but I was off by less than two dollars (tram fare for the next morning) so I had to break some of my American cash.

Waiting for the tram the next morning at 5:45am, I saw two Canadian backpackers with suitcases, seemingly headed to the airport. As it turned out they were actually on my flight… but anyways, I realized that I did not want to talk to my fellow travellers, for the first time that trip. And I realized that this was because I was preparing for having to balance so many relationships back home when I arrived there later that same day. Seeing the difference—that when I was home I had to avoid overspending my energy on strangers, but traveling I could afford to make new friends—made me even more excited to get back on the road in the fall.

My flight to Heathrow was pretty uneventful, but when I got there, I had five hours to spend. It went by pretty quickly—I was in the terminal with wagamama, I think that’s terminal 5—and I had to continually remind myself that I should not be buying anything (shoes) that I would not take with me traveling next year. Repeating that to myself is actually quite effective and has probably saved me several hundred dollars over the past few months. I bought two travel books to help me plan my trip next year, and spent a lot of time in Boots, which is like CVS but British and therefore infinitely better. I boarded my flight and headed home, and by the time my head hit my own pillow, it was 24 hours since I had last slept.

I may post in the next couple months about planning my trip next year but if not, check back at the end of August/beginning of September for my first trip update. I’m super excited!