Istanbul, Turkey

Erin’s and my Kars visit was coming to an end.  Erin spent around five days in Sarikamis National Park with Ayse where they saw 23 bears hanging out in a garbage dump and one in the woods. Much of the rest of her time was spent organizing pictures from the motion-activated  cameras that KuzeyDoga volunteers had placed on popular pathways in the woods. I stayed around the project house finishing up  a kids’ book about the importance of preserving wildlife…and a simple brochure for adults explaining what KD is all about. They will both be illustrated and translated into Turkish.  My contribution to an important mission.

Our final field trip in Kars which began at 6 AM, was once again to try to find the wolf whose collar  had been sending signals that meant he was somewhere in the area. Our car receiver was quietly buzzing….but the major signal we were hoping for never came. We kept stopping on the tops of hills, getting out of the car, and holding up an antenna in all directions.  Nothing.

So we had a picnic breakfast in the woods, put up another camera, and continued to search for the wolf. We never found him. But we did see thousands of cattle, (sometimes walking down the road we were on…Emra kept honking, but no one told the cows what it meant and we often had to wait),  tons of sheep, and well-dressed herders with cell phones. This time of year there are also farmers cutting down the grasses and making huge piles of hay to be stored for the winter.  Some of the locals are riding in horse-drawn carriages that are pulling giant rakes. Reminded me of Amish country in Pennsylvania. Except these drivers were carrying cells.

Bee colonies also are all over the place. They live in boxes about two feet square and they collect pollen from the amazing and brilliantly colored wild flowers that fill the fields. Many of the bee keepers have hundreds of boxes filled with bees. In the course of the day we also see horses, donkeys, geese, ducks, dogs, cats, crows, magpies, and even a few turkeys!

There are also plastic bags and discarded water bottles all over the place.

We pass through dozens of villages with piles of cow dung packed in rectangular bricks and stacked, drying in the sun; the dung-bricks are used for fuel in the cold weather. Most of the houses are roofed with corrugated metal, often rusted, and some have dirt and grass growing on the roof for insulation.

When we flew out of Kars to Ankara, Erin and I both knew it had been an extraordinary five (me) and six (Erin) weeks in that cool, beautiful part of the country. We also knew and cared a lot more about the wildlife in northeastern Turkey.

Ankara, the capital of Turkey, was a totally different world:  fountains, statues, bars, crowds….not a cow in sight. Onder from Kars, who was in Ankara for a while, picked us up at the airport and took us around. Mostly we met the bars, restaurants, an upscale mall, some cafes…..and one excellent museum that had artifacts from all the many eras of Turkish history. We stayed with a friend of his who had an adorable one-year-old girl named Nar (the Turkish word for pomegranate), drank and ate with another friend, and flew out on day three. Ankara…a sophisticated, modern city that we skimmed and enjoyed.

The information that both Erin and I found most intriguing was the story of the street dogs. We’ve seen lots of stray dogs in the streets, in the parks, everywhere we’ve been; but we’ve never heard their story. Samiha, Onder’s friend and Nar’s mother, lives in a community of tall apartment houses. We noticed several dogs hanging out….no leashes, no apparent owners. They all had tags on their ears meaning that they were neutered and free of rabies. There were a few pots of water on the street for them. Kids playing ball in the street clearly knew and liked the dogs…and visa-versa. When we asked, we were told that the dogs are indeed free; they have no owners. There are seven of them on the street and they have all been government inspected; they get fed by the people who live there. In return, the dogs take care of the neighborhood. Thieves don’t dare invade the territory…..they know that the dogs protect their people. Love it!

We left Ankara by bus to go to Goreme in Cappadocia.  A three or four hour trip. As most of you know, I am not a very good tourist….and Cappadocia is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Turkey. But I couldn’t resist the lure. I’m not even going to try to describe the extraordinary volcanic rock formations. Check out the pictures of the “fairy chimneys.” Google it and look around. I’ve never seen anything like them before. One of our activities was to go into an underground city where Christians had hidden from the invading Romans. It was really a city where they lived.… underground!

And we did a balloon ride too…..OMG, what an experience. It began with a 4:30 AM snack while we waited to be sure the wind and weather was right for flight. (We had tried two days earlier and were sent home! Imagine getting up at that hour and then being told it isn’t going to happen!!)  We went with Butterfly Balloons. Mustafa was our pilot and I liked him a lot. It’s expensive…..but amazing. There were fifty other balloons up there with us…all of us totally at the mercy of the wind. The pilot can go up and down…..but he can’t steer. Trucks on the ground follow the balloons so they can deliver people and equipment back where it and we came from. It’s particularly exciting to watch the balloons get inflated and then deflated. I’m a big fan of process. The whole procedure was fantastic….even the part where I looked from outside the basket and said, “I need help getting in.” The words were barely out of my mouth before a big burly guy picked me up and popped me in!!

In spite of the many tourists (a lot of them from South Korea), the heat, and the expense (especially the balloon ride), we both loved the experience. If you have to pick one place to see in Turkey, that’s the one.

After Cappadocia, we flew to Izmir. I invited all the people I had met and stayed with when I first arrived to a dinner at Sabi’s favorite restaurant (Café Colette). It was great seeing old friends and adding a new one:  Elvan Savkli. Elvan had read “Tales of a Female Nomad” years ago and e-mailed and friended me. We’ve “talked” many times over the years….but never met. I invited her to the dinner…even though she was three hours away…and she came, hung out in Izmir for a few days and invited us to spend three days at her summer home in Oren (near Bodrum).  Summer home next to the beach.  It sounded like a perfect way to end our Turkey visit. We accepted. More on that later.

Before I write about our visit to Elvan’s house, I do want to say a few words about Paivi and Santeri Kannisto and their book. They’re a Finnish couple, nomads themselves, and they’ve just completed a book about nomadding, in Finnish. They’ve been asking me questions online for ages and we finally made plans to meet in Istanbul. For most of the 7th in Istanbul, Paivi asked me questions while Santeri shot a video. I’ll keep you posted about the English translation when it comes out.

Erin, her friend Jen from Provo, Utah, who just arrived, and I have been staying  together in #Bunk, an Istanbul hostel in the Taksim area for a few days. Last night I opted to stay home while Erin and Jen went out. I emptied my suitcase and my backpack onto the bed and a small table so I could decide which clothes to take to Elvan’s and which to store for the four days I’d be gone.  I put them in the smaller backpack and went to sleep. (I’m leaving the carry-on at the hostel.) I also tore up lots of loose, useless pieces of papers as well as notebook pages that I don’t need any more. I love it when I can get rid of clutter.

Then I went over my “life-as-a-nomad talk” which, happily, I was able to find in my Documents folder. (That is not always the case!) I took notes, adjusted the talk for the group of ex-pat women who live in Istanbul. (One of them, Kelly Hevel, had taken the three of us to a few of her favorite places that day. Kelly is starting a unique tour business here….creativity tours.  I love the idea. If my notes about Turkey have intrigued you, you might be interested in signing up for a tour with Kelly. Have a look at her site.)

Here’s her information. Sounds like a great idea to me. If I’ve tickled your Turkey yearnings, do check it out. She’ll make it easy and fun for you. The Creative Urge, Building creative muscle in work, art, life. Playing Around Workshops, Exploring Self – Creating Art – Bridging Cultures.

OK. Back to the topic at hand.  I packed my small backpack for three days, went to sleep, and the next day I gave my talk to about 25 interesting, mostly American women who are living in Istanbul. (checkout: PAWI — Professional American Women of Istanbul

When the talk was over, Erin, Jen and I went off to the airport on a shuttle bus. Fortunately, we left lots of time and arrived early……I say “fortunately” because when I lifted my bag from the bus’s storage area and tossed it onto my shoulder, something snapped in my back. I couldn’t move without piercing pain.

Erin and Jen were able to get me a wheel chair and an airport employee who pushed. We jumped lines, got to see elevators, halls, and amazing machines that raised and lowered the wheelchair in and out of the plane. By the time we arrived in Bodrum (on the way to Oren), I could walk again! An unplanned adventure!

Our three days with Elvan and her family were great….for most of them we were stretched out on beach chairs reading, jumping in the water to cool off, and reading some more. We went out for wonderful meals every night. Elvan and her parents were great hosts….they fixed us breakfast every morning and gave us our own little apartment the top floor of their home.

Yesterday morning we flew back to Istanbul and are now back in the #Bunk hostel…..meeting friends for dinner. Yes, we have friends. One of them is Stephanie Swirtz who is sitting here with me befores we go out to dinner. Another is Ali Somay, a talented musician.  We met him in Kars and have connected again in Istanbul. It’s great.