Safranbolu...frozen in time...

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
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5
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Saturday, November 17, 2007

VW Kamper Van has been returned to us... bestowed with many new parts... and ready to withstand another trial of driving the chaotic Turkish roads in search of tranquility and escape... from the city... from work... and all that comes from teaching or being taught to in the unique and mentally challenging environment of an international school...

All four of us were ready to leave the city behind... and thus we did... in the early morn... as a group of five... packed our bags, belongings and ourselves in the van, in addition to an extra kid... a friendly bright eyed Canadian kid... named Sylvia... a child of one of the other foreign teaching families that work at our school... and headed off in the early morn...
The drive was stark... yet beautiful... endless views of rolling hills and mountains in every twist and turn... through the tunnel into the valley and back up another steep climb that we took on our way to Safranbolu... a three hour drive from Ankara... leaving behind the high desert... and climbing into the forested peaks of the Doğu Karadeniz Dağları mountains gave our souls a lift... Turkeys alpine range... otherwise known as the Pontic Alps... mountains filled with bears, wild boars, towering pines, the original wild tulips and most of the spring bulbs that people around the world plant in the fall... waiting for their smallish, yet colorful rainbow to appear in spring... here the entire side of mountains are painted with these flowers in the spring... Come spring we will be back...
Arriving into Safranbolu... we stopped at a gas station to use the tuvalet... upon jumping out of the van, Carsten asked where the gas cap was... not put back on by the gas attendant... about 3 hours away was my response... memories of advice given to me by a Turkish co-worker... "Todd, in Turkey you need to make sure that you check everything... you don't have to do everything... but you need to check everything that is done... to make sure that it is completely done... this is the Turkish way... do this and your life will be easier... and learn the language too!" I wonder to myself how many times I will need to learn this lesson before it sinks in... hopefully soon...

We asked the gas attendant where we can get a cap... he asked five other workers... they point in a few directions... talk a bit more and all agree on one... one of the men gets in his car and motions for us to follow... once again we are graced with the kindness of the people here...
seemingly ready to inconvenience themselves to help out those in need... We end up at a motor complex... with hundreds of auto mechanics and makeshift stores lined up... facing each other... not completing for business... as much as waiting for the right business... the job that they will get because they specialize in the make, model and task of the vehicles that enter this strange vehicular hospital... Men carrying tea on trays... shoelacing the road between the shops... delivering cups of chai tea to owners, workers and customers alike... they give the place an almost micro-village feel... 30 minutes and two cups of tea later... we head on out... new gas cap in tack...

Down the hill we go... entering onto the edge of a ridge overlooking a shallow canyon... blanketed with a village of various structures dating back some 3,000 years... the minarets piercing out of this ancient fabric adding the exotic... drove down and parked the van on the outskirts and walked into the twisted streets strewn by cobbled paths of local stones... The beauty of the ancient homes, shops, mosques and various other buildings have landed Saftanbolu on the United Nations... World Heritage Site listing... and as we found out, for multitudinous reasons... We spent the day meandering through the narrow streets... stopping at the local vegetable market... making sure not the disturb the chickens that were tethered and tied to the side of a building... like a dogs on a leash... as the owner sat comfortable in the shade... waiting for a hungry customer...after feeling like we had entered somewhat of a time portal, we continued on our way... taking in the local sites... with few tourists in sight... we shyly snuck into the Kiprulu Mehmet Pasa Mosque... a fairly new building for this ancient place... only built in 1661... and still in use... none of us seem to feel quite right entering into these personal abodes of tranquility... they almost feel like a religious living room where the locals come to sit with god... promising to be good to family, friend and self... as tourists we feel like entruders... waiting for the narrowing of the eyes and endless stares, that without words, would tell us to get the hell out... yet our perceptions never seem to materialize into reality...

Another favorite site for all on this journey were the timbered konaks... the Ottoman mansions... that lined many streets... three storied homes built in the traditional Ottoman empire style... the preservation of these beautiful structures gives much insight into how the locals lived... in quartered rooms for only men or women or a combination of both...rooms designed for the first married daughter... rotational shelving for discrete placement of household treasures and practicalities alike... culturally designed... with both family and Allah in mind... the ebellished wood carvings adorning both the exterior and interior of the konaks continues to be done by local artisans that carry on the craft... for a mere $1.50 American... we entered into one such home... preserved as a museum... the boys particularily loved the somewhat creepy mannequins that were strategically placed throughout the home.... giving the viewer a glimps into past activities... These architectural treasures were built by the money provided to the local merchants and shopkeepers... profiting from the endless flow of caravans... stringing along the silk road... multitudinous traders stopping and resting with their beast of burdens... camels and donkeys... traveling between China and Turkey... I thank them all for helping to build this wonderful village... and the locals that are so proud of their pearl...
Much of the rest of the day was spent sampling the locally crafted locum... otherwise known as Turkish Delight... which the Safranbolus are famous for... and for good reason... I don't know if I am ready to sell my soul to the evil witch, like Edmund did in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, for an endless supply of Turkish Delight... but I find I am developing a passion for the unusualness of the various flavors that adorn it... Safranbolu, of course is quite famous for their saffron flavoring... a most costly and exotic spice... which is locally collected from the crocus flowers that cover the surrounding mountains... during a few weeks in autumn... When safron is mixed with locum... and sprinkled with coconut flakes, it creates a flavor that I have not found elsewhere on the planet... food is truely one of the passions and rewards of traveling... some food that is... I will save a few of these food stories... about the various toothpaste soups and poop shaped sausages for future entries... for they have no place in the wonderful village of Safronbolu... After a bite to eat at a local street cafe... with the ambiance of a passing flock of sheep... a stubborn and angry donkey... and a few lazy calves meandering by... we headed out before it was too dark to find our camping spot...

We drove to the outskirts of town... so that we could find a treasured camping spot that we had decided upon... after heading down a steep decline through a smallish village, we found the narrow road that crawled along the edge of a 500 foot deep canyon... a road another traveler had told us about... at the end of this road was a small parking spot... enough for maybe two cars or one VW camper van... our van of course... after parking we jumped out and stared in awe at the Roman Aqueduct that bridged across the narrowest crevice of the canyon... Only in Turkey can you find such treasures... undisturbed... and under appreciated... once again a reminder of the vast treasures that seemingly litter the countryside... we were excited to be able to cross it in the morning... and to wake up in the countryside... sleep took us quickly... only to be woken by the sounds of a car passing by... Deb and I awoke and peeked out the window... as a car parked... allowing three men to spill out... bottle of Raki in hand...
Raki is a Turkish drink... alcoholic drink that is... I know this is a muslim culture... where one might assume that alcohol should be avoided... due to Koranic law... a muslim country that many westerners and other muslims around the world find peculiar... it is a complexity that I don't quite understand... nor do many of the Turks that I have asked this question of... It is not that I find it anymore strange as christians drinking the blood of christ... otherwise known as wine... no offense... I simply find "cultural" practices interesting... and this one makes some sense... for Turkey seems to have one foot firmly planted in Europe and the other in the Middle East... a cultural concoction that is all their own...

Raki also carries with it a Turkish identity... a lore that surrounds it... and binds this "muslim" culture in the most unique of ways... It is widely known that many deals are struck at the Raki table... as well as that only friends drink Raki together... either way it is a wonderful liquorice flavored drink that packs quite a powerful punch... not to be taken lightly...

back to our evening adventure...

At this point... seeing three men out in the middle of nowhere... drinking together... caused Deb and I, as we peeked out from behind the curtains of our van, to ponder on if we should pull the kids down from the top and quickly drive away... or stay and see what might come of this unusual sight... we stayed... continued to watch... and after realizing that they did not once even look or motion in our direction... we fell back asleep... only to be woken again by the sound of the car departing... quickly falling back to sleep... and woken again to the sounds of another vehicle passing by... and when I say passing by...I mean within inches... for that is all the road allowed for... this time we once again peeked out... waiting to take in the next vignette... it was a man and a woman gingerly stepping out of the car... with a small cushioned seat in hand... a chair made for two... after watching them sitting down in the seat... overlooking the moon... lighting up the aqueduct.. upon agreeing that this seemed quite harmless... we dozed off again... yes... awake again... as the lovers left and yes... back to sleep... awake... another car... asleep... awake... another car... yet this one stopped on the side of our vehicle... Deb peeked out the window at the same time that a Jandarma... the military police... tapped on the window... we opened the door and gave him our Bilkent school ID's... these wonderfully magic cards that seem to fix many ills and open many doors... they smiled and began talking to us in Turkish... motioned for them to keep a bit more quiet...pointing at the top of the van.... saying shhhhh, uc cocuklar... Turkish for quiet, three children... eyes opened wide and the they asked in disbelief, while leaning over and looking at the small entry to the top sleeping compartment in the pop-up section of the van... UC COCUKLAR? Which sounds like UWCH CHOCHUKLAR... responded with evet... uc cocuklar... and they started talking with each other... stopping to look at us and stated in broken english... DANGER... We were not convinced and tried to dismiss this notion... but were told many times that we needed to follow them... after closing the door and bringing the cocuklars down from the top... we were escorted out of our slice of rural heaven and brought to the edge of the village... next to a dog on a chain... tied to a tree... with a locals house and an unfinished building on the other sides... we were told... NO DANGER...We smiled and thanked them for their help... and concern... and popped up the top... left the exhaused kids on the bottom... and crawled up to finally get some sleep... around 1:00 AM that is... Sleep was not to be had... for throughout the rest of our evening we were woken by numerous sounds... men walking and chatting... a chorus of dogs sharing their daily adventures through howls and barks... cars driving by on gravely roads... with the crunching of the stones beneath the tires stirring us from our sleep... chickens, cows and other strange sounds going bump in the night... ending with the proverbial early morning prayers being broadcast from the surrounding mosques...
As soon as the sky lit enough to see... Deb and I crawled from our cave and drove back down to the Roman Aqueduct... We grabbed a quick bite to eat and walked out to the middle of this ancient structure... to catch the rising sun...
this was a bit unnerving, yet exhilerating... It was in impeccable condition... and quite safe, structurally... yet left little imagination as to the free fall that would come from tripping and falling... off the edge... As the sun rose... we continued to the other side... and spent time enjoying watching the kids spell out their name in stones on the nearby hill... a tradition that the locals had being doing for some time... leaving behind a lasting, yet not quite permanent marker of their "being here"... a much better method than scratching or tagging the side of the aquaduct... there is a respect amongst the old and young for all that is Turkish... a respect that in turn earns much respect from those that travel to this country...

After indulging in a generous breakfast at a local restaurant... we headed deeper into the mountains... ending up in a green bowl of lush grass... towering pines and rocky cliffs...

We just lost power in our apartment... computer on back-up... stereo still playing without interruption...draining battery pack... lights out... I always look out our apartment window when this happens... for our view of the city far below in the valley... usually strewn with lights... almost looking like the sky turned upside down... dims and darkens... it is a peculiar site to see a city of 7 million lose power and go into blackout mode... within minutes... the twinkle of generator backed up lights sputter and dimly shine... to a fraction of what once was... this show is not brought to us by a good old fashioned storm... but a mysterious reason that seems to come with the territory of being in a developing nation... many Turks do not like this label... and long for the days ahead that will bring these interruptions into past memories and conversations of what was... I find I quite enjoy the struggle between lack of and loss of technological comforts... its a strange sensation... with an increased appreciation for the simple comforts that many might even complain about...

Back to the Pontics... our reasoning for going to this beautiful valley was to enter the realm of a cave that contains an art gallery filled with the sculptures and paintings of mother nature... otherwise known as stalagmites and stalagtites... displayed in colors painted by earthly elements dispersed through liquidity... After winding our way through a creviced path between two peaks... we were greeted by a small hand scratched sign and a flight of steps leading up into a small entrance into the body of the mountain... our quick jaunt up brought us to two older gentlemen sitting near the entrance... for a small token charge we were brought in... one leaving and the other acting as our tour guide... he walked us through the labyrinth... pointing to unusual formations... smiling wide at the looks on the kids faces as he pointed out the small black bats lining the ceiling of the cave... air was heavy, yet smelled fresh... many walls glistened as though made of silver and crystals... I have been to many caves around the world... from massive and stunning to small and nondescript... salt, silver, iron and spent gold mines... yet found this one with it's elderly protectors fascinating... almost like stumbling upon a secret that few know of... for this reason I shall not name this cave nor the extreme and unusual path that brings one to this place of beauty... those wanting to be graced by it serenity should work at finding it... and may it remain off the foreign tourist radar for some time to come...

Our drive back to the city was quick and without incident... a lovely journey back down the mountain... to our home on the hill... refreshed... renewed... and falling a bit deeper in love with Turkey...
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