Rubbing Shoulders With the Rich and Famous

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
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Trip End Dec 12, 2005


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Monday, October 24, 2005

So it's back to the bus station to purchase another bus ticket to continue our travels. A hawk-eyed salesman for a bus company quickly spotted us and sold us a ticket. There's lots of competition for passengers and fewer tourists there days. As you walk by all by the various companies they call out trying to persuade you to buy a ticket from them.

The buses are definitely good value in Turkey. Other options for getting around are flying, which is expensive, and train. Train travel is even cheaper than travelling by bus, but the trains can be unreliable and are not very well maintained (i.e., in other words, kind of dirty).

We've eaten many times at food stalls that surround the area where buses pull in and the food has been tasty and inexpensive. Lots of bread products, of course - bagel-like things covered with sesame seeds, danishes of sorts with a nut paste and "tost" - grilled cheese or sausage sandwiches. "Ayam" (salty yogurt drinks) are also very good here.

Our next destination was Gocek (pronounced "goo-jek"), a resort town located on the Mediterranean coast. We visited with friends there - Margo and Levent. I grew up with Margo (we both lived on farms just outside Wawota) and played on the same volleyball team. Margo was two years behind me in school; her brother and sister-in-law were both in my class; the three of us made up one-third of the graduating class of 1977! Ah . . . small town Saskatchewan!

There was a movie shown on this trip - a first for our bus travels thus far. Even though it was in Turkish the plot was transparent enough - it was a comedy about some goofballs who do their military training and get into no end of trouble.

From the bus we spotted orange groves (oranges ripen here in January/February), as well as people harvesting corn/picking cotton and beekeepers/hives. Purple drifts of wild oregano were growing in abundance by the roadsides. We have noticed many multinationals in Turkey: Fiat, Kia, Shell and - surprise (no surprise!) - the golden arches of McDonald's! As usual, I tried to take some photos from the bus window which is generally not worth it, but also a way to pass the time and occasionally I do get a shot that at least shows what the countryside looks like! This bus had a horn that played a tune when the driver honked, as many buses do here. There were more mountains as we approached Gocek and numerous hairpin turns; a tunnel is under construction to eliminate these.

Margo and Levent knew we were coming and I had emailed them with the details of our arrival, but we hadn't heard back from them. I also tried phoning and had no luck. We later found out that they often have trouble with their email. Sometimes servers here simply disappear and their email goes into a big, black hole; in this case they had been trying to respond, but it kept bouncing back. (Apparently the phone numbers we had for them were incorrect.) So we took the chance, determined where we thought we should get off the bus and once we arrived, hefted on the packs and walked the 1 km into Gocek's town centre. After all, we hadn't had much exercise that day! Our quest was looking favourable as the gas attendants at the service station seemed to be familiar with the shop (all we had was the name of their shop) and then another shop owner pointed down the street when we inquired. Margo was not there, but her shop assistant led us to the house and there she was! We were greeted with a kiss to either cheek. (I did eventually receive their emails - two days after we'd arrived.)

Margo and Levent have lived in Gocek for about 20 years. He owns a carpet store and she, along with her friend, Saime, has a high-end Turkish souvenir shop. Levent is Turkish from Ankara. His grandfather was a governor during Ataturk's presidency. His father was a civil servant.

Both Margo and Levent are very well educated. Levent is an accountant. Margo took her BEd at the U of S and taught at Wilkie, SK for three years. She also have a BA in English and French from McGill and a Master's in linguistics from Concordia University. She met Levent though his sister while she was teaching at Bilkent University, a private English-speaking university in Ankara. Margo told me that professionals are not well paid here and many leave, resulting in a "brain drain" in Turkey - not unlike Canada!

Margo and Levent have one son, Eren. He has snapping brown eyes and a mischievous demeanour, much like his mother and his uncle! He is full of questions, like, "How does a clam eat? Is an oyster a clam? Why does an oyster make pearls? If the earth is turning, how come we don't feel it? Will the sun run out of gas?" He is an inquisitive and intelligent kid. He accompanied us to the beach one day and, like a typical eight-year old, skipped on ahead looking for adventure which happened to included sliding down a cliff on his backside. His eyes certainly widened when he went into the ocean and the salt water hit that part of his anatomy! It made for a very abbreviated swim.

Eren spent four years in Canada, from about the age of three to age seven, so speaks very good English. In fact, Margo told me that he had to take remedial Turkish when he returned to Turkey. He loved Canada and misses the big, green school yards and hockey - yep, he's a Canadian boy! Eren is polite and well-mannered, as most Turkish kids seem to be. Margo commented that kids in Turkey are taught to be respectful of their elders and are not very spoiled. That his son should become spoiled was one of Levent's main worries when Eren was in Canada.

Cookie, an English Setter, completes their family. They brought Cookie with them when they moved from Ankara; Margo told me that they were only one of two families who had a pet dog in Gocek and that, at the time, many people were scared of dogs. More people own dogs here now and the community has established a spaying/neutering/adoption program, sending many stray animals to Europe each year.

Margo and Levent opted to open their own businesses (tourist shops) and have done very well. Gocek is a small community of about 3,000 that attracts wealthy sailors and yachters with its beautiful harbour and marinas. Many rich and famous have stopped in here or come here on an annual basis. In fact, as I wrote this I was looking of a photo of Levent with Eric Clapton. When he came into the store Eren asked his mother if he was a really good guitar player and Eric, who overheard, said, "I'm pretty good". Eren keeps busy with sailing and guitar lessons, as well as Tai Kwon Do.

Much of what Levent and Margo sell is expensive Turkish handicrafts - antiques and one-of-a-kinds. Beautiful, but mostly only the stuff those that have more money than they know what to do with can afford. Somehow, we did manage to spring for a lovely old kilim, though!

Margo loves her job. She is very friendly and enjoys visiting and having tea with her clients. She puts a great deal of effort into welcoming tourists to her store and in getting to know them. As a result, she has a lot of repeat business from those who come back year after year. She is very down-to-earth and unpretentious; regardless of who you are or your status you are a customer and she treats everyone accordingly.

Because she is a teacher, Margo is very interested in education system here. Schools start streaming kids as young as Grade 4; thus, whether a child takes a trade, attends technical college or goes to university is determined at a very young age. She also commented on how difficult the university entrance exams were and how they only serve to measure a child's abilities in the area for which they were seeking further training (i.e., their majors/areas of specialization) rather than looking at a student's overall knowledge/capabilities. Since Eren has started school, she has been considering his options - enrolling him in a private school to better prepare him for the university entrance exmas, or sending him to Canada to finish his education.

Because she speaks English, French and Turkish, Margo often fields requests to translate for people, even when it comes to building codes and specificiations. Sometimes it is difficult for Turks to understand the English of someone whose first language is Dutch, or German or whatever, so Margo will step into help. Her funniest story was when she was asked to translate for a doctor to a Dutch woman. The doctor insisted the woman had prostate problems (!) and Margo thought, well, maybe she was a transvestite. Apparently, the doctor had a drinking problem and had his patients mixed up!

She says, though, that her son often corrects her Turkish - as kids will do. She, Eren and Levent talk an interesting mixture of English and Turkish at home (with the odd French phrase thown in!). Levent and Eren both do the tongue clicking/nose in the air thing instead of saying "no" or "hayrir" - seems pretty haughty to us Canadians but it's not considered rude here.

I asked Margo and Levent about heath/dental care and they say it is quite good and fairly inexpensive because it is highly controlled by the state and doctors, etc. are employed by the government. Lazer eye surgery costs about half what it does in Canada.

It was definitely warmer in Gocek than anywhere else we'd been in Turkey. Although cool at night, there were a number of tourists on the beach during the day. Temperatures in summer get up as high as a sweltering 45 degrees. Whew!

Margo has not converted to Islam and neither is Levent a strong Muslim. They do not fast during Ramazan. She told me that many of the local people in this area were nomads and are not strict Muslims. It is just as much the local rooster that wakes us up at dawn as the calling from the mosque!

I asked Margo what she missed about home and she said they missed peanut butter and made the mistake of telling their visitors who brought them gallons of the stuff! They had so much peanut butter they got sick of it. She has an incredible library of books in English, many of which were left by visitors. Several family members and friends have come to see her since she's been living in Turkey.

Their line of work, combined with the fact that Gocek is so small and Margo and Levent are so outgoing, mean that they have many friends and know a lot of people. We met many of them - expats as well as Turks.

Margo and Levent built their home about 13 years ago. It is a gorgeous, spacious three- storey house with polished wood floors, doors and trim, and decorated with items from their shops: carpets and kilims, metalware, pillows, antique furnishings, elaborately embroidered fabrics and blue porcelain. The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden of bougainvillea and heady-scented flowers such as honeysuckle, jasmine and melissa. Margo designed their home with the help of an architect friend, but some of her ideas had to modified to meet the building codes for this area - i.e., making the structure able to withstand earthquakes - though the last earthquake that did any major damage here was in 1958.

Eren's school is only a couple of minutes walk away (or a minute's run if he happens to be late!). Every morning before classes commence there is an assembly and a teacher recites a poem to the students. I noticed there is no bell to indicate the beginning and end of recess; rather, an electronic version of Fur Elise is played over the intercom.

I have learned some interesting triva while in Turkey. Did you know that tulips are idigenous to Turkey? That Turkey is the world's number one grower of hazelnuts? That Turkish women received the vote long before women in Europe? That Patara, a town just east of here, is the birthplace of St Nicholas, the 4th century Byzantine bishop who later passed into legend as Santa Claus?

There's been one chicken die of bird flu in north-eastern Turkey, though people here don't seem particularly concerned. Margo told me that malaria was a big problem here many years ago - whole villages were wiped out by the disease - but it's not longer a threat, probably because the water levels are higher and there are thus fewer breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

One evening we were invited for dinner to the home of friends, Kate and Chas, an American-Welsh couple who have lived here now for three years. They like it so much that they have decided to sell their sailboat and stay permanently. Their house is perched on a hill and overlooks the Mediterranean - a stunning view. We also met John, a retired lawyer from Morse, Saskatchewan (who, of course, knew someone I knew from Morse), as well as Chris who was Irish and Aigul (which means "Moonflower") from Kazakhstan. John had lived on this boat now for 25 years and had some amazing stories to share. Both Chris and Aigul worked for gas and oil companies in Kazakhstan. This, of course, led to some very interesting conversation about US and British involvement in the Middle East and what the future may hold.

While in Gocek, Martin and I spent one day on a boat cruising from island to island. This is truly an unspoiled paradise - the water is a clear teal blue and there are thousands of pristine islands. Though a bit chilly, we did go in for one swim. Along the way, one of the men working on the boat pointed out some Lycian rock tombs where people used to bury their dead, high up in the cliffs. They chose the cliffs so they wouldn't be using up valuable agricultural land; the cliffs were also closer to heaven than flat ground.

After we finished lunch on the boat, we were quite amused when an ice cream boat pulled up and sold icy cold treats to the tourists on board. Was he making a killing! An ice cream bar that normally sold for under 1 TL (under $1 CDN) was 5TL (about $4.50)! I couldn't believe it, but people weren't hesitating to buy them! I refused. Quite the entrepreneur.

We also saw ruins of an old Greek village. When Turkey became a republic in 1923 and the Ottoman Empire was no more, the League of Nations supervised an exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece, with most Greek Muslims coming from Greece to Turkey and most Ottoman Christians returning to Greece. As there were far more Ottoman Greeks than Greek Muslims, many of the Turkish towns were left unoccupied after the exchange.

There are also lots of stories of pirates who used to hide among the islands and attack ships that were passing by. It it thought that Cleopatra travelled through these islands.

All along the coast here are Lycian ruins, some dating back as far as 4,000 BC. The Lycians were pacifists; when Alexander the Great of Mesopotamia plundered Turkey, the Lycians committed mass suicide rather than die at his hand. Numerous ruins are under water and scuba diving is not allowed along this coastline.

On the boat trip, we met two women from London, both students at the Open University. Cynthia was a retired civil servant and an Anglican priest. Sue worked part time doing research for the post office. They were taking a week's holiday and were staying at Fethiye, just east of Gocek.

We also took the dolmus to Fethiye (pronounced "fet-ee-yay") to the local Tuesday market. It was huge; there were vendors selling everything from fruit and vegetables to Turkish delight, spices and nuts to housewares, table linens and knock-off designer clothing. The place was packed with Europeans and British tourists.

Margo is returning to Canada next week for three weeks and offered to take some things back for us. Although we have not accumulated much extra, when you're carrying a pack sending a few things home does lighten the load! (Must be all those beads I've bought - I started making bracelets this summer and have been obsessed with beads ever since!)

We have heard that there has been fighting along the Syria-Iraq border/protests in Damascus, so may be changing our plans to travel in Syria!

It was really wonderful to visit with Margo and family and see that she loves what she does and where she lives. I have only seen her once since I left high school some twenty-eight years ago (where does time go?) and she's still the same genuine, true-blue person she always was. I talked with her about choosing a different sort of path - we both agreed that the conventional route would have been much easier, but not as interesting! Some of us just aren't satisfied with an ordinary, stay-at-home life, but, in some ways, we envy those who can be content never straying far from home.
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