Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Turkish Customs and Food

Yacht Marine Marina in Marmaris, Turkey. This is where Aspen is!

The cave-temple on Paradise Island, Marmaris, Turkey. This cave has had human habitation since 10,000 BC and is believed to be a religious site, based on the artifacts that were found inside. These artifacts included 2 carved sandstone idols and cremation remains (sacrifices?). It is a very eerie place!

Yes there is another totally different world out here.

It is time for another Captain Steve haircut story. From the Caribbean to French Polynesia, Australia, Thailand and even Oman, no 2 of my haircuts are ever the same. Turkey was no exception either.

Barbers are very plentiful in towns and villages wherever we travel here. So I picked one place that was clean and had 2 barbers inside. First we agreed on a price - it always makes me nervous bartering for a service like this because if I pay too little will the barber only cut a little and not do a good job? Anyway, the haircut went pretty well, a little too short but still very nice. It was afterward that was scary.

Turks don't like body hair we found out. As soon as the barber lit a flaming wad of something at the end of a short stick I knew I was in trouble. Maybe I did negotiate too low a price?

They use a flaming wand here to burn the hair off your ears. The wand burns everything it touches of course and the barber is very good not to burn your skin with the huge flame. The smell of burning hair soon ended. The nose hair was next but not with a flaming wand - that was a relief. Then the sideburns with trimmed with an incredibly sharp razor. "Did I want a full shave", the barber asked? "No thank you", I replied. I'm glad I wasn't wearing shorts for this haircut!

All of this cost about $7 so I think I negotiated ok. Maria doesn't think she wants to have her hair done here.

Grocery shopping is a fun time too. Turkish is not our second language (or third or fourth or anything) so we use a Google translator to figure out what a food label says. We ordered what we thought was ground beef but the label said veal. Now we think we know what beef is and even though it said veal it was beef. So they tend to even call things different names than what we are used to!

The spices were really a challenge for Maria. Oregano is not sold in Turkey. This really upset Maria since that spice is used in most of her Italian cooking. Ok, so we found a substitute called Italian spices. You just have to be flexible!

There are also no western products in the grocery stores. Usually there is a section someplace in the store, usually hidden in some corner in the back, where the imported foods are kept. Things like cereal, canned meats, canned vegetables or even M&M's. But not here, nothing except what is made in Turkey! And we have tried half a dozen grocery stores looking for anything from America.

But at least we can shop in a nice grocery store and they accept our credit card to pay for everything. And we have a little card from the grocery store that gives us a discount or maybe cash back, that we use when we check out. But we are not sure what the little card is really for but the cashier really likes when we give it to them when they ask. At least I think they are asking for the little card but that conversation is in Turkish too and like I said, we don't speak Turkish!

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shivering on Aspen Again

11 of the more that 1,000 different Underworld deities that the Hittites worshiped in 2,000 BC.

The deities look pretty scary don't they?

Along the Marmaris Quay a local massive Gulet decides to back in and claim their dock space, to the amazement and horror of the little sailboat on the left.

The Marmaris, Turkey castle with one of the marinas in the background (Netsel Marina)

There are lots and lots of cheeses to choose from at the local markets.

Suleyman the Magnificent in Trabzon, Turkey. The Black Sea is in the background and Maria is showing Suleyman who the admiral is now.

We're back on Aspen in Marmaris, Turkey.

It was quite a ride around this huge country in our trusty Ford diesel rental car, and we barely scratched the surface of things to see and do here in Turkey.

From Mt. Ararat we drove north to the Black Sea and the port town of Trabzon. Woa, what a different part of Turkey that was! The people are distinctly different in that there is a lot of Georgia (i.e. Russian) influence in the culture. Trabzon is a modern bustling city and one of the largest Turkish ports on the Black Sea.

It is such a large city that it took us 1.5 hours to even find our hotel - and we were within 1 mile of it the entire time!

The attached picture shows Maria next to the Black Sea with Suleyman the Magnificent who was born in Trabzon in 1494 and was the ultimate Ottoman ruler. Suleyman won every battle he led and fought in as he created the enormous Ottoman Empire that survived from the 1400's until WWI. Yes, Suleyman was very good, until that last battle of course that he didn't survive. But that was at the end of his rein anyway. He was still Magnificent.

We then drove west along the Black Sea, crossed back over the Taurus Mountains and once we were on the desolate, harsh and wind swept high plains, visited the capital city of the Hittites at Hattusa and Yazilikaya.

The Hittites pretty much ruled the world from 2,000 - 1,000 BC when they even defeated the mighty Egyptians and extended their empire from northern Africa, the entire Middle East, and west into Europe. Once we saw the harsh place where they lived we quickly figured out why they were so feared throughout their empire.

After spending one more night in our cave hotel in Goreme, Cappadocia, we arrived back onboard Aspen just before dark.

So for now we will continue to get Aspen ready to sail and provision her with food. Our friends, Tim and Deb, just landed in Istanbul and we will sail around some of Turkey with them after they make their way down to Marmaris. We just hope it warms up from the cool weather we are having! Where is summer in the Mediterranean?

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Where is the Ark?

Mt. Ararat during springtime in Turkey

This is the massive summit of Mt. Ararat.

Mt. Ararat from our flea-bitten hotel in Dogubayazit, Turkey. At least the view was spectacular!

Our first glimpse of Mt. Ararat in Turkey.

The countryside around Mt. Ararat, Turkey.

Exploring Mt. Ararat

We drove for nearly 10 hours over what we would consider jeep roads, across high mountain passes clogged with feet of snow and passed through Turkish army checkpoints astride the Turkey/Iran border. Just after the highest army checkpoint we rounded a curve and saw Mt. Ararat. The mountain is utterly spectacular!

Mt. Ararat was clothed in a heavy blanket of pure white show and glistened in the cloudless sky. The top of the mountain is 16,854 feet and you can climb it as long as you get the necessary Turkish permit. Unfortunately it is still winter on the mountain and the climbing season doesn't begin until June.

We stayed in the town at the base of the mountain called Dogubeyazit (Steve believes it is pronounced Dog-bite-you). This is considered a raw frontier town with dust, trucks and many many people just milling about in the streets. These are Kurdish people and because the Turks don't really like them the government provides very little assistance to the town or the people. Then there is the Iranian border that is about 20 miles from the village (it was much closer at less than 1/4 mile at the top of the pass that we drive over!). Trucks roll through town bringing goods to and from Iran along the dusty roads day and night. Let's just say that Dogubeyazit is not a place you would want to spend any time.

Where is the Ark? Well, there is a lot of snow on Mt. Ararat and a lot of it never melts. So the chances of finding something up there is pretty remote but on the other hand, who would land a ship that size on the TOP of the highest mountain in Turkey? I would guess that it would be lower down on the flanks if it is there. But nobody asked me and I can't go explore right now because it is still winter on the mountain!

As Paul Simon once sang about the Ark (well almost like this):

'Something tells me
It's all happening at the Ark
I do believe it
I do believe it's true
The monkeys stand for honesty
Giraffes are insincere
And the elephants are kindly but they're dumb
Ourang-outangs are skeptical
Of changes in their cages
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum
Zebras are reactionaries
Antelopes are missionaries
Pigeons plot in secrecy
And hamsters turn on frequently
What an Ark!
Ya gotta come and see Mt. Ararat and the Ark!'

Next we will drive north, over the Pontus, Taurus and Anti-Taurus mountain ranges that contain Mount Ararat and the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Our destination is the Black Sea and the seaport city of Trabzon.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stone Age Intelligence

Gobekli Tepe, the oldest religions temple on Earth. This dates from 10,000 BC and has pushed back the definition of civilization further than anyone ever imagined. Some people believe that the carvings, relics and configuration suggest a close relationship or actual place of the Garden of Eden. It makes you stare in wonder...

A couple of sailors exploring Turkey at Gobekli Tepe.

A closer look at the ruins of the temple at Gobekli Tepe. The wood boxes are covering more pillars to protect them from the elements.

The ruins at Gobekli Tepe are remarkable in their simplicity of arrangement yet complexity of carvings and statues.

The local Kurdish man who explained the findings in the temple at Gobekli Tepe.

The far landscape around Gobekli Tepe is sparsely vegetated today. In 10,000 BC the climate was much different with this area being heavily forested with streams flowing between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

We could not stop taking pictures of Gobekli Tepe!

Ducks carved into a temple T-shaped pillar at Gobekli Tepe.

A grinding bowl lying on the ground at Gobekli Tepe.

A series of snakes on another T-shaped pillar at Gobekli Tepe.

A fox on yet another column at Gobekli Tepe.

There are small ducks at the base of the T-shaped pillar at Gobekli Tepe with a belt above on the column itself.

This is the Gobekli Tepe rock temple, further down the slope. Steve is pointing to where two pillars once stood. There is an underground opening into the burial chambers but the entrances are much too small to crawl through - Maria was happy about that!

An ancient statue excavated from the Gobekli Tepe site. Look at the detail of the carvings!

More actual carvings from Gobekli Tepe.

The biblical city of Harran, south of Gobekli Tepe - the oldest populated city on Earth.

Famous bee-hive houses of Harran. Yes, that is a camel in the foreground!

Our hotel (Manici) in Sanliurfa, Turkey (the biblical Ur). It overlooks the cave where Abraham was born.

This is Maria's favorite picture. It is of the entrance to Abraham's cave where he was born. Women enter on the left and men on the right. No shoes are allowed and the women must cover their heads. In the picture are three people - can you see the third one? She is looking directly at the camera!

The sink on the right contains water that flows from Abraham's cave and the water is considered sacred. The glass protects entry into the cave itself.

This is the inside of Abraham's cave. There is a plexiglass covering on the cave floor and a green light reflects from it (or maybe that shaft of light is not an illusion?).

The city of Sanliurfa sprawls in the distance behind us as we stand atop the citadel high above Abraham's cave.

Another picture of our hotel in Sanliurfa, Turkey. I think I see a slight resemblance between Maria and the mural?

Speaking of resemblances, Maria thought this looked like someone she knows? It actually is the Baliklig statue in the Sanliurfa museum and it is the oldest statue ever discovered. It represents the God of Reproduction and it dates at 10,000 BC. It was found at the mountain top temple across from our hotel in Sanliurfa.

Captain Steve navigating the streets of Sanliurfa using his trusty iPhone GPS.

Captain Steve working with the local TurkCell (internet) people. Everyone is so friendly!

A tea vendor on the streets of Sanliurfa, Turkey. His backpack is pretty amazing!

Descending from the mountain top fortress at Sanliurfa, Turkey. We wondered how they ever climbed inside the fortress walls.

The pillow sales woman. She is happy to make a sale and Maria is happy to drink the Cay (Tea) afterward.

The Syrian flag waves in the breeze across the railroad tracks that separate Turkey from Syria.

Our Current Wanderings:

In the far southeastern part of Turkey, 6 miles from the Syrian border, is something so unique that is it has only recently been discovered. The ruins of the world's oldest known religious temple, called Gobekli Tepe, is being uncovered and preserved by scientists. We made a special effort to visit this magical place.

Gobekli Tepe is beyond ancient. Famous Stonehenge is dated at 3,000 - 2,000 BC, the pyramids of Egypt are young at only 3,100 BC and the walls of Jerico are dated at 8,000 BC. Welcome to Gobekli Tepe, dated at a staggering 10,000 BC!

This is a neolithic structure that experts previously said could not exist. They believed that any people who were that ancient did not have the capabilities to build anything like this. The experts were wrong of course! Don't you love it?

Stone age people lived in what is called the paleolithic. Following that, the neolithic period is still characterized by stone age people, only slightly more advanced. These neolithic people should have been living in caves and wandering the countryside, not building a temple like Gobekli Tepe. But build they did. And it is spectacular!

There are huge stone columns adorned with intricately carved animals. These so-called primitive people actually built a temple to worship spiritual beings and probably for sacrifices as well. The first occurrence of civilization has forever been pushed far back in time with this discovery and Maria and I were able to walk upon this ultimate sacred ground.

We arrived at Gobekli Tepe early in the morning and freely wandered about the empty landscape. The archaeological season has not yet begun so we had the place to ourselves, along with a local Kurdish man who in very limited English described the artifacts that we saw. Pieces of chert used for arrowheads and carving instruments are everywhere around the site. There is a wooden walkway that circles around and through the excavated part of the site and we traversed the entire place three times, we couldn't get enough of the place. There is just so much to see and ponder.

Snakes, foxes, ducks, boars, scorpions, predators, birds, lions, leopards, cranes, and even a form of ancient writing adorn the many columns that have been uncovered so far. The surrounding countryside is barren with only some olive and date trees dotting the landscape. It seems that the climate has changed quite a bit since 10,000 BC. In fact the last ice age ended around 10,000 years ago so there is the evidence for the different climate we see at Gobekli Tepe today. That is also why some researchers are making a case for Gobekli Tepe as the place of the Garden of Eden. I guess all of the snake carvings on the columns tends to give them some evidence as well? We didn't see any apple trees though.

Biblical Journey

After visiting Gobekli Tepe we decided to visit Harran, the oldest inhabited place on Earth and described in the bible in the chapter of Genesis. It seems that we were getting quite a workout visiting the oldest of everything! It kind of dawned on us when we drove across the Euphrates River - we thought immediately Tigris-Euphrates? We had no idea that these two rivers, referred to as the cradle of civilization, were also in Turkey.

Anyway, Harran has bee-hive houses, a 4 km long wall and a mound that is where Abraham (from the bible) lived for 15 years. Speaking of Abraham, we visited the cave where Abraham was born in Sanliurfa (also known as the biblical Ur), where we stayed in a hotel. It seems that Abraham is important to not only the Christians but also to the Jewish people and the Islamic world.

Our hotel in Sanliurfa was right across from the park that encompasses Abraham's cave and it is full of Islamic's from throughout the Arab world on pilgrimages. Maria and Steve are viewed like aliens from everyone who passes us on the streets. They usually stare in amazement and some are bold enough to ask us where we are from, in very broken English. They never understand when we answer them but they just seem curious at how we look and talk.

As you know, Admiral Maria is Catholic but Captain Steve is, well, not really devout (Maria says heathen) but went to Sunday school as a little boy. At least he remembers a lot of the people and places that he heard about way back then and can relate to some of the things we are seeing now. Maria can usually fill in the gaps.

It also seems that Job, of the bible, was born here in Sanliurfa. So we have now been able to see where Job was born and where his tomb was (Salalah, Oman). It is a small world in a biblical sense it seems!

After our biblical sojourns, Captain Steve made a turn south from Harran and headed to Syria - luckily Maria was geographically challenged at the moment and didn't notice the course change. Captain Steve consulted his faithful iPhone GPS and it didn't take long before a Syrian flag appeared. We managed to stop on the railroad tracks that separate Turkey from Syria. We took several pictures before spinning our rental car around and getting out of there!

Safely back in Sanliurfa, Maria shopped for pillows for the boat. The attached picture shows the sales girl making the sale by serving us tea after the sale was complete. It was quite a process but at least we have new pillows for Aspen.

Next we will travel to Mt. Ararat, home to Noah's Ark of course! We will be far away from the Syrian border then but only 20 miles from the Iranian border. Stay tuned.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Road Trip!

Our original 9th century cave room in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey. Maria said that she felt like she was sleeping in a cave!

9th to 13 century cave houses in Goreme, Turkey. The people must have been good climbers!

Over 40 balloons take off every morning to drift over the landscape in Goreme, Turkey. Hearing the roar of the gas burners in this remote area at sunrise sounds like an orchestra!

These cave drawings are from the Hittites (1,800 - 1,200 BC) and located about 100 feet in the air in the very isolated part of the Zimi valley. They are painted outside the entrance to a cave dwelling. Steve found them while he was running of course!

Sunrise and balloons along Steve's running trail in Goreme, Turkey. The spires are also called hoodoos.

A school at the underground city of Derinkuyu. This is dated to around 200 BC.

This is the same school and where the teacher stood. The teachers must have been a lot shorter back then!

The entrance to the underground city of Ozonak.

A church in one of the ancient caves. You can still see the paint on the ceiling above the columns. This is amazing that they could carve these out of the volcanic ash.

Another church in a cave with the paint preserved.

Road Trip Details

We cleaned, polished and got Aspen ship-shape for the past 12 days. Now it is time for more exploring!

Since we still have a rental car we decided to drive to Cappadocia in Turkey. This is the area known for the Fairy Towers and underground cities.

It only took us 10.5 hours to drive 567 miles amongst the Turkish drivers. That is quite a challenge! The roads can be very nice or incredibly rough. You just never know what to expect, no matter what the color the roads are on the map.

Yes, we used our trusty Google Maps again and they worked really well, especially when our little blue dot would shoot off onto the wrong road as usual. In every larger city it seems that the roads go crazy and no matter how careful we are we always spend at least 30 minutes driving around in circles trying to find our way out of town!

We did arrive in Goreme before dark and got a room at the Stone House Cave Hotel. We were really living in an ancient cave! The cave dates from the Hittites from 1800 - 1200 BC but luckily it now has electricity and wifi. These caves are carved into what are called Fairy Chimneys (Hoodoos is another name for them). These are rock pinnacles made out of volcanic ash set in a badlands landscape. The entire area is now a national park but there are still small villages inside the park. Nonetheless the scenery is spectacular!

Early every morning no less than 40 hot air balloons rise into the clear blue sky and float over the magical landscape below. Dozens of tourists hang from each balloon while waving at us on the ground below as they snap pictures of the sights. I thought one basket was going to hit me as I was running on the rimrock.

Then there are the vast underground cities. These underground cities were carved out of this same rock and housed up to 50,000 people in them. They were believed to be constructed initially in the 8th century BC. They had numerous levels that went down to 300 feet underground with churches, schools, animal stalls, wine cellars, living quarters, kitchens, tombs and everything a city would have.

The underground cites were used during the 5th and 10th centuries AD by Christians who were hiding from the Persians and the Arabic armies who were trying to kill them. The people had to live underground for several months while successfully hiding. So far 37 underground cities have been opened in this area with at least another 75 or so that are still being explored.

We went underground in 2 of them: the largest one called Derinkuyu that housed 50,000 people and Ozonak which was a lot smaller. The larger one is the biggest tourist attraction for an underground city and the crowds, even in this off season, were excessive! The passages are extremely small and narrow and anyone with claustrophobia should not venture underground.

It seems that Maria suddenly developed a case of claustrophobia when she got trapped in a very narrow and confining tunnel with 30 of her now closest friends. Captain Steve would have taken control of the situation, of course, but since he didn't speak Turkish it would have not done any good. Our Turkish guide tried for 5 long minutes to get half the people to go in the proper direction so that the other half could exit the tunnel. It seems that there are no one-way passages in the underground cities!

The attached picture shows a school in the underground city.

It was quite an experience slithering and nearly crawling through these cities, trying to comprehend what early people had to endure to survive.

Now we will drive further east, heading to Sanliurfa - home to the oldest temple ever found on Earth! It is located about 60 miles north of the Syrian border so that should be interesting.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…