You knew it was going to happen sometime. I have a penchant for extreme heights (and depths) when I travel, and why should this trip be any different? Well…
Today was the trip to Pamukkale. It started with a three hour drive from Kusadasi to the ancient city of Hieropolis and the cotton castle, where hot springs have created terraced limestone pools over the millennia. The waters are believed to have medicinal powers, and consequently this was a center of Greek and Roman healing.
On the way we stopped at an onyx factory where they shape the stone into cups, bowls, and other nicknacks. We watched one of the workmen shape a piece of onyx into … Well I honestly don’t know what it was supposed to be. They wouldn’t let us take photos, but it was very … um … phallic, for lack of a better word. Very.
After watching the workman polish the … piece, we were invited to look through the showroom. To be honest it was all overpriced crap. But that’s the shtick here. You have a tour and the guide takes you to a factory on the way. They try to talk you into buying overpriced goods and the guide gets a kickback on the profits. It kinda sucks. I mean the rug making was interesting so that wasn’t so bad but this factory tour was boredom in the extreme.
We stopped for lunch as we approached the destination, eating our fill of unnamed mezes and chicken. And once sated, we at long last approached Pamukkale itself. It earned the title “cotton castle” for its white appearance on the side of the cliff.
We drove up to the plateau where the ancient city of Hieropolis had once stood. High above us a pair of paragliders drifted across the cloudless sky.
Ah there’s the amphitheater. It held 15,000 people and is the best surviving structure here today.
Here, once, was the Temple of Apollo.
The entire landscape reminded me of Hawaii, with boulders strewn about.
N was the guide again today, and he encouraged us to look instead to the pools (called travertines) behind us. Ephesus was bigger and better, dwarfing this city, he pointed out. Unfortunately the pools aren’t all full, which I’m sure reflects the time of year, but they are still beautiful.
We walk along the edge of the cliff face gazing at the stony stepped sight below us. Far below, the waters go to a lake. Even further in the distance, we see a city. N advises that after the tour we will be able to walk on the travertines in our bare feet.
Back toward the ruins, he takes us to Cleopatras pool, maintained at a constant 36 C by the geothermal springs. Here, we may swim in the healing waters if we would like. There were families bathing so I opted against photos. Also I wasn’t feeling like bathing, as the water wasn’t really that clean.
After getting the basic layout of the area we were sent on our way. N asked what I would do, and I, of course, wanted to paraglide. I had read about it in the guidebook, as paragliding is very big in Turkey. Further, the weather was perfect today: the air was warm, the sky was crystal clear, and the winds were light. I was in a foreign country considering leaping off of a cliff. What could conceivably go wrong?
I went and dipped my feet in the travertines while N made arrangements. Returning we rushed across the ruins to the parking lot where three men waited with a van. There were no consents. Heck, there wasn’t even a formal introduction. They were ready and I was quickly packed into the van and we were off, speeding up the side of the mountain, cutting tight corners, throwing shoulder gravel in our wake.
I have a confession. There is a cultural vision in the US of the Muslim world that is inescapable. I’ve grown up with certain images imprinted upon my brain. And the image that this experience invoked has been enacted countless times in our media. I looked at myself, in a van, with three other men, strangers really, frantically driving to an unknown destination while speaking a foreign language. I was reminded of every bad terrorism kidnap movie I’ve seen.
And I looked again. There was another image in my mind. The guy behind me is studying mechanical engineering at university. I don’t know about the other two, because we didn’t talk as much. But they were all surfer dudes. And it was all OK because surfer dudes just want to have a good time. And they generally know what they’re doing.
OK! OK! That last may be an overstatement. Anyway ….
At the top of the mountain I looked down and wondered if this was a wise decision. We were a long way up here – well above the city. I didn’t have much time to second guess, however, as I was quickly buckled into a harness with “Charlie,” my pilot, behind me. There was no time for chit-chat. He gave me my instructions, “run that way and when I tell you, sit down.”
This seemed cryptic at first but I eventually figured out that my harness would become a seat. I could do this.
There is a video of me taking off. None of you will ever see it. Seriously. This is top secret stuff. I look like a goat running on two legs pulling a parachute and trying to fly.
But strangely enough, fly we did. We ran down the hill and the ether caught us once and caught us again and we were aloft. The landscape stretched below us in a wide expanse. The ancient city was plainly visible, and the landscape that had been volcanic at eye level suddenly came to life, as the ancient streets and buildings of Hieropolis once again took form.
And I was euphoric.
There is something about doing this sort of activity and trusting the equipment, sitting back and enjoying the ride. Even by the end (it was a 10-15 minute glide) I wasn’t quite there. Some of it was the lack of control when the wind would buffet the chute. And there were a few moments when pilot did some rolls at the end that were like the best roller coaster. Ever. But I caught myself then, too.
The landing was surprisingly easy – I really just stood up and took a couple steps.
We (meaning mostly they) packed up the equipment and we drove to town where I got the full complement of photos. And then they told me my tour group would come by to pick me up in 15 minutes.
So I stood there on the corner in Pamukkale town waiting for 45 minutes (this is the timing I expected) as the call to prayer sounded in the distance, with more unfortunate cultural biases dancing in my head, while a few strangers came by greeting me with a welcoming “merhaba.”
Eventually I found a seat in the bus station, enjoying the warm evening around me. I remained there, resting, until my group arrived, and from there we found our road back for the long drive to Kusadasi.