Simplicity and the sea.
This sums up our time in Anamur in southern Turkey. The first Workaway of our travels was at a lodge called Mayaluna; we were there to assist the owner with various renovations and upgrades in exchange for room and board. We weren’t sure what to expect, and when we first arrived our minds weren’t quite put at ease. We stepped off the bus at around 9 p.m. and our hosts were there to meet us and drive us to the lodge. We realized as we got closer to Mayaluna that the power had gone out in their part of town. Our introductory tour was, then, given in the pitch black aided by a phone flashlight. Although we weren’t able to properly assess our new home for the next two weeks, we could hear the sounds of the sea. Waves crashed in the night only steps from where we were, and from that soothing sound, we knew that we would enjoy our time at Mayaluna.
We spent the next two weeks working in the restaurant building adjacent to the lodge in a mostly cleaning capacity. As it was January, the lodge and restaurant were closed for the season. We started in the kitchen area and slowly scrubbed our way over the coming days into the main entry room, bar, dining area, and bathrooms. A routine quickly emerged where we would awaken to the sunshine and sounds of the Mediterranean Sea, walk to the restaurant building and make breakfast, work for about 5 hours, eat a late lunch, explore around the area or walk along the sea, then make dinner and watch Netflix until bed. Our forays into preparing food were always interesting because we only had a stovetop, some basic cooking ingredients (most with Turkish or no labels), and a random assortment of cookware and spices that we were constantly discovering as we cleaned and got to know the kitchen. For example, in the first week we didn’t have any oil or butter to cook our food in, so our menu was heavy in steamed meals. Cooking in this way forced us to get creative and we produced quite a few concoctions that we loved and one or two that we didn’t…
Since the area in Anamur we were staying in wasn’t developed, there was a negligible amount of light pollution. We were also lucky enough to be there during a new moon, so, additionally, there was a lack of lunar light contributions. The combined effect was that with the first clear night we experienced, we were utterly awed by the vibrancy and intensity of the stars. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. It felt as if we were able to see even the faintest of stars clearly that our eyes wouldn’t have been able to perceive anywhere else. With most clear nights, we would eat our dinner outside under the stars, trying to pick out new constellations and making up origin stories about them.
Something we did several times after finishing up a day’s work was to visit the ancient Roman city that existed only a ten-minute walk down the beach. It was called Anemurium and was a sprawling ruin of rock that we were free to explore at our leisure. Another fine facet of our time in this area was that nothing we did felt overly tourist-y. Whereas other places in the world may have developed this ancient city into a tourist attraction, Anamur left it much as it was, letting visitors walk around freely, climb up into the structures, and explore to one’s content. In short, nothing was off-limits. Part of the old city was on a hillside and on one of our days off, we hiked to the top and looked out on the pristinely calm waters of the sea and the crumbled remnants of Anemurium. Anamur is well-known for their small, sweet bananas and they are grown in these enormous clear plastic greenhouses. On top of the hillside, beyond the ancient city, we saw rows and rows of these greenhouses, with the plastic from afar looking like another sea mirroring the Mediterranean.
After our weeks in Anamur, we spent the day on the bus going further west to the city of Denizli. We would be remiss if we did not mention the quality of the buses in Turkey. Every bus we took while in the country was supremely outfitted and made our long journeys rather relaxing and comfortable. Most of the buses across the different bus companies were made by Mercedes and had four wide leather seats per row with faux-wood paneling lining the ground. Some of the buses had TVs on the seats and they all had an attendant that would walk through the aisles offering snacks and beverages throughout the journey. We passed through snow-capped mountains and as we got closer, passed an expansive valley region where wine is produced. When we arrived in Denizli, we promptly found a cab and went just 20 minutes outside the city to Pamukkale, a land of wonder and enchantment. Pamukkale, which translates to “Cotton castle” in Turkish, is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and a geological phenomenon that has existed for thousands of years. Up on a hillside, next to the small town, are travertine terraces of mineral-rich and vibrantly blue water. It’s hard to describe this area aptly, in that the town area of Pamukkale wasn’t very enjoyable because the air looked very smoggy and felt dirty and everything was built up for tourists, but the terraces themselves were so uniquely fascinating that we didn’t want to leave. We were there for only a rainy day and a half and by the time we arrived in the afternoon of the first day, the entrance to the travertines had already closed. We weren’t deterred however, and instead directed our energy toward surveying the food options in the town and ate two dinners to fuel ourselves for the following morning.
We awoke early and checked out of our hotel in order to arrive at the travertines shortly after opening. It was a chilly morning and once we paid the entrance fee, we walked a short way up the hill and were greeted by two benches. Ahead of us, the ground morphed from a paved walkway to what looked like a new snowfall. A small sign instructed us to remove our shoes, which we did with hesitation due to the cold. We rolled up our pants and started climbing the hill with our bare feet.
At the start of the climb, the ground was so cold that it burned the bottom of our feet. All around us were small pools full of murky white sand and because of the salt, it truly looked like we were walking barefoot on a lunar landscape. We would pass a few people here and there, but it thankfully wasn’t crowded. As we ascended the hillside, the pools around us got larger and warmer and the ground was hard and compact. After a few unpleasant steps we decided to stay more towards the water. We dipped our feet into the pools and as we did, slimy white sand squished in between our toes. There was a stream running down to the hillside on our left and we decided to walk up it with our feet submerged in order to gain elevation without surrendering our tiny toes to the cold, hard ground. It was oddly exciting having our feet touch the ground, uninhibited by pesky socks or shoes—it added an extra sensory element to our experience. Not only is the view of these white terraces with cotton-candy blue water embedded into our memory, but also the way that they felt under our feet. While we climbed, we continually made exclamatory remarks along the lines of, “Woah!” and, “This is so cool!” solely because our eyes had never seen anything like this. We felt like small children full of wonder and awe as we took in our environment, amazed at what the world can look like.
We slowly made our way upwards, trying to savor every moment of our peculiarly beautiful surroundings. At the top, we put our shoes back on and explored a totally different landscape. There existed at the top of the travertines ancient Roman ruins of a city named Hierapolis. The ruins were spread out across this hilltop and different areas of the city extended in all directions. We didn’t have enough time to see everything, so we chose to first go to an area where the natural hot springs were clear and deep enough for people to swim in. In this area, there were old Roman columns and ruined buildings that you could swim over. It seemed quite alluring, however it cost money to swim and we didn’t feel like putting our bathing suits on. Instead, we made our to way to a remarkably well-restored amphitheater. We stood at the top and read about the extensive restoration efforts before climbing down the almost dangerously steep rows to get a closer look at the columns and marble stage. We saw an inscription on one of the walls in Greek that was written to commemorate the theatre, which translated to:
“Sacred town, town of gold, may you own the most advantageous territory of all of vast Asia, lady of the Nymphs, adorned by the splendor of your waters.”
Hierapolis was such an unexpected delight for us to explore because one does not traditionally associate the Roman Empire with Turkey, however the influence of the empire on this land was clear. We spent a few more hours exploring temples and bathhouses before leaving Pamukkale en route to Izmir and saying farewell to the splendor of its waters.
Izmir was a vivacious city on the western coast of Turkey. It was much different from all the other places we visited in the country. We saw live music and drank beer for the first time while in Turkey. We weaved through narrow pathways of the markets where we picked out colorful silk scarves and ate the most unbelievably delicious deserts at a café called Reyhan. We spent our days walking along the water and our evenings experiencing the nightlife. Everything was at a quicker pace in Izmir. It went by almost too quickly, and we soon had to catch another bus back to Istanbul.
While at the market in Izmir, we wanted to fill a little jar we bought with some bright yellow turmeric from one of the spice stands. The gentleman operating the stand indicated that the small amount of the spice would only cost 1 Lira. We didn’t have coins, so we tried to give him a 20 Lira bill. He waved us off and motioned that we can leave with the turmeric for free. We were touched by his kindness in giving us some of his product without anything in return, but by this point in our trip we were almost unsurprised by this type of small selfless act. We experienced it a multitude of times throughout our travels within Turkey. On our first night in the country, we were struggling to understand Istanbul’s Metro system. To make a long story short, we ended up with one of us on one side of the metro entry point, and the other one of us on the other side, struggling to get the metro card to work. Without saying anything, a complete stranger tapped their card on the turnstile and paid for our second entry. While we were in Anamur, our cab driver sat patiently as we painfully tried to coordinate him coming to pick us up the next morning at 4 a.m. in order for us to catch our bus. Amanda continually repeated the Turkish word for four while Mike was quickly trying to Google translate the words “morning” and “tomorrow”. We eventually got out of the car when we thought we were in agreement and we were so thankful when in the darkness of the following morning, there he was. When we tried to give him a large tip for coming to get us so early and being so kind, he refused the extra money.
Looking back on Turkey, we think of the tremendous self-sufficiency of the country, the altruistic kindness of the people we encountered, and the copious amounts of tea we drank. Tea was constantly being passed out and consumed everywhere we went and in every situation. We have never ingested so much tea, but this makes sense, because Turkish people drink the most amount of tea per capita of any country in the world (Bet you didn’t know that fun fact!). Turkey seemed self-sufficient in that, while in Anamur, everything we touched seemed to say “Made in Turkey” on the bottom of it. Whether it be a plastic cheese-grater or metal pots, pans and teapots, it was all made right within their borders. Turkish cotton produced the towels and bed sheets and there seemed to be tremendous amounts of Turkish pride amongst the people we encountered. At a weekend market, there was a woman selling another one of our favorite eats, gozleme, and we noticed around her neck she wore a Turkish flag necklace. There were Turkish flags flying from homes all across the areas we traveled by bus and one of the bus attendants had the crescent moon and star of the Turkish flag on a ring he wore on his pointer finger.
After almost a month in the country, we were excited to continue our journey into Malaysia. For us, Turkey wasn’t a place where we encountered classically beautiful vistas or rolling hills of green and we haven’t since developed these romanticized memories of being there. It was a place we admired and we learned from. There was so much that we learned while in Turkey, and boy are we glad our lives led us there.
See you next time!