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Middle East » Turkey » Southeastern Anatolia » Mardin
July 22nd 2008
Published: July 23rd 2008
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Selime MonasterySelime MonasterySelime Monastery

my mother can't wait to go home and watch Star Wars for this Tatooine scene...
The heat in Hasankeyf was a fierce test of our stamina. Thankfully, we both passed, but my camera failed miserably and now only takes pictures with horizontal stripes. Though, even with a frustrating setback like that, it's hard to complain about much of anything right now. We have, after all, lately been spending most of our time in paradise...

Our next stop was unforgettable Savur. We rolled up the hillside of the lovely little town on cobble stoned streets intended to service nothing larger donkey traffic. Nevertheless, our minibus driver was able to manage with some brave and creative maneuvers. He had not heard of our destination, which seemed to me to be a hopeful sign that we were getting even farther off the beaten track. With some lucky guessing, we found the (completely unmarked) Hacı Abdullah Bey Konağı and knocked on the door.

A woman seeming to be nearly as ancient as the house itself let us in. Her daughter-in-law emerged shortly afterward from some remote spot in the mansion and both proceeded to make us feel about as welcomed as anyone has ever felt anywhere. After a refreshing drink, we were given the grand tour of the
Apricots!Apricots!Apricots!

Apricots are in season and everywhere you look somebody has laid them out to dry.
grand place. We went from one gorgeous room to the next, each like a museum, with an impressive collection of items befitting a 230-300 year-old mansion in southeast Anatolia (I heard different numbers on the age of the place).

"Hangi oda istiyorsunuz?" ("Which room do you want?"). We could even each have our own, if we wanted! I opted to sleep on the roof, on a very comfortable mattress, with sheet-walls freshly-installed each night. There was even a spotless restroom up there. The temperature was perfect for it, the moon was full, and the sky was the clearest that I think I've seen in several years. Plus, the normal rooms seemed too fancy for me - the guilt of sleeping in them would've disturbed my sleep.

My mother and Şehnaz became instant new best friends, both using the two dozen or so common words that they knew whenever possible. Before dinner I took a walk around town, and it didn't take long before I found myself sitting and chatting with a shopkeeper in front of his place. Minutes later, I noticed that the growing crowd around us had completely encircled us and several dozen smiling faces were admiring
Cow in the Tigris.Cow in the Tigris.Cow in the Tigris.

This is the last photo I took on my camera. I'm not sure if it will be reparable...
my exoticness. I sat for a half hour or so and had a conversation similar to many others I have all the time about the where's, why's, what's, how's and so on's of who I am and why I'm in Turkey. I left after a declaration of my İstanbul football team allegiance (Fenerbahçe) had proved to part of the crowd that I was a truly enlightened soul and to the rest that I was a poorly misguided yabancı (foreigner).

Dinner was served to the three of us (including Angelo, who was also passing through and wonderfully Italian in every possible way). The soups and many dishes were each cooked to perfection and in ridiculous quantities. I passed on the homemade wine, assuring my hosts that a 20YTL glass was unfortunately way out of the realm of possibilities for my humble student budget. I was kindly given a glass on the house. By far it was the finest I've ever had in Turkey. Jealously, I watched as Angelo swiftly polished off the rest of the bottle.

We spent long periods of time the next day, and until we left, really, playing with Şirin, the lovable kitten of the mansion.
roads in SE Turkeyroads in SE Turkeyroads in SE Turkey

traffic in this part of the country isn't too bad... usually...
In the evening two more Italians showed up, Dina and Mimo. They brought no English whatsoever along with them. I tried my best to serve as an interpreter, using my fading Spanish and having mixed success. The highlight of dinner included an enthusiastic story delivered by Mimo about a cat of theirs that surprised them by giving birth. There were lots of hand gestures and sound effects implemented to help get the point across. We laughed until all of our tear ducts had been drained.

We spent the following afternoon in sweltering Mardin. We wandered the bazaar for hours, glanced off at the Syrian plains, visited an ancient and strangely-decorated Orthodox Church, and had a brilliant lunch. My mother was pleased to see lots of donkeys everywhere - she's seen many before in story books, and very few in real life.

The last night at Savur was quite interesting. Three men from Gaziantep showed up in the evening. After dark, I went up to the rooftop and introduced myself. They bid me the briefest of hellos and went back to their important business. I decided to attempt to eavesdrop. Gathered around a laptop, I saw that they were examining a very detailed map of Savur and discussing the town. Specifically, they were trying to determine an appropriate place to park tour buses, if one existed. "There is a seven meter space right there" said one of them, indicating on the screen a place right on the edge of town.

I heard things like "If five years from now tourism is great in Savur..." and "Well, in Rome they charge three hundred Euros for that type of tour..." These were very aggressive, talented young Türks, eager to make large profits off of somebody's investments. My initial reaction was one of alarm. Savur will be raped and pillaged - destroyed by these people, its pure charm smeared by tasteless exploitation. Like Hasankeyf, money and "progress" will eventually ruin this gem of a place too.

Then I started to think: why am I here? After all, I read about Savur in the Lonely Planet guidebook, which listed it as a sort of undiscovered treasure. What a joke! By including such places in their popular books, Lonely Planet ensures that they will be drastically changed. Furthermore, I, after all, am a tourist myself. What am I afraid of that will
Savur at nightSavur at nightSavur at night

The evening air carries sounds made by human beings and the occasional animal - not sounds of vehicles.
ruin the town? - busloads of me. It was a real headfull of stuff to consider.

Many people in the town probably won't think of an influx of tourism (and the money it brings) as a bad thing. I suppose if they are careful, it doesn't have to be. Having seen many charming places unreasonably warped by outsiders though, I couldn't help but feel concerned about its future. I suppose this might even be an endorsement of the place, depending upon who might be reading this entry.

So, don't bother going - it's really not that great...

Reluctantly, the next evening we boarded a bus to Kapadokya, to visit places that are just the type of circus that I fear Savur could one day become (go to Hasankeyf instead - it seriously NEEDS the tourism). We were not yet ready to leave the southeast, but time is flying by.

The bus company must have been giving discounts to anyone bringing a puking, screaming, whining, seat-kicking, running-up-and-down-the-aisles-banging-every-seat, or in some other way unpleasant child on this particular trip, as everyone else seemed to have one with them. It made for a grumpy, sleepless night.

Nevertheless, we
bffbffbff

"hello," "how are you?," "I am fine," "water," "very beautiful," "thank you" (repeat)...
rolled into Kapadokya in good spirits, me looking forward to seeing old friends at the S.O.S. Cave Pension in Göreme. We walked in and found Mustafa, who I did not expect to see. He has recently married and moved to London, but happened to be in town for a visit. Musa arrived the second day, along with his wife and six-month-old daughter. Selçuk and Sinan were there too, along with Volkan (Mustafa's youngest brother - there are eleven siblings all together), who I met for the first time. My mother was quickly welcomed into the circle.

We walked up Pigeon Valley to Uçhisar the first day, and climbed to the top of the castle, a massive rock carved with caves, sort of resembling Swiss cheese. By the time we walked back down, we were utterly exhausted and pleased to fall into our comfy beds.

Day two - organised tour day. We started off at the underground city of Derinkuyu. The scale of the place is hard to grasp. Carved into the rock, it had impregnable defenses back in the day and, once sealed off, could sustain three thousand people for six months or more! We were brought down
ŞirinŞirinŞirin

I looked up the cat's name, Şirin, in my pocket dictionary and found it translated as "cute, sweet, charming."
through six of the eleven levels. At its deepest point, the city reached one hundred meters underground! We were shown the end of a seven kilometer tunnel that connected to another underground city. Impressive is an understatement for the city.

After this we were taken to the Ilhara Valley, a dramatic canyon, with largely basalt walls. We walked along the small river and met two lovely Saudis in our tour group, Alyaa and her brother, Mishal. She has just finished medical school and this trip is her reward. Mishal opted for something easy to study having seen his sister's years of heavy work - he picked microbiology... what a slacker. Anyway, we had lunch with them by the riverside and had a fascinating talk about life in Saudi Arabia.

Our last stop on the tour was the enormous Selime Monastery. We scrambled up the ramps and staircases on the side of the plateau that lead to countless cave kitchens, cave churches, and other cave rooms. It was an overwhelming finish to a tour densely packed with jaw-dropping sights.

We returned to Göreme and spent a few more hours sitting around with Mishal and Alyaa, chatting and drinking
SavurSavurSavur

thin trees like these seem to be Savur's main export - they're harvested quite prematurely, in my opinion..
tea. By the end of it all, we felt like old friends.

Selçuk had offered us to be his guest for an evening of whirling dervişes (he is one himself). We were taken to a large underground cave theater, where we watched the relaxing ceremony. It was a very overwhelming day, once again.

The next day we headed over to lovely Ortahisar, and spent a few hours there walking around in the hot sun and taking it all in. Despite Ortahisar's close proximity to Göreme, its impressive collection of ruins and its charming town center, we found it devoid of tourists. We were quickly adopted by a friendly old shop owner named Ahmet. He was happy to leave his antique shop for a few hours to take us to his home for lunch and stories.

Ahmet remembers when Göreme was a "primitive village" without electricity and any tourist infrastructure. A friend of his gave us a ride to the Göreme Open Air Museum in the late afternoon. Dodging the huge tour groups we were able to visit a majority of the vast collection of cave churches at the museum. We walked back to town and my mom got a second wind and did some shopping.

Yesterday we lazed around the S.O.S. for a while, played some backgammon, and gave a spontaneous English lesson to Selçuk and Volkan. We dined at the friendly Mercan restaurant which insisted on giving us a discount once again. Then we hopped on another night bus.

We have just arrived in Kuşadası, a cruise port/tourist mess of a town that I never expected to ever set foot in. But, we are close here to our next adventures and I have some friends in town who alone make this place worth stopping in...


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gas stationgas station
gas station

We stopped here on the way back to Savur from Mardin. I assume that they're saving up for a pump.
KapadokyaKapadokya
Kapadokya

She likes it here...
TavlaTavla
Tavla

Mustafa and I have played many a game of backgammon together since 2004. You would think I'd get sick of losing...
the last supperthe last supper
the last supper

a small part of a wall in the "Dark Church" at the Göreme Open Air Museum


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