Europe Diary: Going Solo, My Symbiotic Balance with Turkish Men, and Contemplating Maslow

When he had said in heavily accented Turkish-English with a slight lisps escaping tea stained teeth that we will be up at 2:30 a.m. and packed and going (i.e. hiking) by 3:00 a.m., I couldn’t help but produced a silent snarl and scowl. 
Things had gone really bad over the last few days. I was up and at Ataturk Airport Departure hall by 5:40 a.m. only to be declined on my scheduled and confirmed 7:20 a.m. flight … probably due to Turkish Airlines arms being twisted to give up my seat along with 4 other passengers to some VVIPs. Consequently I was re-routed twice, bumping up my total number of flights on this trip from the original 11 flights to 13 flights without the optional (and if I have the time) leg!

I am not amused.
I hate landing and take-offs. I can’t decide which is worse, but reckon there isn’t a need to decide as once you are up, you’d need to come back down. That’s the way with life … ups and downs.
I don’t do provincial airport transits and long layover well.
I have long ran out of legible and comprehensible reading materials.
I don’t appreciate airline complimentary meals and hotels, unless they are the Sheratons or Holiday Inns of the world … and that too, provided I am on comapny’s time and not on my personal vacation time.
.
. Kayseri Airport, Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey – as remote as it can be, I was the only passenger there for the longest of time and within 3 minutes every single staff from the border police to the janitor knew I was from Malaysia! Great place to live – adultery is a definite NO-NO.

And since I had to re-route, naturally my itinerary needed a re-haul.
This resulted in me and the local tour company here being at each others’ throats; negotiating mostly on compensation – that is if my travel consultant ever returns my call (never!) or answers her mobile (15-20% of the time, usually at non-critical moments or when the tide of frustration and anxiety has washed over – smart bitch, I tell ya! cause my brunt ain’t a pretty side).
Successfully working up the level of acidity, I was done with my last liquid Gaviscon sachet by the 3rd hour and down with my final strip of Maalox by the time I pulled into the cave hotel in Cappadocia late afternoon. With the sun still not letting up its fury with the heat so insistent that tin roofs creaked in protest against its restraining bolts and dusty wind that seems to augur only ill, I opted for a nap only to head out on foot at 6 p.m. to explore the town alone at the mercy of the sun’s kindness to not set too soon.

Stirring up lots of curiosity from Turkish men of a solo woman traveller from Malaysia, I took full advantage of the free apple tea and black tea handouts that seems to appease the churning stomach somewhat from store owners that were eager to host and show me the way of Turkish hospitality.
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.Main Square, Cappadocia, Turkey … spells and smells TOURISTY
Let’s just say I did want to buy a lovely miniature painting from one such Turks, but goodness me, I had only TL20 plus a few coins and my passport in my cargo pants – the problem with too many pockets! I must have left the ‘plastics’ and the swat of Turkish Lira (time tested with the appearance of the notes) on the beside table in my oversized cave hotel room that does seem eerily empty with only my own overcast shadows that gives me the occassional fright.
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Interior of the Cave Hotel room – not doing it justice here, but basically it is huge and has a Jacuzzi in the bath as well with plenty of room to fit another two or three if need be.

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Settling for a Tandir Güleç with complimentary apple tea and pickled chilies – what can I say? Turkish men love me! – I headed back buying only 5 postcards for TL1 (oh yeah, I’m getting better at utilizing and maximizing my charms by day by scoring great bargains), only to stop en-route to get a 2.0L bottled water for TL0.75 from a local grocer. 
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Tandir Güleç – I got the 8TL one – yummy, but a bit too much of lard
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Attracted by the pile of pomegranate, I walked over to the cart for closer observation and was handed one. The store clerk must have thought that I have never seen a pomegranate let alone eaten one judging from his comical hand and facial mimic demonstration. Figuring it was too darn hard to explain to him that it was the size and colour that got me interested, I opted for the easier way one, which was more beneficial for me too with a ‘thanks’ and bright smile. Frankly I could have muttered just about anything and it would have derived the same egoistical boost he felt when his pals slapped him on his back laughing – the male congratulatory animalistic ritual which continues to amuse me.
Unable to sleep after the nap, I watched some B-grade Hollywood movie amidst white noise and static images till past midnight. Peeling my eyes away from the old fashioned 14″ tube TC screen I depressed the “OFF” button and muttered 3 silent prayers before squeezing my eyes tightly shut while I flick the light switches off and slipped under the covers shaking off any unwarranted imaginations.
sigh
The coward in me who still fears the ‘boogie man’!
Anxiety kicks in an hour and a half later and I am wide awake. No matter how hard I will myself to sleep – from counting sheep to meditating – I was wide awake, wide eyed and wary of any sounds emitting from the cave room.

Dead silence.

“so this is what cave dwelling is like,” I told myself.
Before my alarm rang, I was ready and went down to the reception, which I figured at best I’ll have company, at worse the PC with Internet connection that works, right in front of the cave’s mouth – less claustrophobic! 
Ahhh… the hotel receptionist was there and after exchanging some basic pleasantries, he excuses himself and returns 15 minutes later with hot apple tea and a heated Gözleme! while I busied myself writing an email to Val (whom I missed so much), punching the Turkish key board carefully, navigating and commanding my mind to obey some new ‘rules’ and finger placement – tough! and here’s why QWERTY is to stay no matter how weird the alpha placing may seems.
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Cave Hotel reception area in the wee hours of the morning…
The hot air balloon guy came right on the dot at 4:30 a.m. for me and 5 other Colombians who quickly took me under their wings. Lovely retirees whom I had trouble speaking to, both in terms of language barrier and the fact that the only thing I really know about Columbia and am obsessed with is Pablo Escobar – not a topic to strike with strangers.
The thing is: people are always nicer when you don’t understand each other and ‘communicate’ only by exchanging nods of approvals, signs of appreciation, exclamation of wonder and delight, smiles and the all universal “hello” and “thank you” … all the good stuff.
Once they speak your language, there’s always the risk of crossing the invisible line of talking too much, probing too much, being overbearing and mr. knows it all, too loud, too nasal, what’s with that accent … and so much more. The, you know, little annoyances that bugs you and gets you thinking and wishing silently:.
“when is this blabber mouth gonna shut up?”
or
“aargggggghhhhHHHHH… the pitch is piercing my eardrums!”
.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
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“And how was the hot air balloon ride?”, you asked?
.
one word: 
AMAZING!!!
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Hot air balloon-ing over the natural geographical formations of Cappadocia, Turkey
...

Interior of the Cave Hotel room – not doing it justice here, but basically it is huge and has a Jacuzzi in the bath as well with plenty of room to fit another two or three if need be.

This is the same one-word I wrote to Val moments before ‘catching’ my transfer to the airport for another flight to continue my re-routed journey, to which she responded:
.
“of the 11 accidents involving fatalities recorded by NTSB between 1997 to 2007, 4 involved contact with power lines, 3 involved falling after hanging onto the outside of a rising balloon, 3 involved striking an object on landing (boulder, wall, tree) and 1 involved an equipment failure (an eyebolt)”
..
Sigh.

“I have lost my sister for good,” I thought with deep forlorn sadness.
People do get incredibly conservative and transform into a downright bore when they get hitched and handcuffed with kids don’t they? Makes me wonder if we are even remotely and miraculously somehow genetically linked.
..
However, her respond got me the giggles as well as I recalled an earlier conversation I had with a solo American male traveller in his 60s whom  deduced to be a Jew academician, hence safe to hang out with! Well, here’s why – the Jew academician part, not the personal safety bit:

  • Firstly, his name is David.
  • Secondly, only a Jew will know the Torah and the Jewish way of life to draw comparisons between the 3 Abrahamic religions and say, “my, my, young lady, you are well read. I am impressed with your knowledge especially on Judaism.” I saved him the details of my acquired Judaism proficiently which trust me had nothing to do with reading.
  • Thirdly, he had different colored socks on both feet and had a cable knit pull-over sweater in the most impractical sling bag that bears the Purdue University logo across it.
  • And finally, he had a thick notepad that not only jots down places he had been to, references, antidotes, but he itemizes his expenses right to the number of WC Bay visits and associated costs!
.(yes, I too think I should be a spy sometimes, but my need for people interaction, affection, approval, appraisal; bad gastro intestinal problems; and inadequate multilingual and multi accent abilities had made that career choice impossible.)
.
(and of course I lose focus and go off the tangent all the time! 
So back to the point of Val’s email response and this conversation …)
The solo American traveller and I had shared our past travel experiences, dare devil exploits and incredibly silly blind fate situations. But it was his remark off:
“well of course nobody post mortality rates up”
.
that gave me the shakes; giggling once again as I read Val’s email. Apparently they do post mortality rates up, just not on the tour operator’s sites!
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In any case here’s a brief summary (I do try hard to be brief) on the hot air balloon experience and learning: 
  1.  Do a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia.
  2. Go to Cappadocia to do a hot air balloon ride.
  3. The scenery is breathtaking – for ok, 15 minutes or so – but really with it being possibly the most commercialized hot air balloon site in the world with up to 70 balloons up in the air at a go, it’s probably the most economically priced one too.
  4. It’s a once a lifetime experience.
  5. You get bragging rights of being in the league of Richard Branson – forget the fact that you were no different from a slab of gammon being carried by someone in a picnic basket!
  6. Be in the compartment closest to the centre because (a) it’s warmer with the flames going off right above your head – enough of clearance unless you are 7 feet and above, (b) should an accident happen, it’s definitely an instantaneous and painless death with no time for your brain to compute any intelligent rationalization of what’s happening as you are blown to bits by the gas canisters, (c) it’s the most balanced part of the basket if you happened to have a dodgy pilot, (d) you get to flirt and exchange email addresses with the pilot if he’s cute – at high attitude, in the cold and break of daylight, anyone with two eyes and a nose looks cute especially when he is in the position of power and control at the pilot ‘seat’.
  7. Do not marry the pilot. Go for the pot bellied, tea stained, tobacco reeking operator – 70 balloons x 25 pax (average) x Euro 150 (average) x 1.5 flights (average) x 100 operable days (average) … you do the math!
 The hot air balloon pilot – Murat – rather charming bloke that was muttering curses at the American tourists for their ridiculous and dangerous demands!
So having woken up at ungodly hours 2 days in a row, enduring long layovers in provincial airports and endless transfers across arid, barren, dessert like landscapes, the prospect of waking up at 2:30 a.m. to start hiking is far worse than the imagined visits by Freddie Krueger in my prepubescent years. 
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Yet again I was up at 1:00 a.m. unable to sleep.
Gathering the bare minimum in my backpack and stuffing the important stuff into my cargo pants that keeps slipping dangerously below my hips – having lost some weight from the tummy bug – I stepped out to ‘test’ the temperature.

bbbbbuuuuuuuuurrrrrr….

.“Die. I won’t make it.” says my brain while I slipped on the tea-pot warmer looking hat, wrapped the woolen-pashima mixed scarf around my neck before getting into my Goretex down lined parka and gloves designed to slap others without feeling any pain on the palms – splendid!
Three apple teas later, I was feeling warm, cosy and ready to conquer the peak! wondering why everyone else was going bbbbbuuuuuurrrrrr…. in slow motion movements.
“whimpy Caucasians!” I thought in disgust. {:p}
Busying myself to keep warm, I helped the guide and cook pack up the camp which clocked up loads of brownie points for me later.
At 2,000 metres I was hunched. If possible I would have assumed the fetal position to keep the torturous winds at bay. Shivering and being weight down by exhaustion and slight altitude sickness, my footing was unsteady and I was sure the ground was getting increasingly rocky and uneven judging from the crunching sounds emitted with every contact it made with my hiking shoes, not to mention the minor backward slipping experience with every step taken.
Reluctantly, taking my toasty hands out of my parka pockets, I retrieved the hiking pole and extended it from my backpack. Since the hands are out, I decided to grab a quick energy fix and rummaged my pockets for the energy paste which when I am cocoon in a safe warm place I think the pink and green lab made ‘food’ is no more than disgusting melted erasers I had once made as a child, melting and moulding it with wax – don’t ask why! but seriously with some encouragement back then, I could have been the next scientific noble prize winner.
sheeesh
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Bah! 

I must have been the dumbest person ever to walk on this earth. (maybe not earth per se, but definitely on Mt. Ararat) 
I have my American Express and VISA cards (!!!) in one pocket together with the questionably useful medical insurance cardS, passport in the other, TL in yet another … and … and compact flash cards!!!
WT{blip}
I had worn the wrong cargo pants!
.
Through the din of light, I looked for anyone nearby.
Mostly couples or solo seasoned male trekkers were in our group of 12; cook, guide and porter not included.

The trekkers were no doubt way ahead. The couples? God knows!


As I climbed, keeping close the foot path – or what I assume is a foot path – I cajoled one leg ahead of the other imagining that soon I would be burning protein and sustaining internal bleeding in my muscles that was by now, beyond the pain one feels from lactic acid accumulation. With laboured breath (yet enough to curse silently under my breath), a leaky nose (unsure if it was mucus or I had snapped a capillary), I hung on to the vision of a silhouette that seems to be grounded at the spot some 5 metres ahead, silently swapping curses for prayers that I am not hallucinating.

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Relieved that it turned out to be my guide, I sank into his opened arms and embraced him for the longest of time before wilfully accepting the rubdowns on my arms, cheeks, back … and to be entirely honest with you, I didn’t even care when his hands lingered on way too long at strategic areas or when he had his arms around my waist for the next 20 metres … I am warm, safe and well padded like Mrs. Michelin, so he can grope and touch all he wants – it’s just Goretex and duck down!
The views on the way up Mt. Ararat; before sunrise (top picture – freezing cold) and around midday (bottom picture – freaking hot!)

In time to come and for the remaining trek, I had a free potter, always an ever willing out stretched hand to assist and pull my weight at slippery and difficult terrains, more piping hot apple tea, extra warm blankets, energy bars when mine ran out (not entirely good at rationing; I had zero energy bar left by the crack of dawn the following morning), and most importantly makeshift shade for siesta when the sun is too hot … all courtesy the trek guide in exchange for some well padded hugs, silly whispers and little ‘you are special’ gestures and attention from time to time.
So yeah, I made it to Mt. Ararat …
and at 3,200 metres I finally identified with Abraham Maslow and his famous hierarchy of needs … I sure need those emotional ones stacked right at the pinnacle of his pyramid to get to Mother Nature’s pinnacles.

Photo of the group waiting for sunrise at base camp … I had thought sunrise and sunsets are the most overrated thing people go for until I saw the burning ball of inferno rising in the horizon opposite the moon that continues to shine on for an hour before totally ‘disappearing’ into the clear blue almost cloudless skies.
.And yeah, I love Turkiye and have found a happy symbiotic relationship with their men.
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The trek guide – this photo could have pass off as “Ice, Ice Baby” – Vanilla Ice Album cover – check out the hairdo!

 

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