Day 16: Pamukkale
There was no way I could walk any slower. It had to be here. This was a bus station, there had to be a ticket office. I’d walked the top floor, searching, looking. It had to be here.
I tried to follow the people, surely others were buying bus tickets. I looked for the word ticket (bilet) or ticketing (biletlendirme) or ticket office (bilet gisesi) but there wasn’t anything, upstairs or downstairs. There was nobody to ask; I could use my translate program with a vender if I really, really had to.
“Where can I buy a bus ticket?”
The center of the bus station was an open area where people could walk around, then there were two rows of buses with gate numbers lined up around the edges and a smattering of food venders. A guide was posted on the wall so you could match the gate number you needed to the bus going that way. But I wanted to buy a ticket for Saturday’s bus to Isparta and didn’t want to risk the bus filling before I got my ticket. I walked the entire upstairs and then the downstairs. There weren’t any throngs of people walking towards one place. If I were a ticket office….
I went back upstairs and decided to walk behind the two rows of buses, the only place I hadn’t looked. I saw a glass wall with a automatic door in the center. I walked closer, there was no sign. A woman walked through the door. Bingo. The ticket center. There is a remarkable absense of sineage in Turkey.
The bus system is confusing because there are so many different companies. I’m not sure if one is better than another or how to compare experiences, reliability or prices. I walked up to a ticket office that said, “Isparta” and bought a ticket.
When they reserve your ticket, they always note whether you are a man or a woman as some woman here can not sit next to a man who is a stranger. I wasn’t asked if I wanted an aisle seat or a window seat, but just having the right ticket in my hand was enough. I wonder how I’ll figure out which seat is number 8? I’ve never noticed numbers on bus seats.
Denizli is an interesting city. If you research things to do here, all the recommendations are to leave the city and go somewhere else. Really. This is a textile city but most people come for attractions out of town. I found my hotel on a website that noted it was across the street from the bus station, so it would be easy to get out of the city and tour the notable places in the area.
After breakfast I returned to my room and slept for hours. When I woke, I drank water and slept again and might have slept away the afternoon if I didn’t force myself to get up and out.
Since I had a good orientation to the bus station earlier in the day, finding the minibus to Pammukkale was easy. I got one of the last seats and paid less than a dollar for the 20 minute ride.
Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish and does look like giant mounds of cotton candy. It is formed as volcanic lava dissolves calcium below the earth and then deposits it along naturally made terraces on the surface where it hardens into limestone. The rule here is the opposite of restaurants in the states: no shoes.
I walked along the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the 8th Wonder of the World without my shoes, just like every other person walking here from every part of the world. I stepped carefully along the ridges that were at times sharp and at other times slippery and at other times incredibly satisfying. I kept thinking someone was going to tell me to put my shoes on and stop splashing around in puddles. I waded up to my knees and rubbed the mud into my skin just in case it really did have healing powers, as the ancient Romans were the first to believe.
Over five thousand people visit the site every day, so I had lots of company as I trekked up the hill by stepping along the travertines (terraces) and took my time; no need to fall of the white cliff where there was, of course, no railing or signs warning that there was an edge. In fact there were no billboards or flashing lights or “media noise” of any kind. If it weren’t so hot out, I might consider this a good dose of daily exercise.
The bonus for making it to the top of the hill was that #1: you could put your shoes back on and #2: the ancient city of Hierapolis was there to be (re) discovered at no extra charge. When I thought about visiting ruins, I figured that you’d arrive and have all the buildings in a small area where you might walk around and see them without too much walking. Not so when you visit an ancient city. Hierapolis is scattered along the mountain side with paths leading from one old building to another and the most interesting things were up steep climbs.
I wish someone had recommended sturdy shoes for walking along the ruins; there are a lot of small rocks in the path. At least i had sandals where most people were stumbling around in flip flops looking at the remains of baths, temples, monuments and the big theater.
Since I didn’t have a renowned archaeologist showing me around Heirapolis, I read the posted signs in English, then made up my own stories. “This building is a municipal building, very old, original.” And “This building is where they kept the bad children--because there are no views.” And “This used to be a disco where Cleopatra and Marc Anthony got down to the pop tunes of the day before their epic video game competition and hotdog eating contests so that when they headed to the healing baths, they could truly relax.” I should probably offer tours.
I made my way up the hill to St. Philip’s Fountain, a pilgrimage site. Though nobody is sure which Phillip is buried here and which Phillip people came to pray to, it is commonly believed that this Phillip was one of Jesus’s apostles and that he was crucified here, upside down, per his wish. (I find it interesting that he was able to direct his crucifiction. These days there’s no possibility of directing your demise; oh, how times have changed.) Just in case it was the religious leader, I prayed again for the children of the world, that they may have food, shelter, education, safety and be able to live with their families.
I learned that St. Phillip was the patron saint of mirth. Hello joy! Rather than rejoicing that I’d found another religious leader from the bible, I celebrated finding the man responsible for joy. How cool is that? I said a faster, second prayer to St. Phillip: and may all children experience joy, daily.
It was the end of the day and so many people were heading down the travertines so I decided to walk down the road. I’d read that it was 3 kilometers, under two miles. I figured I could walk that in under a half hour at an end-of-the-day slow pace. At first there was a lot of activity along the road, then it became this desolate, hot walk along a road through the wilderness. I started wondering if it was a good idea to be out there by myself, but it felt so good to walk that I continued.
Several cars and busses passed. I waved a hello wave.
I walked for a half hour and wasn’t anywhere near the town. In fact it looked like I had a lot more than 3 kilometers left to walk. There was only a half hour of sunlight left in the day. I walked faster. I wasn’t afraid of getting lost, but I wasn’t keen on being out there in the dark. Hello phone flashlight!
Another car went by and offered me a ride. I waved it on. But when another car offered me a ride, I looked at who was in the car: a man driving, his wife wearing a head scarf, and an elderly woman in the back seat wearing a head scarf.
“Yes. Please.” I said. “I’d love a ride.”
I opened the back door and climbed in next to the old lady. She was holding two bags of tomatoes of the reddest hue and smiled a big smile. I put my hand on my heart, bowed my head slightly and returned the smile.
She brought her hands to her heart and as the car drove down the mountain, this sweet woman and I locked eyes and smiled at each other.
In broken English the driver asked where I was from. I should have said, “America” but I said “New York” without thinking about it.
He and his wife talked to each other in Turkish for a while then he said to me, “That a new place?”
I nodded. “Yes. A new place.”
We rode down the hill as their GPS called our the turns in Turkish. We’d been driving for several minutes when we passed a sign that said 3 kilometers. At the bottom of the hill I got out of the car, thanked them profusely and gave one last smile to the old woman who reached out her hand, not to shake but to touch. I held her hand for a moment, smiled, touched my heart then called out repeating thanks as I closed the door.
As I walked into town to find the minibus back to Denizli, I thought about how many good people there are in the world. I know, the inverse is true too, but there are so many good people in this world. And there are many good people in Turkey and I am good at finding them and cherishing our time together.