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It was a pretty great road trip, and most days we got out and did some hiking. I have to tell you about my favorite place along the way to LA. I don’t want to write another post about something you already know about (hello Grand Canyon). I want to tell you about this little known place. I actually had quite a bit of trouble finding it on google maps. So I came prepared with step-by-step written directions, but the signage to get there from the interstate was spot on.

If you’re ever near Santa Fe or Albuquerque (that’s I-25 or I-40 respectively for those of you travel buffs), I highly recommend visiting Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

The website doesn’t do this site justice, nor does the cheap $5 entrance fee (which is covered by the National Park Pass if you have one).

If you remember my ravings about the Cappadocia region of Turkey, this landscape will look familiar. In some ways, it’s much better than Turkey because it is easily accessible, has clearly marked trails, and includes beautiful slot canyons, too. Of course, it isn’t as large as the region in Turkey, but then again, we can’t all fly to central Turkey easily.

My only wish was that the afternoon clouds that were forming didn’t make us hurry so much. It really is beautiful terrain.

And just in case you’re wondering, my second favorite place was the Santa Fe National Forest. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed being there. Probably half of my enthusiasm was just for being on my own two feet and in the trees after so much driving through the plains. I didn’t want to leave after roasting marshmallows by the fire and camping in the clear mountain air, but we were less than halfway to LA…

A few random thoughts from my trip to Turkey:

Traffic – Seeing the traffic of the city completely stopped or moving at a crawl makes me thankful I don’t have a car so I don’t have the option to try to drive.

Turkish Men – I’ve read about them being sleazy, assuming a woman traveling alone is a whore… But I was unexpected by just how sleazy a couple of them I came across were.

Istanbul a Second Time – It’s an easy city to navigate, but by the time you are doing it a second time, the trams, metro, streets, and airport are a breeze.

Just Ask – If I was asked what I learned from this trip, I would sum it up in the two words: just ask. From asking for peanut butter, to getting an earlier bus, to getting on an earlier flight, to finding the trail, to getting warmed rolls on a flight when you missed the meal, to getting to sleep in a tent, to skipping the sales pitch at the end of a tour… You just don’t know what is possible if you don’t ask. Remember, typically the worst that can happen is they say no, but I only have 2 examples of Nos from the trip.

Personally, I think that people in the West are way too modest, myself included. We encounter so many depictions of model-like bodies that it’s difficult to simply enjoy and embrace the skin we’re in. I try to push myself to do some of those uncomfortable activities, which I think will help me align my personal philosophy with my mindset.

So even though I knew it would be weird, I was looking forward to visiting a hamam, or Turkish Bath. Lots of people just getting clean. However, I was really worried about the whole “scrubbing” portion because I have very sensitive skin. (I also talked with another traveler who reported that the “peel,” as it was called, was torturous to him.)

I went to a hamam in Antalya on an off day, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could pick which things I wanted to have done. There is a steam, scrub, soapy massage, and oil massage. Thankfully, I was able to avoid the scrub!

After paying, I went into the women’s portion of the hamam, where two women were waiting. I went into a changing area, coming out in a towel and clogs, and then the nice lady, who didn’t speak any English, led me to the steam room. She took my towel and dumped small buckets of water over me. Then she showed me how to lay down on the marble, to embrace being naked in the steam room. I was both thankful to be alone but a little disappointed not to see lots of women gossiping around me. After the steam, I had the most interesting soapy massage. First, soap is slippery enough without trying to lay on a marble table while a woman is pushing and pulling you. Second, it was by far the most thorough massage I’ve ever had… Then she dumped about 10 buckets of water over me and then motioned for me to continue with another 40 or so. Then she led me to the outside area where I had a nice cup of apple tea (cider). By this time, I’m feeling pretty ok with removing my towel and getting onto a normal massage table for the oil massage, but I’m still confused by the fact that she never shut the door of the small massage room (which opened to the entrance of the hamam). I suppose it was  so she would know if someone came in, but somehow naked people seeing me seems very different than clothed people.

Overall, it was a great experience. I was there a little over an hour and came aware feeling extremely relaxed and just a little bit more comfortable in my own skin. I will definitely try it again!

Note: after my experience and talking with others, I encourage you to definitely go to a smaller hamam outside Istanbul to have an authentic experience, to avoid paying exorbitant rates, and to avoid being pushed for extra services and tips.

As anticipated, I spent a few days in Istanbul and then traveled to Cappadocia to hike around the beautiful environment and see the underground cities.

Then I took an overnight bus to Antalya. (Note: worst bus experience with two children throwing up, windy roads, continual picking up and dropping off passengers despite being “express”, lights on, attendants grabbing back of seat, etc.)

Personally, I didn’t care for Antalya (and felt oppressed by the humidity), but from there, I took a dulmus to see Termessos.

While it was difficult to get to, it was exactly the kind of hiking and exploring I really enjoy, and absolutely beautiful.

Then I bused to Fethiye, which was another beautiful ride. I didn’t spend any time in Fethiye except to catch a dulmus to a tiny spot another traveler recommended called Kabak. When I arrived there, I hike 25 minutes down into the valley…

to get to the small cabins and tents, where I would stay.

This place was just the kind of thing I enjoy (totally appealed to my hippie side), but it was fairly lonely compared to my evenings spent in hostel dorm rooms.

Then I went to Sakilikent Gorge, which seemed fairly similar to Zion National Park, but with only one major river crossing to navigate.

After so many bus rides, I learned of a small local airport (again, from another traveler) and decided to splurge and fly back to Istanbul, spending my remaining days there, rather than 2 days on a bus.

At the Grand Bazaar, I was looking at some old copper and silver jewelry, when the shop keeper offered me tea or apple tea. As part of my attempt to take it easy and talk to people, I asked him what apple tea is. He said it’s a Turkish tea. Intrigued, I said I would try it. When it came, I realized that it’s essentially what we call apple cider (what an improvement on all of this tea being drunk!) The shopkeeper and I exchanged pleasantries. He was astonished that I live in Kabul, and I learned that he is an Afghan, who has only been in Istanbul for the past 10 months. I was excited to show off my limited Dari with him and to hear how he came to Istanbul, since it’s fairly difficult for Afghans to get visas. (At more than one time, I’ve learned that someone I interact with (like a guard or driver) has lived in other countries as an illegal alien for awhile before returning to Afghanistan because it is too difficult &/or boring there, where they can’t work and are away from family.) The shopkeeper told me that he is staying with his brother, who has another shop in the bazaar and has been living and working in Istanbul with his family for the past 10 years. Then he introduced me to his nephew, who I learned is 7 years old and more than happy to correct me on my pronunciation of colors in Dari.

I have come full circle through Turkey, returning to Istanbul to fly back to Afghanistan (to include another long layover in Dubai) tomorrow. It has been a good trip. Unexpectedly, I did not miss guards, translators (ok, honestly, I did twice), dust, guns, or long sleeves. (I gotta say that on 3 separate occasions in the past 2 weeks I was asked by a Turk how my skin is so white! How do I explain that my typically white skin turns practically ghastly translucent without sunlight on it for 3.5 months?)

I have not had much time at the hostel computers (or I have stayed places without computers) so I have been making some blog notes in my notebook, which I will add for your viewing in the next week. As a few general observations, I can definitely understand why so many people like Turkey.

Istanbul, where many travelers never get beyond the Old City of Sultanahmet, is exactly what a lot of people are looking for:

  • It has lots of interesting historical and cultural sites within a short distance of each other (Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, Cisterns, etc).
  • English is by far the most prevalent language spoken (at times, it felt like Prague because of the language, without quite the same exorbitant prices).
  • There is a general carnival atmosphere, with street vendors selling everything from traditional snacks to corn on the cobb (I do not recommend; it is not the sweet variety) and cotton candy.
  • And of course, there are plenty of places to shop; something not to be underestimated when it comes to tourists.

While I enjoyed seeing some of the sites, I was ever thankful that I was traveling by myself. I could go at my own pace and seek out the items that interested me.

My thoughts on the rest of Turkey will have to wait until I am at my computer (thankfully, with my own keyboard, which does not have all of these strange keys, ı ş ç ö ğ ü € £ ½, in the way of my typing).

I’m headed to Land of the Turks today. Everyone that I’ve talked with raves about the bazaars, beaches, culture, geography, history, sights, etc. More than one person told me that it doesn’t really matter where you go because everything in Turkey is worthwhile. (Can any place meet that kind of praise?)

I haven’t planned any more of my trip than in my last post. I’ll be spending some time in Istanbul, followed by Cappadocia, and then I’ll decide what’s next when I’m there.

I think it will be very disconcerting for me. No guards, no translators, no drivers dropping me off exactly where I need to be, no exact plan of where I need to be when, no daily workout, no one else worrying about my safety, no house mates with their strange quirks, no weekly work reports.

Still the change will be good for me. I look forward to exploring without any specific schedule. To fresh air. To walking until my legs are sore. To trying new foods. To spontaneity.

But first, I need to pack…

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