Sunday, August 2, 2009

Weekend Trip to the Dardanelles

Last weekend, I attended a CouchSurfing event in the Dardanelles with about 20-22 people. If you look at the map to the side, you can see exactly where we set up camp (the red A), tent poles and all. After a tedious 7 hour bus ride (from midnight to 7 a.m.) on Saturday morning, we arrived in Kabatepe, where I sat down to have breakfast. First let me talk about the bus. It was a “luxury bus,” complete with dangly, frilly Persianesque looking decorative drapery around the interior lights and front-back partition. Am I in a Disney movie? The seats made me feel as though I had a cactus lodged up my backside and there seemed to be a lack of comfortable positions to sit in, so instead I served as a pillow for the travelers around me, who were much smaller and didn’t have the same problems fitting their knees in the space directly forward of their seat. After this experience, I am considering a career as a pillow. In the end, I took this lengthy opportunity to imagine what the dark Turkish landscape whizzing by must look like…certainly an interesting way to go about seeing a place!
On arrival in Kabatepe, I sat down for breakfast, like I mentioned earlier. Breakfast consisted of assorted Turkish cheeses, some shriveled olives, a hard boiled egg, lots of white bread, a small package of nutella, and a honey that tasted like a mixture of baby products and honey…I miss American honey! Turkish meals typically take forever, so I succeeded in eating an entire loaf of bread…this seems to happen a lot, so I hereby take a vow to only eat half a loaf of bread at every meal, henceforth. You all heard it here! The redeeming factor for the breakfast was the view of
the beautiful Aegean Sea, showered in a warm red-yellow light from the morning sun, a trade boat passing in the distance. The town itself was little more than a seaside stop, with a couple of little restaurants and the usual assortment of vendors selling the same exact things-a phenomenon I still don’t understand…I believe monkey-see, monkey-do applies in this case, which you might also call a competitive landscape in economics, haha! After buying some beers in a local shack, we moved on to our campsite, also located on the Aegean coast.

The campsite was filled with Turkish dwellers living there for the summer months, basically. They have electricity, refrigerators, stoves…a veritable tent city. We located ourselves in a little section and crammed all our tents together, then quickly went to the beach, which I have pictures of to the side. I would say it was about 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) out, so the others and I roasted! Of course they got tans and I turned a nice shade of crimson. The water was a translucent, turquoise blue and the temperature was perfect! My beer that I saved for after I got out of the water was, however, less than perfect at about 90-95 degrees…I abandoned it after the first sip, saving myself approximately 175 calories…I ate it later in bread!

The sand on the beach was nothing special, but hot as blazes! Think of an unknowing mouse running atop a heated woodstove and you have what I felt like as I tried to make it from towel to water. The beach was very long and picturesque with a jetty butting into the sea on the right and
a natural peninsula popping out to say hello on the left. There was a little restaurant and general store that sold basic necessities and lots of Turkish foods, which of course includes a lot of roasted meats.

As I took off my shirt, I had the initial feeling of, “oh no! I’m whiter than a loaf of wonder bread” feeling amongst all the nicely tanned bodies. I quickly stopped caring once I realized that my ivory white was going to turn lobsterback red (the British soldiers, for clarities sake). On each of my two days on the Aegean, I swam about a kilometer out from the shore with a friend or two, just to say that I floated in an extremely historic body of water. It was very easy to float due to the salt saturation.

Moving right along, the weekend was one entertaining moment after another. I had to laugh a lot to alleviate the mistakes I made, such as setting my tent up on a patch of prickers that poked through the bottom of the tent, or leaving the tent flap open a little bit, resulting in the great mosquito battle of July 2009. I tried new and interesting foods, which I will leave to another food blog post, and I made some good contacts. One of the couchsurfers owns a cafĂ© in Kadikoy and I am going to be working there a bit to learn some new recipes. Another couchsurfer’s father is an executive chef at a five-star hotel in Istanbul, specializing in Ottoman, French, and Italian cuisine…baller! I am trying to set up an appointment to interview him. I mingled with people from Mexico, Denmark, Holland, Turkey, China, and France, all very well traveled and talented in up to 4 languages. One of the guys has a PHD in linguistics: he speaks 5…the exception.

Here is a quick list of things that I learned:
1) The Turkish word for sunflower is Aycicek, meaning moonflower…someone is backwards here! There are huge moonflower fields all over Turkey for seeds and sun(moon)flower oil.
2) At restaurants, food is brought out as it is ready, and you are not expected to wait for the others to get their food.
3) Simit Sarayi, a version of Turkish fast food serving anything that’s breaded, crusted with sesame seeds and stuffed with cheese, meat, spinach, human fingers, etc., is not very good and makes you want to drink a lot of water. I’m shooting for the Mcdonald’s next door in the future. Double quarter-pounder with cheese, here I come!!
4) Kofte, or Turkish meatballs, have many regional varieties, and are actually named for the place where they originate. Some are quite good, but not Kansas City BBQ yet.
5) Canakalle is very close to the ruins of Troy, which I'm kicking myself for not visiting. It is located on the narrowest part of the Dardanelles (it's a strait) and takes its name from being a pottery hotspot back in the day. Canakalle, like Istanbul, straddles the Euro-Asian divide.

Here is another thing that I learned/created out of extreme boredom (I'm not really bored):

Tons of people drink Ayran, a watery, salty yogurt drink. I’m not sure who first figured this out, but if I were to tell the story, it would go like this: One day, back in 1454 (the year after the Ottomans took Constantinople), a young man named Murat participated in a fortuitous accident. Murat, who wore shiny, pointy shoes and had enough gel in his hair for 10 men, worked at a gargantuan (highly-leveraged) yogurt factory, called What’s up Yog!TM. It was a Monday morning, and Murat was a little under the weather from the weekend, so as he was carrying a burlap sack full of salt across the titanium walkways passing over fermenting vats of yogurt, he tripped. The entire contents of the sack perilously fell into one of the vats below, imparting a salty flavor to that batch of yogurt. Murat, now realizing that he was still a little drunk from the weekend, decided in his apathetic state to write this event off, go home, and make a cheese sandwich with a chili-mango sauce and green peppers. The salty yogurt was a hit! Little did Murat know that his little accident would transform the feeble (don’t forget highly leveraged) yogurt company into a center for mass-produced salty-watery yogurt drinks, called Ayran (derived from “I-ran,” meaning I just did a bad thing and I’m now going to take off at a considerable rate of speed). Ayran, the drink that has been raising the average Turkish blood pressure for centuries!

So these are some of the things that I took from the weekend. The rest will forever remain a mystery. I’m sorry, dear readers, I cannot give away all my secrets of Turkish knowledge ☺

My ride home from the trip was the same straight-backed ride in a magic-carpet, luxury bus. Oh the fun! Oh the excitement! Oh the pain!

Over and out!