Friday, November 29, 2013

Volunteering at Lisinia Doğa.

(Awful but appropriate subtitle: every rose has its thorn.)

After nine hours of the world's most uncomfortably hot overnight bus ride from Göreme to Burdur, the bus driver stopped briefly at a highway exit and pointed.

It was 4am. Pitch black. In the middle of Turkey. Not the first time Jen has been dropped off on the highway in the middle of the night... probably not the last time for us, either! We got our bags and walked a few hundred meters to the bus station to wait for our ride. At least it was cold outside - zero degrees celsius, to be exact - a pleasant change from the bus sauna.

Our volunteer host had assured us that the bus station was new and would be warm and safe, even at 4am, and he was right. We half-slept slumped over on hard seats for the next several hours. As promised, an older Turkish man in work clothes wandered over around 8am. "Lisinia?" he asked quietly. We nodded wearily, picked up our bags, and followed him across the parking lot to a small minibus with sideways benches instead of seats. The man spoke no English and several times during this walk, I prayed that I had heard him correctly. ("Wait, did he say 'taxi?' He spoke so softly. Are we blindly following some dude who is going to drive us around Burdur for an hour, charge us 150 Turkish lire, and then drop us at the highway exit like the bus driver?")

Nope. He had indeed said "Lisinia". He pointed Patrick to the front seat and me to a bench in the back where two Turkish ladies were already seated. I smiled hello. They smiled back.

This type of communication with the locals would be common for the next several days. It worked surprisingly well.

The driver picked up about eight more ladies on the way to Lisinia. The back of the bus began to look and feel like a clown car. When the benches were full, the newcomers refused my seat, taking the floor instead.

re-enacting the clown car a few days later

One lady passed around hard candies and insisted we all take a few. They smiled, laughed, chatted. I may not know Turkish but I know gossip when I hear it. I smiled too.

We arrived at Lisinia Doğa and met the current group of volunteers - a Slovenian, two Romanians, a Canadian, an Aussie, a Swede. After a few days several of these folks would leave and we would be joined by three Germans and a Turk. The volunteer manager was Turkish; he was also the only one on the project fluent in English and we would interact with him the most. All but the Swede were in their early twenties. This gave the project a bit of a summer camp feel. (Fun for us for nine days... Actually, about four days of it was enough for us - we're old.)

Once again we arrived late in the season so the harvest work had finished. Our main job was to help bundle unearthed rose bushes and roots for replanting.

uprooting the old roses

transporting, part one
fill the trailer

transporting, part two
empty the trailer

the ladies replanting roses
in the new soil

if we never touch another rose bush 
for the rest of our lives...

or wear one of these...

This area of Turkey is one of the biggest rose producers worldwide. Ozturk, who self-funds the Lisinia project, purchased neglected fields of roses in order to replant them in his own fertile soil, and will eventually sell them to support his wildlife rehabilitation and cancer-prevention-awareness programs.

like this one
we were invited to
on our sixth day

Anyway. Rose branches and roots buried a meter deep will regrow into bushes. We had no idea. One afternoon Ozturk pointed to a nearby field; with the help of translation we learned that the plants had grown a meter high after just one year. We hope the new field fares as well.

Most days we worked with the other volunteers but we also spent a few days working alongside men and women from the village. Hearing the ladies' laughter as they chatted in the field, sitting with everyone during snack breaks or lunch, dancing to Turkish music when the tractor driver cranked the radio, working side by side to finish tying the rose bundles, cramming into the clown car after the work day was done - these are the memories that will stay with us. We may not have shared a language but once again, hand signals and laughter bridged the communication gap just fine.

The project also has huge orchards and fields that produce enough... er... produce to sustain a village, or in Ozturk's case, hundreds of volunteers each year. We enjoyed heaps of watermelon molasses, pear compote, canned tomatoes, apple desserts and olives during our stay.

And bread. Lots and lots and lots of bread. Sigh. (On the up side, I did try my hand at homemade bread and it turned out really well.)

Ozturk's project is well-intentioned. As we learned more about Lisinia we realized we didn't necessarily agree with some of his approaches and philosophies, and we were a bit disappointed with the late-season project management (or lack thereof - the work days were a bit chaotic, basic supplies regularly ran out, that sort of thing). Doesn't matter though - we still wish him and the project the best of luck.

We had one full day off so we took a hike up the hill behind Lisinia. Burdur Lake is surrounded by mountains and the views from the hills, the fields, the Lisinia camp are all really lovely.

leo also joined us for a bit

Back to those thorns... In addition to the ones that rooted themselves into our hands, arms, and legs while we worked, we have one in our side as well.

{enter soapbox}

We had some real challenges with about half of the age-20-something volunteers we worked alongside at Lisinia who did nothing but complain the entire time. Yes, it is a volunteer gig in exchange for food/shelter, but by not accomplishing the task requested of you in a reasonable amount of time, you are essentially freeloading. And even worse, you are generating more work for everyone else. We are not comfortable with this. And for the life of us, we cannot understand why young people feel entitled to behave this way. Or feel entitled at all.

We worked hard when there was work (as did several of the other volunteers), and the work was NEVER hard. One day we were all in the field for about three hours and one kid complained, sighed, wandered around aimlessly, and took breaks the entire time - all I could think was, "you wouldn't have lasted five minutes at Earth's Harvest or Buffalo Horn!" While we appreciated the kids' imagination and creativity in the kitchen, we wished they had shown such energy in the field. Or when it came time to clean up their messes in the kitchen. (Again, this was not everyone...)

But they did not.  So we will be choosing our volunteer opportunities a little more carefully going forward. We have also been choosing our hostels more carefully. Too many experiences with obnoxious, self-centered youth in hostel kitchens and dorm rooms has left a bad taste in our mouths. This must be why couples our age opt for hotels instead of cheaper accommodations when traveling...

Now get off our lawn.

{exit soapbox}

And now we are off to Fethiye to enjoy some down time before a month of rescue horse care. We are looking forward to a little stability in a mature, structured household over the holidays before rejoining our fellow travelers.

We hope you are all enjoying your winter, wherever you might be, while we enjoy the Mediterranean coast, regular access to hot showers, and a white bread detox!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A few weeks ago in a Göreme far, far away....

(Ed. note: This is going to be a lot of blah blah blah that will probably get kinda boring kinda fast unless you've been there and can relate, or you really want to go one day.  Suffice to say - we absolutely loved Göreme and the parts of Cappadocia that we saw.  We loved the mystique, the calmness, the strangeness, the pureness, the smallness and yet the vastness.  We loved the feeling it gave us - we are mere specks in this crazy, crazy Universe with its endless timeline!  We were noticeably sad the day we had to leave.  And we can't wait to go back someday.)

Göreme was fascinating.  Fascinating and awesome and amazing.  From the moment we stepped off the bus to the moment we left, we constantly looked around and wondered where we were - the moon?  Another planet?

no, just the middle of Turkey

Sooooo many pictures, some are here, many others are here.  We spent three full days exploring the town and surrounding area.  Everywhere we looked, there were incredible caves carved into the hoodoos.  The rock was soft enough to easily shape, but sturdy enough once the wind hit the walls that people were able to build multi-level houses.

mcmansions of days past

with lots of nitches for wall storage
(or TVs)

exploration was encouraged
(just around the corner there was a ground-level door -
Jen chose that entry point instead of this one)

We mostly just wandered...

through Red Valley...

Rose Valley...

Love Valley (awwwww)...

Pigeon Valley...

One day we took the "Green Tour" - an easy and affordable way to see a lot of spread-out sights in the area.  We started at Derinkuyuthe deepest underground city in the area (approximately 85 meters deep with 16 floors).  Built in 800 BC, this city provided a safe haven for Christians during enemy attacks in 500-1000AD.  It could accommodate about 20,000 people and included amenities like wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories, and chapels.  (All that info was copied from the internet.  But it's all true, according to our guide Kasim.)

surprisingly roomy

It was pretty amazing.  We were able to explore about 7 of the 16 floors, and we went down pretty deep.  Back in the day ventilation was poor but it worked well enough for short periods of time... And when it didn't, there was also a temporary morgue area.

exiting the morgue area
unlike like the guy
who had his picture taken in the grave
(we call him "rude")

Next we walked several kilometers through the Ihlara Valley, only 17k as the crow flies but a full 40k in length (making it the second longest canyon after the Grand Canyon according to Kasim... we don't have time or interest in confirming or refuting this, so we'll leave that to you guys).  

we can confirm 
that it was gorge-ous

Ağaçaltı, an ancient church, was situated in the valley, and the frescoes were bright and clear.  Many other churches were also carved into rocks in the valley but we didn't have time to visit them.

amazing how the color stays
after almost a millennium

After the walk we lunched at a local cafe and headed to Selime monastery.  "Amazing" has been overused already but there really is no other word...


Selime monastery was carved by monks in the 13th century and includes three churches (one pictured above), monks’ quarters, a large kitchen and stables for animals. 

40-50 people once ate around this table

We had a lot of fun exploring all the nooks and crannies this place had to offer and as with everything on this tour, we wish we could've stayed a bit longer.  Such is the nature of paying others to lead you around...

Finally, we stopped at the rim of Pigeon Valley before visiting an onyx factory.  The jewelry was beautiful but alas, we were there to sightsee, not buy.  

mandatory sightseeing adorable photo op = free

The next day after hiking around a bit, we toured the open air museum where almost a dozen churches were built to house Christians during the 14th and 15th centuries.  All had intricate frescoes, some more artistic and stylistic than others (photos were not always allowed, click the link above to see better examples).  How they did this back in the day amazed us.

how they remain intact today astounds us

Cappadocia is THE place to do a hot air balloon ride but the day we signed up, the tour was cancelled due to bad weather.  Next time, perhaps...  Or maybe we will just leave that to the tourists so that we can enjoy more beautiful valley walks.

like this one

Otherwise the weather was good and the moon was out in full force the whole time we were there.

all we needed was...

... a little Turkish delight

... or a tripod

Food notes:

  • lentil soup was everywhere so we embarked upon the lentil soup Pepsi challenge...
the winner - Sarmasik

  • dried fruit was also in abundance and we enjoyed local dried apricots, mulberries, plums, raisins and figs
organic mulberries and "Obama" apricots
(so said the vendor -
he was out of peach "Clinton" apricots)

  • we found this amazing trail mix in a local market

the orange things have peanuts inside

  • pide is well known in Turkey, so of course we had to try some at FIrIn Express

  • pomegranates were everywhere so we took some along on our hikes
messy but delicious

  • and the kebaps were amazing
Sarmasik's chicken clay pot kebap
broken open right at your table
slightly better than tableside guac

Saray, where they proudly give you
five pieces of delicious meat
instead of three like other places

Lodging notes: cave hotels are all the rage these days so we chose a private room at Nomad Cave Hotel.  It was off-season so the price was just right.  Only thing better would've been a double bed... but that's so anti-Flintstones!


The Nomad staff were great, providing hiking, tour and dining recommendations which we enjoyed immensely.  They do push certain tours but it's a tourist town and that's the way it goes... all you have to say is "not interested" and they don't push anymore.  The breakfast was tasty, the showers were hot, and the tea flowed all day.  We would definitely stay there again.

Göreme was a slight sidestep but well worth it and we would love to spend more time here.  Spring is apparently the best time to visit because the weather is gorgeous and the wild flowers are blooming...


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam...

(There, now it's in your head too.)

Istanbul! What a welcome change from gray rectangular buildings, Catholic churches, white bread and winter squash, and WWII monuments!

Istanbul, where thousand year old mosques line the sky, prayer calls ring through the loudspeakers across the city five times daily, and they mark your gender as well as your name on your bus ticket (so as not to sit men next to single women).

Istanbul, where there is real street food, fish go from the water that morning to your plate at lunch, restaurateurs hassle you for business as you walk down the street, lentil soup is everywhere, everyone drinks gallons of tea every day, and there is so much color on your plate!

Istanbul... Where masses of residents and tourists crowd the trams and metros, the downtown streets, the nameless side alleys you can't find on a map no matter how hard you look... So many people. It was hard to find quiet spaces but we managed now and then.

i'll be peace ...

... you be quiet

We hit most of the highlights:

starting with an evening stroll around
Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque

The Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque was our first daytime stop. Built in the 1600s to rival the mosque across the street, well... you can read all about it here. It was beautiful, architecturally and stylistically. It was also very crowded, the hanging lights distracted from the views of the arches and tiles, and they were getting ready for prayer so we didn't spend a whole lot of time inside.

looking up in the blue mosque

why they call it the blue mosque

We saw a few minutes of a whirling dervish performance our first night at a bar near our hostel. That was enough for us but we did visit the Mevlevi Dervish museum for a brief history of the practice, customs, and musical instruments. It's the oldest place where the fascinatingly bizarre dances are still performed. Fine arts are also a big part of this world, and we saw beautiful calligraphy and marbling art exhibits as well.

Jen's new hobby
when we get back to Portland

The Basilica Cistern was our final paid tourist stop.

holy. cow.

Far under the Hippodrome area of downtown Istanbul, this 336-columned marvel built in the 6th century could hold up to 100,000 tons of water for the city. The Ottomans, favoring running water to still water, let it fall to ruin in the 1500s and it was restored several times, most recently in the 1980s where it became accessible for public viewing.

the big draws are the medusa heads

but we liked this quiet alley the best

It was eerie and amazing... possibly the highlight of our tourist attractions.

Of course we visited the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.

too much stuff

my kingdom for a real kitchen

They are close to everything and many times we would find ourselves wandering into one or the other without intending or even realizing - sneaky street design, Istanbul! Both were fun to browse and we were glad we came in the cooler off-season. But when you don't shop and can cook only what you carry on your back, it's really just a big tease.

tea was a good purchase though

We were a bit dismayed with all the "made in China" clothing and gadgets at the Grand Bazaar. (And with all the markets lining the downtown streets, underground walkways, and metro stations in general.) The shop layouts were interesting, though. We found an entire street dedicated to fans; another to small generators; many clothing-specific strips (babies, tots, women). Not exactly efficient one-stop shopping but at least you could compare prices and get the best deal...?

kitchen street

One day we walked up to New Town's Taksim Square and then down Independence Avenue. Lots more shops and cafes, one of which we chose to rest for a bit.

cheshire grins

We walked back past Galata Tower (skipping the entry fee, the sky was too overcast to get a good skyline view). We skipped a few other things which will probably make some of you cringe - namely, we did not tour Hagia Sofia. For once it wasn't completely about the money - other than the Blue Mosque we didn't visit any of the 92 thousand other free mosques the city has to offer, either. We also did not go into the Topkapi Palace.

With only three days we were already cramming everything in, and we had to leave time for future planning (exhausting in itself). Sitting on the pier, or in the park adjacent to the Palace, for an hour people-watching and catching our breath was more important to us than touring a mosque or museum - no matter how famous that mosque or museum might be.

(For the record, we feel the same way about all churches - Catholic, wooden, ancient, etc - and most art museums.)

We'll google pictures someday of everything we skipped. Or maybe we will just come back.

Food notes: OMG OMG OMG.

freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
on almost every street corner

fish sandwiches fresh from the bay
cooked on the boat
and tossed to you (pretty much)

Doy Doy dinner
vegetable wraps, pida and meat kabaps

best lunch evah!
eggplant and meat kebaps, dolmas and chickpea tomato soup

bagels and freshly roasted chestnuts

So much more food to list - we finally replenished our raisin and fig stash for a reasonable price (soooo expensive in Central Europe!). No baklava or hummus... yet. But the feta-like cheese was amazing. The fruit stands were beautiful and the grocery stores were fascinating. The ayran (a salty yogurt drink) was fantastic. And the olives... so many olives. Heaven.

Lodging notes:

  • Antique Hotel and Hostel - amazing location right around the corner from the Blue Mosque. Nice terrace too. We scored a nice 4-bed dorm where one of the bunks was separated by a wall, and we had the first two nights all to ourselves. The price included a colorful and flavorful breakfast buffet spread (which fit nicely in our Tupperware for "lunch" as well). We did miss the never-ending coffee and tea from Central Europe hostels... but we probably didn't need all that caffeine anyway.

We hope to pass back through Istanbul on our way to Morocco (or Portugal or Spain or Vietnam or wherever the heck we go after Turkey), though. It really was an amazing city. We probably could've entertained ourselves for another three days and spent lots of money doing so, but once again city life started to get a little draining. So we hopped on a bus and went from sensory overload to what appears to be the moon... Goreme!