So the big thing to do in Cappadocia is to take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, rising over the surreal landscapes. Sounds amazing to experience doesn't it?! We thought so too. Except the price tag for this was so far beyond our daily budget so we didn't do it. So we did the next best thing and woke up at 5 am and rode our motorbike up to a random spot on the top of the hill to watch all of the balloons launch and float across the sky.
At points, some of the balloons would dip down into a valley and blow along down in the valley for a bit before rising again. We didn't expect too much but it turned out to be one of the most spectacular things we'd ever seen. At one point Bridger counted 75 balloons in the air at one time. As some were landing, some were launching so there were always tons in the sky at one time, a truly spectacular sight like nothing we've ever seen before. Actually quite a highlight of the trip and we almost wondered if it was a better experience from the ground than from inside a basket!
Though, as beautiful as it is, there is definitely a dark side to ballooning in Cappadocia and it definitely can't be considered a risk free activity. With so many balloons in the sky at one time and many inexperienced "cowboy pilots" as they say, it is only a matter of time unfortunately before something goes wrong as it did in 2003 when there were several fatalities because balloons collided midair causing their basket inhabitants to plummet to the ground. Scary stuff. Later Bridger got in a convo with a couple who just the other day witnessed a less devastating but still intense balloon crash where three balloons collided and 16 people were rushed to the hospital. Trouble is, with so many balloon companies operating in the region and a ton of launches every day, this stuff is big business and problems seem to be kept heavily under wraps. When they questioned their pilot about the balloon accident, these people were essentially quickly and tersely told, "it wasn't an accident, it was pilot error" implying the activity itself is indeed safe, but that an individual caused the problem, the implicit message being that the industry itself is not at fault. Either way, spectacular experience, choose your company wisely!
We arrived back at the Turkish bath place at a bright and early 7:30 in the am.
Here is a he/she perspective of how things went down. I had read alot about Turkish baths in order to know what to expect and after so much education, I wasn't entirely convinced I wanted to do it because it sounded awfully "exposed". Basically in a Turkish bath, you go lay on this hot marble slab in a steam room so you're all hot and sweaty. And then the bath attendants come take you out to do a rough scrub down all over your body where layers of dead skin peel away and then they give you a solid massage before releasing you back to the stone steam room for as long as you want to either bake up or dump freezing cold water on yourself from any of the showers/taps around. Traditionally women and men bath separately in either separate rooms or separate days/hours so women go into these bath's topless or completely nude and hang around all the other topless women chatting away, everything hanging out, on the stone slab. Ok, well I've never really hung out with other women either topless of completely nude. Also the bath attendant staff here were all men which meant, some random man would be the one scrubbing me down...nude? Like I wasn't already worked up enough, this Turkish bath was "mixed gender" so I arrived super nervous thinking about being surrounded by all genders topless/nude and had a mild panic attack about whether I should just go nude and have my boobs massaged by a total strange man or just go in my bathing suit which by some accounts is more awkward anyways because you are the odd man out wearing a bathing suit...or whether I should just ask the guy what to do and do whatever he says, all choice out of my hands. Gosh so much harder for a woman than a man. Bridger was just really excited.
We got in there and to my absolute relief the guy working there explained the process and in it included the specific instruction to change into my bathing suit. Yes!!! I didn't have to ask OR make the decision myself. Then we found out that we were actually the only ones there. Yeeeees!!! God loves me! I immediately relaxed, I can do this! He put us into the same changing room and gave us towels to wrap around ourselves before setting us loose in the giant domed steam room. It was gloriously hot and sweaty and we wasted no time flattening ourselves on the warm slab but not before snapping a few pics just in case someone came in.
We alternated between the steam room/slab, the super hot sauna and dumping buckets of cold water over ourselves. Bridger was giddy about it all. I seriously pondering where the steam and heat was coming from and where all the wetness and poured water went?! I looked all over the place and could not find any sort of drainage or furnaces or holes otherwise to either pump heat/steam in or drain water out. All there was was a seemingly airtight, fully marble tiled/slabbed room. From what I can gather, they must have some sort of underground heating that heats the marble directly and the heat in the room comes directly off the marble. I had no explanation for the drainage of water. I still don't understand it! Bridger was throughly enjoying the heat/cold combo, the end.
We did this for about 45 minutes until, without explicit instructions, I started to wonder whether the bath attendants would come get us OR were we supposed to just go out when we were ready for step two. So I continued what we were doing, waiting. Nobody came. I started to ask Bridger whether maybe we should go out and check. He ignored me. I silently stopped relaxing and perseverated on this thought for awhile, caught between two decisions that prevented me from being present and relaxed. I perseverated and asked Bridger a few more times interspersed by quiet contemplation each time. In the end he told me to shut up in slightly nicer words.
Finally the door opened and a man with a towel wrapped around his waist walked in. I said "hello" assuming he was another bather joining us until he said "come, massage". Ahhhh he is the long awaited bath attendant! Bridger's right I should have just shut up. Things have a way of just working out without you wasting energy thinking about how they will work out, hmmm, life lesson :) He led us to a little room where we each sat down a table, a toweled man for each of us. This is the classic "Turkish bath" part where the attendant puts on a glove with rough bristles basically and grates your skin raw, rubbing all the dirt, grime and dead skin off. It actually hurt a bit because your skin was literally rubbed raw. Now I'm not much of a showerer so I expected that some monstrous stuff would come off of me but Bridger is a super clean daily, sometimes multiple time a day showerer so I thought he'd be a little less gross. Not so. Ok imagine when you got a sunburn and your skin starts peeling and you can roll it off in these little tiny skin rolls...that's pretty well what it looked like but theses rolls were black for one thing and 1/4 to 1/2 a cm diameter for another. It was phenomenal! I watched us both with utter fascination wondering how all of that could come off and more importantly, how I could somehow get my hands on a skin/dirt roll to keep... without the attendant noticing and thinking I'm a freak of nature. The wheels turned in my head but as far as I could see there was probably no way I could grab one without him noticing and sitting there in only my bathing suit, there was definitely no way I could "store" it until this whole process was done, again without him noticing. And then the bucket of cold water was dumped on my head washing all the skin rolls away, out of my reach and onto the floor. And then it leads me to wonder again, where all this water and skin drains to? It can't just stay on the floor, where does it go?! And who cleans it up or where does it go after it drains somewhere else. Fascinating mechanics! Bridger was thinking "those skin rolls are so crazy!". The end.
Then he had us lay down, dumped a bucket of water over us and dumped this cloth looking like thing in a bucket of sudsy soap and then, I kid you not, shook it a few times like when you are trying to inflate a plastic bag (like to play the bag drums or something!) and the entire thing blew up into this like, air filled pillow case thing covered in suds. The attendants then proceeded to drag this sudsy pillow over every inch of our bodies until we were totally piled in foam! I wish I could have gotten pics of this process but it was all just too weird. Then the attendants gave us the most amazing massage except I kept thinking how bizarre it all was and was trying hard to stifle out of control laugher because it was so bizarre and ticklish. And I was wincing constantly as the attendant found place after place that was so tight in places I didn't even know existed in my body! Then he told me to close my eyes and suds up and massaged my freaking face which made me laugh. Then it was over and he told me to close my eyes again and dumped buckets of water over me to wash away the soap. But the water just kept coming and coming, bucket after bucket even though I figured I must be suds free so I burst out laughing again. And then I looked over at Bridger who must have been thinking the same thing because he had his eyes closed so tight just sitting there and sitting there even though the guy had long since stopped dumping buckets of water on him and was standing there smiling, wondering how long Bridger would compliantly sit with closed eyes. So I burst out laughing...again. Bridger was also impressed with the skin rolls, the end.
Gah we had never felt so clean and fresh in our entire lives and ended up buying ourselves our very own skin/grime/dirt removing glove for our Canadian life haha.
We flipping nailed this 24 hour bike ride because we got back to our hotel at like 9 am, still in time to catch our free breakfast before napping and then heading out again on the bike to a nearby town of Cavusin. This little town had a massive rock cut wall thing and all I could think while exploring it is of the very old movie "Congo" and the scene where all the mutant gorillas end up coming out of the holes in the wall of the ruins. Man I have to watch that terrible movie again.
Then we drove on to the nearby and very awesome, livable town of Avanos with these lovely perfectly manicured green gated properties, obviously for the richie riches of the area. We tried to eat in a fairy chimney restaurant but were turned away because it was closed but ended up running into a little baby horse and a donkey wandering the streets so I played with and chatted with those guys for awhile which was pretty enjoyable. Then we attempted to go to a viewpoint of the valley but like super security stopped us and tried to make us pay so we turned that bike around so fast. We don't pay for viewpoints sir!
As soon as we returned the bike, we got a little flash of how we had dodged a bullet by not ending up on an ATV tour. We saw these tours getting ready to go and it was literally like 15 Chinese tourists lined up in a row almost bursting with excitement. Haha they're so funny because they're mostly like a tour agents dream because they come in huge groups and they "tour up" trying to do everything in a short period of time. Ourselves, we're more like recluses and hate to be on big group events, especially ones that go in single file!
So Bridger has been doing alot of working out in Goreme. Like going for these long arduous runs where he comes back totally drenched in sweat before dropping and doing his on the floor routine. On one such day he went for a run and I stayed home to write in my journal (ok I got sidetracked reading tripadvisor reviews for balloon ride companies in Goreme even though there was definitely no way we were ever going to do it anyways but sheerly for interests sake) when all of a sudden my bedroom window slammed closed so hard I thought it would shatter and a massive storm blew in so the poor guy was stuck out several km from home while it pissed down rain and thundered and lightninged. On another day a car full of young Turkish guys passed him and then turned around, slowed down and stalked along with him and tried to call him over to their car. Obviously he totally ignored them but figured they either wanted to sell him drugs or steal his iPod, neither of which are really fun.
We had plans to hike in Rose Valley before we left but were also thwarted by a big storm. On our last day we had plans to wake up super early, do the hike and then catch our bus to the airport for our flight back to Istanbul later in the afternoon. But ultimately the conservative side of us won out because it just felt a bit too risky to go and risk losing the trailhead like always, getting lost or otherwise stuck in the valley and missing our domestic flight which was linked super close to an expensive international flight. All in all we spent like 7 days in Goreme, the longest we had ever stopped anywhere on this trip but still wasn't even long enough. It was definitely some of our favorite days on all the trip so far so felt kind of sad to go. That hotel room became almost like our own home and the stuff strewn from top to bottom of the room proved it.
Around this time Bridger and I started to become shockingly aware of how terrible our memories are. Like, terrible. Many times we've asked each other specific questions about the trip and neither of us can ever come up with a proper answer. In order to answer any global type questions, we both find that we revert to the same strategy of mentally combing through all countries/towns we've been to in order (sidenote, we both totally inflexibly have to say them in order to list off which we've been to or we'll totally forget one or two!) to come up with some sort of memory because they just don't seem to be freely accessible. We are worried that one day certain memories will just be gone because we never ever revisited and thus, cemented them. Hence, journal and blog. We have decided that before we go home we'll have to have a mock "question and answer session" with each other to remember and prepare some sort of memories!!
We caught our shuttle to the teeny tiniest little airport closeby and threw our bags on the scales. Much to my horror, as we were doing so, Bridger asked the flight attendant if he could get on the scales himself because he wanted to see how much he weighs (I think prompted by the fact that he has been working out)! I was mortified but they were charmed I guess because they allowed the weird-ass request and Bridger in fact, weighed himself on the airport luggage scales in a small town in Turkey.
At the airport we got chatting to a group of a few different hilarious and quick to laugh Indian families in front of us in line. I was constantly impressed by their quick witted dry sense of humor and they were equally impressed and utterly incredulous that a) we were traveling for so long and b) we only had our one backpack. Like they just couldn't wrap their heads around how we could fit everythign we needed in one 70/80L pack and we fielded questions from how do you decide what to pack to how often do you have to do laundry to how many pairs of underwear we have to how on earth we manage with only 7 pairs of underwear. The level of intrigue made sense when we saw their MASSIVE suitcases and realized they got held up from checking in because every one of their suitcases was beyond overweight and they were faced with paying a HUGE overweight penalty. But these fabulous people didn't let that deter them, they just snagged all the bags back and started stripping their suitcases and stuffing everything out into any bag they could find to the point where every one of them and their children was taking a now huge, heavy carry on bag. And then they checked their now not overweight suitcases in free of charge. Ironically they had travel agented up this entire trip up so had scheduled every piece, were staying in really nice accommodation, had their own driver to take them everywhere who they also tipped daily and had flights between everywhere and everywhere, costing them, I can't remember but really many thousands of dollars for each person. But they, for all the world, were NOT going to pay for overweight bag charges haha. Checking in/waiting to board that flight was such a lovely, hilarious experience with total strangers and I hadn't laughed so hard in awhile. Another small but amazing and unexpected moment in travel world!
On a side note, after awhile on the road, we just can't understand why people are so reliant on travel agents as general practice. I get it booking your all inclusive to Mexico and I guess I do get the comfort in having everything organized for you and the best of us need to go through travel companies for something at some point, but honestly, for travel in these parts of the world that we've been so far, travel agencies/booking agents are, for the most part, the worst. We can't understand why people travel agency everything up paying endless extra fees when you can so easily book everything yourself these days?! Why have a travel agency book your single flight when you can do it for free online? Why have them book your bus tickets for you when for the most part you can walk direct to the bus ticket office and buy one yourself and not pay the few dollar commission charge. Travel agencies in these parts of the world do NOT have your best interests in mind, I assure you. The bottom line is making dollars. Don't kid yourself, for the most part (there are always exceptions, namely the big name or international agencies, however, you pay big admin bucks for using such reputable companies) booking offices do not care about the reputation or safety record of each activity company. They each have particular business relationships with particular companies that they work directly with and book you with that company regardless of whether that company has a shady reputation for things going mildly or dramatically wrong. And if you use a booking agent, you never know who they are actually booking you with. In my opinion, it is FAR better and safer to do your own research and book direct with a decent, reputable company with good reviews, each usually having their own office or phone number anyway. You've been warned!
We spent our last night in Istanbul before our flight to Uganda in a hostel called #Bunk. Yes, old people of the world like myself, hostel names now have names with twitter hashtags. The place was quite chic but more than anything, Bridger was constantly marveling at the excellent marketing and branding strategies that they employed. I was mostly impressed with the included freaking buffet breakfast that had more variety than we saw in 6 weeks in boiled egg-cucumber/tomato-bread breakfast Turkey. We had a ton of running around to do to make sure our ducks were in a row before running off to Africa which was a bit overwhelming because our flight left later that afternoon. We had to get our passports and important documents copied again (where the original copies go/what happened to them is beyond me), exchange the rest of our Turkish currency to something else more useful, call my bank for reasons I cannot remember and replenish our USD float. On the latter front, contrary to my usual pattern of nothing ever working out for me, we happened to find literally the first ATM in all of Turkey to dispense USD directly which happily cut out one more stop to the ATM/currency exchange counter. But unfortunately a full 24 could not possibly pass well with no glitches! We had hoped for a good sleep because we had terrible flights coming up. No such luck because the prick in our dorm room who had to leave apparently at 4:30 am and who had evidently packed, only plastic bags in his luggage rustled plastic bags for what seemed like hours while loading up his stuff so we had a really shitty sleep. Seriously, dorms are public spaces and you can't be too finicky, I get it, but standard dorm etiquette would be that if you are up and out super early in the am, you pack your freaking bag the night before so you can quietly slip out instead of rummaging through plastic bag pack for an hour you dick head!! Some people are just stupid and inconsiderate. The other unfortunate event was that Bridger had put his phone (i.e. the only phone with battery power and our camera) on top of something on the top bunk. Well he grabbed that something and sure enough, his naked/no case for reasons I'll never understand phone flung off the top bunk and shattered on the floor essentially shattering the face more, but more importantly wiping out the touch pad mechanism underneath it. As luck would have it, Bridger's phone password uses all keys in one line down the keypad...the exact part of the phone that had the streaky lines down it, i.e. the part that no longer responded to touch even though the other 2/3 of the face were fine. So essentially, even though the phone still worked, we could not access anything in it because the exact keys to enter the password to get in were the ones damaged. Awesome.
Speaking of Istanbul, I think Turkey is one of the only countries I've ever been to where people come to solely visit the capital city without exploring any other part of the country and then go home. For goodness sake, in Central America the prevailing wisdom is fly in to the capital and then get the hell out as fast as you can without even staying one transition night. So the fact that people will literally fly from far and wide into Istanbul for a vacation in Istanbul is such a foreign concept to me. Istanbul is definitely one of the cooler and funner capitals I've been to but man, the real gems of Turkey are other places so my hope is that anyone who goes to Istanbul can also experience at least one of these other places in this incredible country. I think we'd both agree that Turkey is no doubt in the top bracket of favorite countries so far. It truly is amazing and we hope to go back and explore the endless other places that we never got to get to this round.
In the end, we were able to take another airport public bus direct from like a block away from our hostel to the Istanbul airport making Turkey the very first country on this trip in which we did not take a single taxi (or the equivalent function like tuk tuk or tricycle). Did I mention how perfect Turkey public transport is?!?