Arabian nights, October 20th

Our landlord had recommended a stable called the Dalton Brothers, run by horse whisperer Ekram. He heals horses from all over Turkey, and also catches and trains wild horses from the surrounding mountains. When we finally found the stable (not very well posted) he invited us back at 3:00 for a sunset ride lasting two hours. We chatted for a few more minutes, Kirsty playing with the puppies that ran about the place. As we left in search of lunch we emphasized a very real need for gentle, calm, slow horses.
"No problem," Ekrem nodded. "All my horses are the best."
As though to prove the point a white mare came trotting up to the fence, smiling at Kirsty. Kirsty stopped and said hello, at which point the horse stretched her neck and neatly bit Kirsty on the arm. It was quite clear to us that the horse was just being playful, but Kirsty was in pain nonetheless. Over the remaining days the bruise ripened into beautiful jewel-tones and I joked that you could see the Virgin Mary within it.
We ate lunch at a restaurant nearby. Half way through we observed our waiter and his co-worker just about run out to the street. A male friend of theirs was passing by, holding his baby daughter bundled in her sweater and pants. He looked on, beaming with pride, as the two waiters took turns holding her, petting her hair, smooching her cheek and just making the biggest fuss over her they could.
"Turks are such big softies," I murmured to Kirsty. She nodded.
At 3:00 we returned to the stables. By 3:30 I had pried Kirsty away from the puppies and we were saddled on two very short mares, plodding placidly behind our guide on a sandy road. Half an hour into the ride we were joined by a couple from the Czech Republic on somewhat more spirited horses.
I later learned they were from a farm in Czech Republic, with horses and thus were very fine riders. Kirsty and I ought to be better than we are, being from Alberta. But I was whisked away from Canada's land of cowboys at an early age and Kirsty has had a BAD experience with horses. When the Czech asked me," Maybe we can go a little faster?" I smiled apologetically and played the novice card.
In past horse riding experiences I've made the mistake of holding the reins to tightly and thus making my poor horse very uncomfortable. For whatever reason, on this particular ride, I held them as slack as I could, trusting in my mare to follow the leader and plant every step securely.
For the most part, this method was pretty successful. I was concentrating hard on remaining calm and relaxed that I almost meditated myself asleep on the saddle. Not to mention my horse's gait was about placid and comfortable as sitting on a hammock. Apart from her voracious appetite she behaved very well for me, probably very aware that a sack of flour was slumped on her back instead of an experienced horsewoman. The most trouble I had with her was having to constantly yank her head away from the tasty-looking foliage. On the other hand this was a very convenient method of making her halt in her tracks. I would just drop the reins and she would suddenly find herself free to munch to her heart's content, completely uninterested in anything else.
Kirsty on the other hand did not have such a serene experience. It started out well, I think, until the Czech's began relay-racing along the track. This made her horse perk her ears up a little, which made Kirsty nervous, which made the horse even more nervous. I would look back occasionally and see the horse's mouth twisted into a sneer as Kirsty wrestled with her to follow the trail. But it's not like she ran off into the sunset with my sister or threw her from the saddle.
I wish we could have ridden into the sunset, it would have been beautiful. The trail we were following snaked around rock formations, pigeon coops, ancient churches and through tiny villages, past market stands (I was nervous my horse would steal a few pomegranates) and Turks drinking tea as they waved to us. Our horses were so calm they passed a construction site like it was nothing. Twice we came to hills that were too steep to ride down and our guide explained to us we'd have to walk our horses down.
That's when I became afraid. Like I said, the mares weren't all that big, but it still made me nervous to be leading a lumbering animal down a sandy slope that even I didn't have great traction with. But my horse would gently nose me along, I would like to think with some warm reassurance but for all I know she was impatient with this moronic white girl who was moving too slowly. Then I fell on my butt, exclaiming as I hit the ground that wasn't quite as soft as I thought it was.
She just stood there, swatting her tail back and forth giving me a look that said, "whenever you're ready." I picked myself up, dusted myself off and finished the hill.
When we got back in the saddle the wind began to pick up. And I mean Pick Up. I began to think we were in for a truly spectacular storm as the sky blackened and little darts of rain pricked my back. Our visibility was considerably decreased by the swirling clouds of sand.
We made it safely back to the stable. Ekrem said hello to us, inquired after our ride, shouted at his stable hands to get us some apple tea (they are all about the apple flavouring in Turkey) and then immediately turned to a horse that needed some attention on it's right front leg (I cannot ride and I do not know the technical terms). He began to smooth an ointment on the leg and then filled a metal dish with some water. When he bent back down he didn't even have to touch the horse, it simply lifted its leg, knowing he was there.
Kirsty and I found dinner at an outdoor patio, too exhausted and grimy to argue with the Turk vying for our business. There were stray dogs everywhere clearly knowing that dusk is when dinner is served. One of them was a floppy little puppy; Kirsty threatened to smuggle it back to Canada in her suitcase. I turned to the waiter and asked, "whose dog is that?"
"Everyone's," he shrugged.
We ordered salad, soup, a glass of wine for me. None for Kirsty as she was on a new antibiotic that apparently is also used for recovering alcoholics. It makes one violently ill if combined with booze. It was all pretty mediocre so we made our way to the inn to check out, feeling like the entire desert was on our skin, in our noses, in our ears, our hair... we felt pretty gross. As we sat on the patio, somewhat comatose, our landlord suggested we use his little hamam to freshen up. He opened the door and, I swear to God, I was in Ali Baba's Cave of Wonders Hamam. It was the same Terra Cotta walls as our shower but with a sunken basin in the middle, a little shower tucked in a nook, faucets with marble catch basins on each wall. With the marble basins came brass bowls like Ekrem had used for his horse and chunks of olive oil soap.
What luxury to peel off my gritty, jeans sprinkling sand out of my socks and pour clean, clear water on my feet and limbs. I swear, I was in a Delacroix painting.
At 10:00PM we piled our baggage into the inn's land rover, gave Panda one last scratch behind the ear and drove to the town square to catch our bus.
Kirty's digestive system is delicate, to say the least, her metabolism is wicked fast and it is my ever-present fear during the days I see her that she will slide into a hypoglycemic grouch. You would never imagine that she's capable of being mean, or even frightening, and it's really not her. It's the monstrous uncomfortable lack of blood sugar that commandeers her voice. Thus when she suggested we get "smackerels," for the bus, I agreed completely
Turkish mini-marts are quite interesting. I found them to be so colourful with boxes of Turkish Delight (lokum, they call it), chocolate, fruit juices, and cigarettes stacked on every wall. We picked out pistachio milk chocolate, orange pineapple juice, and fantas.
Our blood sugar levels stabilized we settled on a bench and waited for the bus. We weren't the only westerners in the square; there were a lot of people speaking a lot of different languages. Turkey is, apparently, the place where you can meet not only really friendly Turks, but really friendly people from all over the world (once you get past Le Tour, Ein Turin Grupen, Il Turo, hai tour groupsan, etc;). Case in point: a slim girl with a backpack that had to have weighed more than her came up to us and asked us if we were waiting for the bus to Antalya.
"Yes," we said, "but it's not coming for another fifteen minutes."
"Oh good, then I have time to say goodbye." Her voice had this rounded-back-of-the-throat sound and she was thin with a delicate nose that screamed to me "EASTERN EUROPEAN!"
It turned out she was Lithuanian, presenting me with a dangerous situation. All my little anecdotes, conversation pieces... well let's just say she might not have found the humor in them. I have nothing against Lithuania or Lithuanians. But what could we say to her? That a Lithuanian destroyed a Rembrandt in the Hermitage? Or that another Lithuanian tried to destroy his Night Watch in Amsterdam? Or that a very distant relative of ours, pre-WWI was Governor of Vilnus, you know, before Lithuania gained independence from Poland? You see our dilemma.
Kirsty and I stuck with the very safe: "we've heard Vilnus is a lovely place. How are you enjoying Turkey?"
I feel we successfully navigated the mine field, especially since we never identified ourselves as Poles, and scampered out of danger as soon as the bus came.
Comfortably seated, swaddled in our pajama pants and sweaters, Kirsty and I nervously eyed the temperature display. This was going to be a six hour haul from Cappadoccia, inland Turkey, to Antalya and then to Finike, on the Mediterranean coast. If the bus was going to be as overheated as the last one from Ankara, we may have beaten those id-...poor souls, in the Sweat Lodge Tragedy to the punch.
But once again, the bus was very comfortable, plush seating, Turkish Law and Order playing, and the temperature mercifully only ever reaching 19c. The steward, once again uniformed in white shirt, pressed trousers, vest and bow tie, was very attentive to our beverage needs.
Our thinking was to exhaust ourselves during the day, not drink any caffeine past 5:00 and pass out. This is not the Turkish way, apparently. The Turkish way is to stay awake entire time taking advantage of every offer of caffeinated beverages every hour.
Steward: Coffee? Tea? Pepsi?
Us: No thank you.
Steward: Coffee? Tea? Pepsi?
Us: No thank you (I communicate a desire for him to leave us the eff alone by curling up in a ball towards the window).
Steward: Coffee? Tea? Pepsi?
Us: No. Thank. You. We'd like to sleep.
Steward: Coffee? Tea? Pepsi?
Us: Really, no thank you.
Steward: Coffee? Tea? Pepsi?
Us: Are you out of your mind? It's three in the morning! I want to sleep! Why on earth are you still offering me coffee, tea and Pepsi?
Having used that last remaining store of energy to make it absolutely clear that I wanted to sleep, I passed out. In between these inquiries, though, were regular stops at service stations. They appeared to be little cities in the middle of nowhere, playing Turkish pop music, selling kebaps and pide and effes in the middle of the night. Turks inhaled cigarettes as though the elixir of life itself was within the tar. Westerners, by contrast, stumbled about, dazed by the bright lights and the experience of peeing into a latrine. There was also an element of abject terror that they would be left behind accidentally. How the hell would you call for help at one of these service stations? Even if you spoke Turkish, there's no guarantee that you'd understand a Turk, and how would you even describe your location in the dark desert? "I'm at a service station somewhere between Goreme and Finike. I was on the bus for four hours, if that's any help."
Kirsty later told me it was a very good thing that I was dead to world for the rest of the ride. We had to cross the mountains to reach the coast and apparently our driver was not impressed by the windy roads bordered by mountain face on one side and sheer drop on the other. He took them at a run, a sprint really, approaching 100km/hr. I am not joking.
Kirsty began preparing for how she would described Turkey to friends. "I saw the Hagia Sophia, the fairy chimneys, my life flashing before my eyes..."
When we arrived with the dawn at Antalya bus station she did look like she had seen a ghost. Probably her own.
At Antalya we wandered all over the bus station asking for a bus to Finike. "No, you want to go Demre," one ticket agent corrected us and then pointed us in a direction to buy the appropriate tickets. Bizarrely enough, no one seemed to want to sell us tickets. They kept pointing in vague directions, until finally one old man took pity on us and took us to a small mini-bus.
"Wait here," he said. He then proceeded to negotiate a ride for us with the driver. For 15 Lira. Kirsty and I were both really reluctant to let him help us because we assumed it would mean another 5 Lira for him. He turned back to us and said, "OK, in half hour, he take you to Demre." Then he walked past us, and for all intensive purposes, into the sunrise.
So we sat and waited, vaguely aware of things going on around us. Half an hour later the driver beckoned to us.
Comfortably settled, Kirsty consulted The Book and said, "hmm, they say it'll take 2-3 hours to get to Demre."
"So we've got plenty of time," I mumbled. Then the bus took off.
Actually, that term is a little misleading. It implies decisiveness, swiftness, speed. We trundled along Antalya's main drag at an embarrassing 20km/hr. At first I thought maybe the bus was broken, and that this was as fast as we could go. I was not happy with this thought. Then the driver turned into a residential area with budget hotels and then I thought he's selling us to a bordello. I was not happy with this thought either and dismissed it as fantasy. Sure enough, he turned back on the main road, still slow and steady. We went for a bit and then I heard once more the click of a turn signal.
We turned onto a dirt road completely invisible from the rest of the city. Kirsty looked at me and I knew she was thinking the same thing: This may be the last time we look upon each other before being sold into the human slave trade. I gripped Kirsty's hand and began to look around the bus for escape routes, remembering how to really punch a guy so as to make it count. I figured they wouldn't be able to chase us because they wouldn't have the lung capacity, smoking like chimneys.
Really, what he wanted was a tea break. Silly us, how could we have forgotten the all too demanding and pressing need of tea?

It was also made clear to us, once tea was had, that our bus was not broken. He was just trawling for more passengers. But when an hour passed at 20km/hr I was tempted to tell him I would make up the difference if he would just go already!
When he had a bus full, I could feel the speedometer needle start to creep upwards. He ascended mountain slopes covered in skinny pines and sandy soil, giving us peeks of the brilliantly blue Mediterranean below us. At any moment I expected to see Heracles fighting the Nemean lion through the woods.
Soothed that we were making better time, I passed out cold, barely maintaining my seat as we twisted and curved along the road at, what Kirsty assures me, was great speed. I woke up when the sun finally shone through the foliage to find us zipping along a sea coast road. At great speed. Each time the road swung to the left or the right our driver would stomp on the brakes and Kirsty and I would seize the seats in front of us, uttering fervent prayers. Then on the flat stretches of road, with the hairpin turns visibly approaching he would stomp on the accelerator. No one else seemed to have as much difficulty as we did.
But he got us to Demre. A bit shaken, we seized our bags from the back and tipped him handsomely in order to thank the gods of travel that we were still alive. Another Turkish corner store was raided for ice cream and juice, and then Kirsty made a phone call for a car to pick us up.
Demre really confused me at first. It was a fairly nondescript, minor metropolis. Fairly clean, nothing remarkable, really. Except that Santa Clause, red hat, big white beard, was plastered everywhere. I couldn't figure it out; it wasn't even Christmas. A later perusal of The Book explained that Demre is the home town of Saint Nicholas. Aka Santa Clause.
A car did pick us up, driven by a young Turk wearing board shorts and t-shirt and flip-flops. Contrast this with our pajamas and my long cardigan. We felt pretty ridiculous. Our handsome driver seemed to have found inspiration in Keanu Reeves. Particularly from the role he played in Speed. God forbid his car should tear up the streets at less than 80km/hr, or we might just die. Or at least be horribly inconvenienced.
Fruit and Vegetable servings: 1? I think?


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