Part XXVII: Sirince ― Hierapolis ― Kalkan, Turkey
The Travertine Terraces, Hierapolis, Turkey
The Travertine Terraces, Hierapolis, Turkey

This, I hope, will be our last morning of Ramadan drumming. I am fed up with it. Every morning at 4:30, the local drummer has been waking our little village up before the sun rises. While I understand the importance of the task, I have had enough. But this will be the last day. Our sojourn in Sirince has come to an end, and we are on our way south, passing through the ruins of Hierapolis and ending our day's travel in Kalkan, a Turkish beach resort. Farewell drummer.

We eat breakfast early, for we must catch a minibus down the hill to Selcuk in time to connect with our first bus of what will prove a long day of bus travel (seven hours). After bidding farewell to our host, I wrestle the Blue Anvil (my huge suitcase) into the air like an Olympic weightlifter. This massive object seems to be growing heaver with each day of our expedition. My traveling companions deny that they are secreting all of the bowls, plates, statues, Garden Gnomes, and other bric-a-brac they drag home from the markets in my suitcase, but I don't have any other explanation for why it is increasing in mass as our trip continues. Today I must carry it down the rocky path to the bus station, and I feel every ton in it as I lurch down the slope.

My shirt looks like a blue washcloth, dripping with dark sweaty patches, by the time we reach the minibus. We pile aboard and each say goodbye to Sirince in our own way. Out in the street, vendors are setting up their stalls for a fresh crop of tourists. Soon the first tour bus will lumber up the hill and vomit forth people eager to spend one scheduled hour in a quaint Turkish village. In this they won't be disappointed, for Sirince is authentic, worth seeing, and delightful. I wonder, however, how long it can remain so.

Farewell, Sirince!
Farewell, Sirince!

Today one can still see tractors growling up the main street, heading out to work the fields. But slowly the backbone of the community ― the agricultural families ― are being edged out. The government is not granting permits to build new houses in the village. They want to preserve the town's character. While a commendable idea, it does mean that children are forced out of the town when they grow up; there's simply no place for them to stay. Moreover, many residents are realizing that they can convert their family homes into holiday lodging, which further restricts the available housing.

I would have to come back in ten years to confirm my impressions, but I wonder if there isn't a growing number of people devoting themselves to the tourist trade in town. This is apparent in the market, which caters mostly to visitors. But you see it also when you get away from the center. In the back alleys and side street you find older men and women who have set up booths, selling tourist tat to those brave enough to wander away from the buses. Will these little unofficial markets continue to grow and spread through the town as more people attempt to cash in on the all mighty tourist dollar? The center of town already resembles Istanbul, with people trying to drag you into their shops; I was invited into three different wine shops within less than fifty feet when I passed through yesterday. Some people may find this charming, but it gets on my nerves. I would like to stroll around the beautiful village without having to continually repeat my mantra: “No thank you, no thank you” like a manic Buddhist monk. It would be a sad loss if Sirince completely gave herself to the tourist trade.

We, however, are going to do just that. Mary has determined that the easiest way to get to Kalkan, our next stop, is to take a tour bus to the ruins of Hierapolis, and then switch to regular buses for the rest of the trip. The horror of it all.

We climb aboard a white tour bus in Selcuk and roll out of town. We have a pretty woman from Selcuk as our tour guide, and goodness she has had her coffee this morning. As we begin our drive, she pulls down the microphone and begins bellowing into it: “Is everybody happy this morning? Are we going to have a great time today?” She unrolls a map of Turkey. “Isn't my country beautiful? Who can tell me what is the largest city in Turkey?”

Oh Lord, I moan internally. She thinks she's running a quiz show. She is sweet, but relentless. After geography she moves on to cuisine. “Have any of you tried Raki, our national drink? Drink too much Raki and you will see the flying carpets going around your head. Has anyone tried Turkish Delight (a Turkish candy)? When a man sees a beautiful Turkish Girl, he calls her 'Turkish Delight.'”

Well, the monologue continues in this vein for about twenty minutes before she holsters her microphone and gives the bus a break. Grace provides some entertainment by vomiting up her breakfast. Unfortunately she is sitting next to me on this journey. We manage to funnel it all into her beach towel, but the first string (Mary) has to move in and take charge of the situation. Among my many failings is my inability to deal effectively with vomiting children. The sight and smell frequently triggers a similar response from my own stomach, and as I move up to sit with Annie (who is also looking rather green), I am counting telephone poles and struggling to keep from duplicating Grace's feat.

Fortunately we are due for a scheduled rest stop, and minutes later we pull into a tour bus nest. At least six buses are lined up in front of a row of gift and food shops. Passengers are already off the other buses, mobbing the tables, pawing the wares. We get out, dispose of our towel, and acquire sturdy plastic bags for the rest of the journey.

While watching a man clean the windscreens of the buses, I notice that two of them have the word “Alas” stenciled on their noses. I don't know what this word means in Turkish, but in English it does capture my feelings about this particular adventure.

Tour Bus Nest, Turkey
Tour Bus Nest, Turkey

As we queue to board the bus again, a solicitous Japanese college student asks how Gracie is feeling. “Much better,” says Mary. Then she shrugs her shoulders and says “Kids, what can you do?”

Our new Japanese friend does not process this American idiom correctly. He begins to splutter and stammer, backing slowly away from us. I realize that he thinks we are asking him "What can you do?" as if we expected him to fix Gracie's weak stomach (or at least mop up the vomit).

“What can be done?” I interject, offering a translation that eases his discomfort.

The bus rolls through a broad plain caught between two mountain ranges. The towns slip past: Aydin, Umurlu, Kosk. Old men, newspapers unfolded in idle fingers, cluster in small cafes and watch us pass. Eventually we turn off the highway and begin our ascent to Hierapolis. The driver charges the corners of the winding switchbacks. Grace decides to unload a second time into a plastic bag. “Is everybody hungry?” chirps our guide from the front.

Hell yes. Pardon my German.

We have lunch at another tour bus nest. Leading our green-gilled girls beside us, we run a gauntlet of tourist stalls, before emerging into Dante's Fourth Ring of Hell. Under a vast covered patio, forty tables, each seating 16 people, are lined up in long rows. Tour company signs mark out the assigned area for each tribe, A buffet lunch has been spread on adjacent tables, and we line up, tourists and flies wrestling over scraps of food. Well, I could go on, but perhaps it is best just to close the door on these horrors and move up the hill to Hierapolis

Travertine Terraces, Hierapolis, Turkey
Travertine Terraces, Hierapolis, Turkey

In antiquity (as now) people came to Hierapolis (literally: Holy City) for the water. A great thermal bath on the site is supplied by calcium rich streams boiling up from the heart of the mountains. Both ancients and moderns believe that this water has healing properties, and it continues to draw crowds. Once the water leaves the pools, it spreads out over the nearby cliffs. Over the centuries, the evaporating water has left behind great white pools and terraces. From a distance, the deposits below Hierapolis look like a giant white fingernail discarded on the gray granite cliffs.

Travertine Terraces, Hierapolis, Turkey
Travertine Terraces, Hierapolis, Turkey

Mary and the girls had come in swimsuits to take the waters. With two sick girls, we were definitely in need of some healing. I, on the other hand, was quite keen to explore the ruins of the ancient city. Hierapolis cannot match Ephesus for grandeur and size, but it still had its attractions. So, while the girls took a swim, I stumped off in the burning sun.

I'm glad I went. I followed the path north of the city, below the site of the theater and along the edge of the Travertine terraces. After passing beneath the northern gate, the true marvel of Hierapolis revealed itself: the necropolis, the city of the dead. The book of Ecclesiastes claims that it is the fate of humans to die and then pass out of human memory. Subsequent generations do not remember their ancestors. The necropolis was one ancient strategy to remedy this defect and keep the memory of a person alive.

Sarcophagi. The Necropolis, Hierapolis, Turkey
Sarcophagi. The Necropolis, Hierapolis, Turkey

Great tombs were built in this area north of Hierapolis, stone monuments that would remind the living of the triumphs and greatness of their ancestors. Today, two thousand years later, you can still walk among these tombs and read the weathered Greek inscriptions that continue to testify to their lives. Despite the repeated warnings to grave robbers of what horrors awaited them in the afterlife should they desecrate a tomb, these stone houses were looted centuries ago. Today there are only empty stone shells, cracked open by time and man.

Sarcophagus. The Necropolis, Hierapolis, Turkey
Sarcophagus. The Necropolis, Hierapolis, Turkey

Sarcophagi litter the field, thick stone coffins strewn about like matchboxes. In Greek, the word sarcophagus means flesh eater. A limestone sarcophagus would react chemically with the fluids of a corpse and reduce it to nothing in around thirty days. The more expensive sarcophagi come with inscriptions and images of the owners cut in their sides.

The richness of this area cannot be overstated. Our guidebook says that this is one of the biggest necropoli in the world, and I think that must be right. The city of the dead is vast and easily the most amazing attraction at Hierapolis. Equally stunning is the fact that it is virtually deserted. I only see six other people as I wander through the stone graveyard. The huge crowds off the buses are all soaking themselves in the thermal pool or sunbathing on the Travertine terraces.

Deserted Hierapolis, Turkey
Deserted Hierapolis, Turkey

It is a pity that our bus schedule limits the time we can stay here. I would have liked to hike up into the hills to see St Philip's Martyrium (the site where the Apostle Philip was martyred), but I am out of time. An hour-and-a-half is insufficient for these amazing ruins. Nevertheless, I count my time among the tombs a great success. Sweat-soaked but happy, I rejoin my team mates (who have found the thermal pool crowded and a bit of a trial) and we head down the hill.

Travertine Pool, Hierapolis, Turkey
Travertine Pool, Hierapolis, Turkey

In town we catch a bus to Denizli, where we switch to another bus that will take us to Fethiye. The thermal pools have had a good effect on the girl's pallor, and they endure this 3.5 hour trip with no ill effect. We roll through desolate, sun-scorched mountains. South of Denizli, the olive trees furring the mountains yield to groves of pine trees. As the mountains grow more rugged, the trees fade away and we are presented with views of scrubby shrubs and rocky wasteland.

A marvelous sunset lights the last leg of our trip. We descend toward the coast through a hazy golden glow, clouds afire to the west. It is dark when we reach Fethiye, and, since our bus has beaten the schedule by forty minutes, the driver charged with collecting us is not on hand. He materializes in a van at 9:00 PM, and we charge off through the dark toward Kalkan. Forty minutes of swerving through the night, dodging unlighted tractors and trucks with burnt out tail lights, sees us safely to our destination.

We eat a late dinner at an Italian restaurant overlooking the harbor. I am the only one with an appetite, which is unfortunate as the food is wonderful (although quite a bit more expensive than Sirince prices). We are now in a tourist resort. The British have colonized this stretch of the Turkish coast, and English voices echo in our ears as we finish our meal. Home to a rented flat for a well-deserved rest after an arduous day of travel.

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