Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Malatya Day 5

I have to apologize again for the lapse in posting. Between research, school, and the holidays, I have been hard pressed to find time to update. It’s probably a good thing as my advisor has been using that as part of the metric to determine if I’m actually busy or not. ;-) Anyways, I have some free time over the next few days, as I am finally taking a break from work. Happy Holidays to everyone.

So the fifth day, or Friday, was an exciting day. It was the day we took the first conference sponsored day trip. Leaving at 3pm, we took buses up to Mount Nemrut. For an in-depth description of you should definitely read the Wikipedia article, the sites’s website, or see the APOD picture. As I don’t want to blatantly copy the description from Wikipedia onto the blog, I highly recommend you go read the four short paragraphs which are posted.

Since I planned on hot weather the whole trip, I did not bring a sweatshirt at all. When we arrived in Malatya, Damla inquired to check that I had brought a sweatshirt. As I had not, everyone was worried that I would freeze on the trip to the summit of Mt. Nemrut. That morning, I decided to quell their worries and buy a sweater. I decided to go down to the bazaar to purchase one from one of the street vendors, as I thought that would be the cheapest solution.
I went downtown with everyone, but split off when they waited for the dolmus to take them to the university. I walked down the street, which was lined with clothing merchants. One seemed to feature tops and sweaters. I walked in and through hand motions and the Turkish word for sweatshirt, he started to pull down lots of types of sweaters. I chose two of them and he told me that it would cost 150 lira, which I knew was outrageous. I as I said that I didn’t want the second sweater, which was more expensive, we started bargaining the price of the second sweater. I eventually got sick of it and was adamant that I did not want the sweater. I paid what he quoted me for the first sweater, which was 70 lira.

The thing about the whole situation is I got worn down enough where I just wanted to get out. I didn’t keep in mind that I could leave at any time, which I knew full well was an option before I walked in there. I guess I hope that this serves as a reminder for someone to not forget that you are meant to bargain for anything not sold in a store while abroad, especially in the Middle East. Anyways, I thought I would point that out, so someone else might benefit from my mistake. The worst part about this is that the summit of Mt. Nemrut wasn’t even cold!

After buying the sweater, I went to go stock up on bread before the trip. The trip advertised that dinner would be served at the summit, but I knew that whatever it ended up being would not be something I could eat. I grabbed a loaf from one of the bakeries, and stocked up on pretzel sticks at a convenience store around the corner. I, accurately, hoped that my system would be able to handle the pretzel sticks, as I was getting really sick of bread after eating it for nearly two weeks and almost exclusively for the past week. I made my way to the university to meet back up with everyone at the conference before boarding the buses.

I chilled out in the lounge while the conference wrapped up and everyone was fed lunch. The buses started arriving at 2pm. We stood out front waiting for the buses, and tried to board one but I wasn’t able to find a seat, so all 8 of us piled back off. This small fact will be extremely important later. Meanwhile, another bus pulled in, and we were able to take over the whole back of the bus. At this point, I think I should point out these buses were in the style of dolmus, so they seated about 14 people with an aisle on the passenger side of the bus. To get to Mt. Nemrut from Malatya is a 4 hour drive on a dirt road with the last few miles consisting of steep and narrow switchbacks. This dirt road is a non-descript turn off from the main highway, so it would be very hard to find it without prior knowledge that it takes you to the top of the mountain.

We made two stops along the way. The first was about an hour into the trip at a small convenience store, at which people could buy water and snacks. There was a natural spring there as well that some people took an interest in. Everyone in our group bought a few snacks and rested in the shade. A small cat came to nuzzle us and beg for food. After about ten minutes, we boarded the buses again and continued on. After about another hour, we passed through a small town, which was incredibly cute. All the town consisted of was a small mosque encircled by a few even smaller houses.

Later, the second stop was slightly more exciting. We stopped at a small waterfall on which was built a fishery and restaurant. They had a fishpond within the building, from which one could choose a fish to be prepared. Tijen, Damla, and the Canans found berry bushes below the restaurant and picked several fist fulls of blackberries. I didn’t have any as I was still cautious about what I was eating while on such a long bus ride. We loaded up into buses and drove for another 90 minutes. After the waterfall, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the drive until we came to the switchbacks during the last 2-3 miles. Instead, I was actually trying to update my blog as best as possible. Apparently, it is hard to type at the bus rocks back and forth. Who knew?!?

As we crossed the tree line, we could see for miles. The road at this point became barely a one-lane trail. It switchbacked steeply up the side of the mountain with very tight turns. The road, as well as the rest of the top of the mountain, was made up of a reddish limestone. Upon arriving, we disembarked from the buses, and walked about 1000 ft before we reached a shack. Thinking that we had already paid for the park entrance fee as part of the tour price, I continued to walk up the hill before getting yelled at. Apparently, visiting the site cost an additional 5 lira. I found this slightly irritating but paid it nonetheless. There are two sides of the summit to the site, the eastern and western sides. As the tour was intended to get us there around sunset, the colors of the setting sun on the rocks was stunning. Unfortunately, there weren’t any tour guides to explain the history of the site. I would have even settled for an explanation in Turkish to none at all. As it turned out, once again, my guidebook saved the day. After seeing the statues of Zeus, Herculues, Tyche, Apollo, and King I Theos Antiochus on the eastern side, we moved to the western side to watch the sunset. Both sides have the same statues but the surroundings are slightly different. Both sets of statues are supposed to be on throwns, but all of them have been moved over the ages. There was an formation of rocks that all the METU students sat down on. We all broke out snacks and waited for the sun to set. At this point, I broke out my guidebook to read the description of Mt. Nemrut to everyone as no one really had any idea what the significance of the monument was. As you can see in all the pictures, there is a reddish light cast on everything. The reddish limestone reflected brightly in the light. As the sunset faded, we all walked towards the buses. The little shack that served as the visitors’ center was selling little plaster figurines of the statues. Since there were only 3 lira apiece, I ended up buying 5 of them, one of each statue.

Upon reaching the buses, we were given a cheese, pepper, and tomato sandwich with an apple and bottle of water. We all hoped back into the buses and started the long ride home. I noticed the bus driver was driving rather fast for it being pitch black outside and a one lane, dirt road. I tried to write as much about the Malatya trip on my laptop as possible before I finally couldn’t take the rocking any more. I tried to sleep as best I could with the rocking. About 45 minutes from home, we suddenly pulled over. The driver was frantically calling someone, and someone else on our bus received a text message from someone on another bus saying that another bus had gone off the road and rolled down a steep embankment. Someone else received a call, from which we learned that no one had died but several people had broken arms and/or suffered from cuts from the broken glass as the van had rolled down the embankment. The creepiest part about this whole experience was that the bus, which overturned, was the one we were originally going to ride in. It only happened to be dumb luck that I couldn’t get a seat on it that we didn’t get seriously hurt along with everyone else on that bus.

The driver determined that there was nothing for us to do other than continue on returning back to Inonu University. Apparently, several ambulances had been called to carry people to the university’s hospital. We all sat there silent and stunned for the rest of the trip. The driver was nice enough to drive us all the way to the guesthouse from the university. We turned in as soon as we got back, as we were supposed to get up at 6am the next morning for our day trip to Urfa, a city near the Syrian border.

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