Not all those who wander are lost.

Turkey

Paragliding

Notes from June 7th, Paragliding in Oludeniz:

After a 30-minute ride up Babadag (Father Mountain) from the white sand beaches of Oludeniz, I arrived at the launchpad and nearly lost my lunch. The paved area was so steep it made me dizzy and it literally extended to the edge of the cliff. I was at the top of the mountain, 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above the Turquoise Coast. A man approached me and introduced himself my guide for the tandem glide. Ziya was his name, but he prefers Craziya. A perfect match, I promptly told him that I would love nothing more than to feel the G-force while spinning around.

My instructions were simple…once the parachute caught wind, I was to walk. When told to do so, I would start to run, and then when my legs no longer touched the ground, I could sit. Simple enough. The only problem was the thinking part…and unfortunately, I had a few minutes to think while we were getting strapped in.

Now I know it has been a while since Biology 101, but didn’t Darwin say something about the survival of the fittest? The strongest, savviest members of a species will survive…and here I am paying money to run straight off a cliff. I have devolved back to lemming status, blatantly ignoring my survival instincts, in pursuit of a good view and an adrenalin rush.Darwin would shake his head in shame…but then again, Darwin didn’t know about parachutes.

The best way I can describe paragliding is as a cross between flying and falling; or perhaps it’s actually just a very slow fall. And “euphoria” is the only word that comes to mind when I think about that 45-minute fall. Pure euphoria. An adrenaline rush that compels you to sing rather than scream. The view of the Mediterranean Sea, the boats, the beaches, the Taurus Mountains, the villages, all spectacular. I will definitely be going again.

Special thanks to my beloved family for an incredible birthday gift!!


Western Shock

I’m currently sitting at a cafe in the International Terminal of Ataturk airport, staring across the way at a green circular sign with a white mermaid in the middle. I don’t need to read the words “Starbucks Coffee” to know that I’ve already re-entered the Western world. The constant recorded announcements over a sound system, the arrival/departure schedules, the forced smile of the Turkish Airlines woman checking my passport, the existence of a moving walkway to get where you’re going faster…these all reinforce the fact that I’ve been living a world away for the past 2 months.

This is a big culture shock, the transition back to the West. Thanks to the wise words of a dear friend, I started to prepare for this shock over a week ago. In Olympos, I discovered a different approach to life and I embraced it whole-heartedly. After connecting with nature, appreciating today, and centering myself, I am now faced with the challenge of keeping that peace.

My natural tendency is to plan, organize, and manage – all great qualities for navigating the workings of the West – but that tendency became an obsession, one that led me down a path which was not my own. I will need to be very deliberate in my effort to maintain the balance I’ve achieved in Turkey. I’m not sure yet how to accomplish this, but I imagine it will start by taking a deep breath. Maybe two or three.


Goodbye Olympos, and thank you


After 2 months as resident bartenders here in Olympos, the time has come for Tyler and me to bid farewell to Bayram’s Treehouse Hostel.  While I am very anxious to move on to my next adventure, a wave of nostalgia has already taken hold of me.

My time here has been short but so incredibly rich. Olympos allowed me to embrace the practice of living in the moment, for today, without worry about the stresses tomorrow may bring. In learning to appreciate the “now”, I have experienced some magical moments of pure bliss. It’s in these moments that I suddenly become so aware of all my senses and that I really listen to my breath. These moments bring clarity, serenity, calm, and consciousness. It’s as if nothing else exists but what you are able to take in right then.

Sadly, back in the States, these moments were few and far between. I let the hustle & bustle of planning my days prevent me from taking the time to appreciate whatever it was that existed right in front of me. Knowing this imbalance, I would actively plan time to seek out these moments; they became a brief escape from the “grind.” Olympos granted me the gift of understanding that these moments are beautiful because of their simplicity. They occur all the time, everywhere, and don’t need to be forced, conjured, or created; the key is to be able to pause and recognize them.

I had three moments like this today. The first was being called “daughter” by our head chef. I naturally gave him a big hug, but while doing so, I paid attention to the feeling of warmth that overcame me. Family. I have a family here. The second moment was on the beach when I heard the evening Call to Prayer from the neighboring town. For 5 minutes, I said nothing and thought nothing; I simply listened to the beautiful tones of the words from the Qur’an. Spirituality, what an incredible way to connect to one’s God. The third was during an afternoon snack at a cafe when the breeze picked up slightly and carried with it some dandelion fairies. Snow, in Olympos, in June. Magic.

Thank you, Olympos, for giving me a new perspective and appreciation of the beauty that exists right now. After all, the only thing that is guaranteed is this moment.


Back to Low Maintenance

I used to pride myself on being a low-maintenance kind of girl. I love “roughing it” in the great outdoors, I don’t mind sweat & dirt, and I’ve never been one of those girls who can’t leave the house without make-up.

However, after having spent nearly 4 years as a Consultant in San Francisco, I had developed a morning routine. It involved a hot shower with a loofah, some styling of my hair, and make-up; it wasn’t anything too heavy, but mascara, eyeliner, foundation, and blush were part of my every day. My clothes were always clean and pressed (if necessary), and I usually wore perfume. While I’ve never been one to get manicures, I also made sure my nails were clean and presentable.

Seven weeks ago, just after our arrival at the Treehouse Hostel, Tyler turned to me and asked, “How long do you think it’ll take until you become a hippie?”

This morning, I woke up and quickly realized there was no electricity, and therefore no hot water. I took a cold shower in the dark, put my hair up in a bun using a dab of lotion to tame my frizz, and left the bathroom without once looking in the mirror.

My dirty laundry pile and my pack are currently synonymous as it’s been far too long since I’ve devoted an afternoon to laundry. So I chose my shirt based on the tried & true “Backpacker Smell Test.” And although I’ve worn them every day for the past week, I threw on my linen pants; my alternative is a pair of jeans which are sweltering in this Turkish heat.

Out the door I went, feeling ready for the day. Dirty, messy hair, wearing wrinkled clothes, no makeup, and a beaming smile. Yes, I have my answer. It was a gradual process, but I believe it took 7 weeks for me to become a hippie.


Bookkeeping

This afternoon I noticed Yusuf working on the balance sheet for the hostel. He was flipping back & forth in a notebook, scribbling down the amounts received from Travel Agency referrals, one page devoted to each Travel Agency. The thought occurred to me, as it did at the hostel in Istanbul, that all bookkeeping appears to be done by hand.

Yusuf is the hostel manager, has a 4-year degree, and is very comfortable navigating a computer. Out of curiosity, I asked him why he doesn’t use his laptop for the bookkeeping. Pointing to the papers, he said “This is easy to hide from the government. We just put it away. A computer, you cannot hide that from the government.”

It was presented so casually that I can’t help but think this is normal, similar to a waiter who only reports a portion of their tips. Yet this is on a massive scale – a hostel with 200 beds.

There are so many interesting observations here, I don’t even know where to start. The lack of honest books, the fear that the government is watching, the margin of error involved with anything done by hand, the lack of anything with a “fixed” price…I could go on and on.

Or I could just chalk it up to yet another interesting cultural observation that enables this country, and its businesses, to be so hospitable.


“Fantasy Land”

One of the guests told me last night, “Seriously, this place is amazing. You’re living in a Fantasy Land. Six months, one year, whatever…definitely do this as long as you can before going back to Real Life.”

In cartoons from my childhood, I remember seeing a character become so angry that their face transitions from white to tomato-red. They grit their teeth as their eyes redden and bulge out of their head, steam starts coming out of their ears, their blood boils in fury.

That was me after hearing this comment. Fantasy Land? Really? I must admit I didn’t have the best impression of this traveller to begin with. A lawyer from Denver, he’s the type that brags about spending $13,000 on carpets in Istanbul and then complains about the price of the beer at our bar ($4.00 for a half liter). His arrogance and condescending manner is felt long before he ever opens his mouth.

This topic of conversation has become a bit of a sore spot for me lately. I do understand that working at a hostel bar without much of a “plan” probably seems like I’m trying to escape reality. To him, this looks like a hiccup in my career path. But please, let’s not forget that this IS my real life. This is the path I deliberately sought out and desperately fought for. This is MY dream and I’m making it come true.

Okay, that’s enough. Thank you for letting me vent.


Turkish Time

One of the most fascinating cultural observations is the approach to the concept of time.

Americans are obsessed with time. Time is to be managed, utilized, conserved and organized. Time is of the essence. Time is saved by short-cuts, conveniences, and efficiencies. Time is money. Apparently, time is tangible because we can spend it, lose it, make it, and kill it. Time is also limited; people always hurry to get where they are going, and the effort to be on time is justification for rudeness and a lack of respect for one’s surroundings. This attitude toward time is what enables Americans to consistently raise the bar in innovation and production across any industry.

America is a culture of “do-ers” and “go getters” where one must be productive so as not to miss opportunity. The pursuit of the American Dream requires Americans to spend more, earn more, and do more in the least amount of time. Americans constantly worry about time and this mindset is stressful, unnatural, and exhausting.

Turkey has been such a blessing in that I’ve been able to escape that mindset. Here, time is acknowledged but that’s the extent of it. Turks don’t stress about time or worry about sticking to schedules. And waiting is just part of the process, it’s not an inconvenience. In Turkish, there are apparently only two acceptable responses to the question “when.” The answer is either “today” or “tomorrow.” While in English, “tomorrow” is defined as “the day after today,” the word appears to mean “”any day after today” to Turks.

I find myself often asking about the next delivery of beer or Coca-Cola; I notice that our supply is low, and in anticipation of unhappy guests, I stress about the possibility of running out of beverages. In response to my inquiry about the next delivery, the answer is always “maybe tomorrow,” and that’s that. There’s no point in stressing about the exact date of delivery; it either arrives today or it doesn’t. If we run out of beer, we’ll figure something out; it would be foolish to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet.

Turkish Time. What a beautiful, beautiful approach.


Time Off

I have grown accustomed to the question “do you get any days off?” The short answer is “No”. Actually, the long answer is “No” as well.  I work 8 hours every day, no days off.

This does not bother me for several reasons. First, Tyler and I have the flexibilty to change our shift schedule to fit our plans for the day. The flexibility means that work does not interfere with my ability to explore and experience Olympos.

Second, the rest of the staff all work from sunrise to well after sunset, every day. The only time they take off is for family obligations. I’m amazed by the Turkish work ethic, especially in the tourist industry.

Third, the work is anything but demanding. I read, chat, think, and occasionally restock the shelves with beer. My skin could use a break from the sun anyway (thank you Irish roots), so I’m happy to have a reason to stay in the shade.

You see, we are approaching high season; there are always new guests checking in and checking out, needing help with their air conditioning or wanting to know where to hike. This is the hospitality industry, there is no time to be taken off. Or so I thought…

Daniel, Adam, and Heinz have been staying here for what seems like an eternity. They’re like the brothers I never had (photos to come). They keep me company during my shifts and help me with my inability to create a good playlist. On my time off, I join them on bike rides or hit the beach in search of Hussein selling stuffed mussels. Today they decided it was time to leave Olympos and continue their travels. Tomorrow, they will depart on a 4-day/3-night Gulet Cruise up the Turquoise Coast to Fethiye.

I have been dying to do this cruise, but I was hesitant because I’d be going alone…and on this type of excursion, your company makes or breaks the trip. But with the three stooges going, I found myself with great cruise company. Drama-free and full of sarcasm, laughter, and great music.

I asked the manager if I could have a few days off to join them. After thinking about it for a minute, he asked if that would enable me to stay a few extra days in June, when it’s much much busier. Without hesitation, I said absolutely.

And that’s how you get time off in Turkey. Negotiate around your “temporary” work schedule – I am much more valuable during high season than low season. So for a very very discounted price (another benefit of being “Staff”), I’ll be sailing on a wooden yacht for the next 4 days. The itinerary is a dream come true: exploring St. Nicholas Island, kayaking over Sunken ruins, possibly Paragliding off the cliffs above Oludeniz, and marveling at the gorgeous coast. Pinch me, I’m dreaming.


Diving Toward Integration

Wandering Rule #2: Never forget where you are.

I’ve been living and working in Olympos now for three weeks. Tyler and I split the 16-hour bartending day as we see fit which has enabled me to hike, bike, rock climb, sun bathe, star-gaze, and swim on my “breaks.” During my shift, I talk to guests, which has yet to really feel like “work.” I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet some phenomenal people, Aussie, Canadian, English, Kiwi, Russian, German, French, Italian, and the occasional American. I’ve formed some incredible connections with fellow travellers, each with their own story and their own journey.

Although I’m rusty, I have made use of my French and Italian in order to facilitate conversation between the Turkish staff and the guests. Though I must admit that listening to a Turkish man speak to a French man in English is quite possibly the funniest conversation to eavesdrop on; their accents are so thick that despite speaking in their common language (English), neither one can understand the other. But at the end of the day, in this melting pot of culture and language, I have to confess that I’ve been speaking primarily in English and have spent the majority of my time conversing with other native English speakers.

I came to a very disappointing realization yesterday: my knowledge of Turkish language and culture plateaued a while ago. I have been in Turkey for over one month, and I still can only answer “Çok iyiyim” (very well) when asked “Nasılsın?” (How are you?). I don’t know how to say that I’m tired, sad, happy, or frustrated. I know how to count from 1-10, but if you tell me to “put it on room 14,” I draw a blank. I can say hello, good morning, please, and thank you, but those are the P’s and Q’s that I pride myself on knowing before I enter any foreign country.

I realize that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself, but after one month, I should know more Turkish. I should have done a better job of diving into Turkey. What I’ve done is dive into the tourist’s Turkey. I have an amazing opportunity over the next month to fix that fault. I have a group of Turks who adore me and have so much to share. Fifteen year old Emrah loves to play his favorite Turkish music for me. “Chefy,” as we affectionately call the hostel cook, enjoys showing me what he has planned for today’s menu. Servet’s sister is getting married in a few weeks. Camil is going to be a father this summer. Memet is eager to show off his dance moves. I want to be a part of all of it.

While Olympos is a fantastic getaway for tired backpackers and avid thrill seekers, I must not forget that it is home to these Turks. And right now, it is home for me too.

So tomorrow, when asked “Nasılsın?”, I plan to respond with “Harika” which means “great/fantastic.”


A Day in the Life

While I’ve been seeking out new adventure sports, Tyler has been filming and documenting our lives here in Olympos.  He is incredibly talented and has an uncanny ability to pick the perfect scenes and music for each video.

Check out his most recent video, and experience a day in our lives.

Subscribe to Tyler’s blog Lessons from a Vagabond


Almost Forgotten

The ancient city of Olympos, the first of six cities in the Lycian Federation, dates back to the 2nd century, B.C. Today its scattered ruins are hidden by wild grapevines, just waiting to be re-discovered. Structures this old are typically protected and preserved by keeping visitors at a distance. Not Olympos. For only 3 TL ($2.10), you can crawl under archways or trace your fingers along the Marcus Agrippa dedication. I might be a Roma-phile, but that is just the coolest thing ever.

A mere 500 meters from the Mediterranean in Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, Olympos is now a sleepy village tucked away alongside a fig-shaded stream in a stunning valley between high cliffs. There are no ATMs, no post office, only a few shops, and the only transportation available is a large van which shuttles people 11 km up the valley to the Main Road, and it only operates once every 2 hours between 9am and 7pm. Every morning, I wake up to the smell of sage, oleander, and orange blossoms (which smell surprisingly like Gardenia). I hear the sound of chirping birds and a cool spring breeze. I have found my paradise.

I chuckle when I overhear the question: “What is there to do here?” You don’t come to “do” anything in Olympos. That’s the point. Hike if you like, swim in the Mediterranean or walk among forgotten ruins if you like, lounge in a hammock or play backgammon…but more than anything, you should come here without an itinerary and without a plan. In the 10 days that I’ve now lived and worked here, I have done precisely that: nothing. And it is perhaps the first time in my life that I can say I’m actually relaxed.

A guest asked me today: “do you know what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow?” She wanted a beach day to give her climbing hands a rest. I hadn’t checked the forecast, and asked Yusuf (hostel manager) if he knew. He promptly replied “Sunny!”

After the guest left, Yusuf leaned over and said, “You don’t need to ask me. The answer is always ‘Sunny.'” And what if it rains? “Then you just shrug your shoulders and say, “ehh, it’s crazy weather. It will be sunny again tomorrow.” This is the attitude of this village.

The mantra of the hostel is “Come for a Day, Stay for a Week.” If that’s true, what happens when you come for a month? I’ll let you know.


The Unexpected – Part 2

Time for an update:

After working for a week at the hostel in Istanbul, a few things became very clear. 1) I wouldn’t have much in the way of personal or down time, which I need to maintain sanity. 2) In order to earn any money, I would need to “sell” the guests on cheesy tours, cruises, hamams, etc – so NOT my style. 3) I had little opportunity to get out and explore Istanbul – the opposite of why I wanted to stay in the city.

The staff at the hostel was incredibly warm and welcoming. I had an opportunity to learn some Turkish (which I’m still working on), eat some non-restaurant Turkish food (AH-mazing!), and learn some interesting things about the culture. I had my fortune told in the coffee grinds of my first Turkish coffee, and I learned that there is a such thing as a Turkish Shakira. For that, I am very grateful to have spent a week working in Istanbul…but it was time to go.

So on April 17th, Tyler and I took an overnight bus and headed South to Olympos. Waiting for us was a Treehouse Hostel in a gorgeous valley 11km off the main road, and 45 minutes from civilization. I’m now 500 meters from the Mediterranean, in rock-climber/kayaker/hiker/mountain biker heaven…and having been here for 10 days, I can safely say that I’m going to kick up my heels and plant here for a bit.

Check out photos of Istanbul on my Photos Page


Travel Buddies!

Meet Tyler Batson!

Tyler and I studied together in Rome in 2006 and we’ve reconnected in Istanbul for another foreign adventure!  Tyler left California 8 months ago and unexpectedly found himself on an indefinite world journey. He spent 4 months in Thailand, then 4 months in India, and now he’s in Turkey – working his way home.

He’s got an incredible story, and an inspiring blog to share it with you. http://lessonsfromavagabond.tumblr.com/  (yes, I’m taking notes). He’s also much better about updating photos and videos more regularly – subscribe to his blog and follow his journey. You’ll see me making a few guest appearances!


The Unexpected

Wandering Rule #1: Expect the Unexpected (a.k.a. STOP trying to make a “plan”). When you just let things happen and keep an open mind, the most incredible opportunities appear.

To be honest, so much has occurred in the last 8 hours that I’m not quite sure how to go about writing it. I’ll summarize by saying that while my work opportunity in this hostel is still an option, after recent developments it is no longer appealing (yes, I am very safe). I woke up prepared to settle with Plan B which meant spending some money to check out a work opportunity on the coast…knowing full well I’m not ready to leave Istanbul.

Insert one stop at a travel office, a manager named Mustafa, and an Irish ex-patriot name Kathy.

Thirty minutes and a cup of apple tea later, I have in my pocket directions to a nearby hostel. The manager is expecting me. He is a friend of Kathy’s and he’s looking for some extra help from a native English speaker.

One hour and another cup of apple tea later, I have an offer for free accommodation, all meals, and a possible “salary” in return for some help with guests and reservations. The hostel is an incredible upgrade – clean, fresh, warm, and welcoming.

And to think…if I had stuck with this morning’s “Plan,” I would have missed an opportunity to live in Istanbul for a month for free.


Contrast and Collision

The first thing I notice flying into Istanbul is the incredible number of mosques, distinctly recognizable by their minarets which pierce the sky. Turkey is my first Muslim country, and now seeing these sacred spaces from my window, I feel foolish about my ignorance of Islam beliefs and Muslim culture.

Despite having been reassured by friends & guidebooks that Istanbul is very progressive and Westernized, I decide to play it safe and wrap a pashmina around my neck so as not to show any bare skin. I say “arrivederci” to the Italian flight attendants and step off the plane into the Muslim world…

Let me start by saying that Istanbul is, by far, the most culturally fascinating place I’ve ever been. It is known as the city where “East meets West.” The Islamic capital of the West, and also the capital of the Roman Empire in the East. Geographically, the city straddles two continents: Europe and Asia. The historic old town, Sultanahmet, exists on the European side; the modern metropolitan area, Taksim Square, exists on the opposite side. The contrast between Islam and Christianity exists even inside the city’s most famous site: the Hagia Sophia.

Islam Mihrab pointıng to Mecca & 9th Century Virgin & Child mosaic above

Istanbul is a city of cultural collision, and the effect can truly be seen in the streets. A group of Muslim women traditionally dressed in black robes and burkas – many adjectives come to mind when I see them, most reflect some form of sympathy for what appears to be the repression of any identity or self-expression. Yet upon further investigation, I see that one of the women holds a chic Louis Vuitton purse.

Behind them, another Turkish woman is walking alone wearing a headscarf, but is also sporting a brown leather jacket and slim jeans tucked into her fabulous light brown boots.

Inside Topkapi Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived for centuries, I pass a group of Turkish school children. All attention turns from their teacher to me:
“Hello! What is your name?” they each ask, beaming with pride in their ability to speak English.
“Katie,” I respond.
The children giggle, not sure how to respond to my foreign name.
Rather than resort to “Katherine” as a more familiar name, I try this explanation: “Do you know the singer, Katie Perry?”
And instantly they light up at the mention of the international phenomenon that is Katie Perry.
“My name is Katie, like Katie Perry.”
Luckily their teacher interrupted our conversation before I broke out into “California Girls.”

And so it goes. Interactions and observations like these are around every corner, and I haven’t even made it to the Grand Bazaar or a Hamam (Turkish Bath) yet! I am so intrigued by these people, by this culture. I have a feeling I’ll need more than a week.

The manager of the hostel (Volcan) has already offered me a job. It’s not glamorous, but if it enables me to stay and investigate this city for a month, then it is exactly what I want.

After all, this is an opportunity that only a one-way ticket can provide and it is precisely why I choose to wander.