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.
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.”
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.
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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.
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.
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!
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.