The Girls With No Shoes
I had my first official site seeing trip in Cappadocia yesterday. It was suppose to be me and Mehmet, him picking me up at 10am. At 10:20 he called to say that he was not able to go, but his partner, Ersin was going to let me use his vehicle for the day, and I could go where ever I wanted. Sure enough, 10 minutes later Ersin showed up. The vehicle turned out to be a 1987 jeep with no top, which I thought would be pretty cool driving around. Except I was more than a little concerned because I had driven this vehicle the day before. Just a short distance between the “hangar” and my apartment. It performed miserably. It coughed and sputtered and jerked and stalled and just completely died six times in the two mile trip. I reminded Ersin about that and he smiled real big and said in very broken English, “yes it is a beautiful day!” Once I did get him to understand my worry, he in turn ,through hand motions, and very deliberate short phrases, explained that the electronic control device attached to the dash that meters and regulates the flow of natural gas to the engine was the culprit and had been replaced. Yep, natural gas. Right there in the back of the little jeep is a 20 liter tank. It seems that gasoline is very expensive here and a lot of the vehicles have converted either to total use of natural gas or a combination of that and gasoline. I noticed that gasoline is only about 2.80 Turkish lira or about 2.25 dollars. But that is for a liter and not a good ole U.S. gallon. So it comes out to be about twice what we pay for it.
Once I dropped him off, I was on my own for the day, which felt pretty good. I have been on someone else’s schedule for the last two weeks. My goal was to see the Goreme Open Air Museum. The site is the center of the Cappadocia tourist attractions. It contains numerous sandstone caves that were carved out centuries ago and in this particular area were used as churches by monks somewhere around 1000-1200AD. These people had a load of talent and showed it in their paintings on the ceilings and walls of the cave churches. These paintings are called frescoes. Don’t ask me why, but they are amazingly and hauntingly beautiful. Please go to one of the many web sites for more.
It is only 10 kilometers (6 miles)from Avanos but I took my time to enjoy the ride. Top down on the jeep, 80 degrees, sun shining, life is good. And by the way, I was wearing my LG T-shirt. I did discover something on the drive that has had me puzzled since I arrived in Turkey. Sure enough, it is possible to drive on this side of the world and stay on the right side of the road. I was beginning to think there was some kind of magnetic field affecting the vehicles around here. Mehmet has not stayed on his side of the road for more than 30 seconds at a time without crossing over, and I don’t mean just a little bit. All the way over. I have mentioned it to him a couple of times and his reply is always, “yes, it is a beautiful day”. I’m going to keep trying though.
I drove into the town of Goreme and there was a sign pointing to the left and up the hill. I was in tourist heaven. The street was lined with souvenir shops, outside cafes, and tour guide services. The jeep is perfect for negotiating the narrow, curvy, and hilly, brick streets so I made the turn and in short order found myself at the entrance to the museum. I pulled into one of several parking lots that was too small for the 20-30 tour buses that had arrived before me. Parked the jeep and proceeded to the entrance gate. I was met by a young man with tiny wire rim glasses, wearing a ball cap and short pants. You don’t see short pants here, except on tourist. Don’t know why this guy was different. He was polite and asked me was this my first time here. (How did he know?) When I said yes, his eyes lit up, in fact I think I saw little Turkish liras reflecting in them. He spoke very good English but had a very different accent, not Turkish. He said he noticed I had a jeep and that, although the museum was very nice, that now would not be a good time to go. Too many tourist and way too hot. I could see his point. He said he could show me some very nice places that were only accessible by the type vehicle I had and their would be “magnificent and fabulous” views. And he would be happy to take me and let me experience that with him. All for only 30TL. I quickly thought of three reasons not to do this. 1. My mission today was to see the Open Air Museum. 2. I’m gonna be here for several months and I can go exploring new territory any time I want. 3. I’m a little short of Turkish lira, or dollars, or any other kind of negotiable legal tender. I politely thanked him but told him I had a limited amount of time today, but I would consider his offer another day, please give me a card. He did and went on to the next guy that looked green.
It cost 15TL to get into the museum. Money well spent. It was all I had imagined and more. The towering sandstone formations, deep ravines, and spectacular cave churches, all lived up to the hype. Those were all things I had expected. It is the unexpected, that always gets your attention. I lost my wallet and didn’t even know it…had it not been for the girls with no shoes, I could have been in a real fix.
You can’t help but watch and listen to the “other tourist”. I was fascinated that I could be around so many people that looked just like me, for the most part and not understand a word being said. I am not an expert, but I’m sure I recognized French, German, Turkish, and several variations of Asian dialect. So when I heard someone behind me say, “lets go this way”, it got my attention. I was excited at the notion that I might get to talk to someone in my own language. I turned and asked in the best southern English I could muster, “where ya’ll from?”. The two young ladies were from California, but considering I was desperate to have a conversation with someone, I let that go. They had been in Cappadocia for a couple of days and this was the last day before they were to catch a plane that evening to Istanbul. Yes, they had taken the a balloon tour the morning before and it was just wonderful. About then, out of nowhere, the weather changed. The now 85 degree sunny day turned to solid grey accompanied by pouring rain. The winding trail that moments before was just dust, now was rapidly becoming a little river of water flowing rapidly down the hill. The three of us found ourselves seeking shelter and as luck would have it, no caves close by. The only refuge from the downpour was a entrance to a cave but it had been blocked by a glass door. There was just enough room for us and two other folks who were trying to escape the elements. They were from Australia. There were no signs or explanations for the glass door being there. (We later learned the glass door was there to allow you to see the unearthed graves of some poor souls, bones and all.) So for the next 20 minutes, we waited. The five of us strangers, trapped by something as simple as falling water. Christiana was of Filipino decent. Natalya was born in Columbia. They both lived and worked in California and were just having a “girls getaway” holiday. Natalya was going to a wedding in Spain and invited her friend Christina to go along. They had already been to the wedding, then to Istanbul for a few days, now Turkey and were traveling on to Jordan before returning home. I was curious. Did they book a package deal all planned out for them? I was pleased that no, they booked the flight to Spain and just “figured out the rest as we went along”. How wonderful that people can have the gumption to take off on that kind of adventure. They were having a grand time. After a little time had passed I got up enough nerve to ask, “Where are your shoes? What were you thinking going on a two hour hiking tour, up and down these hills, climbing ladders, over rocks?” They were wearing sandals, for crying out loud! Very fashionable, tiny little things with one small leather string between the toes. But not even close to functional in the terrain we were in. I had noticed even before the rain came and thought to myself…what were they thinking?
Of course they had no logical explanation. Just a “girl wants to look good priority thing, I guess. I can appreciate it, kinda like high heels, but I sure don’t understand it.
They ask me the usual questions. Where was I from, what are you doing here, how long are you staying? I answered all that smartly enough, and added that I had a small balloon company and specialized in private flights for two people back in Louisiana. Christiana had been to Louisiana but was thinking of going back and do a food tour. Not sure what that is exactly..you have to eat no matter where you go. She asked me for a contact number just in case she and her boy friend might want to go on a ride. That was when my world took a nose dive. I said to her, “let me give you a card that has all my contact information,” as I reached around to my blue jeans back pocket for my wallet. And then the other back pocket, and both front pockets, then the back again, and the front again as if I kept looking in the same place that my wallet would magically appear. I can not tell you the panic that passed through every inch of my body at that moment. A hundred scenarios raced through my head and what was in that wallet. Everything. A few Turkish lira, driver’s license, bank card, pilot’s license, SS card, the coveted work permit/ get out of jail free card, my life. Pardon the expression, but it took everything in me to stay calm and not just start screaming like a girl. The girls with no shoes could tell there was a problem. As calmly as I could manage, I proclaimed that I had lost my wallet. There faces mirrored my desperate look. I imagined in my head what kind of problem this could be for me, here in the middle of Turkey. What misery would be bestowed on me because I was so careless! Where could it be? I had taken it out two times since paying admission at the gate. Once, to purchase a bottle of drinking water, back when it was 85 degrees and hot. (The weather change dropped the temperature to 65 degrees now and the girls with no shoes were getting cold) I also used it to pay an extra 8TL for access into the Dark Church along the trail. I couldn’t remember which came first. I had the bottle of water in my back pocket, the same pocket as my wallet. Could my wallet have fallen out along the way as I pulled out the bottle for a drink? It could be anywhere at this point. Along the trail, maybe picked up by a tourist and now on it’s way back to whatever country they came from. Or in one of the several dark caves or narrow passage ways that I had been crawling around in. A feeling of hopelessness totally engulfed my body. I am doomed. I will never find it. But I have to try. It was still raining, but now that didn’t matter. That was the least of my worries. I told the girls with no shoes goodbye and wished them a safe journey and then slipped out into the rain to try to get my life back.
I worked my way down the muddy trail, water running fast seeking a resting place.
All the while my eyes searching the ground for my precious peace of mind, looking left and right, up and down. I searched a small passage way that led to a dark cave. There was no one in the cave and it was cold, dark, and not strangely, lonely. I could hardly see the ground so I pulled out my new Turkish cell phone and fumbled until I got the built in flashlight to come on. Little more than a small candle considering the vast darkness that surrounded me. No wallet. Leaving the cave and back on the trail, I continued to search to no avail. Shortly I reached the cave/tea house where I had purchased the bottle of water. I was relieved to see the same young girl at the counter. When I approached she smiled and I thought I had hit the jackpot. She remembers me and has my wallet!!, I say to myself. But instead she proceeded to ask by way of moving her hands across the counter, what would I like…water, soda, tea, cookies? Oh my God she does not have it! Not able to vocally make her understand, I began to play charades with her, hoping she would get the idea. I put my hands together flat then opened and closed trying to make them look something like a wallet. She pointed to the water bottles lined up on the counter. No, I screamed in my own head. I don’t want water, I want my wallet back. I tried again. This time with a little more emotion and desperation. She proclaimed. “Ahhh”, held up one finger vertically in the universal sign for “wait here”, as she walked around the corner and out the door. In less that 10 seconds she returned followed by a young Turkish man who held my life in his hands. The first thing I did was give the girl, now smiling, a great big traditional Turkish hug, executed by hugging and kissing one cheek and then the other…twice. Then I followed that by just a good ole tight squeeze. The man handed me my wallet and I tried very hard to say thank you in his native language. I was so happy and excited I could not remember “tesekur ederim”!! I just kept saying “thank you, thank you’!!! He replied with a proud grin on his face, “no problem in Turkey”. And that’s the way it is here in this country with the Turkish people. Modest, proud, friendly, and most of all, lucky for me, totally honest.
It was like I had been born again, resurrected from the dead. My identity restored. Right here in this ancient place, the very cross roads of modern religion, where the apostles and saints lived and traveled. And I owe it all to the girls with no shoes. If I had not asked, “where ya’ll from”, had we not got stuck in the rain, had they not asked for my card, had I not reached for my wallet to retrieve a card…..it would have, could have been hours and miles down the road before I even noticed my wallet was gone. I am thankful.
I will most likely never see or hear from them again. But if I do, I’m going to buy them some shoes.