Saturday, December 23, 2006 Turkey Turkey

Pamukkale and Hierapolis

It's not snow, it's calcium deposits from the mineral-rich spring water. [IMG_0576]
Pamukkale travertines [Enlarge]

We were glad to leave Jimmy's Place after three nights there. Local tour company Grand Wonders were again responsible for transferring us to the small town of Pamukkale, a few hours inland from Selçuk. Again they lived down to our low expectations of them. Instead of parting with some cash and buying coach tickets for us (which is what we had paid the agent in İstanbul for), they had a big enough group to make it worth their while stuffing us into their own small, nasty minibus with a non-functioning ventilation system and a crazy driver. We would like to write about the fantastic Turkish scenery that we passed on the way to Pamukkale, but we didn't see any of it because the bus windows steamed up after five minutes. We were dropped off at the Koray Hotel in the early afternoon and the owner, Ahmet, offered us some tea and advised us to go later on to his other hotel up the road if we wanted dinner, because that one had central heating!

'Pamukkale' means 'cotton fortified place', or 'cotton castle'. The village is on the side of a hill and takes its name from the area in the flat valley below it which is in Turkey's cotton-growing area. And also from its prime attraction, the famous white calcium travertines (pools) above the village which look like cotton, according to our guide.

After checking in to the hotel we took a walk through the village and out into the countryside where we found some good views of the Travertines. We were going to go up and see them the next day so we headed back into the village and had a look around. After so long in towns and cities it was nice to be in a real Turkish village, even though it was a village clearly used to getting thousands of tourists every day in the summer. We understood why Ahmet had suggested we eat in his other hotel—there were few alternatives open at this time of year.

Later on we walked up the road to the other hotel (the Kale) where we found Ahmet's Japanese sister-in-law looking after a baby lamb which was asleep in a large flower pot. We made ourselves at home in the lounge and watched some satellite TV. BBC World (24 hour news which seems to repeat itself every five minutes) was the only English-language station available. After a week of news blackout we were surprised to learn about all the problems the Christmas travellers were having with fog at Heathrow Airport. Christmas, and London, seemed a very long way away.

We discovered that the Japanese lady was the manager and chef of the Kale Hotel, and her menu featured Japanese and Korean dishes as well as the usual stock of kebabs. Although we have tried so far to eat local food, it just seemed that it was meant to be to eat a Japanese meal in a small Turkish village with a sheep in a flower pot for our only company. So we ordered our first ever miso soup, with chicken, rice and sweet omelette. It was excellent.

We knew that the festival of Kurban Bayramı (the Turkish name for Eid ul-Adha) was coming a week later on 30th December. For this festival, Muslims who can afford to do so sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats) as a symbol of Ibrahim's (Abraham's) sacrifice. We had been told to expect blood in the streets, literally. We put two and two together and decided that the lamb in the flower pot had a short future ahead of him. In the end we plucked up the courage to ask the Japanese lady whether he was for the chop, and she was aghast. "No, he is our pet!" We were however invited to her barbecue if we were still around on the 30th.

Next morning we were scheduled to visit the travertines. Ahmet drove us and a small group of Chinese tourists over to the neighbouring town, where we picked up a Japanese man before returning to Pamukkale. On the way back we stopped at a view point, before parking at the base of the travertines and ambling up the hill. It became clear that Ahmet was stalling for time. His confidence, humour and enthusiasm for the travertines were unfortunately not matched by his knowledge of what they actually were, nor by his English speaking ability. The Chinese were struggling to understand him in what was to them all a foreign language. One of the Chinese ladies asked him if he was the tour guide and he admitted that our guide had been held up. Apparently another member of our party had been on the night bus to Pamukkale and had arrived to find that his passport had been stolen from his bag during the night. Our real guide was with him trying to help him sort it out.

After a while the guide turned up (without the passport theft victim, who was on the phone to his embassy) and the tour proper began. The travertines are formed by the mineral-rich water from a warm volcanic spring leaving deposits of white calcium on the hillside. Over thousands of years they have covered the hillside with shallow pools. You used to be able to swim in the warm water, but after a lot of damage was done after tourism took off in the 1980s they are now off limits. They were also dry, as the Turkish authorities have installed plumbing systems to allow them to divert the water at will. Over winter they turn the water off to prevent algae from taking hold and discolouring the white pools. It was understandable but a bit disappointing.

The Romans discovered the hot springs and built the city of Hierapolis right next to them. The second phase of our day included a guided tour of the ruins, which were in many ways even better than Efes (Ephesus). The tour guide learned that one of the Chinese people worked for a large hotel chain in Frankfurt, and on hearing this he immediately started giving himself a job interview!

After the Hierapolis tour we had lunch in a small corner of a vast and empty restaurant, before visiting a silver 'workshop' as an unadvertised bonus. We had been introduced to these 'bonus visits' at Efes, whereby you get taken to some workshop or other, which is actually the front for a large showroom, and of course the guide is on a nice commission. At Efes it had been pottery (the demonstration was actually very good, as was the quality of the plates); and here it was silver jewellery. Again we didn't buy anything.

Our final stop was the red spring, hotter than the white ones and red because of iron in the water. This was beautiful but very small, and completely surrounded by souvenir stalls. The sun was setting when we were there and we managed to get a couple of good photos of the spring. (See also all our Pamukkale and Hierapolis photos here).

We returned to the hotel to wait for our first overnight bus, to Ürgüp in Kapadokya (Cappadocia). We aren't particularly looking forward to sitting on a bus all night trying to sleep, then having another tour tomorrow, but we have been told that they are fine and we will have no trouble sleeping. We'll see.

Map of Day 028

Day 028
Selcuk to Pamukkale

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.


Jimmy K. said...

If you would place one of you in the photos (when possible) it would give us some perspective.
Great picts.

Glenn Livett said...

We were being deliberately arty with this photo by making it abstract. Anyway, it wasn't possible to get anywhere near the travertines unfortunately. But there's an old photo with people in here.