August 14, 2014

Walking to a fireplace

There are better adventures and worse adventures. Either way, the best way to end any adventure is with a cold beer, corn nuts, and an Al-Jazeera documentary about Palestine…well, it’s one way.

I definitely earned my beer yesterday. Alan and I decided to take a short trip up the coast by minibus to see the Eternal Flame, an ignited natural gas mine on the side of a mountain in a neighbouring town.

From the second we stepped out of our apartment, my major obstacle was the oppressive heat. Reaching around 100 degrees under blazing sun, the outdoors are no place for this Viking-descendant.

Our first leg of minibus was easy enough: a short ride to a rest area at a junction to both Mount Olympos and the town housing the Eternal Flame. The problem was that we were only at the junction to the town, a healthy 7 km walk into the valley. Alan had read online that an hourly minibus takes passengers down to the town, Çıralı (Chuh-ra-luh). We waited at the rest area, and waited, and waited. I was just a little too hot to be comfortable, I didn’t have anything to do, and I was making my displeasure too obvious to Alan. He tried to engage me in a Turkish lesson with the 1950s Turkish grammar book he brought along, but I wasn’t feeling it.

After waiting for more than an hour, we finally asked a worker at the stop. Within minutes (we think he called the minibus), we were en route down the steep drive. Without knowing the minibus’s route, we had few choices but to get off at the beach stop. A nearby map gave us a general idea of how to get to the Eternal Flame (via the ONE road in town). We (I somewhat begrudgingly) set off, already sweating for a walk of unknown length.

My moodiness and Alan’s response cast a nasty tone for the walk, which we ended up doing with about 25 meters in between us. The sun beat down and the heat radiated off of the stony street. Sweat beaded up on my arms and forehead, coming out white because of my natural zinc sunscreen. I trudged onward, spurred only by the thought that giving up wouldn’t do me any good this far into the walk away from the city.

All the while, the irony of hauling myself this far in the heat just to see an open flame kept my heart a little lighter. If nothing else, I would enjoy noting that in my blog. (Check.)

Alan and I argued a little at the entrance to the Eternal Flame national park, mostly about my attitude and his resentment of me messing up the adventure. I think we were both so hot and exhausted that we just said what was on our minds.

Still angry, we paid the 5 TL ($2.50) entrance fee and began climbing a 1000 m ascent to the flame. The climb was not for the faint of heart. Sure, stones had been laid to form a path with stairs, but add in a steep grade and the incredible heat, and you’ve got yourself a killer workout. I was astounded at how difficult it was. I was also upset that I hadn’t volunteered to carry my own water from Alan’s backpack for this portion. He was again way ahead of me, and I was parched from the exertion. Stair after stair, I forced myself up. Turkish Grannies also ascended the path, at a rate slightly faster than me, which was embarrassing, but I got over it. Women in shoes not meant for hiking scurried up the stones with composure and minimal sweat.

I actually became concerned at one point about getting heat stroke because I was so hot and my heart was racing.

As we neared the top, more people had stopped for rest, panting and sweating as I was.

Alan and I caught our first glimpse of the flame as a Turkish guy roasted a sausage on a stick. I’m not sure that’s legal, but it looked tasty.
The orange to my left is the Eternal Flame.

The eternal flame was certainly modest in size, no larger than you might see in a gas fireplace. The heat it produced was uncomfortable as Alan and I posed for a photo before heading back.

A woman who started her descent at the same time as us was wearing six-inch wedges as she teetered on the stones—I’m not even exaggerating. My own ankles felt empathy as she wobbled. She and her husband went quickly, though we caught up to them a few hundred meters down. She had removed her shoes and was pawing over the hot stones now unprotected. I have serious respect for her toughness, though I think a wiser shoe choice would have impressed me more.

Alan and I each drank most of a 1.5 liter chilled water from the small café. I think the heat and exhaustion helped us move on from our earlier argument. On the walk back to town, just as long or longer, we actually talked, took pictures, and had a somewhat enjoyable time.

Getting home wasn’t as easy as getting there. Some confusion with the minibuses left us on the side of the highway trying to flag down a passing bus to get us to the town where we were staying. Although it sounds pretty rough, I think it's fairly normal for Turkey. I wasn't that concerned.We eventually flagged down the right kind of bus to get us home.

Once home, the beer and corn nuts replaced much of the salt we lost through our pours, and the beer helped us relax. The documentary was sad, and left me wondering what pieces to the Israeli-Palestinian puzzle I am missing. Putting aside thoughts of the problems in the world, Alan and I fell asleep early last night.