Hot Air Ballooning & Conservative Konya

Wednesday 4th June

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We are all thankful that we have lift off for hot air ballooning after a failed attempt yesterday.  Whether or not we can fly is determined by civil aviation authorities as the conditions have to be extremely still.  It would have been a massive bummer if we hadn’t been able to go as this is one of the highlights of the trip and Cappadocia is the most popular place for hot air ballooning in the whole world.
Sunrise is the most popular time to balloon, because of the calm conditions more than anything else.  Driving to the field I am sure we are missing the best bits as I admire the pink and purple sky out the window.  Not sure that I’ve mentioned that the sun spends a lot of time in the sky over here.  I enjoy the light mornings and evenings but it means that for these first couple of days if a call to prayer doesn’t wake me up super early the sun surely does.
We arrive to see hundreds of colourful balloons in varying stages of take off.  It is quite the sight and we aren’t even in the sky yet.  The balloon baskets are segmented into quarters, our basket fitting five people in each section.  One thing I have noticed since day one is that safety standards are VERY lax compared with those of Australia and New Zealand.  Down under is full of “mind your head” and “watch your step” signs, public spaces are well lit and a pothole requires more red tape than the ministry of foreign affairs.
Mum – stop reading now.
We are not so much as given a safety briefing before we climb into the balloon.  Once we are in, the pilot tells us that we need to bend our knees and grab on to the handholds upon landing but that’s it, then we are airborne.  And what a gentle take off it is.  I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but not the gradual smooth transition that we got.  I would like to say I spent the next hour serenely soaking up the most stunning sight to date – hundreds of balloons hovering over a cave land is pretty bloody spectacular – but in reality I am clicking away on my iPad, iPhone and my digital camera to ensure that I can’t lose these memories if I am mugged in the street.  We are also constantly joking about how seedy we are feeling from last night, taking a few pretend vomit-over-the-basket shots to make our parents proud.
We land, not in a field as we are led to believe, but on the back of a trailer. Oh and we never got the heads up to get into the brace position either.  Champagne is popped (some of us discreetly tipping our flutes to the ground) and we celebrate a successful flight, even receiving a certificate for all of the strenuous effort we put in.

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Me and Emma, pre take off
Me and Emma, pre take offIMG_0613

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Not so crazy for the champagne after last night’s activities

Our next ‘real’ destination is Fethiye but again it is too far away to do a direct drive so we overnight in Konya.  On the way we stop off at a caravanserai, one of many unused hotel come mosque come stables in the Turkish countryside.  These buildings were constructed every 40km (that was the distance determined that a camel could walk in a day) between India and Rome which was the trade route for ferrying silk and spice back in the day.  There is not a whole lot to see but we all welcome the opportunity for a stretch of the legs.

Inside a caravanserai
Inside a caravanserai
This is probably how most people on the Turkey Topdeck remember me - frantically tapping away on my iPad at every spare moment - in this case, out the front of the caravanserai
This is probably how most people on the Turkey Topdeck remember me – frantically tapping away on my iPad at every spare moment – in this case, out the front of the caravanserai

Continuing on the road to Konya, although I spend most of the time writing, I make sure to appreciate the gems I see outside, sad in the realisation that I can’t capture these things with a camera: a farmer driving a tractor towing a trailer full of watermelon down the main highway, women covered from head to toe hacking away in fields with tools that look like the are straight out of the Flinstones and the most beautiful wild flowers; red Anzac poppies, gangly tulips and those small white bushy ones that are considered florally fashionable by the trendy girls at the South Melbourne markets.  It is obvious by the skin colour of the locals that we are heading into a more conserved Turkey.  The further away from a big city, the darker the skin.

Konya is an Islamic hub in Turkey and en route Shaggy gives us a spiel about Islam and Muslim culture within Turkey specifically.  He makes the point that Turkey’s version of islamic culture cannot be applied to other islamic countries.  Although the majority of the bus falls asleep I already have questions about things I have seen and heard and embrace this opportunity.
Here’s what stuck with me:

  • Most importantly, that all major religious scripts are well intentioned; that everywhere in the world the word of the Koran is the same.  It is merely the interpretation of some extremist Muslims that have seemingly landed the muslim world in trouble over the last decade.  Same goes, although to a less extreme extent, for Christians.
  • The Koran and the Old Testament are pretty much the same book with exactly the same stories.
  • Turkish Muslims believe that being a good person is the primary ticket directly to heaven.  This goes a great way towards explaining the friendly nature of most Turks (even if they’re not trying to sell you something). Although I had a contrary experience on day one, many people I have since met and things I have seen confirm that many will go out of their way to help you without expecting anything in return (eg we met this Italian guy in Cappadocia who arrived without anywhere to stay. After chatting with a local he was invited to spend two nights in his home).  Shaggy says it also explains why the stray cats and dogs that are everywhere are so well looked after, because everyone feeds them, treating them as their own.
  • Of the Muslim community, 90% are Sunni
  • 30% pray regularly
  • 42% of Turks fast for Ramadan
  • The position of Ramadan shifts every year slightly as the Islamic calendar has 15 less days than the traditional calendar that we know
  • 35% of Turkish women wear headscarves
  • Random side note, 30% of Turks have fair complexions (hasn’t been validated in the the places I have been)

One of the reasons (the only one I can remember) that Konya is the unofficial capital of Islam in Turkey is that it has the museum of whirling dervishes.  This is probably not what it is called, but it is what it is.  I had heard, and even seen on my first night in Istanbul, a whirling dervish performance, but I just thought it was a national dance.  What I learned is that dervishes are the equivalent to Christian monks, which made the museum something of a monastery; a place where dervishes studied the koran and learned to serve Allah.  A significant philosopher of Islam whose name escapes me, believed that everything in the world happened in circles, i.e. solar activity, the circle of life and death etc.  This is conveyed by the dervishes who stand with one foot in the centre and pivot their body round on a circle with the other.  A circle is formed by the long white cape that is always worn during this practise, accompanied with a tall, brimless hat.  His (and yes, the are always men) arms are stretched out horizontally, one palm facing up, towards Allah, the other down to the ground.

A photo, courtesy of Juliet, taken inside the museum, of a statue of a whirling dervish
A photo, courtesy of Juliet, taken inside the museum, of a statue of a whirling dervish

I was expecting the museum to cover Islam religion in general, rather than focus on this one specific aspect.  Coupled with the fact that this is not a touristy town at all and many of the signs were not in English, I would give it a miss next time around.  This might be a good time to mention another very practical cultural difference.  Squat toilets.  There are a very real thing here.  I thought I was leaving them behind at KL Airport but no, they are everywhere.  If you are clever about it you can get away with not having to visit one (i.e. all hotels have ‘normal’ toilets as do public facilities in all touristy areas and so did 90% of our scheduled stops in between cities – oh and you have to pay for them sometimes. Money well spent in my opinion).  On the first or second day, Squat Claps soon became a thing, i.e when there wasn’t an alternative and one of us had to assume the squat position, they would come back to the bus and receive Squat Claps.  Until today I had managed to do avoid the Squat.  But, sometimes bowel movements just can’t be controlled.  My tummy had been feeling a little off all day (and it’s going around the bus, lets just call it acclimatising to the Turkish diet) and not long after we had entered the museum I had to find a bathroom.  I found a VERY smelly one.  Entering the cubicle confirmed by worst daymare.  There is water all over the ground, a telltale sign you are entering a Squat Bathroom.  I needed to go SO bad, but I just couldn’t do it.  I 180’d and walked straight back out.  I would rather suffer in discomfort than do what needed to be done in that environment.  Plus I still am not 100% across the correct position.  I really am still baffled at how old fat Turkish women (and yes they are mostly fat) get down there to do their business.  My grandma can barely lower herself into a chair let alone down to ground level for tinkle time, and whatever else.  While we’re on toileting, another thing that I was a bit slow to pick up is that you’re not really meant to flush toilet paper.

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In fact, some of them (even the normal ones) don’t event supply tp for this very purpose.  Something about the Turkish water works can’t quite handle the extra content?  I only learned this when there was a blatant sign in one of the hotels.  Positive it couldn’t mean as it said, I put it down to a language translation error.  Asking the girls later, they confirmed that the sign was not lying, and so ensued a half hour conversation about who has been flushing and who hasn’t.
We check into Hotel Selcuk (don’t recommend it) and have a few problems connecting to the wifi.  Luicina and I changed into singlet tops and shorts and call the front desk for some help.  After some back and forth a guy comes up to drop off our passports (they need them for the wifi log in).  We answer at his knock and the poor guy can’t even look at us and our skin.  Literally, he does not make eye contact.  Looking down the hallway instead of into our room he hands us the passports looking like an extremely nervous 16 year old that can’t quite pluck up the courage to ask a girl out; red in the face and everything.  I tell him thank you but the internet still doesn’t work.  But he is already off down the hallway.  Luicina suffered a similar experience when she went out of the hotel to look around the shops.  She was wearing long tights and a singlet top.  She said everyone stared to the point that she felt so uncomfortable she came back to the hotel after about 15 minutes.  Similar experiences among the group gave rise to some interesting cultural conversations the next day: do we sacrifice our comfort (it is summer remember) and cover up in these places or do we proceed as normal and suffer the whispers and stares?

That night we head out to a local joint for a low key dinner.  Most people, me included, order a pide, another traditional Turkish food; long (like longer than a baguette long) slim bread with cheese and/or meat on the top.  My tummy loves it but my thighs don’t – not sure how long I could sustain bread/carbs for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Devouring pides for dinner
Devouring pides for dinner
As in Cappadocia we find ourselves the centre of these young girls' attention.  In Konya, more so than anywhere else we have been, it would be more likely that they have had little or no exposure to westerners.
As in Cappadocia we find ourselves the centre of these young girls’ attention. In Konya, more so than anywhere else we have been, it would be more likely that they have had little or no exposure to westerners.
They were particularly captivated by Lu ((end of the table on the right) and the tattoo she had behind her ear
They were particularly captivated by Lu (end of the table on the right) and the tattoo she had behind her ear
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Tea. We must not forget the tea!
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