LUTMAN'S THREE-WEEK FALL 2000 TRIP TO TURKEY
Report No. 10. Day 16 and 17.
Day 16 of 22. Monday, October 2, 2000. To Ankara. Cihan's sister Canan and husband Metin.
We are in the parking lot at 6:37 AM, swiping off the windshields again. The car heater is warming us up as we head off for Col Golu (Lake) on the way to Ankara. We stop at the Goreme Valley overlook for some great first-sun shots of the best fairy chimneys, with rocks atop. I also get a shot of this big rock sort of like Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The ground all around it slopes strongly away, and all of this sloping ground is covered with rock houses, it looks like. It's a very weird site, and is something you might see in a Sci Fi movie. A Turkish flag tops off the big rock tower.
Sharon spots a very red bird, but with the sun at this angle, colors are deceiving, and we can't get an ID on it before it's gone. We stop to check out a tit Sharon saw, which she says had no black on the middle of the chest. It could have been a Blue Tit, but the only Tits we find are Great Tits, so we move on. Is it ok to talk like this?
We are heading for Aksaray and I have to mention the rather typical house we see in the small villages of Turkey. Mud block homes, many with two satellite antennas pointing skyward. We have read that Turks like the latest electronic things, and here is an example. We pass through Aksaray and turn right, headed north towards Ankara about 8:30 AM. We fill up with gas. A sign on the highway said 583,200 TL per liter. That's the cheapest we've seen lately, so we fill up. As I'm looking at the petrol pump, I see a 601.9 in one of the pump's windows. I ask what the price is, and he points to the 601.9. I point to the street at the 583,200 sign, and he laughs and says something I am guessing at. Eskee? I ask. Yes, old, he says, as if I have just answered the million dollar question. "You tricked me," I said. He can tell I'm upset. I sign the Visa bill and we're off again. Later, however, I pay attention to the price on the pump and the price on the highway sign, and they're almost always different, because the price goes up as the exchange rate for dollars to TL goes up. Resulting in approximately constant dollars per gallon cost. Or constant over the three weeks we're here anyway.
By 9:30 AM we are driving past a huge salt lake. It was 2 degrees C when we left the hotel this morning, and it's about 16 now. Cool and comfortable. An hour later, we come to Lake Kulu. It's very dusty and we stop and scope. Near the south end of the lake we can see birds in the water from a long distance. Sharon can spot birds in the middle and on the far side too. White birds, which appear to be flamingos upon closer examination. I'm hoping for Common Cranes, but with no luck. Every year in America in the springtime, thousands and thousands of Sandhill Cranes migrate through Nebraska, and for the last two years, there has been a report of exactly one Common Crane mixed in. I had hoped for hundreds of these birds, but they have apparently all migrated out or through. As I am looking at the lake, Sharon spots some movement up on a plowed field, and yells, "Fox!" I turn and watch the bushy-tailed fox disappear over the hill.
We drive further on and now estimate that there are 2-3 hundred flamingos on the lake. A peninsula juts out into the middle of the lake, and we also see some small shorebirds. We're hoping for Terek Sandpiper, but get Avocets and Shelducks. There are at least 2 or 3 more kinds of shorebirds, but they are too tough for us, and we pass. There may be Little Stints, which we need, but we just can't tell. There are lots of coots in the middle of the lake. We try and try to make a Dunlin into a Broad-billed Sandpiper, but without success.
We drive out onto the peninsula, and there are a completely different set of birds to our right. There are many Little Grebes, and we finally get one of our target birds of this area. WHITE-HEADED DUCKS. They look like cartoons, with their white, oversized bills, bulging at the upper base, and their stiff, upward-pointing tails. Sharon gets a Black-necked Grebe also. There are gulls on the lake, and we can finally ID them. They are MEDITERRANEAN GULLS, with a smudge behind the ear, an all-white tail, black on the wingtips. The Slender-billed Gull is here too, but we're not paying it much attention. After a bit, we can see that there are both first and second-winter Med. Gulls by their markings.
There is unbelievable dust everywhere. When I drive, the exhaust blows up dust, and if I leave my window open, dust comes in through the window, goes into the back seat, and settles on everything. Dust has caked onto the back of the car, on the tires, on the doors. We keep looking for Bustards, but without success so far. We finally get out of the dust, and go back through the town of Kulu, headed for the lake on the other side of town. We buy an ice cream bar and a Pepsi to share. The ice cream is chocolate, though, and I give it to Sharon. She loves chocolate ice cream. I like chocolate on the outside and vanilla on the inside.
Turkey's transportation system options are fascinating. In the countryside, you see lots of motorcycles, motorcycles with sidecars, garden tractors pulling little wagons, small tractors pulling wagons, full-sized tractors with and without wagons, and colorful wagons pulled by donkeys or horses. There are lots and lots of tractors. You often see a tractor zipping down the road with a wife on one wheel cover and a son on the other. Sometimes you see a motorcycle or scooter with multiple riders. Once we saw a woman with a scarf riding sidesaddle behind her husband. Skooshed up between them was her 4-5 year old son. She was also holding a basket in her arm and constantly looked around to make sure they were safe. I think they were going to the market.
We come to the other lake, on the west side of Kulu. We see 50-60 tall birds with their shoulders hunched forward, facing us, in a partially dried up area near the edge of the lake. They are Gray Herons and a few Storks. There are Shovelers (ducks with extraordinarily long bills), Lapwings and many shorebirds. We were hoping for Marbled Duck, and we are getting some unidentified duck, but can't quite see it well enough with our scope. We have to walk closer. There are some Bar-tailed Godwits that we try and try to make be Black-tails, but they just won't go along. Their bills are ever so slightly upturned, not straight. Dangit. As we get closer, we also ID about three female RED-CRESTED POCHARDS, or maybe immatures. Suddenly, three gunshots fill the air, and all the birds lift off. Some settle back, but our Pochards fly across the reeds in the center of the lake, and settle beyond them.
We drive around to the far side of the lake, and come upon a cattle herder, sitting beside the lake, guarding his herd. Many of them (the cows) drink from the lake. There is a tern flying around, but it is not a Whiskered Tern and we let it go. We spot our Pochards again. When we verify that there are no more new birds, we take off. We return through the little village of Saz, where we see thatched roofs on some houses, and mud roofs on others. Most have wooden, homemade ladders to the roof. Some have chimneys. A woman works atop one of the mud-roofed houses. She is scraping off the roof, and shoveling it into a bucket. We guess she's going to re-mud.
There are turkeys running around town. They are of four kinds. Black, white, brown and black & white. In town we see tame geese, and on the edge of the village a man tends a flock of sheep. Hindi. That's Turkish for turkey, as in the bird. Turkiye. That's Turkish for Turkey, the country. Continuing past the village, we see more young turkeys and one guinea. Mom said that when she was young, they had guineas on their farm. We also spot another brown turkey, then a brown & white one.
We make our way back to the freeway, having gone through Kulu. We continue on toward Ankara when we see two things at almost the same time. Sharon has spotted a kestrel-like bird perched on a wire, but the color is more intense, somehow, than the earlier Kestrels we saw. I see a vehicle checkpoint ahead, being run by two policemen. We have to go back, and it's a heavily traveled highway. I wait and wait till there's no one coming, and do a U-turn. The center striping does not prevent me from doing so, so I figure it's OK. We go back, pull off the highway, and check out Sharon's kestrels. There are no black marks on the side of the face, and no markings on the back. They are very colorful, with their blue-gray heads. They are LESSER KESTRELS.
High speed traffic is zipping by. We do another U-turn after waiting for traffic to clear, then slowly roll into the vehicle check. We figure that the officer wants to see our papers, so Sharon gets them out. "Kush?" he asks. "Yes," we say, and show him the picture of the kestrel on the cover of my bird ID book. He asks to see my binoculars and I give them to him. He looks through them, and motions that he hunts birds with a shotgun. I tell him that my dad did too. Then he starts talking about our U-turns, and we can't quite figure out what he's saying till he uses the word "problema." He asks where we've been, and how long we've been traveling in Turkey. He asks where we're going next and how long till we leave the country. I get the awful feeling he's trying to decide whether to confiscate the car, having the opinion that we're dangerous or something. He wrestles a while, then says, "OK, go ahead," and motions us on. Whew.
In Golbasi, just outside Ankara, we try to call Cihan, but there is no answer, after three tries. I finally call Metin and Canan's cell phone, and Metin answers right away. "Are you in Ankara?" he asks. "Yes," I say, "I mean, no, we're in Golbasi." He doesn't know where that is, so I say that we'll meet them at the Atakule tower in 45 minutes, hoping that will give us enough time. He says they will be waiting for us, and he'll be wearing a yellow jacket. We have seen recent photos of them, so we know what they look like. No problema. "Cok iyi," I say, and he laughs. "We'll be waiting for you," Metin repeats. Pronunciations are JOHN-ahn and MEH-tin, by the way.
We drive on into the city and promptly get hopelessly lost. We have a nice map of the inner city, but can't figure out where that is in the overall larger city boundaries. North, south, east, west or central? Then we quickly can't figure out where WE are. We flounder around and magically turn up in front of a military installation. We ask for help, and the guard gets his superior. I think he's a captain. Anyway, he finds our current location on the map, and draws arrows to show where we have to go to get to the Atakule tower. We thank him and are off. After getting lost another couple of times, then asking for directions a time or two, we finally spot the tower. (Sharon speaking now: We think this is just our problem with finding things in a foreign country, but later we see that this is how Cihan gets around in Istanbul. He will drive to the general location he is trying to reach and then stop several times to ask people on the street where is the restaurant, hotel, museum, etc. They will give directions and then he's on his way again. Maybe it's typical Turkey maneuvering. Of course, one of the problems WE have is that we can't understand their detailed instructions as they are in Turkish! We just try to follow the hand gestures.)
We pull in front of the tower which is a big shopping mall famous in Ankara, and we spot Metin, in a yellow jacket, and Canan, standing on the sidewalk near him. Canan runs out and after I reach back and clear off about 9 square inches, she gets into the back of the car and says that we will follow Metin. They both have cell phones, and talk back and forth. We go around a traffic circle while he goes to his car, parked just off the street. We then follow him to their apartment. Sharon figures that we drove very close to it, and Canan or Metin later says that they also figured we went very close to their house. They live on the 3rd floor as I recall, and everybody grabs some luggage. We make our way to their floor and into their apartment, which they own.
At 7:00 PM, we are standing in Canan's kitchen. She's fixing burek. There are tomatoes, salad and about eight different dishes going. Metin says she has been cooking for two days, and I can believe it. She's extremely efficient. Aysel has taught her very well. Sharon talks with Canan while Metin and I check out his computer in his computer room. This room also has a fresh-water aquarium with some of the same fish I had in my very first aquarium. Guppies and Tiger Barbs, plus some others. Very nice, very clean. Metin is a genius on the computer, and is the person Cihan consulted in America when he and Tara bought their laptops. Metin says that his friends call him a computer maniac. I don't know about that, but I think he knows more about the PC than anybody I've known. Maybe even more than the Zipper. Maybe...
Their living room is the cleanest, neatest, most inviting room that you can imagine. Soft tan and pink colors, wonderful couches and matching chairs to seat about eight people in a loose circle. Satellite TV and great stereo. The acoustics are great, and they have great CDs. Later, Cihan claims that the CDs are his. Anyway, the CDs they choose to play provide great music for dinner. Canan is looking desserts up in the dictionary. When Sharon and Canan check the translation dictionaries, Metin runs in and inputs the word into a translation program on his computer. He later zips this program onto two floppies for me to take home. Dinner is fantastic. The dishes are wonderful. Word has gotten out all over Turkey, and there are sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for me. There is also chicken on mashed potatoes, and lots of Turkish dishes too. I beg incompetence because I can't remember all of these wonderful dishes. But I think I tasted everything except the stuffed bell peppers, a Turkish specialty. I think this was our best dinner in Turkey yet. Great dessert too. [Sharon here again: Canan had gotten the word from Cihan that we love peaches so she made us a special peach pie. Nice going, Canan.]
We settle back afterwards and talk. Metin has taken tomorrow off, he's an emergency room doctor, so that they can show us around Ankara, but we tell them about our lame plans to leave early tomorrow. They are a little disappointed, but say they want us to do whatever we want. We now are disappointed too, because they are great fun. Next time we'll have to stay a week. Or maybe they can come to America. Canan makes up the bed for us on the floor in the guest bedroom, and it's wonderfully comfortable. We turn in about midnight or after because we are having so much fun with them. We wish we had one more bonus day to spend here.
Tomorrow we head for Istanbul with one or two birding stops on the way. We will see Tara, and I'm so looking forward to that. I drift off to sleep, a little sorry that the traffic officer who questioned our two U-turns didn't try to take our car. I would put Cihan onto him. Then he'd be sorry. It's lots of fun listening to Cihan and Canan give each other a hard time. A lot like sister Shirley and me.
New Life Birds: Mediterranean Gull, White-headed Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Lesser Kestrel
Life Bird Totals: Today 4. Trip 88.
Impressions of the Day: I keep having encounters with the law. I'm so proud. For the first time, I can see our time in Turkey starting to wind down, and I'm a little sad. This has been so much fun, and we haven't even spent any time in Istanbul yet. Cihan will introduce us as only Cihan can, and we're looking forward to it.
The Ankara traffic is like the Bursa and Istanbul traffic. The key situation is that there are way more cars than there is room for. Roads narrow down from five lanes to two, and Turkish drivers pride themselves on creating about eight lanes in the five slots. You are about two inches away from drivers on either side of you. It's a CONTINUOUS dance game of bluff. You stick your right front bumper ALMOST in the path of the car to your right, for example. If he gives even a tenth of an inch, you floor it and zip in front of him. If he doesn't budge, you gently continue going forward, even though there isn't any room for you, ready to try it on the car to your left. This is the insanity that is Turkish driving. Believe me, you wouldn't want to do this every day. But I can say I did it, I survived and didn't have any fender benders. Plus I met lots of nice policemenÉ
Day 17 of 22. Tuesday, October 3, 2000. Ankara to Istanbul.
It's 8:50 AM. Canan has fixed us a great breakfast, and we take our time leaving. She has also packed us a lunch. But the time comes, and everybody helps bring our luggage down to the car, which we have parked on the street right in front of the apartment. Metin drew us a perfect map, showing how to get from where we are to the freeway towards Istanbul. It's very clear and is a great gift. Thanks, Metin. You da man. We get all loaded up, and trade goodbye hugs.
We follow the map with only one mistake. It says to proceed in the direction our car is pointed for three blocks, then turn right. I turn right at the first opportunity. Nice going. Onto a one way street. Traffic coming at us. So I back out, as a traffic man points up to the one way sign as he catches my eye. Oh, thanks. I didn't know until you pointed that out. A bus stops and allows me to back out into the traffic again. Tessakur Ederim.
Now, I make no more mistakes, and we're out of town in an Ankara wink, following the signs to Istanbul. Soon, we are on the autobahn, zipping along about 80 mph.
Last night, we showed Metin and Canan our website. I had forgotten to bring a clean shirt up from the car, but Sharon has a clean T-shirt that fits, so I put it on. It's the black one with the mismatched color name vs. name color. The first word says red, but it's written in green. The second word says yellow, but it's blue. And so on. I explain that it's a trick shirt, and Metin says yes, yes, yes. I tell them how older grandson Josh keeps tripping up on the first row, and has to keep starting over. But younger grandson Sieren just breezes right through. I have told this story several times, and Sharon finally says. "It's because Sieren can't read very well yet," she says. "He just looks at the color of the word, and doesn't even read what it SAYS." Well shut my mouth. That makes sense. Yesterday, when we were talking, I recall that Cihan said that Metin's folks lived in this apartment when he was born. "I understand you were born here," I said. "No, I was born in a hospital," he replies. Sherilee giggles at me. I was just sayin'.
Last night, as Sharon and Canan were in the living room talking, suddenly Canan looked on the floor where a four-wick candle was burning, and said to herself, "What's THAT?" It was the candle, having burned through the bottom, and it was leaking a river of molten wax onto her perfectly beautiful carpet. It was meandering like the Menderes River. Sharon helped her try and take care of it. They let it dry, then put a newspaper down on it and ran a heated iron over the paper. It apparently sucked it all up because this morning, before we left, the carpet was once again flawless. No sign of wax or stain at all.
We get off the off-ramp, headed for Kizilcahamam. Kizil means bright red, I think. And Cahamam means spa or hot tub or something like that. Rusty, healing waters, I figure. Our "Finding Birds in Turkey" book says to find the petrol stations just before the main town, and check the river and dump below them. Dump? How awful, especially as it explains that the local abattoirs (slaughter house) dumps their remains here.
Except that as we pull into the petrol station and are driving to a spot behind it, we can see a bird soaring above the creek. It has extremely long wings, beautiful, black and white. It's either a stork or another bird we dare not hope for. Superstition and all that. But we stop and Sharon gets on the bird right away. "Probably a stork," I think. Then Sharon says, "It's not a stork. Look at it through the scope. It landed." I get the scope on it, and holy moly, it's an EGYPTIAN VULTURE. We were hoping for the more common Black Vulture (different species than the Black Vulture of southern Arizona and Texas). There are other birds, and we are hoping for Dipper, but they are all wagtails. As we are checking for other birds in the area, I see about six birds flying in formation, and at first they look like pigeons. "Pigeons," I say, and Sharon turns back to her scanning.
"No, wait," I say, but Sharon doesn't hear that. There is something peculiar about the way these birds are flying. They are each identical, and that's not always true with Rock Doves (pigeons). And their profile is different somehow. Also, there is no white rump patch (pigeons all have them), and there is a white stripe on each wing. That's definitely different. They land in the treetops high on the mountain behind the stream, but I can still see them. I decide that their behavior reminds me of Band-tailed Pigeons in California, so I look them up in the book, and they are Wood Pigeons. But they disappear before Sharon can get back on them and we don't count them, of course. Stock Doves are similar but don't have the white wing streaks.
We make it to our mountain town, drive through, and enter the Soguksu National Park at the other end. The ticket taker can't quite tell us how much we owe to get in, and finally he says to go ahead, since we told him we're from America. We see a few picnic spots and hot spring resorts, and take the first picnic stop because we are hearing a woodpecker. We get out and chase it around a little, but finally get on it. I misdiagnose it as Syrian, but Sharon convinces me to check again. I do, and she's right. It's a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER. Excellent. Different head markings.
We see more Chaffinches and another Great Spotted Woodpecker. We continue on up the mountain, and stop where we are seeing lots of birds now. We pick up BLUE TIT, with its rather bluish head, then continue on up the mountain some more. We have set a "drop dead" time. The time at which we turn around and head out of here no matter what.
We head back to the petrol stations, gas up and go behind to check the birds again. But first one of the tires looks low, and there is a mechanic behind one of the petrol stations. He checks all the tires, then fills them all up. He asks for "YuzEllie", a hundred fifty thousand TL. About 23 cents. I give him a 500,000 and tell him to keep the 55 cents change or so. There are six stork nests up on roofs around the petrol station, and that was one of the reasons we thought that Egyptian Vulture would be a stork
As I am checking other birds now, Sharon has been watching a couple of finches feeding on thistle down below us. They turn out to be CITRIL FINCHES. Yellow and olive greens. Nice little birds. Then I spot a big bird a long way off. I get the scope out again, since I had just put it away prior to leaving. Our new bird has a white head, Sharon says, and I confirm that in the scope. I think it might be a Marsh Harrier, but the habitat is wrong. Besides, Sharon says, the head is entirely white, not just the top of the head. I think I see white at the base of the tail, and our book shows white feet, so that could be it. We can see the top of him when he banks just right, into the sun. You can see brown and black, and it's our lucky day again (Hey, ain't every day?). It's a GRIFFON VULTURE. Our time is up, and we head out, leaving the beautiful black, white and gray wagtails to forage in the stream.
At 1:30 PM, we are back on the autobahn. Sharon "loves" to read the users' manual of cars, and she is now working on the one for the Renault. However, it's in Turkish, so she has to look up almost every word. There is a digital display on the dashboard of the Renault. Sometimes it says MUSIC, other times RADIO, other times TRAFFIC, other times just the megacycles of the station. She wants to know how it knows.
We come upon a sign we have seen over and over. This one says "Istanbul il siniri." My guess is that it's kind of like a county boundary or something, because it's always well out from what you think the city limits would be. Sharon looks it up, and makes it out to be "province boundary."
We have called Cihan and he has given us directions to our hotel for tonight and the two nights after that. I get us over the bridge, make the correct exit, but through some self-generated confusion, I get on a well-disguised on-ramp, and we head back across the bridge to the Asian side, from which we have just come. Hoggey pegaloomer! I don't panic though, and at the toll booth (yes, toll booth), I ask the money collector where I can turn around. He says a word I can't quite understand, and points up ahead. We take off, and almost immediately I see the word on the next exit to the right. I take the exit, and there is a double loop that sends us back onto the bridge again, once again headed for the European side. Our side for tonight. All of this in rush hour traffic, you understand.
This time after crossing, I make the correct exit again, then make the correct choice to put us on the road paralleling and adjacent to the Bosphorus, headed north. It takes some time. We pass under the first bridge, then after a time under the second bridge, then a little bit longer, and we arrive at the Grand Hotel Tarabya, or just the Tarabya, as everyone says. It's pronounced terr-AH-bee-yuh, but I like the word Tara in the name. We check in and Cihan has set us up with a Bosphorus view, big bed, fourth floor American. We call Cihan where they are staying with their friends and ours, Bora and Celin and their young son Kaan. Cihan says they will be right over.
In about thirty minutes they arrive by bus, and knock on our door. Tara looks great, and we start planning the evening. It's about 7 PM, and everybody's hungry. We decide to walk around the Tarabya district, where the Bosphorus carves out a little bay, and leaning on Cihan, we will check out the restaurants there. We finally choose one on the second floor called the Garaj. In Turkish, the 'j' is sounded like a 'zh.' Like the z in azure. We tell Cihan what we want and he orders that plus a few other dishes for us to try. It's all delicious, as usual, and the cost is only about $12 per person. Unbelievably inexpensive for all we ate. We LOVE the great melon for dessert.
We go back to the room and give Cihan and Tara the car. They will drive back up to Bora's and come back to pick us up in the morning. It's only about ten minutes by car. Then we'll start the Istanbul tour of the century, if Cihan has it planned the way he usually does things like this. We have radically changed the pitch of a typical day. Tomorrow will be "go, go, go" and we hope to keep up.
New Life Birds: Egyptian Vulture, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Citril Finch, Griffon Vulture.
Life Bird Totals: Today 5. Trip 93.
Impressions of the Day: I'm too tired to detail much of an impression of the day, except that I'm looking forward to hitting the wonderful sack. Ahhh.
OK, here's one. In Turkey, it is forbidden to drive and talk on the cell phone at the same time. But people do it anyway. I DO see lots of cases where a single driver has pulled off the road to talk though, to give credit where credit is due. And that's pretty much the summary of lots of things here. Like (almost always) stopping for red lights. Most rules broken seem to be centered around saving time, or doing things faster.
"Good NIGHT, Gordon" - quote from a certain Stanford dolly (coed), Miss Roberta? Stickney, of the San Francisco Bay Area Restaurant Stickneys. That's what she had to say to my roommate Gordon McLaren when he tried to kiss her goodnight or something back in 1966.
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