Tuesday, 30 August 2011

How to escape a heat wave - or if need be surf it.

I am in the Italian countryside in a heat wave. The plants are curling up their toes, the water is running dry and the Donkey is refusing to give birth until conditions improve. Apparently it is going to break any day now, but I cannot quite believe it. For me the heat wave has been going on since I left Australia three months ago.

It rained the other day- the first rain I have been in since I was in Tanzania. It was very exciting, but two hours later although the air had been refreshed, it was back to being solidly hot.

Rain in Umbria, Italy

I have just about had enough.

Travelling in the Middle East through summer you cannot expect much else of course. You have to learn to get up early, nap through the middle of the day and then you go out and about enjoy the long balmy evenings, which almost make the heat of the day worthwhile.

If you avoid the solid heat in the middle of the day the heat is almost manageable.
But then sometimes circumstances and touristic stupidity get you out in the middle of the day.

Some of my hottest days have been:

Wandering about the desert in the Sinai checking out the rocks-

Sinai, Egypt

Going climbing with a Bedouin who burnt the soles of his feet off coming down the mountain in the afternoon.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Starting my first trek around the historic wonders of Petra at 11am, getting the full brunt of the hottest part of the day while climbing up to the monastery. The next day I got going at 7am finished my sight seeing by by 11, leaving before ruin fatigue fully set in.

Petra, Jordan

Climbing steep steps (and getting utterly lost) as I explored the city of Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan

Spending three hours in the blinding sun in a protest march in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel.

Reputedly getting lost while carrying all my luggage - most spectacularly in Athens.
Seeing the sights of ancient Athens on a day when every sensible Greek was on an island someplace and the only people out and about were fellow tourists

Ancient ruins, Greece

Some days it just seems that no matter how much water you drink you will still be thirsty, but there are a few things that help alleviate the heat:

a carton of cold mango juice
waiting for the sun to rise on the top of Mount Sinai
a plate of salted cucumber and tomato salad,
a swim (or two) in the dead sea
a ferry ride on the Bosforous and the discovery of a park in Istanbul (first time I had seen proper trees and green grass in some months)
that first swim in the ocean
a very cold coke
a very cold beer
plunging off the side of the boat into the sea in Turkey.
really amazing nectarines
wandering around by the canals in Venice
a swim in a waterfall in the heart of Umbria
another cold shower


Sitting and making these lists has helped me realise that many of my adventures from my trip so far would not have been possible if it were not for the heat,  besides- without splendid blue sky my pictures would not look so good.

another blue sky moment in Istanbul

But despite the reminder of what a good time I have been having in the heat I am still daydreaming about cooler days and plotting a walking holiday in Scotland, where I am sure that I will find some cloudy skys and cool afternoons. 

Postscript: Flew from Italy to the UK and was very happy to do a lot of cloud gazing along the way. 
Goodbye blue sky- hello grey.

12/02/2017 Post-Postscript - six years on and still in Scotland o a very dreich day, looking over these heatwave stories makes me very nostalgic for past adventures. The lesson to learn is be careful what you wish for - Once upon a time I wished to escape the heat - and now hear I am February in Scotland! 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Flying Solo - a Flamingo journey

Birds flying over Ayvalik at Sunset, Turkey 2011

Sometimes the universe just does all the work for you. I wanted  to find a quaint seaside town to take some time out in after all my touring in Turkey. It needed to be an easy distance from Ephesus and a good jumping off point to Greece. A facebook buddy had mentioned  Ayvalik when I first arrived in Turkey and it turned out to be exactly the right place for resting, reading and doing some writing as well.

Lesvos, Greece

Then I discovered via one of my dorm buddies that Lesvos- the Greek island closest to Ayvalik and where I planned to exit the Middle East and enter Europe… has Flamingos.
It was the perfect thing. 
I rested up in Turkey and eventually made my way over to Greece on the ferry, which left eventually.
Unlike other expeditions I had no driver to direct me and no buddies to share in the spotting. I set out armed with the name of the area the internet seemed to suggest was home to my Flamingos, the name of a bike hire company, some water and a chunk of bread.
I found Skala Kallonis easily enough and ‘Maria Rent Bicycles’, but that was about the point at which the universe stopped giving and demanded that I start peddling. it turned out that the pretty seaside town was not exactly the place I needed to be. I was told- so far as I could gather- to ride back the way I had just come on the bus and find such and such a place and go past there to another place where I would find Flamingos.

View from a bike, Lesvos, Greece, 2011

I said goodbye to my visions of riding happily along quaint back roads and set out, dubiously going back the way I had just come. It was fun sure, I had to ride through places I had already passed on the bus, then get back to return the bike, then walk the 3km back to the nearest town in order to get back to Mitlini to make my evening ferry to Athens, because  the bus stopped in Skalla Kallonis in the morning but not the afternoon. From the air I am sure my trajectory looked like Pooh and Piglet going in circles searching for where the Woozle wasnt.
I was pretty terrified riding on such main roads, especially as I was still  trying to  figure out which side of the road I was supposed to stick to. Luckily for me drivers on Lesvos are habituated to scooter riders so the occasional wobbly bicycle is treated patiently.

Scooters parked in Lesvos, Greece 2011

So that was one issue, the other was trying to assimilate the vaguely recalled place names on the map inside my backpack with the signs (in Greek) that I was passing. As such when I came across a sign starting with A I turned happily and hopefully off the main road. It seemed promising and except for the gearless city bike on the rocky rutted road I felt I was on the right track, especially when two or three Herons took flight from the river by my side.
Herons in flight, Lesvos, Greece, 2011
Unfortunately that was the end of bird sightings on that road and before long I got shooed away by some farmers. So with their little dogs yapping at my heals I made my bumpy way back to the main road.   

What with the buses, trucks, cars and road works the ride was a little hair raising, but catching sight of salt flats kept me rolling. Speeding  down a hill and around a corner I missed a turn off for a road signed with bird pictures and a cafĂ©. With no chance to turn around I rode on in the ‘just around the next corner’ fashion hoping for a spot to stop. Near the opposite side of the salt flats I saw a bird watching hut and although I was divided from it by a bit of an incline and road works I pulled off and hauled the bike up the gravel hill.  

My trusty stead: bike riding in Lesvos, Greece 2011

Pleased to be off the road I took some deep breaths, locked the bike to a nearby rail and went for a stroll. I gave myself an hour or so to wander the edge of the salt flat,  figuring I would probably still have time to explore down the alternate road before I had to loop back to Skala Kollonis. 

Salt flats - Flamingo habitat Lesvos, Greece 2011 

Within about five minutes of walking I found my Flamingos happily squawking away. They were divided from me by a narrow waterway and a strip of land. If the grasses had been lower my view would have been perfect, as it was I had to stand up on a piece of driftwood in order to get a proper look.

Flamingo kiss, Lesvos Greece

I do admit to contemplating crossing the narrow waterway for a better look, but decided that even if no one was there to stop me I still did not want to be the Flamingo rover responsible for disturbing the Flamingo habitat.

Salt flats - Flamingo habitat Lesvos, Greece 2011

Besides which this was closer than I had gotten on any of my previous expeditions.
Instead of being a wild woozle hunt my loop the loop and accidental turn off led me to the perfect spot, and as the birds got on with their business just a little way away from me I watched on, a very happy solo birdwatcher. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

Letter from Pamakkale


Thanks for catching me up on your news. Pleased the super doper pregnancy is going smoothly and that you are at the putting your feet up stage. I am sure the big sister in waiting will love her new roll, I have always enjoyed it myself. 

Good to hear football in the Boo is going well. I have had some very amusing conversations trying to explain Aussie Rules to non Aussies as it turns out no one has ever heard of it!

My explanation of the game goes something like: ‘they have to bounce the ball, but it is oval shaped and hard to bounce, and you can tackle and no one wears any protection other than a mouth guard’. After all the hours I have been subjected to football talk you might think I would have a better handle on the game! 

 After a week or so living as close as I could to the water it has made me a little sad to head inland today, luckily between the lovely scenery of mountains and small countryside towns, my book and my tunes I managed the bus ride, which was at least two hours longer than I expected. 

I think someone chucked me on the local bus and pocketed the difference in the fare. Most of the ride was ok, except for the last 40mins which was on a second hotter and more cramped bus. It is an interesting experience catching a bus and having no real idea when to get off. My trick is to just stick with the other tourist looking types, that works at the moment as I am on the tourist trail. It turned out that the last and most horrid part of the ride was unnecessary as a lovely man from my hotel had come to collect me, if only someone had told me! 

Anyway I made it to my home for the night and it is my first real hotel room since I was in Tanzania. I am all for dorm rooms for saving dollars and making friends, but tonight I love my room with its clean bathroom and real shower, as opposed to the shower over the toilet type arrangement I have gotten used to. I am happy to fly solo tonight and hang out in my beautiful room. At the moment I miss all the friends I made on the boat, so I am not ready to do the new friend thing yet- in a day or so I will be back to being social.   

The travel thing forces me to be much more social than my at home self, or perhaps the energy that normally goes into work gets sent into a different direction.  Whatever it is making so many new friends is absolutely one of the most special things about travel, but it is tough also- too many goodbyes! Not to mention all the folks back home who I miss as well. 

I have been on the road about two months now and am about to start thinking through ‘doing Europe’, but before that I have a few days of sight seeing and then, (and this is something I decided when I  arrived this afternoon) I am going to have a week off from tourist-ing to have a rest and do some writing. I just have to find myself a perfect nook. 

I am visiting Pamakkale tomorrow, and am a little afraid that it is going to be a tourist hell hole. 

Sending tons of love from Turkey, Sandy

PS. Thought I should add a post Pamakkale post script. 

The ancient city of Heirapolis was a spa town, built next to the mineral spring which the creates strange phenomenon of the white calcium travertines. 

Because the remains of the city are in such close proximity to the spa people tend to wander about the ruins in their bikinis – it seems no opportunity for tanning can be missed.  

The city was relatively tourist free, and I loved the amphitheater but the ‘healing’ water at the Cleopatra bathes was so full of people that I was not tempted to test it.

The terraces were also crawling with people, but the bizarre blinding white landscape was something not to be missed and I happily dunked myself along with everybody else.

PPS. I am going to use my letter to you for my blog also so if you want to see the accompanying pictures you can go to flamingorover.blogspot.com.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Do you remember me Turkey blue?

Two months in the desert made me beyond pleased to get to the beach.  Every cramped uncomfortable second on the overnight bus was worth it to be within walking distance of the water. I arrived at my hostel at 8.45am dumped my things and walked to the beach past hostels, cafes selling Gozleme (local pancakes) and the ancient city of Olympos and was looking at the water by 9.10am.  

When I go to the beach in Gippsland there are memories at every turn. The beach remembers inviting me into its big crashing blue as soon as I could crawl. It remembers the first sunrise of the new millennium over the ripples of Bastian Point, absurdly elaborate sandcastles for Carnival in Coota, watching John dive for Abalone and eating the spoils at the Conran cabins and the rejuvenation that awaited once I eased myself into the water at the Prom lighthouse. Probably the beach remembers more than I do, and some that I would rather forget.

The beach in Turkey is a blank slate, I don’t know the beach and it does not know me. Every sight, sound and sensation is new. I walk shakily across sharp rocks already hot at nine am, wade through the refreshing cool of the stream that runs into the bay and at long last take that first plunge and say: ‘Hello Turkey blue, it's very nice to meet you’.

On my second day despite ruin fatigue I put on my boots and took some time away from the beach to explore Olympos. I found myself happily wandering about on obscure shady pathways that often petered out into nothing, but sometimes lead to a stone doorway, a sarcophagus that might have housed the remains of Marcus Aurelius, a crumbling mosaic floor, a vine entwined archway or some lonely pillars.

The remains of the once great Lycian city are nestled at the base of great green mountains and they stand on either side of the river that flows out to the bay. Walking around the overgrown ruins makes me feel like I'm exploring the fantasy castle of Cair Paraval from Narnia. But the reality is as fascinating as the fantasy; the city has a history of riches, lives big and small, pirate invasions, crusaders using it as a stopover and finally abandonment. 

Although the beaches of Turkey don't know me yet their memories are full of other peoples stories.

I continued the happy process of introducing myself to the waters around Turkey on my boat cruise. By day we passed by beautiful bays, villages only accessible by water, busy beaches cluttered with beach umbrellas, quiet rocky coves and ancient cities sinking into the sea. 

We stop in picturesque locations and plunge off the edge of our yacht, plummeting deep into the cool blue and washing away the heat of the day. At night waiting for the waves to rock me to sleep I look up from my spot on the deck and watch for shooting stars with a big smile on my face.

After a few days swimming, fishing, turtle spotting and paddling we arrived at St Nicholas Island late one afternoon and moored for the night under Byzantine ruins. Feeling thoroughly acquainted with the waters about me I set out to see what was around the corner of the island. Greeted by another sheltered bay I swam on keeping one eye on the ruins and one eye ahead of me. 

I swam ‘just around the next corner’ for a few corners and found myself peering down at roots of the island as it plunged into the darkest coldest blue and up at rocky ledges that no longer invited the weary swimmer to clamber ashore.

With my freestyle puttering out I switched to side stroke, anxious to avoid simply floating on my back as I was pretty sure that would send me backwards. I was getting tired, but since going back ‘had’ to be further than going forward I ploughed on to the next corner. 

Greeted with another outward edge and another piece of dark water I decided to go with the shorter swim and moved into the open water. No longer hugging the island I made slow, rather sloppy progress, swallowing a lot of salt water and stopping often to gauge my lack of progress.  Struggling to get nowhere my limbs got shaky and I had my first moment of panic. 

I was alone in the open water and panic was not practical. I got myself together and gave up my attempt to make it to the distant corner. Cutting back toward the island meant losing my short cut, but keeping my head above water. 
I made it back to the island, aimed at an inviting looking rock and let a wave lift me ashore. On shaky legs I clambered up the rocky edge and at the top of the outcrop I discovered I was at tip of the islands nose; the point I had been trying for would have brought me back into calmer water. 

On land again, the view towards the nose of St Nicholas Island.

With my body reverberating with fatigue and my moment of panic I was not so much disappointed to have nearly made it- as pleased to know that I could make it.  I climbed down the opposite side and dropped back into the water- not exactly keen to continue my swim, but trusting my tired legs more in the water than on steep rock. 

With the low sun in my eyes and boat masts ahead I paddled home accompanied by jet skies rather than lonely ruins. My water lust was satiated for the day, but I was finally confident that Turkey blue would remember the foolish floatsum who had made her way around St Nicholas Island.

Sunset view from the Island towards my floating home.