This is the true story of a Puertorican who joined the Peace Corps in June 2006. This blog chronicles my misadventures in the Country of Georgia and in NO way represents the Peace Corps, its mission or its views. It is my personal blog!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Trekking through Turkey

*click link to see pictures

I'm back in Georgia. That was an incredibly hectic and productive week in Turkey. I had a great, budget-friendly vacation. So here's a quick summary of what Kat (fellow PCV from Azerbaijan) and I did in Turkiye.

Sunday 12 Aug
Cross border and go to Ezurum, the capital of Eastern Turkey---very conservative. All women were covered from top to bottom and the men were wearing long white robes. I felt awkwardly naked in my capris and tshit. Spend the night there and then off to Cappadocia
Took 12hr grueling bus ride to Cappadocia region in Central Turkey. So sick of seeing mountains...mountains...mountains everywhere. Not much else to see and by the time we go to Goreme (city) it was too dark to appreciate the awesome landscape. Arrived at bus station 11pm and by midnight passed out in 'cave' dormitory room. Cave room was not quite authentic but for the price I wasn't complaining.
Took tour of Cappadocia. If you haven't heard of this place, google it. It's simply amazing. Shaped by volcanic eruptions 60+million years ago, combined with wind, flood, etc erosion the landscape is simply eerie and breathtaking. Some parts reminded me of the Southwest and Badlands area. In some parts, the lava flow was so strong it was 100 meters thick. There are many interesting rock formations known as 'fairy chimneys' to the locals. Reminded me of "toad" from Mario Bros games hehe. Visited cave cities, saw monasteries and homes built into the rocks. Went to pottery factory, and was able to see masters at work. Their handiwork were absolutely amazing. I'll post pics up shortly.
Free day. Explored more of Goreme and hiked into the nearby mountains. More cool fairy chimneys. Took night bus to Ephesus (Efes). Frequent stops every 2-3 hours. Around 4am we turned into a rest stop and all I thought was a huge Turkish Don Quixote was staring me down. At the entrance to this station was a huge statue of a bearded, turban wearing man sitting backwards on a donkey. He was holding out prayer beads and cherries to visitors. And this was fully colored and 50+feet high. The symbolism is still lost on me.
Seljuk-Efes are very important to history and religion. Some highlights of the area
This is where the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World, once stood. It was larger than the Pantheon. Now all that remains is one lonely pillar. It was maintained until 110AD. Pillars form the temple were taken and used in other projects such as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Tradition has it that shortly after Jesus was crucified, St John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary moved to Efes and lived out the rest of their days there.

On top of a hill overlooking Seljuk is the Basilica of St John, where his tomb is located. The Basilica was built by Emperor Justinian in the 5th Century to mark the spot of his grave. The foundation and many pillars still remain. It was a beautiful sight overlooking the valleys. And unlike many ruins, this one had beautiful gardens in and around it. The basilica in its prime must've been a spectacular site. It had 2 stories and 6 golden cupolas. If entirely intact today, it would be the 7th largest cathedral in the world. From the Basilica you can see the remains of the Temple of Artemis and the Isa Bey Mosque built in 1375.

Near the Basilica is an expansive fortress which dates back 2000yrs. It puts the fortress in Gori to shame, and that's saying a lot. Inside are 15 towers, a church that was converted to a mosque, and cisterns. An aqua duct system that ran through Selcuk transported water from the mountain opposite the hill to the fortress. The aqua duct still remains to the day- though not entirely intact.

House of the Virgin Mary. Located about 9km away from the town, it is said she lived here until her death in a house on a mountain peak. Every 15 Aug, mass is held here to celebrate her Assumption. Too bad we arrived on the 16th!

Church of the Virgin Mary- 1st church built in her honor. Site of the 3rd Council (Council of Efes) in 431 AD where bishops convened to decide whether her Mary was 'Mother of Christ" or "Mother of God."
Arrive in town of Selcuk, near Efes ruins. Check in and by 11am we're lounging on the Aegean coast. Beautiful sandy beaches and perfect water. Visited St. John's Basilica, Temple of Artemis, fortress, and Isa Bey Mosque.
Visited the antique city of Efes. Efes has been populated since 6000BC, and "New" Efes was built in 300BC by Lysimachos, one of Alexander the Great's generals. The ruins take you on a journey of the city and it doesn't take much imagination to imagine Ephesians walking about.

Some highlights:
Temple of Domitian: Dedicated to the Emperor, it was the 1st structure to be built in honor of an emperor. It was an honor and a privilege for cities to be part of the Emperor Cult where they'd be allowed to build structures in their honor. There once stood a 7meter statue of him. All that remains now is his head (massive) and part of an arm.

Lots of ornate fountains and baths built in honor of gods and emperors

Pryaneion (Town Hall) was sacred center of Efes. Contained an altar with an eternal flame that burned for centuries. Site of 2 impressively large Artemis statues.

Temple of Julius Caesar and Dea Roma (divine personification of city of Rome)

Hercules Gates

Royal Roman seriously. Connected to the brothel and baths, it had a square pool in the center and the 4 sides were covered with latrines. Nice mosaics on the floor.Something pretty to look at since I don't think they had bathroom reading material back then.

Terrace Houses were multi-story residences for wealthy Ephesians. Used from 1-700 AD.

Brothel had 2 stories and lots and lots of rooms. How do you know you've reached the Brothel? A footprint at the doorway leads you there.

Library Celsus was built by Julius Caesar in honor of his father who was the the consul of the Roman Asian province. He's buried in the library. It has a 2 story facade and large interior room measuring 15 meters. Female statues out front symbolize wisdom, virtue, intelligence and knowledge. This was by far my favorite place in Efes.

Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates built by freed slaves in honor of Emperor Augustus and his family

Grand Theater had seating capacity of 25,000. Was site of gladiator competitions. Gladiator cemetery nearby.

After Efes, went to the Efes Museum where they had more statues on display. If you have a chance check out the Artemis statue online. Had an exhibit on Gladiators and by excavating and studying the bones of those buried in the cemetery where able to show how they'd been killed. Pretty gruesome stuff.
Arrived in Ankara at 730am after taking the overnight bus.
Went to the Ataturk Mausoleum. Didn't really know what to expect after living in the world of Stalin for the past year. Was relieved it is nowhere near as creepy as the Stalin Museum.
Went to Museum of Anatolian Civilizations representing Urartu, Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian and Assyrians. Lots of cool things to see, but by this time I was experiencing burnout and couldn't wait to get back to Georgia.
Perked up when we saw a Burger King, had delicious lunch and headed back to the bus station.
Overnight bus to Hopa (borders Georgia)
Arrive in Hopa 830am. Alarming discovery...for the 1st time in my life I developed...cankles!!! We both did. Well I guess that's what happens when you take 2 overnight buses in a row and don't elevate your feet.
Cross border by 1100. Home sweet home! I'm back in Georgia!Take the worst 5hr bus to Gori. Blech. I was spoiled on Turkish transportation where they spoiled us w/ a/c, free drinks, etc.
Happy to say I'm not cankle-free and recuperated. Turkey was awesome and I couldn't believe how much we did in a week's worth of time.

So how many hours in total did we travel...ouch my poor bum. 11hours in crisscrossing Turkey= 67.5 hours.

Now that's hardcore!

Did Someone Hear a Boom?

After a relatively lazy summer, some excitement was bound to come this way. Little did I know it'd be in the form of a missile headed for my region. Monday, reports came out saying that an aircraft (mmm Russia?) illegally entered Georgian airspace and launched a missile in a village in the northwestern Gori (Shida Kartli) region. The bomb didn't go off though luckily.

The Georgian military recovered it and detonated it in the mountain in Gori. It made quite an explosion followed by a lot of shaking and smoke. Peace Corps put us on alert for a few days and my region become a restricted zone where no volunteer could leave/enter without prior Country Director approval. Yes, I was in a restricted zone! Actually it wasn't as cool as it sounded. Georgians went about their daily business and didn't discuss the events. In fact had PC not mentioned the incident I probably would have remained oblivious to it. Russia continued to deny the incident, until evidence surfaced showing that it was in fact Russia.

Per PC policy, I'm not going to get into more detail, but check out the news sources for more info.

Even Bloggers Take Vacations

So I've neglected this blog for a few months...I know "tsudi var." The school year ended in mid-June just in time for the glorious summer heat to arrive. I have always been a summer girl and after this past winter, I fill never ever complain of how hot it is or how much I sweat. Unfortunately though, my part of town is still without gas so the only way to heat up water is by using a bucket. And believe me, you never get clean taking a bucket bath. My host father though came up with an ingenious idea. Fill a bunch of 2liter 'Kazbegi' beer bottles with water. Hang it in a net outside the window where the sun will heat it. By mid-afternoon that water is sizzling and I relish every...bottle bath!
In June, I went back to the US to visit with family and friends. Wow...America, how I missed you. "Sensory overload" and "too many options" defined my experience there. But I won't lie, it was great and only one more year until go back. Coming back to Georgia was a hard transition, culture shock 2.0. But after a few days things were back to normal...and plus the weather outside is fantastic.
Since school is out, days are lazier and my definition of 'being productive' has relaxed a bit. As part of the on-going school reforms, Director elections were held at my school. This past year School Directors (principals) nationwide had to take a special Director's exam to test their competency. 1/3 failed meaning as of the summer they were unemployed. Of those that passed, they had to run for re-election (like my Director). Candidates will address the school faculty, give their speeches and then the faculty would vote. My Director was unanimously re-elected.
To celebrate, we went on our annual Faculty excursion. About 40 of us piled into a bus with everything we'd need for a supra en tow. We drove to Ubnisi, a monetary in Western Georgia. As most Georgian churches and monasteries, this one was centuries years old. It had a 4 story tower where the monks resided and nearby was a small church with impressive frescoes. Around 12, we all piled into the bus intent on finding a place appropriate to supra. We spent the next 4 hours driving all over Georgia trying to find 'the place.' We must've made 10 stops- all of which were rejected for one reason or another. "There's no shade..." Around hour 3.5, we stopped at an abandoned Sanatorium that was about 7 stories high and must've been quite a posh place during the Soviet era. Alas, it looked quite dilapidated and many refugees from Abkhazia were living inside. "Rejected." So we finally drove to Borjomi and arrived at the National Park. FINALLY!
High in the mountains, surrounded by "the nature," it turned out to be the perfect site. Everyone started unloading all the goods...meat, khashapuri (cheese pie), veggies, fruits, cake, lots and lots of bread, lots and lots of wine, juice, etc. While they were busy cooking, I explored the area and hiked up to a church on a mountain peak. It provided quite a spectacular view of the valley below. I arrived back to the campsite just in time. This was the most impressive supra...or picnic... I'd ever been too. Blankets were spread end to end to resemble the long supra tables and in true supra fashion there were plates atop plates atop plates. Then the toasting began...and well it was a great time. I made it back to Gori just before midnight; 16 hours since I'd left it!
The great thing about summer is that I'm able to explore more of the country. A few weeks ago, I went to Mtskreta, the old Georgian capital and site where conversion of the country from paganism to Christianity took place during the 4th century. There are four impressive churches, including Jvari (Cross) church which overlooks the town from atop the mountain. Jvari Church is built on the site where Saint Nino placed her cross before converting the people. In nearby Sveti-Tskhoveli Cathedral, Christ's robe is said to be buried there. The first church of Georgia was built on this site in the 4th century. Samtavro Church is a nunnery where some of Georgia's old Kings and members of royalty are buried. There are also remains of an old fortress.
I also had a chance to go to the Black Sea and go to an actual beach. The last time I was there, there was about 3 feet of snow when I passed through on my way to Turkey. The beaches are rocky with a colorful assortment of stones...and the water is divine too!

But summer is not all play without a little bit of work. Since spring, I have been working with my counterparts and Director to setup the English Cabinet (resource room). It's partially furnished now with a bookcase, bookshelves, tables, whiteboard and a computer desk. In the fall, we'll be getting a computer with internet access. So I've been busy writing a grant to finish furnishing the English Cabinet. We're requesting tables, chairs, TV and CD/DVD/Tape player. In September, we'll find out if our proposal will be funded.
At the American Corner, I've been holding Adult English conversation classes as well as Elem. Spanish club. Guess which is more popular? Si, Espanol clase. Dios mio! I hold Spanish Club every week with a fellow site mate. We introduce basic vocab, greetings, etc and also have a cultural section. The class has been a surprise hit, especially with the English teachers in town- go figure!
I wore out my last pair of sneakers so I needed to buy some new ones. Something I'd been putting off weeks since that meant I'd have to venture into the bazaar- something I despise. So on my way to the bazaar, I spotted one of several new Chinese products (aka cheap, better-than-Georgian quality knockoffs). So I checked out the selection of 'uni-sex' sneakers and found a pair of 'Adidas-Goodyear' sneakers that seemed ok. Then I realized I had no socks to try it on with. No prob, I'll just do what all the other Georgians were doing. Slip plastic shopping bags over your feet and "whoosh" in they go. My friends thought I would have been quite the trendsetter had I decided to keep the blue bag on and walk out the store in my new Adidas.