Saturday, October 6, 2007

hard water

One the morning after my hamam visit, I packed my rucksack, gave the kitten one more squeeze, said goodbye to the gang eating breakfast on the cushions of the ANZ Guesthouse, and took a bus to Pamukkale. The translation of Pamukkale is "Cotton Castle," and seen from far away it is startling in its stark whiteness. It's like blobs of lard or wedding cake frosting piled up. A plateau looming over a small town, it's essentially a frozen waterfall, formed by millennia of mineral-rich water from hot springs falling over the plateau. Along the way, pools have formed in crazy shapes, creating therapeutic baths. Unfortunately, most of these can no longer be accessed; since so many tourists and health-seekers visit, walking on the terraces is no longer allowed. To compensate, man-made pools have been fabricated. There must be ways to direct the water as needed, because on the day I was there, the man-made pools were all full, but the natural ones were sadly dry. It's possible to charge up to the top of the terraces in less than a half-hour, but since I had several hours to kill, I took my time.

In an attempt to preserve the terraces, anyone walking on the path needs to remove their shoes, and the surface is the furthest thing from cottony. Not only is it rock hard, it's covered in ridges, so it can be slow going. The roughness is somewhat alleviated by the warm water running down the terraces, but it was a little too warm for a hot day. Cooler would have been nicer. However, it did have the bonus of exfoliating the bottom of my feet, part of the 7% of my body the masseuse did not get at the hamam. The bottom of my feet are kind of a perpetual mess. Despite decent walking shoes, I've developed blisters over blisters that have broken and...hello? Are you still there? Let's just say that at the end of the day, my feet were all cleaned up.

I spent a lot of time at the first pool, sitting on the edge and dandling my feet in. The bottom is a layer of pale mud, which is presumably rich in the same minerals the water is. Bathers were slathering it all over their bodies. I don't think that doing it just once, or even for a whole afternoon is really going to cure any epidermal maladies, but it's very fine mud (as in, not chunky), and felt nice. I dug up clods with my toes and smeared it on my legs. An older British couple sat down next to me, and we spent some time talking and watching the guard chase a tour group off the terraces, which included blowing a whistle a lot and waving his hands. They were the third older British traveling couple I met in the same number of days, and each has been well-traveled, talking of Zanzibar, Egypt, and other exotic locales. They were driving around in a rented car, and told me driving in Turkey is easy because the streets are empty. Which is true — most of the traffic on the roads between towns are buses and dolmuşes with plenty of wide open road in-between. There aren't a whole lot of car commuters.

After I had my fill of dabbling my toes in the mud and cringing at overweight guys in skimpy bathing suits (why? why?) I finished walking to the top. At the top you can pay to bathe in the mineral hot springs, or...look at the ancient ruins of Hierapolis which are scattered about the plateau. I wasn't interested in wallowing in warm water, but I did try a taste of the mineral water, which was really, really horrible. It may have been drinkable over ice cubes, but after choking down a mouthful I promptly dumped my water bottle into the bushes. Even with my previously mentioned ancient ruin saturation, the old city of Hierapolis was more palatable. I sort of got more out of wandering around than really looking at anything. There's a necropolis which is sort of neat, looking like a giant walked in, kicked everything around, and left.

There's also a Plutonium, a sacred site of the god of the underworld, which I wasn't able to find, despite it being clearly indicated in my guidebook. Or maybe I did find it and didn't realize I was looking at it. I think it's just a cavity in the ground which is fenced off because, and here's the interesting part, poisonous gases are present inside. Eunuch priests were said to have been able to enter with no ill effects, but they are deadly to any other living creature. The two Germans who tried to get in and died clearly still had all their parts (my guidebook doesn't tell me when this happened). I may have looked right past it because I was there late afternoon, and was feeling a little run down. Picking my way down the terraces was harder on my feet than going up, but at least the throng of people had thinned out.

I had left my rucksack at a hotel for the day, and got dinner at their restaurant, both to thank them for the favor, and also because I needed dinner. Kebabs are a staple food here, and saç kebab is a way to prepare it with onions and peppers. I like this way better, because it's saucy. Nummy.

Pamukkale is easily seen in one day, unless you want to stick around until night falls to try a nighttime break-in into the Plutonium with a gas mask. The hotel owner gave me and my rucksack a ride to the town bus station on his scooter, I caught a dolmuş to the bigger town of Denizli a few kilometers away, and with only minutes to spare, hopped on my night bus to Cappadocia.

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