This blog post goes out to Adam. I thought of him today while Jena and I were out on our most recent adventure because I found myself stopping to pay attention to the smaller details of the city and the surrounding area of the place we visited. Adam has this habit of closely scrutinizing the smaller idiosyncrasies of a new place when he has the luxury of time on his side. He seems to soak up a location's life this way.
Today I spent more time with the details since I didn't have a camera. In fact, my strategy for today's trip was to travel as lightly as possible, with only a backpack filled with a few supplies--ID, bathing suit, water bottle, sunblock, towel, Turkish phrasebook, three photocopied pages of Turkish homework, a pencil, a pad of paper with a few directions written on it. As far as money, I only brought enough cash to get to our destination and back. Jena did the same, although she threw in a credit card. We were headed to the beach, and I have irrational paranoia about theft at the beach.
Cesme is a town near Izmir, Turkey that is known for its beaches. They are long, and the water is only six feet deep for about two hundred yards out from the sand. The bottom is sandy, and apparently there are hot springs that seep into the water to keep it temperate. Jena and I heard about the Cesme from numerous sources, so this weekend we decided to untangle the ratsnest of public transportation logistics that it would take to get there.
On Friday at school, I told the director that we'd be heading to Cesme on Saturday. When it came down to directions, he switched over to English and provided me with some basic information about the bus we should take to the main bus station. Because he had never spoken to me in English before, I felt I was breaking the rules, and I didn't press him for many specifics. Possibly as a consequence, Jena and I woke at six, went to our bus stop and waited for fifty minutes without seeing our bus. Because of the general pain-in-the-ass-ed-ness of navigating an unfamiliar city where you speak about fifty words of the language, I considered bagging the whole trip. Jena, however, reminded me that we could just take a taxi to the bus station. So we did.
So we get dropped off on the sidewalk in front of a busy building and we don't even know where to go in. Not only is our language limited, but the signage was lacking as well. We do what we so often do as new residents here, and we just followed some other people into the building. So then we walk the entire row of bus company desks. No dice. Thankfully someone asks us if we need help, and he sends us to another floor. We're ecstatic by the time we find the right counter, and I bust out more friendlier Turkish than normal during the service encounter. Finally, we're on the bus to our town, and we have fifty minutes of that luxury of no problem solving.
When we arrived in the Cesme area, the bus began stopping at towns along the way, and this was an added bonus since my directions that I had memorized from tripadvisor.com said we'd have to go to the main bus station first. With a stroke of luck, Jena and I heard the name of the beach we wanted, and we hopped off the bus. Without a clue in the world of which way to turn, Jena said, "Follow the guy in the bathing suit." So we did.
At the beach we got back on the tripadvisor.com itinerary and rented two chairs and an umbrella on the beach. The guy asked us in English whether we wanted sun or shadow, and I said, "Yes, shadow." He stuck us next to this shed for the beach chair cushions, and Jena and I set down our backpacks, and headed to the changing rooms. During this time, this woman who presumably worked at the beach came up to us and pointed out where everything was--changing rooms, the bathroom, the shower--and it was actually very helpful. Still unsure of how the place worked, Jena and I went about our business.
I got back to the chairs prior to Jena, and I swore to god my backpack wasn't how I had left it. It was a right angle to the chair's cushion (something I would never do), and the zippers were slightly ajar. It even looked kind of sandy as if someone with sandy hands had touched it.
I quickly constructed the story to myself. The beach workers had seen that we were tourists. They had stuck us in the "shadow" because the building conveniently blocked the view of those particular chairs from the changing area. The woman had stalled us on our way to the changing area. It was an inside job! I was furious.
But nothing was missing. I had taken our money, IDs, and credit card with me to the changing area because I knew I would be leaving my backpack there. I had everything now secured in double ziplock bags in my pocket so that I could swim with it. And while Jena and I put our sunblock on, I realized that I had probably been pretty casual with my backpack when I had removed my swimsuit. I didn't need to close the zippers all the way (as if that would have actually stopped someone) because there was nothing valuable in my backpack. I didn't need to put my backpack at a precise parallel angle with the beach chair because that sort of superstitious action wasn't needed to ward off any pickpockets. In other words, everything was okay. An attempted theft might not have occurred.
Jena and I then began to enjoy our day. We swam in the warm clean light blue water. We went for walks along the beach, leaving our bags unattended, mind you. I tried to nap on the chair, and when I realized I couldn't, Jena and I went swimming again.
One thing I love about Jena is her ability to come up for games for us to play and her willingness to engage in mine. We dragged each other around in the shallow water. Jena and I had been constructing a fantasy that we had our two-legged dog friend (see photos on Facebook) with us, and we imagined what he would have done in the water. Tiring from that, we swam to the bottom and gathered sand that we could pack into a ball and throw to one another until the ball disintegrated away.
Once we left the beach, we took a walk to the harbor so that I could ogle the boats. I told Jena of how my father had taken my brother and I to do this whenever we encountered a harbor during our travels around the world. Following this walk, we had a commendable lunch of Turkish hamburgers (mistranslated on the menu in English as hamnurgers) capped off with Turkish coffee.
Although it would be nice to wrap up this story with a simple, and then we came home, few things here involving transportation transpire as simply as would be desirable. We successfully took the bus to Izmir but were dropped off not at the main bus station, but on a busy street that was somewhat near an alternate bus station. I suggested we look for a bus that said the name of our neighborhood and ride it with a hope and a prayer. Jena suggested we take a ferry instead, since our tickets for the public transportation in Izmir were good for that form of transport too. We walked toward the ferry station (hilariously spelled ferribot here), and halfway there a highway interrupted our path. We could nearly see the station. I could feel that it was just beyond the highway. Jena mentioned the idea of giving up and trying to take a bus. I countered, and we pushed on, luckily finding a crosswalk later on down the road.
The ferry station was desolate, and our Turkish isn't quite good enough to read the schedules accurately. Jena used her ticket to pass through a gate toward a boat anyhow, and a man came out of nowhere to ask where we were headed. He basically said, Nope, none of these ferries are going where you want to go today. But thankfully he helped us out to determine a circuitous route, using ferries, to get back to our neighborhood, but there was a catch--we'd have to wait for at least a half hour.
I was all set to wait. Jena pointed out some rental bicycles that we'd seen on the way in. They were city-sponsored and looked affordable, though they required using a machine, mostly in Turkish, to rent them. Jena used her credit card, and we think that they may have actually been free to ride, as long as you returned them. We then tried to get them out of their locks. These were controlled by little digital screens that were nearly impossible to read, given the glare from the evening sunlight. We persisted, both of us, at times, acting as if we might as well just give up. When the first bike came free from its lock, I mentioned to Jena that each one of us would be screwed if we were traveling alone, but together we can do almost anything. Jena called this a metaphor for our marriage.
And then we finally did come home, riding bikes as the evening sun came down over Izmir's bay. We dodged what seemed like hundreds of people walking in the middle of the bike path. It seems that the city of Izmir is encouraging bicycling, but the residents haven't necessarily caught on. I said to Jena that this must be what it's like to put in a new bike path in Dallas or someplace that isn't quite ready for transportation that promotes health. That, or the people walking on the bike path were just tourists, not really sure which way is up and down, trying to get from here to there without too much going wrong.