We're standing beside the highway, feeling optimistic. We're smothered in sunscreen; yet we've got a patch of shade from a tree to stand in. Our apartment building is about 100 yards away, and being in sight of our place makes everything feel under control.
The first dolmuş (a shared minibus/van) that pulls up is going to our stop, so we clamor into the vacant front seats, of which there are two. My leg quickly adheres to Jena with sweat.
We're at our first stop--a rest stop. The day is hot, but there's a nice view off a covered balcony. We can see how the mountains descend toward the sea in the distance. We're headed down there to a so-called village that ideally contains ruins, a beach, and an eternal flame from methane spewing out of the rock.
A guy with funky teeth and a beaten up blue teeshirt wanders up to us and asks us in English if we'd like anything to drink. Although Jena and I are somewhat wary of talking to strangers, the guy's unhurried manner of speech makes him seem trustworthy. By way of an answer, I point a thumb to Jena since she has just remarked that she's thirsty. The guy lists off what they have, looking at me and ending with whiskey. I laugh and say, "Whiskey değil," which I hope means what I want it to mean: not whiskey.
Jena has now finished her can of iced tea. I am working on some Turkish grammar exercises in a book. I ask Jena whether she wants to practice reading sentences aloud, and she says something disparaging about studying in this heat. When I make conversation after that, she remarks I'm interrupting her whenever she's trying to read.
Nothing has changed. The signs in the windshields of the stream of dolmuşes we have seen do not say they're going to our destination. Because there's a group of guys with guitars who load into a certain dolmuş and I figure they must be going the same place as us. I speak to their driver. He says I've got the wrong dolmuş, but he tells one of the rest stop guys where where going. The rest stop guy makes a call and tells us it'll be a minute.
Our dolmuş pulls up. I read online that they arrive hourly. Or, maybe they just arrive after you talk to the rest stop guy and he gives them a call. Regardless, Jena and I are on our way once more. We're in the front seat of this VW bus, feeling like we're falling down the steep foresty road that winds down into our village. The driver asks me in Turkish which hotel we're going to. I say the beach.
We don't actually want to see the beach that much, but while we're here, I note that it's pretty--long, with thin rocky points that jut our at either end. But we'd rather head to the eternal flame, which I think it a short walk away. By some luck, there's a billboard with a map. The main road down here makes a loop. We're at the exact opposite end of the six-kilometer loop from the flame. It's a longer walk than I thought. Jena is not happy. I start to walk. She miserably follows.
Jena: Can you take whatever is jingling out of your front pocket?
Alan: Why? (These are important things, which make me feel better to know that they are there--keys, money, and ID.)
Jena: It's giving me misophonia.
Alan: (Puts things in his backpack. Walks a little faster ahead because he's annoyed.)
The hundred degree heat is beginning to set in. Jena has asked that we stop to buy to drink. I have requested that we keep walking. To her, she needs to remain comfortable. To me, I want to finish this death-march as soon as possible so that we can relax. These are the types of disagreements you work out during your first year of marriage. But knowing that about them doesn't make the heat go away.
We're still on this godforsaken, desolate dirt road, where no one else is driving, biking, or walking. We're not speaking now, and our only interactions are comprised of the times when I stop, offering Jena sunscreen and her water. She says she doesn't want more suncreeen--she'll only sweat it off. Water she takes. We try to have a mature conversation about what we're both feeling. The heat makes us too obstinate for a resolution.
We know we're on track now, as we make our way up the driveway of the Eternal Flame National Park. There are these surrealistic paintings of a goat/bear/human/snake creature wandering through a flaming background. There's a phase painted at the top which says, "The Legend Continues." I would love these paintings if I didn't feel like I were walking through a flaming background as well.
The hike up to the eternal flame is a one-kilometer rough rock stairway and trail. As I see other couples taking care to walk together, I try to stick to Jena's side so that I can offer her water. When we reach the top at last, our first sight of the eternal flame (fire coming out of a blackened grey crag of rock) is spoiled by a guy roasting three hot dogs on a stick. Two kids are squirming with excitement and holding a plastic bag of hotdog buns.
We hike to the second spot in this barren, volcanic area where another flame burns. After being asked to take a picture for a group of Italians, Jena sees whether they'll take a picture of us. It's one hundred plus degree weather. With the flame burning beside our calves, we pose and are brought together by the notion that if we smile and act as if we love each other, this moment can transpire faster.
We're making our careful descent down the rock shelf and back to the trail when Jena whispers, "Look at her shoes." A woman is wearing six-inch wedges and walking across the rock with the confidence of a mountain goat. It's amazing, and I smile at Jena. Later, we'll see this woman at the bottom of the trail enjoying a cigarette and a bottle of water while her husband drinks a beer. Jena and I reach the trail and match paces. When she wants to rest, I am happy to do so as well.
We're wandering around new unknown roads now, and with the shade and some patience, we enjoy a conversation about the kinds of fruits that are growing on the trees. We're headed back to the village to secure our third dolmuş of the day.
We hop into a dolmuş that we think is headed the right direction, though we soon find out it's not. Together we speak to the driver, and he drops us on the highway.
We're still walking along the shoulder like common hitchhikers. A taxi driver pulls up and Jena and I work together to negotiate in Turkish, but we decide his price is too high. After he pulls away, we're left again on the highway again with the uncertainty of whether a dolmuş will ever pass us going the right direction.
I've told myself that everything is going to work out alright, no matter what happens. So far both on this trip and in my life, everything has. The feeling comes back to me now as Jena and I sit down in an air-conditioned dolmuş headed back to our town. Jena is beside me, practicing her Turkish. She wants to ask the driver to stop near our apartment. She shows me her little book, and and we go over the phrase together to make sure it's right.