by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
We entered Turkey at the end of January and began our tour of the country. The first thing we needed to do was buy some groceries. Ahead was a mall that looked like any mall in the world. We found a place to park and entered to find the grocery store. The first thing I noticed was the store windows covered in red Valentine hearts. Another window had men’s jockey shorts covered in red hearts and red Xs, and risqué red panties with black ribbons and little gold hearts hanging from a bow. “Isn’t this a Muslim country?” I asked. Ted nodded as we passed a candy store with red Valentine boxes and delicious chocolate candies.
We found the grocery store and stopped at the ATM first. Choices ranged from 1 million to 100 million. We stood there, trying to make sense of this. Nowhere in the world had converting our money been so extreme. One of the hardest to convert in my head had been in Costa Rica with one dollar equaling three hundred twelve Quetzels. Here, in Turkey neither of us had the foggiest idea what the conversion rate was. We had left our travel book and calculator in the RV. I suggested, “Let’s get one million and we’ll see what we can get for that.” Ted nodded and chose ONE MILLION. The machine hummed and out came our one million note. Taking the note and our bank card, we entered the very modern and well lit grocery store.
We wandered around, picking up things we needed and some we were interested in trying. One thing we had found was that Knorr soups are different in different countries and so far, we had liked them all. We got to the checkout counter, and the sales lady started ringing the total…the sum, over nine hundred million. We handed her our one million note, and she just smiled and shook her head. Ted handed her our bank card, and when we finally got to our RV park for the night, we asked someone what the conversion rate was. It was seven and a half million to one.
Early the next morning we found an ATM and took out more, finding that the five million and the five hundred million were both the same size and the same color, red. In the month that we stayed there, we only lost one five hundred million due to confusion.
As we traveled around Turkey, we found the people to be the nicest people we ever met. At one place, we pulled up in front of a small hotel and booked a room for the night. The staff, seeing our RV splattered with mud, went out with a ladder, buckets and water, and washed it until it shone. At another place, we pulled into an RV park and found it closed for the winter. Inside the office, there was a construction crew busy remodeling the place. They invited us to park and then brought us dinner that they were cooking for themselves. We were so pleased with them and their hospitality that we paid them for the stay even though they were the construction crew.
One funny thing we found, as we traveled in Turkey, was that the people think that lights on a vehicle will wear out, so they don’t use car or truck lights unless it is absolutely necessary. Traveling along the highways, knowing that the oncoming traffic is dark can be scary. At one point, we were behind a large truck carrying Cadbury’s candies. It was getting dark and no one was using their lights except for us. We wanted to stay in back of the truck and let it run interference for us. That worked well until the truck turned off, and we discovered that now we were lead car in a long line of dark vehicles.
Traveling through the Cappadocia area of Turkey is like falling into the Land of the Flintstones. Millions of years ago, volcanoes spewed ash into the surrounding area. They spewed for millions of years until the ash was about a mile deep. Erosions cut away leaving mounds of ash spires called Fairy or Mushroom spires.
Later, people discovered that they could dig into the ash easily and many caves were dug. At that time, marauding hordes from Mongolia would sweep into the area, killing everything, and stealing crops and animals. The residents dug down, building whole cities in the deep ash and using ingenious ways to avoid them like ventilation tunnels disguised as wells, and even placing poisoned wells where the invaders could find them, hoping the Mongols would drink the water and water their horses.
Underground, stopping areas where traveling merchants could spend the night, usually with their camels in the same room, were about ten miles apart or one day’s journey.
People lived in the caves for thousands of years and now, pricy tourist shops have restored many, and tourists flock to them. The area hosts a hot air balloon festival every year and thousands come.
We were there in the winter, and it was approaching The Sacrifice Feast or Eid al-Adha, memorializing the almost sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. Not being aware of the festival, I was surprised to see three men cut the throat of a ram in the snowy street of a small town. We were invited in to see a ram that was destined to the same fate later in the day. At a market in one of the small towns, we watched as a man tried to get a large Ram to step into the trunk of his car. The ram, maybe knowing what was ahead, refused to jump in.
Several times we’d stop to shop for needed supplies, and the large malls we had seen in and around Istanbul were not nationwide. I would go into the small shops and many times had to use a flashlight to see what was on the shelves. At most shops in Turkey since there aren’t any small coins or less than a million note, the shop keepers put a handful of hard candy in my hand as change.
Turkey was delightful, both for the scenery and for the people. I would recommend it as a wonderful place to visit, if it weren’t for the politics of today.