Friday, September 30, 2016

Day 8: Up

I wake up at 4:45 this morning, get dressed, and groggily stumble outside to await my ride. A truck pulls up and a man gets out, and I smile at him, and he looks at a piece of paper.

“Natalie,” I say, helpfully.

“Yes,” he says, studying his paper some more. “Surname?”

“HOW MANY NATALIES ARE GOING TO BE STANDING ON A CAPPADOCIA STREET CORNER IN A PLAID JACKET IN THE DARK?” I want to snarl, but that might be because I’ve averaged 4 hours sleep per night for the last 3 nights, which is also why this today’s post isn’t going to win any prizes.

Fortunately, I am the Natalie he is looking for. Actually, he's very nice, and maybe he, also, hasn't had much sleep. I climb into the truck and off we go to a warm little gathering place full of tourists, where we are given tea and breakfasty things and then herded into vans, and driven out to a large field where the hot air balloons are lying on their sides like giant pumpkins.

We watch in awe as a man fills our balloon with air, and then warms that air with fire. 

The sky is starting to get lighter, and our balloons and the ones around it rise, slowly, like giant, benevolent monsters coming out of a deep sleep. It’s so beautiful, or maybe I’m so sleep-deprived, that I get a little teary.

Our hot air balloon pilot’s name is Baris.

“But you can call me Boris,” he says, so I will. Also, how awesome must it be to list “hot air balloon pilot” as your profession? You might as well say “unicorn rider” or “yellow brick road paver.”

Boris the Magnificent 

There are 16 of us, plus Boris, in the balloon. There are about 50 other balloons around us. Boris pulls a lever and more and more fire is spewed upwards, and suddenly we are a foot off the ground, then ten feet, then a hundred. And then we are floating in the sky, one of 50 enormous bubbles, and the sky gets even lighter and the fairy chimneys are around us and I am like what is this life, how did this happen, oh my god, I am so cold.

Our first hover is Love Valley, so named because the peaks are phallic.

“But this is a Muslim country,” Boris adds. “So they are circumcised.”

Then Red Valley, which is, I hope, self-explanatory. There are fields of apricot trees, and fairy chimneys of all widths and heights, the youngest of which is a million years old. Boris explains the lines on them and the holes in them, and how some were used as dwellings and monasteries. Later, I will learn that one whole area of them were homes for hermits, 300 BC. Not religious hermits, just dudes who wanted to be hermits and do good deeds for people and stuff. The farmers would feed them.

I mean, come on.

I take 7 million photos. After a while, all I can do is stare and try not to cry. The sun finally comes out from behind a mountain, and we float up and down, around in circles, more fire being breathed upwards, more volcanoes and ancient tales.

Taking a hot air balloon ride has been on my bucket list for longer than I care to admit, but I have to say, it wasn’t that high.

Now, all I can say is this: put it on yours. And add the words “in Cappadocia.”

You can thank me later.

I’m in a wine cave right now. It's an actual cave, though, with low, vaulted ceilings and no windows, and dusty bottles hanging from the trees outside, and the kinds of vessels they used to store wine that lean against the walls, which, I learned today, is how they used to do it here, many thousands of years ago.

A husky just ran inside, eyed all my food, and then ran out again. It’s so dark I can’t see what I’m eating. Tomorrow: underground cities and more. Tonight: huge love.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day 7: Turkey

We were up at 4:30 this morning to finish packing, haul our bags into the car and drive to the airport. Tegan flew back to Australia today (sniff) and I flew here, to Cappadocia, another magical moonscape that is blowing my mind. After this, Europe - I won't share where for now. (Suspense!) I am incoherently tired, but as I packed for three different climates and said goodbye to "my room" for the next few weeks, I thought:

It feels like I'm cheating on Turkey. 

The first word I learned in Turkish was "chicken," because when we landed and tried to find dinner, no one spoke English. 

I know. A non-English-speaking country where people don't speak English. The horror of it!

Last year, my 5th time in Turkey, landing in Istanbul after 11 months in Western countries, I had this thought: 

I'm home. 

My actual home in Turkey is another hour and a half by plane from Istanbul. But there is a sense of life in this country, in the noise and the smells and the serpentine streets, in your feet getting wet from melted fish ice when you walk through the market, in the call to prayer echoing through the night, in the erratic driving, the smoke, the yelling, the trays of tea, the weaving, the carpets, the friendliness. And I prefer it, more and more, over my neat, manicured North American origins.

This is not to glamorize Turkey or non-Western countries, because of course they are not perfect. Not even close. Nowhere is, as I have been disappointed to learn. It's just what kind of imperfect works best for you. 

Driving around with Tegan these last few days, we passed trees laden with pomegranates. We stopped a restaurant in the middle of nowhere where we both ordered melted cheese pide because that was the only thing we could communicate to the wait staff, who then ran after us after we left and gave us a bag of candy. This has been my kind of beautiful imperfect. 

Sharing belly laughs when miming to my Turkish neighbours that my corkscrew (different one) had broken in my wine cork and them using their pliers to get it out. 

And arriving here, in Cappadoccia, one of the most famous spots in the country. At home, you'd expect something like Niagara Falls in terms of infrastructure and tacky scale. Instead, I ate lunch at a restaurant with hologram art on the walls, where the owner chopped and prepared my salad from scratch and served up fresh shish tavuk (chicken!) for $10. And then wandering out into the town square, seeing groups of old men drinking tea and smoking, and passing a fish monger selling sardines in the corner of a parking lot. The air smells like paradise. The views have left me speechless.

That's my excuse, anyway. 

There will be pictures tomorrow. I promise. For now: wish you were here.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Day 6: Turkey Tinder

You had never been on an Internet date before.

There. You’ve said it.

The opportunity just never presented itself. And now, ironically, at the age of phmphthtwsomlet’snotgothere, you are living with your dad. It’s like high school all over again.

But with the Internet.

The thing about Internet dating that freaks you out is the loadedness of it all. When you meet someone “the old-fashioned way” (you can’t believe you are even writing those words,) you have a reasonable idea whether you want to spend any more time with them, and whether that time might lead to other kinds of time. When you meet someone after considering their photograph and profile with less focus than you would a pair of shoes, then agree meet them face-to-face, you’ve already kind of declared that that might lead to other kinds of time. But what if it doesn’t? That doesn’t sit well with an introvert like you. However, you are also one to grab a challenge by the balls (wrong choice of words, probably) and so, after a few weeks in Turkey, you start chatting with a man on Tinder who seems like a decent dude, and has nice eyes, and does humanitarian work. He is in town for one evening with colleagues. He is polite and friendly and does not sound like a serial killer. You agree to meet him at the restaurant down the street.

Your hair in its current state would scare off a wild animal, much less a potential suitor, and you have run out of conditioner, so you nip off to the corner store to buy some.

Except that this is Turkey.

The small selection of shampoo-like bottles are all labeled in (surprise) Turkish. You start frantically entering words into your translator app, and learn that every single bottle is, in fact, shampoo, aside from one which according to your translator, contains “feeding shit.” Panicked, you search until you find a tiny bottle that translates to “nourish cream.” You say a quick prayer, because to wash your hair and not condition it would scare off a whole herd of wild animals, grab a cheap razor (they’re all the same, right?) and dash home, fingers crossed.

This is why I need to condition. 

Praise the gods: it is conditioner. Your hair is smooth(ish) and untangled. But the cheap razor doubles as a tiny machete.

You find you have cut your legs in no less than 6 places, and then realize that none of your clean washing has dried. You have no bandaids in the house, either. And so, you find yourself sat on the closed toilet, hanging your bleeding legs over the shower, while blow drying a pair of underwear.

Your phone buzzes: it’s your date, telling you he is at the restaurant, even though he was supposed to text you before he left. You put the phone down on the toilet lid, and then realize you have placed it in a shallow pool of water. You leap up to dry it, and spray blood all over the tiles.

And they say glamour is dead.


You get dressed in your one date-worthy outfit. But what in your head seemed like a casual chic ensemble, a sort of “oh I just rolled out of bed looking like this” boho stylish look, looks, well, weird. Mismatched. Not right. And in need of heels, which you do not have.

But you also have no other options. Which is kind of liberating.

Your phone rings, and you leap to answer it. It is the car rental guy, calling about tomorrow’s rental. You realize your heart is hammering. This is ridiculous. You would so much rather spend tonight on the couch with Game of Thrones and cheesecake.

As you’re leaving, you text your dad – like high school, except with cell phones.

“Leaving now,” you say. “Probably won’t be late.”

“Have fun, Sweetie,” your dad replies. “Take the pepper spray.”


As you walk to the bar, your phone buzzes again. It is your Tinder date, this time, checking to see if you got lost. (He doesn’t realize that you have chosen this bar specifically because it is 3 minutes away by foot.) He adds that he hopes it’s okay that a couple of his colleagues showed up. They were keen for a night out and he had told him where you’d be meeting.

It is more than okay. It is a giant relief.

You join their table. They are all gentlemen, and the four of you spend the next couple of hours drinking wine, laughing, trading travel stories and talking about Turkish politics. You learn things, your heart rate remains steady, and you end the evening having made at least one new friend. Who may or may not be gay, but hey, who's counting?

You walk home alone, feeling proud. You’ve done it. You are no longer a Tinder virgin. And the rest will come, maybe, with time.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Day 5: Fat Amy

Tegan is back onto solids now, but last night, after a feeble bowl of lentil soup, we lay low and watched Pitch Perfect. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about an all-female acapella group. Enemies become friends, friends become enemies, and there’s lots of great singing, if you’re into that kind of thing, which I am. But the best part by far is Rebel Wilson’s character, Fat Amy.

I’d seen the movie already, but, perhaps because I wasn’t single then, Fat Amy’s character didn’t stand out at me the way she did this time. It’s not so much that she is (gasp) not a stick insect with boobs. It’s that Fat Amy doesn’t just think she’s hot, she knows she’s hot. She doesn’t question her gorgeousness, she OWNS it. And, thus, hordes of men chase after her, to the point that she actually craves female company. She volunteers to do solos, she drives the bus, she is queen of the fucking world. I love Fat Amy.

Watching the film again, it caught up with me that I’ve forgotten my inner Fat Amy these last few weeks. In my early days of being single, surrounded as I was in Bali by stick insects with boobs (spotted at my local cafĂ©: girl wearing a string bikini, combat boots and a holster,) I got really down on my body. I didn't see how bad it had gotten until I brought it up with my girlfriends, whom I considered Fat Amys in their own, fabulous ways.

“Are you kidding? I’m totally faking it,” said Sabrina, my Australian friend who owned any dance floor that came her way, and was being Tindered by the male population of Canggu like she was going out of style.

“I feel like I look like a man,” said Morgan, my toned American yogi pal, whose bod I had envied in the pool that afternoon. And Leannah, whom I lived with and who regularly ate her post-surfing breakfast in her bikini, admitted to having once considered a boob job.

And yet these women were some of the most beautiful I had ever know.

And thus began Operation Body Image, which launched of all of us joining a actual workshop on the subject that weekend. Allison Dryja, who ran the workshop and is a body image coach, asked us each where our low opinions of our body originated.

I had never considered this question before. Until now, my disdain for my body was just a factual part of life, like taxes, or breathing.

For some of the girls, it was mothers who had openly criticized their own bodies, and then did the same with their daughters. When my turn came, the answer just came out.

“I always felt like a freak,” I said. “Because I didn’t look like anybody else.”

Which, given my appreciation for my friends’ unique beauty, is as ironic as it gets.

We did a group meditation to close the workshop. (Remember, this is Bali.) The exercise was to put our hands on different parts of our bodies and ask them what they wanted. Which is pretty hippy dippy even for me, but also let me see how much spite and anger I directed towards my physical imperfections on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, and how good it felt to stop. It had never helped, anyway. I have been bigger and smaller in my life, but none of the grief or judgment I’ve delivered to my stomach or boobs or thighs has done anything except make me feel like shit. I had forgotten or maybe never learned that holding up an ugly mirror up to myself was a choice.

Fat Amy was on my mind as Tegan and I climbed the travertines in Pamukkale today. You walk them barefoot, and can stop and swim in the pools along the way, so many of the women we passed were hiking in their bathing suits. I saw bellies and thighs and gravity at work. I saw skinny bodies and starving bodies and post-baby bodies and muscles and flab. Of the hundreds of women we passed, only one would pass for something you'd see a magazine. She was wearing a g-string, and I could tell how hard she’d worked on that body, how many hours and how much sweat and how many cheesecakes denied. And I'm probably projecting, but she didn’t seem particularly happy.

And Pamukkale the kind of place you just want to be happy.

I wished I could deliver Fat Amy energy to every woman we passed. I wished I could remind them - the ones who needed it, anyway - that cutting ourselves with mental scalpels and bruising themselves with harsh words does not make us any thinner or more toned, and definitely does not make us any happier. It reminds me of the Marianne Williamson quote:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world." 

Because if we really, truly all felt like Fat Amy… 

If we believed ourselves to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous... 

If we woke every morning owning our thighs, our amazingness and the world…

What would we be capable of?


Monday, September 26, 2016

Day 4: All I Got

We are in Pamukkale

Which is the closest to being on another planet

I’ve ever been.

There are these travertines – which I think sound like the name of a band – made of white salt, and pools in them of cool aqua blue therapeutic water, which they say heal what ails you.

There are red thermal baths of hot spring water, with even more healing properties.

And flat fields in between the two, and mountains all around.

And there is the ancient city of Hieropolis, another ancient Greco-Roman city of columns and majesty.

It’s all so weird and otherworldly, that I keep feeling like any minute now, Jon Snow is going to emerge onto the side of the road in his fur cape. Maybe if I think about it enough, it’ll happen.

But we didn’t see any of it today. (Not even Jon Snow.)

Last night, poor Tegan was up at all hours spewing in the bathroom. Of our shared room. And as some of you know, I don’t really do well with spewing, so I was up, too.

She spewed and I stewed, worrying about her and today and what if she needed a doctor and what if it was contagious, sometimes asking if she was okay and other times covering my ears, which does not seem like the kind of thing a grownup should do.

Finally, after the sun came up, we both slept.

And today, we went to some pools where they made everyone wear funny bathing caps

And sat in the red thermal water

And lay in the sun like lizards

Chatting occasionally

Laughing at looking like Coneheads

Barely keeping our eyes open

And being grateful it was just food poisoning.

That we can be back on our adventures tomorrow

But that we both had no problem 

Doing nothing