Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Christmas

This year was an especially cozy Christmas. Most people flew out of Turkey on Christmas Eve to go home or travel in Europe, but a few of us stuck around to create a Christmas in Turkey. My friends, Jane Crawford and Stacy and her son, Gabe, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas together. We didn't have much to work with: The mall was not full of holiday shoppers, ornaments, or Christmas decorations, and the baking aisles didn't have the necessary Christmas ingredients, so it was a bit of a challenge, but rewarding as we built our Christmas out of nothing, and each adapted our holiday traditions from home.
It snowed on Christmas Eve which greatly helped our situation.

That night, we borrowed a projector from school, hung up a sheet, and started the three day marathon of watching Christmas movies. We also baked our cookies for Santa and wrote our letters to him. Gabe is eight, and still believes in Santa, which added the magic.

On Christmas day, Gabe made out well with lots of Spiderman loot.

We spent the day making a gingerbread house, except not out of gingerbread. No molasses in Turkey. And cooking a big feast for Christmas Dinner. We had a nice collection of randoms for Christmas Dinner, which is my favorite for some reason.

It has been nice to hole up inside the last few days, and now I am off to France for a week in the Maritime Alps...snowshoeing and skiing. It is snowing here right now, so I am in the Winter Wonderland Spirit. Happy New Years!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rock Climbing around Antalya Part 1: Geyikbayırı

Early Saturday morning, Andrew and I hopped on a 45 minute flight to Antalya, a city on the Mediterranean, rented a car, and drove the 45-minutes to Geyikbayiri, a world class climbing area. As anticipated, the sky was blue, the air was warm and smelled of saltwater, and mountains surrounded us. Kurban Bayrami, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, is when the sacrificial offering of a sheep representing Abraham's son Ishmael is marked by the slaughter of over 2.5 million sheep in Turkey. On our drive to the climbing area, we passed truckloads and truckloads of sheep. The meat of one sheep would be used to supply a small community with food, the poor taken care of first. Gratitude and empathy are part of this holiday as they were during the Seker Bayram in September. I experienced gratitude when I saw the cliff bands of Geyikbayiri for the first time, and grateful for the week off to enjoy the crags.

We stayed at a place called Josito, named after three German climbers who established this international climbing camp in 2000. I felt like I left Turkey. There were so many different accents, and they all looked like the dirtbag hippy climbers you'd meet in the U.S.. They even listened to the same music, and had the same sense of humor. Climber culture. I felt at home in a way that I haven't since I got here. Just a bunch of people keeping it simple: camping, climbing, eating, camping, climbing, eating. I loved the buzz of the campground in the morning, as the sun came up on people stretching, cooking coffee over gas stoves, and at night, the hissing of the stoves again, the headlamps, the beer. Because it got dark at 4:30pm, and quickly got quite is December after all... many people retired to the guesthouse for warm drinks, games of backgammon chess, good conversation, and a hearty dinner. We ate communal style: long tables, where we were all served the same meal, and struck up conversations with people from all over the world. Andrew and I quickly met three Canadians that we ate with and hung out with each evening thereafter. And now I have three new climbing connections; the adventure buddy list grows.

This rock was right up there with Blackleaf Canyon in Choteau, Montana, as far as ouchiness. By the second day, my fingers were shredded, and it got to the point that we'd quit at the end of the day not because our forearms were pumped out, but because we could not handle the pain of holding on any longer, our fingerpads worn thin. Upon examination of my skin at the end of the second day, I noticed this smiley face cut into my finger. In English class, we've been studying irony a lot lately, and by golly, it's following me everywhere.

The limestone had all the features of calcium carbonate from my days working as a ranger at Wind Cave National Park in the summer of 2000: popcorn, stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone. It was caving during that summer that first whetted my appetite for climbing. It was neat to feel the old cave features again, and also be able to see them in broad daylight. Though neither of us were quite strong enough to do many of the overhanging cave routes, there were some classic fun ones we were able to hop on. On one of them you climbed through a hole. It spoke to my inner child. If you're into "Where's Waldo?" books, you can play, "Where's Andrew?" at the top of the cave.

The animal spirit of the cave... This little rock wren hung out with us as we climbed some overhanging routes in one of the caves.

Climbing with Steve on the second day, a fellow North American who is teaching at an international school in Tarsus, Turkey. I actually interviewed and was offered a job at his school at my job fair, and then at the IB workshop befriended a teacher who was on her way to that school. The international teaching community is getting smaller by the day.

My first fall foliage in Turkey. The trees around Ankara seemed to skip the vibrant color stage and go straight to brown. A stream running behind camp hosted old growth maple leaves; that tree never lets you down for a good show.

Rock Climbing around Antalya Part 2: Olympos

Andrew had to take off on Wednesday to get back to his wife and son. I planned to stay on two more days, and with the car, do some sightseeing. However, upon meeting Steve, I decided to make the best of having a climbing partner and all my gear with me, and we headed off to Olympos. We drove along coastal highway 400 to the ancient Lycean town of Olympos, to head into the national park along the beach to climb.

On our way to the beach, we passed some Roman ruins. Ruins either do it for you or they don't. I know several international teachers who are ruined-out; to them, ruins have become "old" and "falling apart." I haven't seen enough of them to be desensitized yet; I see "old" and "falling apart" as beautiful when there is "new" and "green" growing in and around them.

What a reward to get to the top of a climb and glimpse the ocean! Unfortunately, I only have pics of Andrew and Steve climbing. They have the pics of me on their camera.

Dusk on the Med...

That night, we stayed at the Kadir Tree Houses, advertised to be a climbers' pensyon consisting of, well, dormitory-style tree houses. The novelty of staying in a tree house was pretty neat, but it was freezing in this tight little valley, the bar across the street cranked loud American music from the 90s til 2am, and then at 3am, the local rooster possy started their thang, and continued til the sun came up.

Cold and groggy the next morning, we decided to leave Olympos for one more climbing area...

Rock Climbing around Antalya Part 3: Akyarlar

Akyarlar... was stunning!
Climbing with the sound of waves crashing beneath me...
The hot sun felt soooo good after freezing our butts off the night before...
And, to beat all, swimming in the Med in December, completed an awesome week...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas

Well, the apartment is decorated thanks to a care package from Mom and the global commercialization of Western holidays....even a Muslim country can make money off of Santa! Today was the last day of school before our first December break, a weeklong Muslim holiday. Thank goodness, because, as warned, the weeks leading up to Winter Break are the most stressful of the year. The seniors are sending off college applications and asking for letters of recommendations and critiques of college essays, the IB curriculum is at the heart and heat of its rigor, and semester finals are coming in 20 school days. The students are fried, and I am fried. I also came down with my first winter illness; easy enough, you don't need to see a doctor to get antibiotics. You can just go to the pharmacy and buy them. So far I have been able to avoid a foreign healthcare system and a language barrier when sick; I have been fortunate. Anyway, I have an agenda to feel better by Sunday, for I am hopping on a plane and flying to sunny, warmer southern Turkey to do some rock climbing. The Med! I anticipate it will be my favorite part of Turkey after all the stories and pics I have seen from my friends' travels there. It will be so nice to get away. Sigh.