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Ephesus

In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins warns his nephew, Frodo, to be careful when stepping outside one’s home. You put one foot in front of the other, and then pretty soon you find yourself in the most unexpected places. I think of this as I drink tea with two Turks in a cemetery on what I’m hoping is the road to Selchuk, but really I have no idea. When I stepped outside my hotel room this morning, I had no plans other than to try to find some coffee. Five hours later I was here, drinking tea, bewildered by the turn the day had taken.

It was eleven by the time I crawled out of bed. It was eleven, because I didn’t stumble back to my hotel until 3am. Don’t ask me about the Kucaduci night life. Please. Don’t ask me about the girls, about how much the alcohl costs (Dear God!) don’t ask me about getting shot down by beautiful German girls. Don’t ask me about Jimmy’s Irish Pub. I get a headache just thinking about it. But all these events lead to my late morning.

Originally, my plan had been to check out Ephesus today, the best preserved Roman city in existence, a major player in the Roman and Christian worlds. Getting there could be a little expensive, though, so I think it might be best to ignore Ephesus while I finish my stay in Kucadasi, and instead see Ephesus while staying in Selchuk.

My head is aching and I feel like crap, and I feel stupid for spending so much on booze. My plan is to sit by my hotel pool for a few hours, rest and dry out. Tomorrow I’ll take the bus to Selchuk and get a hotel there, and from there I can take a quick, free shuttle to Ephesus. Since I only plan on sticking around the hotel all day, I ignore a few of my cardinal rules of vagabonding. Always take your camera with you. Always take your cash with you. Always carry food and water with you, at least enough for a small lunch. Be ready for anything.

But I’m just going for a quick bite. I’ll be back soon…

After a brief tour around the city (lovely to see it by daylight for a change) I decide on a whim to check out where the buses to Ephesus are. I ask the taxi drivers how much they would charge to take me.

“Fifty euro, my friend.” Fifty euro? That’s almost as much as I spent on alcohol last night! “For you, special price: forty euro!” For forty euro he’ll wait for me for two hours and take me back. But if you take me there and back, I won’t get a chance to drink tea with Turkish gravediggers, I think to myself. Except that I don’t, because that hasn’t happened yet. I start walking away. “Thirty five euro? Thirty five ok?” Bye, my friend.

Kucadasi is an insane town. Think Vegas, but instead of casinos everywhere, there are leather stores, tourist traps, rug merchants and barbershops every few feet. As much trouble as I had finding someone to cut my hair in Greece, everyone here seems to be a barber. My waiter even offers to take a little off the top while I eat dinner. Kucadasi also has an allergy to street signs, and like many old Mediterranean sites, seems to be a series of narrow hallways masquerading as streets. The map in my guidebook is terrible, often directing me to streets that don’t appear on it. I stumble around for a bit trying to match obvious landmarks to my guidebook before talking my way to the corner where the buses pickup passengers to Ephesus.

I ask how much. Two lira, you say? That’s one euro. The guidebook says not to go during the hottest part of the day, which happens to be, well, NOW, but the price is right, and I’m feeling a little better, so what the heck. On an impulse I leap into the van, only afterward realizing I’m going to one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the world without my camera. Friends, you’re just going to have to look it up.

There is …and I cannot possibly make this up…a gigantic water park on the way to Ephesus. It was like seeing a Six Flags next to the Taj Mahal. “On your right is the site where Paul preached to the Ephesians. On your left the supposed house Mary lived in. And up ahead, Splash City!”

The day takes an only slightly weirder turn once I get inside Ephesus, which is essentially one gigantic, outdoor, walk-through museum. So much of the city’s architecture remains that you actually get a pretty good sense of what the streets and agora and whatnot would have looked like as you walk along. I take a side path off to see a baptismal font. I’m by alone when I spot the wizened old man sitting in the shade. He beckons me over. Vagabond Rule #5: When you’re in Ephesus, and a weird old man beckons, go with him.

He chats me up in broken English, and I nod and smile. Although everyone has told me about the famous Turkish friendliness, this is a bit much, and I’m certain he wants to sell me something. Sure enough, he produces something from his pocket. A round piece of metal with a bust inscribed on it. A coin. He says he finds them digging. The coin is too well-preserved to be real, I think. Eventually he shows me his entire collection. At least one of the coins bears an English inscription, and I’m relieved I don’t have to contact UNESCO. I try to explain that, if they are real, they belong in Turkey, in a museum, not my carry-on bag. Although I’m not sure what the correct thing for a well-meaning archaeology student to do here is. If the objects were real, is it best to buy them off him so they can be secured for a museum? Wouldn’t paying him encourage further looting? Moral quandry. Thankfully, I’m sure they’re fakes.

It isn’t until afterward, after I’ve sat in the magnificent, 20,000-person capacity, colliseum, walked the Sacred Way, seen the facade of the library, walked through the Arch of Augustus, and generally exhausted myself with eight kilometers of hiking in the noon sun, that I realize there although the bus dropped me off at the rear entrance, there are no buses actually returning to Kusadaci. I remember the guide book saying that Selchuk is only a few kilometers away, and I can get a cheap return bus from there (the bus that dropped me off initially actually makes its last stop in Selchuk before returning). A man sells me a spinache pie and advises me on the road to Selchuk. After 500 meters, make a left, and there is a little path that’s easier to walk, rather than hiking the entire way down the highway.

At least, that’s what I think he says. I’m a little less sure when I count off 500 paces and see a dirt path ahead of me veering away from what I know is the main road to Selchuk. But a passing buggy informs me that yes, Selchuk is this way, so I continue, counting off my paces. After another 500 meters, the path ends perpendicular to a road. Uh…now what? I go left, on instinct. Another kilometer and I’m getting less certain still, but I meet a man selling tomatoes by the side of the road who tells me to keep going. By his stand, he’s erected the skull of a cow, adorned with the evil eye amulet, on top of a wooden post. And me with no camera.

Finally, I arrive, not at Selchuk, but the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers. According to legend, the place where seven persecuted Christians were buried alive, slept, and awoke after hundreds of years. Or some such. It’s actually just a Byzantine necropolis. I buy a water from the old woman at the souvenir stand, and she tells me its another two kilometers to Selchuk. Her husband tells me, I think, to take a right at 100 meters off the main road. Ok…

I count off a hundred meters, and find myself crossing someone’s orchard. I stumble upon a nest of puppies, which bark after me loudly and chase me off their territory. I meet yet another wizened old farmer who tells me to continue on the direction I’m going, despite the fact that I’m cutting through his property. The path leads to a graveyard. “Ok, I’m fucked,” I think to myself. I’ve been walking for about an hour at this point, with some long stretches without seeing anyone, enough that I’m worried about finding myself still lost an hour from now with no one left to ask for directions.

But there are two guys by the front gate to the cemetery. “Merhaba!” I call to them. I point to my right. “Selchuk?”

They nod. “Selchuk!” They point. They’re sipping cups of tea. “Tea?”

Vagabond Rule #6: When Turks offer tea, accept.

We sit and try to chat for a half hour, gamely trying each other’s languages, and failing. But one is named Mehmet, and the other is Ashmir, or something, and I tell them I’m pleased to meet them, and head on the Selchuk. As I find my way to the bus station, the bus back to Kucadasi is just pulling out of the parking lot. They’ve left the side door open quite helpfully, so I run after the fan as it pulls away, and leap in all Indiana Jones style. In a world of infinite possibilities by limited probabilities, I notice that it’s the exact same bus driver I had coming out to Ephesus.

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