Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Looking ahead

We just booked our tickets for Christmas in Austria. Erin and I haven't skied properly in two years, that was something we won't let happen again.

I think we'll be able to make up for some lost time here:

Remember, you can click on pictures in my blog to see them in full resolution. Yeah, this place will do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rock Climbing in Ankara

People have different requirements for the place where they choose to live. Some require a cosmopolitan city, others need a good school system. My friend Adam, recently chose his apartment on the basis of it's proximity to a liquor store (he took his laptop to it, with me video-chatting him, and we never dropped the wifi from his house). For me, it's the proximity of rock climbing....and the weather to allow me to do it most, if not all, of the year.

Most people don't think of Turkey as a climbing destination. And, to be fair, it isn't a destination for lovers of the sport....yet. Turkey is actually full of rocks waiting to be developed into climbing areas. One such area is about an hour and a half outside of Ankara.

Kara Kaya is the name of the town nestled at the base of the rocks. It's a one-mosque town, Turkey's equivalent to one-stoplight towns in North America. I'm sure the residents never thought the rocks would one day become a destination for recreation; they probably just saw them as a place to catch some shade in the otherwise barren landscape of the Anatolian Plateau. Hundreds of miles of wheat grass, reminiscent of central Wyoming, surround this jumble of rocks. The rocks are bullet-hard gneiss, and shoulder about 150 sport and trad routes. The downside is the length of the routes, probably averaging only 15 meters. But a nice grove of trees for camping, picnic table, freshwater spring, and bathrooms round out a perfectly acceptable weekend destination.

So far, this year, we've made three trips out to Kara Kaya. The sport routes are fun face climbs, mostly necessitating good balance and strong crimping skills. The crack routes are rarely done, and need a stiff wire brush. The climbing involves off-balance face moves, with the occasional intermittent crack. There are some unique features, like tombs of prehistoric peoples; and an obvious section I found that was perforated like the a sheet of stamps. The cleanly cleaved rock along the perforations told the story of someone in a toga who was once chipping away at the rock and using it as a quarry.

My one complaint (besides the length--which is hard to fix), is the anchor system. Can any climbers tell me why anyone would put in two beautiful solid-steel stainless anchors, and then connect them with a ratty sunbleached piece of old climbing rope and leave only one rapid-link on one of the bolts to lower off of? I suppose the theory is that the rope will back up the first anchor, if it fails, but the system leaves the anchor unequalized, trusting one single rapid link on one bolt, with it's only reduncancy in the form of a high factor load applied to an old piece of rope or webbing. I'm going to buy some chain. Enjoy the pictures.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Erin, the Turkey Trotter

Erin is up and blogging more this year than she did in Ecuador. She's got an update on the 15K we ran this weekend on her blog, http://erintheturkeytrotter.blogspot.com/

Like she says, the race was okay. I felt pretty bad, the rain was hard for me. The lack of bathrooms, kilometer markers, aid stations, etc. was hard for me. As Erin observes, it's pretty silly that a country like Ecuador has races 10 times better than a "developed" country like Turkey.

Honestly, this is one of my first disappointing moments in Turkey, everything else has been stellar.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Swine Flu

Today the ministry of health gave me a week off. Shit, I don't even feel bad. But, thanks!

This was the scene outside our school this morning: (Notice that the school is deserted, I have no idea what they are filming!)

Apparently we do have some children with confirmed cases of H1N1. They are also reportedly recovering, and we should be up and rolling again at school next Wednesday.

I did like this little dichotomy:

Here is what the CDC has to say about who should be vaccinated first against H1N1:

These target groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Here is what the Turkish Paper I read this morning said about the same topic:

The government will buy 40 million units of the vaccine. Pilgrims to Mecca and students are advised to take the vaccine first.

Get to the back of the line you silly pregnant women!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

First Impressions

Turkey? Interesting choice, huh? When we moved to Ecuador, we knew what we were getting into, more or less. But Turkey? What did we know about Turkey?

Not much.

Probably the same as you. There's an annoying song about Istanbul not being Contantinople done by They Might Be Giants. It was the center of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The Ottomans and Byznatonians (?) went away at some point, but you're probably not quite sure what happened after that. The coast is a cheap vacation spot for Europeans. It's a desert, like Iraq, it's neighbor in the South East. They make flying carpets, genie lamps, and hookah pipes. For some reason, Turkish coffee is known the world over, but you probably have never had it, and can't really say why it's stuck in your head. The food involves plenty of lamb shaved off a rotating spit. You've seen Midnight Express, but are pretty sure, at least, you hope, that this movie was highly exaggerated. You probably know someone who has been to Istanbul, and they probably loved it, but you can't remember why. Oh, and it's in the Middle East and it's Islamic.

Did I nail it? Yeah, I thought so. These were my thoughts too.

So, what were my first impressions when we landed in the capital, Ankara? First, it IS very dry. We didn't have any rain for the first two weeks. But, there is an obvious movement to reforest open space, and all over you can see little groves of evergreens and aspens. Aspens? Yup, Ankara is at an altitude of 3,000 feet and is at exactly the same latitude as Denver, 33.5 degrees N! Just think of us as the far end of East Colfax Av. in Denver. In fact, with it's location in the middle of the continent, the weather is remarkably similar to Denver's. Check out the trees!

Another thing that strikes you right away is the Turks patriotism. The "George Washington" of Turkey is a man named Ataturk, father of the Turks. And he is revered on an iconic level. He fought against the Allies and the Ottoman Empire to form the Turkish Republic. He was a admirer of the Enlightenment and following the independence movement he sought to modernize Turkey. Because of Ataturk, Turkey is a secular republic. Though the majority of Turks are Muslim, freedom of religion is a golden tenet of modern Turkey. He also did away with the Arabic alphabet, and formed a new Turkish language that uses Western Script. Finally, he granted full political rights to women in 1934. Turkey's certainly not perfect, and like all of our countries, it has some blips on it's record; but it's much more "westward looking" than I expected.

Yes, people smoke hookah pipes. The Turkish word for them is Nargile (hence the name of this blog).

No, there are not any magic carpets.

Yes, there are oil lamps, but, as of yet--no genies. Erin brought me back an "Aladdin" style lamp from Dubai. I'm keeping my eye on it, I'll let you know if the genie shows his face.

No, Turkey is not Arabic. It's Turkish. More on this later, but it's halfway in Europe and halfway in Asia. The country is vying for membership in the European Union, and has an amazing history of balancing talks and perspectives. They are one of the few countries that has diplomatic relations with Iran and the U.S. With Israel and Syria. Obama's first visit to a Muslim country was to Turkey, precisely because of their political clout and savvy.

Finally, the food. Oh, the food. I didn't realize, but Turkey is known the world over for having one of the great cuisines. Chinese, French, Italian, and...Turkish. Really?!? I'm coming to believe it. Shish-kebaps, baklava, fresh breads, roasted vegetables, olives, figs, pomegranates, cherries, you name it, you can find it here. Hell, just the school lunch is a six or seven course (and free!) affair:

In town we have every kind of food we could want. International foods, take-out-Chinese, Pizza-Hut, Schlotzkys, Subway, and Starbucks. Though we definitely occasionally crave something from home, the real treat here is the grilled meats, stuffed vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables that come from the local restaurants.

On our first week here we were treated to a restaurant of traditional Turkish food and dancing by the school. Later that week we visited the old part of town and hiked up to the top of a castle, where a man dawned a Sultan's cape and sword and cut us up some slices of traditional Turkish Pizza...called Pide. The only disappointment is Turkish coffee. As far as I can tell, it's usually just strong, dark, instant coffee; though apparently you can read into your future by interpreting the sludge marks at the bottom of the cup when you are done. Most Turks prefer tea. I can see why. (Remember you can click on the photos for more detail)

Turkish Pizza, "Pide"

A Turkish Tea-or "Chai" House..no shoes allowed!

Red Peppers at the farmer's market, that price is about $1.50 for a Kilogram!

The dried fruits and nut men. Figs, Hazlenuts, Cashews, Cranberries, Walnuts, Pistachios. I could go on and on...

Lettuce, nuff' said.

Dancing after a great meal and too much "Raki," turkish fire-water.

A Tower of Baklava and other honey-sweet pastries. See the spoon? That's used to drip more honey over the pastry-tower.

Roasted vegetables and meats are ready for the lunch-hour crowds in Istanbul...

Outdoor dining in a narrow street of Istanbul.

Of course, there is lots more to tell, but, we have a day off from school today, and we're going to go and check out some older parts of Ankara that we haven't seen yet. Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I live here now. Ankara, Turkey, the capital. I like it. Today, I as I was walking home from school, I noticed the trees were changing as fall announces its return. I forgot about fall. In Quito we had one season, eternal spring. It sounds nice, but Groundhog day gets old. You stop noticing time moving with the seasons, the rhythm is stalled.
I work here now. At Bilkent University International School. I like it. Today I was called a "silly colonist" by a new friend from the U.K. Last week I played Poker with two Pakistani card sharks (I lost). The students are mostly Turkish, but the staff hails from Nigeria, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, the U.S., the U.K., Austrailia, and another place that I can't rembmer the name of...somewhere north of the U.S. Eskimoanada?
I play here now. We brought 10 bags and one cat with us. Plenty of skis, ice climbing equipment, backpacking equipment, and climbing gear. Turkey is a frontier. The Swiss are here doing heli-skiing trips. The Itallians are here putting up 14 pitch run-out "sport" routes on the limestone mountains. The Americans are here drinking a shit load of beer, and doing their best to look like they might climb something hard in the future.
I'm happy here, now. Our apartment is nice, our cat is happy, the climbing potential is good, I can run on the hills over my left shoulder in the picture, and the beer is surprisingly tasty when I am done with those runs. Sure, bacon is 80 bucks a pound. And, yes, the Turks do drive crazy, smoke more cigarette's than the Marlboro Man, and it's impossible to expect any sort of efficiency in any transaction. The Ecuadorians say, "Manana," which means, "tomorrow." The Turks say, "En Shalla," which means "God Willing." Either way, they're just excuses to delay doing something or taking responsibility. But I'm happy. They can take their time. Tomorrow, god willing, I'll get up, walk to school, enjoy my work, come home to my beautiful wife, take a run, climb in the gym, have a beer, and relax in my Ikea-down comforter with a good book and a better whiskey.
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Soon, I promise!

Hey Folks,
Welcome to Nargile-istan. Nargile is the Turkish word for the ever-present Hookah pipes that fill the air here with strawberry and cherry flavored tobacco smoke. But, Turkey is about much more than Nargile, flying carpets, and genie lamps. In this blog, I'll be posting my thoughts and experiences as we try to see through the smoke of stereotypes surrounding the middle east and Muslim culture.
Thanks for checking in, and as soon as my job settles down just a little bit, I'll post my first official smoke signal.

Tim Henkels
Formerly of www.esteecuador.blogspot.com

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