Friday, August 31, 2012

Island Trek - Superstitions and Peace

 Princes' Islands

A lovely and kind co-worker at my new school invited me to join an expat group that she and a friend started - Travel Junkies.  This lovely and lively group of people from all nations and all walks of life join hearts and minds on occasion to travel to different sites far and wide and generally related to the Istanbul area. 

This particular day trip would be a ferry ride over to the largest of the Princes' Islands...Buyukada.  These islands have been the summer dwelling place of royalty and wealth for centuries.  At the top of Buyakada is a Greek monastery, St. George, of which there are many legends.  More on these in a bit.  The islands are a welcome respite from the frenzy of the city, and the cool breezes that slide in from the Sea of Marmara calm the soul and soothe the weary body.

Motor vehicles (with the exception of law enforcement &  utility workers) are forbidden, and transportation slows to the pace of horse drawn carts, donkey rides, bicycles, and the wonderful modality of leg and foot.

We boarded in Kabatas (main ferry port) with a group of folks from the US, UK, Trinidad, Jordan, Canada, Turkey, & other ports of call.  A happy group, we settled in for the hop over to our destination which included stops at the lesser islands.  I made the acquaintance of some new friends and watched in quiet fascination while the Simit sellers (men who bring around lovely platters of circular seed bread) mingled with the vegetable peeler salesman, and my personal favorite... the instant orange juice man.  OK, I have to tell you about this guy... he demonstrated for much of the trip as you can see.  For a couple of lira, (TL) you can buy his product which is this smart bit of plastic that you insert in the orange of your choice (yes your orange comes with the juicer) and you extract the juice and have a nice little shot of fresh vitamin C for your trip!

We arrive at our island and disembark in a frenzy... a heated frenzy.  The que for horse drawn cart transportation to the trail head of the monastery is blocks long.  Now, while I was somewhat disappointed, like much of everything I have learned here... do not dwell on disappointment... a positive outcome will result if only I am patient and accept the fact that I will NOT be riding in the cart drawn by two overworked and skinny horses.  This is the end of the tourist season, and I for a moment am glad my granddaughter Isabel is not with me.   She would not approve of the ribs that can be seen and the sores on the legs of these overworked beasts of burden that carry tourists in the blazing sun all day long up a steep hill.  It is evident that some animals are well cared for and loved, and some are not.  How like life! 

The drivers scoot their buggies up the hill quickly... like Istanbul... people here seem to have a sense when to get out of the way and when it is ok to to leisurely stroll across the middle of the street.

We walk past some old old homes that are clearly the residences of the privileged. I find myself intrigued by the stories these homes could tell... who lived here?  when?  why?  Some are now hotels, they are so grand.  We are on the island during Victory Day, a day somewhat akin to our 4th of July or our Flag Day.  Everywhere the Turkish flag adorns buildings, and buggies.  I have never been nationalistic and sometimes find patriotism to be akin to idol worship (as anyone who knows me well will tell you), but on this day, I do not mind the flags and the pride with which these lovely people celebrate their country. 

 As we climb up the streets, the grand houses fall away slowly, the views of the sea become more expansive and hills turn to pine and shrub forests.  I spot a healthy horse, no fence, reposing and munching... happy, I assume, to not be counted among the others laboring still to bring the hordes of tourists to the beginning of the cobblestone trail that leads to the monastery.

One White Beast resting
We walk, and walk and walk some more.  I hear our leaders, Susan & Ibrahim inform us that the road will lead to a cobblestone trail and that once there, we may choose to make the trek to the monastery or not.  Either way... we have walked an incredibly long way already... and from a distance I can see our destination, very high on a hill that is obviously quite a ways away.  I cannot believe that I will soon be there.  The Mediterranean glistens from far below as families picnic on the hillside.  The further up we go... the more peace I feel, but from an opening in the woods, I can see how much further we have to travel, and I wonder if I will be able to make it to this famed holy place.  There are legends and superstitions about the church, and the group begin to tell the stories they have heard.

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