Thursday, August 25, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Denizli also is better known as a way-station. The real draw is Pamukkale ("cotton castle" in Turkish), a short bus ride way. Hot springs flowing down the mountainside form strange white terraces, or travertines. You can walk up the surreal landscape without shoes and bathe in the shallow, pale blue pools along the way. Not exactly sure why, but the place seem to inspire the taking of many Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editıon-type provocative shots from the bikini-wearing masses. Even though the temperatures were soaring, the fact that the water running along these icy-looking surfaces (calcium carbonate deposits) was not the tiniest bit cool was difficult to wrap your head around. At the top of the slope, included in the ticket was Heirapolis, a Greco-Roman spa city. For a hefty surcharge, you could swim in the same antique pool. The other ruins were less impressive after Ephesus, but a more jarring sight was seeing the same visitors - still clad in their thongs or speedo's - clamber over ancient structures.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Once “the land of beautiful horses,” bred for the Persian empire (or Rich prefers “the land of adorable puppies”), the Cappadocia region is now popular for... rocks. Volcanic activity and millions of years created some fantastic geological formations. Hiking lets you see how each valley (e.g. Pigeon, Love, White, Red, or Rose Valleys) has its own features. Sedimentary layers create interesting striations. “Fairy chimneys” alternately look like pillars, minarets, soft-serve ice cream, meringue (ok, maybe those last two are only if you are hungry), or a certain male body part.
Taking advantage of the softer, volcanic rock, people have been digging out caves since ancient times. Whole underground cities even. We visited Derinkuyu, one of the fifteen excavated in the area. It has 11 floors underground with the oldest layer dating to several centuries B.C.! Used for protection from whomever was fighting topside, Derinkuyu could accommodate 25,000 people... and all their animals. When you see the large section that had been devoted to an underground winery, you know they were settling in for the long haul.
Of course, in those days, some of the people were hiding out in caves for religious reasons (think hermits in The Life of Brian). We visited a big ruin of a monastery carved into the rock in Selime. You can also see some of the rock-cut churches elsewhere in the Ilhara Valley and in the Göreme Open Air Museum. Most of those dating back to when Christianity arrived in the region (as far back as when they could say things like “my grandad hung out with Jesus”) are pretty simple, but later ones have frescoes.
Visitors to Cappadocia can share in the experience by staying in caves that have been fashioned into hotel rooms. We stayed in one in Göreme which came with the requisite Turkish breakfast (tea, coffee, bread, butter, honey, jam, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and ample hunks of fresh – probably goat – cheese). The most popular dish (or hyped tourist trap) in Cappadocia was the testi kebap. A casserole of meat and vegetables cooked in the terracotta pot that gets delivered to your table – en flambé in the posher places – and gets ceremoniously broken open to be served. After getting a few grits of ceramic in his mouth, Rich wholly endorses letting the professionals do it rather than taking them up on the offer to break it yourself.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Istanbul exists at a crossroads between religions (Islam and Christianity), continents (Europe and Asia), and time (ancient and modern life). The Christian church of Aya Sofia, when finished in a scant 6 years (I'm hinting at you, Sagrada Familia!), was compared with the magnificence of Solomon's temple. Then it became a mosque. Now it's a museum. Mosaics depicting Jesus and company decorate the walls while giant medallions of a master Muslim calligrapher hang from the celings.
The Blue Mosque, still used as one, sits opposite. From the outside, it looks like a building from Coruscant, for all you Star Wars fans. All that's missing are a few lighters zipping around the background. Inside is a carpeted expanse covered with domes of intricate painted designs. Outside, we chanced upon a taping for Turkish television with a Rudy Guiliani look-alike. The program allowed us to have a free viewing of whirling dervishes. One poor fellow might have had to abort his prayerful dancing due to premature dizziness.
The sprawling grounds of Topkapi Palace were once home to the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. A selection of the crown jewels are available for viewing with blingin' thrones and emeralds the size of your palm a common sight. Should your tastes run more toward the spiritual, there are also some important Islamic relics. These include bits of the beard of the prophet Muhammad (stored in what looked like light bulbs) and the rod of Moses (handy for parting seas with).
A Bosphorus ferry ride will take you up the strait between Europe and Asia. Yalis, the summer mansions of sultans and the rich, dot either coast. The European side looks very European in architecture and high street shop options. The bridge at the mouth of the Golden Horn is a great spot to get a sandwich from guys frying the fish up on severely rocking boats.
It is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish). The food in Turkey has been fantastic so far, but we do feel guilty stuffing our faces in front of people who have to wait until sunset to eat. In the ancient Hippodrome and Sultanahmet park, families and friends gather in picnics to break their fast. Lines pack the pavements as restaurants do crazy business (kebabs so fast you'll freak!) in the hour beforehand. When the mosque finally makes the calls, the babble of the crowds goes silent for a good half hour as everyone chows down.
Turkey could challenge even the most hardcore sweet tooth. Most Turkish sweets seem to revolve around combining sugar in all its forms. Solving the problem of sugar dropping out of solution, Turkish desserts just coat everything in honey for good measure. There's your basic dozen variations on baklava (sugared and honeyed layers of pastry) or Turkish delight (jellied sugar coated in powdered sugar), which I did not think was good enough to betray your family for (see Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia). We also tried out some sweets we are calling “goo on a stick” (multi-colored sugary taffy), “Turkish churros” (dripping with honey and dusted with coconut and pistachio), and “Turkish gulab jamun” (fried doughballs soaked in honey). They were all so sweet that Rich was using Coca-cola as a palate cleanser!
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
USAID's Farmer-to-Farmer Program was a very good experience for me. It was really great to use my agricultural science background and teaching skills in another environment. Thanks to the following organizations:
- Oregon State University Seed Lab
Lost in Translation
Other than numbers and days, my limited Spanish did not really help my understanding of Portuguese. The Mozambican version sounds really different than the accents I'd heard in Brasil and Portugal.
When I first arrived, people kept mentioning talking to or getting help from "fow." It took a few minutes to remember "pao" (bread in Portuguese) is pronounced "pow," so then I realized "fow" probably referred to "FAO," the Food and Agriculture Organization!
Working with a translator was a new experience for me. One simple thing I hadn't considered before is that explaining anything takes at least twice as long. This made my estimates for training time way off.
A few, amusing times, the translator had to go several rounds between the lab members and me, only to discover that, as a scientist training scientists, I had already anticipated and understood their questions. So the translator was the communication barrier! It was great illustration that scientists around the world think alike.
Food and Cooking
Most of the Mozambican dishes I had were simple and unremarkable - beef stews or the ubiquitous grilled chicken and chips. I was really expecting to see a lot more beans or lentils in the diet, but many legumes (other than pintos and green beans) are imported and expensive. Vegetables seemed to be limited to the regular side salad of lettuce, onion, and tomato (this may be because I was visiting during winter). I am told that the highlights of Mozambican food are the seafood dishes, but I was too far inland to sample any.
Much of the cooking at home is done on charcoal, which does add a great smoky flavor. The downside is that this practice results in people getting sick or dying from the fumes and poor ventilation. One shocking statistic said that charcoal-related deaths in Africa were higher than the deaths from malaria! Part of the trouble I was told is that people who make charcoal make it from any tree - not necessarily the most efficient burning or least toxic wood.
As a developing country, I expected to see differences in the technology being employed. On one hand, a visit to a large seed processing/conditioning plant showed equipment and pesticide technology that was a old but still in use in the U.S. On the other hand, it was an awakening to hear a retailer get excited about the potential of their new product - hybrid seed. To put this in perspective, his current seeds were open-pollinated varieties, and hybrid seed technology for corn (maize) became available in quantity to American farmers in 1930.
Power outages were less than anticipated with only the occasional flicker. Phone and internet coverage could be really spotty. Vodaphone and MCel are the two carriers, and some people carry one of each to make sure they have service. The street corners of Chimoio were always littered with guys selling lottery-ticket-type strips of cards to top up your mobile.
Chimoio is the fifth largest city in Mozambique, and still, finding items on your shopping list, particularly electronics-related, could be difficult. Much in the shops are secondhand luck of the draw or poorly manufactured, giving China a bad rap in Mozambique. It took three stores to find a plug adapter for the scale in the lab, and we never did find a replacement light bulb or a good desk lamp to use for evaluations.