Monday, September 5, 2016

#17: do something I never thought I'd do

This list item isn't something you can necessarily plan. And, well, I definitely didn't plan on being pulled through a narrow AF ancient tunnel by the arms of an archeologist grandpa in the undercarriage of the Turkish countryside. Most definitely. Not. Planned.

Let me back up a touch here though.

I was staying at a lovely cave hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey and just that morning had challenged my fear of heights by watching the day commence from a hot air balloon. It was off to a grand start. I had inquired with the owner about off-the-beaten-path activity ideas and this was the first thing she suggested. So, we rented a car, and decided to venture out to the small town of Mazi, home of a wildly archaic underground city. There were no tour buses. There were no cheesy souvenir shops, and there were no other Americans. It was perfect. Only, we couldn't exactly find this underground dwelling, on account it was underground- and we're blind apparently. 

Three things of note about our drive to Mazi:

1. We were in a stark white brand spankin' new SUV driving on dirt roads with potholes larger than those plastic baby pools.

2. "Haven't seen another car in a while." KJ stated.

3. "I think I just ran over a potato." I declared.

We drove through the 2 second long town of Mazi with every local eyeing us up as we rolled on through. Two of the whitest white girls in a rented SUV that was also super white for extra effect- I mean, why wouldn't they? We drove a bit more to see if maybe it was just further on, but no, just cows and more cows. I turned the savage SUV around and we came up with a plan upon our second approach through the town. 

The plan: Stop and ask for directions using the actual paper map we had on hand and gestures like pointing and looking confused. Solid strategy.

I pulled up to what looked like some sort of general store and KJ bravely hopped out whilst I kept the getaway car running. I observed her interaction with a man who looked happy to help. My perception of the scene wasn't wrong, and what she returned with was completely unexpected- to say the least. 

KJ opened the car door, and before I could ask what the man had said, the back doors of the car opened as well and three young Turkish children climbed in the back. All. Normal. Things.

I was confused. Had KJ bartered with the man and in return for directions we now had adopted three local boys?

KJ could barely speak on account she was stifling her laughter. Hard. I'm pretty sure my eyes were the widest they have ever been, and that's saying a lot.

"Who's this?" I inquired, gesturing to our newly cultured backseat.

Three young faces smiled back at us.

"Oh, that guy volunteered his son and friends to help direct us to the underground city." 


So, I rolled away, sure the man was joking. He wasn't. 

"Where do I go?" I asked the tiny Turkish navigators.

The leader of the pack, and of course the biggest one, pointed forward. 

"STRAIGHT!" he yelled.

And goddamnit if I didn't listen to him.

I went straight, slowly, as the dust from the road kicked up and the locals stared in disbelief at us- because now, we had their children.

We went about 70 yards. 

"STOP!" the leader instructed.

So, I did.

"HERE." he pointed to our right, and to the underground city.

We had just had three Turkish children under the age of 10 climb into our backseat, direct us straight for less than a football field, and giggle at us as they disembarked our vehicle. 

We thanked them, for a job well done, and parked our now dirty as hell car. Maybe now we'd fit in a bit better? The children ran away laughing, giddy at our stupidity and their joyride. We were the talk of the town; literally.

We ambled up to what looked like it might be some sort of check-in area? and explained we'd like to tour the underground city with someone by the name of Ihsan as our guide. The owner of the cave hotel had described his tour as being "a different kind of tour" and highly recommended it- so that's what we wanted. 

The check-in dude gave us a knowing nod and made a phone call, presumably to Ihsan. While we waited, we were directed to an area where the two men working there were indulging in some afternoon tea. They kindly offered us some, and if there's one thing I learned while traveling, it's always accept tea if it's offered, to avoid insulting them. 

Normally I'd put sugar in my tea, however today was a touch different. If there was ever a horror movie made about flies- these are the flies they would cast. There were only about 29384729 of them landing on the sugar cubes. So, I sipped my tea sans sugar. Smart choice. They tried to make conversation with us as 5 minutes turned into 20, and we were still waiting for this elusive tour guide. To be fair, he didn't know we were coming and likely were calling him away from his day off, or another job or something.

To avoid anymore awkward conversing, I suggested we get started and perhaps Ihsan could meet us in there. The guy agreed, giving us flashlights and leading us to a door fit for a hobbit. 

I'll be honest, we had no clue what to expect. I thought we'd go in, take a little looksie around, hear some facts, and be on our way. That was, in fact, not at all what happened. Our first clue should have been, perhaps, the headlamp the guy was sporting.

We crouched into the dark & dusty underground city entrance. It looked a lot like, well, an antiquated underground city.

Just then, the man of the hour showed up. Ihsan was an older, lively, smart gentleman who is an archeologist, and just so happens that his family, going way way back had lived in this actual underground city. If there was anyone more qualified to give this tour, it would be him, cloned. 

He showed us around that floor, us stooping through rounded "doorways" and such. That's when he mentioned the 8 or so other floors in this city. 

"Oh that's cool." I thought to myself.

But then he started to show us upwards to the next floor. 

"Wait a minute, we're going on the other floors? The other DIRT floors made for the tiniest people that ever were? How will we get back down?" (more inner thoughts communicated to KJ via my eyes.)

A few things happened next:
-I was starting to feel claustrophobic.
-I sneezed and I swear black dust came out on account of all the billion year old dust we'd been inhaling.
-I looked down at my feet and took note of the flimsy Old Navy flip flops I had chosen for this unknowingly active excursion. Never mind my jeans and long cardigan sweater.

We meandered through some thin tunnels and up a small ladder. The dust was like walking on a slip n' slide in my flip flops. But, so far we had made it up another floor and I hadn't fallen on my ass. 

At least I was dressed appropriately.

By this point I was getting fairly concerned. Each floor of the city we went up to got darker, more narrow, and dustier if at all possible. I was carrying around my tote bag sized purse with my good DSLR camera in it which was starting to pose a problem when navigating through tight spaces, especially the ones involving climbing. 


There were a few occasions when Ihsan would run ahead, hide, and then jump out and scare us when we tried to follow our way through the maze of dirt. Anyone that knows me, knows that I don't do well with heights, or being chased/jumped out at and scared. So, this had somehow become my worst nightmare.

I could see now, why this was deemed as a "different kind of tour." 

Panic set in full force when Ihsan stopped at what looked like a small hole in the ceiling of one of the floors. And it was, in actuality a hole that we had to go through. One that was difficult enough that it required Ihsan to go first carrying our bags so that we'd have both hands free, and so that he could throw down the "harness" if you will.

"That's a whole lot of trust." I said as he took my bag containing my good camera. What I didn't realize was that I was about to entrust him with a lot more than an expensive camera.

As soon as he started upwards into the tube of dirt with our belongings in an underground city in the middle of nowhere Turkey where just the three of us were exploring, I whipped around to KJ. 

"I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS!" I scream-whispered to a slightly amused KJ. She knew this concoction of events was horrid for me, and neither of us had expected to be in this situation. In hindsight, it was in fact so ridiculous it bordered hysterically funny. BUT IN THE MOMENT--

"I CAN'T GO UP THERE. I JUST CAN'T." I reiterated, looking around for another option, any other way out. There obviously was none considering we were in the umpteenth floor of a remote and old as shit underground city in a room with not even a pin prick of natural light. I longed to be back in the "lobby" area with the horror movie flies eating sugar cube after sugar cube. 

This was a pure FML moment. 

What seemed like at least an hour later, Ihsan had made it to the top of whatever the top of that dusty tunnel hole was. He tossed down the "harness", that, to our surprise, was an American Eagle belt circa 1992 tied to the end of a piece of tattered rope. 


I was making all sorts of involuntary screwed up ugly faces at KJ to express my extreme panic and disdain for what was about to ensue. We agreed I would go first because if I didn't there was a good chance I wouldn't go at all, and would be living in the ancient underground city for all eternity. This- this, was public knowledge.

I put the belt around my waist as if it would provide any sort of rescue effort if I fell. KJ muttered regrets about not having any sort of camera/recording device to capture this event. In the moment I was grateful, but now I do wish there was some sort of documentation of what happened next.

I looked up even though Ihsan instructed me to avoid doing that exact thing, if possible, seeing as dust particles would rain down into my eyeballs. Despite all the dust, I did see that it was such a long way to the top, that I couldn't see the top. I also noticed that halfway up the ladder just ended. ENDED, people. After that, I was expected to use the small notch indents on either side of the narrow narrow tunnel to make my way out the end. 

Now, I had left my playground climbing days behind long ago. I'd say I was too old for this shit, but grandpa archeologist had done it, so clearly that statement was invalid.

I made my way up the ladder, which by the way, was NOT ATTACHED TO ANYTHING, taking each rung painfully slow. I made it up a little ways and just as I reached the portion where the ladder ended and the true nightmare begun, I froze. The dirt notches were far and according to my calculations my legs were simply not long enough. I dropped the whole scream-whispering bit and full on yelled that I couldn't move while simultaneously freaking out. 

So, there I was- clinging to a skinny metal ladder in the middle of an impossibly slender tunnel, my whole body shaking and not the slightest idea of what to do. My legs were protesting going any further. 

Ihsan took my freak-out to mean I needed help. So, he made his way back down the tunnel, and I was now covered in dust from above. The next thing KJ saw and heard was a yelp, and more shockingly, my feet dangling from the bottom of the old dirt tube. I hung there, suspended by my arms while Ihsan got his footing and secured his grip around my wrists. 

Shortly after, my feet disappeared and KJ hadn't a clue that in that moment I was being pulled through a narrow AF tunnel by the arms of an archeologist grandpa through the undercarriage of the Turkish countryside.

He would hoist me up, and every time he did, my face lined up perfectly with his crotch. It was as awkward as you think it would be. Then, I'd step up using the alternating dirt notches (which for the record were spaced out by a drunk person, clearly) and we went like this until he reached the top of the tunnel, and climbed out, while I did my best to not fall back down it. Then he pulled me out of the tunnel and I felt like I had just been birthed. We were both sweaty and covered in dirt. It wasn't pretty. 

Now it was KJ's turn. She made her way up much the same on the ladder portion, facing harder times when the dirt notches were to be employed. She did it though, struggling a few times with footing, but not with fear. KJ looked at me after the tunnel had birthed her, Ihsan assisting in the delivery for her as well. 

"I can't believe you did that." she said. Truer words have never been spoken.

We had one more tunnel to climb into but nothing as nearly as intense as that one. I even did the last one by myself. We emerged into the daylight at the end, dusty, blinking, and unsure of exactly what had just transpired. 

I knew one thing. I had just gone accidental spelunking. Something I definitely ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY never thought I'd do.