Day 27: Pamukkale

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Pamukkale, Turkey
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I woke up this morning (which was a little surprising considering the number of sleep-inducing drugs Marie plied me with last night) feeling better than I had yesterday and we were able to have a bit of a lazy morning – breakfast (a decent Turkish breakfast buffet), a swim, a short walk into town to look for souvenirs for Caitlin then back to the hotel for a swim in their fantastic (deep, clean and super-refreshing) pool…

After a late lunch of french fries (we didn’t want to spoil our dinner) we took advantage of the hotel’s offer of a ride to the south gate entrance to the travertines and Hierapolis (otherwise we would have had to walk 2.5km in 40° heat…).

Hierapolis is an old Greek spa town built around the travertines and the thermal mineral waters that was later “adopted” by the Romans and was preserved and expanded under their rule. There are a couple of very good ruins – the theatre is very cool, the baths and basilicas are in pretty good shape and the necropolis (cemetery) is very cool with the whole range of funerary structures from sarcophagi to tumulus tombs (mounds) and modern-looking family crypts. The whole site is relatively undeveloped (except for the part near the travertines which is pretty cleaned up) and you’re free to roam pretty much to your heart’s content… The only downside to it is that it’s almost completely treeless for the most part and in 40° weather your desire to roam is pretty minimal… If there really is a ninth level of Hell, it couldn’t be much hotter than Hierapolis on a clear summer day.

Fortunately, Hierapolis is unique among all the ruins we’ve visited… Back in the 60s a few hotels and motels were developed at the top of the travertines and taking advantage of the natural hot springs and thermal mineral waters… UNESCO came in and declared the site a world heritage site but one of the hotel pools – built over an ancient mineral pool – was saved and expanded. There’s a bunch of old Greek and Roman columns toppled into the pool and assorted bits and pieces of old marble at the bottom of the pool… And the water is quite pretty clear and very deep (almost 20′) near the source of the water… And the water is bubbly! Someone described it as being like swimming in champagne… I wouldn’t go that far but it was pretty cool. Although the water is about 36-38° it’s very refreshing to be able to swim for a bit after slogging around the hot and dusty ruins. The only downside was the family – who looked an awful lot like Hollywood’s version of the Russian mafia – who planted themselves at the very source of the pool waters and refused to move… They looked like they’d been there a while before we got in and still hadn’t budged when left more than an hour later… After a good soak, we piled out of the pool and headed for the travertines – the main attraction to this site and the reason for Pamukkale’s existence on the map…

We’d timed our visit for the later afternoon to take advantage of smaller crowds and to be on the travertines around sunset. If you go online, you’ll see picture after picture of sparkling blue pools and brilliant white travertines… It’s sort of like that in reality. Where there’s water flowing over the travertines (created by calcium in the mineral water flowing over the rocks and being left behind), the travertines are quite brilliantly white. The problem is that the hotels I mentioned earlier did a lot of damage and they’re carefully trying to nurse them back to health by channeling water over various parts on various days while at the same time preserving the tourist path and the pools that draw people to the area. Despite the travertines not being in pristine health, it’s a pretty place – it looks a lot like a glacier in the right light but is solid rock…

The sparkling blue pools are there, too… sort of. They’ve created a bunch of shallow pools (I’m not exactly sure when these pools were created – some of them might be quite old) and a walkway to coral the tourists and prevent damage to the travertines (you’re also not allowed to wear shoes – a rule reinforced by a large number of whistle-toting guards). So you start at the top and sort of walk and wade your way from the top to the bottom (about 1km in total)… It’s super crowded and the sparkling blue pools have a bit of a nasty cast by the time thousands of people have walked through them but it’s all pretty cool… I was concentrating on taking pictures and didn’t want to slip and fall into a mineral water pool with my camera gear but Marie and Caitlin took full advantage of every pool – even slathering some of the mud (which is supposedly really good for your skin but sort of stinks like an open sewer according to Caitlin) on themselves…  Caitlin especially appreciated the whistle-happy guard who blew her and Marie off a prime picture spot (while letting a bunch of other people hang out there and take all the pictures they wanted)… I was surprised at some of the creative places Caitlin came up with to stuff the guy’s whistle…

Once we hit the bottom, it was a short walk back to the hotel where we were planning to hop in their pool again only to find out they shut it down during dinner (from 6 to 10:30) – guess they don’t want people frolicking in their bikinis while people are trying to eat… Must be a Turkish thing… For the most part, I think many North Americans would pay extra for dinner where people were frolicking in bikinis… In any case we all grabbed showers (that mineral water left your skin feeling a bit crusty) and then headed down to dinner… It was as good as Caitlin and Marie raved about and by the time we were done with the mains (and the huge plate of watermelon they provided for us at no charge) we were too tired to hit the pool and headed back to the room to pack for tomorrow’s trip to Kusadasi…

In all, this was one of the more relaxing and laid back days of our trip (despite the heat) and we’re going to be sorry to leave the pool tomorrow… Hopefully the beaches at Kusadasi make up for it!

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