Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Years may come, (many years are still ahead) years may go, (many years have passed)

The village of Şirince around the corner, down the hill and tumbling into the valley from our cottages, with all of 650 inhabitants, was irresistably calling us to come explore, and after a leisurely awakening and breakfast, Colleen and I headed out down the steep rock pathways to see what we could see.

I should tell you, the name is pronounced "she-RIN-jay"; the little tail on the s of Şirince makes a "sh" sound (the Turkish c with a tail goes "ch" as in Selçuk, the next nearest town).

Most of the houses are 19th century or earlier, the streets cobblestone, flowers pouring over the walls and in the cracks, the overall effect being a humble, charming historical village. Originally named Cirkince, which means "kind of ugly" by the nimbys who lived there (freed Roman slaves who weren't looking for company) the name of this little village was changed to Şirince much, much later in the 1920s , which translates to "kind of pretty". Much better press and very pretty, in my opinion.

With its beauty, the village is a destination for tour buses, which spill out their passengers in a swarm, but after a bit they get back on the bus and leave again, leaving the cunning little shops and roadside sellers with their handicrafts and goods for just the few of us not bound to a schedule. Lovely.

Colleen and I wandered through the town, browsing and delighting in the sights, the wonderful old wood and stone architecture.

At the far end of town we saw some horses tethered to a tree and decided that an idyllic ride through the Turkish hills and countryside beyond would be just the thing.

For a surprisingly modest fee we were set up with horses and a guide, who spoke almost no English but had a 10K race shirt and a nice smile. He matched Colleen up with a particularly short and gentle palamino, nearly a pony, and initially insisted on leading them by a halter rope attached to his horse.

I, on the other hand, was on my own with the most hard-mouthed horse I've ever had the fortune to sit astride. Not a bad horse, just not terribly steerable, with hands, voice, thighs, or any other means that I could discover. Not that I'm any real sort of horsewoman, but I've ridden since I was a child and do know which end is up. This horse was at least willing to follow the others so we went with that.

The ride was wonderful, out away from the town for about half an hour on a hard dirt path out in the sun. At one point a particularly large snake slid away from us, not startling the horses in the least; apparently it was a common sight to them. There were views to bluish hills, the Aegean Sea just visible beyond, and we were surrounded by waving fields of poppies and wildflowers, the peach and olive trees for which the area is famous, we rode, lulled by the rhythmic sound of our mount's hooves.

When we turned around the ride went from leisurely to thundering, either by plan after we demonstrated basic horse competance or because the horses were happy to be heading back home. My horse had a choppy fast stride to go with her hard mouth, and I kicked her into a canter as often as possible since posting that fast to save my bum constant whapping against the saddle during her trot was a challenge. The stirrups were too long to stand like a jockey.

Colleen, of course, said riding her horse was a dream. As I was the one to talk her into the ride in the first place, I suppose it was fair that I was the one to be bounced around, worried and even a bit scared. The funny thing was, the more I was trying to put inappropriate and rather morbid thoughts of spinal injuries and brain damage out of my mind, the more I was grinning. You can't call it bravado as I've now 'fessed the truth to you.

I had shoved my camera into a front jeans pocket, foolishly thinking that would be secure. The bouncing popped it out and under my long shirt, much to my dismay, but by some stroke of luck it got caught up in the fabric long enough for me to hold the reins and pommel with one hand and dig underneath to grab it before it flew out and fell to what would undoubtedly have been a disastrous landing.

Also, Mike is convinced that I am death to cameras and I didn't want to give him any more ammunition for that discussion. It cannot be denied that sliding down a sand dune in Jordan with the camera dragging from a wrist strap, the lens cap lost and sand doing incalculable damage was not my greatest camera owning moment. I would like to think that I've learned and moved on.

Colleen was absolutely radiant after the ride. I was more in the "relieved" (but glad we did it) department. Gave my horse a pat and told it thanks.

Back in town, we nosed through the numerous roadside stalls, picked up a flower crown for Bethy to wear in her hair

and some handmade soaps that smelled heavenly

and found a little place to pick up lunch for the rest of the family still back at Nisanyan up the hill. Actually, we ordered and Colleen waited for it to be grilled up while I went looking for a dress for Bethy. I never did find the particular dress, but somehow I ended up doing some wine tasting. (It wasn't my fault! There were fellows everywhere inviting me in to sample the wares. What's a girl on vacation to do?)

Şirince is known for wines, mostly fruit wines, and after trying and suffering though some stuff that was not my idea of tasty, (the food was so good I can hardly believe that the wines are created for any purpose other than tourism, but perhaps it's a matter of developing a taste for them...?) I settled on what I considered a relatively drinkable red to bring back. Backpack stuffed, we huffed our way back up the hill, past goats and cats, following the snail signs

to the hotel and our cottages. At one point we had to wedge ourselves past a tractor that was blocking the narrow stone walkway, passing bags over and then corkscrewing ourselves through the miniscule gap between ancient tractor and stone wall. Village time, no one in a hurry.

Later, Mike wanted to go explore the town, and, not looking an opportunity to spend quality hubby time sans kids in the mouth, I went happily with him. Somehow, both times we managed to miss the tour buses dumping their tourist loads and had the town to ourselves.

Mike led the way up and down every single road in town, often followed by dogs, some stray, some not, all looking for love and pathetically grateful for pats and a kind word.

There were flamboyant roosters, children throwing rocks (not at us), kicking a soccer ball (definitely at us...they thought that was hilarious), women wearing their bright head scarves sitting in groups chatting, and men sitting in their groups, smoking and talking and not worrying about us in the least. Mass marketing was a million miles away.

Women yelling at their kids sounded like especially fierce chickens, and all around was the hard to define but very tangible feeling of a small, vibrantly alive community. Brushed by tourism, and profiting from it, but not affected by it so much. No, not so much.

It felt...honest. I hope they are wise and continue to preserve their little village as it is.

Nighttime view of Şirince


Mumsey said...

When renting a horse the best advice I ever had was never let the owner have any idea you can actually ride. If you are experienced they will give you the worst horse because that one is seldom used. Though if you want a challenge to your equestrian skills go right ahead and remember to grab mane.
Village sounds like a heavenly refuge from our commercial paced world.

Natalie said...

Mumsy, trust me, I remembered, but there was little I could have done to affect the choice of horse since I don't exactly speak Turkish...maybe I looked confident. That's often my downfall. In fact, I told Colleen during the ride that the braver I look during such things the more nervous I probably am!