When we first brought home our travel guide for Turkey, one of the cover pictures looked like an iced over mountain with bright blue turquoise pools, layered along the slope. Thankfully, the inside cover gave a photo credit and the location of this pristine landscape: Pamukkale. We dare you to google it and not be inspired to visit!
We left the busy streets of Izmir on a coach bus, ready for the 3.5 hour ride. It was a nice bonus that the bus was equipped with seat-back televisions, wifi and an attendant serving snacks and drinks. We were careful not to drink too much as the fancy bus lacked a lavatory and we didn’t trust we would be remembered if we took too long in a restroom during a stop.
We arrived in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel and went to the hotel’s restaurant for lunch (falafel, by the way, from the only place we’ve found so far that knows what we mean!) By the time we made our way to the entrance to Pamukkale, it was mid-afternoon and the fee for a one-time entry was a bit too much for just a few hours. We wanted to make a full day of the park. Especially because the Greek ruins of Hierapolis is located at the top of Pamukkale’s snow-like peak.
We awoke the next morning at 4 am, ate our plates of breakfast the hotel staff was kind enough to prepare for us the night before, and were out the door by 4:30 – a full hour before the sun was scheduled to rise. To our surprise, a stray dog greeted us with a wagging tail (likely more interested in our food bag than in us) and followed us up the path to the park entrance.
We were told the day before that the park never closes and that we would be able to buy a ticket early in the morning. In actuality, our experience was quite different. The lights at the ticket booth were off and the shades were drawn. In our tired stupor, we didn’t think to knock, but rather simply jumped the turnstile. We had full intentions of paying when we left but we weren’t going to let a ticket get in the way of what could possibly be an amazing sunrise!
So there we were, hiking up a mountain in dark. What helped was the white rock (calcium from the spring water that hardens when exposed to air) reflected the dim moonlight just enough for us to ensure our footing. For the vast majority of the hike up, the calcified surface was draped with a slow-moving waterfall, flowing down from the peak’s spring, at a wonderfully warm 35.6 degrees Celsius. All the while, our adopted stray dog staying nearby.
We passed by, and through, layers of travertine pools, but the darkness didn’t reveal their stunning color.
It wasn’t long before we reached the top and sat with our feet dangling in the warm waters of the spring.
The sky brightened, adding color to the ground around us: red poppies, orange marigolds, yellow daisies were beautiful in contrast to the bright, white stone.
The light of dawn also allowed us to be seen, and within minutes, a security guard on a dirt bike raced over to us and asked for us to present our “billets”. Even without our French knowledge, we knew he was asking for our tickets. We tried to explain ourselves, and even offered to buy a ticket from him, but he directed us back down from the entrance gate whence we came. We took the path he pointed towards and walked back down the mountain, having only witnessed a couple minutes of morning sunshine.
Two other security guards awaited us at the gate, and questioned us as to why we didn’t have tickets. We explained that no one was there so early in the morning, and when the guard responded that the ticket attendant must have been sleeping we knew were safe. We went ahead and bought tickets, hoping not to have to validate them there and re-enter the park, 13 hours before sunset. We asked if we could go get something to eat and return later to use the ticket, and were delighted to receive a positive response. We took the opportunity to sleep until noon, relax a bit and eat lunch.
Hiking back up the hill for the second time proved difficult in a new way: we had to contend with throngs of other tourists. That was completely opposite to our morning experience of being the only ones up there. We quickly made our way to the top, and started walking north towards the ruins of the necropolis (cemetery) and thankfully away from almost all other tourists.
We saw countless tombs, a cathedral church, old aqua-ducts (we actually walked in one) and a wonderfully restored Greek theater.
The ruins were awesome; much better than what we expected. We passed a bit of time before sunset just relaxing in the warm pools. We started talking with a security guard, who wanted to practice his very limited English. When he asked Ligeia why she didn’t have a boyfriend, his reaction to her simplified response of “no man for me” was to ask if she had a man allergy. Laughing, Ligeia told the surprised man that she indeed had a man allergy. She’s decided to use this explanation in the future.
Our stomachs rumbled as dusk approached. We staked out a fantastic point for our view of the sunset. Mother Nature didn’t disappoint, with the pinks and oranges in the sky reflecting gorgeously in the aqua pools amidst the white, cotton-like mountainside.
Pamukkale actually means “cotton castle” in Turkish and it totally makes sense! Once our attention refocused on our surroundings after the sun dipped below the mountains on the horizon, we noticed a lightening storm building in the east, appearing to head our way. Mindy’s fear of lightning and knowledge that the constant flow of water beneath her feat made for a perfect conductor of electricity meant she was literally running her way down the slippery slope.
Thankfully, death by a lightning strike on the hills of this cotton castle wasn’t our fate.