Turkey is an interesting study in dichotomy. Long poised at the junction of Europe and the Middle East, the country has played roles in shaping civilizations, as well as soaking up on influences from both regions. Once a stronghold of the mighty Byzantines, it was eventually placed under the Ottoman Empire, whose reign stretched as far as Northern Africa to the west and Western Asia to the east. The collapse of the Empire in the early 20th century signaled the start of a modern republic that advocates a secularist stance but whose population largely clings to Sunni Islam.
There are few places elsewhere where you can see this duplexity and perhaps none more so than in the Southern Aegean region. The port of Kusadasi, which greets most visitors arriving from the Mediterranean via a cruise ship, provides an artificial introduction to a resort town that caters mostly to package tourists and provides little of authentic Turkish culture (hawkers even called us in Filipino, thanks to contact with Filipino seafarers who regularly get down on the port while their ships are docked).
But it’s also here where you can relive the glory of the ancient Roman empire in Ephesus (Efes), an archeological site that feels grander than those found in Rome. Its popularity has exceeded its existence, which means that despite ceasing to be a city long ago, you won’t still get the place to yourself. Tour groups by the busloads cramp the marble streets and people constantly walk by and pose by the structures without regard to you and your camera.
Still, if you choose to see the glass half-full, at least the bustling activity approximates how this city functioned in ancient times, teeming with crowds under the intense heat. The sun was unbelievably scorching that I felt like I would have fainted anytime. Some of the group chose to stay in the comforts of the air-conditioned van, although the prospect of oozing history made me, Yanyan, Joseph, Joanne, Tita Marie, and my dad go to the site despite the heat. In fact, it was so hot that Morat, our private guide (we didn’t avail of the ship’s tour programs just as in Dubrovnik), remarked, “To those who did not come with us, you were wise. The temperature has reached 44 degrees Celsius (more than 100 degrees Farenheit).”
And because we paid for a cheap tour, we were brought to a leather factory where they held a mini-fashion show before pressuring us to buy expensive leather goods, although we remained with our wallets virtually unscathed, with only a bag purchased. But Morat was indirectly persuading us, lecturing us on the low wages of Turkey and proudly advertising the superior quality of Turkish leather.
Our other stops during the day were the reputed house of the Virgin Mary, where she supposedly spent the last six years of her life, and the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, said to stand over the beloved disciple’s tomb. The church is perched atop a hilltop where the sun was also scorching, although the cool winds periodically broke the terrible summer spell.
By mid-afternoon, we had to return to the port where the ship was waiting. Our next destination would now have us back sailing westward towards the Aegean Sea and onto Santorini.