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TURKEY
These pages document my time spent flying balloons in Kapadokya . . .
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Chapter 18
Am I Healthy?
Depends on who you talk to. If you ask a doctor in the United States (even one examining you for a pilots license) they will say yes. If you ask a doctor (not a quack like half of the "doctors" I saw in Adana) here in Turkey (even one examining you for a pilots license) chances are they will say no. Hopefully by now, you've all read or heard the story of my trip to the city of Adana to get a medical certificate so I can fly legally in this country. Well, for reasons that remain rather murky to me, I was told that I needed to go to Ankara and visit the military doctor that gives all the Turkish Air Force pilots their medicals. Ankara is the national capitol and is about a 4 hour drive from Uçhisar. Well, this time I wasn't sent with any of the crew as guides/translators/captors. I was told when and where to catch the bus. At least the ticket was purchased for me.

As I mentioned above, Ankara is a ways away. So in order to get there early enough in the day to complete the examination (and the fact that there is limited service to Kapadocya) I need to catch the bus in Uçhisar and midnight. Uh huh... after I had been up at five o'clock in the morning that day to fly, I now have to catch a bus for a 4 or 5 hour bus ride at midnight. So I try to get as much sleep as I can during the day. After hearing about my plight, Sancho decides this is a good opportunity for him to go to Ankara and visit the Spanish Embassy. He can do that and do some sight seeing and generally have a good time while I'm being poked, prodded and generally being treated like livestock. Well, at least I have someone to talk to (sort of, Sancho's english isn't very good) on the way there and someone to vent to on the way back (who cares about their english, I'm venting!) .
So we catch the bus at midnight and ride it into Nevşehir (you didn't think the bus went directly from Uçhisar did you?) where we wait for about 30 minutes. The bus to Ankara was a nice bus. A large Greyhound type, with comfortable seats that reclined and the whole bit. It leaves Nevşehir at 1:00 am Friday, the 23rd of January. It was about half full or just over (I didn't expect to have even THAT many people on it) so Sancho and I each have two seats to ourselves and we're pretty comfortable (for a bus) . We will be arriving in Ankara around 6:00 am and Alper has arranged to have someone pick us up at the bus terminal. The trip there is fairly uneventful. I did notice however, that we had what would be a flight attendant (stewardess is not politically correct any more, right?) had we been on an airplane. But we're on a bus.... so.... I guess she was a ride attendant then. Anyway, not long after we get on the road, she starts walking down the aisle serving water. I'm thinking "hmmm.... okay, that's different but it IS a long ride and I've never had service like this on a bus!" Then a little bit later she comes down the aisle serving coffee and tea. Then again with a snack (again, had we been on an airplane it would have been peanuts, but this was a chocolate brownie type of thing) . Then once again with water. Then again with a cologne or something that the Turks use after eating. (Most if not all restaurants will offer this to you after your meal) . About halfway through the trip, the bus stops for half an hour at this place that has a market and restaurant. It's like 3:30 am.... but it looks like this place is open. (I don't bother to even get up. I stay in the bus and try to get what ever sleep I can as I know what lays in store for me this day) . These places are common here. There is a lot of bus travel (not just tourists, but that's how the locals travel as well) and these "rest areas" cater to the bus loads of people that stop on a regular basis. Alper and I stopped at a couple of these on our way from Istanbul to Uçhisar when I first arrived.

So we arrive in Ankara around 5:30 in the morning and I am immediately astounded by the bus terminal. It's larger than the airport terminal in Idaho Falls and the terminal in Jackson. Put together!
A shot of the departure  area in the Ankara bus terminal
Sancho standing under the "Arrivals" boards
Okay, I know, Ankara is a large city (somewhere around 5 million or so) , in fact it is Turkey's second largest city, but the bus station in Phoenix isn't nearly this size and Phoenix is about the same size population wise. I have never been to the bus station in L.A. (and don't think I ever want to go either) , but I bet it isn't half this size. Like I said earlier, there is a lot of bus travel in this country. So, once I recover from the initial "wow!", I realize that I have no idea who is picking us up, much less what they look like, and I can almost guarantee that they won't speak much English. I am hoping that my spoiled American tourist look is enough that I won't spend all day in this very interesting but not THAT interesting place.

What would my life be like without cell phones right about now?
A three way cell phone conversation between Sancho, Alper and the man who is greeting us finally results in an awkward "I see you on a cell phone, you must be the one" type of meeting. Really rather comical in way and certainly a brash reminder to me how cell phones really have improved the quality of life (as long as you know when to turn them off) .

So after some coffee (okay, so it's really NesCafé) and a bite to eat, the very pleasant gentleman (who speaks not one word of english or spanish) explains the best he can to Sancho, how to get to where the Spanish Embassy is. We walk over to where you catch the train and wave goodbye to Sancho as some Turkish is spoken between the security guard and the man who met us. I'm thinking to myself "man, if I was Sancho right now, I would be feeling quite abandoned" and I hope he finds his way around okay. Then I realize, this is Sancho. This is what he does. His favorite city in the world is Cairo for crying out loud. He will be fine. I better start to worry about me and whether this very kind gentleman (I never did get his name) is going to turn out to be a guide or a captor. I use the word captor in humor here. I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I use "captor" to convey the very helpless feeling I get when I don't know where I'm going, how to get there, can't speak the language and have to totally rely on some stranger I've never met and can't communicate with. In a very large city I've never been in that happens to be the capitol of a very different country that I've only been in for about 3 weeks. Good thing I don't think about those type of things... I might have run for the bathroom crying for my mommy. Except of course it costs 75 cents to use the bathroom...... So we walk out to his car, I get in and off we go. Remind me sometime to talk about being in a car on the streets in this country.... that's a whole 'nother story.
We drive for maybe 30 minutes and I notice that we're entering a military base. For some reason, I knew that I was going to a military hospital, but I didn't stop to think it would be on a military base. Elevated guard posts everywhere. On these guard posts are.... yup..... guards. With guns. I think they're probably even trained on how to use them. Just as I start to think "Well at least we're not stopping every two blocks to ask directions" we pull over and stop right in front of this military policeman. With a gun. And the gun is in his hands, not hanging over his shoulder on his back by the strap. A short conversation in Turkish (as the guy with the gun eyes me suspiciously) and we're off. Whew! I don't know how many Americans that you know that have ever been on a military base in Turkey. Chances are if you do know anyone that has, they were on an American military base in Turkey. I'm on a Turkish military base.... in Turkey. I start to do my best to change that "spoiled American tourist" look that I thought would help me so much at the bus terminal.
We pull up to the entrance of what might be where we need to go. My guide/captor (is this where they interrogate me?) gets out and walks over to another guy in camouflage holding a gun and strikes up a conversation. They are standing a ways away, so..... forgetting my previous thought about not looking like an American tourist, I grab my camera to try and take advantage of this opportunity to show you that I'm not making this up. A little okay... very, very) nervous about taking pictures inside a foreign military location I managed to get these two.
My guide chats up one of the locals. Notice the look the guard is giving me
My guide returns from his visit with the guard. I don't read Turkish, but this is the gate we went through
Unlike my trip to Adana, my guide walks up to the reception counter and a minute later I am ushered down the hallway, down some stairs and down another hallway. A door opens and out walks what I assume is a doctor (could have been a male nurse) . These two seem to be friends. We walk to another room, enter and I am surrounded by 4 guys in fatigues (no guns) and 3 other "administrative types" in business dress. A bunch of paperwork is taken out and after everyone has given me the once over (about 3 or 4 times) one of the young guys in fatigues starts to speak in English. He asks if I know any Turkish words so I tell him the few I know. He says he knows English and that he will help me out today while I'm there. A very nice guy, his name is Cenk (pronounced Jink) and he knows English better than anyone I've met here in Turkey outside of the few people I've met that speak English as their native tongue. Without his help, I would have spent a week there. As it was, it still took all day. So we fill the paperwork out, Cenk translating what the forms are asking for.
Once that is complete I start to make the rounds, seeing different doctors. Turns out that the first guy we met at the hospital, works in the blood lab. So that's where we start. They draw 4 vials of blood and as we're all waiting for my heart to pump the stuff out (luckily for me, my heart is good at that) I can start to tell just how much of a celebrity I am there. For one thing, not everyone (especially at a military base) is a pilot. So once they all learn I'm there for my pilot medical there's an "Ahhh..." then they learn it's for a balloon. Now there's some real interest, as very few of them have ever seen a balloon outside of pictures. About this time they notice I haven't said anything and ask where I'm from. Seems like being an American balloon pilot on a Turkish military base is evidently not that common of a thing. Because of this and because his command of English is so good, Cenk is quite the celebrity today also. Not to mention that he only had 5 days until he would complete his military service. So all who would come up and ask how long he had left would soon ask about me.

After getting blood drawn, I got my hearing tested. You know, put the headphones on and press the button when you hear something. It's at this time that I realize this isn't going to be anything like my trip to Adana. No to and fro (Cenk knew exactly where he was going) and no waiting. Once Cenk told the nurse who I was, the doctor saw me immediately. So after the blood draw and the hearing test, I got an EKG done, they measured my lung capacity by blowing through a machine (I thought for a second there, I had been arrested for DUI) , took an ex-ray of my chest, saw an eye doctor (this time they used computerized equipment to measure my eye etc., not just read these 3 letters) , had my blood pressure taken about 3 times, saw a psychiatrist (who only asked a couple of quetions and didn't do an EEG, thank god, as the last one took an hour) , and a neurologist (who also only asked questions) . I thought we were done at about 11 am. This was nothing like my trip to Adana and I was actually thinking something was about to go smoothly for the first time since I've been here. That's when we went to the final doctor to get the entire process signed off. I should have known better. Evidently, there was a small problem with my blood test. I was asked if I had a Thyroid problem. The test showed that something called TSH (thyroid stimulation hormone) was out of range. It was supposed to be between 0.2 and 4.5 and mine was over 9. So I asked about everything that could cause something like that on a temporary basis. Something I ate or drank? Anything like that, because I have never had a problem. My first thought was that someone screwed up the test of course. So now I'm thinking "there is no way on God's Green Earth (or anywhere else for that matter) that I'm taking any kind of medication over here without a US doctor looking at the test data and agreeing that I need it." Well, before it got too far, they did another different test on my blood, looking at 3 other chemicals or something that would either confirm or dispute that I had a problem with my thyroid. Unfortunately, blood tests take time, so that meant I had to wait. We finally got the results around 3:45 pm. From what everyone (besides the doctor that mattered) thought, this test was okay. By now, it's almost 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon. So do you think that the doctor who had to look at the test result and sign off was still anywhere around? NOOOOO! What this means is that I will take the 5 hour bus ride back to Uçhisar and when the doctor gets in on Monday, he will look at the test result and make some sort of decision as to whether he signs off and everything is good or if he needs to see me and run more tests or whatever. Which would mean me returning via bus on Monday or Tuesday. I leave the hospital at just after 4 pm, having spent the entire day there, and I still don't have my medical certificate!

The are only two buses returning to Uçhisar this afternoon. The first one leaves Ankara at 6:30 pm, the next one leaves at 2:00 am Saturday. So I have maybe 2 hours to kill. My guide (and yes, he turned out to be a guide not a captor) takes me into the city center. But because it is rush hour (when isn't it in Ankara?) we can't really go anywhere to see anything because the traffic is so bad it would take too long. So we enter this big mall. At least 3 stories maybe 4. As we enter from the street and head for the escalator, I am absolutely flabbergasted! This is the first thing I see.
Joanne will be dying to go to Ankara
I'm sure I still would have been quite surprised, not realizing that they were international, but because Joanne is such a fan of their coffee, it just made it more astounding. I haven't even seen a McDonald's over here. So... thinking "that's cool".... we take the escalator up a couple of floors to the food court. My guide wanted some "Cay". Pronounced like Chai as in Chai tea... that's exactly what it means. To order tea here you order Cay. Anyway, so we get some tea and turn around to find a place to sit (we're just going to chill here for about 45 minutes until it's time for me to go back to the bus terminal) and what do I see? Nope, not a McDonalds, but real close.
There's nothing quite like the friendly face of the colonel
After our tea, my guide writes down where I need to go and what bus line to use to get back home. Then he puts me on a city bus that will take me there. Boy, this is fun.... a city bus at rush hour. There wasn't even any standing room on this thing. At least I got back to the bus terminal and in plenty of time to catch the bus. Oh yeah..... Sancho..... wonder how his day went? I get a call from Alper saying that he spoke with Sancho and I will meet him at the bus terminal. Sure enough, when I get there, he is already there and has our tickets home.
That is some good news, since it's almost 6 pm and I've been up since about 11 pm the night before. I'm tired, grumpy and don't really feel like dealing with a whole lot right now. I can't believe I've been up for almost 24 hours, traveled what seems like halfway across the country and still don't have a medical certificate that will allow me to fly here legally. Not only that, but I mght have to come back here Monday! ugh.... I just want to go home and sleep.
I did tell you about the bus. Well it's pretty nice for a bus. Did I tell you it even had a TV? Two screens. One in front and one halfway back. Well, we sat right in front of the back screen. On the trip home (it was only 6:30 pm) they showed a movie. Not just any movie. It was a Turkish version of a cheap Chinese martial arts movie..... it was hard to tell if the sound was in sync or not. The actors speaking chinese and the Turkish overdub made it so it didn't really matter. Oh my god..... had I not been so tired, it would have been hilarious.... and of course they had the volume turned up so everyone (I mean everyone, me included) could hear it over the couple of screaming kids that were on board. So much for getting any sleep on the bus. Oh and when we finally do arrive, right at midnight, because we've been gone a full 24 hours, the house of course is cold. No one has been here to light the fire. Sancho must have been cold, because he went and lit the fire. I was just going to go to bed. Can't wait to see what happens Monday.
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