Answering Questions About Turkey – Part 1

We get a lot of questions about Turkey – I’ll use this post to answer some of them. Better yet, come visit sometime and experience it for yourself!

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Turkish Flag

How did you decide on Turkey?  Answered in an earlier, separate post here 🙂

Are you allowed to buy property in Turkey?  Yes, we can and we have. It’s not very common to finance property purchases. Most people buy their homes with cash. We hired a Turkish lawyer, named Cihat (pronounced Jihad – same meaning!) who helped us navigate the legalities and questions of property ownership. Unfortunately, we can only stay for 90 days at a time on a tourist visa for a total of 180 days/year (90 days in, at least 90 days out). So far, this works great for us as we dodge the hurricane season in Mexico. It’s quite onerous to get a residence permit to live in Turkey full-time. Like in the US, if you are foreign-born, there are many hurdles and requirements for us to stay longer. Also, similarly to the US, you can buy property, but it doesn’t qualify you to stay longer. Also, like in the US, we could come and stay “illegally” (beyond our 90 days), but when we left and tried to return, we would likely get hassled and maybe not allowed back in the country (not a chance we want to take). Although we can buy a house here, you are not allowed to buy a car unless you have a residence permit, so we rent a car (for about $8/day) while we are here.

How does the current economy and Lira free fall impact you?  The currency here is called the Lira. Currently, the lira falling is a good thing for us. We have a local, Turkish bank account, but mostly we transact in dollars, so it’s actually better for us. When we arrived, the lira was about 3.5 lira: 1 dollar and now it’s almost 7. We try to keep dollars as long as possible and exchange when we need them. Interestingly, even though Turkey takes MasterCard and Visa, many businesses reject our US cards as their chip readers won’t accept our cards. It’s extremely frustrating, and it prevents us from leveraging the exchange rate but also requires us to use our Turkish account or liras. Also, most places, unless you’re in a posh hotel, won’t take American Express, and many stores don’t even know what it is. In the long run, a stable Turkish economy will be better for us as we own a home here and want to see the community thrive and appreciate in value. We use TransferWise to move money from our US account to our Turkish account. The transfer fees are reasonable, and it’s fast and easy with an app on our phones.

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Turkish Lira

What about the politics and president of Turkey?  It’s best not to discuss them.

What’s the language and are you learning it?  The language is Turkish – it’s a beautiful language that has more in common with romance languages, like French, and none of the harsh or guttural sounds of Arabic. My Turkish is very rusty; I understand a lot of it, and I can shop and get along pretty well at a high level, but I still can’t speak conversationally. I can follow along, but I lack the ability to say too much in response, which is frustrating! It’s definitely improved with time here. Many people here don’t speak English, so we blunder along, try as we can, and use Google Translate when we get stuck! I think for our trip next year, we’ll spend time using Babbel or taking an intensive language course to jumpstart our learning. There is nothing more humbling and makes you more empathetic to people living or traveling in the USA, trying to speak English, than when the shoe is on the other foot!

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Panoramic of our neighbors – as seen from our back balcony

What’s your neighborhood like?  Our total community is ~30 buildings with ~70 separate homes built as townhouses. Most people own 1 building, but we split ours with our friend who lives next door. The busiest we have ever seen it was during a national holiday a couple of weeks ago, but even still, our neighborhood was only about 30% full. We are in a separate little area with only 7 homes, and we call it the G7 as we are a fairly international group. All but one house was full during the holiday – it was great fun hanging out with everyone, sharing meals, and working together to make improvements.

Who are your neighbors?  Most everyone is Turkish, but they either live abroad or work abroad. Two of our neighbors are Americans (living in Turkey & in the UK), one family lives in Brussels (an engineer & an anesthesiologist), one family lives in Ankara (retired ministry of tourism & a librarian), one family lives in Istanbul (a gynecologist & an engineer), one family lives in Istanbul (professor & Turkish think tank)…all professionals, and all of them speak *some* English. (They are very patient with us!) There are quite few kids here, too, which is really fun to see the energy and diversity of our community; watching them grow up year after year will be really fun. We have a beautiful swimming pool, and the beach is about a 2 minute walk away – complete with electricity (when it works), lounge chairs, a fresh water shower and palapas.

Who takes care of everything there?  There is a guy, Mustafa, who lives here full-time, in a little house with a bunch of chickens. He is our on site guardian, does odd jobs, keeps the pool clean and does general maintenance. We also have a building site manager, who is accountable to a board of directors and who is supposed to run the bigger systems like solar and water (which don’t work great….). But, we are really on our own for repairs and landscaping. Part of this is because we are still a new development that hasn’t received all the rights of a city property – this will likely come in time.

Can you find everything in Turkey, like in the US?  Yes and no. Generally, there are specific stores for each category of goods. If you need electric, you have to visit the electric store. If you need plumbing, you have to visit the plumbing store….and so on.  There are big chain stores ala Home Depot and IKEA in larger cities but not near where we live. There are two grocery chains here (Migros & Carrefour) that are starting to carry more than just food, but in general, when running errands, we have to plan all day for a minimum of 6 stops!

Pharmacies – are prescriptions hard to refill?  Pharmacies are plentiful here, but limited to generic drugs or alternatives. For example, we can’t find Benadryl here, but they have an antihistamine equivalent, and my branded contact lens solution is readily available. I take a migraine pill that costs me about $20/pill in the USA with insurance, but here, I pay the equivalent of $1/pill – no prescription required! Natural treatments like Arnica are easy to find, and tampons are nearly impossible to find. It is related to a holdover custom from the muslim culture of revering virgins (seriously). I remember this being the case when I lived here 30 years ago, but I expected it would have changed by now (it hasn’t).

Are you in a safe area?  Despite what you read on the news, which is largely sensational and focused on small areas, most of Turkey is very safe, and yes, we are also in a safe area. There is and has been violence in Turkey, but we stay vigilant and try to blend in and not put ourselves in uber-tourist places with a lot of people. We have a full-time caretaker who lives here year round, and he watches the place. There are also a few dogs that live here, and they are quite protective of the neighborhood and people roaming around at night. The only thing we have to watch out for are scorpions and wild boar! 🙂 There are immigration patrols that we meet on the highway from time to time, and recently, we have seen military helicopters flying over our beach, presumably looking for refugees since we are so close to Greece (the closest entry point to the EU). The immigration road blockades generally wave us through once they see we are foreigners or Americans. For this reason, you must always carry your passport when traveling around the country.

What’s your 3-6 month plan?  We will be in Turkey for just under 90 days until the first of October when our visa expires, and then we will island hop around the Greek islands for a few weeks, landing back in the states in time for the midterm elections in early November. We plan to be back in Mexico at the end of November, visiting the Copper Canyon with friends. We’ll spend December seeing family and friends (Arizona, Sun Valley, Portland) and then back to Mexico where our sailing season will start again in earnest. We’re tentatively planning to sail south to La Paz or Puerto Vallarta from January thru early March to avoid the heavy “Northers” before sailing back up into the Sea of Cortez for a few months before the next hurricane season. We both are likely to travel back and forth to the US during this time for work, and Jodi may come back to Turkey for a month in Spring to check on the house and do some weeding and spring planting.

When will you be back in the US?  Sometime in late October/early November, 2018. We hope to come back to Turkey for another extended visit in 2019 – again, during hurricane season in Mexico.

What’s the food like in Turkey?  In a word, amazing. Some of the best cuisine in the world. Not heavy like Greek food but fresh, whole foods grown in volcanic soil and rich in color and nutrients. Lots of fresh fruit (melons, peaches, nectarines, plums, figs, apricots) and vegetables (tomatoes – okay, a fruit, squash, beans, cucumbers, lettuces), 100s of varieties of olives and cheese (I counted more than 40 types of “white cheese” at the grocery store the other day), legumes (chickpeas, lentils, white beans) meat and fish/seafood (although we don’t really eat these anymore), and the government subsidized recipe for white bread is divine (and costs no more than about 50 cents). My favorite is breakfast, which is generally cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, honey, bread, and jam. Alcohol is easier to buy than it used to be (albeit very expensive for out of country brands – a small bottle of Absolut Vodka is $20), and Turkey’s wine industry is growing fast (high-end bottles costing between $5-15). Efes Beer is Turkey’s national pilsner; it’s cheap & delicious ($2/bottle).

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Which do you prefer – the Aegean or Mediterranean?  Turkey is one of only three countries in the world that straddles more than one continent (Russia and Azerbaijan are the others). Turkey is on the European and Asian continents. We live on the Aegean, but both seas are beautiful. If you look on Google Earth, you can see that the Aegean is a bit more green and mountainous than the Med, but both have crystal clear blue waters, and most of the beaches are small pebbles vs. sand. We are closer to a few Greek islands than we are to mainland Turkey.

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What’s your typical day like?  See next post – Part 2! 🙂

Why Turkey!?

One of the questions we get asked a lot is: “Why Turkey?!” 

Many people who live on their boats in hurricane prone areas, choose to leave the area during hurricane season. We are no exception. So, we left our boat in a safe place in Mexico and came to our house in Turkey. Many people ask us how we landed on Turkey as our “hurricane hole”? So, here’s the story:

It all started at Portland State University – Jodi’s alma mater – in 1987. I joined an organization called AIESEC – a global organization, established in 1948, after WWII, where seven young people in seven countries had a dream of building a cross-cultural understanding across nations. They hoped to change the world, one person and one international internship at a time. Today, they operate in more than 125 countries and territories, linking business students with temporary exchange jobs.

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International friends: Karen (Scotland), Cem (Turkey), Jari (Finland) and Jodi – circa 1988

For me, it was a chance to work abroad for a summer, and when I graduated in 1988, I had an internship lined up in Istanbul. Days after graduation, I got on a very long one-way plane trip to a place I had never been, not knowing the language or anyone in the country. The job was a complete and utter disaster (a long story that might be novel-worthy…), but I loved Turkey and ended up finding a different job at Istanbul Technical University that enabled me to stay in the country. During this time, I met some incredible people, people I am still friends with today, and my connection to the country, and its people, strengthened.

 

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Roommates: Eda (Turkey) and Jodi – circa 1989

I introduced Kirby to Turkey shortly after we started dating, and over the years, Kirby and I have spent several vacations here; we always dreamed of spending time here when we retired, too. So, when our good friend, Cassandra (who I met back in 1988 in Istanbul and with whom I also lived for a brief period of time) found this remote new development on the Aegean coast, we thought of it as kismet and jumped at the chance to own a small piece of one of our favorite places on earth.

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Roommates: Dick (Netherlands), Pal (Sweden) and Jodi – circa 1989

Today, as has been over my past 30 years of knowing this place, the economy and government are volatile, but no matter. In Turkey, you just have to roll with it and trust the people and its government will work itself out. As an example for the longevity of this volatility, my first day in June 1988 in Istanbul there was an attempted assignation on then Prime Minister Turgot Ozal, and ever since, Turkey has had its ups and downs politically and economically.

However, it’s a place where you can see two friends walking down the street, linking arms, one wearing a burka and one wearing a bikini. Modesty in dress and actions is a sign of respect as much as it is a part of the religious undertones of the country. It’s a nation of paradox and incongruity, and it fights for its democracy everyday as it has since Ataturk (known as the father of Turkey) led its revolution in the early 1920s, effectively ending the ruling of the Ottomans – emancipating women and introducing ideas of Western culture and lifestyles.

Turkey is not part of the EU, but it is a friend to the US and a key NATO ally. Unfortunately, relations are strained in these days, but we hope to return to friendlier times, and no matter our current politics or administration, the people of Turkey are extremely kind and warm and have welcomed us with open arms. Today, the Lira is volatile, and there was a recent shooting at the US Embassy, but for us, on our tiny peninsula, sitting between two seas, located on ancient archeological ground where civilizations have lived for thousands of years (since ~500 BC), we are relatively immune from all of that.

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Our neighborhood next to the Aegean

 

Kurban Bayram – An Important Holiday in Turkey

This week is the Kurban Bayram holiday – a 5 day holiday in Turkey where most businesses, all government offices and banks are closed. It also marks the first official day of travel to Mecca and can clog travel in and around the country. It’s an important holiday in Turkey as it follows the Islamic calendar (and therefore is a different date every year).

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Hanging at the beach before the big celebration

This year, it falls on 8/21-25 and is also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice. In biblical terms, it commemorates Abraham’s dedication to God when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and at the last-minute, God (or an angel of God) spared his son and gave him a ram instead to sacrifice. In Islam, it’s the same story (as most religious stories are…): it commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael (Isaac), to show his faithfulness to Allah (God).

During the holiday, rams/sheep/goats are sacrificed and used as a large feast and family celebration where gifts are exchanged. As part of the holiday, a portion of the meat is donated to the poor. In more modern times, it’s also acceptable to donate money to the poor and skip the animal sacrifice part altogether. Like Thanksgiving in the USA, it’s an important charitable time of year where family and friends get together to celebrate and give thanks. And, like Christmas, it might be one of the few times a year that a non-practicing Muslim will go to a mosque to attend the morning prayer.

There are government dedicated areas where it’s allowed to conduct the sacrifices. We passed one of these yesterday in rural Datca where many animals were in a corral awaiting their grisly fate. Thankfully, we weren’t there long enough to see any action.

If you travel to Turkey or any Islamic country, you should always check their religious calendars and holidays as travel can be disrupted. However, it’s interesting to be here during these times as you learn something culturally relevant, too.

We attended a large neighborhood potluck last night celebrating as a community. Everyone brought something to share, and the wood fired oven on our property was fired up all day yesterday (for the first time!) to slowly roast the sheep and make fresh bread. Everyone wore white, and there was music, wine, some dancing and much discussion of the state of the neighborhood’s infrastructure. A fun night and great way to make new friends.

 

 

Living in Turkey During Hurricane Season

We’ve taken a break from blogging since we aren’t on Lodos right now, but we have received a lot of questions about where we are, what we are doing and when we’ll be back on the boat, or in the states, so I decided to take each question as a separate blog post – watch this space!

We sailed to San Carlos, Mexico in early/mid June and spent a couple of weeks getting the boat ready to be taken out of the water. We left Lodos in a ship yard there, “on the hard” (out of the water) because we needed to finish some work on the boat that we never got around to before leaving San Diego. We also had to redo work that was done improperly in San Diego – hopefully the last of the projects that all have had to be redone in the past 6 months+.

It’s hurricane season in Mexico. It officially starts in June and ends in November, but truly, the most dangerous time is August-September (when the water warms above 80+ degrees), so we knew we wanted to be out of there this season. We took the time to do some traveling this summer and see friends. We went to our cousin’s wedding in Dallas (beautiful!), and we stopped to see friends in London, Oxford, Paris and Amsterdam.

4 years ago, we bought a house in Turkey. It’s a tiny house (1 bed + 1 bath with a loft), in an “off the grid” community, in a remote new village on the Aegean Sea along the Datça peninsula. It has all the challenges of new (cheap) construction, plus layer in remote access, very little internet, spotty electricity (100% solar), and very rocky soil that we are trying to completely transform (sometimes through sheer will & grit alone).

All that said, the houses and community aren’t the reason we bought a place here. It’s the landscape and beauty that surrounds us. We are butted against mountains to the East that look something like Halfdome in Yosemite or Lake Tahoe in California and to the West, the shimmering blue of the Aegean – with the Greek Island of Kos facing directly in front of us. We are ~1 hour from the nearest city (However, there is a small village 20+ minutes from us.), and probably the only thing that keeps this place from major development is the winding, dirt-pitted road you must take through the olive and almond trees planted into the mountainsides. The food is amazing, and the cost of living is cheap – cheaper everyday as the Lira continues to fall…

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View from the beach – aka: “the office”

It’s the kind of place people want to go to write a book, paint, read, and escape.

The flora isn’t diverse, but it is lush. We are frequented by goats who local shepherds still graze and let roam freely. We have seen owls and wild boar, bats, grouse and deer. The night is pitch black, the stars bright, and the beach is pebbly (not sand), which I much prefer. It’s safe and quiet, and all of the neighbors know each other – we look after one another, share tea and treats and stories – the way it should be in a community.

Our languid days are filled with equal parts work (professional work: Jodi is consulting & Kirby is starting a new business), work on the house and yard as well as swimming, hiking, reading, cooking and sleeping. There is nothing to buy, nothing to schedule and not much to do.

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Sunsets from the back porch

Living in a developing country has its drawbacks of course, and we find it quite manic some days, but its lesson is to be open to what may come, be open to changing your plans, and realize that you have very little control over the outcomes of many things here – it’s a country and place that forces the zen out of you.

 

Leaving Lodos…& Mexico

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Lodos in Santa Rosalia Marina

As we get ready to leave Mexico and leave Lodos for the summer and hurricane season, it’s a bittersweet feeling. We are excited about the next months of adventures that await, but I know we’ll miss our daily life on the water.  In fact, we already do. It’s been great to leave from San Carlos, as it’s not a place we particularly like, so we aren’t sad to leave.

We once thought we’d spend one season in the Sea of Cortez and keep heading head south, but now, I’m really happy that we’ll be here for another year! I haven’t gotten enough of its beauty and rich rich wildlife.

I will especially miss:

  • Being at anchor reading, thinking and relaxing.
  • Seeing dolphins, whales, turtles and mobula rays almost daily.
  • Guacamole and churros.
  • The routine of living and working on the boat.
  • Sleeping 8 hours at a stretch – maybe for the first time in my life.
  • Playing games and splashing around in the clear blue sea.
  • The Mexican people & their generous, kind hospitality.

This ~5 months has raced by. We’ve learned so much, had so much fun, didn’t sink the boat, and we didn’t die. So, yeah, I guess it was a successful season. 😉

This week, we’re off to Dallas to celebrate a wedding, then onto London, Paris, Amsterdam and Turkey – adventures abound! Join us somewhere or consider joining us on Lodos when we get her back into the water in Mexico!

 

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J & K at Playa Algodones in the Sea of Cortez