Thursday, January 8, 2004
There is a deep hole in Central Turkey in an area called Cappadocia, where the Hittites tunneled into volcanic rock and built cities eight stories underground.
Once the modern Turks realized this was something tourists would pay to see, they marketed it in hotels and travel agencies across Turkey, Europe and parts of America.
And people came.
We poured toward the entrance of the hole, money in hand. As a drooling pack, we walked down a narrow set of winding stone stairs to gawk at the rooms and passageways.
The ultimate "goal" of this tourist attraction was on the bottom floor, eight stories underground -- an abandoned church.
We were all working our way down, single file.
In America, a similar tourist attraction would have schedules, occupancy limits and a college student controlling traffic. But it is not like that everywhere.
The 13-year-old Turkish guides pushed as many paying customers as possible into the tunnels.
We marched single file until the line suddenly stopped moving. People were being pushed into each other. I felt the heat of a chest against my back.
Something had gone wrong.
The church was too crowded; everyone needed to back up.
Count the seconds it takes for a "turn back" message to make it up seven flights of stairs and for all those people to comprehend and obey.
The people in the church were starting to panic. They were starting to push. The woman in front of me started to cry.
"Okay. I'm freaking out now," she said. "I'm freaking out."
Her fear filled the room. We felt it taking our oxygen.
The crowd started moving back up the stairs, just short of a stampede, and I resolved to avoid large crowds in tiny underground spaces for life.
When our chance came, no one wanted to go back and see that stupid church.
We just wanted to get out of there.
For those who are claustrophobic, I do not recommend Cappadocia.
Also, I do not recommend the Tokyo subway at 5 p.m.
I do not recommend Rockefeller Center on the day before Christmas, or Wal-Mart on the day after Thanksgiving.
And I definitely do not recommend a certain part of Steamboat Springs at this time of year. At all costs, this place -- 40.5 degrees north latitude and 106.8 degrees west longitude -- should be avoided between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m.
Alas, I was daydreaming as my friend took a right into the Central Park Plaza parking lot. Before I knew it, we were in the maw of the beast. Two sport utility vehicles were backing blindly toward us from both directions. A car was breathing on our bumper and an abandoned shopping cart blocked the road in front of us. All we could do was inhale the exhaust from idling resort shuttles.
For those who are claustrophobic, I recommend skipping a day of skiing and ignoring your list of errands.
On Sunday morning, my friend and I headed in the other direction from the mountain. We found a semi-packed trail and started hiking up the ridge.
It was uphill all the way, and heavy breaths pushed out our conversation. But the world was opening up. It was like climbing those stairs out of Cappadocia.
At the top, we shared a piece of chocolate and some water before heading back to the car, to town, to the crowds.
The sky was blue, and the cold hung like a wall between us and the rest of the world.
Since moving back to the Rockies, my personal space bubble has expanded to a 3-foot radius. I stretched out into the whole of it and took another piece of chocolate.