“Have you been to hell?” the ticket-taker at the entrance gate asked me.
I looked over at my wife. We would be married for twenty-seven years in two weeks time.
We were at The Caves of Heaven and Hell in Narlikuyu, Turkey, about midway through our three week stay this past summer. We had picked up our car in Goeme after several days in both Istanbul and Cappadoccia, and I had been at the wheel the whole time, taking instructions from my tour guide (my wife Brenda) and finding life on the road in Turkey to be both hell and hilarity. The cave named Heaven required a slippery descent of several hundred feet and the cool cave air was a welcome contrast to the summer Turkish swelter. No Pearly Gates awaited us at the bottom, and I wondered if this was Heaven, what would Hell look like? I guess that the ancients didn’t hold the same lofty expectations to which the faithful of today look forward.
As it turned out, Hell was also a cave, but it was one of the few sites in Turkey that was gated and closed. Good thing anyway, I thought; my trip there was probably coming up soon enough.
Probably even hell will only be tough for the first few days; they say that you can get used to anything. That is certainly true of my driving experience. We had driven as far east as Tarsus, the hometown of Paul the Apostle. The faithful among us will know what thereof I speak; you heathens can look up both the man and the place; it will partially make up for all those Sunday school classes you obviously never attended. St. Paul’s Well was still intact, and Paul’s home birthplace was being well looked after. But like Paul, we couldn’t stay in Tarsus forever; we had a lot of ground to cover in the next two weeks. And unlike the apostle, we wouldn’t be boarding a ship in the port town of Tarsus in what used to be called Asia Minor; our way was the highways of Turkey.
Any sea voyage that Paul undertook couldn’t have been as eventful as our first car ride through a major Middle Eastern metropolis. Merson is the largest port in the eastern Meditteranean and I will advise the cautious and courteous drivers of Ottawa to give it a pass. And as for you, the entitled pedestrians of Canada’s capital city; put down your Starbucks coffee and cell phones as you amble across the city streets against any red lights. Any lane lines on the roads have long since faded, honking horns provided continual background noise and redlights were a mere suggestion. A mini-bus driver passed me, nearly taking off my rearview mirror. He didn’t seem to notice me at all, and cared even less. He was lighting a smoke with one hand and making change with the other. That left him his elbow to do the steering. If any moving vehicle did feel so inclined to stop at a red light, they would wait anxiously for that red light to soon turn yellow, at which moment they would start honking their horns impatiently before the light gave the green go-ahead. I was desperately trying to keep up with traffic, fifteen kilometres faster than the suggested speed limit, when a police car pulled up behind me and starting speaking indecipherable Turkish through a megaphone. Uh-oh, I thought. Busted. Visions flashed in my mind of the Turkish prison cells in that 1970s movie ‘Midnight Express’. I gulped and swerved to the side of the road, narrowly avoiding at least one collision. The cop put down his loudspeaker and zoomed on by.
Apparently I had been going too slow.