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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Turkish Delight

Before I went to Turkey, many people had warned me to be on my guard, against unsavoury characters, pickpockets and mostly individuals out to make a quick buck and fleece unsuspecting tourists. One friend had been taken round and round the same area by a taxi driver claiming not to be able to find his hotel. His ride ended up costing him three times as much as he should have paid.

To be sure, I was cheated, sort of. I had opted to take an overnight bus from Istanbul to Goreme in the Cappadocia region instead of flying, to save money. The bus ride itself wasn’t too bad. The sight of the unworldly moonscape that greeted me in the early dawn more than made up for the discomfort of riding ten hours in a bus.

At a sort of bus depot where all the passengers started to gather their luggage and get out of the bus, a guy started yelling “Bus to Goreme over here!” The fact that he was yelling in English should have alerted me, but sleep deprivation made me pretty groggy, so I followed him. He led me and a few others all the way to another part of the depot where some mini vans were parked, and then told us we had to part with what I thought was an exorbitant sum to be transported to Goreme.

“No,” I told him, “my ticket is supposed to take me all the way to Goreme. I’m not paying extra.”

He immediately lost interest in me and concentrated on the other, equally clueless, tourists. I decided to go back to the main part of the depot and showed my ticket to some of the guys in uniform there. I didn’t know what uniforms they were wearing, and for all I know, they could have been bus drivers, station attendants or guards.

“Goreme? Goreme?” I asked each one, but they just shrugged. Finally someone said “You want bus? Goreme?”

“Yes, yes,” I replied, adding, “No pay,” waving my hands for effect.

He pointed to a decrepit old bus whose engine was already running, so I trotted over to it, waving my ticket. I was nonchalantly allowed up but when I climbed aboard, I discovered to my dismay that every seat was taken. Everyone was either sleeping or desultorily looking out of the window. With its ancient gears grinding, the tin can bus made its way out on to the highway, and I was resigned to holding on for dear life, standing in the aisle and hugging my backpack.

I closed my eyes, regretting my decision to take the bus, thinking that I could save some money and see some local colour as well. When I opened them again, a burkha-clad little old lady in front of me was waving at me shyly. She started to scoot over sideways where a young girl (I’m presuming granddaughter) was sitting beside her. That left a little space on her seat which she patted and beckoned me over to share.

I gratefully sank into that one-third of a bus seat. All I could do was grin maniacally at her as she patted my hand, and I finally made my way to Goreme in almost one piece.

I loved everything about the village of Goreme, the charming little streets, tiny little cafes tucked into nooks and corners, and most of all, my cave hotel. I felt like Fred Flintstone (okay, Wilma) burrowing under thick blankets while touching the rock walls that enveloped me like a pre-historic cocoon. Walking out early one morning, I followed a trail that led me past ancient caves that dotted the landscape.

While stopping to take in the sights, I noticed a man approaching me. My first thought was “Help! I’m here by myself, no one knows I’m here.” I could see that he was a local, dressed simply and had a pretty solemn expression on his face. “Uh oh, what does this guy want? Do I flee or stay?” My brain turned to mush and before I knew it, he was right in front of me. Before I knew it, he held out two pears to me. I smiled sheepishly at him and took the pears. He tipped his cap, turned around and walked off back where he came from. I almost cried at the sheer generosity of spirit the locals here showed me. They were the sweetest pears I have ever tasted.

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