From Izmir we had three hitches that took us to Pamukkale. Through olive groves and rolling hills filled with fig and orange trees. No power lines or billboards just complete rural beauty. I finally felt like we were seeing the real Turkey.
We were not initially planning to go to Pamukkale but our drivers highly suggested it. One of our rides didn’t speak any English but showered us with gifts. They even gave each of us our own enormous ruby red pomegranate.
Pamukkale was absolutely stunning. Pamukkale is a town that sits beneath natural hot springs and travertines that terrace on the side of a hill. Pictures simply do it no justice. Walking up the terraces to the ruins of an ancient Roman city you are required to take your shoes off. The water gets warmer as you escalate up the hill. People can swim for free in the limestone pools or can pay to go to the small spa that is at the top in the Roman ruins. I felt very lucky to be in Pamukkale on this day because it was the first day with a good sun since the trip began.
We left Pamukkale in high spirits and headed for our next destination; ANKARA. For some reason, this day was much more difficult hitchhiking. Meaning it took longer to get rides and the rides we did get couldn’t take us very far. By the time we made it to Afyon, two hours south of Ankara, it was dark. It had been such a strenuous, long day and we were very tired and didn’t know what to do next.
These situations always bring up differences in opinion and debates. Sometimes it can be difficult and in other cases agreeable. Another positive dynamic in our group is that rarely things are taken personally. If someone wants to do something that no one else wants to do then they do it. Once four we were now two. Jordan headed to meet a couchsurfer in Ankara while Todd and I planned our next move.
First things first, something to eat. While we were enjoying our döners (Turkish kebab) we made a plan to go straight to Cappadocia (6 hour bus ride away). We did not have internet access and most of the people we tried talking to did not speak English. However, we were confident and are certainly used to these kinds of situations where you really do not know what to do next. While I was trying to translate Turkish directions from the restaurant manager a young couple my age asked where we were trying to go.
“Well,” I looked at Todd. “I guess we are trying to go to the bus station.”
“Come sit down.”
We didn’t have anywhere else to be or go so we sat with them. Santiego and Gülçin ordered us a tea and we started to get to know each other. Santiego owned his own carpet cleaning business that took him and his wife, Gülçin, all over eastern Europe. Sitting with them and chatting was a nice change of pace from our previous brainstorming and problem solving evening. After another round of tea Santiego said matter-of-factly,
“Now we go.”
“Oh, where are you going?” I asked.
“We are taking you to bus station.”
I looked at Todd and realized this is what happens when you are open to things. We could have acted rushed or concerned about finding the bus station and not sat down with Santiego and Gülçin. Not only would we have missed out on a fast and easy way to the bus station but also not made these new and wonderful friends.
“I bought my wife car. Mercedes,” he said as he looked lovingly into Gülçin’s eyes.
They really were cute like this. Giving each other loving glances and whenever Santiego referred to Gülçin he always did as his “wife.”
We walked up to the van that they had fully furnished for their travels. A fold down TV, room for a bed, and incredible music system they blasted all the way to the station. Once we got there we showered them with “thank yous.”
“We all go inside.”
Of course they weren’t just going to drop us off. They were so kind that they took us to the window, spoke with the man, ordered our tickets, walked us to our gate, AND treated us to another tea.
“Now we go.”
We gave them hugs and again showered them with “thank yous” and they walked away hand in hand.
Todd and I looked at each other and were so excited and happy to have found these guides. It seems to happen to us wherever we go.
An hour later we were on the bus to Aksaray. Almost hitting the median and crashing and burning along the way. The driver ran into one of those thin metal poles they put in the middle of the interstate just before a two foot high curb for the median came along. We really were lucky he hit the pole and not the median…So I have lots of “thank yous” for that too.
We arrived in Aksaray at 4:30am with no idea where to go or what to do. Luckily (again our luck), with our bus tickets came a shuttle bus ticket into town. The driver didn’t speak any English but we were able to communicate that we didn’t have a hotel to go to and that we wanted a cafe.
All you really need after late nights of travel is a hot pastry, tea and/or coffee. Our AMAZING driver took us to the bakery that made everything for the whole city. From other bread shops to the pretzel vendors to the coffee shops everyone was there early in the morning getting their treats for the day. This was the KING of all bakeries. With a huge brick oven (the size of a yurt!) facing the street looking out all glass windows and doors. They left the front of the bakery open because it was so hot in there.
This became our home for the next 3 hours. Not only was everything fresh but it was very inexpensive as well. Even though it was technically the driver who brought us to this heaven-like place I have to pay tribute to my aunt, Elise, who I believe has rubbed off some of her worldwide-best-bakery-finding magic on me.
It seems that after a month of living in a country one would get a phrase book. No! One would get a phrase book BEFORE going to another country so that they can practice and be prepared. Well, that’s just not how I did it this time. We finally bought a phrase book which was so helpful on our next hitchhiking ride and throughout the rest of the trip.
We walked out of town and made a sign for Nevşehir. We thought we were in a good place to be picked up. It was out of the city and the only direction was for Nevşehir. During our waiting time, I noticed a wall across the street. I mean a BIG wall. With barbed wire and guard posts and guards with guns.
“I think that’s why no one is picking us up right away,” I said, pointing at the wall.
“Well, I think it’s the prison!”
Todd and I started cracking up. Of course the place we picked to hitch was in view of what could easily be assumed as a prison. This realization began a reel of bizarre events including chatty gypsies, a very equivocal old man, and an incident with our hitching ride….
We jumped in a car with a trustworthy looking man. He didn’t speak any English but we had our new phrase book and it helped a lot! We had typical conversation of where we were all from, what our jobs were, and some things about our families.
Now, we had done our research concerning hitchhiking as a woman in Turkey. Things like how to conduct yourself, what certain signs meant, and basically the correct educate. One story that stuck with us was about a girl who was hitchhiking alone in Turkey and her ride made a signal rubbing his two pointer fingers together side by side. The girl made it clear that this symbol meant sex. The rest of the story continued in a positive way where the girl asked to be dropped off and got out of the car with no problems.
Back to our ride….about 30 minutes down the road, with rolling golden hills on all sides of us, our driver began insinuating the question if Todd and I were together. We didn’t quite understand until he made the sign with his fingers. Rubbing them together wildly and pointing to Todd and then to me. This was the first encounter of our entire hitchhiking adventure that this happened. It was hilarious. We laughed and laughed and immediately called Cem (our great friend from Istanbul) to help us translate and confirm that our driver was not asking for sex but asking if we had sex! Cem put our minds at ease saying that our driver told him that we were special people and that we all are good friends.
He dropped us off at the dolmuş stop (Turkish bus/taxi) and we rode it into the town of Göreme where we were hit with the visual beauty of Cappadocia and the famous fairy chimneys.
The fairy chimneys are amazing natural phenomenons that have been around since the 6th century B.C. with several different societies inhabiting them. Cappadocia includes several little towns that each have their own fairy chimneys and/or Roman ruins.
First thing we did when we arrived was find somewhere to sleep! Once we were rested from our exhausting night (and day!) we went and arranged to rent a motorbike. This was one of the best ideas and I have to say the greatest way to see Cappadocia.
Todd’s off road skills were incredible and we made it up to the top of a mountain that over looked the whole country side.
We also went down a dirt road that led to someone’s private farm. There was a sign that said “Information” written in blue on a piece wood dangling from a nail.
“Welcome to my garden!”
A man approached us and told us to come and sit with him and have tea. A German family walked by and he did the same greeting and showed them to the table. There he gave us apple tea that was all natural and produced from his garden. Then he gave us a tour picking tomatoes, grapes, and walnuts and having us eat them. It was wonderful.
The next day we took the bike to Kaymaklı which is one of the Underground Cities around Cappadocia. This place was amazing. Only 10% of the city has been excavated. Todd and I found a tunnel that led straight into darkness. We obviously were not supposed to be down there but it was so curious…like Alice and the rabbit hole. However, it got a bit creepy when we could not fit any more down the tunnel.
We decided to sleep outside this night because we had to be up early for the hot air balloon ride. Wait what?! Hot air balloon?! Oh yea. It was cheaper than we thought because it was the off-season but even if it had been more expensive we would have gone anyways. It was truly the most amazing experience and worth every Turkish Lira. So sleeping outside seemed to be the most logical since we would be saving money on a hostel. The night before the balloon we met some friends in the park where we were sleeping…
These were students at the University near by and they were having a party at the park. They were the most welcoming and jovial bunch. Giving us beer, raki, cucumbers, chicken, and a little bit of everything they had. We had a great time talking with them and were so grateful for the fire they started because it was so cold!
Once they left I set up my sleeping bag on a picnic table and looked up at the stars. There was an incredible moon out and it shown on the fairy chimneys in an eery but magical way. I awoke just before 5am and rode the motorcycle wearing Todd’s sleeping bag. It was SO COLD. I was inside the sleeping bag and wrapped the front part around him. When we arrived at the meeting point for the balloon guide, I popped out of the sleeping bag and his look of surprise was hilarious.
PHEW! I know it is such a long tale but I feel like I had to get it out because it was honestly one of the most wonderful trips. All the people we met and all the beautiful things we saw seemed like enough for a lifetime. This was just one week! We were completely elated the entire time. My favorite part being the surprise of everything. I had no idea all these great things would happen.
Thank you Turkey for being such an incredible adventure.
Now I’m in Moscow and have just come home from walking through the Red Square. I cannot express enough the awe of seeing Russia. Even with the introduction to capitalism, the history stands out strongly.
We finally made it.