I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, but it feels good.
Evan and I hitchhike into Finike, where I thought I remembered a couchsurfer existing, but I was wrong. We go on to Kumluca. I still haven’t eaten for most of the day. Now it’s late at night, but we decide to stop, take it easy and eat something. Neither of us is in a rush to get anywhere and hitchhiking feels like flying compared to trekking.
Eating dinner in a Turkish lokanta (restaurant), a man sits down at our table. He eats a few bites of the food he has ordered and invites us to join him next door for a beer. Evan and I are in the mood to say yes to things, so we follow him into the dingy bar next door. This is obviously a local’s place and we stick out like shiny red thumbs, but our friend chatters away to me in Turkish and I do my best to answer his questions. “It’s late,” he says to me in Turkish. “Come with me to my house, in the morning you can hitchhike to Antalya.” He repeats this many times, he seems sincere. I look at Evan, who shrugs. “Sure, thanks!”
Our new friend is Huseyin. We follow him to a taxi where he puts our bags into the boot and we drive to a different part of town. “This isn’t a scam is it?” I whisper to Evan. “Oh god, I hope not! This is like the nicest guy ever. Shit, yeah, it could be couldn’t it? Well let’s just go with it and see what happens and be ready to get the hell out of here if anything goes wrong…”
But it’s not a scam. This really is the nicest man ever. He takes us to his family home where we are greeted by a mildly surprised but very welcoming head-scarfed wife and adult daughter, all smiles. Next an adult son appears from the house next door, along with Huseyin’s brother. Soon sleepy eyed children begin to appear from all three of the closest houses. A table and chairs are brought outside and çay is put on to boil. They ask lots of questions and and gradually we begin to piece together fragments of one another’s lives. Huseyin is extremely proud of his family, and rightly so. “Güzelme?” he asks – isn’t she beautiful? – referring to his wife. She is not at all what one would describe as beautiful on the outside, but she certainly is on the inside and I agree wholeheartedly. She looks awkwardly shy at this, clearly not believing me, but Huseyin just beams with pride and adoration.
When much tea has been drunk and many questions answered, the sleepy eyed children drift off and Evan and I are presented with freshly made-up beds in the lounge. Now I know for sure I made the right decision coming with Evan – nothing like this ever happened when we were a group of six. These are the experiences I travel for.
In the morning the adult daughter offers a lift to a good hitching place in her car. But first we must drink lots more çay and eat plenty of kahvaltı – Turkish breakfast, consisting mostly of tomatoes, cucumber, black and green olives, bread, cheese and egg. We’re just getting ready to leave when the gift shower begins – the daughter gives me a necklace of shiny blue beads. I thank her profusely and rummage in my bag to find something to give in return. Fortunately I have a supply of gifts and give her a necklace I’ve been carrying. She’s so grateful she gives me a ring and beautiful turquoise vest. I have another rummage and come up with a pink and yellow friendship bracelet for the younger daughter. Now I’m given a bag and the mother is attempting to give me her sandals. Evan has two new t-shirts. What are we going to do? I manage to refuse the shoes on account of my bag being too heavy, hoping not to offend the woman. I protest – “too much, too much!” “It’s ok, we have a lot!” they reply, smiling. “I love you! I love you!” says the adult daughter, shrugging. It turns out these people are Kurdish – I should have guessed! Kurdish people are even more infamous than Turkish people for their warmth and hospitality.
Finally we’re on our way, looking extremely bling in all our new stuff. I’m worried this will ruin my poor traveller look and stop us getting lifts, but we’re in Antalya in time for lunch. Strange to be here so suddenly after inching my way towards it for over a month with Lisa on the Lycian Way. It feels a little like cheating, but at the same time good to give up on plans and expectations completely and just go with whatever happens.
I still don’t have any couchsurfing replies in Antalya so decide to stick with Evan for the time being. I find a host in Konya that’s into Sufism – the reason both of us are heading there. I write him a lengthy message with my phone number and he’s on the phone calling me by the time we’ve left our cafe.
We walk to the edge of town and hitch a ride. Konya is a lot further than expected as the road is winding and mountainous, and it’s getting late as we arrive. Our last lift is two guys around my age. One paints murals on the inside of mosques. Supposedly he painted the Ağia Sofia! They start acting a bit cagey and we’re not sure what’s happening, but then a massive rock of hash appears and everything makes sense. I haven’t smoked in years, but somehow this feels like a good time to make an exception. Soon we’re driving along inside a giant bong. When the guy in front puts the light on to skin up another joint I’m sure the police are going to stop us, but they don’t. The overall feeling is that I am now inside a Jack Kerouac novel.
It’s surreal arriving in Konya. Evan has gone completely inside himself and is no longer communicating with me at all. I feel some mild paranoia and decide the lesson to take from this is a remembering that weed is not such a great idea. Anyway, it was something to experience.
Our host meets us and he is another of the nicest men ever – extremely hospitable and ready to do anything for us. He’s a religious man and tells us the Koran says that God loves travellers and it’s important to be kind to them. Thanks Allah!
Konya is the birthplace of Sufism and a university town, so strange that it’s such a conservative city. Many women are wearing head-scarves and our host tells us it’s quite Right-Wing, but changing now because of the growth in the student population. The only Sufi stuff we can find is the Mevlana Museum, including Rumi‘s tomb, and the weekly super-touristic whirling dervish performance.
Our host has some more couchsurfers coming. Evan decides to get a room in a hotel along with a couple of other travellers we’ve met. Through a series of events I come to meet a carpet shop owner who hosts me in his shop, laying out his most expensive carpet for me to sleep on. Actually, he’s staying there with me, but this is another story…
Unfortunately in the morning my only thought is of escape. Clearly, I wasn’t ready for a romance. This man likes me. He’s very nice, but I need to leave. I find a host in Antalya and book a coach for that evening. My carpet shop friend is sulking. He wants me to stay, but I just can’t. Yes, I glossed over a few occurrences then. Still processing and writing all of this in a story of it’s own…
This is the second time I’ve taken a coach rather than hitchhike in Turkey, and once more I regret the decision. I decided I didn’t want to speak to anyone, just look out of the window and think, but the attendant has other thoughts. He’s strangely bureaucratic and demands that I move away from the back-seat – where nobody else is sitting – to an aisle seat next to an old woman, because it’s the seat number on my ticket. I think this is ridiculous and decide to stay where I am. He’s really pissed off about this and neglects to bring me water and tea when he serves all the others. After a toilet stop one of the other passengers is in my seat, so I move to the other side. The man comes back to bother me again – shouting in Turkish that I am seat number FORTY EIGHT and the one I’m sitting on is FIFTY TWO! Shocker. Well, the woman has left now so I move to appease him. He is delighted, the petty little man.