What happens when you avoid the touristy parts?
My first experience of travelling to Turkey was before I discovered Lonely Planet books and backpacking. This was my first trip ever and I went with a three of my friends. We booked an all-inclusive packaged holiday to Olu Deniz. It was in a very touristic area what we saw mainly was the beautiful hotel and pool as oppose to really seeing the country and the people of Turkey. We booked a couple of excursions, a jeep ride and a horse riding trip, both were a lot of fun. We would lounge by the pool of our 4 star hotel. A pretty nice trip overall and of course we met some nice people and got to know the staff at the hotel and the vendors on the strip leading up to the beach. We soon came to realised that the Turks were very friendly and welcoming people. A year after that, with the same group of friends we went to Spain on another packaged holiday. It didn’t compare to our trip to Turkey and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to explore different parts of Turkey more thoroughly. I decided next time I travelled I was going to do it differently.
A few years later that’s exactly what I did. I discovered how to travel on a budget and see more of a country. It also meant that I met a lot more people, most of whom were doing the same thing. It beat merely conversing with people by the hotel pool. I usually traveled alone as most of my friends preferred packaged holidays and didn’t have the same holiday time as me, since I was a school teacher. I have since travelled to countries such as Thailand, the Philippines (where I met my husband), Hong Kong and The Grand Canyon in Arizona U.S.A, to name a few.
So when I got married in August my husband and I decided to go to Turkey. We were living in the UK at the time so this seemed the most economical option and he had never been to Turkey before and I always said I wanted to go back. Reading about Turkey we knew we were not going to have a conventional type of honeymoon at a five-star resort. We wanted to explore as much of Turkey as possible in the little time we had. We decided to focus on the eastern part of Turkey and avoid the touristy parts in the West. Of course we wanted to have time of relaxation and do some of the tourist activities but our priority was to avoid the two weeks going by without really seeing much. We have the same ethos when it comes to travelling so it worked out really well.
So what happens when you go to the non-touristy parts of Turkey? Well we started off in Istanbul and stayed for one night. We planned part of our trip from there, which basically involved deciding where to go next and how to get there. I was taken by surprise when a lady and her son stopped me and asked me to take a picture with them. I complied because they were both really friendly. It can’t be because I’m black I thought, there are black people here in the city, surely? There were, not many but they were there. I didn’t give it any more thought and just laughed it off. Well, soon I would realise that this would not be the first time this happened to me in Turkey.
We took the train and then a bus to Malatya. There wasn’t anything specific we wanted to see there but it was a place we had to pass through to make our way to Goreme, a town in Cappadocia. We stayed there for a couple of nights in a pretty decent hotel. We went to the night market and one of the locals stopped us and took us to his shop where he gave us all this free food, result! We got an invitation to dinner at his brother’s house but unfortunately we had already booked a bus to go to Goreme. Well again I noticed that a lot of people were staring at me just as I was walking down the street. I certainly didn’t see any other black people there for the two days I was there so I presumed I just stood out to people. We saw one elderly man literally stop in the middle of the street to stare at me. I began to really consider the possibility that some of these people have never met a black person before in real life.
In Olu Deniz my friends and I got a lot of attention but most of the western women did whatever race they were. It soon became apparent that in the parts of Turkey my husband and I travelled to, there were not many tourists and I didn’t see any black people. However when we got to Goreme, there were plenty of tourists. This is a touristy area because people come from all over the world to see the famous statues on the summit of Mount Nemrut, that were discovered in 1883. Although there were more tourists here it certainly wasn’t a typical tourist area like the beached holiday in Olu Deniz . It attracted people who were there for the history of the place. I totally forgot about my experience in Malayta, while in Goreme I didn’t stand out as much. We met an Australian couple on the bus. This guy’s hair was multicoloured and divided into five huge spikes. I told my husband that if we hang out with them, fewer people would stare at me!
So we went to see the Nemrut statues and watched the sunset. We spent one more night in Goreme, going on a horse riding trip. This was the first time my husband had ever been on a horse. Of course he had to get the crazy horse that would gallop for no reason and go off course. It completely ignored the instructor when he tried to pull him by the reigns to get back on course. I had a nice time but I don’t think my husband will be getting back on a horse any time soon.
The next day we travelled the Derinkuyi Underground City, this was a 30 minute bus ride from Goreme. This was caves that were expanded over centuries and consisted of stables, cellars, storage rooms, churches and wineries etc. There was even a missionary school and study rooms. It is 85m deep and there is a 55m air vent that runs through it. You have to be prepared for a lot of climbing and uphill walking once you begin exploring. There are a lot of closed spaces so be aware that it may feel claustrophobic at times. It was amazing to see the complicated network of passages, tunnels, stepped pits and inclined corridors. The small details were taken care of with the building of wells, chimneys for air circulation, niches for oil lamps, stores, water tanks, stables and even temporary graves. There were moving stones that acted as doors that could quickly be closed to block the corridors in the event of an attack. It was wonderful to see how people lived there and carried on with everyday life.
Our next stop was a trip to Derende, a district of Malatya. While waiting for a bus the manager of the bus station told us he would take us to where we wanted to go in his car and he wanted us to meet his wife. Basically, his wife came to the bus station and we all got in his car. The roads in Turkey are a little unnerving but not too bad. We drove to Derende. We were quite disappointed with how man-made everything appeared to be. Even the water fall we were looking forward to seeing had a restaurant built around it. I had never seen anything like this before. It was kind of like hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and finding a shopping mall there! It was nice to spend the day with this couple, although we did feel a little bit at their mercy at times because we had no idea where we were or where we were going. I wouldn’t recommend doing this ordinarily but it was an interesting experience overall.
Another long bus ride and we ended up in Urfa and went to a district called Haran. This place has a lot of history and is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the history of the earth. It is mentioned in Genesis 11:32 in the bible. It includes sites such as Abraham’s tomb and relics connected to Job and the first ever university. We met one guy who thought we were really cool for doing this on our honeymoon, we felt like explorers. The chaos started all over again. One afternoon we sat down to have a glass of water. It was Ramadan so food was not being served in most places and we felt inconsiderate stuffing our faces amongst people who were fasting. I then got my first insight into what it must feel like to be famous. This was such a funny experience. First a few kids surrounded me and asked if I would take pictures with them. I said yes but then more kids came! I just continued taking pictures with them. Then some of them started taking pictures of me on their mobile phones!! Then adults came and wanted to take pictures, I saw some other tourists looking over and smiling. My husband had to get into bodyguard mode and said to the crowd, no more pictures! This was such a bizarre experience for me and made me wonder why anyone would want to be famous!!
The same thing happened to me the next day when a group of ladies surrounded me for pictures. One practically pushed my husband out the way. It was all in good fun though. Never did I feel threatened by this. Everyone was really friendly. I think it was only once I noticed a man taking a picture of me on his mobile phone but apart from that everyone who came up to me had asked to take a picture with me and my husband on many occasions. They loved the fact that he was American. They kept asking him about president Obama. We didn’t really share our political views, which would have killed the mood!
Then there was the time a group of kids started chatting to us and decided to give us a tour of their area, all in Turkish of course. But it’s amazing how much communicating you can do with people who don’t speak the same language as you. There was a lot of pointing and nodding for instance. We had a great time with the kids and met all their friends and some of their family members. We enjoyed the tour and couldn’t believe our luck at getting two guided tours in one week, completely free of charge.
So how did this compare to my previous trip to Turkey? Well there is certainly a time and a place for lazing by the pool, definitely! However, when you really want to see a lot and meet the people it’s good to get your guide book and make a rough plan of where you want to go. Then see what happens. I think you will have a lot more adventures doing this. We even considered crossing the border to go to Iraq (this side of the border is free from conflict) however we decided against it as it was likely that no one there would speak a word of English and it probably would not have been wise to go on this occasion.
I have travelled to Thailand and the Philippines alone and felt totally safe. However going to non touristy parts of Turkey alone I would not recommend for a female. Getting all that attention and being alone may be quite overwhelming and intimidating. But hey, with friends or your spouse I would definitely encourage you to be less conventional when it comes to travelling to Turkey. The people are super friendly, in fact I would say they are the friendliest out of all the countries I’ve been to. So see where you end up and share your story.