I spend half a day roaming the ruins of Ephesus, fascinated to be in such an ancient place. That evening I eat dinner on the terrace of the pansiyon in Selçuk, with a German couple and five Japanese students. The Greek widow who runs our pansiyon entertains us with stories as she delivers plate after plate of food. There is much talk and laughter. I love this, this exchange of international friendship, all of us from so far away, from such diverse backgrounds, here in Turkey discovering more of the world.
The next day the German couple and I hike 8 km up a mountainside covered in olive trees, to Sirence, a hillside village of narrow winding streets and tourist traps. As I wander in search of the pansiyon at the end of the day, a group of 10-year old girls stops me in the street, chattering in good English. I ask their names and tell them mine, and we share several minutes of delighted conversation. Then one of them says, “Photo?” and while I go for my camera they jump up and down and sing exuberantly. I take a picture, then ask if someone wants to take one so I can be in it too. They all want to...so I’ll have about six.
I catch a late afternoon bus out of town, where the non-English-speaking driver and steward’s interest in me provides opportunity to perfect my look of steely nonchalance. They play Turkish music videos and I eventually reach for my earplugs.
Just after 4:30 Sunday morning, my bus pulls into the town of Goreme, and this time I am prepared--again--to fend for myself. But again, there is a pansiyon owner waiting. “You need pansiyon?” My other option is sitting outside the closed otogar and waiting for daylight, so, as the mournful 5:00 a.m. Muslim call to prayer fills the street, I follow him through the darkness.
Goreme, in the Cappadocia region, is famous for its volcanic rock formations out of which have been carved centuries-old rooms, houses, churches, and underground cities. From the bus I caught glimpses of these cave dwellings, and now I find I am staying in one. The man leads me up a hazardous set of stairs to a room that is dusty, cave-like, and among the most interesting places I’ve slept in.
In the morning I keep the $20 US wanted by tour groups, and set out on foot to explore by myself. Not, of course, for long. As I walk, I pass a boy who looks 12 or 14, though he later tells me he is 20. “Merhaba,” I say, and he watches me and says something in Turkish. I laugh and shrug; he falls in step beside me. We walk in silence, I munch my apple and laugh to myself at the fact that I am in Turkey with this boy walking beside me and we can’t talk to each other and he won’t go away and I have no idea what he’s doing. We both start laughing. He hands me a ring. “Present,” he says. Then, “This way,” and leads me up a hill of volcanic tuffa, and soon we are scrambling through hidden caves I’d never have found on my own. “Donkey house,” he explains. “Camel house.” “People house.” “This way.”
In the “people house” he points to a hollowed-out shelf in the wall that I soon understand is a bed. He repeats a sentence that I strain to decipher. Finally I make out the words “Turkish, Canada, girlfriend, and sex,” and I get a little nervous. Maybe he isn’t 12. Then again, maybe he is. I suggest we leave.
We continue in somewhat less amiable fashion than before. As we walk he says, “My grandfather’s house, tea, coffee, no problem.” Yeah. Tea and coffee are never a problem here. I think it’s a conspiracy--they serve endless tea and make a killing on bathroom charges.
I decline the tea and return to town.
Where I am invited for lunch on the terrace outside a carpet shop by a young man, an older man, and his girlfriend. I accept because of her presence. I’m becoming paranoid about all these men, the realization gradually sinking in that they view Western women (me) as easy, and one traveling alone especially so. We talk about our countries and cultures, I am shown carpets and given a lesson on the meaning in them. (“I can read every carpet here,” Ali tells me. “I can tell whether the girl who made it was happy or sad, or lonely, or in love.”)
The older man asks if I would stay a day with his girlfriend to help with her English. Which sounds fun, but she’s not free til Tuesday evening...which will be no problem because the young man would be pleased to take me around tomorrow on his scooter, and we can have a picnic lunch, and he can take me to hear traditional Turkish music, and then to a beautiful place to watch the sunset... “if you do not misunderstand.” All of which sounds a bit too romantic to me. I invent a boyfriend. I’m happy for a guide and the chance to meet people...but I’m uneasy about all this attention and friendliness, and wish I knew for certain what motives lay behind it. I say I’ll think about it.
I do accept the offer of the older man and his girlfriend to take me around this afternoon in their car. We see amazing sites, they ply me with questions about Canadian culture, family life, and the role of women. We discuss my experience in Turkey and the inescapable attention from men, which, they confirm--it finally computing in my naive brain--has but one end in view.
They are friendly, but I worry that I’m stupid trusting people I know nothing of. I leave them as soon as I can. I decide the cozy scooter excursion tomorrow is out of the question, and that I will decline the English tutorial. I cancel dinner, which was going to be a group of us but has suddenly become just the young man and me. I get paranoid.
I spend the evening hiding out at an internet café. Hiding from the Turkish people who want to be my friends; hiding from the men. My destination is Sanliurfa, where my cousin Joy and her husband Dave live and operate a tourist office. I decide I’ll go tomorrow to be with them. It’s become too stressful traveling alone and female in this part of the world.