Turks sure are friendly. Everywhere we go, they call out to greet us, enquire how we are, and then invite us into their shop or restaurant, the finest in town. But look past the obvious tourist traps, and our first impressions are that Turks are indeed very friendly and that the country is bustling.
We’ve had a whirlwind start, landing in the seaside resort of Bodrum, taking a mini-bus (dolmus) to Mumcular in search of camel wrestling, and then a Teknobus to Selҫuk and Ephesus. We’ve been staying in hotels and pensions, and with no kitchen we’ve had no option but to seek out the best of Turkish cafés and restaurants.
Our first night in Bodrum, we came across a marvelous little restaurant, Avlu, with a dog on the doormat hoping for a little something. A side note on dogs: in many towns, the street dogs are playful and well-fed. Stepping over him, we found ourselves in a delightful restaurant that would garner rave reviews were it back home on Roncesvalles or Ossington. A warm fire, fine food, gracious hosts, and we were already loving Turkey.
The next day, we followed up on a tip from people we met at Avlu and hopped the dolmus to the town of Mumcular to find camel wrestling. It’s like the rodeo circuit of Turkey, going from town to town before the final show in Selҫuk. Basically, it involves two male camels neck wrestling for dominance and females. The winner is declared when the other is pinned, runs away, or cries out. It would have made a great post, except that when we arrived it was pouring rain, and a fellow passenger explained using Google translate that the wrestling was cancelled due to rain.
The logical course would have been to stay on the bus and return to Bodrum. Let’s go for a walk, Nancy suggested, and so we found ourselves walking around a rural village in the rain, taking in the market, and winding up outside a small restaurant. It was there we met Seren.
“Can I help you?,” he asked (not, “I have the finest food in Mumcular”). As we sat down for our first pide (Turkish pizza), he asked “Why are you here?” We’re not sure if he meant “What brings you to Mumcular?” or “Why would anyone travel halfway round the planet to come to Mumcular?” or even “Of all the pide joints in Turkey…” but we told him both the small reason (camel wrestling) and the big one (a year to see the world). Seren seemed impressed and a bit envious, but it was clear that he already possesses the language and the open, inquisitive attitude for world travel. We wish him well!
Back in Bodrum, still rainy the next day, and Nancy is stir crazy and fed up with watching us all on electronics. She heads out to find a coffee shop, and I find her an hour later deep in conversation with Ṣakir (pr. Shakir) at the Frappe coffee shop. Ṣakir fills in some of the gaps for us on the currency and economy of Turkey. Turkey had its big economic crisis over a decade ago in 2001. The Turkish lira was revalued in 2005 (a million lira became one), national debts were restructured, and the country invested in itself. The results can be seen all around, with clean streets, new high-speed railways, and investments in history and culture. Turkey has either escaped much of the European economic crisis, or the money simply flowed east and the same cycle of cheap loans and debt is repeating itself here. Still, there is something different in the nature of the Turkish economy, from the abundance of small buses to the cafes that serve tea to all the local shops. Everything seems interconnected, diverse, and apparently resilient.
We had dinner at Frappe that evening: more great food and a comfy lap beagle. We have since decided that should we ever get a beagle, we will name it “Ṣmeagol.”
The next day was something I’d been looking forward to: a three-hour ride on a Teknobus, one of the famous Turkish buses that boasts internet, personal TVs, and on-board complimentary snacks. All the Turkish bus lines are privately owned, and there are several major companies and countless others vying for your attention. The big buses connect the major centres, and from there the network of dolmus buses spread out to the towns and villages. It’s efficient, cheap, and a great employer. I can’t help but think of when we were cycling in New Brunswick two years ago and the government announced it was cancelling the only bus service.
We arrived in Selҫuk, hoisted our backpacks, and went in search of the ANZ Guesthouse. We missed the turn and found ourselves walking out of town. We turned around, and stopped to ask a gun-toting guard at the Jendarma (the rural police force) if he could show us the way on our map. After some confusion, a senior officer came over who spoke excellent English and invited us into the compound and around to the back to show us their vantage point over the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not much remains except for a single column, but as we stood there another officer came over with tea. This is Turkey, a country that rivals Canada in its hospitality. The rain started to fall again, and the senior officer, who introduced himself as Fico, drove us to our guesthouse. Two days later, as we sat having tea and pide, Fico walked by with an elderly man, and so we have a photo.
This is Turkey, and we are loving it. Next up, everyone says you have to see Ephesus!