Friday, December 10, 2010

Adventures with Old Maps, Buses, and Trusting Strangers

Maybe we shouldn't carry a guidebook that's 10 years old.

Well, we don't usually carry a guidebook at all.  Our experiment with Lonely Planet in Indonesia was a disaster--so much energy wasted on making sure we saw each and every temple (really, after two or three, they all look the same) and getting frustrated when the quoted prices were totally different than LP's estimates (and they always were).  Otherwise, we've been mostly guidebook-free, relying on internet research and asking around to make our way.

But then I ran across an old Turkey guidebook in Nepal for only 200-something rupees, and I couldn't pass it up.  I mean, Abraham's birthplace has been, well, Abraham's birthplace for the past 6,000 years, so certainly I could use the guidebook to research interesting cities and sites.

According to the map in the guidebook, Şanlıurfa's old city center is only 1 km east of the otogar, or bus terminal.  We stood facing east, looking down the road.  Not much in that direction, just dusty beige hills in the distance.  Hmm.

I popped my head into a bus and asked, "Şanlıurfa?"  The driver pointed to the other side of the road, the side that heads west.  Not east.  Hmm.

A man stopped his car on the other side of the road.  I think he was asking where we were going, and we said, "Şanlıurfa!"  He waved us to the other side of the road.  I looked at Dave, puzzled, then looked at the map again.  Yep, east is still on the right side of the page.  We want to go east.  Hmm.

The man flagged down a west-bound bus for us.  The driver actually exited the bus and waved at us.  Hmm...

I hesitated.

The man charged across the street like a testosterone-pumped bull charging a red cape.

He was shouting at this point, something in Turkish, and seemed quite upset that the stupid f****** foreigners wouldn't follow his directions.  I momentarily wondered if a passing bus would rip off his driver's side door, which was ajar and hanging into the middle of the road, but decided that Mr. Turkish Bull meant business.  At least he left his four-way flashing lights on...  probably to add to the spectacle.  He grabbed Dave's elbow and literally, physically, dragged him across the street.  As a woman in the company of a man, I was spared his escort.

The bus driver, still standing outside his bus, was snickering.  The entire bus load of women in headscarves and dark-haired men was staring.

And we got on the bus.

All eyes on the foreigners.  An older man insisted that I remove my backpack and sit in his seat.  Dave was placed in the front of the bus, presumably so the bus driver could keep an eye on him, make sure that the stupid f******* foreigner didn't do anything else stupid.

The bus pulled away from the curb...  and headed west.

After a ride that was both longer and in the opposite direction from what I expected, the bus driver indicated that we should get out of the bus.  We stood on the curb of a strange city, completely disoriented, as people streamed by us.

We waited only 2 or 3 minutes before a stranger approached us for conversation.  As a local journalist, Çasim spoke five languages (Turkish, English, Arabic, Kurdish, and French), practically an invitation for me to feel like an ignoramus.  Though we already had a couchsurf arranged, he invited us to stay with him and left us with his phone number and instructions to call him if we needed anything.

Before Çasim walked away, he pointed out our location on the guidebook map.  Turns out that the city center is south and west of the new otogar.  Apparently our guidebook was published before its construction.  No wonder we were so disoriented and confused.

Mr. Turkish Bull was, of course, completely correct.

I haven't been able to trust many people during my travels.  In Southeast Asia and Nepal, it was difficult to know whether someone had my best interests or their wallet in mind.

But Turkey is different.  Maybe it's the culture--I've never met such friendly, outgoing, genuine people.  Maybe it's the religion--Muslim hospitality is amazing.  Maybe it's getting off the tourist trail--the accident of my birth in an English-speaking country qualifies me one step below "rock star."  Whatever it is, for me, this (and not Nepal) is the type of place that speaks to my heart.

This is what Turkey says to my heart:

Laugh when you make mistakes.
Be generous.
It's ok to trust strangers.

And really, leave behind the guidebook!
rays of sun over minarets

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