Whilst sitting on beaches in Turkey, I have been known to mock English tourists, commenting on their bright red, burnt skin. So I get my comeuppance when Chris and I lay in the sun on Olympos beach, then both spend the next week with blistering, lobster-like skin.
Turkey is the country of good fortune: whenever you think you are in trouble, someone appears and saves the day. Every single time. And just when we are desperately standing at the side of the road at 1am in the pitch black, trying to hitch to Cappadocia, locals pull up and drive us far out of their way to our destination.
Exploring Cappadocia’s insane landscape is a pleasure with easy-going, inquisitive Chris. We spend a romantic night camping in Love Valley. Romantic, that is, until giant black ants crawl all over me in the middle of the night. Why didn’t we see the huge ants’ nest when we put up the tent?! I lay awake, swearing, as Chris, who is raised up on his blow-up lilo, sleeps soundly. However, even Chris’s sweet dreams are interrupted at 5.30am as hot air balloons filled with tourists hover over our tent and people take photos of us.
Moving on, we hitchhike east. Our young driver plays 90s club music at insane levels before deliberately ploughing into a flock of birds, killing one. “I only killed one!” he says in defensively.
Chris and I make it into the Kurdish mountains, and as night falls, we find a spot to pitch our tent, hidden amongst apricot trees. There are a few houses around, but surely we can’t be seen. After dark, a gun shot is fired excruciatingly close to us. Then another. Then another. I panic. My imagination runs wild. We are in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. Who are these people? And who do they think we are, creeping into a village which has probably never seen tourists? As we cower silently by the tent, with only the pitch black of the night as protection, a man drives at us, headlights ablaze, hunting us down. I panic again. We stand up, ready to face our fate. “We are tourists…hitchhiking…” we mutter. The man smiles broadly, grabs Chris’s hand, shakes it hard and shouts “MERHABA!” (hello)…”you are my guests!” He grins warmly and drives back off into the night.
In the morning we are invited into the local homes, which comes as no surprise in hospitable Kurdistan. Although it is Ramadan, we are fed breakfast and given a tour of their house and land. We learn that they are zaza kurds and they teach us some of their zazaki language. One of the women laughs and tell us that she saw us walking down the mountain towards their houses last night. She says, “did you hear the gunfire? We didn’t know who you were! Why did you sleep in your tent? You should have come here!” And when we leave, she hugs me warmly and says genuinely, “come back here. You are our guests”. Before we leave we are invited into the neighbours’ home and given even more food and drink. I hope that when I go back to England, I remember the kindness of these families in Turkish Kurdistan and that I, in turn, act kindly and compassionately to others. Sadly, this kind of generosity is hard to come by in western Europe, where we tend to act suspiciously towards strangers.
We continue hitching to Mount Nemrut, which really is in the middle of nowhere. Its obscure location is probably the reason why everyone else travels there with a tour. The famous statues on the top are far less impressive than the amazing views. We leave as the hordes of tour buses arrive.
“Where are you going?” a man asks us.
“Diyarbakır or Urfa. By hitchhiking”.
“By hitchhiking? Impossible!”
I resist telling the Man Who Knows Best to fuck off, and ten minutes later we are in a fast car, heading to the city of Urfa, close to the Syria border.