Lost? There’s A Turk For That.

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, June 07, 2011 was originally posted on June 11, 2011.

DAYS 4-5 (PART 2): “Where are you going?” asked a lone Turkish guy who seemingly came out of nowhere at a deserted road junction between towns in the Cappadoccia region. Jeff and I were on our motorbike scooters, and were a bit lost.

“[Is this the way to Kaymakli?]” Jeff asked him.

“Mazi,” he said, naming a town that, according to our map, was on the way to Kaymakli.

“And Kaymakli?”

“[No, Mazi this way,]” he replied, pointing in one direction before pointing towards the other way of the T intersection. “[Kaymakli, this way.]”  (Later we learned that a lot of our confusion was due to the tourist map we got from the rental place, which apparently wasn’t accurate or to scale.)

“You know the underground city?” Jeff asked him — but apparently he had already dispensed most of his understanding of the English language.  “Underground city,” Jeff said, putting his hands down low as a makeshift form of sign language.

The Turk smiled, showing his incomprehension.

“There are two underground cities. One at Mazi and one at Kaymakli.  Which is better?” we asked.

He still didn’t know, so I simplified the language. “More good.  Which is more good?  Mazi or Keymakli?”

“Ah, Mazi. This way,” he replied, recognizing a city name — although I’m not sure he completely understood us.  He got an A for effort, and we went with his suggestion anyway.

“What’s your name?” Jeff asked him.

“Name?  My name is Mahmoud,” the Turk said.

“I’m Jeff, and this is Erik,” Jeff told him.  “Erik, like the fruit.”

Mahmood just smiled. 

“Okay, thank you.”  He let me take a photo of him before we zipped away to the village of Mazi.

MAHMOUD WASN’T THE ONLY RANDOM TURK to give us directions on our motorbike tour; others came to the rescue when we got lost in the bigger city of Neveshir, and on the highway near the town of Gore (not Goreme).  Whenever we’d get lost, even on a long stretch of road away from town, a Turk would conveniently pop up within a minute and show us the way like a deux es machina.  Even a young 13(?)-year-old helped us find our way at some point — although he asked for cigarettes in return.  (“You’re too young for cigarettes,” Jeff told him, before laughing and giving him one anyway.) 

All the Turkish effort to help us was testimony to what Meg had told us earlier; that in her 14-month stay in Turkey, she’s seen nothing but the kindness of strangers from Turkish people.  They always seem to go out of their way to help you, even if you’re not visibly pregnant like she is.

For example, when Jeff and I arrived at the regional Neveshir airport on our first day in Cappadoccia — without any bookings to a hotel or tour like everyone else on the plane — a English and German speaking Turk showed up and offered us his taxi services — but not in a pushy, touty way.  He saw that we were lost.  (Surprisingly, not every cab driver was pushy, or were there anyone touting hotels on us like we had anticipated.)

“My name is Ibrahim,” he told us when I asked.  “Like Abraham.  Abraham Lincoln.  Abraham is the Christian name; Ibrahim, Muslim name.”

“I’m Erik.  Erik, like the fruit.”

Ibrahim’s knowledge about the region was insightful as he drove us to Gorème, and it was a good intro to life in Cappadoccia outside the tourist trail.  He spoke of his life back in Turkey, after having worked and lived in Germany for twenty years.  Even with the hardships of working two jobs — being a farmer and taxi driver — he still preferred it over life in the big city.  “[When you’re young, you want to be in the big cities, but when you’re thirty you just want this,]” he told us when we stopped for a cigarette break overlooking the Gorème valley.  His eldest daughter was living the city life, but for him, he had found his peace, away from the busy cities of Europe.  “I’ve been here twelve years now.  I like it here better.  No stress.”

ANYWAY, BACK TO MAZI.  Jeff and I arrived in the little town, looking for the underground city.  It was marked by a small sign next to a walkway into the earth, where we were greeted by Ihsan, the local tour guide there.  After offering us tea (it’s customary in this country), he gave us a tour of the network of caves and dwellings underground.  It’s original origins are unknown, but evidence shows that they have since been repurposed over the past 7000 years by the Sumerians, Hittites, Romans, Ottomans, and Turks.

“Welcome to Hell,” he tried to say ominously — although he had too friendly of a demeanor to be scary.  “This is going to be a real adventure, like Indiana Jones.”

It was like Indiana Jones exploring room after room, cave after cave, using ladders, ropes, and footholds carved into the rock to get to higher levels after descending down holes — all of which would be pitch black if not for an oil lamp and a couple of flashlights.  Even the circular doors that could seal off passages from intruders were reminiscent of the ones in Temple of Doom.  It was like a big adult obstacle course or playground, like playing in the mines of Potosi, Bolivia (but without the exploding dynamite)

“Are you afraid of ghosts?” Ihsan asked Jeff.

“Nah, I’m not afraid of ghosts.”

With that said, Ihsan split us up.  He had Jeff walk one way, while we were to meet him at some point.  Ihsan knew all the nooks and crannies of the cave network, and set it up so we could scare him through a hole in the wall.  Needless to say, Jeff screamed out when he got him. 

Even expecting Ihsan’s harmless tricks, we were still screaming from surprise every time he went ahead to duck around and scare us on the tour.  He got me real good at one point and I too screamed like a bitch.  We were joined by two other tourists, a French couple, who also got Ihsan’s treatment.  At the end of our tour, he set up a game of hide and seek, where he and the French lady went out and we had to find them.  Going through one cave, the only way out was through a little tunnel, which Jeff started to climb through — until Ihsam sneaked from behind and scared the crap out of me again.

This was all fun and games, but actually a fine example of how easy it was to defend the underground city if you knew your way around.  Ihsan told us of how they set up booby traps to get intruders out; it was all a part of an unexpected excursion.

“Deed it mayne,” Jeff told me, using our Eli Porter-inspired catch phrase.

“This is the best, mayne,” I replied as we were about to climb up another rope.  “I didn’t think we’d be doing this today.  I thought we’d just be zipping around.”

THE FRENCH COUPLE, WHO HAD ALSO BEEN to the more popular underground city at Kaymakli, confirmed that we’d made the right choice going to Mazi.  The other underground city was basically the same thing, but completly lit up for the bus tour masses, and certainly not as fun.  It was inevitable to stop in Kaymakli anyway, to gas up, get some lunch.  We ended up at this deserted corner restaurant, just half a block from where the tour buses parked.  The owner gave me the remote control for the TV and we watch speeches for the upcoming non-early election — Turkey’s first in 34 years.  “[The election.  Who will you vote for?]” Jeff asked one of the guys there.  The guy took the remote to switch between two campaign rallies.

“[He is our Obama!]” he said with current prime minister Tayyip Erdo?an on the screen.  He switched to a balding candidate on another channel.  “George Bush!” he said with a frown.

Talk of politics was limited due to the language barrier, so we left Kaymakli and moved on.  Eventually we returned our motorbikes with just enough time for a hammam and dinner, before taking the overnight bus to the city of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast.  It was an easy affair getting there (especially with the funny-looking, big-eared, bow-tied conductor serving snacks) but I’m sure if we got lost along the way somehow, a Turk would pop out of nowhere and show us the way.


Turks weren’t the only nationalities Jeff and I encountered in Cappadoccia.  Aside from hearing a lot of familiar American accents everywhere, there was a trio of Chinese tourists at our hotel with what Jeff told me was one of the thickest Pekingese accents he’s ever heard — they’re heavy on rolling their R’s.  “There they are, rolling away,” Jeff told me.

We also encountered a group of middle-aged Brits who were traveling around the region with their own mini-van.  “Jeffrey!... Jeffrey!  Stop making so much noise, Jeffrey!” said this one British man who was calling out to his friend, who was actually not making a peep.  It was that call to Jeffrey that caught our attention, and we started a conversation.  They too had observed the friendly and helpful nature of the Turkish people, although when describing a whirling dervishes show they had seen, they said (in a strong British accent): “It’s quite strange… it’s quite peculiar, really.”  Later, in old-timey English fashion, the guy talked about he met the “gov’nah” of one of the smaller towns.


At the Gorème Open Air Museum, there was this funny-looking dude with a big afro that looked like he was wearing a Groucho Marx eyeglasses mask and an afro wig at the same time — Jeff couldn’t stop laughing whenever he glanced at him.  “I gotta take a picture of that guy,” he said, but it was tricky without being noticed.  I managed to get the prized shot to keep for ever.  “Deed it mayne.”

Next entry: The Post-Backpackers

Previous entry: Easy Riders and Hard Ons

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Comments for “Lost? There's A Turk For That.”

  • those caves are creepy even without someone jumping out and scaring the crap out of you ...
    bow-tie guy is awesome!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/12  at  03:28 AM

  • Erik, like the fruit.  You said it, not me.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/12  at  07:46 AM

  • What was the soup you had for lunch? Local specialty?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  08:20 PM

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This blog post is one of nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Jive Turkey," which chronicled a trip through the Eurasian country of Turkey.

Next entry:
The Post-Backpackers

Previous entry:
Easy Riders and Hard Ons


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