Turkey was going to be my extreme loner time. I had two weeks in-country, and assumed that I would make friends at hostels, occasionally hang out with them, and then move on to whatever it was I wanted to do next. I had planned on quiet time in cafes just reading and writing. I almost booked a couple of domestic flights that would have locked in my Turkey travel schedule irreversibly.
I never know anything, and planning is stupid.
First of all, just two days before I left Paris for Istanbul, a friend emailed me to say that not only would I be starting off my trip by staying with an old student of hers, but that I would even be met at the airport. Since I had been planning on sleeping in the airport that night to save money/stress, this was good news. I had booked my hostel for the second night on in advance, but had no trouble canceling my first night there and was not charged for the change.
After two days in the city, I chose to move on and keep the rest of the nights I had booked in the aforementioned hostel because, like I said, independence was Turkey’s theme. I never know ANYTHING.
From roughly one hour after my arrival at the hostel on, I was never alone unless I wanted to be. I don’t quite understand what it was–personality combinations, miraculously coinciding schedules, weather–but several of us solo travelers formed a core group that explored everything we could together. It wasn’t always a huge group moving; we naturally split off into twos, threes, fours, having started as three and eventually adding up to six. But we always came back together by the end of the day. For nearly two weeks we traveled like this, the apex being when six of us, who had known one another for anywhere between six days and two hours, decided to take an overnight bus to Cappadocia together. Six strangers shifting together, knowing that even though three in the group had never planned to go to Cappadocia in the first place (one of our number even changed his flight to be part of this,) that it would work out because we would be together and that had proved itself to be a good thing.
The Cappadocia group, two women and four men, represented six countries spanning five continents. Combined, we spoke around ten languages. And I am convinced that our diversity made us electric–that we were attractive to strangers because our backgrounds so clearly did not match up; that was more than evident just by glancing at us. We made a lot of friends as we went along, raised a lot of eyebrows, and were invited for what now feels like four hundred glasses of free tea, “just because.”
Our diversity made us invincible in a lot of ways, and it helped that we made a habit of saying yes. We said yes to a lot of things, but my personal favorite incident is from our second of three days in Cappadocia. It happened, more or less, like this:
[E, R and I spent the day hiking and covered a ridiculous amount of ground. We climbed in and out of cave churches, scrambled up sometimes-questionable trails from canyon bottoms to rock lookouts that oversaw what felt like the entire world, sprinted down sandy hills for the rush. In short, we were tired, and when finally finished the trail and arrived at a road, we still had a solid 4k or so to get back to town. We were passed twice by a Turkish man, who finally stopped a short way down the road and waved us over to him. And this is where we started saying yes.]
“You going to Goreme? I go near Goreme. I can give you ride [in my horse-drawn buggy.”
…yes. Always say yes.
“Here is road to Goreme. But wait, would you like to ride horse [with this postcard-worthy panoramic view at your back, a gift many other tourists pay much to experience?]
Always say yes. And occasionally lie about the extent of your riding experience so you can go fast.
“Oh, glad you like horse. Maybe if you have some time, I can take you to see my village, Ortahisar.”
Always say yes to a first time riding by horse-drawn buggy on the side of a decently busy highway.
“We buy raki, climb [to the top of that cliff] to watch sunset?”
This is where flexibility and an open spirit get you: on the top of a Cappadocian plateau, riding a horse named Eagle with neither saddle nor stirrups wherever the hell you want to ride him because you have just become friends with his owner and anything goes.