I left Istanbul and headed for the Roman Ruins in Ephesus near a city called Kusadasi, this involved taking a ferry from Istanbul as recommended by some local connections, and then driving for 7 hours or so to the south eastern coastline of Turkey. As it was my first night alone I decided to look out a campsite in a reasonably busy town so I could stroll around and mingle with some people. The plan went well, every time I stopped for fuel the car attracted some attention and questions from friendly waiters, petrol attendants and even passers by so I felt I was on a good path. After a few wrong turns (much harder to do fine navigation and drive at the same time in a hilly city so missing a co-pilot) I found a campsite, not the intended one actually, and all was well.
As I was driving down the road I reflected on the pilgrimage/meditative nature of solo travelling, something I had set up intentionally in the design of the trip as I wanted to challenge myself to become more comfortable in my own skin and at the same time have the adventure of being self reliant – but I have to admit I was at the same time a little apprehensive about this next section of the trip, specially if things went wrong at some point. Never the less I was determined to press on!
When I arrived at the campsite the friendly owner walked me to my spot, and as he was talking to me a few local Turkish people came over to chat along with some curious young boys with their football game suspended for a look around the car. I have a safe and a lockable central cupboard so I have got into the habit of putting the valuables in the safe and the electrical stuff in the central cupboard when I stop so even if someone was in the truck there is nothing of real value to me to be stolen by a visitor.
As sorted out the truck a guy came over with an outstretched hand, asking where I came from and looking interested in the truck, I chatted for a bit and showed him round Nelson – he called over his three friends when he realised I was happy to show them round and we all stood chatting. The told me they were from a climbing club in Tehran and if I wanted any advice on my route they would be happy to help, I was delighted and said I would catch them later – one has to be a bit sensitive about eating in Ramadan before sunset and this was just before, so I made the excuse that I had to do some shopping and headed off.
Shopping done there was a lovely sunset on the beach so I plonked myself and my shopping bad down and watched the sun going down with a coke and a pizza, not really hard core but it was my first night alone and it was a lovely evening. When I got back the Iranians were sitting on a big rug chatting so I joined them with my map and we discussed good places to go in Iran and swapped phone numbers – the guy Mehdi who had started the conversation with me even offered to host my in Tehran – at this point I was not sure about a big city like Tehran so took his number and promised to be in touch.
So cultural relations ticked, long drive ticked, and sunset ticked I headed off to my bed quite happy with the day as my first bit of solo travelling on the trip. My plan was to go in the morning to the Roman ruins at Ephesus and then travel on to the waterfalls at Pamukkae so I read up on both of those in bed and turned out the lights for a really sound nights sleep (key to that are earplugs and night shades from an airline to combat the 5am sun and the sound of dogs/cats/neighbours and immans calling from the minerets
Next morning I was feeling virtous so got up and set off to the local castle for a run a round trip of about 45 mins in the quiet of the morning – some early barmen brushing the sand of the beach decks and fishermen were the only others up. As I got back to the campsite, rather sweaty, my neighbours were packing up and I noticed they had backpacks – I had expected, assumed really that they would have a car, as I had learned they were engineers and teachers in their 40’s and were touring Turkey. After showering and packing up I said hello again and commented on the backpacks, they explained that they take the bus between the sights, and they were on a three week trip. They repeated the offer of help and accommodation and I gave them my card and promised to get in touch.
When I got back into Nelson I was just about to start the engine and I thought “I wonder were they are going” fingers literally about to turn the ignition key, so I got out of the car and asked – turned out they were also going to Pamukkae so I offered them a lift, suggesting their rucsacks could go on the roof and one of them in the front and three in the back we could be there in three hours if they did not mind waiting for me at Ephesus (which they had already seen). Some discussion ensued, some skeptical checking of the roof rack and the seating and finally they agreed to come with me.
Fully loaded with people and gear off we went up the hills of Kudasai, chatting about our trips with Mathid translating as we went along…
I am writing this now, two days later and I still have “my Iranians” and it looks like we will travel together for about five days to Tabriz in Iran, I have learned how to cook some Iranian food, eaten together, laughed a lot, answered many questions (asked quite a few) and learned a lot about life in Iran – even learning a lot about Iranian traditional music.
So I shall have to see how that solo travelling thing works out when I try it..which will not be for a few days at least, and if my new friends (who have contacts in every city) have anything to do with it not until I leave Iran
You could not have made this up, the friendship and warmth of the Iranian people, which I have heard so much about, can be felt even before you go to Iran…