TRANSIT AND TRANSITIONS
I have a couple of unwritten “Don’t Do” rules when I travel by myself and I have gotten into trouble just about anytime I broke them: #1- Don’t be out alone at night in areas you don’t know. #2 - Don’t drive a car in any foreign country unless you speak the language and fully understand the traffic rules — that is pretty much Germany for me.
In Canakkale, I had debated hard if I should not rent a car. It would have saved Okan a lot of grief and given me much needed mobility in those backwaters. But I had decided against it. I watched the traffic carefully and it did not seem so bad. I was hopeful that moving on I would manage just fine, as I had set out to break rule #2 and had booked a car for Sanliurfa and the Gobekli Tepe region.
Traveling back to Istanbul from Balibanli had taken a full day. The next morning I took care of some business in Istanbul — euphemism for visiting two carpet shops. :-) One was a promise I had made to Mamut (?) who had come with me to the roof terrace the afternoon I left for Canakkale. The other was unfinished business from 7 years ago at the Suzani shop of Hasan, where I wanted to buy a prayer rug “saf”, or row-design.
But now I was in the airplane, looking forward to Sanliurfa; or was I? The more I contemplated the idea of driving, the more I realized that I had painted myself into a corner. I had planned originally to spend my days again in the rural areas. I had found a great AirBnB near Gobekli Tepe; in fact the very stone house in which I believe, the infamous Klaus Schmidt and his archaeological team had spent their days.
But the host canceled on me about a week ago! She was an AirBnB super-host too, and canceling will cost her that title, but I think she does not care anymore. The reason for her cancellation was that she sold her beautiful stone house. Good for her; trouble for me. At the last minute and on the road I had to book new accommodations. I decided on another place with a history — but this one was smack in the middle of Sanliurfa, a town of 2 million … That meant big-city traffic… That meant I had no clue where to go. That meant I was in way over my head.
For the entire 1.5 hour flight plus the 45 minute delay I was preoccupied on how to manage the situation. My pendulum swung from “no problem, I will manage” to “what an absolute fool are you” to “get rid of that car, no matter what!” When we were in mid air and I realized that Sanliurfa was so much further East that it would be pitch-dark by the time we arrived, I was nearly reaching despair levels.
Landing and luggage went smoothly. The car guy was supposed to be waiting in the “meet and greet” area with a sign with my name on it. He wasn’t. There were lots of people picked up; not me. But Avis and a couple other car rentals had their offices right there in the lobby. I checked them one by one; none of them had my reservation. I could have rented a car from anyone of them, but that was not, what I needed.
My Expedia rental confirmation did not specify much, but gave out phone numbers to call in case of questions… Well, my phone was not operational and actually … this seemed to be the heavens operating on my behalf … If THEY did not show up, I could claim all my money back and refuse the car after all. Manifestation! It worked again.
By now all the buses had left and I was stranded for some time anyhow. I found a guy in the process of renting a car and negotiated with him to take me to town, should there be no other bus coming; it was really late by now. I left the airport. Out in the dark, in the parking lot as if he were lost, stood a young guy holding my name sign. Geez! He could have saved himself and myself an hour and lot of trouble would he have come to the right place …
The heavens had not worked on my behalf after all … He seemed mute. Did not respond to any of my talking, but spoke something into his phone which then talked to me: I don’t speak English, but I can help. OK, then. We did the car inspection, signed all the paperwork, and he handed me the key. How will you get home, I asked? He gestured to the bus stop and then talked to his phone again, which asked me: Can you give me a ride back to town? Of course! I was delighted, but I handed him the key and indicated that he was going to be the driver. I gave him my hotel address and breathed a sigh of relief. At least for tonight, the heavens had taken care of me.
During the 40-minute ride, we made some small “talk” - that is we talked to his phone and the phone then talked back to us. But technology is amazing! That would have been unthinkable years ago when I struggled through countries where I did not speak the language. He had a valid question: If you don’t like to drive, why did you not rent a car with a driver? That had not been an option when I put in the rental request and also, I indicated, it probably would be too expensive for me. $20 per day, his phone responded. What?! I almost screamed: You are hired!! It would have cost me $10 per day to activate my phone and GPS system and then only a fraction of my problems would have been solved. Long story short, he called his company and by the end of the ride he was my “chauffeur” and called me “Sir”. Haha. The universe did look out for me after all.
We arrived at a 600 year old building right next to an Armenian church converted to a mosque. It might have been a convent, or a school, or a hospital, or anything like that. At one point it clearly was part of the church complex. In the glow of some warm yellow lights, with the starry night above the open courtyard, it was absolutely gorgeous. An original fountain, a well with a rope and a bucket, niches with pottery, arcades, open vaults with plush seating areas, old stone vessels, a pomegranate tree, staircases, terraces with grape vines overhanging the wooden trellises… We just don’t build like this anymore. For the next 4 days, I would live in a paradise and I had a driver. I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
It was nearly midnight, but it was 90 degrees still. It is warm here, I said to the phone. Yes, Masud answered. It is 120 degrees here during the day every day in the summer. Oh…… small drawback.
I don’t like the heat, but I had a car with air conditioning and a driver. Life is good!