Goreme. The scary episode: a trip into the wilderness

On my very last day in Goreme, right after breakfast and before meeting Furkan, I check out of the hotel. The receptionist who did the check in is not here and I am greeted by someone I later find out is his brother. He wipes his hands on his trousers, leans over the desk in the reception, checks his computer and my room number on the key chain and then I hand him the twenty euro note for my stay. He takes it and puts it in his pocket.

hotel goreme

“So, what are you doing today?” he asks.

“Actually, I don’t know. I was thinking of walking around the village. Do you have any recommendations? Something that doesn’t require money, I’m running out of money.”

“Actually, I do. I can take you somewhere for a nice walk. I just need to go to a government thing now and will be back later.”

“Ok”, I hear myself say, although I know by looking at the guy I would not even want to have tea with him. But for some reason I encourage myself that a walk cannot hurt. “So what time will you be back?”

“One o’clock.” he says.

“Ok, see you later then.”

But before I leave he insists on showing me his pigeons and doing a demonstration. He picks several up before finding the right one, which he throws  high up into the air so I can watch the bird turning several times before landing, feathers ruffled and head spinning.

“Why does it do that?” I ask, honestly thinking there’s something terribly wrong with the poor bird.

“You teach them to. Train them. This one is a champion.” he replies. “I collect birds. I cannot be without my pigeons. I cannot go anywhere. They are my children.”

After expressing my admiration, I go and have my walk in town, get the sunglasses and meet Furkan and then I resume my walk and get to this quiet valley nearby, scattered with fairy chimneys and except me there’s just this young Turkish couple probably on their honeymoon, taking selfies. The wind makes her head scarf dance around her neck as he’s squeezing her shoulder with one hand, as if for fear he might lose her to the wind, holding the selfie stick in his other hand at the same time, like a weapon against the cruel passage of time.

I call my mother to tell her happy birthday and how much I love her and hearing her voice makes me even quieter among these silent volcanic eruptions, so still and fragile in their ascension, softened and sweetened by the autumn light, taming contours and darkening shades. “It’s perfect”, I tell her, “perfect, mom”.


I then get back to the village and pick two postcards from a shop and when I go to the counter to pay for them, the shop keeper just says “It’s present”. I find the post office and the postman, an overweight bespectacled guy in his late twenties, takes my postcards and offers to attend to them himself instead of just letting me drop them in the post office mailbox.

When I get back to the hotel I find the pigeon guy working on his bird house and, since he seems not to notice me, I just sneak into the yard and quietly climb the stairs to the sunny terrace and write the story of my meeting with Furkan and getting the sunglasses earlier today, eager to remember all the details and lines in our conversations. So I am writing passionately and thirstily and don’t want to be disturbed.

“Daniela!” I suddenly hear my name being called and I don’t even know where to look at first. “Over here”, the voice continues and my eyes finally land on the short pigeon man standing downstairs, in front of the reception. “Come, let’s go!” he continues and I realize he’s known the whole time I was here and wonder why he’s completely ignored me so far.

“Wait, there’s something I need to finish and I’ll be right down. Ten more minutes”, I reply and continue writing as my mind, in parallel, starts designing a strategy to say no and get out of the whole thing and just relax before my bus ride to Konya later in the afternoon.

When I’ve finished, I reluctantly go down the stairs and find him talking to an older woman. I wait for them to finish and then end up interrupting their conversation to ask if there’s a toilet I could use.

“Of course”, he says pointing to his right, but suddenly changes his mind and adds: “Use the one in my room. It is clean. The cleanest. There.” And I realize he’s pointing to the room next to mine. “It’s open”, he adds.

“Oh, thank you, that’s very kind of you”, I reply feeling a bit awkward as I’m going up the stairs and into his room. As I close the door behind me, I wonder if I should turn the key in the lock before entering the bathroom, but decide I don’t need to be afraid, so I just leave it unlocked.

The room is warm and big, it’s got a double bed and a single bed on the right, a small wall enclosed closet on the left, a mirror and the bathroom – a big and separate room this time, at the far end of the room. When I get out again, the woman is no longer there and I find him waiting for me and I’m suddenly too shy to call the whole thing off.

I get out of the yard and I notice the motorbike, but tell myself we’re going to walk.

“Ok, so, we go by motorbike”, he says.

I knew it, I tell myself half horrified at having to keep this small agitated man between my legs and half crazy happy about the ride. It’s been about three years since my last motorbike ride, in the Greek island of Alonissos, and I really miss riding. The weather is perfect for it, too, I declare, congratulating myself at the same time for having bought the sunglasses.

A friend’s voice echoes at the back of my head, insisting I should take care of myself and I quickly silence it with an inner cry of pure joy as I’m checking out the small motorbike. And the entire film of my bike crash a few days ago plays in fast forward motion in my head and my painful right knee also signals it can still remember the fall. I’m not gonna fall this time, I tell myself as I’m mounting the bike behind this stranger, trying to distance myself from him as much as possible, my hands reaching for his waist and barely touching it.

“It’s ok, don’t worry, you are safe.” he turns and reassures me.

But I know, my whole body knows, my whole being knows I am far from safe. And I feel again as if I were going down the water slide for the first time. There’s not even one millimeter of me that’s relaxed.

“Where are we going?” I finally ask as if it suddenly became important.

“Have you been to the open air museum?” he screams, trying to push the sounds through the engine noise. “We are going above that place. We go by bike, leave the bike there and then my brother will come with the car.”

He’s talking all the time, all the way there and I’m trying to listen, but at the same time there’s this voice of reason in my head telling me that if I get out of this alive, I should never attempt anything like this again. Why? I ask. You’re not a teenager anymore.  So? So at your age people don’t do this kind of things anymore. Well, at my age, too many people are boring and too many are already dead. Walking dead. Ok, have it your way then. You’ll see. Yeah, I’ll see.

He talks and talks and talks and I cannot follow half of what he is saying, but I know he’s setting up a private exhibition of his medals for me, so from time to time, when I get the chance, I let out an excited “Oh!” or “That’s great!”, “How nice!”, “Really?”

And then, after a sinuous road, we stop in the middle of nowhere, he tells me to get off the bike and I obey, he turns the bike around and disappears behind a stone wall.

What if he leaves me here? What if he knows I wrote about the hotel and the receptionist and now he wants a revenge? What if he makes a pass on me? And so on. There are so many what if questions in my head now. I don’t think there’s even one possibility that doesn’t cross my mind as I’m waiting to see if he comes back or not. All the ‘what ifs’ in the world are visiting my head, snuggling up there, nudging one another, hardening all my muscles, as if i were following the strictest workout.

It doesn’t take him long to come back smiling and lead me down this narrow dirt road. The scenery, the sky, the colors, the silence, the air, the light, the sun – everything is perfect. Except everything else.

Rose Valley Goreme

I need a reality check, so I know what I’m dealing with and how to handle it. So, as he keeps talking almost without even breathing, I make some things clear to myself. I no longer remind myself I’m a woman travelling alone in Turkey. Somewhat attractive, it seems. I go directly to the part where I tell myself I am in the middle of nowhere with a guy who is clearly dangerous – as absolutely all my senses are screaming at me. And I don’t even know his name. Or what he does at the hotel except growing pigeons. I have no idea where we are or how to get back. I have my bus back to Konya today and I want to catch it. I didn’t write very nicely about the hotel and staff and remember my reckless Facebook check-ins, so I figure I’m not difficult to stalk. Quite easy, actually. OK, That’s the situation I’ve got myself into. Now what? Well, see what it’s about and get out of it honorably. I almost regret my honesty and decide to be careful about the information I let out on my walking tour now.

rose valley walkers

Anyway, the pigeon guy keeps talking as we’re walking, so I decide to rise above the fear and, thought it’s hard with the images and feelings I get when I look at him, I decide he deserves this much respect and I deserve this chance to live my experience instead of shying away from it. So I look him in the eyes as often as his head is till enough and I listen. There’s such beautiful silence in the valley and I listen to it, too, like looking at this white, still canvas he’s splashing  his coarse voice onto, using his bare hands to create even more motion.

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“This place is part of Rose Valley. I was born in Avanos, that is my hometown. My brother, you met him, works with me. I made this hotel. It was my grandfather’s house. I bought it from my family. Look at these hands, they worked there. You thought I only worked here? No, I own the hotel. I am a collector. All the people collect something. I collect pigeons. I won competitions with them. I was offered $2500 for one and didn’t sell it. You know how much I was offered for the hotel? 5 million dollars. How can I sell it? I hope to leave it to my children and my brother’s children. What about you? What are your plans? What do you want to do with your life? I am 32. I grew up here. I have a garden. I have pigeon caves here, look up there, that is my grandfather’s old pigeon cave. We eat organic here, everything from nature. Look, everything here is good to eat. I’m trying to find some grapes for you. You are lucky, here you are, take it, eat it. Look, a quince. We call it aiva. I will try to find walnuts for you. I only climb this tree for my mother. And you. Let me take your picture. You don’t like pictures? You’ll thank me later. You can add me on Facebook and I’ll send them. I was a police officer in Istanbul. It’s important to love what you do. Make your life simple, beautiful. If someone or something makes it hard, leave that. When you catch a terrorist, you never beat him up. Not like that you make him talk. There are other ways. I have my ways. I have ideas. I didn’t put all that cocaine in my head for nothing. Afghanistan, the people in my staff. I caught them and their father in Istanbul. Illegal immigrants. I helped the children. They work for me now. They are like family. They eat from me, they live here, they save money. I went to their family house and I was like a king there. What do you do? All my family were teachers. Except me and my brother. What do you teach? I tell you, I learned English in the street. If here you don’t learn English, they beat you. Here it’s like a stadium, you don’t need to travel, you just sit and the whole world comes to you. I just watch. Everybody comes here. I don’t have a father. My grandfather, he was out, working, and the next day gone. Here we are all like a big family. We help each other. All of us. We share. Sharing is caring, you know. If you are kind, people will be kind to you, you know. Just be kind. If you receive, also give. Here we are all friends. I know you have a difficult character. I saw you. I don’t come on walking tours with all my clients, you know. I like you. You are special. I checked your passport. I saw you are OK. i like all the signs of the zodiac. Except for the Scorpio. You are dangerous. You never say anything. And then you sting. Did you think I just worked at the hotel? No, it’s my hotel. Look, I show you, here’s what it looked like when I got it. All my family told me I am crazy to work on it and just buy something ready. But I didn’t want to. These hands can tell you stories. They are not dirty, they have some glue on them now. You are very sensitive. And clean. You are also very smart, I see that, I tell you. I see that in you. You are above standards. I like above standards. When you come again, you are my guest. And my cousin is balloon pilot, so you can go for a ride. And bring your family with you. You will be my guests. And stay longer. Here everyone is family. If you are kind. I want something, I call somebody. Here you can use my business card as a credit card. Muzo. You can call me Muzo. My full name is too complicated, you won’t remember it. So you like animals? Nature? You look so sensitive. Here we eat from nature, we don’t wash. So you travel alone. I had a wife for one year and a half. Got divorced last year. She was from Iran. Yes, she was beautiful. I learned that it’s not enough. I should’ve listened to my mother. But I followed my heart. Bad choice. She was beautiful. After we married, she let the monster come out. I told her, look there is a good way and 99 bad ways to make this soup. Why do you always have to choose one of the 99 bad ways? I called her father and told him come take your daughter before I send her from the 12th floor. It’s good we didn’t have children. Hard to divorce with children. I am a collector of birds. With wings and without wings. Like you. Do you have tattoos? Do you know pigeons shit all the time? So my grandfather was also making money from shit. You know, the shit’s good for the wine. All the rest it kills. But pigeon shit makes good grapes. Don’t worry, my brother is coming. Do you have a boyfriend? What he does? What is physicist? Children? So he said here, take all this money and go travel on your holiday, I don’t have time? Oh, spending your own money, of course, with your difficult character. You had water and you didn’t give me? You let me drink horses’ water? I told you, sharing is caring. I understand you’re thirsty. Give me that bottle to throw it for you. I’ll keep it as a souvenir. Just a bottle? How can you say it’s just a bottle? It was in your hands. It has your fingerprints. I can arrange a crime for you and you won’t get out of Turkey. Just a bottle? You’re smarter that that, Daniela. I think you are stressed because you don’t want to be late, that’s why you give me this answer. You are smarter than that.”

horses farm rose valley goreme

“You’re crazy!” I stop listening and interrupt him here, without even thinking.

“I was expecting a different answer, Daniela.  It’s ok, relax now, here, I wipe it, ok? I was joking. Yes, you laugh. Why you laugh? You like horses? Six months ago my best friend fell off the horse and died. Since then, pigeons are my best friends. All Goreme was crying. He was a man no one could say he did anything wrong. You know, you are teacher. You can tell a story in many ways. It depends who you speak to. You know. I can say the same thing in many ways. Always be careful how you speak and how you tell it to the people, be careful it is for them, so you speak their language, so they understand. It was so nice meeting you, a pleasure. Thank you. I wish that you are always laughing, have a happy life, do what you love always. I wanted to have your smell and now I have it. I am done with you. I hope you liked your stay. And come back. I have to go now. Feel free to use my room, stay in my bed. Joking. Take care of yourself. Add me on Facebook and I’ll send you the pictures. You’ll thank me later, you’ll see.”

I just listen with an open heart. I know I shouldn’t do anything. Just give, let it flow. And there is no way out. Just as I keep telling other people this thing I’ve heard somewhere: the only way ahead is through. So live it, see it through, walk it through. I remember the sema last night and the witnessing dervish, holding it together, creating space and the acceptance for the others to whirl. I am an old witnessing dervish right now for this man. I am the witness. I am here in silence, accepting, witnessing and listening.

He reminds me of one of the children in my class – the one who used to be the most challenging for me in the beginning. That helps me love him. Working with people has taught me a lot, working with children has really taught me to ask the most important question: what does this person need right now? And although it’s hard, I look at him and struggle to go beyond the troubling images floating around him, beyond the violence in his eyes, beyond the unrest tormenting his body. I am looking for the inner seed, that small, hidden part that hasn’t been defiled by the script his life has been following. He doesn’t need me to make any gesture or say anything. He just needs me to be there. He needs to be accepted. And loved.  For who he really is. And I love him.

After he drops me off back at the hotel, he’s getting ready to leave and take the car back at the farm where we borrowed it from and I hug him. He is surprised.

“Thank you.”

“Here”, he says untying one of the nazars in the small tree in front of the reception, “take this with you.” And then he screams to one of his employees who’s just crossing the yard: “Give her everything she wants.”

“You are completely crazy!” I scream to myself laughing out loud from the stress, as I get into his room again to use the toilet, after watching him drive away. “Never, never, never do this to yourself again! Never!”

Before I take my backpack and leave the hotel for good, I give one of the quinces to one of the boys I believe is from Afghanistan. When we greet each other, our eyes meet in such warmth and I feel our hearts are bowing in respect, like two old comrades.

I then go to Angelos Travel to say goodbye to Samet and I stay for a cup of coffee because I know it makes him happy and I need a few minutes to sit and change company and mood. After that I walk to Furkan’s shop to say goodbye and, right before I leave, as I’m hugging him tightly, I believe with all my heart he is my best friend in Goreme.

“Be happy!” I sincerely wish him, as his left temple is touching mine, and, when I gently move away, he pulls me back and makes an affectionate encounter between our right temples.

I head to the otogar and I realize I miscalculated time and I’m an hour early. I sit down on a bench in the setting sun and write everything down before I forget anything, allowing my body to tremble freely as it’s shaking the stress out of its muscles. As I’m getting on my bus back to Konya, the muezzin is silent.