Today my only plan was to wake up in Mersin, go to Cennet ve Cehennem (Heaven and Hell, some naturally-occurring sinkholes), take a single photograph, and return to Mersin.
In Turkey my plans are usually simple like this. Sometimes people ask me why I make such simple plans. I make simple plans because unexpected opportunities present themselves on a regular basis, and I don’t want to turn them down. Here is an example…
This morning I boarded a minibus and rode it about 70 kilometers (42 miles) southwest along the coast. The bus dropped me off a couple kilometers from Heaven and Hell. It would be a steep climb up to the final destination, but I didn’t mind. I’ve walked almost 1,300 kilometers in Turkey already. What’s a few more?
About 30 seconds after the bus dropped me off, however, a car pulled up. Hop in, the driver said, without even asking where I was going. He was going the same direction I was, so I hopped in. About 100 meters later we stopped to pick up another man walking uphill on the same road.
The driver’s name was Süleyman, and he was going up the hill to his restaurant, a short distance past Heaven and Hell. When we drove past Heaven and Hell he just pointed to it and continued driving. I was a little confused. I had told him this was where I was going, why was he not stopping?
I told him I wanted to get out and look around. He pulled off to the side of the road. I got out of the car, ran to the railing, and took a photo. Süleyman told me to get back in the car, his restaurant was higher up the hill. It was clear that his restaurant was more important to him than Heaven and Hell, one of the most famous sites in the area, and he was assuming it was more important to me, too.
We pulled up to Süleyman’s restaurant, not even 1 kilometer (half a mile) past Heaven and Hell. Süleyman gave me a full tour of the place. There was a garden with olive trees, a dozen nomad-style tents where customers could stretch out and leisurely munch on their breakfasts, a few treehouses where others could do the same, and in the back a house where Süleyman and his family lived. The floor above their quarters was a pension with a half-dozen guest apartments.
From there we went inside the restaurant, sat down, and had some tea. The view from the restaurant, inside and out, was amazing. You could see 100 kilometers to the right, and 100 kilometers to the left. In front was the Mediterranean. On a clearer day, Süleyman told me, at just the right hour of the morning, you can even see the island of Cyprus, 100 kilometers (62 miles) out in the sea.
We sat and talked over tea about his family, his military career, his restaurant. There was a couple having breakfast in the restaurant, and they joined the conversation. The couple was visiting from Gaziantep, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) away. The man showed me photos of Gaziantep’s mosaic museum on his iPhone.
The couple asked where I was going after this. I told them I would be heading back to Mersin. We are going to Mersin too, he told me, come with us, we will give you a ride.
I had only seen Heaven and Hell from the road, but I was having fun with these people, and I had already completed my mission for the day (get a photo). I accepted their offer. They finished their breakfast and I finished my tea. We left the restaurant and piled into their car.
We chatted on the drive back to Mersin. The man ran a restaurant in Gaziantep. He was from the Mersin area, and came back almost every weekend. He and his girlfriend and I bonded over my knowledge of a few Turkish idioms. They got a big kick, for example, out of the fact that I knew about the saying “at, avrat, silah” (horse, woman, gun; i.e. the three things a man needs to be a man).
The man’s girlfriend was incredibly hot, the kind of hot where when you talk to her, you have to do the best you can with only half your brain, because the other half is screaming into your face like a drill sergeant. “Keep your eyes up! Be polite! Be respectful!”
On the way into town we stopped to pick up a few things. One of the places we stopped raised a million questions in my mind, but I told myself to bite my lip and be quiet. There’s a saying in Turkish, “maydanoz olma” (don’t be a parsley), which means don’t be nosy.
The errands run, the couple dropped me off at the Çetinkaya (a department store in Mersin) and continued on their way.
In Turkey I can expect one thing: a few times each day, I’ll be presented with an unexpected opportunity. Someone will offer me a ride, or someone will invite me to dinner, or someone will invite me to a wedding.
I create simple plans so I can accept these unexpected invitations. Today my plan was to take a single photograph, and I got that photograph, but I had a lot of unexpected fun getting it, fun I couldn’t have created myself, no matter how hard I tried.