His name is Salim. Salim now runs the Gultekin Motel, and although young, he has been working in the tourism industry since the age of 12 — quite the norm for Turkish people.
Over an impressive spread of traditional Turkish breakfast at the Gultekin Motel, Pat and I made small talk with Salim about our upcoming tour, asking him if he knew the details of the daily events since he was making the call to our day 1 tour guide when we were finished eating. At this time, we didn’t know he was working with Intrepid on such a close level.
To our question, Salim busted out a pamphlet from his top desk drawer that had the next 3 days lightly mapped out.
“Intrepid Travel… it is a very good company,” he said as he placed the pamphlet on the table in front of us in the rooftop communal room.
Good to hear, I thought, since I was to review this tour on my site when it was all said and done.
“Today, you will go on this tour to the Underground City and to the Ihlara Valley. Tonight, you will have dinner with a local family. Tomorrow you will go on a hike of the Rose Valley and the Red Valley. I will take you on that.”
After having built a small rapport with Salim, we were excited to find out that HE would be our tour guide for the hike on the following day. This is the moment we learned about his connection with Intrepid and how happy he was to be working with them as a local contact for the past two years.
When we returned from exploring the low-hanging tunnels that composed the miles of the Yeralti Sehri Underground city, stopping off at onyx jewelry workshops, walking a few kilometers in the Ihlara Valley next to flowing streams, having a spectacular stew-filled lunch, and getting inside looks at pigeon and cave houses high up in Cappadocia’s volcanic rock landscape, we had a little bit of time to kill before our 7:30 pm dinner call.
Since Salim’s young family lived at the motel, his Japanese wife and his half Japanese-Turkish toddler, Maku, were always seen in the kitchen or wandering around the rooftop playing. Maku quickly became a center of attention for us during the stay, and especially for Pat who I feel is sort of like the Pied Piper when it comes to small kids. Leave him in the vicinity of them for a short while and sure enough he will come back with a small flock of children trying to get his attention.Introductions to adorable little Maku were made, and a much-needed rest was taken before getting the knock on the door for dinner.
Lo and behold, Salim was there and he was hard at work with the task of escorting us to our dinner with the local family.
“Today, we are going to a very special place. Normally, we do not do the dinners with this family,” he told us as we walked through the cold, dark streets that evening.
Meanwhile, we learned the story of Salim and how he got into the tourism industry. His uncle owns two other hotel properties in Cappadocia, which is where he started working at the age of 12. We learned that Turkish people work extremely hard, with 2 (or more) jobs. He told us that they work a first job in the morning and a second in the evening.
“When do you find time to sleep?” I couldn’t help but asking. I’m always at a lack of sleep.
His reply shocked me. “Turkish people sleep maybe 4 hours a night. We are very hard-working people.”
The topic seemed to come up repeatedly throughout our 3 days of tours. During our hikes with Salim in the Red and Rose valleys the next day, we had to duck and dive through small cave houses. I had to duck and dive, which is surprising.
“Are Turkish people like really, really short?!”
To this, Salim repeated again that they are a hard-working people that sleep little, so they are usually short.
Our walk to the local family’s home in Göreme took us just a few minutes. Salim led us through the giant, metal back doors and up the stairs to the entrance of the home. We de-shoed as is customary before entering a stark living room with two couches and a dinner table next to one of them. A side table in the corner set some small cake-like desserts and a few photo frames, one with a familiar looking baby.
Pat and I got comfortable on the couch as a woman came in with a headscarf and typical Turkish dress.
Salim turned to us and said, “This is my mama.”
We wailed with excitement! Salim had brought us to his family home – the home he grew up in – to eat the food that his mother had cooked for him for years. We felt honored.
“I thought that baby in that photo looked familiar,” I exclaimed in the midst of the news. “It’s Maku!”
We dined for about an hour on soup made from fresh tomatoes grown in the back garden, Turkish rice, bean stew, and the cake-like desserts with a glass of Turkish tea. Salim explained more about what he said earlier – about this not being a normal family dinner location. There used to be another family that prepared the meals for the Intrepid groups, but they are currently in the middle of finding a new one.
“It is very good for the women of these families to work with us.”
“Is it good money for them?” I ask.
“Yes, it is very good money. These women can stay home and cook, be near their families, instead of working long hours in a hotel.”
He paused from time to time to enjoy the home cooking he repeatedly told us he had missed.
“I really like the way they work. Intrepid Travel is one of the best travel companies out there.”
I could tell that he meant it.
Over the next few days, between feasting at cultural shows, being mesmerized by whirling dervishes, hiking and biking in the Cappadocian hills, hanging out at the Gultekin, and indulging in budget-friendly meals at as many local restaurants as possible, we grew to love our tour with local cultural insights as well as all the traditional tourist activities one would expect to participate in while in Göreme.
Normally I’ve always been an independent travel type of girl, but this tour did a really good job at changing my mind.
* * * * *
*My Cappadocia tour was sponsored by Intrepid Travel, but all words and thoughts expressed above are my own.