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The Tour That Changed My Mind

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In Turkey, I learned about Intrepid Travel not really through the company, but through the words of a local motel owner that had been recruited as their Göreme contact.

salim and pat walking

Walking behind Salim and Pat.

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.

turkish breakfastOver 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.

cappadocia sightseeing

Cappadocia sightseeing on day 1.

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.

maku and pat

Maku and Pat

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.

inside cave church

Inside a cave church.

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!”

family dinner

Dinner with the local family.

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.

cultural show

Cultural show and feast on our final night.

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.

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21 Responses to The Tour That Changed My Mind

  1. Ian [EagerExistence] May 9, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Intrepid are awesome of course! They are Aussies. I’ve known about them for years, but they seem to be all over Turkey too (I met locals who worked for them in Morocco, in Tinerhir… probably spelt that wrong).

    So you loved Cappadocia then? The fairy chimneys are awesome right? I spent a week there (not Goreme though). And the underground cities are a pretty cool experience too, but maybe not for the claustrophobic.

    • Brooke May 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Loved Cappadocia — absolutely awesome place, minus all the dust. And Intrepid provided a great tour 🙂 Overall awesome experience.

  2. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 9, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    I haven’t ever done a tour, but when my friend L’Ell went on her 8-month trip, she used Intrepid several times and was really happy with them. Obviously it is often cheaper to travel independently, but I think in certain situations the convenience that a tour can provide (especially getting to certain more remote locations) is a real boon. Plus, it sounds like Intrepid places a high premium on the cultural experience of travel as well, which might be harder to achieve on one’s own.

    • Brooke May 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      I think that it helped us to do more with our time in Cappadocia. When I travel and book all the little things on my own, I often shy away from too much at once… probably because I’m naturally frugal. Doing it all in one blow and then not thinking about it later could be great.

  3. Rebecca May 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Sometimes tours take you places you would never be able to see or experience without them! Very glad you had a good experience.
    Ever since I started working full time again, I am more of a fan of tours as they can jam a lot more into the limited time I have. It’s all about the company and asking the right questions so you can get on the tour that is right for you.

    • Brooke May 11, 2012 at 2:16 am #

      Very good for limited time — and it was such a load off because we didn’t have to worry about booking things ourselves!

  4. Laryssa May 10, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    Great post! And great pictures as well. What camera are you using these days?

    • Brooke May 10, 2012 at 2:21 am #

      Thanks! I’m using the Panasonic Lumix dmc-lx5, a sort of high-end point-and-shoot.

  5. Pete May 10, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    Sounds like you had a fab time. We just booked our flights and are heading there on Monday for 1 week. Really looking forward to hiking, exploring and photographing the region. It has been on our *must-see* list for a long time.

    • Brooke May 11, 2012 at 2:17 am #

      You’ll have a great time! Beautiful area and it should be blooming now 🙂

  6. EJ Juen Jr May 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Great post and wonderful pictures. The guy is amazing, I can’t survive a 4-hour sleep. I need at least 7-8 hours daily plus vitamins and exercise or else I would be sick.

  7. Jeremy Branham May 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    What a great story! I love learning about the people. One of my friends is a tour guide in Europe and works for Rick Steves. I think tours can get a bad rap because not all of them are the same. I detest the ones that are nothing but party tours but you have to find the right type of tour for you. I like tours that are low key with people that are interested in travel (and not partying) and also give you plenty of free time on your own. That’s the best of both worlds. Seems like you had that as well as a great connection with your guide.

  8. Caitlyn May 16, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Great story! Sounds like you had a really unique time. I’m busying myself with reading up about Cappadocia, it’s slowly rising to the top of my ‘must see’ list…

  9. Ryan Hoody May 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I am so glad to hear you enjoyed Intrepid Travel. I am actually in the middle of the application process and trying to work in their Latin American branch. I have heard wonderful things about the tours they provide, giving a more authentic experience. Did you find you deviated from the ‘traditional routes’? Glad to see you had a great time!

    Ryan

    • Brooke May 21, 2012 at 2:24 am #

      Hi Ryan — it was a great trip. Ours was really only a 3 day tour, so we couldn’t deviate that much from traditional routes, but we got a great insight into Turkish culture because of it for sure!

  10. Alouise May 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    I’ve never done an Intrepid tour, but they sound like a great company. I think it goes to show that while you might not want a tour all the time, there probably is a tour out there for everyone.

  11. Amanda May 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Awesome to hear, Brooke! I’m doing a tour through Eastern Europe with Intrepid in June/July, and I’m really looking forward to this “different” approach to guided travel. Can’t wait!

  12. Koen April 29, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    I have recently done this tour, apparently the first one to do it this year. Unfortunately, I can only warn people against it. While Salim is, thankfully, still working at the Gultekin, and has some pamphlets left over from last year, Intrepid are no longer using him as their local organiser, apparently without even telling him. They have now outsourced completely to Yama Tours. This was my experience with them:
    Day 1, I was collected from my hotel around 10am, later than I had expected since Intrepid had made no contact with me prior to the tour to provide an itinerary besides the one on the website which says pick-up is at 9am. Only the fact that Salim provided me with one of last year’s pamphlets which said 9:30am meant I was not outright panicking at this stage, just a little worried. I was dumped at Yama Tours office and no one introduced themselves or told me what was happening over the 3 days, then I was told to get on a minibus. It turned out to be for the red tour, not the Ihlara tour, which was disappointing as the majority of the sights on this tour are in the local area and easily revisited over the next couple of days. At the end of the tour, I was dropped off at Gultekin without being told anything more, so I approached Salim who called Intrepid. He was told they were busy and would call back in 5 minutes. 15 minutes later we hear back from Bruce, who was incredibly rude and told me Intrepid had nothing to do with it, go see Yama Tours, they were organising everything. That is my one and only contact with a representative of Intrepid. So I walked down to Yama Tours, where they gave me a copy of the same pamphlet as Salim had already given me and a voucher for dinner at a local “family run” restaurant. Drinks extra. They told me I would be picked up from my hotel at 10am tomorrow for the hiking day and, upon my own initiation, I booked a balloon flight. The restaurant was lovely but it was not dinner with a local family, and as a solo traveller, I was once again eating alone in a restaurant without the cultural experience I had been lead to expect.

    Day 2 was a lovely day of hiking, albeit in the rain for the morning, with my own personal guide, although she seemed to get quite annoyed by me wanting to take a lot of photographs along the way. We didn’t stop for lunch, so I grabbed a late lunch afterwards, which was lucky, because the place they sent me to for the cultural evening had food so horrible I could barely eat any of it. Once the actual entertainment started it was fun, but I could see why the majority of people came in an hour after me and just had snacks.

    Day 3, after my hot air balloon ride, I reported to Yama Tours office as instructed and was taken to a bike rental shop close by, where I was given a bike and left to my own devices for the day. I was happy with that, being an experienced cyclist and enjoying spending time exploring on my own, however, according to Intrepid’s website, someone is meant to accompany you for the bike ride and I could imagine that there would me many people who would be upset that this did not occur. I was given a choice of times for the whirling Dervish performance that evening and was glad that I chose the early one. After being dropped back at my hotel, that was the end of the tour.

    All in all, I paid Intrepid a great deal more for this tour than the value I received. Everything that I did could have been organised directly through a local tour agency such as Yama tours for half the price, or less. Even the cost of an extra night at Gultekin booked through Intrepid was at least 50% in excess of what it cost on booking.com when I looked it up later. While I enjoyed my time in Cappadocia, I feel very disappointed with Intrepid and their treatment of Salim seems unprofessional and mean-spirited.

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