Why I spent 30 days CouchSurfing in Turkey.

It all started with Mustafa and Burç in Istanbul – two friends in their late 20’s early 30’s sharing an apartment who were our first hosts. They were our first peek into the spectacular world of turkish hospitality.  We spent an entire week with them and never felt we were overstaying our welcome, getting in the way of their lives, or pressured to do anything. 

Mustafa was waiting for us at the metro stop when we arrived – past midnight. Once we got to his house he gave us tons of tips for sightseeing in Istanbul, lent us a metro card, insisted we slept in his bedroom while he slept in the sofa bed in the living room, and gave us a copy of his house keys! (This we later realized was completely standard in Turkey yet I can’t imagine most europeans handing out house keys to complete strangers). But it didn’t stop there, Burç spent a day with us sightseeing and when we got back home that evening he treated us to a typical turkish meal. Mustafa took us out for breakfast – and oh! what a glorious thing a Turkish breakfast is! He cooked dinner for us once and also showed me his favourite tea house, an adorable little corner house I would never have discovered on my own. 

My dad and Mustafa by the Bosphorus

Then it was time for Izmir and Dr. Bora.  Our first evening there began with a walk through town and along the seafront with him explaining the sights, the people, and basically they city as a whole while we walked.  It continued with drinks at his brother’s house where the conversation was flowing so effortlessly it would  probably have gone on all night if our host hadn’t had to work the next morning.  As if the above wasn’t enough to make a great impression, the next  day after work he drove us to his summer house (a hundred something kms away!) where we got to meet his wife, son, sister-in-law and her children,  and where after a lovely evening swim in the mediterranean they treated us to an amazing home-cooked dinner.

Then it was time for Denizli (Pamukkale), the only time Couchsurfing in Turkey wasn’t 110% a pleasure. But only because no one could host us for the length of time we needed (3 nights) so we had to split our stay with 2 different hosts (which as problems go it was a minor one). Our first host was a university student who was busy studying for exams so we didn’t really spend much time together (but was still helpful and attentive) and the second one a Colombian girl and her Malian boyfriend who were so friendly and welcoming we considered staying longer just so we could spend more time with them.  Ok, lets be honest not only were they super friendly but she obviously spoke Spanish – which made things a lot easier for my dad. Not to mention that being able to have a conversation with foreigners living in Turkey brought a whole new dimension to our understanding of the country. 

By the time we reached our next stop and met Ozan I thought nothing more about the phenomenal  generosity and thoughtfulness of turkish hosts could surprise me. As you can surmise, I was terribly wrong. He received us with the by now usual handing over of his house keys and insistence we slept in the master bedroom but then things quickly escalated. On our second day there he received two more couchsurfers and insisted they use the spare bedroom while he slept downstairs on the couch! And I mean couch, not a sofa bed. 

During our 4-day stay there he treated us (my father and I plus the other two guests) to:  a) two fantastic genuine turkish meals with his family, one at his mom’s house and the other at his; b) Took us to several secret spots no tourist ever saw before; c) Spent a day at the beach with us at the end of which he gave us all trinkets to remind us of the beautiful beach day and our time in Dalyan; d) and every morning started with an awesome breakfast at his house. He was simply an outstanding host.

And then it was time for my week in utopia. An entire week where compliments of my hosts I spent so much time in the water I’m surprised I didn’t grow a mermaid tail!

Later in Konya we again stayed with a foreigner living in Turkey. This time a Cuban who spoke fluent turkish and had been living on and off in Turkey for more that a few years. His insights were truly interesting. Plus for my father another welcome respite as regards to being able to speak Spanish with our host instead of English.

Cappadocia and Ibrahim.  When I got Ibrahim’s message in response to the public trip I had posted I was mystified. I’d been trying to find hosts in Cappadocia for a while with no success and now here was an invitation to stay in his cave. An actual, honest-to-god real cappadocian cave! It couldn’t be true. Could it? Even with all the amazing CS experiences I’d already had in Turkey my near-westerner upbringing kept thinking there had to be a catch somewhere.  There wasn’t. Ibrahim was simply the sweetest and most humble Turkish man ever.

The Entrance to the main cave room

The land where he lived had been in his family for generations but he now was the last remaining member of his family in town. His siblings had sold their part and moved to the big cities, his only daughter was away at university in Ankara and didn’t want to return, and because of the tourism boom most of his friends had also opted to sell or rent out their homes and move. This meant he was alone in a town overrun with tourists. And while spending the day farming kept him busy he sometimes craved company so after a friend introduced him to the CS platform he had decided to  every  once in a while host people he carefully chose and sent invitations to.   

Receiving his invitation made me feel the luckiest person alive. The cave where we stayed was a 10 min walk from town, had no electricity or running water but it was magical. He had dug it out himself, enlarging a small room his parents had used for storage and adding a bathroom and a kitchen to it. He apologized for not having the electricity and water installations ready and offered to have us stay in his town house where we would have all the amenities but there was no way we could turn down the option of staying at the cave so what we ended up doing was going to his town house once a day to shower and charge our phones. The rest of the time we were either out sightseeing or at the cave enjoying the silence and the view. He often offered us delicious fruits and vegetables fresh from his farm and every evening we would sit outdoors by a fire talking, well, mainly listening to him share stories of his family, the land etc.  On our last day there he gave us parting gifts, for me a scarf embroidered by his mom and his very own prayer beads for my dad.

I remember taking a photo with him but I can’t find it so either I accidentally deleted it or I’m loosing my mind.

Last but not least was Trabzon. Our final stop in Turkey before moving on to Georgia was spent at the home of Ari, a recently graduated university student, where we spent a wonderful day with him showing us the city, and playing dress up at one of the museums we visited. 

Ari and my dad playing at being Sultans 

After spending 30 days in Turkey this summer relying solely on CouchSurfing for accommodation both my father and I came to the conclusion that CS itself was the best part of the whole trip. In other words, CouchSurfing in Turkey  was an extraordinary experience, way better than anything I could have imagined. I had used CS in Europe a couple of times before and although all were good experiences they don’t come close to what it was like in Turkey. In Turkey CS allowed us to meet wonderful people and to experience life like the locals do, moreover, some of the places we visited and experiences we had were priceless. Places I would undoubtedly have missed out on altogether were it not for CS. This is what CouchSurfing is all about. Not saving money. Nowadays you can find extremely cheap hostels everywhere so if what you want is to save do that. But if what you want is to become involved in a community and have the time of your life then CouchSurfing has your back. 

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