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I am not sure if it was my adventurous spirit or my naivety which made me to backpack around Turkey by myself.

On the way from London, a fellow female passenger told me that after living in Turkey for seven years, she would never travel around the country by herself. Well, that is not the type of thing you want to hear as you fasten your seatbelt and prepare for landing.

In Istanbul airport I had to undergo an interrogation as I was travelling on my South African and UK passports and it was only a few months after 9/11. Stressed I walked past the last security check point, just to be stopped again. This time the girl wanted to know if I was a famous actress. She obviously hadn’t seen my backpack on the carousel yet…

I took a bus to Istanbul city centre and then faked confidence while walking the streets trying to think of a plan. It is extremely difficult to concentrate when you are followed by a fan club of men wanting to know: my name, if I am married and if I need accommodation. When my back started to ache and I could not take the harassment any further I let one of the men take me to youth hostel. I was taken up to the first floor and explained that this was a “Woman’s Only” floor. Exhausted I paid for the night and collapsed on my bunk bed. That night I was woken by a team of drunk hockey players who have booked the whole youth hostel and obviously the “Woman’s Only” floor did not exist. I locked my door and started to make plans to leave first thing in the morning. Showering was not an option as it was communal showers with no shower curtains.

I donned my backpack and jumped on a overnight bus heading for Cappadocio. While driving through snow capped mountains I made friends with a Korean guy. Together we visited the houses and churches carved by rocks and the beautiful frescoes. I then set off to explore the Aegean coast.

I had pre-booked an overnight bus to Ephesus but realised that there was a bit of confusion when it was time for me to leave. In the end three men motioned me into a mini bus and raced to the middle of nowhere. I was terrified as we waited on a deserted road for something – they could not speak English. Suddenly a bus came to a screeching halt and I was ordered to board the bus. As I took my seat, I realised that there were no woman on the bus and all the men were the same age and staring at me. It dawned on me: this was a military bus transporting the new recruits to their base camp. After a while the driver took pity on me and made me sit in front next to him and offered his packed food and cigarettes. I think he was worried that their new recruits might all suffer from stiff necks as nobody stopped looking back and staring since I boarded the bus.

After my trip to the Aegean coast I met up with my Korean friend in Istanbul. After a few beers I met a Turkish guy who’s uncle was very good friends with my boyfriends mother in Cape Town. The next day he took me on a whirlwind tour of Istanbul, jumping from Asia to Europe, eating local delicacies and doing last minute shopping. We ended up on a roof top terrace sipping Effes beer while he showed off his best Afrikaans and we chatted about Turkey and Cape Town.

Late that night on the flight back I remember passing out from fatigue and woke up the next morning with my head on my fellow passenger’s shoulder. I asked him where he had been on holiday and he abruptly replied that he has just returned from a pilgrimage in Mecca and the only woman he speaks to is his mom and his wife. Well that was a bit of a conversation stopper I thought while downing my orange juice.

Even though parts of my trip was terrifying it surely was unforgettable and a great adventure.

Elize Sewell

Elize Sewell

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