I took the 3pm plane to Athens to connect to another flight to Istanbul. My final destination would be Izmir, Turkey. It was a clumsy itinerary but I could make it work… I thought. My first flight was late with only minutes to spare and I had to recheck my luggage in Athens for the next flight. Have you ever had one of those moments in an airport where you’re running with fury, bags spilling off your shoulder, and through your panting – like good Canadians do – you manage to muster up some blanket apology for skimming the people you pass that receive with you with sharp glares of annoyance? Those moments are often the same moments you realize you haven’t eaten and you really have to pee. I have had a few of those moments in my time, and this was one of them.

I get to the gate and come to a screeching halt, quite literally bumping into the people gathered there. This flight was also late. Thank f&*^* god. I slump into the nearest chair. A well put together woman from India asks politely if I will watch her bags so she can go to the restroom. Go for it. I ate my hand and peed my pants on the way here. She is also traveling alone but next to her I look like the laundry at the bottom of a hamper. “Of course.” I say. She returned and we started chatting about our experiences as solo female travelers. My fellow comrade in this gypsy life. And as luck would have it she was seated next to me on the plane.

Luck, or divine intervention? You will learn that had she not sat beside me, the night to follow would be very different.

We quickly picked up where we left off. We talked about food, meditation, yoga. The process of learning to be alone, remembering we are never truly alone. I talked about the tendency for us to fill in the space of the unknown with terrible predictions while undermining our capacity to cope. We came from distinctly different cultures, but the fears we shared are universal. I reminded her of her resilience, her strength, her courage to explore the world all on her own. And I reminded her that not only could she do it, she enjoyed it. I was speaking, I suppose, to my younger self. As the plane landed we were gathering our handbags and she randomly asked when my next flight was. I told her I had lots of time… two hours. And again for some random reason she felt compelled to ask, “at this airport you change or the other one?” “WHAT! There is another airport??” “WTF!” I lost my therapeutic grace. I showed her my ticket. “Yes… you have to go across town for this one. I don’t think you will make it”. And so my feet hit the land of Turkey in a whirlwind of chaos and panic. In the end, at 11pm I found a room and, with some help, another ticket out the next morning. One might say that was unfortunate, but had I not met my new friend this night would have been worse. Really, as long as one has a credit card and a passport, things turn out okay in the end. So with a quick reframe and face wash I called it a night. Me and Turkey were off to a bumpy start but I was confident we would recover.

And I was right. I woke at 3am and made my way to the airport. I landed in Izmir but was headed for Kusadasi. I had hired a guide for the next couple of days because I wanted some knowledgeable interpretation of the historical attractions I had on my list to see. My guide’s driver first picked me up at the airport at 6:30am. He did not speak English but somehow he sensed that I was not only frazzled but also famished. I had not eaten since breakfast the previous day. He made an abrupt stop before we picked up my guide and ran into a bakery. He came back with a small cup of Turkish tea and a freshly baked Simit, a sesame encrusted bread resembling a pretzel and a bagel. I devoured it hungrily, filled with gratitude. We drove for over an hour. I sat there eating my Simit and watched the sun rise over the Turkish horizon. The olive and fig trees softly bathed in the glorious rise of the burnt sun.

Good morning Turkey. We have officially recovered.

Eventually we stopped to pick up my guide. My guide’s name is Huesyin. He is in his mid 30’s and he has a kind face. He introduced himself and we made our way to Pamukkale. We arrived after about 3 and half hours of driving. We talked and he asked about my profession. He said, “my friend he says I need to see a special doctor… he says when he talks I look like I am somewhere else. My head it goes so many places.” Ah yes… the overthinking disorder that plagues us. It is a human epidemic I assure him. We talk about mindfulness and other grounding practices.

We arrived at our first destination. I quickly changed to accommodate the scorching sun. We then walked along the edges of the Cotton Castle; white terraces of calcium carbonate and small pools of hot springs known for their healing properties.

Next, he took me to swim at what is known as Cleopatra’s pool.

Some say it formed when an earthquake opened up a pit that was filled with thermal waters. Yet some legends contend that Marc Anthony built this for her. I could imagine it in its day. Clear warm waters filled with broken columns and artifacts. It was magical, however wading around in it now, surrounded by people stumbling to catch their balance, I felt less like Cleopatra and more like I slipped into the baby pool at the rec center.

We then made our way up to the ancient city Hierapolis, founded in the 2nd century bc.

Huesyin provided a commentary of its rich and rather complex history. To say he was knowledgeable was un understatement. Huesyin was smart. Smart and kind.

After our walk he suggested we go to lunch. He asked what I would like to eat. I replied, “wherever your favorite place is.” He took me to a small cafe. After the swarms of tourists in Greece, I was happy to be the only one that stood out like a sore thumb. The three of us sat at a table outside and I let him order. He came here often it seemed. He was greeted warmly by the staff and the fellow patrons all gestured a greeting. First, “we try bean soup.”

It was a puree of white lentils with a small pool of butter that crowned this delicious bowl of goodness. Anything with a pool of butter is bound to be delicious. Then salad with fresh cucumber and tomato. Then Peda… filled with vegetables and cheese and some with meat.

The crust was buttery and thin and clutched the tender and savory filling. Butter dripped from my chin and I sighed with such satisfaction. If that was not enough, he ordered dessert: Künefe – sweet cheese pastry. Cheese and simple syrup for dessert.

Why yes… yes please.

Our driver came back from having a cigarette to join us. He smiled and nodded with equal satisfaction. It was a lovely meal shared with these two men who, with their kind demeanor, seemed to reflect the endearing qualities of the country itself. I trusted them. I mean how could I not trust a man that could sense my hunger without words and feed me fresh Simit and another who orders me soup with a pool of butter? Instant friends I would say.

They dropped me off at my hotel in Kusadasi. My room had beautiful views of the sea, however I was eager to walk the causeway and watch the sunset.

And on that first real day in Turkey I watched the sun rise and I watched the sun fall and I was captivated. It had my heart there was no denying that. I have a good feeling about this next leg of my journey. Until tomorrow my friends.