Saturday, May 24, 2008

Always Talk to Strangers

There is a tempation when travelling to focus sights rather than people. Yet I've found time and time again that some of my best and most memorable experiences come when we manage to stop ticking off museums and buildings and spend some time absorbing the local culture. There are some amazing people in this world.

The other morning we had breakfast outside our hostel. The tables were full, so we sat down next to Steven, an English teacher from the US. Soon we were engrossed in conversation about his travels in the Middle East. He's spent time in Oman, Yemen, and other countries and now lives in Turkey. He had tons of interesting insights into Islamic culture. Lots of time passed, and it was close to lunch time before we finally left the hostel. We cut our sıghtseeıng short but in the end it was worth it. There are only so many mosques you can see in a day anyway.

Every time we've stopped long enough to talk to somebody, we've found ourselves enriched by learning a little bit more about the world around us. Our travel agent told us about the history of Turkey: about Ataturk and how the Turkish republic was founded. She gave us her views on fundamentalist Islam. "I am a Muslim", she said, "but I don't pray, I don't wear a scarf, and I can't read the Koran. For me, it is a cultural thing." It's a perspective we never hear in Canada.

We've found the same with fellow travelers. In Turkey we've been staying in family run Pensions. These are basically large houses that have been opened up to travelers, and they are a completely different experience from a hotel. The best ones really feel like you are staying in somebody's home and eating in their dining room, and they are a great place to meet people. We ran into some fantastic fellow travellers in Bergama and Selchuk. When you are in an out of the way Pension in the middle of Turkey the likelyhood that you'll have something in common with your fellow travellers is pretty high. They've all passed through the same travel filter.

A ide-effect of all of this is a lot of late nights. When you meet amazing people and find easy connections based on shared experiences and outlooks it's hard not to talk late into the night. Even though we exchange email addresses, in the vast majority of cases we will never cross paths again. We treasure these moments with our fellow travellers, and we love the cups of tea with the Turkish shopkeepers. And then we head off for the next adventure.

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