Month 21 and 22: Turkey

When I left Kathmandu airport in Nepal, I left with a ticket to the capital of Iran, Tehran.
I had a layover in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and would you believe I ended up in Turkey instead of Iran!?


The reason for that is that before I bought my ticket and tried to go, I consulted a few sources regarding the visa situation for Colombians entering Iran. Although I found some information online saying Colombians cannot do a visa on arrival, a very credible source at an embassy assured me that they had spoken to the Iran Embassy and that I could also do visa on arrival. That was clearly not the case when I wasn’t allowed to board my connecting flight because I couldn’t do visa on arrival in Iran and was in limbo and couldn’t stay in the UAE as Colombians cannot do visa on arrival there either.

When they asked me to wait while they verified and the wait grew longer, I knew something was up…

I had wanted to go to Turkey at some point after Iran, and decided that would be a good alternative as I did not need a visa for Turkey, so I got on a flight to Istanbul a few hours later. Something like this had never happened to me before, but there’s a first time for everything and part of the adventure. I took it all in stride, and figured everything happens for a reason and that Iran wasn’t supposed to happen just yet.

The bad news was that I arrived in Istanbul late one night and had no public transportation options and had to take a taxi and the cheapest option I found was a hotel and was crushed to find Turkey and especially Istanbul is very European, even in steep prices (especially compared to the very cheap prices I’ve grown accustomed to in South East Asia).

I was however really lucky because the next day after I got in touch with some Turkish friends I had studied a Master’s program in Sweden with, they came to the rescue!  My friend Şafak offered to host me in Istanbul and gave me a great place to stay for a week in a great location and took care of me while I explored one of the coolest cities I’ve seen and now one of my favorite cities in the world.

These emblematic mosques of Istanbul create an amazing skyline by the Bosphorus strait.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque as it is called is spectacular.
My friends Şafak and Burcu who I studied with and met in Sweden, invited me out for dinner and drinks here with some of their friends in a really nice neighborhood.
I loved this neighborhood, Karaköy, the modern name for ancient Galata. Full of hip cafés and bars and restaurants and amazing street art



It is actually rare to see women in Burkas as shown here in Turkey. I only saw this in Istanbul.
Here men wash up before entering the mosque for prayer, as is part of the ritual at fountains outside of the mosques.
A beautiful piece at the Istanbul Modern museum.
There was this cool book use of books for this exhibit appropriately around the museums library.

Below are some pictures of Hagia Sophia, a stunning work of art. It is massive and was originally a Christian Basilica that then became a Muslim mosque and is now a museum. It is fascinating to see a monumental building that you can see both Muslim and Christian symbols.



The inside of the domed ceiling with passages of the Quran in calligraphy is amazing.
Here you can see the virgin Mary in the ceiling and stained glass windows and Muslim calligraphy.
Even the scaffolding for restoration looked beautiful and impressive
So much beautiful and amazing detail.
Inside the “Blue Mosque” also a work of art.
A man praying
I also visited The Topkapi Palace, an incredible former Sultans palace from the Ottoman Empire.
People in Turkey love to fish, and every time I crossed the bridge there were many people fishing with a stunning backdrop.
One of the main avenues, Istiklal Avenue/Street is full of pedestrians along the beautiful architecture, shops and buildings.
Typical beautiful Islamic design detail with sacred geometry.


This street art made with aerosol cans reminded me of my graffittii days…lovely


I saw beauty everywhere I looked in Istanbul, like these non-conformist apples 😉


Turkey is famous for its Turkish Coffee, but even more popular is its tea, or çay (pronounced chai), which I loved and it is served in this special glass. It is a big part of the culture and countless people invited me to drink it.
One night in Istanbul my friend Şafak invited me to a concert of this trio at an art gallery and it was beautiful.
This is a pretty good story. In Istanbul I was almost on my own for a full week. However, one day I went to  try out a Turkish bathhouse experience and on the way I stopped at a second hand book store and while there I met Sara from Sweden and I asked her if she wanted to come to the Bathhouse and she was up for it and then we hung out and explored the city the next few days.
A different view of the bathhouse from above.
On this avenue there were often street performers and here some people are dancing to the music.
Cats are EVERYWHERE in Turkey, and especially the cities. Istanbul is amazing with cats almost everywhere you look. Many people feed them and take care of them like this kind man.
Amazing colors of pomegranate fruit
Turkish sweets or Turkish Delights as they are also called are amazing and they look like art.
My friend Sebiha began teaching me Turkish and I was able to learn basic Turkish and as always it made the experience better being able to communicate simple things.
Since I’m now a vegetarian (9 months!) I’m missing out on the Doners and Kebab that are EVERYWHERE in Turkey, but I fell in love with KUMPIR, a stuffed potato where you can put in many fillings like  salad bar toppings.
I think this is pretty amazing. I’m walking with my backpack to get a ferry to leave Istanbul and someone taps me on the shoulder and I turn around and see this guy. At first I have no idea who he is. He asks me if maybe we met in the Philippines. I look at him a few seconds and remember that in very first few days of my trip in Manila I met a nice German guy at my hostel and we went out to explore and take pictures together and we never exchanged information and here we were running into each other randomly almost 2 years later on a crowded bridge with hundreds of people. This time I exchanged information with Stefan…what are the chances!?

After I left Istanbul I decided to go to Bursa, famous for being considered the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire,
I couchsurfed (Please see the bottom or end of this post for a detailed explanation on Couchsurfing) there with Ercan, a very nice phd student at the university. There I explored the city, saw a beautiful religious dance ceremony, and went to a photography workshop together and Ercan took me out for my first Turkish breakfast, that is AMAZING and I’ll explain later in a picture.

The Bursa Grand Mosque or Ulu Cami, is very impressive. Legend has it that someone was going to commission 20 mosques, but upon someones suggestion, they instead made a great 20 domed mosque. I had the pleasure of being there for one of the prayer time sessions and sat and meditated with hundreds other praying.


While in Bursa I went to see the ‘Whirling Dervishes’ or the Mevlevi Order that do this spinning type of meditation to get in a trance like state while listening to islamic prayers. It was amazing to see these people spin for half an hour straight and never lose balance!
I was sure that when they stopped whirling they had to show signs of dizziness, but to my amazement no! Here they stood still after 30 minutes of spinning. Amazing

After I went to the beautiful coastal city of Izmir, where another two friends from the masters program live. My friend Delfin and her parents and friends also completely took care of me hosting me, feeding me and showing me the sights. While in Izmir they took me to visita Siringe, a beautiful village and some impressive anciente Greek ruins,  Ephesus,

Here I am with my friend Delfin and her lovely parents. Such a loving and wonderful family.




Turkish breakfast is epic. It is eggs and a huge assortment of different olives, cheeses, vegetables, jams, breads, etc. Here Delfin and her friends treated me to this amazing breakfast feast.
I don’t really drink coffee anymore. Just once in a “blue moon”, but I had to try the famous Turkish coffee and it was amazing!
Ephesus, is an ancient Greek city (Greece and Turkey was once the same territory)
Delfin and Özlen and their lovely friends took me to Ephesus and treated me to everything.

Afterwards I went to Denizli, a city that is famous because it is next to a natural wonder called Pamukkale, which translates to cotton castle and are a collection of rock terraces that are bright white and the water is  blue and is a spectacular natural beauty. It has hot water coming down, which was perfect with the very cold weather during my visit.  My couchsurfing host there Elif, is Kurdish and from the east of Turkey and she began teaching me about Kurdish culture and sparked an interest in me to go to visit her city.

The famous pools of Pammukkale where the white rock formation (loooks like snow, but it isn’t!) and the hot water pools. I wanted to swim there and took my bathing suit and towel, but by the time we were finished looking at everything it was night!
Detail of the surface of the rock formation where you can see how it becomes bright white
Next to Pammukkale is Hierapolis, an ancient Greek city and here is the old theatre which is amazing and very well preserved.
I was amazed to see this tourist in this traditional Japanese Kimono…beautiful! Especially with this backdrop 🙂
From living in Sweden I learned to carry waterproof/rain pants to put on when necessary and used these plastic bags to make my shoes waterproof. I’m practical, and OH so stylish 😛
Some of the terraces at Pamukkale

Afterwards I got on an overnight bus to Cappadocia or Kapadokya, probably the biggest attraction in Turkey outside of Istanbul. Volcanic eruptions and erosion and the wind carved out the rocky terrain into a truly stunning landscape.  Some of the terrain looks like it is another planet and has thousands of cave homes, churches and monasteries that were carved out of the soft stone including some that are called fairy chimneys, for shelter and they even created very impressive 12 level underground cities! These were used by early Christians before Christianity was accepted as a religion.

One of the most popular activities to do in Capadoccia is to take a hot air balloon to explore the area, but it was out of my budget so I opted to see it from all the different angles except the air.  I also had a great couchsufing host, Tuğser who took care of me.

It was colder in Central Turkey and started snowing the day before I arrived and made the scenery even more dramatic and beautiful.

Stunning landscape…looks like another planet or out of a movie!


Some of the frescos inside the cave churches. Beautiful.




Inside one of the underground cities. To the left of the picture you see a rolling stone that they could push into place and no amount of soldiers could move it. There were also holes where they could attack people invading them with spears.



Some of the famous Fairy Chimneys, as they are called. While it looks like an amazing balancing act of people placing those rocks on top, it was the wind and erosion that carved these creations .



My couchsurfing host  in Capadoccia had this cute little parakeet that loved hanging out on my shoulder. I wanted to free him!




From there I opted to go where everyone in Turkey except for one told me not to go to…the East of Turkey.  Near the borders of Syria and Iraq specifically. However, I was very curious about this region and especially about Kurdish culture, so I hopped on another overnight bus to Diyarbakır . The situation there is tense and security is heightened and most of the major historical sights are closed to prevent terrorist attacks, so when I discovered this I just walked around a lot and the people were very friendly and invited me for tea and it was interesting to sit with them and learn more about Kurdish history and culture.

There are massive walls and a fortress in Diyarbakir that are the biggest in the world after the great wall of China, almost 6km long!
A street in the city center where on the right side you can just barely make out PKK graffitti on the wall. PKK is an rebel armed group that claims it is fighting “for the rights of Kurdish people” in Turkey that are close to 25% of the population of Turkey, but historically have not received the best treatment in Turkey.’_Party
Heightened security had many of the main city sights closed but it was still great to walk around and take in Kurdish culture.
Massive and beautiful loaves of bread in a shop window.
This kind man who invited me for tea in his shop was very informed on the Colombian peace process and we spoke about it for a long time.
A veggie feast
In Sweden 6 years ago I got a jacket that I’ve been able to keep alive changing the zipper a few times, like at this tailor shop. The kind man didn’t want to charge me and told me about the man in the picture frame hanging was a former Kurdish leader that had been hanged.




The only middle eastern looking thing I saw in Turkey!





Turkey is the first place I’ve seen where when you want to buy honey they can offer you a piece of the bee hive! As pure honey as it gets


Afterwards I went to Antalya, a beautiful city by the sea that I liked very much.  My lovely host there Atena and her lovely daughter took me in and lent me a bicycle and I loved being on a bicycle again and exploring the city.


Talk about an opportunistic cat…getting super friendly with the guy fishing waiting to see if he catches something!


Everyone in this picture wants to catch a fish




I was lucky enough to go to a Couchsurfing weekly meeting where people gather to practice languages and meet travelers. I met some very nice people.


The amazing Turkish hospitality always had my hosts kindly feeding me!


When I moved on sadly, I couldn’t find a couchsurfing host in Olympos and had to stay in a guesthouse for 2 nights and it actually felt strange, in a bad way! Olympos has some beautiful nature and some ruins with rivers by the sea and is full of orange and pomegranate trees, and has, Yanartaş some ancient “eternal flames”that have been burning for over 2,500 years!


Some of the eternal flames…amazing. Legend has it sailors used the flames as a reference point  to navigate
I walked very long distances around Olympos when I couldn’t get a ride, and there are so many orange trees that this day I walked juggling three oranges and then ate them 🙂

From Olympos I tried to hitchhike to my next destination but after only making it half way and struggling to get rides from a city a ride dropped me off in I hopped on a van and made it to Kaş. This is a beautiful town with a great view of the ocean and a Greek island in front. Batu and Ozlen were amazing hosts with a really cozy home and dog, Merlin that I fell in love with. I walked around a lot and went to swim at the same spot a couple of times (once with an octopus) and enjoyed this small town.

One of Batu and Ozlens cats and Merlin, who made me miss my dog Titan very much.
In the city center I saw these man playing card games and when they noticed me they invited me for some tea.
A stunning sunset in Kaş.


I was having a hard time finding a couchsurfing host in my next destination, Fethiye when my hosts in Kas, called a friend in Fethiye who said he’d be happy to take me in for a few days. Olcan was a really nice guy and I had a nice stay with him near Oludeniz and explored the area and met some of his paragliding pilot friends.


Some ruins of structures carved into the mountain in Fethiye.

From there I went to Bodrum, where Ece a friend I met in Sri Lanka a few months earlier took me in for a few days and was a great host. She took me to try Raki, the local drink and we had a few nice evenings of staying in and talking which was a treat.

Ece had some napkins that said LIVE YOUR DREAM so here she is holding one with PLEASE written above it




I gave my day pack a fresh coat of this message

From there it is very easy to visit a Greek Island called Kos, and I got an offer from a lovely couple (Promie and Tara) to come visit so I went for it. It is only around 1 hour by boat, and while winter time isn’t the best time to visit a Greek Island it was a nice introduction to Greece. It was cool to see the white and blue colored theme and to hear the Greek language and see the alphabet. And although I don’t think I’m too big into Christmas,  I’ll admit it felt warming to see the Christmas trees and decorations and I actually left the island on the 24th of December and spent “Christmas Eve” having a nice dinner with my friend Ece back in Bodrum.




My first official Greek Salad!






On the island I was hosted by an amazing couple Promie and Tara, and here is Tara working as she is an amazing illustrator in their cozy home.


After Kos and getting back to Bodrum I came back to Izmir where I thought I’d be only 1 night or 2, but I ended up staying almost a week as I had an amazing couchsurfing host Hamide who took me in and made me feel incredibly comfortable and the next few days I did some drawing, practicing drum and spent New Years there before going to Istanbul to get my visa for Lebanon.


A drawing I did of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Unfortunately the situation is Turkey not very good and getting worse as less and less freedom is available to its citizens. Everyone I spoke to complained about the President and the government acting more like a dictatorship that has been gradually getting stricter and more religious and there is little space for dissent. This past summer the government claimed a group in the army tried to overthrow the government in incidents that included many innocent citizens being killed by tanks and aerial strikes .

Some say the government and president staged this failed coup to justify “getting rid of” influential people that were against the president and his government. Others talk of the CIA being behind it.  I spoke to people who had their university professors disappear, some had their parents lose their jobs, some imprisoned…etc. It is a sad situation that I hope will change. And if this wasn’t hard enough, Turkey has been increasingly targeted by the Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups for their involvement in the Syrian war and going after IS in other neighboring countries by staging acts of terrorism in Turkey.

As for my experience: Turkey was a great surprise for me. I expected it to be Middle Eastern, instead found a European country. The country is pretty and many told me I came in the wrong season, that it is amazing in the spring and summer. However, what I found to be amazing was its people. To date in my travels I haven’t had people be as kind, inviting and generous at Turkish people are. I very much hope things improve because it is a beautiful country with amazing people.

Additional information:

On the failed coup in Turkey last summer.’%C3%A9tat_attempt

Good article about the tough situation in Turkey.

Although I have mentioned Couchsurfing before, I want to explain that it is an online-based community of people that offer their homes to receive travelers in order to help other travelers out and have a type of cultural exchange. It is a system that when used completely benefits all at some point or another. Either when they are traveling they can find a free place to stay and a connection to the local culture, and when you “host” or receive people you have the chance to meet and talk and learn about the person who stays with you and their cultures, practice languages, etc.

And here a good video explanation and example of Couchsurfing:


6 thoughts on “Month 21 and 22: Turkey

Add yours

  1. Hi Alejandro, It was a nice blog, now I really want to visit Turkey!

    As you may already know now, I believe Iran may allow you to get a visa on arrival as someone assured you so. The point is the airline I guess. Nowadays there are two burdens, a country and an airline. Airlines may get penalties if they bring someone who may not satisfy the visa requirements. How the airlines take the measure seriously are all up to them, no matter how the country allow/does not allow a visa for a tourist.. As you could fly to UAE, the airline personnel in Nepal allowed you to fly to Iran, but the airline personnel in UEA were more strict, then you couldn’t board.. I have had the similar situation before. In my case, the airline demanded me to write a statement that the airline is free from all responsibilities if I am rejected to enter the country.
    Now, you are traveling without flying… if you encounter the similar situation in the future, I would recommend you to check with the country you go AND the airline (choose the direct flight if possible).
    Good luck for your wonderful trip. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello and thank you for the info Emi!
      Indeed it is an amazing country and many nationalities can do visa on arrival in both Iran and the UAE, but sadly Colombia is not one of them! Big hug and thank you!


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