After nearly 11 hours on a bus from Nevşehir in Cappadocia, we arrived in Şanlıurfa just before midnight. We took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Uğur, an aging sort of hostel on the upper floor of a two-story building right downtown. It had gotten good reviews from fellow travelers and apparently staff helped organize day tours to some of the nearby sites. As transit to Göbekli Tepe, 20 km outside of town, was problematic – no buses or dolmuş and expensive taxis with wait limits – this was part of the reason I booked it.
Road weary and sleepy we checked in and as I waited for Mustafa the manager to hand me the key, I made small talk and unlocked nearly half an hour of ranting from the owner. Tip just went into blank stare mode, surely thinking of ways to kill me in my sleep that night should we ever get to the room, as I just politely nodded and shrugged, only encouraging him to continue.
When I told him we were there to see Göbekli Tepe, I put the match to the powder keg. What it comes down to is this: back in 1994, when Göbekli Tepe was discovered to be some kind of a Neolithic symbolic or ceremonial site, excavations began within a year. What is open for viewing are basically four stone circles which may represent a fraction of what’s under the grass and stones at the top of this hill. The common figure thrown around is 5%. While this site is likely being fast-tracked to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, there are no fences, and until recently, no tickets being sold. There are no facilities and the plans for a visitor center have been very slow to develop. I told Mustafa I was there to write about it and I had contacted Professor Klaus Schmidt in hopes of interviewing him.
“You will see. Ask him! What you do? Twenty years! What you do? If I go for a haircut and the man only cuts this much” –he taps a small area near one temple—”and then two hours later still this much, what I say? You see my meaning?” In between his heated words he pauses and his face gets a mild, knowing smile. It’s as if he expects a light bulb to come on in my mind and he is waiting patiently for me to match that look, nod and delight in the mutual understanding. I just force a smile and wait and eventually he continues with another run of frustration.
He suspects corruption. “Now they have this man,” –he mimes a long beard from his chin– “from the village. Ask the man with beard, ask him! How many tickets do you sell today? Huh? How many? He do not sell to every person. I ask him, why you not sell to that person? ‘She is student,’ he tell me. Do you look for student card? Huh? Is written on their face “student”? Where these tickets are?” Another long pause. I don’t know. Just tell me. If I step on a rock, he tell me, Oh no no no, you don’t step there. What? If VIP come, rich man, you know Koç?” (One of the richest families in Turkey, founded on wealth from Armenian and Greek property confiscated back in the early 20th century. They own “everything.”) “VIP come here and he walks everywhere. Touches every thing. This is OK? But I step on stone outside and ‘No no no, don’t step there!’ This man with beard. He is shepherd. Who are you? You don’t know to wipe your ass! If this rock is so important, why here it is where anyone will step on it?”
He suspects the money is pocketed. Even the official licensed guides on tour buses maybe show up and collect half as many tickets as they pay for, and perhaps pocket a cut for themselves as well, he explains finally.
Then he is back on the professor. “If I ask someone to make me a suit. And he makes one sleeve” he shows me his arm “how long I wait? Two years after, I only have one sleeve. What you do?” Clearly I have found his pet peeves and his tirades are rehearsed and circle back on themselves. Indeed, twenty years is a long time. Why would so little be showing?
When I finally extricate myself and the key from the lobby, it is 1 am. I go to bed worrying that this long pilgrimage will end in disappointment.
A Note On the Hotel in Urfa:Despite his penchant for ranting, Mustafa is a very nice fellow. He seems more honest than most and has an understanding — and a fear of Allah — that compels him to deal honestly with people. Hotel Uğur, which offers private rooms with private or shared baths, and larger multi-bed rooms, is old, but beyond the appearance, seems to be clean, and the price is good. The prices for transit to other sites — Gobekli Tepe, Mardin, Nemrut — are fair and he is clear about them. The location puts you walking distance from the sites of the city of Urfa and some really good food. Here are my photos and hotel review of Hotel Ugur.
For more articles and photo galleries about Turkey and Turkish culture, see The Mad Traveler home site.