“Are you really eating meat with your hands in a cave” I said to myself as I sat on a plastic bag on the floor, with a random Turkish family, in a 4000 year old cave in the ancient city of Hasankeyf. I then answered myself with the obvious, “Yes Alex, you are eating meat with your hands in a cave with a random Turkish family in a 4000 year old cave in the city of Hasankeyf”. I had been there for a couple of hours and would end up spending the entire afternoon with “The Husband”, “The Wife”, and “Grandma”. This in independent travel at it’s best.



Let’s meet the family


DSC02286“The Husband” – This happy-go-lucky fellow was a man I guessed to be in his 50’s. Although, I would have said younger if not for his thinning hair and tired eyes. He was a gentle soul that meant the world no harm. As far I as could tell he had two loves; cigarettes and tea. Possibly his wife as well, but that is not confirmed. He had an engaging smile that could light up a cave, and the endless ambition to speak Turkish to me in hopes that I would suddenly understand.


“The Wife” – The strong silent type. A few years at least younger then the husband. She mostly smiled, spoke very little, and poured continuous glasses of tea. When the pot went dry, she was quickly to get more water boiling on the fire. She had an infectious laugh and whatever they were talking about was clearly hilarious. Perhaps they were just making fun of the strange man that was in the cave with them.


Hasankeyf“Grandma” – Where to begin. After introducing myself as Alex, she chose to call me Amerik. Every time she said my new name she would burst into laughter, and the others would follow. I have tried google translate but have came up with no results. I will never get the joke. She was 80 years young. A spry old bird. She sat the entire time and kept our little cave picnic in order. Although the husband acted as if he was in charge, grandma was clearly calling the shots.


How this all came to be

I was on an independent day trip from Mardin to visit Hasankeyf, a city doomed to be flooded when I giant dam is built in the next couple years. We are not here today to discuss the fate of this old city, but rather to discuss the events that took place with in it. I will spare the details of getting there and the history and so on, as that will come in a later more informative post. We will skip ahead to when I was walking through the rocks minding my business when I heard a call. I looked up, and to my surprise there was a man, the husband, waving me over. I obviously had to see what all the hootin’ and hollerin’ was about and without haste I scrambled up the rocks to see what was up. This is where I found my three new friends happily drinking tea in a cave. I of course joined them.



Just chillin’ in a cave doing cave stuff

While we sat there and drank endless cups of tea, We communicated in broken english and a bit of Turkish I have picked up. Couple this with hand gestures and non verbal communication and you have yourself a very long, drawn out, frustrating but amusing conversation. The husband and wife had 5 kids and lived in Diyarbakır, about 1.5 hours north. They appeared to be on a day trip just as myself, so we had that in common at least. The husband was driving instructor, this is shocking as you will soon find out about the ride I took with them later on.




We sat in this cave for the full afternoon. I’m talking like 4 or 5 hours here. The had all the essentials; enough tea for all of Turkey, 2 onions, 7 tomatoes, 5 green peppers, a bag of meat, and various plates, cups and utensils. Let’s talk about this bag of meat. It contained lamb and chicken, it was heavily spiced and unrefrigerated. It had travelled with them for hours. It was eventually cooked up over an open cave fire and was delicious. I hope I don’t get sick. They had prepared a feast of sorts with all the ingredients mentioned above. I was full but they force-fed me more. It’s hard to say no when literally don’t understand what no means. I was double fisting lamb chunks.


Hasankeyf Hasankeyf Hasankeyf

After the cave

When it was time to go, much meat and many teas later, they insisted to drive me back to Mardin. This is 1.5 hours in the opposite direction, turning their trip home from 1.5 hours to 4.5 hours. The wouldn’t take no for answer so away we went. We scrambled out of the cave and down the rocky path. Grandma and I held hands, it was very romantic. I may have given her the wrong idea.. We had a couple other passengers come along and were rolling 6 deep in a car the made me think of Borat for some reason. You know the one that’s being pulled by the horse or whatever it is in the start of the movie? I got the front seat, shared with another, the husband behind the wheel, the wife and grandma in the back with another. During the entire journey the husband smoked cigarettes, the wife kept quiet, and grandma poked me in the back of the head with her cane every 15 minutes or so and yelled Amerik! Then burst into laughter. The husband pushed this old beast to its limits. When I tried to put on my seat belt he said no need and wouldn’t let me. Driving instruction at it’s finest.


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Making stops along the way

On the way back to Mardin the husband made to executive decision for us to stop and do a little sight-seeing. We detoured to the charming old city of Midyat and had ourselves a little stroll. We climbed up in a castle and took pictures, we drank coca-cola, we wandered the streets as children would ask for money and the husband would yell at them in Turkish, all in all it was pretty magical. All this while grandma sat in the car. You see, she walked with a cane and was a tired old soul, she missed out on the fun. That did not damper her spirits however, when we were returning to our chariot,  I heard her yell Amerik! before we even arrived, with a huge grin on her face. She then said something to me in turkish that I later translated, “I love you”. Bless her heart. Nothing could keep this old soul down. We then departed and were heading to drop me off in Mardin. We reached Mardin at dark and said our goodbyes. It was hard to hold back my tears as I watched them drive off into the distance. I was able to keep my composure and made my way to my guest house.


Hasankeyf Hasankeyf

The moral of the story

Whether you turn left or right, go up or down, forward or backwards, it will inevitably change the course of your immediate and distant future. Had I not turned around on my exploration when I did and head in the direction of their cave this would have not come to be. This randomness is what I love most about travel, it’s not taking pictures of a piece of history, or checking cities and countries off a list, it’s the little surprises you get to experience if you are open to them. Just be friendly and watch what happens. I look forward to more adventures like this. You won’t know unless you go.


midyat midyat DSC02335 Hasankeyf Hasankeyf

17 Responses

  1. MJ

    About the eating meat with your hands in a cave — I too wondered something similar once when I was drinking fermented horse milk in the teepee of a reindeer herder in Mongolia.

    ps: wonder what granny was giggling about lol. so cool you brought many a smile to their faces…even if possibly at your own expense. 🙂

    • Alex

      Yea who knows what she was thinking! Maybe she was senile haha. I hope to get to mongolia as well one of these days!

  2. Heather Widmer

    Wow, what an incredible experience! Very entertaining too, put a smile on my face as I was reading.
    Had a similar meat experience while doing a camel trek in the Moroccan desert. Day 3 we were eating chicken that hadn’t seen refrigeration. Never got sick and it was delicious 🙂

    • Alex

      Thanks! Camel trek sound awesome! I’m thinking about Morocco after Tbex next month! Ill have to have a read about it on your site.

  3. Corinne

    Turks! They are a fantastic people, and no matter where you go in the country, you will find this hospitality! I’m glad a little thing like maybe getting sick didn’t stop you from eating with them. They do meat right! Once I was in a garden with a Turkish family, and we went to the butcher for chicken and sausage. My host told the butcher we were grilling, and he added all these herbs and spices to the bag of chicken. It marinated in them for a few refrigerated hours and I seriously have never had better grilled chicken in my entire life!
    Corinne recently posted…Edam Cheese Market SquareMy Profile

    • Alex

      Yes the hospitality has been very good especially in the east! I can now report that n0 sickness occurred 🙂 thanks for the comment!

  4. Bill MacRostie

    Hey Alex,
    Your mom has been forwarding your posts, but I want to get them directly. They’re really great…I’m enjoying them.

    BTW, forget India for the time being. Come to DC for Xmas!!

    • Alex

      Well howdy Bill, If you would like them directly just sign up with your email in the subscription box to the right of the post! As for DC its definitely on the table just need to make sure it works in the grand plan of things, thanks for the invite!

  5. Eugene Haslam

    I am enjoying your posts and vicariously following your adventure. I too have traveled to many places in Turkey many years ago and have fond memories.


    • Alex

      Thanks Eugene! Next time I’m in Ottawa in swing by Zaphods and say whats up! Appreciate the kind words dude let me know if you have any Turkish suggestions.. although I wont be here long more adventure awaits

    • Alex

      Hi Natalie, It really was! One of those rare moments that happen every so often and really make travel worth while. Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. Gemma Two Scots

    What a charming story and family! I’m very much looking forward to the unbeaten track and what ever fortunate events that it brings in South / Central America in April. It looks as if I could learn a lot from you. Great story.
    Gemma Two Scots recently posted…Two Scots Advent-ure 2014My Profile

  7. KebabGirl

    Amerik = American 😉

    I love the Kurdish people, thanks for your great travel blog articles 🙂