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I truly enjoyed my trip to Turkey. You were an excellent tour guide and made the whole experience so enjoyable...!!! Your heart opened to each of us and I watched you care for each of us in the way we seemed to need you. What a gift for each of us. I found the varied scenery in Turkey so spectacular and the people warm and caring... I felt like a rock star traveling home with my baglama and hand drum as several people stopped to ask me questions.
-- Diane Bosl: Minneapolis, MN

I didn't get sentimental until I returned home and put your CD on. No more live music. Then the pictures were developed. Thank you again for the music, wonderful stories. My best memories are in my head, my pictures didn't capture my strong feeling for Turkey.
-- Bonnie Elder: Juneau, Alaska

Turkey--a beautiful people, a beautiful country. Yet, this journey was so much more than that. . . , moments with laughter and pure joy, a thread of peace and serenity woven throughout. The mind simply fails. I thank you for being there when it was all too much, I am grateful for everything.
-- Diane Evans: Minnesota

I have been home a week today and still my mind is filled with the images, sights and sounds of the amazing adventure we were on. In retrospect I realize that what I enjoyed the most was the times when I was not just an observer but had some interaction with what was going on, for example--our hike, zikr at Jellaludin's, the hamam experience. Thank you for being your patient self with all our questions and insecurities. I found you a loving and caring host.
-- Brenda Spencer: Edmonton, Canada

"Take a bunch of unconnected folks
to Istanbul, add Latif and Ali.
Put us all on Mustafa's bus,
and watch real community emerge.

Traipse here,
eat there,
look at this!
sleep where directed.

Visit little corners
of Turkey. Sometimes
nooks and crannies only
a master could find.

Exquisite architecture
and piles of rocks.
Even imagined architecture
now in elsewhere museums.

Breakfast of pure tomatoes,
feta Cheese and myriad olives.
Chai at all times. Ubiquitous lentil soup.

The tourmeister, heart
good as gold, generous
to a fault and lovingly
careful of us each one.

And ahhh, sweet music,
even dance, our nightly
reward for enjoying all
our other rewards.

Strangers becoming friends,
learning to help each other.
Isuzu bus filling with love
passengers' hearts opening big.

Latif, Mustafa, Ali, and fifteen
fortunate groupies in an adventure
so profound even bad poetry
can't mar the memory."

Blessings to you all.
I loved being with you
-- Rick Schulze: Big Island, Hawaii

Thanks a million for everything. And my goodness what a completely reasonable price tag on such a lovely jaunt across Turkey. You are a great "non-guide" and that's a compliment. It was really just like a group of friends. If you can keep it like that Bravo!
-- Anne Rasmussen: College of Williams and Mary, Virginia

How precious, how beautiful the journey was Latif....its reverberations....already there is a lightness to my body.....sense much visioning to come from it. I am awed by your presence, your dream permeates your being. your retracing our steps was wonderful....especially to Alahan Monastery, your words brought the stars there very close.
-- Abadi Morse: Edmonton, Canada

Memories of the Turkish caravan

I remember.....

Arriving in Istanbul around 7.00pm on a Sunday evening, driving in the hotel cab, held up for ages in traffic because it looked like the whole of Istanbul had turned out to picnic, barbeque, play games, lounge around on any bit of grass they could find - no matter that the traffice was everywhere - the people were everywhere too. There was a real feeling of coming to a country where nomading was in the blood. Family units and friends just enjoying eating and being together in the evening air....I have to say its looked very appealing and satisfyingly Turkish for one who had not visited before.

I remember.......

The first breakfast - the feta cheese, olives, cucmber and tomatoes, lovely breads and cakes that my daughter Sara had predicted I would find myself being offered. I also remember the mulberries and grape molasses on yoghourt - yum!

I remember.......

My encounter with the WCs on the road - the hole in the ground and I am still trying to work out the logistics of the jug of water in the corner......

I remember.....

The smiling faces of a family sitting under a tree in the shade, father, mother and a flock of children. Each child was pushed gently towards me to shake their hands - their eyes were dark and shining like berries and they had apple rosey cheeks and dark shining hair and I felt a real heart link between us all, no language but lots of smiles.

I remember making bread/pancakes with the nomad families - their friendly beckoning me into their home, the baby's cradle hanging from the tent poles, the father looking after the baby as the women baked the bread. What women need language when there's a bag of flour, a rolling pin and a common sisterhood?

I remember..... the silver bell laughter of Veronica and Santiago at the back of the coach.

I remember..... the cool time Noah and I shared under the cool of my umbrella.

I remember.... everybody jumping on the coach and Latif turning round to face his people-family-caravan and saying "o.k. everybardy - this is the deal....." About what? I can't remember. Maybe the next meal.

I remember the caves, the carpets in the caves, the candles in the caves and the music in the caves.

I remember.... so many rich and varied experiences I could go on and on. Carpet sellers, intense reflected white heat in the valleys, gradually getting to know the people who made up our lovely group in all sorts of gentle and easy way. The layers of ancient remains, enthralling mosques and amazing evidence of architectural and engineering genius - one can honestly ask who the hell hasn't been through Turkey and left their mark? ( including us of course!).

--Helen, Edinburgh/Scotland

It's been hard to write to you (or anyone) about the trip, mainly because it was so rich, so full, that afterwards the images kept rising up and blotting out whatever else was happening here.
One of the things I observed was the sense of leisure and quiet courtesy we so often met with in Turkey. That was a real gift. Along with the scent of night-blooming jasmine by the Mediterranean, the high, clear air and the blue distances of Alahan, the intensity in and around Rumi's tomb, the wind buffeting the shores of the lake at Egirdir, the almost-full moon rising over the Blue Mosque.

Maybe most precious of all were the intervals of music that always seemed to come when I thought I was too exhausted to stay up any longer, and which then created a world so deep and enticing that I forgot all about everything else.

So, I've been talking myself back in to being here for a while. Can't keep from looking ahead from time to time to a return. Dear Latif, your continual warmth, attentiveness and humor kept all of us in tune during the amazing journey. I can't imagine a better way of traveling through your country, and I thank you many times over.
-- Anne Twitty: New York City

Adventures in Turkey with Latif Bolat

My husband, Asha and I are independent travelers, so when we signed ourselves and our 14 year old son up for a two week guided trip to Western Turkey with Turkish musician, Latif Bolat, we weren't sure what to expect. It was with great relief that we discovered our fellow travelers were of a similar bent.

After two days on our own in Istanbul, our group of 18 converged at Hotel Pierre Loti in the heart of the Sultanahmet District. We met in the afternoon, and the next morning we were on our 7-8-9 daily schedule. We were on the bus with Latif.

What an amazing experience, to travel in close quarters, with strangers on a small bus through Western Turkey! We were blessed to have a great group of people and friendships and bonds formed quickly. Latif became our parent of sorts for the next fourteen days. He was our translator, problem solver, organizer, meal planner/interpreter (“Is there red meat in that?”), guide, teacher, keeper of “Turkish Time”, and resident classical Turkish musician.

Latif was an incredible smoother of ways and opener of doors for us all. I could never imagine another tour guide being able to give us so many extraordinary experiences. I imagine that most planned tours are just that, so well-planned that the itinerary is set. Well, not so with Latif. The trip flowed around a general plan with definite hotel reservations, but in between, flexibility was common.

We first discovered “Turkish Time”, when Latif would tell us we would be at our destination in about 20 minutes. An hour or so later we were there. Latif always found extra places to stop and show us along the way, and “along the way” was often very much off the beaten path. Latif also, always had ways to make near disasters flow smoothly. An hour after we had left our hotel in Kizkalesi on the Mediterranean, Latif's cell phone rang. It was the hotel calling to say they found a bag which had been left behind. We soon discovered it was an extra duffle we had purposely left on the bus, the previous evening. It turned out our driver unloaded everything from the bus each night. So our bag filled with all sorts of loot and Turkish delight, was left in a hotel an hour behind us. Since we were going to be spending time that day in Silifke, at a fair of Turkish cultural arts, and Latif's brother-in-law worked there, Latif came up with a plan. He asked the hotel to put our bag on the next bus out to Silifke. While our group happily ate Gozleme (filled pancakes cooked over a fire), shopped for Turkish pants, spices, and ate Kunefe (ice cream over a hot fried sweet cheese), the bag was on its way. Just as we were ready to board our bus and move on, Latif's brother-in-law arrived with our fully-intact bag. Smooth sailing!

While traveling between Mersin and Konya in the Isaurian region, where the blue-green Göksu river gorge cuts deeply through the Taurus mountain range; our bus labored two kilometers up a steep and narrow gravel road, lined with hairpin turns, to the isolated ruins of the Alahan, 5th century Byzantine monastery. This was Latif's chosen site to have a picnic. Here we ate leftovers from lunch we'd had the previous day prepared by his family in Mersin. The monastery ruins were isolated and at a very high altitude. It was not a place many tourists would venture to or even find. The site was spectacular!

From Konya, in the high lake country we visited Beysehir Mosque. Built in the 12th century, its interior is made of carved wood and vibrant blue mosaic tiles, with not a nail in it. Once again, being in such an out of the way destination, we were the only visitors in the mosque. Latif asked the Imam in the mosque to sing some prayers to us in Arabic. We all sat on the floor in a circle along-side the Imam as he sang to us - a very meaningful and sacred experience.

Later during the trip, while driving to the Aegean Coast, after a long day of exploring Hieropolis/Pammukale, and the Aphrodisias Temple, Latif had more plans. He told us his Colonel friend from the Turkish Army had invited us to tea. It was late in the day, when we stopped at the military base. Here we were escorted by soldiers to a beautiful office. We all settled in comfortably on large couches. Soldiers poured bottled Turkish hand-sanitizer for us and proceeded to serve us hot, Turkish tea (Chai) in delicate tulip glasses. The tea revived us as we asked the Colonel questions about his country and for his views about many subjects as Latif translated..

Finally, Latif was definitely the opener of many doors. Back in Istanbul after an afternoon on the Bosphorous Strait, the ten of us who were still traveling together (some had gone off on other destinations) headed to the Beyoglu neighborhood for dinner and instrument and music shopping. We first headed to a government book and music store on Istiklal Caddesi. We arrived at the store and immediately learned that it had just closed 15 minutes before. After staring into the dark window in great disappointment, Latif saw someone peek out from inside. A man came to the door and Latif explained our situation. We were taken around to a back entrance and entered the store. We all indulged in the incredible store, buying stacks of Turkish CD's, matted calligraphy, ornate Turkish cards, books, and even a 1000 piece puzzle of Istanbul. On to the instrument store, Elvis Music where Asha and Latif were hoping to each buy a saz, a classical Turkish stringed instrument (what Latif plays). To our great disappointment, Elvis Music was closed. Latif spoke with a nearby shop owner who gave him the cell number of the owner of Elvis Music. Latif called and found him on the train, going home for the night. The owner turned around, and headed back to Beyoglu. We waited, and in 20 minutes the owner was unlocking his store. Our group squeezed into the small shop, and Asha and Latif played instruments. The saz were handmade and beautiful, made of paduk wood, with mother of pearl inlay on the fret boards. We all were served chai as Asha and Latif excitedly eyed and played their instruments. Both of them bought a saz that evening, made by the father of the store's owner. It was amazing that two very special stores were closed for the day and it didn't matter, since we were with Latif. He was an opener of many doors throughout all of Turkey. Thank you Latif, for sharing your precious country with us. Yah Fatah!

--Shekinah - Ashland, Oregon

The Turkey Puzzle

Why did I go to Turkey? I had a pretty good idea of the country as it was never having been there, so why muddle that with a personal experience?

When I was growing up in the Netherlands, many Turkish men arrived in our country to do the jobs we were too educated to do – mainly clean houses and buildings. We called them guest workers, implying they'd go home after they were done. The men were very dark and generally unkempt. Also very frustrated, judging from the propositions and money offers I got any time I met a Turkish man at a bus stop or other public space. Years later those men turned out to be married and brought over their wives. They started out very disoriented in our country, had campfires and goat slaughterings on their balconies, threw garbage out of their windows onto the street and squatted in the back yards. It was a time of adjustment for all.

Then their families started to grow, grow and grow big, with six children the norm. The women were often seen huddled, trailing their husbands in stores like living shopping baskets, while the men judged the food, picked, paid and overall seemed in charge of all to do with the big bad world outside home. Sexual harrassments during meetings with Turks continued. These Turks came straight out of the country, the Eastern parts of Turkey, where the culture was still half way in the Middle Ages, we were told. Stories of rampant incest and physical abuse in these families did the rounds. Other stories emerged of economic abuse, where Turkish men were stacked on four story beds in unsafe buildings, forced to pay ludicrous rents, hired to do hazardous jobs without proper safety precautions, like cleaning oil tankers without gas masks. Stories of Turkish men coming down with serious stress related diseases like stomach ulcers started doing the rounds too.

I knew then what Turkey was like: it was a backward country with enormous poverty that shuttled its men to affluent countries to do menial jobs, a sad country. From my work for Amnesty International, I knew its human rights record was atrocious. It was also a country where hippies could afford to go unencumbered and get high. Groovy, man. I did not go to Turkey to experience Turkey. I thought I already knew all I needed to know about it. Until Latif Bolat intrigued me during one of his concerts a year ago. His references to poetry evoked intrigue with this exotic place.

I wanted to see those Islamic geometric motifs that have fascinated me all my life. I wanted to see if I would grow numb of them, when I was surrounded by them, walked around where they were made, close to where they were invented. I wanted to immerse in them and see if, when I would see where and how they were placed and installed, I would get a new and different notion of their meaning. I'd read so much about them, forever awed by their cleverness, their successful marriage of science, art and spirituality. For instance, these mosaic makers developed a method using only a compass and ruler to create a regulare pentagon (five corners). The number 5 stands for man's striving for perfection, for praying five times a day. Hexagons (six corners) are easy to construct, but pentagons not so. Recently, I had a retired math professor over in my studio who did not even know such a thing was possible when I showed him.

Along the way, the tour taught me a few lesson in contrasts.
The tour leader: knowledgeable – Turkish while Californian
The people: civilized and hospitable – good humoured while quick tempered
The religion: predominantly Islam – peaceful and wise while sometimes fundamentalist
The geography: large and immensely varied, full of potential – fascinating
The history: intricate – violent while peaceful
The mosaics: abundant – infinitely inspiring

In the Istanbul museum of Islamic art, I saw some isolated samples that impressed me by their scale and verve. In Topkapý, mosaics were used in overwhelmingly opulent decoration, with spirituality far sought, but in the Blue Mosque, I saw some mosaics that mimicked the night sky. When I came outside I wondered what reminded me of what: the night sky of the mosaic or the other way around – a sign of great art, when it can confuse you in such way. It is odd that the new art in this culture flirts with the West, the new paintings look like Western wannabees, and dated at that, while it has a much richer source in its own roots. I concluded that it is my job to prove this. I purchased of a pair of puzzle pants embellished with evil eyes, to keep me puzzling, pull up my pants and get to work, protected by many evil eyes promised to ward off jealous mother-in-law's eyes, as well as the eye of God,…

--Claudia, Vancouver-Canada

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