Tour leading in Turkey: the best job in the world?

It's definitely up there.
Profile picture: sorted © Drew Dunlop
By Oliver Pelling

“I was born in Tarsus, where heroes come from,” laughs Emir Sagir, a Turkish tour leader for small group adventure company Geckos Adventures. Emir’s sitting by a hotel pool in Cappadocia and sipping a Turkish coffee; enjoying a free afternoon during this two-week trip.

Some of Emir’s Geckos travellers are splashing around in the water, others are knocking back a couple of beers in the sun. The rest are having a nap – they were up early this morning for sunrise ballooning. Evidently, it’s a tough life.

Sunset at Hieropalis © Drew Dunlop

For your average 26-year-old, Emir’s had his fair share of adventure. In his third year of university, he and his best friend travelled to New York and stayed for three months. They gave rickshaw tours around Central Park, and it was here Emir discovered his love of meeting and working with new people. “You get to hear how many amazing things they’ve done and it inspires you to one day do it for yourself," he says. "Whenever we’re on a bus or train trip on one of my tours, I try and talk and sit next to different people. I always try and get them to tell their life story. I always wonder how they started, how they got to this point. You always learn something from them.”

During our trip through Turkey, Emir was a constant source of entertainment, hilarity and knowledge. There were plenty of occasions when he could have gone off and done his own thing, but he was always on hand and keen to hang out with the group, lend advice, and share stories.

Emir takes his group for a night on the tiles © Drew Dunlop

For Emir – who’s a huge fan of cinema, music, books (he loves Charles Bukowski) and culture in general – there’s one particular chance meeting during his stint in New York that he says he’ll never forget.

One night, he picked up a fare outside a restaurant called Tavern on the Green – a classy spot. They set off on a tour of the park. “I didn’t recognize him because he was covered up,” says Emir. “So we’re cycling around, and I’m trying to tell him about New York but he didn’t care – he was kind of grumpy. He just said ‘ssshhh, I know New York way better than you do.’”

Then, the passenger’s phone rang. He was talking about a movie he was going to shoot on Monday. Interested, Emir asked him who he was. ‘I’ll tell you later’, came the response. At one point, Emir stopped the rickshaw so his unnamed passenger could take a pee under a tree. “As we went on, I told him I loved Hollywood movies and I told him all about the films I love,” explains Emir. “He eventually asked me to stop and he got out. Then he asked me for a pen and paper, which I luckily had. He took it off me and wrote down:


Good luck, be well.

R. DeNiro’

“I remember! I looked at him and I saw his face – the Godfather, the Taxi Driver – I’d always loved his movies. I’d always been a big fan of his. Then he asked me how much for the ride, and after a bit of thought, I overcharged him a little. He said ‘I know you’re overcharging me, but I’ll give it to you anyway.’ He gave me a big tip as well. That was really cool.”

Emir, ever the smooth operator © Drew Dunlop

Emir came from humble beginnings. His father was a farmer and his mother was a housewife and tailor. Having taken a break from university for his adventure in New York, he returned to finish his studies (translation and interpreting) in Izmer. Soon after, he moved to Istanbul took on his first job, in translation. And he hated it. “It was the most boring job in the world,” he says. “And it made me realise even more that I needed a social job. I love working with people, but when it’s with machines, I hate it. I hate being hidden away on my own.”

After listening to advice from his friends, Emir set about becoming a tour guide. He looked it up online and realised he needed to learn another language to do it. He learned Spanish in one month, took the test, and passed.

Emir then travelled back to Izmer and studied tour guiding for a year, after which he had to travel around Turkey for 45 days and learn everything there was to know about his country. “I went all the way from Istanbul to the corner of Turkey, to the border with Armenia,” he recounts. “You do that so you get to learn the history, archaeology and everything else – I liked this part. I was always taking notes to make sure I remembered everything. It was all so interesting.”

It's a tough life... © Drew Dunlop

Soon after, Emir returned to Istanbul and landed a job leading tours with Geckos Adventures. And two years in, he still loves his job. “Your job is your life, you spend all the time doing it,” he says. “That’s why I left translation, and I’m so glad I did. I love working for Geckos.”

In 2013, Emir had to take a break from tour guiding to fulfill six-months of compulsory duty with the Turkish army (without his degree, he would have had to serve for four years).

It was during this time that he really learned to appreciate his vocation as a tour leader. “My job was the coolest job amongst the army guys,” he says, smiling. “They were all engineers or something like that – but when you tell them you’re travelling around Turkey and taking groups to places like Blue Lagoon or Kas, they always got jealous. When you compare jobs with tour guiding, other jobs look boring.”

Emir Sagir can be found on selected Geckos itineraries in Turkey.

(Story republished with permission from Geckos Adventures)

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