Sometimes you can’t believe your luck.

I took a break from mulling over my final itinerary to Syria in 2010 and picked up old Newsweek I hadn’t gotten around to reading.

I was fascinated with  “History in the Remaking” about Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) in southwestern Turkey near Sanliurfa.    The site dates to about 9000 BCE (6500 years older than the accepted age of Stonehenge).   Originally thought to have been a temple, some now argue it might have been a human settlement.

In either case, it is old.  It was built before any known written language, before the wheel, before domestication of animals and before farming.  It was built by hunter-gatherers.   Its discovery has shaken up thinking about how human civilization evolved.

Then I saw it:    “south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away”.  I became obsessed with arranging a visit.

The site was so new that none of the travel people I was working with had ever heard of it.  But I insisted.  So despite doubts, it was arranged that one day while in Aleppo I would make the quixotic 170-mile drive to  Sanliurfa.

What an adventure.  I had spent the day before getting my fractured wrist set, so at 5:00 am I was in considerable pain and only marginally coherent when I met my driver (for the first time).  He had the necessary credentials to drive across the border, but spoke no English and wasn’t 100% sure of where we were going.

We crossed the border and got to the first major city with only normal bureaucratic delays.    That’s when I realized the driver didn’t speak Turkish and  couldn’t read the Western letters of street and highway signs.  After several circuitous attempts to get on the correct highway, he taught me how to say left, right, and straight.  I read the signs.  He drove.  We made it to Sanliurfa.

I don’t know what we would have done if there hadn’t been a sign off the main road directing us to the Gobekli Tepe site.   As it was my driver grew increasingly skeptical as we drove the 10 or so miles down the winding dirt  path.

But finally there we were.

I couldn’t stay long because I really was not well.  But as I inched up and down the dirt paths through the excavation, it was everything and more than I expected.  I had no idea how vast it was, how much there was already to see.  And even though it wasn’t quite ready for prime time, there was enough information that my mind could see what had been.  And what had been was magnificent.

As I got back in the car, my driver shook his head.  We had been on the road for about 5 hours,  now we were driving back.  I suspect he still wonders about his crazy American passenger and her weird journey.

I regret I couldn’t stay longer.  I regret I was almost too out of it to really take it all in.  I regret I didn’t buy the damn booklet about the site even if it was in German.

But I don’t regret going.   And I can’t forget my wonder and excitement at being there.