I've finally managed to make it to a place where I could find reliable internet. I've only been walking for six days but this week has been full of enough stories for a lifetime. I'm excited to have had my desires come true: an adventure that is both unprecedented as well as completely my own. I'll soon get into the details of my trip, but first a few thoughts.
During my journey through Turkey, I became familiar with the traditions that have existed for centuries, but to me (and I suspect to most Americans), were unknown. Now this makes perfect sense; to learn of one's own culture in full requires time and attention. To give away one's attention is to give away one of the most valuable aspects of one's personhood. Therefore, it is understandable that we typically know only of the names of certain delicacies of a country's cuisine, or maybe even a word or two of another language. However understandable it may be, we are soon encroaching a time where the 'not knowing' is going to be one of our biggest downfalls.
With persons espousing xenophobia, politicians making claims of maintaining "purity" (whatever that definition is, I'd be curious to learn more about it), and with bigots who are unwilling to follow the only real truth to our world, change, our cultures become saturated and stagnant, our knowledge dwindles, and we become closer to losing our edge with the world. Now is the time to learn more about where other people are in the world. Now is when we need to learn more than just the name of a restaurant that incorporates part of the language of the nationality that it is mimicking...the world is already on board, we need to join it, or go down with the ship...
Ok, soap box rant is over. Now for the story:
I took off from my last couchsurfing host's apartment. We ended up sleeping in, so we weren't able to share breakfast, and my host had to leave me some quick directions as to how to leave the ginormous city Istanbul. They weren't the best directions, but they did the trick. Follow a tram here, get off there, take another tram and...bam. I was on the outskirts of Istanbul, and I could see why most citizens of that beautiful city don't venture into these parts.
Seeing how it was around noon, I wasn't worried about any negative interactions. I made my way to the highway, and headed out to Anayuturk. Along the way, I managed to find a restaurant tucked neatly to the side of the highway. Being famished, I went inside and asked for a table. To my surprise, the manager of the establishment spoke perfect English, and I was soon met with courteous attention by the waitstaff.
I dined on stuffed grape leaves, fresh bean soup, and a hearty vegetable salad. Of course there was multiple cups of tea (a turkish staple) as well as some water to help quench the thirst. While I was eating, the manager sat down at my table and began a wonderful conversation about life. We discussed politics (the Turks love politics and abhor conversations about the weather), his life, my life, my journey, and touched on numerous other subjects. In the end he was impressed by my story, and he hid the tab from me, assuring that the gift of a meal was his honor. This was the first of what was to be many moments of compassion as well as hospitality.
As I was leaving the restaurant, the kind manager stopped me and gifted me with two boxes of simit (for calories, he said). Much like Frodo being given elven bread, I felt the pleasure of receiving as well as the pleasure of knowing that I had some extra sustenance for my travels. Soon I was off.
I made my way through several villages and one larger city. All seem to blend together after a certain point, so I hope that you forgive my lack of names. What I can tell you is this: every village had a mosque in the very center, every village had angry dogs that were happy to chase a foreigner, and every village was surprised to see a white boy like myself walking among them.
In nearly every town I experienced some kindness. Sometimes it was tea and cigarettes on the stoop of the local meeting area for the guys, occasionally it was a pat on the head and a kiss on each cheek, or otherwise it was a friendly hello and an exclamation of surprise that an American from California was here in their town. I have to admit, being a minor celebrity felt nice here and there. When I would share the story of who I was and where I was going, people cared to listen and were curious to know more. The attention was lovely, and the good wishes from strangers gave me strength to continue on.
During my first day, I managed to walk close to seventeen or so miles and saw that a little resort town was close to my location. Figuring "What the hell," I decided to continue my trek even though it was past 1900 hours. I soon learned my mistake. The road I walked along gave no room for potential camping, I was running out of water, rain started pouring down, and the dogs came. God curse those mangy beasts...I used to be indifferent to the cats vs. dogs debacle, I prefer cats but I also enjoy dogs. Now, however, I am fully committed to the feline aficionados. Cats are too timid to give chase to you, and they aren't dumb enough to go up against a slingshot.
So, several hours and several miserable miles later, I managed to make my way into the little tourist town. Seeing how there was barking everywhere and nowhere to set up camp, I decided to go to a hotel. The keepers of the place were surprised to see me, and I was surprised to see the exorbitant rate they attached to my bill for a stay during the offseason. It wasn't awful by American dollar standards, but still, the principle of it all stands: I was cheated and we all knew it. Ah well, when you're wet, tired and worried about violent mutts, you're willing to pay anything.
Day two also had its fair share of challenges. There was some backtracking, a stop by the local police who inquired as to why there was some bearded man with a pack in their town (saying that you're from California and help Google does wonders for your credibility), I managed to find my way to the road and get through to where I needed to go. Unfortunately for me, where I needed to go happened to be on barricaded land, something which I did not anticipate when I was planning my route via satellite images.
I walked up to the main gate of the road that I needed to follow and shouted "Maharab". Soon, a portly man with a face that reminded me of Nikolai from Six Feet Under emerged from a trailer and met me at the gate. We tried to chat for a while, but neither of us got very far. I figured that he was not going to let me through, so I asked him for an alternative route that would still get me along the Black Sea. He most likely did not understand what I meant, so he sent me off down the road towards a dead end. There I found two gentlemen who were enjoying their Turkish tea and cigarettes in a run down shack on the side of a cliff. They were kind enough to offer me some drink and some food, and, in a series of hand gestures, told me that I was not going to find an alternative route on their side of the road. With that I left and headed back to the gate.
When I arrived at the gate with the portly guard, I noticed that there was a dirt road going in what seemed like the same direction that I needed to follow. So, instead of catching the attention of the guard (who had another fellow there in a Black Durango chatting with him), I went on my way down the path. I made it no farther than 500 meters when the Durango stopped me with both the guard and the fellow emerging.
This began a series of mismatched words, the term "police", as well as texts into my Google Translate app. The fellow told me that I am in serious trouble, and need to leave now. I was trespassing, and the police in these parts do not sympathize with stupid tourists. I protested. I mentioned my trip, showed him the photos of my path as well as the E3 trail, and mentioned to him that the only alternative route I had was to backtrack twenty kilometers and then make my way across terrible highways and the like.
The guard was not impressed, but the fellow thought about what I had said. The fellow with the Durango soon relented and told me that I could not walk across the land, but he could drive me and not involve the police. I was not happy with the agreement, but I relented. No sense in getting the police involved, and I really needed to get going.
Getting into his car felt bizarre. In what would have taken half of a day to trek across, we did in twenty minutes. Not being able to stay and hike was also a serious drag. From the car I could see some of the most beautiful terrain that I had ever seen. The entire time the fellow was chatting, using a translator to point out a few details, and asked me, via translator, "Will you come back?"
"No." I replied. "Never".
Getting out of the car was a pleasant break from luxury, and I was off on the road once again. I made my way into the next town, and no one in the village was happy to sea me. I made my way to the outskirts of town and set up camp where no one could find me. My dinner was half of a block of cheese and some bread, and I went to bed feeling exhausted from my travels.
The next morning I broke camp and set foot. I had brought along some extra water for the journey, and thank heavens I did. The first half of the trail was hills with no shade, and a sun bearing down on me. After eight or so miles, I stumbled across what can only be described as a small piece of paradise. Perfect blue waters, rock formations that look as though they were chiseled from the gods, and a perfect cape that encapsulated this phenomena and my heart.
I stumbled into the lone restaurant and asked for some food. The place was empty and put away, but the family that ran the establishment soon set me up with a delicious a filling meal, and then gave me a chance to walk into the waters in my bare feet. Lord blisters have never felt so soothed. The water was chilled but not freezing. It soon numbed my feet and prepared me for the rest of my trails.
I soon found out that the second half of the trail was to be much worse than what I had previously walked. White dirt roads reflected the sun's heat back into my face, and the lack of shade meant that I was going to be burnt. I made my way across this miserable hilly desert, and collapsed exhausted. I drank my extra water, then had to force myself to either push on, or be dried out by the sun.
I eventually made my way to a hill that was filled with cows and dogs, but no herder in sight. Being sick of the heat as well as the long day, I decided to storm up the hill, with no attention to the potential risks of entering bovine land. The dogs barked, the cows were shocked, but every beast left me alone. When I made it to the top, there were three fellows there. Two teenagers and what I assumed to be their father. They were impressed with my "craziness", and were even more impressed with my story. They pressed me to take selfies, I relented. They asked me to be friends on Facebook, I fulfilled their request. They were kind men and took pity on me. They loaded me with snacks and other goodies, "for calories", and sent me on my way.
With pained steps, I arrived in the next town, where there was some kind of music festival going on. I was exhausted, the salt from my sweat was rubbing my legs raw, and I needed to find shelter. A corner market woman chatted with me about finding the marina and camping there. I was happy to have some solid advice and shuffled off to the marina. About several hundred feet or so, I realized that I was missing my favorite cap. I turned around and shuffled back. Had I lost it when I threw away my trash? No. Had I lost it when I walked across the road and turned around? Negatory. Had I lost it when I sat down and chatted with that woman? It was worth a try.
I walked back to the corner market woman and asked her about my cap. She darted back into her home, then emerged with a red Petrol cap that is not what I'm known for wearing. Touched by her gesture, I couldn't refuse the cap. We soon began talking, and she asked me why I was walking. "I don't know," I said. "Looking for truth? Looking for God?" At this her eyes lit up. She sent her friend back into the house and had her emerge with a platter full of an incredible feast. Chicken wings, a salad made of parsley, tomato, onion and garlic, fresh bread, cream water, and of course, honey bread. It was glorious. As I munched, she went on about Allah. I added some thoughts, talked about buddhism and Cat Stevens, and wolfed down everything I had in front of me.
After an hour of this, we parted ways. I made my way to the marina, got lost, then had to ask for help. Unfortunately no one was willing to give me proper directions, so I resorted to asking anyone where there was a place I could camp. An older man asked me the typical questions: who am I, why was I there, why walking, why Portugal. I suppose my answers impressed him in some way, and he invited me into his home. I was touched by his kindness. I had a chance to shower, a chance to organize my things, then I was out for the night.
The next day was hell. Brutal sun, monotonous hills and trees, and worse, a minor heat stroke. I took to the forests and napped for two hours, rose, then made my way to the next town. When I arrived, everyone stopped. Being nervous, I tried to make my way through as quietly as possible. Then a young man called to me, and held up a glass of tea. I soon joined him, then spent the next several hours chatting, laughing, eating, and enjoying camaraderie. That evening, around nine, I left for the next town. I had made most of the way there when a car stopped me. It was one of the young men, and he and his friends wished to give me a ride. I rode with them for less than one kilometer to humor them, but then I left the vehicle and headed out on my own.
I made it into town, found room to camp, slept well, was terrified by dogs at my tent, then left in the morning. From here I walked and I walked. I passed through several small villages, and in every one of them I was invited to tea and conversation. The people there wanted to know more about America. What our politics were like, how crazy Trump is, do Americans really behave like they do in the movies, and do we only eat hamburgers and french fries?
After passing through the last tiny village, I found myself on the final five kilometer stretch. The landscape is beautiful in these parts. One lone road, farmlands and grasses to one side, occasionally forests that were aligned with perfect symmetry in mind, and fresh oxygen that can only be found among the trees. Even though I was exhausted, I was happy to know that my travels for the day were almost over, and I would soon be able to set up camp.
Out of the bushes I saw three dogs running out. Great, fantastic, just what I needed. I've learned how to manage wild dogs from immediate practice. I found that the best method for keeping the mutts at bay is by swinging your hiking poles in all directions and yelling out obscenities and loud noises. The bigger you are, the less likely the dogs will approach you. They will still bare their teeth and bark like mad, but at least they won't get close.
As I began to follow my usual routine, in a matter of seconds, ten other medium to large sized mongrels joined their fellow pack mates. Soon I found myself surrounded by anywhere from ten to fifteen wild dogs, all who were angry, and all of them wanted to tear me apart. Soon the dogs were circling me. This is a useful tactic on their part, for you soon become bewildered and confused as to who to look out for, and which mongrel to strike first. I began swinging my poles like mad. I screamed and I yelled, then, suddenly, one segment of my hiking pole flew off into the distance.
I immediately pushed through the circle, nearly striking several dogs on my way out. Unfortunately my hiking pole flew into the woods that the dogs came from, so that meant I had to go into their territory to retrieve a valuable necessity. I managed to make my way to the pole, set my back against a tree, holstered the hiking poles, and pulled out my slingshot.
I poured around thirty shots into my hands. Due to a lack of nerves, my hands shook and I dropped near half of the BBs, and whenever I shot, I missed by a long shot. The dogs were getting closer, and I was running out of time. Finally, by the tenth or so shot, I managed to hit one of the beasts right in the chest. He cried out in pain and ran off deep into the woods. At this point several dogs stopped approaching me, and instead created a doggy barricade along the road.
From here I had to slowly sidestep. I yelled, I shot, I would occasionally swing a pole to keep my distance. I eventually sidestepped enough that I had passed the doggy barricade, but my trials were still not over. Down the road I could see a cow herder watching this whole affair. I couldn't tell if he was amused by watching me battle the mutts or wise enough to know to not get involved. Either way, I saw another person watching me, but they would be of no help.
I soon turned and faced the creatures. The barricade for the most part was standing still, but there were four brave mongrels that did not want me to get away without a few bites and tears. I only had several BBs on hand, and I knew that I wouldn't have enough time to pour more out and take an accurate shot. I fired the first BB, it flew too high. The second shot too low, but the third flew true, and smacked one mangy mutt right in the face. It yowled and ran off with its tail between its legs.
While the one ran off, I still had to deal with the other three that were chasing after me. The dog leading the three was an angry alpha that wanted a taste of American blood. He ran as fast as he could to get to me, and I was in shock. Finally, the dog was close enough and made his lunge. In what can only be described as a Matrix moment, my clicked. I pocketed my sling shot with my right hand and with my left I unholstered one of my hiking poles. While the dog was in mid air at a distance of one meter, I swung like Jackie Robinson and smacked that damn demon right in the side of the head.
The beast was taken by surprise, and his paws failed him. He crashed to the side of me and slid about one meter on the pavement. I finally had the upper hand and was about to strike him once more, but I hesitated. The dog quickly got up and ran away from me as fast as he could, crying all the way. The other two dogs stopped the chase, and were confused. Their leader was running away, so they followed suit. I was victorious, and I let out a victory yell that would have made the Barbarians proud. The final score was Chris: 3, Wild Pack of Angry Dogs: 0.
The adrenaline carried me through the rest of the hike. I no longer could feel the rain, but only satisfaction from my battle. I arrived in town exhausted but oh so very pleased. I don't condone violence to animals, but I will admit, when you hit several that are attacking you, it is one of the sweetest feelings in the world.
At Armagan I was brought to the one restaurant. The chef made me his famous specialty: Organ soup. The broth was lukewarm, there was a baby goats head staring at me while I ate, and the chef sat down to watch me eat as much as I could stomach. When presented with food, manners dictate that you try to eat everything that you can. It wasn't great, I almost got sick on the heart and tongue, but I managed to consume the majority of the meal with the help of a lot of bread.
The chef introduced me to the local cooperative in town, and they were amazing people. They were working on protecting their Village's culture and traditions, as well as educating the people on the value of their surrounding national parks. They gave me shelter and tea, and I was oh so grateful to be somewhere away from the dogs.
I left the next day and arrived in my final town. I was shown more hospitality, more food, was introduced to the local school and shared my stories with the children. All of them practiced their English, and I had a lovely break from the hike. Afterwards I made it to the border of Bulgaria where I met an Englishman by the name of Joss Livesey, a fellow adventurer who is making an incredible journey of his own. Be sure to check out his website, he's an inspiring gent, and we both agreed that the other person was a mad man for the trek they were embarking on.
Turkey is an amazing country with delicious meals, incredibly friendly people, and beautiful lands that are ripe for exploring. The Turks are excited to have visitors come to learn more about their culture, and they're waiting for you to go out and meet them. When you do get to Turkey, be sure to get away from Istanbul and explore the smaller villages. The people there are magical, and they will help erase all cynicism for the human race.
I have been blessed several times in the last week, and I cannot wait to see what more beauty and wonder I can find. All of these moments are fleeting, and I'm glad to know that my ignorance of the world is slowly dwindling.
In the next post I'll talk more about Bulgaria, almost getting mugged within the first fifteen minutes of arriving in a small town but was saved by a man named Angel, as well as other good times. Take care everyone, and thank you for keeping up with Fugacious Follies.