Tuesday morning I woke up shortly before dawn to the sounds of coyotes howling and yipping a few hundred meters away. They either didn’t know I was nearby listening, or they didn’t care.
Early the night before a ferocious thunderstorm had passed through. Some of the thunder was so sharp it seemed like it was going to crack the trees around me. By 11pm though, the storm had passed, and all night long a steady breeze had blown warm Mediterranean air up the valley, so by the time I woke up in the morning my camp, and the ground around it, were almost completely dry.
I broke camp and began walking about 7:30am. A few minutes after I began walking it began raining again, but this time it was only a light drizzle. The light drizzle, and the road I was walking along (a rolling, hilly road lined with evergreens) reminded me of mountain roads I’ve walked in the Pacific Northwest.
About five kilometers down the road I came upon a Jandarma Komutanligi (a jandarma command post). In Turkey, the jandarma are a branch of the military. Their job is to keep the peace in rural areas and along rural highways, kind of a combination of a sheriff and a highway patrol in the USA, except with a military flavor.
The day before, a few people had told me about this jandarma post, so I was expecting it. And, I had heard that as I walk across the country I should keep in touch with the jandarma. So I figured now was as good a time as any to see what it was like to crash a jandarma post.
I walked up to the front gate. The guard was about 20 years old. He was wearing fatigues and a helmet and carrying a machine gun. I didn’t realize machine guns were that large.
I told him what I was doing (walking across Turkey), and I asked him if I could come in and rest a bit. He radioed his commanding officer. His commanding officer said he would check with the post commander.
The guard and I made small talk while we waited to hear back from the post commander. I tried not to be intimidated by the gun. The guard tried to keep his cool too. I suspect it’s not every day the monotony of guarding a rural military post is broken by the approach of a foreigner walking across the country.
Word came back over the radio that my entrance was approved. I was waved through the gate and escorted to the headquarters’ front door. Once inside I was shown to the commander’s office.
The commander’s first name was Nihat. Nihat bey was about 35 years old. He was a busy man, taking, and making, a number of phone calls and reading reports that were brought to him, but he and I made small talk when he was between tasks.
Nihat asked me if I had eaten breakfast. I had not, and the day before I had eaten only one meal, so I was hungry. I tried to act with restraint when I asked if there was food. Before I was done asking though, Nihat called to one of his soldiers to make me some menemen (a dish of eggs scrambled with tomatoes and peppers) and bring me some tea, and make it snappy.
A few minutes later a soldier came in with the dish of menemen, a basket full of bread, and a cup of tea. I plowed into that menemen with almost no concern for decorum or restraint whatsoever. It was one of the biggest servings of menemen I had ever seen, and I had the entire thing eaten, and all the juice and grease sopped up with bread, in just a few minutes.
After the plates were cleared away, Nihat told me a bit about his personal history. He is single with no kids. He said the itinerant life of a military commander is not conducive to raising a family. He had been working at that particular post for about two months. Before that he was in the special forces in Mardin, Diyarbakir, Tunceli, and Urfa, all cities in east and southeast Turkey.
He asked me what countries I had been to, and when I asked him what countries he had been to, he replied that he had been to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all on military assignments.
Nihat is from Osmaniye. He has one sibling, a younger sister, who lives in Osmaniye and runs a grocery store there. I told Nihat I would be walking through Osmaniye in about a month. He responded that he would tell his sister about me and ask her to show me around.
Nihat asked me about my route. He made some suggestions about tweaks to make to it. I asked him if gasoline stations and mosque gardens would continue to be good places to stay in the eastern half of the country. He recommended that instead I stay at facilities run by the city and town governments, and at the police stations. He said that in the east, almost all of the towns would have one or two spare rooms they kept available for travelers. Not hotels, free places they opened up for people traveling through. Ask about these, Nihat told me. Also, he said, don’t camp by the side of the road once you get east of Osmaniye.
Nihat asked me how far I was walking that day. I told him the name of the village I planned to stop in, and he recommended a particular restaurant in that village. Stop there, Nihat said, and ask for a man who goes by “Hoca.” Tell him I sent you, and he will take good care of you.
It was time for me to go. I thanked Nihat bey for his hospitality and for welcoming me into his facility. He ordered me up a couple cheese and tomato sandwiches for the road. The sandwiches were ready a few minutes later. I took my leave and walked back out the front gate, saying goodbye to the guard with the machine gun, feeling less intimidated by it. I made a mental note to crash as many jandarma stations as possible, because this had been even more fun than crashing a police station.
I did not take any photos of Nihat or the jandarma facilities, since the jandarma is a branch of the military.