A few kilometers later, as I walked along the shoulder south of Cariklar, two very friendly cops in an oncoming car slowed and pulled alongside me. The one in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window.
“How are you, is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, thanks, everything is great.”
“Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks.”
I pointed at the sky, which was gray and overcast. A little light rain was falling that morning.
“It’s kind of rainy today,” I said.
“Yeah, but my iPhone says it’ll clear up later today,” the cop responded.
We continued making small talk chat for a few minutes, and then he suggested I stop by the police station in Icericumra, the next town. He and his partner wanted me to meet their colleagues, have some tea, and rest a bit.
When I got to Icericumra an hour later I was shaking from hunger, so I stopped at a gas station to ask where I could find a restaurant. The attendants, Fatih, Harun, and Deniz greeted me eagerly and invited me to join them in the office for couple of cups of tea. I took them up on their offer, hoping that there would be some snacks inside, too.
They were deep into a discussion about their hunting and fishing experiences in the local area, and as we waited for my tea they invited me into the conversation. I had neither hunted nor fished nearby in the recent weeks, so I just smiled and listened. And tried not to look too greedy as I munched on the large pastry they had set out on the office desk.
They chatted on, and my mind wandered as I reevaluated how long I would need to cover this stretch of road between Konya and the edge of the plateau. For a couple days I had been wondering if I could compress it into four days, so I would have an extra day when I went back to Istanbul the next week to pick up my residence permit. But as I sat there munching on cake and listening to stories about fish, I realized that compression probably wasn’t going to happen. It was barely noon, and I had already been stopped multiple times, including by cops on the highway, simply because people wanted to chat. And the day before, the same thing had happened. No, I probably wouldn’t be able to blow through this stretch. The people were way too chatty for that.
A young boy briefly entered the room to deliver a cup of tea to me. As he hurried out the door I turned back to the ongoing fish and game conversation. One of the three men was describing how large the fish was that he had caught in a nearby stream last weekend.
I finished my tea, said goodbye to the three men and hurried back out to the road to resume my walk. Maybe I could get further than Icericumra before it was time to bed down for the night.
As I reached the southern edge of town I saw the police station. I thought back to my promise to the policemen to stop and say hello to their colleagues, but I could see that the edge of town was only about a kilometer further. So, in order to make better time I decided to try to sneak past the police station and get out of Icericumra without stopping. As I passed it I muttered to myself, “Free at last.”
But then about 100 meters after passing the station, I heard someone call, “Hey, come back here!”
Damn! I thought, spoke too soon!
I turned around, walked back, introduced myself and shook hands with the cop who had run out after me.
He said it was important to check in at the police stations and to give them my information. I had heard that was true, and I thought it sounded like a very good practice, but I’d been walking for two months and not once had I done that. May as well start now, I thought to myself, a third of the way across the country.
So I walked back to the station with the cop, and he introduced me to one of the other cops, and then more cops started flooding into the room. Pretty soon there were a dozen cops, all smiling broadly and talking amongst each other excitedly in Turkish. One of them turned to me and mentioned he had seen me on TV.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “What did they say?”
I don’t think he heard me above the excited din in the room because he quickly turned to his colleagues and jumped back into their lively banter about me.
The room calmed down and everyone went back to work, leaving just me and three of the cops to sit around and kill time in the main office. They asked me if I had eaten. I lied to be polite, and told them I had. No, that was breakfast, they said. They were talking about lunch. I told them that no, I had not eaten lunch. They ordered me a couple servings of etli ekmek and a couple ayrans (Cops after my own heart!).
After lunch we sat around watching the TV news and they began to ask me some questions about politics in the US. Someone commented that President Obama and Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey’s Prime Minister) were awfully close. I didn’t want to wade into that cesspool of alligators, otherwise known as “political conversation,” so I just smiled and kept my mouth shut.
They warned me of the dangers ahead. I thought back to the early days of the walk, and how a couple months ago Turks were telling me the Turks in this area would be bad people. I noted that the bad people were always to the east, and I wondered if I would ever find them.
They offered me the use of the station’s shower. I gladly accepted and disappeared down the hall for an extended soak in hot water.
By the time I got out of the shower the whole day was shot—it was about 3:30 pm so I wouldn’t be doing any more walking that day. Conversation with the cops got around to what my plans were for the rest of the afternoon. I was tired. The day’s prime walking hours had passed. I had walked a lot the day before, and I knew now that I was never going to cover the Konya-to-Karaman leg in four days. I just said I wanted to stay in a hotel for the night, and I asked them to recommend something. They said there was a hotel in Cumra, a town nearby.
“How can I get to Cumra?” I asked.
“Ride with us, a couple of us are going out on patrol in a few minutes. We’ll take you to the hotel.”
“Sounds good,” I replied, noting to myself that I hadn’t ridden in a squad car yet and would now be able to cross that item off my bucket list.
We walked out of the station, piled into the patrol car, and pulled out onto the highway. On the 15-minute drive to Cumra the cop in the passenger seat called ahead to the hotel and made sure they had room for me. I sat back and smiled, noting to myself that in the past 24 hours I had slept in an unused Koran classroom and I had been escorted by cops through a village that almost never saw foreigners. I loved traveling like this.
When we got to the hotel, the cops helped me check in and then came up to my room to check to make sure everything was working.
“Yep, everything is fine,” one of them said as he turned off the bathroom faucet. “Enjoy your stay.”
I closed the door behind them, plopped down on the bed, and took out my computer to check my emails and upload some photos.
Within a few minutes the hotel manager knocked briefly. Before I could answer, he entered and sat down in a chair beside the desk.
“How is everything?” he asked.
“Excellent, thank you.”
I looked at him waiting for him to tell me his reason for entering my room. But then I thought back to how social the people in this area had been, and realized he was here simply to kill some time with idle chat, and expected I wanted to do the same.
“The weather is nice,” he said. “Sunny.”
“Yes, it’s great. Is that normal around here?”
“I guess so. Where are you from?”
“California. Have you been there?”
“No, just around here. So you’re walking across Turkey, huh?”
“Yep, from Kusadasi to Van. Have you been to Van?” I suspected the answer would be no, not just because he had just said he didn’t travel much, but because I was learning that most Turks had never been to Van, even though it was only a couple hours away from any point in the country, closer than Seattle is to San Francisco.
“No, haven’t been to Van either.” He changed the subject. “There are a couple markets and restaurants down on the street for dinner. Do you like köfte?”
“Of course,” I said, even the sound made my mouth water.
“Well, they have some great köfte at the place across the street.”
He stood up and left as abruptly as he had come in. I went back to uploading my photos. I never made it to the köfte restaurant. I was so happy to have a soft bed that I hurried down to the market for a can of Pringles, scurried back up to my room, and fell asleep before the sun set.