Thursday, 13 December
My short stay at TAC had been an emotional high, and as I walked away from the school I wondered what would come next. I remembered that now I was shifting into Couchsurfing. That should shake things up a bit, I thought. I wondered what it would be like.
I arrived at the bus that would take me the 30 kilometers to the nearby town of Mersin where my first Couchsurfing host, Melih Mutluay, lived. I was feeling emotionally low. It would be hard to match the high I had experienced at TAC. But by that time I was beginning to learn: When you leave something great, just get to the next thing. You’ll find something great there, too.
I ate lunch at the bus station after arriving in Mersin, then sat drinking tea while uploading photos, updating my journal, and answering emails.
Then it was time to go meet Melih. I had looked up his neighborhood on Google maps and knew I had three or four kilometers to walk to reach his neighborhood. Most of the walk was along the Mediterranean shore, so I didn’t mind. On one side of me were palm trees and grassy parks, and on the other was the marina with its fancy boats and old men fishing. For weeks and hundreds of kilometers I had been looking forward to walking next to the Mediterranean, and here it was, finally.
Via messaging on Couchsurfing, I had arranged to meet Melih at 2:30 on the steps in front of the municipal arts theater next to the seaside. Melih had said his apartment was a five minute walk from the theater. At 2 p.m. I arrived at the theater, pulled off my pack, and sat on the concrete steps. It was December but I was wearing short pants and a t-shirt, sitting in the shade of palm trees. The plateau, where I had been two weeks ago, was now covered with snow.
I thought back to the times I had sat outside a mosque, hoping they would let me camp outside, and marvelled that for the first time on my walk sleeping arrangements for the night had already been made.
I had never met Melih face to face and had only an idea of what he looked like from a photo on Couchsurfing, which had been our only contact. Since I wasn’t sure who to look for, any male passing by was a Melih suspect, and it occurred to me that I might look a little weird, sitting alone on the stairs, smiling at every approaching man.
Melih didn’t have a problem finding me and spotted me very quickly, perhaps because I was the only foreigner stretched out on the front steps with a really big backpack. He was wearing old khakis, his hands thrust into the pockets of a red jacket he’d probably been wearing for several days in a row. His shoulders were a little slumped.
“Hi!” he said in a flat, monotone, “Let’s go back to my place.” He turned abruptly and began walking back to his apartment.
I hopped up to follow. But since I had to pause to pull my pack on, I had to hurry to catch him.
He didn’t seem very excited to see me, but as I followed him back to his place I was excited to see how easy Couchsurfing made it to find a place to sleep. So much for chatting up gas station attendants, I thought, hoping they’ll like me enough to offer me a place to sleep.
We went back to Melih’s small apartment.
It wasn’t a fancy apartment. In fact, it was kind of dingy. The shower was just a nozzle on the wall in the kitchen next to the washing machine. Under the nozzle was a plastic bucket for pouring water over yourself. The kitchen sink was full of dishes that had been dirty for weeks. Scattered crumbs and stray dust bunnies littered the floor, so I kept my shoes on as I walked across it. Melih’s desk was covered with stale cigarette ashes and overflowing ashtrays.
However, I reminded myself that for the last few months I had been sleeping in abandoned pear orchards. Plus I knew this was Melih’s first Couchsurfing experience, so maybe that explained his mood.
I set my pack down in one of the four rooms of the apartment, a room Melih had designated for couch-surfers–in this case me, and we went to have a meal and get acquainted.
Friday, 14 December
The next day I resumed my walk, this time Couchsurfing style. I woke up at 6:30am and walked a couple kilometers to the main road. I caught a bus for the 90-kilometer ride to Silifke, found a seat, and propped my red knapsack on my lap. At Melih’s the night before I had filled that knapsack with supplies I would need for the day: my iPhone, my camera, a bottle of water, a pair of gloves, and an extra shirt in case it got cold. I reached into the bag, pulled out my camera, and filmed a couple minutes of footage just sitting on the bus. I was almost as excited to be on a bus commuting to work like a normal person as I had been on the first morning of the walk back in Kuşadası. The woman across the aisle from me watched me as I filmed, looking puzzled, probably trying to figure out what was so interesting about sitting on a bus that it warranted filming.
I stepped off the bus in Silifke, pivoted, and began the day’s walk, 30 kilometers back towards Mersin. I figured that without a pack, I would be able to cover 30 kilometers, not my usual pack-carrying 20 kilometers.
Two weeks ago I had been walking through forests and river valleys. Now I was walking through a string of sandy beach towns along a road lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants for vacationers. The sparkling waters of the sea were 100 meters to my right, and the hills of the Toros mountain range to my left.
At the end of that day’s 30 kilometers I hopped the mini-bus back to Mersin and walked the final one or two kilometers from the main road to Melih’s apartment.
So that’s how it’s going to be for a while, I said to myself as I climbed the stairs to Melih’s apartment. Take the bus to work. Walk. Take the bus home. Repeat that process the next day.
That evening Melih and I sat in his apartment drinking a couple beers. Melih was silent for a moment, then looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Matt, I’d like to come with you on your walk tomorrow.”
I was surprised and happy to hear he wanted to join me, figuring that having company might be fun. But I was also a little nervous. I was aware most people do not walk 6 hours a day.
Melih smoked and was a little on the heavy side and got no exercise that I was aware of. So I said, “Well, I walk 30 kilometers. Are you sure you are up for that?”
He replied, “Whatever you do, I’m determined to do it too.”
A fire in his eyes told me that yes, he was determined to do it. But could he do it? I did it, but I was used to it. He wasn’t.
“Do you want to walk the whole thing?” I asked. “Or just the beginning or the end?”
“I want to do the whole thing,” he said.
“You’ll probably be pretty sore the next day. Are you okay with that?” I asked.
He said, “Yeah, I’m okay with it. What you are doing is a test for me. I want to do it.”
“Well,” I said, “I’ll be glad to have you. I leave about 6:30 in the morning. Are you okay with that?”
“Yes, no problem,” he said.