Wide awake now, I grabbed my camera and ventured out onto the rock outcropping near my tent to take photos of the valley and hills below. Then I broke camp and got an early start down the hill. There were still no signs of life. The road was mine alone, and I reveled in the solitude. But I hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, and I was starving.
Out of the solitude came my second surprise of the morning. Ahead of me I saw a tiny green shack, on the right, just off the side of the road, perched precariously above the dropoff into the valley below. I walked up to it tentatively, wondering if my early morning presence in such a remote location would draw suspicion. By the door of the shack was an open ice chest filled, from what I could see at a glance, with an assortment of food items such as cheeses, olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Inside the shack a young man stood next to a rickety stove preparing to cook on one of the gas burners. He looked up, smiled, and offered his hand. I shook it, smiled, and introduced myself. He said his name was Ramazan.
He didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. It was as though hungry foreigners carrying backpacks and speaking pidgin Turkish hiked through here regularly.
I asked if he was open for breakfast yet. Of course, he said. I eagerly took a seat at the makeshift restaurant’s one table.
By even loose standards of restaurant hygiene this setup would be completely unacceptable. But this was the biggest “restaurant” I’d seen in days, and I was starving. The simple breakfast of eggs, cheese, olives, and cucumbers was like manna from heaven to me. I greedily scraped every crumb off my plate like some starved homeless person.
While I ate I counted thirty goats in a pen next to Ramazan’s “restaurant.” Ramazan mentioned that there were a few people who lived down the hill in the nearby village of Mut who commuted to work back up the grade in Karaman, the small town I had walked through a few days before. He was getting ready to handle the early morning rush of commuters. I asked him how many that would be. He said, excitedly, five or six cars.
I finished my breakfast, paid Ramazan, shouldered my pack, and strolled outside to continue my descent down the pass. Who would have thought eating a breakfast of questionable hygiene while sitting in a small shack hanging off the side of a cliff could have seemed so luxurious. And yet I felt like a king. My stomach was full. The sun was bright. The air was fresh. I was in heaven as I continued down the mountain, passing through more rugged rock outcroppings and lush evergreen forests..
About four hours later, after seeing very few people and only an occasional passing car, I came to a village called Gecimli, populaton 200. I spied a tea garden and figured it was about time for a couple of glasses of tea and some human contact.
“Hello,” I called out to the only two men I saw, “can I take a seat?”
“Of course,” one of them replied as he jumped up from his short stool and disappeared into a nearby shack. He and his friend both looked like they were about 80 years old, and had seen better days.
The man emerged from the shack with my cup of tea. “I saw you on TV,” he said as he brought it over.
“What channel?” I asked.
“TRT,” he replied. It was a channel I recognized and had watched many times.
“What did they say?”
““That you are walking around the world, and that you walked 7,000 kilometers (4,200 miles) before arriving in Turkey. What countries have you walked through already?”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I said, “I am not walking around the world, just through Turkey. And I haven’t walked 7,000 kilometers. And I have never walked across a country before. Turkey will be the first.”
It wasn’t the first time the media had gotten it wrong about me. Why don’t they contact me beforehand? I thought. It’s not like I’m hard to find. I’m walking by the side of the road all the time, for god’s sake.
Conversation turned to small talk about the weather. I tried to stifle my feelings of peeve at the journalists, who had been getting my story wrong from the first day of the walk. Why are you getting angry at people you’ve never met? I asked myself. There’s a perfectly good 80 year old man sitting right in front of you. Pay attention to him. I tried to stay present, and wasn’t sure why it was so hard.
I finished my tea, thanked both men for their conversation, shouldered my pack, and continued down the hill.
Within a few hours I reached the bottom of the hill, and the terrain became mixed again, with large flat treeless areas interspersed with orchards here and there, mainly olive groves. I couldn’t see the river now, and I was still a few days from the coastline. It seemed the land in this area couldn’t make up its mind, whether to be flat and treeless like the plateau above, or rolling and lush, like the river bottom I’d viewed from higher up the mountain and like it would become in a couple dozen kilometers. I walked a long way across one of the sparse areas thinking, Man, if I can’t find shelter I’m going to have to walk up on one of the hills over a kilometer off the road to try to find some.
I forged ahead though, determined to get through this sparse area and find an orchard I could camp in. Within an hour, I got lucky! Up ahead in the distance was an apricot orchard. There would be great cover amongst the trees, and nice, soft grass growing from the dirt between them.
Shortly before sunset I reached the orchard. I looked up and down the road, and in a quiet moment between cars, when I felt safe that no one would see me disappear into the orchard, I scrambled up the embankment and hurried into the orchard. The soil was hard, dry and crumbly, but I had a sleeping pad, which would even that out. I walked to the back of the orchard, where I was sure to be hidden from the road. The sun had set, but it was still light out, so I hid behind some trees to kill some time. While hiding in the trees, though, I realized I was perched just meters from a bluff overlooking dozens of orchards below, and I wavered between the safety of hiding in the trees and the pull of the view I would see if standing on the bluff.
Of all the places I had camped so far, this location had the most natural beauty. It was much like a bluff above a town aptly called Vantage, in the arid central part of Washington State, where my family and I had camped out while helping my dad with some orchard work many years ago when I was a kid. Like I had then, I stood at the edge of the bluff taking in the bird’s eye view of the rolling hills covered with orchards. It was exhilarating to gaze at such a great view, but I was also a bit nervous that someone leaving the fields at the end of the day would see me standing on the bluff, and my cover would be blown.
When it got dark, I set up camp and went to sleep.