Saturday-Sunday, 15 and 16 September 2012

The next day, Saturday, Metin and I took a car to his village for the wedding. Our first stop was in another small village to pick up beer and some snacks for later on in the evening.

Our second stop was Pamukkale, one of the most famous tourist sights in Turkey. Pamukkale means cotton castles and is known for its white limestone terraces, mineral baths, and many natural pools of water. Metin asked if I would like to get out and go inside.

“No,” I said. “Let’s just get out and take a picture by the gate so I can have a picture of myself at Pamukkale for the web site.”

I had lived in Turkey for a number of years and had seen many famous sights. My job at hand was to walk across the country and let that process change me—that involved walking and interacting with people and events as they unfolded in that process, not being side-tracked by sightseeing, as wondrously beautiful and ancient as these places were.

So we stopped the car and left it running as I handed Metin my camera. He took a photo of me standing against the fence with Pamukkale in the background. Then I took a picture of him.

After that we drove to his parents’ house and sat with them outside in the garden. Theirs was a very clean, simple little village house with limited electricity and limited running water, but the garden was lush with lots of trees and a grape-leaf trellis. It was shady and comfortable. Metin’s dad cut open a few different kinds of melons for the four of us to enjoy. After our snack we went inside and took afternoon naps before the wedding.

This wedding was very different from the dozens of Istanbul weddings I’d attended, which were one-shot deals, where all the components — drinking, socializing, eating, dancing, and of course the ceremony itself — were wrapped up into a single 4-6 hour event.

This village wedding was strung out over a couple of days. On the first night Metin and I attended a party called the kina gecesi, the application of henna onto the bride’s hands and forearms. The event was open to all and was less a “hen party” than I’d thought it would be. It was more a dance party for the whole community.

The second event was the mevlut, taking place on the second day, where guests are served lunch and a holy man gives a speech. I participated in the first part of this event but then had to leave early, since Metin had to be back at work in the city.

The third event was the gelin alma, the ritual claiming of the bride away from her family. I’d witnessed this at a few other weddings outside of Istanbul. It serves a purpose similar to the giving away of the bride in a Western wedding, but it’s a little louder and more showy, involving plenty of music and a lot more people. Imagine a hundred people standing outside the bride’s house banging on drums and blowing on flutes and demanding she come out.

The fourth event is the actual wedding ceremony.

My favorite of these four events was the kina gecesi. At first, this event seemed clearly a night for women. Ninety-five percent of the people crowding the dance floor were women, and 95% of the people sitting in the rows of chairs surrounding the dance floor were women.

Most of the men in attendance at that point stood towards the back, hanging out on the periphery, just watching.
Way out back, out of both sight and earshot, a few of the men were already getting started with parties of their own, crowding around tables drinking and eating sunflower seeds.

As the night wore on the number of women in attendance shrunk, and the number of men grew. At one point I made the conscious decision to break a party-going rule I’ve maintained for decades, which is the moment the men outnumber the women, leave, no matter what.

When the guns came out by the dozens, I broke another rule I have, which is stay away from parties with guns. But that night it was “When in Rome….”

At no point in the evening did I lack for social opportunities, even though I began the evening knowing only a few people. I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being called over to join one of the parties taking place within the party. Even after six years in Turkey I am still amazed that all it takes to break the ice with a Turk is a smile, a hearty hello and a handshake, and a look straight in the eyes.

I’m not a big fan of hanging out with drunken men while they dance around shooting live ammo in crowded places, so by the time we left I was, shall we say, open to the idea of getting out of there.

A bunch of us loaded in the car and stopped off at the home of the groom’s grandparents to pay our respects. Respects paid, we piled back into the car and headed out again.

We grabbed some more beers and drove up a dirt road high into the surrounding hills to engage in an activity treasured by young men in small towns around the world, including me: late-night drinking on some remote, deserted dirt road far from the nearest light source.

We even engaged in a competition to see who could scream the loudest for the longest time. I participated in this competition, of course, and in doing so I discovered within myself a talent for holding the same piercingly high note for a freakishly long period of time.

One of my displays of this talent was caught on video, I was told, and would soon be appearing on Facebook.

The previous record-holder and I bonded over our common talent, and in fact began calling each other “kanka,” a term of endearment translating loosely into “blood brother.”

Throughout this entire second act for the evening I was entirely sober. Years ago I stopped drinking more than a few sips per evening, simply because heavy drinking makes me feel confused and disoriented.

I have, however, refined the skill of walking around with open bottle in hand, appearing to periodically take a swig just so as to not be a party-pooper. Drunk people are fun to hang out with, I just don’t like being drunk.

A new kanka made and the local record for sustaining a single note at the top of one’s lungs broken, I piled into the next car headed down the hill towards my bed.

It turned out I made my escape just in time — as we pulled away I heard the die-hards we left behind making plans to go for iskembe, a soup made from cow stomach. I am not a big fan of soup made from cow stomach.

The next morning, Metin and I drove back to Denizli in the big petroleum tanker truck that was parked in their driveway. It had to be returned to the station.

I had enjoyed the weekend. I’d felt like a kid again growing up in Yakima, Washington.

Friday, 14 September (continued)

In a somewhat better frame of mind after lunch, I continued walking through Denizli. My gait was slowed by the pain in my foot, and by mid-afternoon I was only halfway through the city. I knew by the map that it was possible to make it all the way through the city by the end of the day, but the voice of self-doubt was yelling inside my head telling me that I would never make it. I was determined to escape the noise and exhaust fumes, though. I didn’t want to wake up to them in the morning. So I told the voice to shut up so I could walk in peace.

I got thirsty as I walked and stopped to buy a bottle of cold water, and a roll of cookies. Ahead was a shady park. I sat down on a bench under a tree to cool off and slake my thirst.

While I rested I decided it would be a good time to catch up on some emails, so I pulled out my iPhone to check my email inbox. One of the emails was from my dad. He asked about some protests in the Muslim world regarding a YouTube movie denigrating Mohammed. The protests, he said, were centered around a town in Libya called Benghazi. He asked if I had seen or heard anything about this, or was experiencing any negative blowback or anti-American sentiment.

I thought back to the welcoming receptions I had received at the gas station last night and in Horsunlu before that. I thought of the trays of food that people had been bringing me, the smiling faces and warm welcomes I had been getting for the past few weeks. I emailed him back that I was fine, and that no, I hadn’t experienced any negative blowback or anti-American sentiment. I was walking alone through a part of the world many of my fellow Americans seemed to think was a boiling cauldron of anti-American sentiment but the world they were reading about in the media and the one I was experiencing were completely different.

There were emails from other people too, but I didn’t see anything urgent, and daylight was burning. I wanted to get out of Denizli, so I decided to respond to them later. But before I stood up and walked back out to the road I pulled out my pad of paper and penned the following comment to post on my blog later:

Offensive stuff

Some videos get made, some diplomats get killed, some people get all up in arms, etc. I’d like to weigh in on this, since I happen to be walking across a Muslim country, and then I’ll return to our regularly-scheduled programming of me demonstrating that the world isn’t something to be afraid of…

As an example, I’ll use that case from a couple years ago where some pastor in Florida burned, or at least threatened to burn, some Korans. The details of this most recent case are different, but the song remains the same…
When a minister in Florida burns a Koran, how representative of your daily activities is that?

Are you running around hating Muslims, frothing at the mouth, spouting hate speech right and left? Probably not.
And how many of your friends and family are doing those things? Probably not many.

So if the Pakistani press’s story about the Florida minister is not representative of the vast majority of human activity in the US, why do we think shots of a couple dozen Pakistanis up in arms means the whole Muslim world is angry?

Another question we often ask is, if Muslims really don’t support anti-Western violence, why are they not organizing more anti-violence demonstrations?

The answer is in the answer to the question, why, when the pastor in Florida burns a Koran, do you not organize anti-anti-Muslim demonstrations?

The answer is probably that you are busy with your day-to-day life. You are busy getting the kids off to school. You are busy going to work. You are busy thinking about dinner and calling your husband to remind him to pick up a loaf of bread on his way home.

When a pastor in Florida burns a Koran, you don’t think, oh my god, I need to organize a rally. You think, god, there are some crazies out there, and then you go back to what you were doing, because most of living is doing those things.

The same goes for those folks “over there.” If you ever find yourself wondering why there aren’t more “anti-anti-Western” demonstrations in the Muslim world, ask yourself why there aren’t more “anti-anti-Muslim” demonstrations in yours, and you will have your answer.

You don’t need to travel the world to understand it. You just need to take the same rules that govern life in the world right in front of you, and apply them elsewhere, too.

I closed my notebook, stuffed it into my pack, and walked back out to the main road. My foot hurt a little less after the rest.

A couple blocks from the park, I passed a gasoline station and noticed the attendants gathered for a break around a spindly folding table. I didn’t plan to stop, since I had rested in the park just a few minutes before, so I kept my eyes forward and my head down, but one of the attendants ran out to the sidewalk to greet me anyway.

“Please, join us for tea,” the attendant said.

“No,” I smiled apologetically, “Sorry, I need to keep going.”

“No, please, I insist.”

Realizing there was no polite way to turn down the invitation, I smiled again and followed him back to the break table. The others were discussing a wedding they were going to over the weekend. They handed me an invitation and invited me to join them. Even though I was in a slightly better mood because of the friendly waitress at the kofte restaurant, I was still feeling moody and I thought, There’s no way I’m going to this wedding because it’s tomorrow and I don’t want to hang out here all day and I’m in a bad mood.

But I smiled and took the invitation anyway because I didn’t want to seem rude. I told them, “I’m not sure if I can make it but I’ll see what I can do.” Then I shook everybody’s hands, said goodbye, and continued walking.

After walking for another hour, I recognized the signs of getting to the edge of the city. The buildings were starting to spread out, and traffic was growing less dense. The light was also growing low. It was time to look for a place to sleep. I was nervous because I hadn’t quite made it out of the city yet.

However, emboldened by my new hobo skill (sleeping at gasoline stations), I began eyeing gasoline stations to see where I might spend the night. I stopped at one, sat down on a green, plastic upside down bucket in the parking lot, and, as I chatted with the station owner, I looked around evaluating whether I wanted to stay there for the evening. I had a feeling that this wasn’t the one for me and I should continue on. So I said goodbye to the owner and continued on another five kilometers.

Just east of Denizli I approached another gas station. It looked a little run-down, but by then the prospects of finding a place to stay that night were getting pretty dim. The attendant smiled and greeted me when I went in. He introduced himself as Metin. Metin was working the mini-mart and told me that he was the nephew of the station owner. I saw a restaurant adjacent to the mini-mart and walked in. There were no other customers. However, a basketball game played noisily on the TV and an air conditioner blasted a stream of icy air through the window.
Metin followed me in and poured me a glass of cold water. I sat sipping my water, watching the game with the air conditioner blowing over me. Man, it just didn’t get any better than this.

I hadn’t been sitting there for even 5 minutes when three young women who looked like they were in their early twenties walked in.

One of them, clearly the leader of the group, walked straight over to me. She stuck out her hand and introduced herself.

“Hi, I’m Ayşe.”

I shook her hand and replied, “Hi, I’m Matt, nice to meet you.”

I blinked a couple times, surprised and impressed by her directness but I drank it in like a parched man who has just crossed the desert drinks in a cool, tall glass of water. In two weeks on the road, not once had I experienced this kind of directness from a woman. I quickly rummaged through my brain, trying to remember how to keep my cool in such a situation.

“Where’s your girlfriend?” she asked.

“My girlfriend?” I blinked again. I didn’t know what she was referring to.

She described a news article she had read about me on the internet. The article had stated that I was walking for peace and my girlfriend was with me. I thought back to the first day of the walk in Kusadasi and how Joy Anna had been standing next to me when I was interviewed, and I realized that the paper must have misreported that she was my girlfriend.

Because Ayse had read the news article, she knew where I was from, where I was going, and how long it would take me to get there. Like I had been with Hakan the day before, I was briefly taken aback that a complete stranger already knew so much about me, but then I remembered that was okay, and to relax and use the opportunity to make a friend.

“Excuse me, I need to go get my friends,” Ayşe said.

“Okay, you do that.” I answered.

Ayse strode over to her friends at the cash register. She whispered something to them, they paid for their items, and then all three turned and strode back over to me. I swallowed hard. Keep your cool, Matt, I reminded myself.
Her friends introduced themselves to me. One was also from Denizli. One was from Izmir. They took nearby seats, pulled out cigarettes, and, as they lit up, they asked me if I’d like one too.

“No thanks, I don’t smoke.”

“We didn’t think so,” the one from Izmir said.

We chatted and made small talk back and forth. They laughed, giggled, batted their eyelashes, and flipped their hair at me. I reminded myself that I was traveling alone, depended on the kindness of strangers, and needed to be careful that I didn’t anger any boyfriends or family members, even though there were none around, so I struggled to stay as cool and aloof as I could. Plus my language skills were not refined enough to participate in their witty banter, but I had the impression that just made the exchange all the more fun for them.

I mentioned someone had invited me to a wedding the next day. Ayşe asked me which wedding. I pulled out the wedding invitation I had gotten a couple of gas stations before. Ayşe grabbed it from me and read the names.

“Hey,” she called out to Metin, who had been standing at the cash register across the room, “This is your village, do you know these people?”

Metin had been watching us intently from across the room. Now that he had been invited into the conversation, he came over. Ayşe handed him the invitation. Metin glanced at it.

“Yes, of course, the groom is a good friend of mine. I’ll be going to this tomorrow.”

Metin looked at me. “Would you like to come?” he asked me.

A few minutes before, I had been in a bad mood and had no plans of attending the wedding. But the light-hearted conversation with the flirty young women had changed my mood, and now I easily accepted the invitation:

“Sounds great, I’d love to,” I replied, thinking for only a second how quickly my mood had changed, and how all it had taken was a few smiles and some hair tosses. God, I’m so easy, I thought to myself.

I told Metin that if I was going to stay an extra day to go to the wedding I would need a place to stay. “I have my tent, my back pack, and all the equipment I need”, I said.

“Sure, you can stay right here at the gasoline station,” he said.

The three young women said they needed to go, and asked if we could take some photos together first. I said, “Yes, of course! One by one or all together?” One by one, they insisted. So I stood next to each one for a photo, and as I put my arm around the one who had introduced herself to me I remembered that I hadn’t showered in a few days, and I wondered how bad I smelled. She didn’t seem to mind though.

Then, as quickly as they had come, they departed. Metin went back to his work at the cash register.

I sat back down in front of the TV and tried to wipe the grin off my face. I was sitting in an air-conditioned room, I was watching a basketball game on TV, and I had just been flirted with by not one, not two, but three cute young women. I wondered what good deed I had done for the universe in order to deserve such a shower of riches from above.

Metin finished his work at the cash register and said goodbye for the evening, he would see me tomorrow and we would go to his village together. About an hour later, when darkness fell, I joined the gas station’s night crew outside near the pumps for a bit more TV watching and some sunflower seed-munching. When a customer would pull up, one of the attendants would jump up out of his chair, pump the gas, and then sit back down with us and grab another handful of sunflower seeds.

After a couple more hours of soap operas and countless handfuls of sunflower seeds, and as a nighttime news anchor explained to viewers that the West wanted to carve up Turkey and establish new borders throughout the Middle East, I crawled into my sleeping bag, which I had laid out on the cement floor in the nearby office.

I was unable to block out the blaring noise of the TV, and I was descended upon by dozens of mosquitoes apparently happy to be offered a feast of exposed flesh, and I had been too lazy to lay out my pad, so my sleeping bag was directly on the hard tiled floor, but I was so tired that I fell asleep within minutes and slept peacefully through the night.

Friday, 14 September 2012

The next morning I woke up, broke camp, and walked over to the station’s café for a breakfast of menemen and bread. After breakfast I went back out onto the highway and walked to Denizli.

With a population of 500,000, Denizli seemed a huge metropolis compared to the tiny villages I had been walking through. I felt like a hick. How quickly I had adapted to my surroundings the past two weeks.

As I walked into Denizli I felt under assault by a wall of noise. It seemed Denizli was one big construction site. Everywhere, jackhammers breaking cement and pile drivers drilling deep into the ground for god knows what. Traffic was heavy and drivers were busy honking their horns. Large trucks belched exhaust fumes as they lumbered by. I choked on the fumes.

My slowly healing foot began to throb. My spirits had ended on such a high note yesterday, but now I was beginning to feel depressed, angry, out of place, projecting my negativity onto the world around me. I imagined the truck drivers were laughing at me, a rube in from the countryside, sticking out like a sore thumb in the big bustling city.

I had been walking for a few hours with nothing to eat so I was hungry. I stopped in for lunch at a roadside restaurant to have some izgara kofte.

The restaurant was air conditioned inside but I chose to sit outside on the patio because I was hot and sweaty. It was comfortable out on the patio. There were lots of plants, and I was sheltered from the sun and the noise and the dust. I began to relax, my bad mood and my anger at the world beginning to subside.

A young woman came out to serve me. I observed to myself that most of the servers I had run across in the past couple weeks had been men, and it was unusual to be served by a woman. This particular one was not only young, probably in her early 20s, but kind of cute too. She greeted me warmly as she handed me the menu, and while I ate she smiled at me and engaged me in a little flirty small talk.

By the end of lunch my mood had changed from Man, everything really stinks here, I hate Denizli, to Ah, that pretty young woman smiled at me, life is good.

As I finished lunch and shouldered my pack to go back out into the big bad city, I reflected on how little it had taken, just a smile from a cute young woman, to change my mood from bad to slightly good.

Thursday, 13 December 2012 continued

About two hours later, with the sprawling edges of Denizli visible in the distance, I stopped off at a gas station for a bottle of water and a snack. This was a well-equipped gas station, with an attached cafeteria and a covered outdoor seating area filled with wooden picnic tables, so I decided to eat more than the gas station convenience store junk I had originally intended. I called out a hello to the man behind the counter, and ordered some toast and cay. The man said he would bring them out to me in a moment, and he motioned to the picnic tables, inviting me to take a seat at one of them for the wait.

I took a seat at the picnic tables and struck up a conversation with a couple men sitting at the table next to me. One of them said he was the owner of the station. He noticed my pack.

“Are you traveling by yourself?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you have a place to stay this evening?”

Wait a minute, I thought to myself, no way, is it really going to be this easy? For two weeks now I had been trying to figure out the secret handshake that was going to get me “in” at a gas station like the Polish guys, and it seemed like my first invitation might be more cavalierly offered than I had been expecting all along.

I held my breath as I answered. “No, I don’t have a place to stay yet.”

“Well you should stay here.”

Oh my god, I thought, it’s true, there is no secret handshake! Apparently it was not only expected, but assumed, that I would stay overnight.

“I would be very happy to stay here!” I said. I tried to contain my excitement, thinking that if I looked too amazed the guy might get freaked out and rethink the invitation.

He pointed to a shady, quiet grassy area to the side of the station. I hadn’t noticed it when I first walked up.

“Set up your tent there. You’re my guest, feel free to clean up in the restrooms and have a nice dinner at the cafeteria here. I need to leave soon, but we’re open all night, the staff will take good care of you.”

I thanked him profusely, but tried not to seem TOO eager. Oh yeah, this happens every day. Inside though, I felt like pennies were raining down from heaven.

So I went off to the grassy strip at the side of the station and set up my tent and laid out my sleeping bag. It was still a little light outside, too early for me to turn in for bed. I took out my iPhone and snapped a screenshot of the map that showed where I was that night and posted it to Facebook. I had gotten into the habit of doing this at the end of every day. I called it my daily “hey Mom I’m not dead” blog post.

Within moments I got a Facebook message from Hakan Guris, a Turk from Istanbul whom I had never met. He had been actively following my walk, but I hadn’t been aware of that. Hakan had messaged me to say hello. He attached a screenshot of that same gas station where I was now camping. He had seen my “hey Mom I’m not dead” blog post, quickly found my location on Google Maps, and as quickly found a photo of the gas station and sent it.

I felt momentarily disconcerted that someone I didn’t know could track my location so quickly and easily, but then I remembered that that was the main point of posting my progress, and instead of freaking out at my lack of privacy I should seize the opportunity to make a new friend. So I messaged Hakan back that yes, he had found a photo of the correct station, and I was camped just to the right of the edge of the photo.

Then I laid back and nestled into my bag, satisfied with myself for having solved the gas station handshake question and graduating to a new level of hobo skills. As[ Suggest removing these last sentences.] I drifted off to sleep I thought to myself that maybe it wasn’t such a big deal, being invited to camp at a gas station. Maybe there was no secret handshake, no mysterious cult of hobo-ness, maybe the difficulty of it had all been in my head.

Thursday, 13 September 2012 continued

The day’s walk was along a section of road with gentle rolling hills, gradually climbing towards Denizli, a city halfway between the Menderes River Valley and the Central Anatolia Plateau. My right foot was still hurting a bit, not enough to limp, but enough to need to be careful with it. I welcomed the gradual uphill climb, because the slower pace meant I was moving my body slower, and so had extra time to pay attention to my form.

Midway through the morning, I felt like taking a little break. So I walked off the shoulder and leaned against a rock. I set down my pack, opened it, and pulled out my iPhone to check my email. I saw an email from my friend Denise Waters, a teacher at an elementary school near Seattle. I had told her that I would welcome inquiries from her 4th grade class. She had forwarded one of their questions to me:

“Why are you walking? Why don’t you just take a bus?”

Good question, I thought. I’m not really sure. I looked out across the valley below for a moment, searching for that place deep down inside me that would have something to say. I tapped a reply into my phone:

“Yours is an excellent question. Taking a bus would in fact allow me to see more of the country. Walking will limit my range. If something is a mere 60 miles out of my way, it is not a quick day trip. Sixty miles is an hour or two by car, but it is a week on foot.

“The reason I want to walk is I want to challenge myself to be less afraid of the world. To be less afraid to admit I misunderstand something. To be less afraid to admit something is out of my control. It is difficult to admit those things, but much comes from doing so. After all, if I am busy insisting I understand something I don’t, or trying to control something I can’t, it is awfully hard to be open to creativity and inspiration.

“I like to talk about these things, and I figure that if I am going to talk about them, I better practice them. Walking is me practicing them. It is me putting my life where my mouth is. It is me submitting to the world. When I walk, my speed is slow, and my range is limited. I have little choice but to accept the world as it exists in front of me. Because I am less mobile than the people around me, I have little choice but to submit to their way of life, to learn how to exist in the world they have created. There is no hopping in the car and escaping a problem. If I ruffle someone’s feathers, I have little choice but to remain present and participate in whatever unfolds.

“Walking is a great way to see the country and meet its people, but I could see the country and meet its people by bus. Walking turns this trip into a personal pilgrimage, a way for me to practice submission to the world mile after mile, day after day, week after week, month after month.”

I tapped “send,” pulled my pack back on and walked back out to the road.

There wasn’t much along this section of road, other than big rocks and fields of dry grass. It was as if the world had decided to either move to the more fertile valley below, or to the bustling city of Denizli above. No middle ground. So I walked for a couple hours by myself with nothing to interrupt me.

In early afternoon I came upon a group of about 8 middle-aged men sitting in the shade of a large tarp they had set up by the side of the road. They were selling watermelons, and they waved me over to join them for cay and watermelon. I thought briefly about passing by with a quick hello as I wanted to get on into Denizli.

However, I called out “Hello” and crossed the road to sit down with them. Having been on the road for a couple of weeks, I had started to realize that part of my daily routine was going to be stopping by the side of the road and saying hi to people. I ducked under the tarp and reached out to shake hands with each of them.

They were peasant farmers from about 35 to 55 years old. They had stacked their watermelons high in the bed of a pickup truck and backed it under the tarp to shade the melons.

They had also set up a table and laid out slices ripe, red, juicy-looking watermelons. I spotted an extra chair and took off my pack. While I pulled the chair up to the table one of the men set a glass of tea and a couple slices of watermelon on the table in front of me.

The tea was too hot to drink still, so I took a bite of the watermelon. I wiped the juice off my chin with my sleeve so as not to seem too crude.

“Where are you from,” they asked.

“California.”

“Where are you going?”

“Well, first Denizli, but then Van.”

“Are you walking?” they asked.

“Yes.”

“By yourself?”

“Yes, just me.”

They looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.

They turned back to me. One of them asked, “Why are you doing it?”

I paused for a bit but could not come up with a simple answer. So I shook my head, chuckled foolishly, and replied, “I don’t know.”

I was learning that if I laughed at myself in an I-must-be-crazy sort of way while answering that, people would laugh with me and let it drop. But if I didn’t, if I became serious and tried to explain in my limited Turkish vocabulary, the conversation would A)turn uncomfortably silent or, B) people would ask me if I worked for the CIA. These men laughed.

“You should write a book,” one of them suggested.

“That’s a good idea. Maybe I will.”

“Will you mention us in the book?” one of the others asked.

“Yes, I’ll be sure to do that.”

After eating a few more slices of watermelon and making small talk about the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people, I stood up, shook their hands again, and said goodbye. Then I shouldered my pack and walked out to the road to continue on.

I had drunk so much tea and eaten so much watermelon that I needed to go to the bathroom. I spotted a small roadside cafe up ahead on the other side of the road. I walked up and asked one of the attendants if I could use the restroom. Our exchange was interrupted by an ear-splitting explosion from across the road in front of the restaurant right where I had been walking. As we turned we saw a heavily loaded truck wobbling off the road onto the shoulder amidst a cloud of dust. Its front tire, which had blown out, was a flapping piece of rubber.

I thought, Man, I’m glad I came over here to take a piss. That truck would have hit me.

Friday, September 14

On my fourth morning in Horsunlu, I woke up and got ready to begin another day of working my foot. I didn’t know yet what I would do on that day, maybe start with some laps on the dirt road, and then graduate to walking out to the main road.

As I stood on the stone walkway trying to decide, Fatih, one of the villagers I had come to recognize, walked past.

He spotted me and paused for a moment, “Come with me,” he said.

“Where?” I asked.

“To my shop, of course.”

“You mean, the one out on the main road?”

“Yes, of course,” he laughed and said.

I briefly thought about how that would be skipping ahead a few steps in my self-imposed rehabilitation plan for the day. But the “always say yes” part of my personality won out.

“Sure, sounds good, let’s go.”

I walked, gingerly, with Fatih out to his shop on the main road. We took a seat in the shop’s small, cramped office. I drank cay while Fatih returned some phone calls and Feridun, his assistant, looked over some papers.

Each time a customer poked his head into the office, I was introduced as an honored guest, and I told my story again. Yes, I was walking across the country. Yes, I was from America. Yes, I was walking alone.

Fatih had some business he needed to attend to elsewhere, so he left me in Feridun’s capable hands. I moved to a table outside in the yard. Feridun came over with a hammer and a paper bag filled with hazelnuts, and spread them out on the table before me to keep me busy while he saw to the customers. I sat at the table breaking open the hazelnuts with the hammer and drinking cay while Feridun picked up a hose to water down the dusty yard in between helping customers who came in for bags of cement or bricks for their construction projects.

After a couple hours in the yard, Feridun’s assistant Emin arrived and jumped into the passenger’s seat of a fully-loaded coal delivery truck. Feridun hopped into the driver’s seat, fired up the engine, and drove the truck over to me.

“Hop in,” Feridun called out to me.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Out for some coal deliveries.”

I jumped into the delivery truck, squishing Emin to the center, and the three of us took off up the highway into the hills and surrounding villages to make the deliveries.

While we were making the deliveries, Feridun had a huge smile on his face. He waved hello to every car, truck, and tractor we passed by, slowing down to hang out the window and chat with the drivers, one hand still on the steering wheel. Most people would see it as an afternoon delivering coal but to Feridun it was an opportunity to work the crowds.

We stopped to make a quick delivery at a corner market. I hopped out of the cab to buy a bottle of water. Feridun took the opportunity to make small talk with some of the other shop patrons and enjoyed the opportunity of explaining to them who the foreigner was.

Next we stopped at a house where four elderly people sat in the shade sorting figs. For some reason, one of the water mains was open and fresh, cool water was gushing out, flooding parts of the street, the entrance to the yard, and part of the yard itself. Feridun was embarrassed. He wanted me as his guest to have as little interruption as possible. But I was happy to see all this abundance of clear, clean water. So I took my shoes off and slogged around through the mud and let the cool, clean water that was rushing over the cement ice and bathe my feet, one of which was still hurting kind of bad. I took a photo of my feet in the water.

At a later stop a woman was removing the pits from green olives and then stuffing the olives with red pimientos. While Feridun and Emin unloaded dozens of bags of coal, I climbed down from the truck’s cab to watch the woman do her work. She used a scissors to cut pieces of a big pimiento into little pieces. Then she would take one green olive out of one bucket, stuff a pimiento piece into it, and put it into another bucket. All my life I had eaten stuffed olives, but it had never occurred to me to think about how they had been stuffed.

As much fun as the deliveries were, I am a homebody at heart, and I wanted to get back to the familiarity of my tent and the public park that had become my home. So I was happy when the last delivery was made and we stopped at a tea garden next to the highway, for one final tea before driving back to Horsunlu.

Not surprisingly, Feridun seemed to know almost everyone at the tea garden. He made his rounds, pressing the flesh while Emin disappeared to another location and I took a seat at one of the tables. One of Feridun’s friends came to my table and pulled a chair next to me.

“Hello, how are you?” he asked me in Turkish.

“Fine, thank you, and you?”

“Good, thank you. You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked.

“That is correct, I am not from around here,” I replied, “I am from California.”

“Is that in the United States?”

“Yes, it is. Have you been there?”

“No,” he replied.

He peered into my eyes, searching for something. I wondered what.

“Is it true that Obama is interfering in Syria?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, Obama is interfering in Syria,” he stated.

“That’s good to know.” A political conversation was about to start, and I didn’t want to have any part in it as my language skills weren’t good enough to handle the nuances it would take.

He asked again: “Is it true that Obama is interfering in Syria?”

“I don’t know, I’ll ask him next time we have lunch.”

He asked again: “Is it true that Obama is interfering in Syria?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “It is absolutely true that you said he is.” A phrase like this was at the limits of my rusty Turkish, so I waited to see how badly I had messed it up.

The man looked at me, confused.

He asked again: “Is it true that Obama is interfering in Syria?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, again, “It is absolutely true that you said he is.”

He paused, peered closer into my eyes, smiled, wagged his finger at me, and said, “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m not.”

He nodded. “Then let’s drink some tea.” He raised his glass to mine, smiled again, and said cheers.

We drank our tea and made tense small talk about the weather and the fig harvest. I commented on how beautiful the valley was, and how nice the people had been.

Feridun, who had been walking around saying hello to everyone and shaking hands, came back over to our table. He tapped me on the shoulder.

“It’s time to go. Let’s go back to the truck.”

I was relieved to have an excuse to duck away from my questioner. I followed Feridun back to the truck. Emin re-appeared, as if by magic, from wherever he had disappeared to. The three of us hopped into the cab. Feridun fired up the engine, and we pulled back out onto the main road and headed back to Horsunlu.

Scrunched into the cab with the two of them, looking out the window at the farms we passed, I wondered if Feridun’s friend back at the tea garden had signalled to Feridun that he hadn’t been pleased with me, but apparently all was okay. Feridun was as good natured as he had been all day.

About 10 minutes later we arrived back at the cement yard in Horsunlu. It was getting late, and I wanted to get back to my tent in the park, so I thanked Feridun and Emin for a great day and took my leave. My right foot was still hurting a bit, so I limped the 5 or so blocks back to the park.

I had enjoyed my day with Feridun and Emin. While I limped back to the park, I congratulated myself on my day delivering coal in rural Turkey and how unusual I would probably seem to the people back home.

I’m one of the few, I am uniquely adventurous, I am one of a kind.

But then I thought of the self-satisfaction I had felt the week before, at breakfast on the second day of the walk, and how quickly my self-congratulatory bubble had been burst when the two Polish guys walked up to my table.

Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, I cautioned myself, you never know what’s about to happen.

I got back to my tent before the post-dinner crowd came out to the park for their evening socializing. It had been a long day, so I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep without eating dinner. It had been an unplanned day, but a good one, and my foot was still hurting a bit, but I was itching to get back out on the road. I needed my beauty sleep.

Friday, 14 September 2012


Friday morning I rose before dawn and knocked down my tent. I wrote a note to Huseyin’s family, posted it under their door, and walked out to the main road to catch the minibus back to Saraykoy to continue my walk into Denizli. My spirit had been restored, and though my foot still hurt, it had healed enough to carry my pack if I walked carefully.


Once I got my tent set up in the park, the feeling of panic I had felt back in the hotel 36 hours earlier subsided, and now I calmly lay back in the familiar grass, my feet casually propped up against the tree.

As the light fell, people came out of their houses to take evening strolls around the village and they began to notice that I was back. I suppose I was hard to miss: a foreigner, vaguely familiar now, his tent set up in the village’s central park, reclining in the grass.

About 20 times I had the following exchange:

Villager walks past the park, notices me, turns head towards me, stops walking, tilts head curiously.

“You’re back!”

“Yes, I am.”

“What brings you back?”

“My foot. I hurt it and I need a few days to heal it.”

“So you’ll be here a few days then?”

“Yes, looks like it.”

“Welcome back. Geçmiş olsun.”

“Thank you, much appreciated.”

Tuesday, 11 September

Tuesday morning, after breakfast, the villagers either climbed onto their tractors to go work in the fields, or piled into the commuter train to commute to work in one of the nearby towns. I stayed behind to work on my foot.

I knew from my training before coming to Turkey that the first thing I needed to do was to make a diagnosis of the problem by walking barefoot. Walking barefoot gave me a level of precise feedback that was not available to me when shod. So I took off my shoes and emptied my brain so that my foot could tell me what it needed, instead of me telling my foot what I thought it needed.

I began walking barefoot on the stone pathways through the park, making a mental note of what muscles were giving me trouble and would need work in the next few days.

This diagnosis work took me about half an hour, and then I was ready to begin working those particular muscles back into shape. I limped to one end of the stone walkway and stared at the other end. The other end was a mere 50 feet away, but those 50 feet seemed as far away as the other end of the world. I took a deep breath, started with my left foot, and began walking. My right foot hurt every time I put my weight on it, which scared me, but I reminded myself that the point was not to be free of pain, the point was to rebuild the muscles in my foot so I would gradually feel less pain.

I limped to the other end, turned around, and repeated the process. Stare at other end of walkway. Take deep breath and summon courage. Begin walking. Get to other end.

I continued like that, walking back and forth, for about two hours. Once in awhile, one of the remaining villagers would walk by or watch me from a distance. I suppose mine was a puzzling presence–this stranger, tent set up in the park, Turkish barely good enough to explain what he was doing, walking barefoot back and forth, back and forth in the park.

At noon I took a lunch break, lying down on my back in the grass next to my tent, my feet propped up on the nearby tree to drain the blood and avoid any swelling. I munched on some cookies I had bought from the bakkal. One of the villagers had seen me walking my laps in the park and knew that I was healing my foot. She emerged from her front door, scurried across the street, and handed me a large block of ice before scurrying back into her home.

Thankful for the ice, I rested my right foot on it for a few minutes, and then stood up and walked back to the stone walkway to resume my work for the afternoon.

Shortly after lunch my foot felt good enough to begin walking longer laps around the park. On the other side of the park I spied a concrete amphitheater. The amphitheater was a mere 100 feet away but I had been so focused on my foot that morning that I hadn’t noticed it. I decided that by the end of the day I wanted to be able to walk up and down the amphitheater steps.

Then the negative self-talk began:

You want to walk across the country, but you can’t even climb up and down an amphitheater’s steps.

You’re never going to figure this out. Your walk is doomed.

I pushed the negative thoughts out of my mind:

That’s just negative self-talk, don’t listen to it, just concentrate on the next few feet in front of you. Take it one step at a time. No pun intended.

For most of the rest of the afternoon, I continued walking laps around the park. Walk a few laps. Rest on one of the park benches. Walk a few more laps. Rest on one of the park benches.

My impatient self and my methodical self began fighting each other:

This is ridiculous, you should be out conquering the world, my impatient self would say.

No, this is exactly what we need to be doing right now, My methodical self would chime back.

But this is ridiculous, you know it is, come on, admit it.

Whatever. This is what we need to do right now.

But, but…

That’s right, calm down. There will be plenty of time to conquer the world later. Right now this is exactly what we need to do. Leave us alone, let us do our work.

For most of the rest of the afternoon, I continued alternating between walking laps around the park, and resting on a park bench. I began eyeing the amphitheater stairs, knowing that my rendezvous with them was coming soon. They would be my test. Had all these laps around the park been doing me any good?

With about an hour to go before the villagers started returning home from work, and knowing that I would certainly be invited to a social gathering of some sort in the evening and wouldn’t be alone in the park anymore, I decided that test time had come. It was time for me to try the amphitheater stairs. I stood up from the park bench and walked over to the stairs. I eyed the top of the stairs. It was a small amphitheater, so there were only about 10 stairs, but again, the top end of those 10 stairs looked as far away as the rest of the world.

I took a deep breath and stuck out my left foot. I lifted it up onto the first stair and put my weight on it. It felt fine. But of course it did! That wasn’t the one I’d hurt.

I lifted my right foot onto the second stair and put my weight on it. A bolt of pain shot up my leg. I grimaced as I clumsily heaved myself up onto the second stair.

“Uh oh, that wasn’t good,” I thought to myself.

I tried half of the stairs like that. Every time I put my weight on my right foot, the shooting pain went up my leg, and I grimaced.

Halfway up the set of stairs, I decided I would go back down and try again tomorrow. I turned around, but going down turned out to be harder than going up. The panic began to rise again.

I walked a few laps around the park hoping to return to normal and to tamp down the panic. I returned to the park bench to rest, telling myself that I would learn how to walk the stairs tomorrow. Then I got up to walk a few more laps before going back to my tent to lie in the grass, prop up my feet against the tree, and wait for the villagers to come home.

When the farmers on their tractors and the office workers on their train began to return, my friend Huseyin from across the street stopped by and invited me to dinner at his house. His mother would be cooking.

“Of course,” I said, already tasting her home cooking on my tongue. “What time?”

“We’ll eat in about 30 minutes.”

A half hour later, I limped across the street to Huseyin’s house. I limped in part because my foot still hurt, but also because I wanted to keep my weight off it, noting that I had made some progress that day and didn’t want to undo it.

Inside for dinner there were seven of us: Huseyin, his wife, his mother, two of his sisters, his young nephew, and me. We spread a cloth out on the floor and ate village style, sitting cross-legged on the cloth, eating from communal trays of cold green beans in tomato sauce, carrot salad, and copious amounts of bread. After dinner, the women cleared the trays while Huseyin attended to some domestic chores of his own, and then we re-congregated in the living room to digest the huge dinner with cup after cup of cay while watching the news.

After about an hour, Huseyin said he needed to go visit a relative in the village and asked me if I wanted to stay and watch TV.

“No thanks,” I told him, “much appreciated, but I think I’ll go back to the park. Thank you so much for dinner, it was great.”

Huseyin and I both left the house. I crossed the street, and as I entered the park, the older men who had tried to convert me when I was there before spotted me, and, probably relieved to think that I was back for another religious conversion attempt, called me over to their table for some cay and god talk before bed.

Wednesday, 12 September

The next day, my Christianity still intact, I walked more laps around the park, and, many times, successfully climbed and descended the stairs. Things were looking up. I figured that tomorrow, my third full day in Horsunlu, I would tackle the dirt road outside the park, and that four days in Horsunlu would be enough (two of them had already passed). By then my foot would be good enough to resume the walk.

That evening, once again, Huseyin invited me to dinner at his family’s house. As we did the evening before, we sat village style, cross-legged on the floor, eating from communal platters.

After dinner and cay, however, instead of Huseyin’s running off to visit relatives, or my running off to participate in yet another attempted religious conversion, all nine of us lounged back onto the pillows. I got to play my first game of Okey, the Turkish version of dominoes. I had only a vague notion of what I was doing, yet with a lot of help from my fellow players I managed to win a few games. I could barely recognize what a winning hand was, though, so for all I knew they were just being nice to me.

At one point, Huseyin’s cousin interrupted the game to bring out a shallow plastic tub and a clean cloth. He put my right foot in the tub and began to wash it with olive oil. He was aware that my right foot was hurting, and he wanted to do anything he could to help. I felt a little embarrassed and uncomfortable, having my foot cradled and washed, and I eyed the other family members to see the expressions on their faces. They seemed to approve of his activity, so I swallowed my embarrassment and allowed it to happen.

During the foot washing, Huseyin got up to leave the room. I briefly thought he might not approve of the foot washing, but a few moments later he reentered the room with an armful of objects and walked over to me. He spread the objects out on the floor and took a seat next to me. He waited for his cousin to finish drying my foot, and then he asked me if I had heard of Rumi.

“Of course,” I said. “Rumi was a great man.” Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic buried in Konya, a city I would be walking through.

“Yes, he was. Have you read his poetry?” Huseyin asked. He picked up one of the objects, a small book.

“Only a little. But I liked what I read.”

Huseyin handed me the book. It was a collection of Rumi’s poems. I thumbed through it quickly. It was in Turkish, but I figured I could read it, it would be a good challenge for me.

“Take this book with you,” Huseyin said, “you can read it on the road.”

“Thank you, thank you very much,” I said.

Next Huseyin picked up a large lead-and-glass lantern with an image of Rumi inside.

“This will make a great addition to your home after your walk,” he said.

“Yes, it will,” I agreed, eying it warily. Neither would I be able to carry a lantern made of lead and glass the rest of the way across Turkey, nor would I have a home to put it in when I finished.

I reached out to accept the gift and said, “It’s so beautiful, but I am afraid it will break in my backpack. Is it okay if I leave it with you and pick it up after the walk?”

“Yes, of course,” Huseyin replied.

I knew I needed to lighten my load a bit, and saw an opportunity to leave some other stuff with him, too, “I also have some other things in my pack I’d like to leave with you and come back to pick up later, is that okay?”

“Sure,” Huseyin said, and he showed me to a storage room at the back of the house where I could leave the lantern and whatever else I’d like.

My logistical concerns taken care of, we resumed our game of Okey and drank some Turkish coffee.

About 9 p.m., I thanked his mother for dinner, took my leave, walked across the street back to my camp in the park, and curled up in my sleeping bag for a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, 13 September

The next day was my third full day in Horsunlu. I woke up and waited until most of the village left for work again, and then I continued working my foot back into shape. I walked a few laps around the park to get warmed up, walked up and down the amphitheater stairs a few times to make sure the previous day’s improvements were still intact, and then I ventured out onto the dirt road next to the park.

Though the soft dirt road made an excellent padding under my feet, the surface was a little uneven. But after a couple hours of walking laps, 300 meters out and 300 meters back, my foot adjusted to the unevenness.
By lunchtime I was able to walk the laps with few problems. I was glad to realize my foot was coming back into shape quickly and predictably. Another day of working it, I figured, and I would be ready to conquer the open road.

The next morning, I woke up knowing that I was going to have to do whatever it took to work my foot back into shape. So I hobbled downstairs to breakfast and decided to come up with a plan.

Before sitting down to eat, though, I walked a couple laps around the parking lot to test my foot without the load of the pack.

On my walks before coming to Turkey, I had made sure to walk about a mile every day barefoot, so even the tiny muscles in my foot would get exercise they didn’t get when I wore shoes.

I had been wearing shoes every day during the walk now, and I knew from experience that when I stopped walking barefoot at least a little each day, those tiny muscles only lasted for about two weeks, so I suspected that the pain was caused by their atrophy and the fact that other parts of my foot would not be getting the same muscular support they were used to getting.

So, I figured as I ate breakfast, that I should be able to work those small muscles back into shape if I could spend four or five days doing nothing but focusing on their recovery. That meant I would need a need a cheap and hospitable place to work, uninterrupted, for those four or five days. I thought of Horsunlu, where I had been a couple of days before. The people had been friendly and the public park had been a comfortable place to spend the night. Most of the villagers were at work during the day, so I could work my foot during the day when no one was around to distract me. Horsunlu was probably my best bet.

When I finished eating I grabbed my pack from the lobby and hobbled across the street to catch the mini-bus back to Horsunlu, covering in just half an hour what had taken me a full day to walk.

The small village of Horsunlu is laid out in a rectangle along the roadside. There were a couple of places where the bus could drop me off. I didn’t know Horsunlu well as I had walked through it only once, so I had the driver pull over at the first stop. He got off the bus with me and went to the back and pulled out my backpack. I put it on and hobbled off the main highway and down the main sideroad in Horsunlu.

The village was alive with festivity. It was weekly market day, and tents were set up alongside the road where shopkeepers sold items such as T-shirts, dried figs, spices, and cheap plastic kitchenware from China. I felt alone. People were milling around me everywhere having fun. I hobbled along desperately, full of self-pity, unsure of what I should do next.

As I passed the main tea garden, I spotted the familiar faces of people I’d met when in Horsunlu before. They called me over.

“Welcome back to Horsunlu!”

“Just couldn’t resist us, huh?”

“We missed you!”

“Thank you,” I replied as I pulled up a chair and joined them at the table. I waved the waiter over to bring me a cup of tea.

“What brings you back to Horsunlu so soon?” they wanted to know.

“Well, my foot hurts,” I said, “and I need a few days to rest it up. Is it okay if I stay in the public park there?” I pointed over to the nice grassy park where I had stayed a couple of nights before.

“Sure, of course you can stay there again. We’re happy to have you!”

I was very happy to be back in Horsunlu. I had only seen these people once before for one night, but I’d felt so welcome here that it quickly seemed a second home.

After finishing my tea, I picked up my pack, hobbled the 200 meters to the park, and set up camp under the same tree as before.

At the end of the day I was beginning to feel a little more confident that at least now I was in the right place and tomorrow I would wake up and start working my foot back into shape.

The next morning I pulled on my pack and walked out of the lobby of the Thermal Springs Hotel. I started to cross the road to begin walking as usual, but stopped when I spied the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

I had been in such a hurry to get back on the road that I was about to break one of my new cardinal rules: Eat real food whenever possible.

I eagerly ate the cheese, bread, cucumbers, and tomatoes available at the buffet. I scarfed down a couple of glasses of orange juice, pulled on my pack again, and crossed the road to begin the day’s walk.

I stopped at the other side of the road, pulled my camera and whiteboard out of the pack as had become my morning routine. I wrote my daily dedication on the whiteboard, photographed it, stuffed it back into my pack, and continued walking.

The scenery change that had begun to appear yesterday was nearly complete now. The lush flatlands of the Menderes river valley, where farm after farm had lined the road, had given way to gently undulating rolling hills, empty pastures of wild brown grass, and an occasional tree. My climb onto the Central Anatolian Plateau had begun, and would last for about a week.

I had been walking only two or three minutes, taking in the new scenery and falling into the day’s walking rhythm, when I felt a sudden stabbing pain in my right foot. I thought maybe there was a rock in my boot, so I stopped, pulled off my boot, held it upside down, and shook it to get rid of the rock.

Nothing came out. Figuring whatever rock I had picked up was gone now, I put my boot back on and put my weight back on the foot. A bolt of pain shot out of my foot and went up my leg. There was no rock. This was coming from inside my foot.

I walked a few more steps, hoping the pain would go away. It didn’t. I walked a little further, taking extra care to watch my form and make sure I wasn’t getting sloppy, but the pain became sharper. By the time I had covered another 100 meters, it was quite debilitating, an acute “you’re not going to use this foot anymore” sort of pain.
Panic started to set in. I had walked over a thousand miles in the U.S. in order to make sure this wouldn’t happen in Turkey, and here it was happening.

I thought, Boy if this continues I won’t be able to continue walking and I still have 95% of the country to cross. This is not the right time to find out I’m not going to be able to do it.

But I limped on. Limping is really hard to do with a heavy pack. Over the next few kilometers I tried to stay off the hard pavement by walking through a number of different surface zones. When there was dirt on the shoulder I walked there for a while. Coming to a construction zone, I walked for a while on the soft, newly-laid asphalt. The asphalt was sticky, and I could feel its heat through my boots, but at least it was soft. A little later I came upon a grass-covered median strip, and I walked there for a while.

I stopped at a gasoline station midway through the day for a break. My foot was still hurting. The pain hadn’t let up. I was in a full panic at this point, realizing that if the pain did not go away I would not be able to continue another day, and I was only about 5% of the way across a country I had promised, to myself and to others, to walk. I had even spent the last couple hours coming up with a Plan B, so I would be able to continue the walk even if I couldn’t carry my pack anymore.

The gasoline station was in the middle of a construction zone, so there were no customers, just two attendants sitting in lawn chairs in front of the office, looking out at the empty road. Hiding my panic and my limp (or trying to, at least), I said hello and motioned to the store. One of the attendants jumped out of his chair and followed me into the store, where I bought a bottle of water and a bag of cookies. I figured I was one of the few customers that day, so I used the bathroom, said goodbye, and hobbled out of the lot back onto the road, trying to hide my limp as I hobbled.

About an hour later, still limping, I came to a bend in the road. I recognized the bend from the map. The road was turning from straight east to southeast, the direction of Denizli. There was little to no shoulder along the bend, and a steep dropoff instead, and to make the situation even more challenging, there was a guardrail curving around the bend. On one side of the guardrail, I would risk getting hit by cars. On the other side, I would risk falling off the dropoff.

Under normal circumstances, I would just take a deep breath, mutter a prayer, run through the section, and hope no cars showed up to hit me. But in my new state I couldn’t run, and I still didn’t want to get hit by a car, so I chose to hold tight to the guardrail and tried not to fall off the dropoff.

About an hour or two later I reached the village of Saraykoy. I stepped off onto a side road and walked a few blocks deeper into the village, looking for a mosque garden or some place to rest for a while. I found a covered garden area near a car mechanic’s shop. A man about 35 years old was working in the shop and he came out to say hi.

He invited me to sit down at a nearby picnic bench, protected under some wooden eaves from the late summer sun, and went back inside the shop to get a couple of glasses of cold water. I took a seat and waited for him to return.
It was hard to concentrate on anything except the shooting pain coming from my foot, but I tried to wipe any sign of worry off my face, so that when he came back he would see me relaxed and smiling.

He arrived with the cups of water and we sat there drinking our water and making small talk. After about 20 minutes he took his leave, apologizing for having to go back to work. I thanked him for the water and said all was fine and asked if I could stay there for a few more minutes. “Of course,” he said.

I sat there hoping that either my foot would magically stop hurting, or that I would realize there was a Plan B that would make the problem irrelevant, but neither happened. So after a few minutes I pulled my pack on and limped back out to the main road. Visibility was clear, the road nice and straight, so I initially estimated that it would be easy to cross it. However, I found I still couldn’t move fast enough to cross in the window of about 30 seconds between passing cars.

I finally managed to cross the road, and I walked another two kilometers to the center of the village, but then I stopped and thought, I can’t do this anymore.

What was I going to do? I hadn’t seen anyplace quiet and hospitable in this village where I could stop. I was going to need to do some thinking and I was going to need to be alone for a little while to do it. A public place or staying in somebody’s house was not going to work.

So I decided to catch a mini-bus back to the Thermal Springs hotel where I had stayed the night before. I waved down a mini-bus, loaded my pack into the back, and we drove to the Thermal Springs hotel. The owner hotel welcomed me warmly, recognizing me from the night before, and quickly showed me to my room.

I had spent the day so far trying to put on a public face and to hide my limp. I hadn’t told a soul about my problem. But once I got up to my room I took off my pack, leaned it against the wall, and let the panic rush in. My walk had only just begun, and I could barely cross a street. In fact, I could no longer put any weight on my foot at all. I couldn’t even walk across the room to get a bag of crackers and oranges I had set down on the desk, so I went without dinner.

It was late Saturday afternoon.

I gave myself a talk, Okay, Matt, you can let things get as black as they need to go for the rest of the day. Just let your emotions run wild, don’t worry about putting on a stoic public face anymore, just let the emotions flow now. But tomorrow morning you are going to have to wake up and solve the problem, because nobody else is here to solve it for you.

I didn’t know how I was going to solve the problem, but I decided I would have to take it on faith that I would.

I had sacrificed a lot for this walk. I had quit my job. I was homeless. I had no belongings except for the stuff I was carrying on my back. I was at only 6% of the walk so I still had a long way to go.

It was pretty hot in the room, so I lay back on one of the beds and turned on the air conditioning. I put my feet up on the wall so the blood could drain from my feet and my legs and they wouldn’t swell up, a little trick I remembered from my cycling days. I tried to fall asleep but couldn’t, so I just lay there with my feet propped against the wall and stared at the ceiling, letting the tears roll down my cheeks. I was sick with panic and loneliness.

Shortly after I realized it had grown dark outside, I hobbled into the bathroom and drew a hot mineral bath. The hotel likes to brag about the healing powers of these hot thermal springs, maybe I should test them out, I thought.

I eased myself down into the warm, penetrating, cloudy-white water. I’m sure under any other circumstances it would be quite relaxing, but I wasn’t in the mood. The bathtub was lined with stone tile, and as I sat there naked, my foot throbbed against the unforgiving surface of the tile.

Realizing the bath was not going to make me feel any better, I stood up, dried off, hobbled back to bed, and quickly descended into a deep sleep.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

About 3 hours out of Horsunlu, I started the climb out of the Menderes River Valley. The predictable pattern of farm after farm began to end, and the mile after mile of flat road began to give way to gently-rolling hills.
About 3 p.m. I was climbing up one of those rollers. There were no villages nearby, so I thought I was alone, and I was surprised when a boy about 12 years old suddenly appeared alongside me.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“California,” I responded.

“Can I have your sunglasses?”

“No, I need them.”

He spotted the sandals dangling from the back of my pack, and pointed at them.

“Can I have those?”

“No, sorry, I need those too.”

He started grabbing at my sandals, trying to pull them off the pack. They were attached to the pack with a climber’s carabiners, so I didn’t worry too much about losing them.

But I said anyway, “Sorry man, I need those. They’re mine, you can’t have them.”

I sped up, walking faster and then faster, hoping to leave him behind. However, he walked fast and wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

I briefly considered trying to break into a run to leave him behind, but I knew that because I was walking uphill with a heavy pack, I was at a disadvantage and trying to run would only highlight how vulnerable I was.

Finally, after a few minutes of this, the boy gave up, drifted off to the side, and disappeared into the trees.
I was alone once again, but now feeling nervous, realizing how vulnerable the hills and solitude made me. I knew the population was going to be getting sparser and sparser the further I went, and my vulnerability wasn’t going to decrease. In fact, as I went further, I would depend more and more on an increasingly[ I’m unclear about what you mean here about depending on an increasingly thin population. Above it you say you are more vulnerable in it.] thin population.

About 30 minutes later, shortly after my nervousness had subsided and I had settled back into the calming rhythms of walking up and down the rolling hills, I realized I was getting hungry and that it was about time to eat my evening meal.

Fortunately, about that time I spied a small restaurant and decided I would eat my evening meal there. Coming closer to the restaurant, I saw that it looked nearly deserted, with only one other customer, and nothing seemed to be happening in the kitchen.

I poked my head in the door and called out to the one employee I saw inside.

“Are you open?”

“Not really. I guess we could make some toast though, how about that?”

“Toast would be good, I’ll take it,” I said as I found a chair, pulled off my pack, and took a seat. The restaurant overlooked a valley below, in which there were two or three small villages of probably a couple thousand people each.

“Can I get some cay too?” I called out to the employee who was now busy making my toast.

“Sure, of course.”

While I waited for my toast, the one other patron in the restaurant walked over to me. His gait looked a little uneven and his eyes a little crazed.

“Hello, how are you?” I opened.

“I am fine, thanks, and you?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“California. And you?”

He pointed at one of the villages in the valley below, and looked at me with his crazy eyes and a leer. I wondered why small talk about village roots was worthy of a leer, and noted to myself that yes, I must be talking to a crazy person.

I asked myself what kinds of people I had met in the past couple hours. A preteen boy who wanted to steal my sandals, a reluctant fry cook, and a crazy man. Not a rich community on which to rely for the evening. Better move on, daylight’s burning, I thought to myself.

I hurriedly ate my toast, shouldered my pack, paid the fry cook, and scurried towards the door.

“Aren’t you going to drink your tea?” the fry cook called out behind me.

“No, I’ve got to go. Thanks for everything,” I said as I darted out of the restaurant towards the open road outside. I noticed that the crazy man had seated himself at my table. I gratefully breathed in the fresh air outside the restaurant. I felt more relieved with every additional meter I put between myself and the restaurant.

The restaurant had been perched at the top of one of the rollers, so now I was walking downhill. My speed increased, in part from the panic that had come to the surface in the final moments in that restaurant, and in part because my unnecessarily heavy pack was pulling me down the grade as I hurried.

About 10 minutes later I spotted a small hotel on the other side of the road. The signs outside highlighted that hot thermal spring water was pumped into the bathrooms for travel-weary customers to soak in at the end of the day. After my run-ins with the 12-year-old “sandal-stealing boy from nowhere” and the crazy man at the deserted restaurant, I was too skittish to camp outside that night. A bath in hot thermal spring water sounded great, so I pulled up to the hotel and asked them how much for a night.

About seven hours after I left Nazilli, I walked into Horsunlu, a small village with a population of around 2,000 people.

Horsunlu is at the eastern edge of the Menderes River Valley. The river valley at that time of year is very beautiful. Figs and other crops are being harvested. The weather tends to be sunny but a little cooler now because the heat of summer has passed. It is still warm enough, though, for people to be sitting out in their patios and for kids to be playing out in the streets. Also, the nights are more comfortable. I was looking forward to the change in scenery I would be having now where the valley ended and the climb up onto the plateau began.

I spotted a park in Horsunlu that looked inviting but I wanted to get permission to sleep there. So I sat down at a nearby tea garden to start meeting people and making friends. As I approached the tea garden a couple of guys waved me over and invited me to sit with them. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I launched into my standard spiel:

“Is it okay if I camp in the park tonight? I’ve got a tent, a sleeping bag, everything I need to sleep outside.”

They said, “Sure, of course. You are welcome to sleep in the park.”

I asked them if there was anyone else I needed to speak to and one of the guys said that he was the administrator of the park and there was no higher authority.

I made a mental note to myself, Excellent, that administrative task has been taken care of. I could relax now, I had a place to sleep that night.

They recommended restaurants to me, but since there was still plenty of light outside and I wasn’t hungry yet, I just continued drinking tea with them.

After about 30 minutes I carried my pack over to the park and set up camp. It was still light outside so I eased myself down into the soft grass, propped my feet up against a tree, and wrote in my journal for a while. Even though I was in a public park in plain sight of curious passersby, I felt comfortable and relaxed.

Shortly after sunset the farm workers began coming home from the fields. A young man and his mother came from their home across the street bearing the largest plate of food I’d seen in a long time–figs, lentil soup, shepherd’s salad, olives, yogurt, cheese, a plate of bread, and some cay. They introduced themselves (the young man was named Huseyin).

Again, as before on the walk, I was impressed with their hospitality toward a stranger just hiking into town and settling in. I wasn’t very hungry, though. I knew before entering a town that villagers were going to offer me whatever food they had and more. I still wasn’t comfortable with this custom, so I had started getting into the habit of eating before I arrived. If I entered villages with a full stomach, I could politely refuse offers of food and still not go to bed hungry.

However, Huseyin and his mother would not take no for an answer. So after they scurried back to their house across the street I sat on the concrete retaining wall at the edge of the park and ate from the huge platter of food.
When I’d finished all I could eat, I carried the tray across the street and left it at their doorstep. Then, since there was still a little light, I continued writing in my journal.

Shortly after dark the park magically transformed. The place where I had been relaxing in solitude since arriving suddenly came alive. While I’d been writing, someone had set up chairs and tables created a tea garden. Villagers began congregating in the park for the evening social hour–groups chatting over cay, some playing games, kids playing ball on the grass. A couple of older men, whom I recognized from the mosque across the street, saw me and called me over to their table.I walked over and sat down with them.

“How long will you stay here?” one of them asked.

“One night. I’ll leave tomorrow,” I said.

I saw a look of disappointment briefly cross their faces. I wondered why they’d be disappointed I was only staying one night.

“Are you Christian?” the same man asked.

“I guess, sort of.”

“Have you heard about Mohamed?”

I thought back to their look of disappointment a few moments before, and realized it was because they knew then that they had only one night to convert me to Islam.

“Yes, of course, I’ve heard of Mohammed,” I said.

“Do you know that the Bible is broken?” one of the others asked.

“No, how it is broken?”

“The Koran is a better, cleaner version of God’s word. It was dictated directly to Mohammed from God.”

“That’s nice,” I said.

“Given this, how could you not be a Muslim?”

In my broken Turkish I tried to tell them that their logic was good only if you believed in the premise. I didn’t believe the premise so I didn’t reach the same conclusion.

They tried the same argument again. I didn’t know if they hadn’t understood my bad Turkish or if they just didn’t want to accept my answer.

I said again, “Your argument is logical if you accept the premise but I don’t believe the premise so your argument doesn’t resonate with me.”

We went through this three times. They pushed. I resisted. It became clear a conversion wasn’t going to happen that night, so we all got frustrated and agreed to disagree. We finished our tea. Then I smiled, said goodnight, and went back to my tent.

I slept soundly, falling asleep about 9:30pm, even though the park was still full of noisy villagers blowing off steam from the day’s labors.

Saturday, 8 September

The next morning I woke up about the same time the villagers were leaving for the fields. I wrote a note to Huseyin and his mother, thanking them for their hospitality, telling them my mom would be very happy to know her son was being taken care of. Since they had both already left for work, I left the note on their doorstep, pulled on my pack and walked out to the main road.

On the morning of my seventh day on the road, I walked out of Nazilli and stopped at a tea garden near the village of Hamzali to top off my water supply. The tea garden was tended by a hyperactive 15-year old named Halil who couldn’t stop talking about how fast his Peugeot scooter was and how rich he’d be after fixing it up and selling it. His parting words to me as I left, yelled at the top of his lungs even though I was within an arm’s length, was, “Don’t forget me!”

“Okay Halil, I won’t.” I might even mention you in the book.

Later, I pulled into a Shell gasoline station for water and ended up resting in a grassy patch in the shade having some tea and a chat with the station manager.

He mentioned that two guys from Poland had come through the day before and had camped under the tree where I was resting now. They had just left that same morning.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Did he just say the Polish guys were here the whole night and had slept in this very spot? Man, they’ve got some mad hobo skills. I need skills like that, I thought. I’d lost track of my Polish friends Darek and Piotr since we’d parted at Nasuh’s outside Germencik a few days ago.

I leaned forward as he talked, frustrated that my Turkish was so rusty and that even though I listened intently I might not be getting the whole story. I admired them so much I didn’t want to miss anything that was said about them.

Derek and Piotr were taking on a kind of a ghostly quality for me and I began to call them my doppelgangers. In the few days being with them I’d quickly learned some very basic hobo skills like how to find a place to stay at night and how to wash out your t-shirt. I admired their hobo skills greatly, and my admiration for them forced me to raise the level of my own hobo skills.

When I heard that they had camped out at the gasoline station and had slept where I was now sitting, I was even more impressed. So far I had camped in a mosque garden, I had stayed on the floor of an imam’s apartment, and I had slept in a city maintenance yard.

Also, I had seen a lot of gasoline stations along the way. How did one get permission to stay at a gasoline station? Boy if I could only figure out how to break that code! Was there a secret handshake or something? That would be a great skill to have.

When I’d had enough of the conversation I said, “Thank you very much for the tea.” I shook hands with the gasoline station attendants. Then, as an afterthought, I asked the manager if I could lie on the grass and take a short rest before I continued on. “Of course you can,” he said. So I lay down and took a nap on the grass where Derek and Piotr had slept, hoping some of their skill would rub off on me. And then I continued walking to Horsunlu, my next village.

It was lunchtime when I arrived in Nazilli, (population about 120,000). I walked up to the first restaurant I saw and ordered a lunch of kasarli kofte. Once again, the cook recognized me — he had seen me in the local papers or on the local TV, he couldn’t remember where.

After lunch, I pushed back from the table, congratulating myself again on finishing five days of walking. I decided that instead of stressing out over finding a place to stay for the night, I would reward myself by staying at the hotel next door.

The lobby of the hotel was bright, the rooms clean. The water was hot, breakfast was included. All this for $28 per night. Pure luxury by the standards of someone who was now used to sleeping in the dirt. I eagerly took a room.

My first act of celebration was to take a shower. After my shower, I lay down on the bed and enjoyed the clean white linens before falling asleep for a 30-minute nap that easily stretched into the rest of the day. I woke up at dusk, only to fall back asleep and sleep soundly through the night.

In the morning I lazily rolled out of bed at 10 a.m. and shuffled down the stairs to the veranda for breakfast. The waiter showed me to my table on the lawn just off the veranda in the shade of a few large palms.

I was not starving by any stretch of the imagination. I’d been eating plenty this week, but for breakfast I’d always wolfed down a quick gozleme and cay or simit and cay. This morning, however, I plugged my iPhone in to charge on a wall near the kitchen and then sat waiting for breakfast nursing a steaming hot cay placed before me on a round glass top placed over a white tablecloth. I heard water gushing from a fountain and turning to look watched it splash out onto the pavement, then disappear, collected in a drain, filtered, and then returned to the fountain to gush again. I enjoyed the sound of the running water.

The waiter soon appeared with a platter filled with the traditional Turkish breakfast–bread, an array of jams and preserves, seasoned potatoes, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, green olives, black olives, and three kinds of cheese.

I greedily gobbled down every consumable morsel and then asked for more. When I finished I sat for an hour drinking unlimited refills of tea and listening to the water splashing from the fountain.

After breakfast, I stepped off the patio and strolled out to the road to take in the scenery. The hills, palm trees, and farms nestled into the slopes reminded me of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast. I pulled out my phone to check the Kickstarter campaign. It had reached 72% of its goal, with three weeks to go.

In here, add the scene where you check your expenses and your mileage, but since the guilt hasn’t started yet, you can be neutral about it. Then in subsequent hotel scenes, you can do the same scene, but there will be more angst behind it.

In the past few days, I had slept outside in a mosque garden, on the floor of an imam’s apartment, on the floor of an empty storage room, and on the couch in the office of a municipal vehicle maintenance yard. I had learned some basic road skills, like:

• Be friendly.
• Get an early start.
• Drink a lot of water.
• Wear sunscreen.
• Wash a shirt at every stop. Keep a relatively clean set of clothes handy for after each day’s walk.
• Mosques are like truck stops with religion — great places to rest up and wash.
• Pass up no opportunity to charge phone and camera batteries.
• Assume nothing; you know less than you think you do.
• Keep it in your pants.

I felt good, at ease with myself and with the world in general. I made a mental note that the next thing I needed to learn was how to shower more regularly.

By then it was shortly after noon, so I decided to head back to my room for a nap. On my way back to my room I realized that if I left the hotel that afternoon, I would need to find a place to stay for the night, so I decided to stay a second night too.

I reached the town of Kosk (population 9,900) early, at only 10:45 a.m. I had planned to spend the night there but since it was so early I decided to keep walking right through Kosk.

Once I passed through the town and had a broader view of my surroundings, I noticed the Menderes valley beginning to narrow. In about four days I would begin the week-long climb onto the Central Anatolian plateau. Reaching that plateau would be a significant milestone for me. It would mark the end of the beginning. I would be well on the way and probably thinking that at some point I would finish.

East of Kosk I found an evil eye charm on the shoulder of the road. The evil eye, known in Turkish as the nazar boncuğu, is a Mediterranean good luck charm that stares back at jealous spirits and wards their bad energy away from anyone who might be even remotely admired or known. I had meant to pick one up in Istanbul, but I got distracted and forgot. I leaned down–very precariously under the weight of my excessively-laden pack–picked up the charm, and tied it to my pack where I planned to keep it all the way to the other side of the country. My sunglasses were no longer the only piece of equipment I’d found lying on the side of the road.

The road that day a very wide shoulder. But here in Turkey a wide shoulder is not a place to walk, it’s an extra lane to drive in when traffic is heavy or when tractors need a place to drive during harvest. Trucks also use them and one whizzed by me every couple of minutes. Today one of them swerved toward me. Maybe he was bored and this was his form of entertainment. He missed me by only a couple of feet. To have a semi passing you up and trying to see how close he can get is a scary thing to have happen.

I’d learned from living in Turkey that when there is an open space you take it. But in the three years I’d been back in the U.S. preparing for this walk by walking on the side of the country roads near Reedley, CA, I’d forgotten that rule. There, people generally don’t drive on the shoulders. So, once back in Turkey, I had to remind myself, Okay, you need to remember the local habit now or you’re going to die before you reach the fence bordering Iran, evil eye or no.

I stopped at a restaurant for a lunch of kasarli kofte. The cook knew who I was and how long I’d been on the road. He’d seen me in the paper, he said.

After lunch I walked for a couple more hours before approaching a Shell gas station where I decided to take a break. I said hello to the attendants and put my pack down, and they invited me to sit down in the shade and have a cup of tea with them. So I sat down with them and had some tea.

As we chatted, they said that two Polish guys had passed through the day before and had just left this morning.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Did they just say the Polish guys were here the whole night? I leaned forward, frustrated that my Turkish was so rusty and even though I was listening intently I wasn’t quite getting the whole story. I’d been so impressed by the Polish guys that I didn’t want to miss anything.

These Polish guys were taking on a kind of ghostly quality for me. I began to call them my doppelgangers because in the few days being with them I quickly learned some very basic hobo skills like how to find a place to stay at night and how to wash out your t-shirt. My admiration for their hobo skills forced me to raise the level of my own hobo skills.

So it was frustrating for me that I didn’t know enough Turkish to fully understand everything in the stories I heard along the way. But the gas station attendant said that yes the two Polish guys had arrived yesterday and spent the night, leaving this morning.

“Where did they sleep?” I asked. The gasoline station attendant pointed over to a grassy area nearby.

I was even more impressed with them now that I’d heard they had stayed at a gas station. So far I had camped outside a mosque garden, I had stayed on the floor of an imam’s apartment, and I had seen a lot of gasoline stations along the way, and I thought, Boy if I could figure out how to break that code! How does one get permission to stay at a gasoline station? What was the secret code or handshake? That would be a very helpful skill to have.

When I’d had enough of the conversation I said, “Thank you very much for the tea.”

Then I shook hands with the gasoline station attendants. As an afterthought I asked, “Could I lie on the grass and take a short rest before I continued on?”

They said, “Yes, of course.” So I lay down and took a nap on the grass where the Polish guys had stayed.

After napping I got up, put my pack back on, and went out to the main road to walk for a couple more hours.

Toward the end of the day I’d started looking for a place to sleep but was having a hard time finding one. The first village I rolled into was more like a wide spot in the road, and there were barely enough people to support a bakkal. However, I was tired and I wanted to stop for the day, so I tried it anyway. I spotted a tea garden by the side of the road. I walked up and sat down for tea, took off my sunglasses, and tried to make eye contact with the people at the nearby tables. No one would meet my gaze though, and when I finally did catch someone’s eye it was the waiter’s.

He walked over to me, leaned toward me, and said before I could introduce myself, “Maybe you better just move on to the next village.” I did take that personally, figuring that I was probably smelling pretty ripe.

I grudgingly stood up, shouldered my pack, and hit the road. Realistically though, I knew that there were genuinely no facilities to support me there.

As the afternoon shadows grew long, I pulled off the road into Sultanhisar, a small town of 5,000-10,000 in the eastern half of the Menderes river valley. There, I rested in the mosque garden for a bit before resuming my search for a place to stay.

A handful of people at the mosque told me that there was really nice camping at a set of ruins a couple of kilometers up the hill. I had heard about these ruins before–in fact, a number of people had recommended them to me in the past.

I climbed up the hill with my 45-pound pack, even though it was 4 extra kilometers (about 2.5 miles) at the end of the day. I had hoped to be through walking by then.

But I was looking forward to getting to the top as I had read about this site in various places. It had been described as bucolic, ancient, and silent, and had a great view looking out over the valley. As I climbed, I thought about how I had made good progress in the last few days, and if I liked the campground I might stay at it an extra day. I had peaceful visions of hanging my laundry out to dry against a backdrop of ancient ruins, looking out over the valley below, sipping tea and feeling content.

There were guards at the gate, however, who told me camping was forbidden there. Tired and frustrated, I told the guards the people in Sultanhisar below had said there was plenty of camping up here. The guards just said, “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Dejected, I hiked back down the hill and back into town. I returned to the mosque’s garden and sat for a few moments wondering what to do. There was no hotel in Sultanhisar and daylight was burning.

Across the street I saw the city headquarters and the sign above the door “Mayor’s Office” and thought, I should steal a page from my old China playbook.

Years ago when I taught and traveled in China, only a few hotels would accept foreign guests and they were often the most expensive hotels around. Not only were they expensive, but they required that the rooms be paid in foreign exchange certificates. The teachers at my school got paid in renminbi, the local currency. So for multiple reasons I couldn’t stay in the hotel where the town wanted foreigners to stay. One technique I used (along with the other backpackers I was traveling with) was to crash an official office looking dirty, sweaty, tired, and poor, and essentially say, “I’m your problem now, what are you going to do with me?” (This was executed more politely and respectfully, of course). We obviously could not scrape together enough cash to stay in the expensive hotels so hopefully they would have to get on the phone and find us a place to stay.

So I tried that technique in Sultanhisar. Sweaty, dirty, and wearing my backpack, I entered the mayor’s office and told the staff in the front office that I would like a place to stay in Sultanhisar that night but couldn’t find a place, and I told them about being refused entry at the “camping place” on the hill. The person at the reception desk took one look at me and quickly ushered me into one of the back offices. Someone else came to the back office and said, “Follow me.” I followed this person into the mayor’s office. The mayor was on the phone—actually on two phones at the same time, looking very busy.

I took my backpack off and sat in the overstuffed leather couch in his office, leaning forward so my sweaty back wouldn’t stick to the leather behind me. The attendant who had brought me into the room asked me if I wanted a glass of water. I said, “Yes, thank you very much,” trying my best not to seem too eager.

When he finished his phone calls, the mayor pushed back from his huge oak desk, introduced himself to me and shook my sweaty, dirty hand. I repeated my story to him and asked if he could help me find a place to stay. We chatted for a few minutes getting acquainted. Then he got on the phone again and made a call.

“I’ve got a foreigner here passing through. Can you find him a place to stay tonight?”

He spoke Turkish very fast and I didn’t quite get everything he said but when he hung up he looked at me smiling. “I’ve found you a place to stay,” he said. “Go with that guy over there.” He pointed to an assistant standing in the doorway, and then picked up one of the phones, since they were both ringing again.
The assistant drove me across the village in a beat-up old Toyota to the city’s vehicle maintenance yard.

“Is this where I’m staying tonight?” I asked.

“Yes, it is,” the assistant said.

I was happy to be assigned any place with a horizontal surface where I could stretch out and sleep, so it was fine with me that the mayor had arranged for me to stay at a maintenance yard that housed the village’s stock of vehicles–a couple of small buses, a snowplow that probably got used once every 20 years, and a of couple garbage collection trucks.

The workers were hospitable to me at the maintenance yard. They let me have the office which had a soft couch I could sleep on, making it the first time in a week I wasn’t on a hard surface (even at the imam’s house I was on the floor). There were no lights in the office but there were electrical outlets where I could charge my iphone and computer. It was quiet. There was running water. I washed three of my shirts and hung them out to dry.

After I’d settled in, the mechanics on the night shift invited me to join them for dinner of pide and ayran. Then we sat around the table drinking tea and discussing the tensions building in Syria. At 8:30 p.m. I went inside to sleep on the soft couch.

The next morning the alarm went off at 6 a.m., waking me from a deep sleep. I had been dreaming. The last time I remembered dreaming was a week before in Kusadasi. It was hard to believe I had left Istanbul only a week before. I had been walking four days and four nights. It seemed a lot longer. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and, wearing a freshly washed shirt, I headed out for Nazilli, my destination for the day. This was my fifth day walking, and I had not showered in those five days. I hoped to find a cheap hotel or a hostel in Nazilli where I could celebrate the end of Week 1 by taking a steaming hot shower.

I left the vehicle maintenance yard and walked 3 kilometers to the main road.

Before beginning the day’s walk, though, I ate a breakfast of simit and cay with Mehmet bey, a dolmus driver who would be driving the same route I would be walking.

Things I learned this week:
• Wash shirts at every stop, one at a time so they can dry while hanging from your backpack.
• Mosques are great places to wash and rest up. They are like truck stops, but with religion.
• Things I need to learn: How to shower more regularly.

I had been walking through the Menderes River Valley for a couple days, and I was starting to recognize the local patterns.

The straight road where I was walking ran predictably about 100 miles through the valley created by the Menderes River. Parallel to the road is a railroad track. About once an hour during the day the Izmir-Aydin-Denizli commuter train runs back and forth along the track. That track was my constant friend and companion through the entire valley.

I would be walking through the peach trees alone and the tracks would start humming and vibrating like a high-tension cable, and within moments one of the commuter trains would whiz past. For variety, at one point I tried walking on the consistently-spaced concrete cross-ties but found it too difficult to balance as the spacing threw off the rhythm of my stride.

At night the tracks were used by a couple of freight trains, but their bread and butter seemed to be carrying the commuter train during the day.

Most of the villages along the tracks operated according to a very similar schedule which was that when the train came through town, the young people got on to go into the city and work while the older people went out to the farm.

These communities had sprung up along the track about every 5 or 6 miles, a distance which took me about 90 minutes to walk. So as I left Aydin, I could predict that there would be another village within an hour or so, and I would have plenty of light left for that walk.

Sure enough, about an hour after Aydin I came upon a village called Imamkoy, a small town of about 2,000 people.

As I crossed the tracks to exit the road and enter the village, I came alongside a group of women coming home from work in the fields. When they saw me they scattered, averting their eyes. In fact, as soon as I walked into the village all the women seemed to disappear. There was not a single woman in sight in the whole town. I realized then that this village would probably be more conservative than Erbeyli.

Shortly after entering the village I saw a bakkal, or corner market, where I could stop and say hello. Outside the bakkal was a little tea garden where a few elderly men sat at tables drinking tea and talking. I poked my head into the bakkal and asked if it was okay if I sat down and got a drink of water. The bakkal owner answered, “Sure, sit down. Have some water.”
I bought a bottle of water, set my pack on the ground, and pulled up a chair beside some of the men. After we had made small talk for about twenty minutes, the bakkal owner joined us at the table. He seemed a bit standoffish toward me, and it felt like he was saying, Just wait a few minutes and let us get to know you before you get too friendly here.

I started to get nervous. I felt like I was having to audition for a role as a homeless person. And while I completely understood the need for getting to know a person who might be staying in one’s village, the daylight was burning and if the answer was going to be no I needed to get moving. I tried telling myself, Okay trust in the universe and give it a little time with these people and things will turn out fine.

But I blurted out, “Is it okay if I stay in the village tonight?” And gave my usual spiel–“I’ve got everything I need. I’ve got my back pack. I’ve got my tent. I’ve got my sleeping bag. All I need is a space to set it up.”

He looked at me intently and said, “Why don’t you sit a little longer and then we will make a decision.” The other men just looked at me silently.

I was surprised that the atmosphere in Imamkoy could be so different from a village just 20 kilometers away where I’d been welcomed so readily.

Imamkoy suddenly felt empty, gray, and lifeless. Other than myself and these elderly men and the bakkal owner, there was no one in sight. I supposed the younger men were still out in the fields working–the women, too, aside from those who’d arrived in the village at the same time I had. And those women were nowhere to be seen.
There was still some daylight, though, so I sat around with these guys for a little while drinking tea. Since it was fig harvest time, trucks were coming in and out of the village. I watched the regular delivery trucks as they came by. I watched one truck go by with farm workers headed out to a field and another truck going by loaded with figs, heading for the wholesale market.
Then a truck came through and stopped in front of the bakkal to sell watermelons out of the back of the truck. A few of the villagers appeared then to buy some.
The driver of the truck took note that I was sitting outside the bakkal watching. He picked up a long knife and slit one of the watermelons in half. “Here, have some watermelon,” he said and handed one of the halves to me. I savored each bite and let the juice run down my throat and my arms.

When it began to get dark, farmers began returning to the village and the men I had been sitting with scattered to go back to their homes. Soon it was just the market owner and myself sitting in front of the bakkal. But his son, who was about ten, soon rode up on his bike with a few other village boys his age. It was getting on toward dinner time.

The bakkal owner called his son over to us and asked him to run upstairs and have his mother prepare some extra food. The family home was above the market. The market owner and I would be dining outside that night, he told his son.

I asked the bakkal owner again if I could stay at the mosque, which was just across the street.

He said, “Well it’s unkempt. We don’t take very good care of it. So let’s find you another space.”

I assumed he meant I was unwelcome there in the village, and that I would need to move on to the next village. It was already well after dark, too late to move on, so I felt on edge, nervous that he might not let me stay there.

Then I heard the bakkal owner telling his son, who was still standing by us, that after he talked to his mother about dinner he was to take his friends and go clean out the very dirty storage room next to the unkempt mosque. “We’ll put the foreigner in there for the night,” he said in Turkish.
Then he shrugged apologetically at me and said that there was no electricity in the room and that there was a thick layer of dust over everything. However there was also no clutter in the room that would have to be cleared out.

I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I’d have a place to stay that night, regardless of how dusty or cluttered it might be.

So the kids went into the storage room, swept out the dust and sprayed down the floor with a hose. Then the son said to me, “Okay, it’s clean now. You can go in and get set up.”

The room was very warm and wet and humid from being sprayed down. It felt like bedding down in a swamp. Since there was no electricity I set up in complete darkness.

Soon the bakkal owner came out to get me for dinner, and we dined on green beans cooked in a tasty tomato sauce, a cucumber and tomato salad, and olives. No meat, though, as was usual in the poorer villages. We sat at a rickety table out in the open garden across from the bakkal and next to the mosque. His son appeared once in awhile to see if we needed anything from the house.

After dinner the bakkal owner went back inside to take care of his family, and the neighborhood boys came out to play a game of football (or soccer) in the street. When they saw that a foreigner was sitting at the table, they came over to me and started asking questions about football. They wanted to know which was my favorite team and which players I liked. Since they were rabid football fans, they knew the names of many of the players and they wanted to know about my favorite team and players. I tried to fake my way through the conversation. The fastest way to kill a conversation in Turkey is to say you don’t care about football.

I told them my favorite team was Fenerbahce, which is one of the two biggest teams in Turkey. As soon as I said Fenerbahce their eyes lit up and they said, “Oh, we love Fenerbahce,too,” and they started listing names of players. Immediately the conversation was out of my league. I just smiled and didn’t talk much myself and let them fill my silence with their excitement.

Then we played a card game which I didn’t really understand. One of the kids was glad to sit next to me and actively play cards while I pretended to learn what was going on. When it was ten p.m. I said, “Okay, it’s about time for me to go to sleep. I’ve got to get up early and start walking tomorrow.” The kids kept playing until midnight.

The bakkal owner had been right about the mosque grounds being unkempt. As in my room, the area around the mosque was completely dark, and I stumbled my way through the litter and debris that was invisible in the dark to find the bathroom in the mosque. Though I’d taken it personally at first, thinking the bakkal owner didn’t want me here, I could see he’d had good reason to suggest I sleep somewhere else. This was downright dangerous.

After stumbling my way back out of the bathroom and into my bed in the storage room, I fell asleep to the sound of the boys outside playing. I was still sweating. My sleeping bag was made for -20 degrees F., and even though I lay on it completely open, it was still hot.

Tuesday, 4 September

At 6:30 a.m. I woke up to the sound of the steel door in front of the market being rolled open by the bakkal owner. I wanted to get out of there pretty quickly because I wasn’t feeling very welcome. So I stuffed my things in my pack and walked out of the storage room.
I poked my head into the market to say goodbye and had a rare-woman-sighting. The man’s first customer of the day was one of the village women who had come down for supplies for the morning. But I knew from the code of ethics in the village not to make eye contact or say hello. So I just said to the bakkal owner, “Thank you very much for your hospitality,” and gave him my contact information. I walked the 200 meters out to the main road and took the morning picture of my white board with that day’s dedication.
As I walked away I thought about the strange lifelessness of the village. I thought of the abandoned mosque. I thought of the women coming in from the fields the day before, turning their eyes away from me. I wondered how it would feel to be born a girl here and have to avert my eyes and to have it determined for me that my life was pretty much out of my control.
That wouldn’t have been the case in Erbeyli, though, just 20 miles down the road. At least I didn’t think it would.
I thought of Enes and Erbeyli and how welcome I’d felt there. Enes was an imam but not like the bearded holy men I’d imagined imams to be. I was happy about feeling welcome there and that imam’s could wear jeans and polo shirts and get drunk.

I was struck then by the difference in the two cities only 20 miles apart. They had been accommodating enough here, yet for the first time since I’d begun my walk I didn’t feel like a welcome member of the community.

I felt uncomfortable and disoriented as I realized that whatever image I’d had of imams, or women, or that people were friendly and hospitable in the west of Turkey and conservative terrorists in the east, whatever I’d thought to be true of how a thing would be in any given place was probably 95% wrong. Maybe this was how it would be for the months ahead of me. I was going to have to live with that disorientation, allowing the world to present itself to me as it was and not as I thought it was or should be. I’d have to be born a dumb-ass anew each day.

At 5:15 a.m., shortly before sunrise on September 2nd, the wail of the muezzin’s call to prayer over the loudspeakers of the minaret rising over me stirred me out of my sound sleep. Not only was sleeping by a mosque safe and convenient, the mosque came with a built in alarm. I pulled on my boots and stumbled about 20 yards to the little outhouse in the mosque’s garden. Then I knocked down my tent, brushed off the dirt, and stuffed it into my pack. All was quiet. There was no one to say good morning to, since most of the adults in the village were already in their farms tending to their fig trees. I thought that was probably why no one came to prayers that morning.

I felt a momentary stab of self pity. Here I was on the second morning of my big cross country event that was going to take months of my life and there was no one around to share it with. I hungered to hear a simple “Hey, Matt, safe journeys on your second day!” or “Bravo! You made it through the first night!”

But I let it pass and walked out to the main road a few hundred meters away and began walking east towards the sunrise. A few hundred meters later, once I started to feel the call of the day’s adventure stronger than the pull of my warm sleeping bag, I stopped, pulled off my pack, pulled out my small whiteboard, a black marker, and my camera. I scrawled “Today is for Mason Waters,” photographed it, stuffed everything back into my pack, and resumed walking.

About 200 meters later, I realized I was hungry. I looked at my watch: it was 6:30, time for breakfast.

I spotted an outdoor tea garden up ahead on the left side of the road. Outside was a dusty handwritten sign advertising gozleme. Gozleme, a popular food in Turkey and a favorite of mine, is a layered flatbread stuffed with a choice of crumbled white cheese, mashed potatoes, or spinach. The place seated only about twenty people, and I was their only customer. I asked the owner if he was open. He was. The morning air, though still crisp and fresh, was starting to warm up so I took a seat under one of the shade trees and ordered gozleme and cay.

I was hungrier than I thought, so I greedily tore into my breakfast, scraping the plate for that last crumb of the gozleme.

When I finished I pushed back from the table feeling smug and proud of myself. Here I am on this big adventure. I am probably the only person in the world who dares do stuff like this. At that moment two other men breezily stepped into the tea garden wearing backpacks. I could see from their freshly-pressed t-shirts, cargo shorts, and white Nikes that they were not locals.

I greeted them and invited them to sit down with me for breakfast. They ordered cay and gozleme too. I asked what they were doing and where they were from. Only one of them spoke a little English; the other spoke none, and neither of them spoke Turkish, but we did the best we could. I asked them what they were doing and where they were from.

They were best friends from Poland. One was named Darek and the other was Piotr. One was a Catholic priest and the other was a diamond-tipped industrial saw blade salesman.

They were on an extended walking pilgrimage from Poland through Southeast Europe and then east through Turkey, southeast through Syria and Jordan, and finishing in Israel. Their operational model was that they would work at their regular day jobs during the year and then during their two to four week vacation they would leave Poland and walk a certain leg of the journey. They had already been engaged in this project for some years and had been through Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, and Northwestern Turkey. The year before they’d walked from Istanbul to Izmir. This year they were walking from Izmir to Denizli.

The previous night, they told me as we sipped our cay, they had slept in a large, steel ocean shipping container.

I looked at their backpacks and was amazed that they were so small. I wanted to compare weights, so I stood up and walked over to their packs, asking if I could pick them up and look at them. My own pack weighed about 18 or 20 kilos, which is about 35 or 40 pounds. On the other hand, their two packs together weighed half of what mine alone weighed. I asked them what was inside the packs, and they rattled off a brief list of the main contents. I realized I was carrying a lot of equipment that they didn’t have. For example, they carried sleeping bags, but no tent. I thought, man I have a lot to learn.

At this time, September 2012, Syria’s civil war was heating up, and I asked them if they were going to have trouble walking through that country. They didn’t seem too worried. They said that because they were walking only two weeks at a time they would be walking into Syria in five years, and by that time Syria would probably have it all sorted out.

As we ate breakfast we continued talking. They gave tips for life on the road, and I told them a little about the country. I did most of the learning though, since I was new to life on the road. We finished our breakfast and asked the owner of the restaurant to take a photo of us. Then we shouldered our packs and left. Though we were walking in the same direction, I let them go ahead first, pretending I had business to tend to before setting out.

They took off down the road, and I followed a few minutes later so I could see them off in the distance ahead of me. I felt a mild sense of comfort being able to see them ahead of me. After about an hour of walking I couldn’t see them any more.

It was fig harvest season in this area[ Remind where you are?], and there were lots of figs drying by the side of the road. Early in the afternoon while I walked, a local farmer waved me over to his side of the road. I went over and shook his hand. He introduced himself as Nasuh and motioned me to sit down in the shade of his garden’s awning and offered me some chilled watermelon. We sat in the shade eating the chilled watermelon and dried figs, but I was mainly interested in the pitcher of cold water sitting on the table, I greedily drank whatever he offered, and was disappointed he didn’t seem to realize just how much I wanted all the rest of it..

He spoke a little English and I spoke a little Turkish, so we limited ourselves to friendly small talk.

As Nasuh and I were in the middle of chatting I saw the two Polish guys coming towards us down the road. Somehow during the day I had passed in front of them and not realized it. I called them over, introduced them to Nasuh and invited them to sit with us in the shade.

Since Darek and Piotr didn’t speak any Turkish, I ended up translating into Turkish what they said and translating into English what Nasuh said. Because my Turkish wasn’t very good, and Darek’s (? right name)[ Names?] English wasn’t very good, communication was difficult and sometimes Nasuh would look at us as though we had said something kind of rude or had turned down his hospitality or something like that.

After our snack Darek, Piotr, and I resumed our walk, chatting together for about 3 kilometers (about 1 ½ miles). Darek and Piotr liked to walk faster than I did, but I was finding that once I started walking the weight of my pack didn’t matter as much as long as I walked in a straight line and on flat ground. [ Did they stop and go, etc?]

We crossed through a nice grassy area with some shade trees and I told them I was going to take a break under one of the trees. So we said our goodbyes and they continued on.

I took off my pack and rested under one of trees for about 10 minutes. When I stood up to begin walking again I felt relaxed. The small villages I had been walking through had now turned to an idyllic little valley surrounded by hills and full of trees and farms.

After walking for another hour, I came to the edge of Germencik, a small town of about 10,000 people. Two preteen boys, 11 or 12 years old, stood at the side of the road underneath the city limit sign watching me as I approached. The younger one was leaning on a bicycle.

The older one swaggered across the road and asked me for money, eyeing my backpack and the few possessions I had dangling from it such as my evening sandals, my jacket and a couple of other other items. None of it was valuable to anyone else, but if I lost my night time sandals I would have to wear my hiking boots in the evening and I definitely did not want to do that. So everything was valuable to me.

When I told him I had no money for them, he started grabbing at the objects dangling off my back pack. I started walking faster, telling him again that I had nothing for them. He seemed to lose interest and began to fall back. But then they collectively seemed to remember they had a bicycle and if one of them got on it they could harass me more efficiently.

The older boy called back to the younger one to come up and ride alongside me, to take charge so he could rest. The younger boy started pedalling towards me now, but the bicycle was too big for him and he had to stand up in order to pedal. When he did finally wobble up to me on the bike, he continued asking for money and tried batting at the back pack with one hand while hanging onto one handle bar with the other. To keep his balance, he had to resort to words rather than actions, and his begging became more and more desperate. I figured I could outlast him as long as he was on the bicycle, and after several minutes of this they both gave up on me and I entered Germencik alone and in a bad mood.

There is a commuter train that runs between Denizli and Izmir, two of the larger cities in western Turkey. The tracks that run between the two towns run parallel to the highway I was walking on through Germencik. On the other side of the railroad tracks, a couple hundred meters to my left, I saw a really large mosque. I thought, Okay, I’ll go check out the mosque even though it’s kind of early to settle down for the night.

I walked onto the mosque grounds, which were shaded and grassy under huge trees. The grass was soft, cool, and green, long enough to reach my mid-calf. I would be able to use the fountains, the bathrooms, and there was food nearby, everything I needed for the night would be there.

I plopped down next to the fountains and gulped water from my bottle. I wiped my chin dry and turned the fountain on to clean up a bit. I figured I would wait until the sun went down and then find a place on the mosque grounds to camp.

Just then a man walked up, apparently to pray in the mosque. “Merhaba,” he said to me, then introduced himself and asked what I was doing.

I said, “I’m walking across Turkey, and I started just a couple of days ago.”

I expected him to smile and laugh and not take me seriously. Instead, he simply said with a straight face that he had come to the mosque to do his prayers. He invited me to a feast his family was giving—a sunnet (circumcision ceremony) for his son. He was headed there after prayers, he said. I eagerly accepted his invitation. As a stranger to him, I felt quite honored to be included in such a personal family event.

“Wait a few minutes while I pray,” he said and went inside.

When he came back from his prayers, I pulled my pack back on and we walked together the couple hundred yards to his house. There were dozens of people milling around in his packed-dirt courtyard, waiting for the chicken to come off the grill. A few dozen were also seated at long folding tables with white paper tacked to the tables.

The man proudly showed me to a seat and walked over to the grill so he could get me the first plate of chicken. I began to make small talk with the people seated around me. The man brought the first plate of chicken to me and handed it to me with a flourish. It was still pink inside. I smiled and took the plate anyway, because I wanted to be a gracious guest.

I quickly became the center of attention as guests questioned me about my walk and who I was. I took part in the festivities for about a hour and a half until my belly was full of chicken, rice, and coban salatasi (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers). There was also plenty of rakı going around and I drank my fill of that, which was a mistake as I wasn’t much of a drinker.

At about 5:30 p.m., just before the ceremony itself, I began to feel a little embarrassed that I might become the guest of honor at someone else’s party, so I told them I needed to go as I needed to finish my walking for the day. I put on my backpack, and walked unsteadily out of the yard, shaking a lot of hands as I went. I walked to the main road which was only about 100 feet away and leaned against a wall because my head was spinning from the raki.

I had wanted to go back to the mosque for the night, because it was so nice there. However, I had just told everyone I was leaving town.

I continued leaning against the wall for 15 or 20 more minutes trying to clear the cobwebs from my head before walking on to the next village, which happened to be Erbeyli, a small village of about 2,000 people.

It took me about an hour of walking to reach Erbeyli.

In most of the towns I had passed, the mosque was within 200-500 meters of the road. In this village it was a little further off the road but I could spot the minaret rising into the sky about a kilometer away on a road perpendicular to the main road. I had picked this as the spot to stay even before I arrived in the village. I heard the call to prayer begin as I entered town, so I stepped up the pace a bit.

I turned left off the main road and crossed the tracks of the Denizli to Izmir train. On the other side of the tracks was a bakkal (a corner market). Bakkals are often the social hub of the village, so I popped my head into the market to say hi and tell them I was walking through and would like to go rest a bit at the mosque. I asked if that would be okay, and the owner of the bakkal said that yes, of course, it was fine for me to rest there.

I left the bakkal quickly. I was in a hurry. I wanted to be waiting in the mosque garden when the men came out after prayers.

As I walked deeper into the village towards the mosque, I encountered many families out for a relaxed late-afternoon stroll. Happy, well-dressed kids, even little girls, circled around on shiny new bicycles, welcoming me to their village. I returned their smiles and greetings.

When I arrived at the mosque, I was relieved to realize the men were still inside for prayers. I found the spigots and set down my pack to wash up. After washing up as best I could, I loitered in the mosque garden, took a look around, and noticed that the garden was completely tiled over. The previous night’s well-kept mosque garden had plenty of dirt and grass to sleep on. This one might be more challenging but with my sleeping pad it wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Soon the men finished their prayers and emerged from the mosque. When they saw me standing there they looked at me questioningly. Who is this unidentified stranger with a back pack standing by the fountains? They didn’t seem suspicious, just curious. I smiled at them and nodded and said hello. The larger group dissipated, leaving a smaller group of six behind. They walked over to me, we shook hands and started chatting in Turkish. They asked me who I was and what I was doing there. When I told them I was walking across Turkey they began laughing. “Well, you’re just beginning!” they said.

As we made small talk I commented on the nice farms around the area and asked what they were growing. I found out that in this area they grew peaches and figs mostly.

One of the older men, who seemed to be a leader in the group, questioned me further about what I was doing. I told him more about my walk and that this looked like a very nice place to stay for the night. “Would you mind if I set up camp here?” I asked. “I have everything I need in my backpack.”

“It’s probably not suitable,” said the older man. “Look, it is all tiled over.”

The sun was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to move on to the next village, so I pressed a bit more and asked, “Is there another place I could sleep instead?”

They eyed each other uncertainly. I started to feel uncertain myself. Was it not cool for me to stay at a mosque after all? Was it not cool for me to stay in that village? Then they began explaining that the problem was that the tiled over mosque grounds weren’t really a suitable place for me to sleep. They wanted me to have a roof over my head and a couch to sleep on, they said.

I insisted that I had a sleeping pad and that the tiles were no problem. The older man said, “No, we will find you another place to stay.”

Most of the men in the group were elderly, 65-75 years old. One of the six, though, was a younger man in his early twenties. He stood out in the group, not only because of his age, but because he was wearing jeans and a light blue polo shirt with horizontal stripes. He spoke in a clearer Turkish that was easier for me to understand than the slurred Turkish of the older men. The older man I’d been talking to motioned to the younger man in the blue polo and told him to call the Muhtar, the village administrative head. The young man tapped a number into his cell phone and called the Muhtar. I overheard him telling the muhtar my story.

“Do we have a place for him?…Yes, he has all his camping gear — sleeping bag, tent, everything.…We don’t want him to stay at the mosque. The yard is all tiled over.…So what should we do?…No, that space is all used up.…Okay, I’ll do that.”

The young man hung up.

“We don’t have any space here,” he said to me, “but would you want to stay at my place?”

I don’t know what he thought “space” was, but an offer to stay in someone’s home was fine by my book.

Then the young man motioned to me and said, “Come with me.” So I said goodbye to the older men and started walking down the street with the blue polo-shirted one.

As we walked to his house I asked him some questions about himself. His name was Enes. He was 23 years old, and he was the village’s imam.

That was the first time I had seen a twenty-three-year-old polo-shirt-wearing imam. My image of imams was that they had long gray beards and mustaches and wore skull caps and long flowing gowns.

I asked, “Am I going to stay at your place tonight?”

He said, “Yes, of course!”

When we walked into his apartment I saw that he lived like a typical twenty-three year old kid who had just gotten his first job and apartment. It was basically a bachelor pad with no furniture to speak of except for a spindly little table in the kitchen that had one chair and a futon mattress lying on the floor of the living room. Enes dragged the mattress into my room so I could spread my sleeping bag on it. Later when I opened his refrigerator I saw only a bottle of ketchup and a jar of mayonnaise.

After a few minutes, Enes needed to leave to take care of some unspecified imam business. I stayed behind, alone in his empty apartment.

I decided to wash up a little in the bathroom. It was a good thing I wasn’t very dirty that day as the only items in the bathroom were a worn-down toothbrush and a half-used tube of toothpaste lying by the sink and a few sheets of toilet paper on the back of the toilet, no spare roll in sight. There were also no towels in sight. I washed as well as I could and then dried off with my t-shirt. Then I laid out my sleeping bag on the futon and checked my emails on my iPhone.

Enes came back to the apartment about 9:30 p.m. talking to a friend on his cell phone. Darkness had fallen at that point, and I was sitting in the dark because I hadn’t been able to find the light switch. Maybe there wasn’t even a light in the apartment, it was so barren.

When he finished the call, he said to me that he was going into the next town to hang out with some of his friends and would I like to come?

I said, “Sure, of course.”

We went out to his car, a rundown red subcompact. He cleared some debris from the passenger seat and I plopped down as he went over to the drivers’ side. While we drove the 10 kilometers to Incirliova, I asked him a little about the process of becoming an imam in Turkey.

Enes told me that most, but not all, of the imams are civil servants, he said. They go to a special school for imams, but they are government employees just as postal workers are.

The average monthly salary of an imam in Turkey is 2000 TL, or about US$700. I’ve always thought it interesting that the state is proud of its secularism, yet it hires all its imams. Today in Turkey, secularism is a hotly debated subject like abortion or immigration in the U.S. It’s one of those third-rail political issues.

Enes had graduated from an imam school, which I understand can be compared to a seminary in the U.S. but it is run by the government. Enes was originally from a town about forty miles from where we were. When you graduate from imam school, he told me, the government ministry in charge of placement places you in a village, and Erbeyli was the one he had been assigned to after he graduated.

I asked Enes, “What is the salary of an imam?”

He said that the salary wasn’t great. It was about two thousand lire per month, which comes to about one thousand U.S. dollars per month. So it’s not a lot but the village provides a house for you. It must be kind of like being a pastor in the United States. You don’t make a lot of money but that’s not why you do it.

In Incirliova we found his friends sitting outside a restaurant. They were in their early twenties. We sat on wooden chairs around a little wooden table on the sidewalk and drank tea. His friends were also government employees but from other departments in the government such as sanitation and postal. It was strange to my way of thinking that being an imam was a government job like theirs. Our conversation was about girls, fast cars, and vacations, probably what all young men in their early twenties would talk about. We did that for about an hour and when Enes drove me back to the house, he mentioned that he was going out to attend a friend’s wedding and invited me. I told him thank you, but it had been a long day and I would like to turn in. He said he would probably be out late, and suggested that before I leave in the morning we should meet up for breakfast. I told him that sounded good.

He did know where the light switches were, so before he left he turned on the living room’s light and showed me where the other light switches were. Alone once again in the imam’s unfurnished apartment, I went back to checking my emails and uploading photos from the day onto my website. By that time it was about 10:30pm, So I turned in and slept soundly.

Monday, 3 September

I woke up the next morning in the early light, about 5:30, expecting to have breakfast with Enes, but he was nowhere to be found. I brushed my teeth, packed my things in my backpack, and walked out to the main road for my day’s walk to Aydin, the larger town after Incirliova, where we had met his friends the night before.

A couple kilometers down the road a red car honked at me and pulled over. It was Enes. He rolled down the window and said, “Hop in, we are going to breakfast!” He wanted to catch me before I got too far away and apologized, saying he had wanted to have breakfast but had to leave to do some imam business and was glad he had found me by the side of the road.

So we drove to Incirliova and Enes called his friends from the night before to meet us for breakfast. One of them was busy and couldn’t make it. The three of us breakfasted on cay and pogaca which was a plain, buttery, white roll. This was not a fancy breakfast, but pretty typical.

“How did things go at the wedding last night?” I asked them.

They told me the wedding had been for a friend of theirs, so they had been out late drinking and had just woken up a few minutes before Enes had pulled up honking beside me on the side of the road.

I laughed at the image. Instead of a long-bearded holy man, here was this twenty-three year old kid in a light blue polo shirt and jeans getting drunk with his buddies, dancing until late at night at a wedding, and then passing out at a friend’s house. I was a little puzzled though. Earlier that morning I had heard the call to prayer in the village.

I said to him, “Well, I heard the call to prayer and I assumed you were at the mosque.”

He said, “No, that wasn’t me; it was a friend doing back-up for me.”

After breakfast Enes asked me if I wanted him to drive me into Aydın. I told him, “No, I need to go back to the spot where you picked me up. I need to walk every meter.”

He took what I said at face value. He took me back to the exact spot he had found me an hour earlier. We said our goodbyes, took a photo together, and on I went.

Back at the mosque, I pulled my sleeping bag and tent out of my pack. I marveled that no one was walking up to me and saying, “No, you’re not allowed to do this! You can’t walk across Turkey like this and sleep at our mosque!” I set up camp feeling like an imposter. It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.

There was even an outlet available for me to charge up my iPhone! How lucky I was! I sat on a bench, staring at the outlet, wondering if anyone would be angry at me for stealing electricity. I decided to take that risk.

As my phone charged I sat on one of the benches facing the water fountain. The fountains at the mosques tend to be about ten feet high, octagonal, with a faucet on each of the faces. Each faucet on the octagon has a bench facing it like the one I was sitting on. When people came to the mosque to pray they could sit to wash their feet, their hands, or their faces before entering.

I felt pretty sacrilegious using the fountains to simply rest and wash, and as I turned the faucet handle and cupped my hands under the flowing water I wondered if God was about to strike me down for using his water to wash my dusty face.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I saw no one; the village seemed deserted. Since Havutculu is a small agricultural village the farmers were probably out working their fields. Also, it was between calls to prayer and the mosque was deserted.

As I sat on the wood slat bench waiting for the sun to set, a man about 55 years old drove up in a fancy car with plates from one of the big cities in another province of Turkey. He got out of the car and as he started walking toward the mosque he looked over at me and blinked, surprised. Then he greeted me in English.

“Hello! Where are you from?” he asked.

“California,” I said.

“Is everything ok?”

“Yeah, great.”

“Can I help you with anything?”

“No, thank you. I’m just sitting here resting. Is it okay if I sit here?”

“Yes, of course it’s okay.” He added, “You’re also welcome to use the faucets to clean up or to do your laundry.”

“Excellent, thank you.”

When I questioned him further, he told me that he was passing through and had stopped at the mosque to pray. He had been living in Los Angeles for a few years now, and he was visiting family in a nearby village.

I had earlier been impressed with myself being a foreigner alone on an exotic adventure, existing in a land where I didn’t speak the language. Now here I was right off the bat talking to a man in English who lived in Los Angeles.

The man walked into the mosque to pray, and I continued sitting in the shade charging my phone. I had expected his permission to make me feel at home, but I still felt like an imposter.

There was no one around to make me feel that way. Except for the praying man from Los Angeles and a few passersby, it was pretty quiet. I sat on the bench as still as I could, trying not to disturb the world around me (and waiting for my phone to charge).

I watched and nodded as one man passed by and looked over at me apologetically as if waiting for me to give approval for his intrusion. Several people who passed by had no reaction to me at all other than a glance. There were a few, though, who stared wide-eyed, then hurried off. I wondered if I scared them. Maybe they thought of me as a ticking time bomb, and if they just treated me quietly and peacefully I would go away and not make this into an international incident. Or, maybe they thought there was an angry mob hiding somewhere waiting for me, ready to appear with their flaming torches.

But there were two or three who stopped, greeted me, and seemed perfectly okay with a stranger sitting in their mosque garden. They told me I was welcome to camp there, wash up in the running water, and use the restrooms. As the late afternoon hours wore on I began to realize that that the villagers as a whole were perfectly okay with a stranger sitting in their mosque garden. This reception surprised me. I still felt like an imposter, and couldn’t accept the idea that it was okay for me to be there.

Sitting by myself on a bench in the shade made me feel uncomfortable, so after my phone had charged I ventured out of the mosque gate to explore the streets near the mosque. I came upon a group of young men in a nearby cafe playing Okey (Turkish dominoes) and stopped to watch. I expected them to ask me what I was doing there and to send me to some village official to get approval for being there. But they just smiled at me and seemed happy to show me their game.

I watched for a few minutes and then walked back to the mosque. At one point several farm workers all riding together on one tractor drove by the mosque. They slowed down to stare at me and kept staring as their tractor crept past. A few minutes later they reappeared, apparently having circled the block so they could come back and stare some more. I didn’t know how to read the blank expressions on their faces. I thought maybe they were going to return again to run me out of town. I stood waiting, but they didn’t come back.

As the sun began to set I again walked about 500 meters into the village and had my first dinner of the walk. There was no restaurant. The village was too small to support a restaurant but it was large enough for a bakkal, which is a corner market. I walked into the bakkal and bought a container of yogurt and a loaf of white bread, and some cheese. For dessert I bought the local version of a Kit Kat.

Three or four small tables with dirty tablecloths were set up under a grape arbor outside the bakkal. Even though the late summer sun was setting, it was still rather hot, and I was grateful for the shade under the arbor. I sat down at one of the tables, brushed some of the dirt away, and ate my first dinner of the walk as I watched the men and women of the village come back home on their tractors.

I thought to myself, Wow, I am going to survive this. I had survived the first day. I had walked; I knew where I was going to sleep that night; I had talked to someone; nobody had killed me; I was sitting at a table having my dinner, and the farmers were going back to their homes to have their dinners. I was okay!

After eating, I lingered at the table a few minutes to watch the sun set behind a semi truck parked across the street. Beyond the truck the green of the fig trees and farms on the rolling hills began to darken and cast long shadows.

When I’d finished lingering, I stood up, said goodbye to the people in the market and thanked them. I walked back to the mosque but before I crawled into my tent, a guy on a tractor towing a wagon full of farmers stopped at the camii (mosque), waved, and said hello. After he had explained me to the people he was towing, he drove away.

Then, even though it was early, I crawled into my tent and fell into a peaceful sleep within an arm’s reach of the mosque wall, very happy and relieved to have “first blood” out of the way.

Saturday, 1 September 2012 (cont.)

As I arrived I saw Joy Anna already at the docks, playing fetch with a mangy dog while she waited to join me for the first day of the walk. The dog was a stray she’d just befriended. Joy Anna was a 30-year-old American woman from Florida who had moved to Ankara and worked for Turkayfe, a group that promoted Turkey on the internet.

Somehow they became aware of what I was doing and called me when I was in Istanbul to let me know they would like to help sponsor me for the walk. They also wanted one of their people to join me for the first day. This turned out to be Joy Anna.

We greeted each other. Then, while Joy Anna continued playing with the dog, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small scrap of yellow paper on which I had scrawled my pre-walk checklist of things I had to do before the walk. I had made this checklist months before, knowing that I would be too nervous at the start of the walk to remember what I needed to do. On the checklist was:

1. Take whiteboard and marker out of pack and write “This day’s walk is dedicated to the employees at the Starbucks in Reedley.” Put on Fowler Nursery’s mesh cowboy hat with the leather hatband (which I had promised them I’d do as a favor), and take a selfie.
2. Erase the Starbucks message.
3. Write on the whiteboard “this walk is dedicated to Pryor Gibson” (the son of a friend of mine back in Seattle), and take selfie.

When those tasks were done, I relaxed a bit and made some more small talk with Joyanna. Some nearby taxi drivers stood around watching us idly, probably bored by their early morning wait for fares. I smirked to myself, noting that I was about to embark on one of the biggest journeys of my life, and my send-off party consisted of a stray dog, a handful of bored taxi drivers, a bunch of cruiseship passengers sleeping on the cruiseships a few meters away, and Joy Anna.

Next we asked one of the taxi drivers to take our photos. “I’m sure these taxi drivers have no idea of who they are taking a picture of right now” Joy Anna commented under her breath.

I thought, Well yes, that’s probably true.

In order to get this walk done, one of the techniques I used was to convince myself that no one really cared or needed to care because nobody was going to do the walking for me. I had to be motivated to do it by myself. Being known could not be one of the motivations for it.

I handed the camera to one of the drivers. Joyanna and I stood next to the dog, cruiseships behind us, and tried not to squint into the sun while one of the drivers took a few photos.

A local newspaper had also asked if they could be there to start the walk with me. But they hadn’t arrived yet.
“It’s 8 o’clock,” Joy Anna said. “Should we get started without them?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Let’s do it.”

So Joy Anna and I started walking through Kusadasi, negotiating the traffic, the taxi drivers, and the exhaust fumes. The dog stayed behind at the docks.

Once outside Kusadasi to the east, we began climbing the hills which had some very steep grades. This was my first experience climbing hills with my huge backpack, and I immediately began to realize that I wouldn’t be able to move quickly to dodge traffic, so I would probably need to stay on the left shoulder to face oncoming traffic.

Soon, as we were walking up one of the grades, two young men rode up on a motorcycle and stopped. They were the journalists who were going to cover us for the local Kusadasi newspaper. They found us walking past a private rest stop with a restaurant that had shade and a place to sit and drink tea. I asked them if they’d like to interview me sitting in the shade at the rest stop, but they said they preferred to do it by the side of the road for authenticity.

They spoke only Turkish asked us if we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We told them no.

They asked me why I was doing the walk. It was a common question, often the first question people asked me in the months preceding the walk, so I had thought about it plenty of times before, but I still had only a vague idea, and I knew it had something to do with wanting to achieve something bigger than myself, but I didn’t know how to explain that clearly in Turkish, so I hesitated for a moment. They filled in the momentary silence with “You must be walking for peace,” and I said “Yes” and let it go at that.

So, to them, I was the American peace walker with a big backpack and a girl who wasn’t his girlfriend.

After the journalists rode off Joy Anna and I were thirsty so we sat in the garden at the restaurant for a while and shared a bottle of water. Then we started walking again. We walked through a number of small villages of about 1,000 to 2,000 people at the most. One of these villages was called Yenikoy, which literally means new village.

I was sweating like a pig by that time and soaking through my black T-shirt, but Joyanna and I decided that it was time to take a picture, so I stood next to the Yenikoy village sign, hunched underneath my heavy pack, and Joy Anna took the photo.

As we walked through the village we saw a bus full of high school age students out on a field trip. They were parked at the side of the road while the driver ran into a store. I left Joy Anna at the side of the road and walked up to the bus. As soon as the students inside saw me, they got excited and stuck out their hands. I shook some and gave high fives to the others. With the students worked up now, I turned back to the side of the road with a big grin and walked back to Joy Anna.

“Do you know them?” Joy Anna asked me, puzzled.

“No, of course not,” I said.

“Then why did you do that?”

“I don’t know, that’s just what I do. I don’t think about it.”

Joy Anna and I walked together until at 1pm we came to Havutculu, a small village of about 700 or 800 people. Now I would have to find a place to spend the night.

Earlier in the day Joy Anna had taken some of the fear out of that task by telling me that it was perfectly fine for strangers to use the mosques to wash up and to rest. In fact it was expected and welcomed.

I’d once been told of a story about Abraham that is popular in Turkey, and Joy Anna reminded me of the story now.

A stranger comes and pokes his head in Abraham’s tent door and says, “I’m a stranger out walking from point A to point B. Would it be alright if I come in and have some tea with you and your family?” Abraham invites him in and they are sitting around the stove eating their dinner and drinking their tea when this guy says something bad about God. Abraham is famous for being a big devotee of God and Abraham gets really angry and says, “No one can come into my house and badmouth God and be welcome here. You must go now. You are not welcome here anymore.” Abraham throws the guest out and he walks away. Then God appears to Abraham and says, “You know, I’ve been working on that guy for all of his life and he badmouths me and still I’m patient with him, so who do you think you are to decide this for yourself and kick this guy out? It’s your job to welcome him also.”

Turks and Muslims grow up on this story. They refer to any stranger or unknown person as a “guest of God.” I was happy that Joy Anna reminded me.

Before I set up my tent in the garden, I left my backpack at the side of the mosque and walked Joy Anna out to the main road where I waited with her for a dolmus to take her back to Kusadasi. One came along after a few minutes, and I said goodbye to her as she boarded. Then I walked back alone to the mosque to set up my tent.