The next morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Before packing up I sat and watched the sunrise. This had been one of my favorite campsites so far, mostly because it had been so quiet during the night, only about one car on the road every ten minutes, and I was able to sleep well.

I had seen on the map that I was headed for a lake called Altinapa that day. I figured I would end the day at the lake and camp there for the night, continuing into Konya the next day. But when I got there I found Altinapa was a work-only reservoir supplying water for the city of Konya (approx population 1 million). It was surrounded by a barbed wire fence.

Then I decided that I’d better try to get to Konya in one day rather than the two I had planned. To continue the descent into Konya I had to climb back out of Altinapa. The climb was on a traffic-friendly road—two-lanes in each direction. But it was very steep with no shoulder on the side where I walked. So I had a choice—1) either cross the road and walk up the hill on the other side with my back to the traffic, breathing the exhaust fumes of slow trucks as they labored past me up the hill, or 2) I could walk facing the traffic on the side with no shoulder. There was a guard rail on that side with a twelve inch ledge I could walk on but the ledge dropped off into a canyon. I chose to walk on the ledge. Then I climbed precariously uphill, one foot ahead of the other, holding desperately to the guard rail on the ledge while balancing with my backpack. On one side, the on-coming traffic screamed past me down toward the lake and on the other side a steep ravine threatened to swallow me. Also, I was tired and thirsty and hadn’t eaten real food for a couple of days. But there was no way I could stop.

While I balanced along that ledge, I thought of this one woman who was following my walk on Facebook, ecstatic for me that I had seven months of walking across this beautiful country that she, also, had “vacationed” in. Hers was the Turkey of Blue Tour Cruises, beautiful bays, crystal clear water, snorkling, beautiful mountains, Izmir, ancient churches and mosques. And here I was hot, sweaty, starved, and thirsty, trying not to lose my balance while treading on a precipice at the edge of a busy highway. I was very cranky about then and wanted to shout at her, Woman, you do not understand. I am not on vacation here. My experience of Turkey is completely different from anything you imagine!

But I did make it to the top of the ridge. The shoulder began to widen out a little, and I started to calm down as I crested the ridge and began a nice wide descent into Konya.

Toward the end of the descent I rounded a curve and a view of the city of Konya opened up. The sight of this city that contained a population of one million people overwhelmed me! I used to think a city of this size was just one small part of a larger city. Now a million is a sprawling megalopolis. I’ve become such a hick!

By the time I entered Konya I felt I could go no further until I found some water and hopefully some food. I also had an urgent need for a bathroom since it was no longer appropriate to pull off the road and use the nearest tree.

I stopped at the very first fountain I could find and filled up my water bottle. Then I rested a bit, sitting on my backpack and drinking my water. I thought, Thank God! I had reached Konya and the walk was one-third over. While I was sitting on my pack drinking my water, a car stopped by the side of the road and a family got out. One of them was holding a plastic bag, and they began routing through their trunk for some food, probably for me. Then they came over to where I sat, greeted me with smiles, and handed me the plastic bag now filled with semi-rotten fruit. It was the first food I’d seen in a while!

I rummaged through that bag and ate every morsel of whatever I could find that was least rotten. That fruit—God bless them!—got me far enough into the city where I could get some more substantial fare.

God knows what I must have looked like and smelled like to the family who stopped. I’m sure I was white and stiff-lipped like I get around the mouth from fatigue and hunger. Also, I had not showered for several days, was just coming out of the rain, and had been stuffing wet wool into my pack.

I made it into town and found a mosque where I could use the bathroom. Then I found a bakkal where I stocked up on some snacks and hopped a bus to the city center where I got myself a room at the Ogretmen Evi. I had a room to myself but a shared shower.

I stripped off my clothes, wrapped myself in a towel, and took a long, hot shower, my first shower since Beyhsehir. The hot water cascading down over me made me feel happy.

I didn’t know how really bad I’d smelled until I walked back into my room! It was horrible. It smelled like a wet yeti in there. I’d stuffed my sweat-soaked, rain-soaked wool clothes and underwear back into my backpack where they had been heating themselves up for a few days.

Konya, the home of Rumi and the whirling dervishes and many other famous spots, is both a religious and tourist center of the Middle East. I had planned to spend a couple of days touring around. But that is not what happened. As soon as I smelled that backpack and its contents I picked up my phone and called a friend in Istanbul.

“Hey,” I said to her. “I’m coming to Istanbul tomorrow. Are you there? I would like to come and visit.” I did need to go to Istanbul anyway to get paperwork started for my visa. I might as well go a little early and do some laundry.

She said she was there and that was fine.

I hung up the phone. Now I was clean and my city clothes were reasonably clean though my backpack smelled like hell. So I walked out into the town to finally get myself some real food at about 7:30 p.m. I was really going to feast! But I found every place closed for the religious holiday, not just the restaurants but the bakkals were closed too. I walked around for awhile and finally found one market that was open. They didn’t have much supply left but I found some salami, a carton of yogurt and a loaf of white bread and paid for it, feeling like I had food fit for a king. Then I walked back to the Ogretmen Evi, sat cross-legged on my bed, and stuffed myself with salami, using pieces of bread to scoop the yogurt out of the carton.

Tuesday, 23 October

After four days at the hotel in Beysehir I was eager to get moving again. I felt the familiar pang of leaving what had become comfortable and familiar behind, but I was starting to realize that the feeling was not going to go away, and that my aim should not be to make it go away, but to find it within myself to keep moving forward anyway. I pulled on my pack, said goodbye to the hotel staff, and hit the road.

The walk to Sarikoy went pretty pretty quickly as there were no places along the way to stop and rest, have a cup of tea or chat with the locals. So I rolled into Sarikoy more than an hour earlier than usual and looked forward to a relaxed search for a place to stay that night.

The village was set back from the road a few hundred meters, so I asked a family down at the road if the village had a bakkal. I asked in part because I was looking for food and water, but also because I preferred to let the locals direct me into a village that was off the main road, rather than entering the village on my own without permission.

The answer to my question was “No, there is no bakkal. We buy everything at the carsi.” Carsi is a broad word meaning market, or bazaar, or sometimes even the commercial center of a town. It’s one of those words that means a great deal to the locals, and absolutely nothing to everyone else. So “we buy everything at the carsi” was not helpful information for me.

This was a pretty small village, maybe only a few hundred people. So I thought maybe there really was no bakkal, but I asked again: Is there a bakkal? I added that I was just looking for water (I held up my empty water bottle) and a little food, thinking maybe they’d offer to fill my bottle or hand me a piece of fruit or something.

No such luck, but this time the older woman in the group spoke up and said that there was, in fact, a bakkal but it was closed and would not open for another hour and a half.

This was unusual. There were times I’d walked into a particularly small village in which the one bakkal was not open all day. But whenever that had happened, another villager, usually a young boy, ran over to pull the bakkal owner back to work.

The woman pointed to the center of the village, off the main road and up the hill a few blocks, so I started walking up that way. I stopped at the mosque to rest up a bit and wait a half-hour until the bakkal opened. After only 20 minutes hanging out at the mosque, I decided to walk up to the bakkal anyway.

I shouldered my pack and walked out onto the street, almost getting knocked over by a small boy and girl chasing each other around the village. They stopped dead in their tracks, mouths wide open, staring up at the giant humpbacked stranger walking through their village. Some older boys nearby laughed at the little kids’ shocked expressions. I greeted the older boys and asked if there was a bakkal nearby. They said, “Of course, there’s one just up the street, follow us.”

We got to the bakkal, which was open and had been all day. It was attended by a 35-year-old man named Fatih. I asked Fatih bey if there was any water, a softball question if ever there was one — I have never seen a bakkal that did not sell water. However, Fatih bey said no, we don’t sell any water, we all get our water from the town’s fountains.

I bought a loaf of bread and a small carton of yogurt and asked Fatih bey if there was a place I could sit and eat. He pulled a carton of sugar cubes out from under one of the shelves, dusted it off, and indicated I could sit on it. I did so, and, after offering Fatih bey some of my white bread and yogurt (which he declined), I dug into my lunch.

While I ate I talked to Fatih bey about life in the village. He was from the village, the only child of his family left after all the other brothers and sisters had moved away to the nearby cities. He was married, had a couple kids, and was looking forward to celebrating the upcoming holiday, Kurban bayrami, with friends and family. I asked him some questions about slaughtering the sheep but I couldn’t understand his accent very well and so had no idea what he said when we talked about anything but the most familiar and well-worn subjects.

Fatih told me numerous times he liked village life, that it was quiet and relaxed, not noisy and stressful like life in the cities. I asked him how business was at the bakkal. He said the bakkal wasn’t doing very well. I was not surprised, given that some of his fellow villagers were barely acknowledging it existed, and when they did they thought it was closed when actually it wasn’t.

When I finished my loaf of bread and carton of yogurt, Fatih bey cut off a piece of homemade helva stored in the glass counter and gave it to me. I savored it and wished for more but didn’t want to be greedy.

At this point I usually went for “the ask,” that time in the conversation when I directly asked if there was a place in town where I could camp for the night. Everything was in my pack, I said. Tent, sleeping bag, everything. All I needed was a place to lay it out — a mosque garden, an empty room, whatever.

Fatih bey said, “No, unfortunately, probably not here in this village. We are too small. Our mosque does not have a garden, and there is no school or park.” Fatih bey suggested I walk up the road a few kilometers, where I would find a gas station and a rest area to camp in. When people said no to me, the most common thing they cited was their village’s lack of facilities. I wanted to counter that if they had seen some of the places I had considered acceptable places to sleep, they’d be amazed. A hard tile floor in the corner of a gas station’s office. A spare, unlit storage room. A dirty orchard on the side of the road.

But by now I realized that none of this information would change what they had to say. They were not saying no because of the reasons they gave, they were saying no because of something else, and that something else quite likely had absolutely nothing to do with me.

In the earlier days of this trip I thought the results of my requests for a place to stay were driven by my approach: in the way I asked, in who I asked. When I began to realize the results had little to do with me, I thought maybe they had to do with the venue — was there a patch of grass somewhere, for example? But for every place that had turned me away for not having a patch of grass, a place without a patch of grass had welcomed me warmly.

So then I thought maybe it was the size of the village. Maybe a village that couldn’t support a bakkal couldn’t support visitors. But for every tiny village that couldn’t support a bakkal and had turned me away, another tiny village that couldn’t support a bakkal had taken me in.

Every time I thought I was starting to see a pattern, I realized there was also data to refute it.

At the beginning of each day, I didn’t know what the end of the day would hold in store for me. In fact, at 3 p.m., when I typically walked into that day’s intended destination village, I had no idea what kind of reception I would get. I had been shown to the imam’s living room. I had been shown to the town’s vehicle maintenance yard. I had been shown to the mayor’s office. I had been shown to the mosque garden. I had been shown to the hard-tiled floor of a gas station’s office. I had been shown to a cheap hotel. And sometimes, once or twice a week, I was kindly shown the exit. And almost none of it had anything to do with me.

I stood up, thanked Fatih Bey for the chat, pulled on my pack, and walked back out to the main road so I could cover those next few kilometers before dark. When I arrived at the station Fatih Bey had mentioned, I looked around, decided I didn’t like it, saw that I had about 45 minutes left before the sun sank behind the trees, and continued around the bend where I could look for a campsite off the side of the road. I wanted to breathe the crisp air and look at the stars as I fell asleep.

Friday, 18 October

I woke up the next morning with the sun streaming into my room, and I got out of bed to look out the window and check out the surroundings which I hadn’t been able to see when I arrived well after dark the previous evening.
When I had checked in, the manager apologized that he was short on available rooms, and asked if I’d be okay with him upgrading me to a suite at the regular dorm room price. My room was larger than any house or apartment I had lived in before. It had beds I wouldn’t even need to use, and couches I’d probably never sit in. And to think that a mere 24 hours earlier I had woken up in the dirt in an abandoned pear orchard!

I walked over to the balcony doors and flung them open to let the breeze from Lake Beysehir blow over my face. My room looked out to the west over the lake, and I could see the hills on the other side.

I began to get dressed to go downstairs for the hotel breakfast. I was starved! After breakfast I planned to go out and scout around for some supplies, and then I would hurry back and relax in the room and take in the surrounding scenery while handling some administrative details—emails, photos, and the like.

But suddenly I doubled over. An old familiar piercing cramp began to grip my abdomen. I had felt these every couple years since my mid-20s, and I knew I would be completely disabled on the floor for three or four days beginning right now, and then they would go away as if nothing had ever happened. It was a good thing I’d followed the premonition that I should walk a two days’ journey in one day and get to Beysehir. I definitely wouldn’t want to have these cramps while on the road. I’d probably be lying on my back next to the road somewhere.

So, though I had one of the most amazing locations of any hotel, I spent most of those four days in Beysehir writhing on my back on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, groaning. The staff at the hotel were very good to me during this time, taking pity on this strange tall skinny American who had thought he’d walk across their country, and now just over a quarter of the way through, lay flat on his back on the floor of his suite groaning day after day. They brought me food and drink when they could and drove me to the pharmacy so I could get medication.

I was at a low point. I was ready to quit and do something else. My online followers began writing me after a day or two wondering where I was. They told me where they were and what they were doing. One was doing a spoken-word performance. My dad was was planting a garden in his backyard. My brother and his wife were going to have a baby. What was I doing? Lying on the floor hoping my insides would get moving again, so I could get rid of whatever was causing this cramp. I hadn’t even been able to get to the window to enjoy the sunset over the lake.

Not only was I in pain, I was lonely, despondent, and bored with myself. I always got bored with myself. I had a job in Seattle. I got bored and quit. I bought a house in Seattle. I sold it when I was bored with that. I was 42, and I’d done a lot of things. I’d gotten bored with a lot of things. I’d quit a lot of things because I was bored. Now I was seeing the things people got when they pushed through the boredom, and I wanted those things!

I needed help!

I emailed Rory Stuart, a Scottish author who wrote The Places In Between, about his trek across Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and who had been one of my inspirations for doing this walk across Turkey. I asked him what he did during his low moments. He emailed me back right away that day, saying, “During my low moments I found it was important to concentrate on the spaces in between my breaths. Breathe out and then breathe in. Then live in that space. Think of nothing else. Just concentrate on those spaces and let time pass. The bad feelings will pass.” This is what he recommended for me. And that was some of the best advice I ever got.

My breath was very shallow because of the abdominal cramps so I had a lot of spaces to live in. I lay on my back for about three days and each day let them know at the reception desk that I was going to stay one more day.

I used to think it would be a fascinating thing to walk across an entire country. I had followers who thought it was a fascinating thing I was doing, walking across an entire country. Turkey, nonetheless! Not just the US, or England, but Turkey! Behind the scenes, though, it was really boring. I walked, and I looked for places to sleep. Today I was waiting for my bowels to move.

I had 74% of the walk left to go. What would I find there? Now, in the spaces between my breath, I knew that my job—my mission—was to overcome my nature, and to engage in something so boring and tedious that I couldn’t help but want to quit, and to finish it anyway.

I vowed that when these cramps passed in a few days, I would push through whatever boredom came after that, and finish what I had started.

On my last day in Beysehir I began feeling better and hadn’t had cramps for the whole day. I figured that the next day I would start walking again. So I went into town to do some exploring and pick up some winter clothes. It was starting to get pretty cold.

I walked around in some of the markets and found a sweater and a scarf that I could use and then just walked around the market again. I saw a stall with thermal underwear and stopped to buy some. I was ready to leave and then found a wool hat. I figured that might just be the most important purchase I’d made that day. Then I was ready to continue walking the next day.

All that day I felt the old vacillation between wanting to hang on to the comfort I’d had the last few nights and would be having this one last night and the dread of not knowing where I would sleep the night after that and that I had a huge project I needed to get done. The pole between the two was ever-present, even when I was laid up and unable to walk.

So I finished my time in Beysehir,—not a bad place to have fallen sick. It had some friendly, helpful people. There was food nearby. I was staying in a large suite with a nice view. And that evening I did get to watch the sunset. Now it was time to move on.

Tuesday, 16 October

Waking in the morning with a gentle breeze on my face, I lay in my sleeping bag for a long time watching pear leaves shimmer in the early light. All was quiet except for the breeze and an occasional roar of a truck passing on the road. However, I did not like waking up with the feeling that I needed to get out of there before I was discovered.

I reluctantly crawled out of my sleeping bag and took a photo of my tent in the pear orchard. Then I broke camp and walked out to the road where I snapped my daily dedication photo and wrote: “Today is for the village of Horsunlu—a place I never lacked for a place to stay, food to eat, and people to watch over me.”

I reflected as I walked on what had happened to me in the pear orchard between going to bed feeling fearful the night before and waking up not wanting to get out of bed the next morning—in fact, lying nestled in my bag thinking, Oh my God! This place is so beautiful and comfortable I’d like to come back here and stay awhile!

Absolutely nothing had happened, except that eight hours had passed and I had survived. Is that what home is? I wondered. A place where you can be for eight hours without dying or being harmed? Can you start feeling that way anywhere if you are there for eight hours and survive?

I walked the couple of kilometers into Kireli and ate breakfast. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before except for a few rolls of gasoline station cookies, so I relished a breakfast of sucuklu yumurta, a typical Turkish breakfast of eggs fried over easy with sausage mixed in, sopped up with slices of bread. It felt good to get some food in my stomach.

The area where I was walking was still sparsely populated and there was very little road traffic. Today I was walking through another cultivation area–wheat, barley, turnips–and off in the distance there were large tractors, columbines, and equipment out rototilling the land getting it ready for next year’s crops. But there was no one around to say hello to. The farmers off in the distance were too far away to even wave at.

Usually on the highways I saw minibuses running between the villages and cars. And often along the way when someone did pass they would call out to me and ask if I needed a ride somewhere. (Of course, I always said no.) But here I was walking for 30 minutes at a time without seeing a car which was pretty unusual for me.

After a while I came upon a rest stop/cafe where I stopped for a bowl of soup. (Oh, such a bounty of food today!)

There was only one patron there besides myself. I saw row after row of stainless steel chafing dishes, but no food. I asked the lone attendant if they were open. He looked at me with surprise, perhaps not expecting any patrons that day.

“I think there’s some soup in back, let me check,” he said.

He found some soup, heated it up for me, and brought some bread to go with it.

As I sat out on the patio eating the bread and soup and drinking my tea, a retired turnip farmer walked up to my table.

“May I sit down?” he asked.

“Yes, of course.” I motioned to the empty chair across from me.

We made the usual small talk: Hi, how’s it going? Do you live around here? What are you doing? Where are you going?
Then, as casually as he had commented on the weather and had asked me where I was from, he said, “Are you Muslim?”

“No, I am not.”

“Too bad,” he said. “If you were, you could stay here.”

I thought, First, it’s barely noon, and I didn’t ask. Second, if you were a good Muslim, you wouldn’t apply that test.

But instead, I just took the last sip of my tea and said, “Ah.”

My lunch finished, I stood up, wished the farmer a good day, pulled on my pack, and walked back out to the road.

As I walked, I scanned the terrain in front of me. There were very few trees and even fewer bushes, just mile after mile of turnip fields. Dirt and more dirt, on and on. Even the farmers driving faraway combines were gone.

My spirits felt as barren as the land in front of me. Negative thoughts rushed in to fill the void. Since the beginning of the walk, Turks had been telling me that I would find people less welcoming as I moved east. At the moment they seemed to be right.

I thought of the retired turnip farmer, and how he had rejected me.

The self doubt dug deeper. I started wondering, Why am I doing this? It’s pretty pointless. I have only one or two significant experiences each week. Why am I spending three days walking on the side of the road, sleeping in gas stations and pear orchards, to get each one?

I began rebelling against my own golden rule for the walk: Do not judge. Just observe. Stay present.

No, I thought, I don’t want to be present, I don’t want to come out of this. It’s nice and comfortable here in my own mind. I’ll just stay here for a while.

My opposition voice began the self-talk:

No.

You cannot stay in your mind. You have to come out and be present.

In the past few days you have been turned down exactly once for your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), but have been offered places to stay four times.

Yes, people told you it would be dangerous here, that the locals would not be welcoming. But that is not what is happening. So snap to. Stay present.

If that guy had been listening to what God told him, and not to what others had told him God told him, he wouldn’t have considered your religious background relevant to your need for shelter.

I laughed out loud, relieved to see the opposition winning. I was not about to find myself in the middle of a foreign land, engaged in a wrong-headed and fruitless pursuit.

Still, a nagging sense of discomfort had begun to settle in, and I felt the drive to walk further and faster than necessary, to hurry through this area as much as possible.

About two hours after my encounter with the retired turnip farmer, I walked by a family harvesting turnips in a field about 50 meters from the roadside. Feeling the unexplained push to make good time, I kept my head down and tried to walk past. But the father was jumping up and down, waving at me as if meeting me was the single most important thing in his life at that moment. I begrudgingly raised my head to make eye contact and wave back.

The father motioned me over and eagerly introduced himself. His name was Mustafa. He introduced me to his wife, their grown son, and his grandsons Selcuk, whom he was holding in his arms, and Mustafa. The whole family was taking a break from the harvest and having tea as I walked by. They motioned to me to take a break with them.

I pulled off my pack and, since there were no shade trees for miles, took a seat in the sun. I drank the first cup of tea, and then rose to leave, but they insisted I stay for another one. After the second one I rose to leave again, but they insisted I stay for a third. After the third glass of tea, I rose again and insisted that I really must go. They relented, but asked if we could take some photos together before I left. After a couple photos I pulled on my pack and walked back out to the road to continue my walk, leaving the family behind to return to their harvest.

While drinking tea with the family, I had started having a premonition that I should go all the way to Beysehir that day. Beysehir was at the southern edge of the lake, and hadn’t begun to appear in front of me yet. But by the time I got back out to the road, the casual, fleeting thought of “I should go to Beysehir today” had turned into a driving premonition I could not explain nor ignore, so I sped up.

It wasn’t easy trying to speed along this section as the road surface was rough and the rocks in the pavement were sharp. I mused that when you are driving in a car, the shape of the road’s rocks is almost insignificant, but it is very relevant when you are walking.

After two more hours of walking, I noticed that the sun was hanging low in the sky, and my feet were hurting from hours of walking on the sharp rocks. I saw Beysehir in the distance and estimated that it was an hour away. An hour later it still looked an hour away. Is it possible, I asked myself, for a whole city to pick up and recede into the distance? I thought back to my first days on the plateau, when I was still getting used to the new scale of things. This was even worse!

Shortly after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I reached the edge of Beysehir. The city’s population was only about 40,000, but with my new standards a city like that seemed large and sprawling like New York used to seem. Walking through the industrial suburbs seemed to take hours. I grew nervous as the sky grew darker, and my hips and back, unaccustomed to the day’s extra miles, began to cramp. My feet ached from the afternoon of walking on sharp rocks, and more and more of the cars were using their headlights.

A large truck pulled to a stop alongside me. Four crew members, apparently construction workers just off their shift, sat crammed into the cab. They seemed really excited to see me. They opened the door and one of the crew hurried over to me with a bag of red apples. He handed me the bag, gave me a quick handshake, and then hurried back to the truck.

I continued into the city, eating apples in the dark.

I walked up to the first relatively cheap motel I saw and asked if they had any rooms available. They were closed for renovation, but the owner began to call around to find a place for me. Because of the upcoming holiday, Kurban bayram, most of the hotels were already full.

Finally he found one with an available room, the Ogretmen Evi (Teacher’s House). I told him I wasn’t a teacher, would that be a problem? He shook his head and said he didn’t think so, but it was across town, would I like a ride over there? I could barely stand, and wanted to cry, my hips and back still cramping from the day’s double walk.

“Yes, thank you,” I said to the offer.

Monday, 15 October

Then bright and early Monday morning, 15 October, I took a bus from the lake back to Sarkikaraagac and began walking again.

I’d gotten a late start. After a few hours it began to get dark, and I realized I wasn’t going to make it to Kireli, the village I’d hoped to reach that day.

I thought to myself, I’ve stayed in many places so far, but I haven’t camped, uninvited, on private land yet, and that’s an important hobo skill, so I should learn it sometime, and now is as good a time as any.

So I started eyeballing the land immediately to the sides of the road.

Off to the right was a large flat field planted with ground crops of wheat and barley. Nope, I thought, no good, nothing to hide me from drivers passing by on the road.

On the left side I saw a dense row of tall poplar trees used as windbreaks for an abandoned pear orchard. There were tractors working the adjacent fields but none in the pear orchard, and the poplars would hide me from anyone traveling on the road.

I still felt a little fearful, not so much of robbers or some other bad guys, but mainly that the farmers might see me camping on the property unannounced, and might not be welcoming. But I figured, Well, you’re going to have to get over this sometime. May as well do it now.

I pushed through the brush underneath the poplars, and sat down out of sight of the road. The nearby farmers would be able to see me though, so I stayed motionless so as not to attract their attention. I sat like that for about an hour, until the last tractor had left for the evening, and then I set up my camp in the falling darkness.

Once camp was set up, there was nothing else to do and it was cold outside so I lay in my bag. Since it was my first night sleeping on private property, I was kind of paranoid that someone was going to notice me there or that the police would come by. No one bothered me though, and I fell into a deep sleep.

Friday, 12 October

The next day I woke up early, packed up my stuff, and took a look around the room. Eight hours ago I hadn’t wanted to touch the floor or sit on the couch, but that dark, dingy place had become a safe home to me in a very short time. I recognized the feeling, sighed, and pulled on my pack anyway.

The muhtar was not yet up. The administrative building was deserted, as was the teahouse I’d been in the night before. Across the street, however, was another teahouse filled with the village’s retired farmers who now worked at solving world problems over countless early morning cups of tea. I walked over to them to say goodbye and they wouldn’t let me go without sitting down and joining them for tea and simit.

After I had breakfast and chatted with them a bit I took a picture of myself with them and walked back out to the main road.

East of Bahtiyar, the terrain was much different from that of the previous days. The hilly apple growing region that reminded me of eastern Washington had given way to sparsely populated, wide-open land better for sheep grazing.

After a few kilometers I felt my mood begin to plummet for no reason I could come up with. I thought back to previous weeks when I’d walked through barren, wide-open lands similar to this and remembered the mood swings I’d experienced then, as well. I’d start feeling depressed, exposed, isolated, and vulnerable.

Then my mind started to play games with me. I began to second-guess myself, asking myself inanely if there really was a pattern of mood-swing in the barrens, or if my brain was playing tricks on me, seeing a pattern where one didn’t really exist.

I finally forced myself to give up on that debate, telling myself, You’ll never be able to figure that out. Just shut up and walk.

A few hours later I began going through an even drier, more deserted area. I’d long since run out of food and water. I hadn’t seen a car for miles, and there wasn’t a building or person in sight. Suddenly a cyclist on a mountain bike sped up behind me. I hadn’t seen or heard him coming even though the terrain was wide open and all was silent. He was pedaling strangely fast for an uphill grade, using one of his lowest gears. I could see at once from my years in the Far East that he was Korean. He carried no baggage on his bicycle, so he had no tent or sleeping bag, and I had seen no tourists or cycling groups around, so there would be no nearby sag wagon carrying his equipment. No, this was just a lone Korean traveler out here in the barrens carrying nothing. He didn’t say hello or acknowledge me in any way. We made no eye contact. I’d looked over when I felt someone behind me, was surprised to see him, and boom he was gone a few seconds later.

Recognizing that I might be in one of my hypoglycemic fogs and not completely coherent, I told myself that maybe the Korean bicyclist hadn’t been real, maybe I had hallucinated him. But then I remembered the Polish guys from the second day, and how shocked I had been to realize there were others out there, and I thought, Well, maybe he was real.

But then I told myself, again, You won’t be able to figure that out, either. Just shut up and walk.

I finally saw a gas station ahead and went straight for the market, trying not to look too desperately crazed as I eyeballed the shelves filled with crackers and cookies. I wanted to dive in and devour everything in sight. After buying the snacks I went outside to a little gazebo to sit in the shade and drink my water and eat my crackers.

I eagerly made small talk with a couple of attendants while I ate, the only people I’d seen all day except for the retired farmers in Bahtiyar that morning, and possibly a Korean on a bicycle later on.

The attendants invited me to stay at the station for the night, but it was only 3:30 in the afternoon, a little too early. I finished my snacks, pulled my pack back on, and walked back out to the main road.

I briefly thought back to the beginning of the walk, when I wondered what secret handshake the Poles were using to get invitations to sleep at gas stations. Now I was turning down invitations. There was no secret handshake after all.

When I got to Sarkikaraagac I walked straight to the city center and hopped a bus back to Lake Egirdir. After the strangeness of the previous days, I needed a weekend of relaxing by the lake, listening to the waves lap against the rocks, feeling the breeze from the lake blow across my face. I wanted to hear the noise of the tourists traipsing in and out. I wanted to hear the soldiers’ coarse laughter as they joked with the women. Most of all I wanted to bask in the warm hospitality of Ibrahim and Carla.

Toward the end of the day I approached Bahtiyar which has a population of 1,500 to 2,000 people. It was about ¾ mile off the main road and up a hill so it would be a little walk yet.

One of the first things I ran into at the edge of the village was a middle school. Once again the yard was filled with kids. But instead of innocent second graders, a mob of 12-year-old boys ran over to meet me. I don’t particularly like being surrounded by large groups of young pre-teen boys. They are often the most unpredictable of groups. I never knew whether they had — have they learned manners yet or not?.

However this group was very friendly. So after a couple of minutes of walking amongst them my paranoia began to relax. I asked the boys if there was a bakkal in the village. They said yes, but it was up the hill a bit in the center of the village. They were happy to escort me there. As we walked they eyed my pockets and my pack, and I started to feel nervous, exposed and vulnerable, but I told myself that they were just curious, not greedy or covetous like the kids back in Germencik. I reminded myself how wrong the school principal had been about me that morning, and how I had wanted him to give me the benefit of the doubt, so I would need to do the same for these boys now. As we walked, I let them pull in tighter and continue eyeing my pockets and pack.

The boys led me up the hill to the village center where there was a bakkal and a kahvehanesi (coffee house). Before I could make it to the bakkal, though, the village elders waved me into the kahvehanesi.

They waved the kids away, and I walked up a small flight of stairs and sat on the porch with them. One of them was the father of the muhtar (the village mayor), so I silently thanked the boys for bringing me to the right place.
The village elders invited me to take off my pack and sit down and have some tea with them. I was physically very tired from the day’s walk and emotionally drained from the morning’s social activities, but I smiled and did as I was told.

They asked me where I was from, where I was going, why I was walking, etc. I asked them a bit about the village.

They told me its population was about 1,000. That’s about what I had figured, since I had spotted two bakkals.

They asked where I stayed on my trip, and I told them — gas stations, mosque gardens, public parks, wherever I could find a spot. They volunteered that I should stay there in the village that night. I was happy to have an important order of business already taken care of, and it was barely 4pm!

After a bit more small talk I asked if I could rest a bit. They said of course, and showed me to a table inside the kahvehanesi. I thanked them and sat down, but what I really wanted was a quiet place where I could lie down for a while and close my eyes.

A few minutes later I got my wish when a young man in his late 20s named Mehmet came over to my table. Mehmet and I had met a few minutes earlier when I was sitting out on the porch. Mehmet told me to come with him, I could rest at his house and then have dinner before coming back to the village. Mehmet and I left the kahvehanesi, the two of us walking down the road towards the edge of the village. I had only met Mehmet a few minutes before, but here in Turkey I often followed strangers into unfamiliar situations I barely understood. When I got nervous I reminded myself of two things: one, that the best experiences I’ve had have came from situations I didn’t understand, and two, that beggars can’t be choosers.

While we were walking, Mehmet volunteered that he had gotten married a mere month ago.

I asked him how he met his wife. Since it was a small village, I supposed he would tell me she was from the village too.

“I met her on Facebook,” Mehmet said. “She is from Turkey, but she goes to school in France.”

“Interesting. What does she study?”

Mehmet ignored my question. “I plan to move to France soon too,” he said. “I currently work as a sous chef in Antalya, and I can probably continue that kind of work in France, too.”

Mehmet’s home was about one kilometer (one-half mile) beyond the tea house, at the edge of the village. His front yard, which was packed dirt, contained a little wooden shed with some farming tools in it. A goat stood tethered to a tree by a rope around its neck.

Like the houses in most Turkish villages, Mehmet’s was made of cement and unpainted. It would be considered rustic by urban standards, but was quite normal for a small village. It didn’t really look like a home until you got inside the living area.

I took off my shoes when we got inside. Mehmet mentioned that his father had passed away, so now it was just him, his wife, and his mom in the house. Mehmet said a few words to a woman in one of the other rooms.
“Who is that?” I asked.

“That’s my wife,” Mehmet told me.

I had assumed she would be in France, and Mehmet probably noticed the quizzical look on my face.

“She’s home from school on break,” he continued. We walked through the living area and up the stairs to the guest bedroom.

“We are preparing dinner down in the kitchen, so why don’t you lie down and take a little rest here” he said.

I thanked him and lay down on the bed. The room was quiet and the bed comfortable, but there was no heat in that part of the house. Since I was still sweaty from walking with my pack all day, I quickly became cold. But still it felt very good to be lying on that bed in a quiet room.

After about twenty minutes Mehmet came back up to escort me downstairs for dinner in the living quarters. The living quarters were nicely heated, the walls painted, and the furniture nicely upholstered. My stomach began rumbling at the aroma from whatever his wife was cooking. Mehmet and I sat in the living room watching TV in our socks.

Soon his wife came in with a big tray of food that she set on the floor. The three of us sat around on the floor eating rural Turkish style.

Mehmet mentioned that he and his wife were big fans of Nutella, and he pointed to a big jar of the stuff sitting in the center of the tray. We had a Nutella- dipped dinner, smothered everything in Nutella, even the pickles.

I wanted to plow into that food as if there was no tomorrow, since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous morning. But I tried to show restraint, watching my hosts closely so I could match their pace and not eat all the food myself.

After dinner Mehmet’s wife cleared the tray while Mehmet and I sat in the living room digesting our food, drinking tea and coffee and watching TV. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to stay for night at that house or not and I didn’t ask. I had learned that inhabitants of these small villages, especially the farmers, didn’t try to control things as much as I did. If I started asking specific questions like Where am I going to stay? What are we going to do next? they usually just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh, I don’t know; we’ll see.” I was learning that this didn’t mean they weren’t going to take care of me, I just needed to relax and trust everything would be okay.

A few minutes later, during one of the commercials, Mehmet stood up abruptly and said, “Let’s go back to the village.” I stood up and asked if I should bring my pack and he said, “Yes, bring your pack with you.” We put our shoes on and I put my pack back on. I said goodbye to his wife and thanked her for the dinner. Then he and I walked back into town to the kahvehanesi.

At the kahvehanesi the big event of the evening was back to back episodes of Kurtlar Vadisi (“Valley of the Wolves”), a popular Turkish action television show, essentially a Chuck Norris-style shoot-em-up where the tough-guy star chases after the bad guys and periodically knocks his less-disciplined underlings into line.

Before the start of the shows, Mehmet and I watched a few backgammon games and he and the others introduced me around to the people I didn’t know yet. Mehmet mentioned to me that the US was trying to push Turkey into war with Syria, but something in my face must have said I didn’t want to talk politics, and he immediately dropped the subject without saying another word.

The TV shows started and we all gathered around the set. Around the end of the first episode, the village muhtar decided it was time to supply me with a home for the evening. He walked over to my table and introduced himself and, after making sure my passport and visa were all in order, he told me to come with him. So I said goodbye to everyone and thanked them for their hospitality and I left the teahouse with the muhtar. He took me next door to the administrative building where they had a spare room they had planned to put me in for the night. Before showing me to my room, the muhtar needed to take care of a little administrative business with one of the other residents, a villager who was buying a piece of property and needed to register his deed.

I sat in the muhtar’s office while he did his paperwork, and when he finished he signaled for me to follow him.

We went out to the guest room where they planned to put me up for the night. It was a little on the dingy side with a couch that was a little too grimy to sit on and a rug that was a little too greasy to touch. A dim light bulb dangled from the ceiling.

Beggars can’t be choosers, I reminded myself, as I smiled and thanked the muhtar for his hospitality. I set up my tent, so there would be some fabric between me and the rug, then used the nearby outhouse and turned in for the night.

The next morning I walked out of Gelendost in the rain, which stopped after a few kilometers down the road when I entered a small village of about 1,500 people. On my left as I entered the village was a school where a bunch of little kids were outside doing their morning jumping jacks. A wave of excitement spread through the crowd as the kids spied a foreigner with a backpack coming their way. Calls of “hello, hello” began in heavily accented English.

Two girls ran out to greet me and invited me to join them for the exercises. I looked around for a teacher but the children seemed unsupervised. Maybe the teacher had gone inside for a minute or two and would be returning, I thought. I decided to enter the schoolyard and find the teacher to see if I might offer my assistance by joining them all in some exercises or helping out in the classroom for a while as a novelty for the students.

The two girls who had called out to me gasped and began giggling when they saw that I was turning toward the schoolyard. Their classmates, jumping jacks forgotten, stampeded to the fence and ran alongside it screaming and cheering as I neared the gate.

When I walked through the gate into the schoolyard, an older man, who introduced himself as the principal, intercepted me. He had come out into the yard to see what the commotion was all about.

He greeted me and said, “Why don’t you come inside and we’ll have a cup of tea.” I knew he didn’t want me to get the kids any more riled up then they already were.

I accepted his invitation, happy to avoid the tidal wave of excitement building amongst the students. The principal walked me up a flight of stairs to his office in the administration building and gestured for me to sit in a chair across the desk from him. A massive portrait of Ataturk rose high like a shrine on the wall behind him. Next to the portrait hung several framed Ataturk quotes. I was not surprised, since nearly all public offices and most private offices contained such shrines to Ataturk. Ataturk was the icon for secularism in Turkey. Also, he had a reputation for being open to the outside world and for being an open-minded leader. So I thought, If this principal worships Ataturk so much, then I’m probably on friendly ground here and he is probably fairly open minded even though this this is a smaller village.

The principal initiated the small talk:

“Where are you going?”

“I am going to Van,” I answered, “but first I will go through Konya. Have you been to Konya?”

“It is a nice city, but there are too many religious fundamentalists there.”

He turned and pointed to the portrait of Ataturk. “Are you familiar with the works of Ataturk?” he asked.

“Yes, of course. He was a great man.”

“Yes, he was. Where are you from?”

“I am from the USA.”

“I don’t like Americans. They are killers.”

I hadn’t been called a killer before. I bit my lip and reminded myself to be patient.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, they kill Palestinians, they kill Iraqi’s, they kill each other.”

I didn’t want to make any more of an enemy than I already had, so I tried to steer the conversation to more neutral subjects.

“So how far is Konya from here?” I asked.

Disregarding my attempt to steer the conversation to more neutral subjects, he continued his tirade against all things American or foreign.

Then, without skipping a beat, he mentioned that things were kind of difficult at the school right now.

“And why is that?” I asked.

He told me that he’d just lost his English teacher.

Gee, I wonder why, I thought to myself. But instead I just nodded and looked concerned.

“I want to continue language education for the students,” he continued.

I did some quick mental calculations and thought Well, I have some flexibility in my schedule. So I said, “Well, if you need a teacher I’d be happy to come back here and help out for a couple of weeks while you get a replacement.”

He said, “Thank you very much for the offer, but you are not welcome at this school. You are American, and you would be a bad influence on the children. Besides, the community would not be happy with me for hiring a killer.”

My offer of assistance refused, and having been told by this man that he did not like my kind, that we were haters and killers, I thanked him, wrapped up the conversation, and took my leave. Besides, it was starting to get noisy out in the hall, and a few of the children were starting to knock on the door and trying to find excuses to come in. At that, the principal escorted me to the school gate and we said our goodbyes. I never got to play with the children.

I walked further into the village for about ten minutes and spotted a group of middle aged men sitting at a teahouse across the street. They waved me over. I crossed the street, said hello, and pulled off my pack. The men were busy discussing the plight of the world. When I sat down, the conversation turned to which recent US presidents were Jews.

“George W. Bush, was he a Jew?” they asked me.

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

“Obama, he’s definitely a Jew.”

“Okay, if you say so,” I replied. “I didn’t know that.”

“Clinton, though, he wasn’t a Jew.”

“Okay, good to know.”

God, the people in this town are racist bastards, I thought to myself.

I had only been sitting for a few moments but I was already finished with this conversation. I put down my tea and started to look around.

I spotted a barbershop next to the teahouse. Inside was a barber cutting someone’s hair and giving him a shave. I stood up and said hello. They asked me to take a picture of them. I obliged, and then shook hands with the men at the teahouse, pulled on my pack, waved goodbye to the men in the barbershop, and walked towards the edge of the village.

Man, bigotry does not have a profile, I thought to myself. Young, old, secular, religious, educated, not educated, I have no idea when I meet a person what their views of the world are. Remember, Matt, prejudice does not have a profile, and if you ever think it does, you are probably the one being prejudiced.

A few kilometers later, a farmer harvesting vegetables in his field called out to me. I walked over and shook his hand. He handed me a squash. I thanked him, walked back out to the road, and continued my walk, this time carrying a squash this time.

I didn’t have a knife or any utensils, and there weren’t any gas stations outside the villages in this area, so when I reached a bend in the road, I hid behind a tree and disposed of the squash.

Monday and Tuesday, 8/9 October 2012

I enjoyed the pension so much that I threw for several days when my week’s stay was finished. That is, I would do a day’s walk and come back by bus to the pension at the end of the day and spend the night. The next day I would take the bus back to where I ended the previous day, do a day of walking from there, then come back again to the pension by bus and spend the night.

I felt like I should be leaving Egirdir behind, though. The old struggle was back–moving on from people I knew and from places where I felt at home. It wasn’t that I thought it was wrong to enjoy the scenery, to sleep by the lake, to sit on the deck at Charly’s, but that the resistance to staying in the present, meeting new people, dealing with new situations was back. I found myself very uncomfortable with never having closure. Too many of questions were opened but almost none were ever closed.

But I had a job to do. The job was to walk across the country. It wasn’t to get attached to things.

When I finally pushed myself out of the village of Egirdir that Monday, I found the scenery on the eastern side of the lake amazing, much like northern Wenatchee along the Columbia River in Washington, country that was indeed home to me. As I walked down the narrow two lane road above the lake I passed apple orchards and exquisite views of the lake. A huge apple harvest was going on and many workers were out in the field picking their apples. Most of the trees in the orchards of that area are trained up haphazardly but every once in awhile I ran into a farm that had obviously been trained very carefully. I stopped to take photos of these for my dad.

I ate apples and drank tea with a family of farmers along the way who waved me over to them. I still grappled with the tendency to stereotype people even after a month on the road. From the parts of my mind that I tried to keep most hidden, pictures of farmers as hicks sprang out, no matter that I myself came from a long line of farmers. As we drank our tea together, I asked them about their family, none of whom were hicks. One of the sons lived in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. He was a nurse. Another of the children, a university student, was home on break helping with the harvest. I appreciated their gentility and their pride in their family and their farm. I was still learning.

Most of the time that day I just walked, gazing out over the lake on one side and orchards on the other, then on up into rocky bluffs beyond. The sky was crystal clear and the lake bright blue. Many days on the walk were like this, and I always asked myself how I got so lucky. Today, walking above the lake was one of those days.

At one point I pulled off to the side of the road and turned to look back, somewhat yearningly, at where I’d been—where I’d slept by this lake listening to these waves outside my tent. There, perched on the ledge overlooking the lake, I felt very much at home.

Then, beginning to feel akin to Lot’s wife who morphed into a pillar of salt while turning to gaze backward, I jumped up and started walking again. Lake Egirdir is pretty large so it took me a couple of days to get out of the area.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Road to Gelendost

On the morning of 10 October, I finally packed up, boarded the dolmus and rode away from Charly’s Pansiyon. At the Sariidris turnoff I got off the dolmus and started walking to Gelendost. Here the road began turning east away from the lake and the scenery began to change from Wenatchee-type orchards to packing sheds and cold storage plants.
There were still a few orchards but not as many. Most of the apples came from the orchards planted around the lake and were then transferred to Gelendost for cold storage and packing.

Along the way a number of the workers from the packing and cold storage places gave me apples.

Also that day I ran into a speed trap. Not that I was speeding. Hah, hah. The cops running the speed trap were sitting around drinking tea and invited me to join them. My favorite one, Officer Fatih bey, was an especially big jokester who got a kick out of giving me a hard time. He kidded me about walking too slowly, or my pack being too heavy, or I wasn’t a real man—the basic man teasing man sort of thing. While we drank our tea Fatih bey and another cop jumped in their police car to chase after a Kontor bus whizzing by—with Fatih bey muttering how much he disliked Kontor.

I had a couple cups of tea with them, ate an apple, and then they gave me more apples to take with me before I headed out. Later, they passed me on the road and honked and waved.

I stopped and visited a few apple storage places and took pictures of their forklifts and packing areas for my dad. I began nearing the end of my miles for the day and thought I’d scout out the packing sheds for a place to stay. They seemed too busy with the harvest still, so I didn’t want to bother them. Also, I wasn’t seeing any gas stations along the way with grassy areas to camp in. I decided I’d probably have to find a cheap motel in Gelendost.

Once I got to Gelendost I stopped and had tea with the guys at the municipal checkpoint (checking to make sure dolmuses are paying their fees, etc). I made plans with Sedat, one of the guys at the checkpoint, to stop by the same place on my way out of town in the morning so he could give me a bag of apples. Then I found a cheap motel where I spent my first night away from Charly’s Pansiyon.

I stayed at this pension for over a week, sleeping by the lake, taking showers with hot water every day, doing my laundry, and eating the traditional Turkish breakfast served on the deck—the array of cucumbers, tomatoes, green and black olives, slices of processed meats, boiled eggs; three or four varieties of cheese, including kasar, a smooth textured white cheese like mozzarella; and beyaz panir, a crumbly white cheese. This was accompanied by honey and an assortment of jams with lots of bread to spread them on. If it rained I had the option of sitting inside in the dining room, looking out the bay windows that surrounded the dining room.

One of the things I enjoyed the most during my days at Charly’s was the leisure of sitting on the deck listening to music with my headphones. Through the entire month of September I hadn’t used my headphones. While walking it was important to be aware of my surroundings, and I couldn’t unplug from my environment at all.

I did get an “earworm” that wouldn’t go away for several days while at Egirdir–America’s “Horse With No Name.” I don’t like that song, but the lyrics came out of nowhere, and I let them in because now they felt right:

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name

“It felt good to be out of the rain

“In the desert you can remember your name

“Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”

During my stay I met a number of people passing through the pension, several of them British. One was a woman named Carla, about 60 years old, who stayed at the lake three or four months of the year. Carla had been coming to the lake for years, not as a guest, but paying her way doing odd jobs such as food prep (cutting cutting up cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.), clearing the tables, making beds, and vacuuming. In return Ibrahim allowed her to stay at the pension and eat for free. The rest of the year she would go back to her family in England. Like me, she spoke English and Pidgin Turkish.

Another, a young woman in her late twenties, was passing through Turkey as a Christian missionary, taking buses from one city to the other. She was a born-again Christian.

One day she joined me as I sat in the sun on the deck.

During our conversation she asked me, “What religion are you?”

I said my usual, “I’m a Christian, of course!”

She said, “Do you believe in God?”

I said, “Yes, I believe in God.”

She asked, “Do you believe that Jesus was his divine son?”

I said, “No.”

She said, “Well, then, you are most definitely not a Christian! And you should stop referring to yourself as one.”

I was slightly bemused by that conversation and thought, Well, if I stop referring to myself as Christian then what am I? I was used to referring to myself as Christian because where I was walking you were either a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew. My Turkish was not good enough to explain to people what I’d have meant if I said that I was none of those things and that I was just “spiritual.”

I’d had these kinds of conversations with the Muslims in every town along the way, too. I always felt like I had been pummeled by a bully every time. The “not only am I deeply religious, I am also right” spiels were the same no matter whose mouth they came from.

There was another group who were regulars at the pension, and that was a group from an elite military training center for komandos a couple of kilometers away. These were not your garden variety infantry. They were in this area because of the mountains and the lake where they could train in different terrains. I was able to watch them jump out of helicopters when they practiced lake landings. There are also some high and craggy mountains around the lake that are covered with snow during the winter so they could train on the steep, rugged terrains in the high altitudes during inclement weather.

During the day the travelers cleared out of the pension to take their day trips and the deck of the pension became a lake-view internet cafe for the komandos. They came in during leave hours in the afternoon to hang out on the balcony and drink tea or beer and check their Facebooks and email their wives and girlfriends back home. Some of them must have had agreements with the pension owner, though, because apparently they had girls closer by who came in to join their komandos with a drink, and before you knew it couples were disappearing into the available rooms together.

The komandos had to be back on base about the time the foreign travelers came back from their day trips. So the pension had this 24 hour circulation of groups of different people I watched as they came and went.

Also during my days at Egirdir, I did some walking around the town. There was a little square where I became a regular. As much as I enjoyed Charly’s, I sometimes felt out of place surrounded by the foreign travelers there. I felt much more at home surrounded by the Turks in the village who spoke Turkish and ate Turkish foods like kasarli pide, a flat bread with cheese, for lunch.

One day as I sat in one of my favorite restaurants munching on my kasarli pide, I was jarred out of my comfort a bit while watching T.V. This was the time the Syrian border was starting to become destabilized, and on T.V. the talking heads were discussing the Turkish parliament debate taking place that day on whether to authorize the Turkish government to make incursions across the border into Syria. I knew I would be walking close to that border in a few weeks.

Another time I took a mini-bus into a nearby village to a farmers’ market, the Pinar pazari (spring market). This was one of the biggest farmers’ markets I’d ever seen and one of highlights of the area. I had trouble not grabbing handfuls of olives out of the tens of thousands of olives heaped colorfully on trays that were arranged down long tables, and I could barely resist sticking my fingers into the powdery red spices mounded in cloth sacks with their tops rolled back. There were fresh vegetables, fruits, butcher shops, restaurants, clothing for women, and home goods—and tourists.

But most of the time I spent the week at the pension lounging on the patio, listening to music on my headphones, and answering more questions from 4th graders.

The other travelers coming through didn’t understand this. When they caught me lolling around on the deck wearing my headphones during the day they would invite me on their day hikes. They were having the trips of their lives, following in the footsteps of St. Paul and soaking up the great history of the area! How could I just sit on the deck doing nothing? Of course, anyone traveling through would want to explore the rich history of the place.
The hotel staff and Carla and Ibrahim would also come out and ask me, “Are you sure you don’t want to do some of the activities?” “Are you sure you want to sit here all day and do nothing?” For me, though, this was my holiday from walking through the country visiting places, and all I wanted to do was sit on the deck and listen to music on the headphones, soak up the sun, and watch small whitecaps sparkle on the lake.

After a month of great but somewhat disorienting experiences it was good to have nine days of stable routine where I could wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, take a shower, hang out my laundry to dry, sit on the patio and read a book or listen to music, or keep up with emails. Then in the evening I would eat dinner and go to bed.

Ibrahim and his guests believed me to be a traveler and travelers walked about exploring the sites. But I was a person perfectly happy to spend day after day, week after week, month after month doing the same thing over and over. I like to go to the same restaurants every day. I’m like a dog that way. I can eat the same food every day for months. So I’m not a traveler at heart. I suspect a real traveler wouldn’t want to do an activity like the walk I’m taking, for example. By nature, travelers want to move, not go incredibly slow like when you’re walking across the country with a backpack asking strangers for a place to stay each night.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

In the morning I packed up, snapped the daily dedication photo, and resumed the walk into Isparta.
I entered the city around 1 p.m., had lunch, and decided to look for a hotel in Isparta for one night before continuing on to Lake Egirdir.

While roaming the crowded sidewalks of the central part of the city, I felt lonely and out of place, paranoid that everyone was laughing at me. In the space of a month I had become most comfortable walking through small villages, arid deserts, and farm country , and now I was in a city of 192,000 people. I felt edgy and mistrustful of nearly everyone I saw, and I imagined I stood out, a hick from the countryside, lost in a city too big for me.

I tried a few hotels, asking first about the price and then asking if I could see a room. Finally, I found a relatively inexpensive one that was clean, well lit, and that had running water for showers. I decided to take advantage of the luxury and kicked off my shoes, lay down on the soft bed, and took a nap. I left the room only once that evening, for a short trip to get dinner. I spent most of my time following up on correspondence, particularly the growing stack of questions from the fourth graders.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The next morning after greedily scarfing down the hotel’s traditional Turkish breakfast I began my walk towards Lake Egirdir. I didn’t think I could make it to the lake that day because it was a 1½ day walk, and my foot was still hurting a bit.

As I was leaving Isparta I came upon a woman in her mid-50’s who was going to a nearby grocery store. I greeted her on the sidewalk. She said she was going to the store to buy items for her family’s Sunday morning breakfast, and she asked if I needed anything from the store. I said, “No, thank you. I’ve just had a big breakfast.”

“Would you like to come to my home to have breakfast with my family? We’d love to have you.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but I’ve just eaten a big breakfast at the hotel and I couldn’t swallow another bite.”

She continued into the grocery store and I continued walking down the street. A few moments later she caught up with me carrying a bag full of groceries.

“Please, join us for breakfast,” she said.

“Thank you,” I repeated, “but I’ve just eaten a big breakfast and I couldn’t swallow another bite.”

She opened her shopping bag and insisted I take something from it. I knew she was not going to leave me alone unless I took something, so I looked into her bag and chose a package of marshmallow cookies, not wanting to take items she needed for her family’s breakfast. I wished her a very nice breakfast with her family and thanked her again for her kind offer and continued walking.

As I reached the edge of Isparta, a mini-bus, also headed out of town, pulled to the side of the road and stopped. A man jumped out of the bus. He ran over and introduced himself to me in English as Osman. He taught English, he told me, and he lived in Isparta. He was on his way to pick up some friends visiting from Poland. They would all pack into his mini-bus and ride to the lake for the day.

I told him I was heading to the lake also.

“Oh, would you like to ride with us?” he asked.

I declined, of course and told him I would see him there but I knew I was unlikely to reach the lake that day. I did want to seem him again, though, and meet his friends.

About three kilometers later I walked past a sun-baked couple driving back from their field on a tractor pulling a trailer full of watermelons. They waved hello and offered me a melon.

I tried to decline politely, telling them I wouldn’t be able to carry a melon.

“You can carry it in your arms,” they insisted.

I knew they weren’t letting me go without a melon. So I peered into their trailer, chose one of the smallest melons I could find, and cradled it in my arms like a baby. I thanked them for their hospitality and continued walking down the road carrying the melon.

I thought about ditching the melon by the side of the road, but I didn’t want to be rude, even though no one would see me. So I continued carrying it. After about a quarter mile my arm was growing tired and I thought, I’m going to have to pay this one forward really fast.

Most of the intra-city bus drivers recognized me because they passed me on the road every day. When they saw me carrying yet more produce several of them gestured at me, raising their palms to the sky and rolling their eyes as if saying, What, now you’re carrying watermelons, too?

I just smiled and waved with my free arm and continued walking.

I stopped and arranged my watermelon in the grass by the side of the road, my bottle of water next to it, and took a still-life photo of them. About three kilometers later I found a gas station with one attendant and no customers. I said hello to the attendant and showed him my watermelon.

“Do you have a knife?” I asked. “Let’s cut this watermelon open and we’ll split it.”

He excitedly went into the store and found a knife. We cut open the watermelon and sat out on one of the picnic tables eating the watermelon together. He asked me if I would take him back to the U.S. with me.

I told him, “Yeah, next time I go back there why don’t you go with me?

But he seemed serious and wanted to get further into the details and asked when we would leave.

“Got a passport?” I asked.

He didn’t have one, and the conversation ended as it usually did when people along the road asked me that.

We finished the watermelon and I thanked him for his hospitality and he thanked me for the watermelon.

About two kilometers later I walked a stretch where the shoulder of the road plunged off into a steep 20-25 ft. drop-off so that it wouldn’t be easy at all to clamber down off the shoulder if I had to. I passed a huge tomato garden below me and a family out harvesting them. They saw me walking above them and waved up at me to come down to join them.

Okay, I thought, I have this really large backpack on. I can barely move as it is. There is no way I can just scramble down this steep embankment with it on just so I can come and have tea and tomatoes with you. I pretended I couldn’t understand what they wanted and waved back at them and kept walking.

Pretty soon I heard feet pummeling the ground below. I turned and saw one of the boys in the family running alongside me down in the garden holding a plastic bag that had been stuffed with fresh red tomatoes. He was looking for a place to climb up. We finally, after about 500 meters, reached a driveway where he was able to climb up and meet me on the road and give me this gift.

I took the tomatoes, thanked him profusely and waved goodbye to them all. The boy turned and ran back to his family to continue with the tomato harvest.

Now I was walking down the road lugging the bag of tomatoes. The scent of the warm, ripe tomatoes caused me to salivate. I started devouring them, stuffing them into my mouth like popcorn, the juice running down my chin and soaking my t-shirt. I let the skins drop to the ground.

Meanwhile, the oncoming inter-city bus drivers laughed and pointed.

In these initial weeks of the trip, some of the viewers back home in the U.S. would see the pictures I’d taken and the blogs I’d posted. There was a group of them who, when they saw in my photos and blogs how I survived on the road, would ask me, “Doesn’t it feel bad to be a freeloader? Taking these poor people’s food and sleeping in their houses for free?”

Though I was a bit chagrined at being called a freeloader, I had known in my heart before the walk and had learned first hand on the road that money isolates people and does not bring them together or make them feel respected.

When people offer you something they are not looking for $5. They are looking for another human being to look them in the eye with respect and accept what they have to offer with gratitude, a smile, a nod, and a thank you. Humans want to help other humans and they feel good when they do. This seemed to be my lesson of the day.

About five kilometers after I had finished all the tomatoes and stuffed the bag into my pocket, I met another farmer who called to me from across the road and waved me over. This farmer was harvesting walnuts. We chatted for awhile, and I asked him if the trees were his.

He said, “Yes, and I’m harvesting walnuts; would you like to take some with you?” Since the walnuts he had just harvested were still in the green husks, he went to his garage and brought out a plastic bag filled with freshly husked walnuts. I thanked him for the walnuts and continued on.

As I walked, I cracked some walnuts under my shoe and ate a few. The day was a warm and I didn’t have a whole lot of water and was extremely thirsty. After eating a few walnuts my dry mouth started to feel like it was full of cotton. I didn’t want to be disrespectful or rude, but I needed to ditch the walnuts.

A few kilometers from his house the road turned a bend and I threw the walnuts into a ditch and covered them over with dirt. I stuffed the empty bag into my pocket along with the tomato bag.

About another hour or two after I met the walnut farmer I came to the town of Yukteli. I had marked Yukteli on the map as the town I would stay in since that was where I would finish my 20 kilometers for the day. On the map it looked like a nice place to stay but up close it felt inhospitable. It wasn’t a village where an indigenous population lived and made their homes like most villages I’d been through. It was a series of strip malls and gas stations for weekenders passing through from Isparta to the lake.

I decided to continue on to the lake since it was only ten kilometers further–and staying at the lake would be a lot nicer than spending the night in this God-forsaken wide spot in the road. However, my foot had begun throbbing again so I decided not to chance walking. I would ride the bus instead and come back to finish this leg of the walk in the morning. After finding a notable landmark that would be a clear marker of where to start the next day, I took off my pack, turned around, and faced the oncoming traffic to flag down a mini-bus into Egirdir.

The bus was packed, standing room only. I did find a place for my pack and didn’t have to wear it inside the bus. Since I’m over six feet tall I stood with my neck bent and the back of my head crushed against the ceiling, so my view of the scenery on the drive to the lake was minimal, and I was unable to track the route we were taking. Mostly I saw the floor, and I took it on faith that we were headed in the right direction and that I would arrive at the lake as intended.

The bus did stop and drop me off in Egirdir village, a narrow little town nestled on a strip of land between a steep, rocky mountain on one side and the lake on the other. On the outskirts of the town of Egirdir was an elite military training center for mountain komandos. The center of the town was filled with hotels and hostels for people fleeing the city on weekends.

I walked the last kilometer or so through the town looking for a place called Charly’s Pansiyon that had been recommended to me by a british woman who lived in the Antalya area near the Mediterranean coast. She had mapped out a number of historical walks for tourists, one of the most famous being the walk of St. Paul which passes through Egirdir village. One of her contacts in the village was a man who, along with his family, owns Charly’s Pansiyon.

His name is Ibrahim. As are most of the hotels and hostels in the area, Charly’s Pansiyon is located on a narrow peninsula that sticks out into the lake. By narrow I mean you can walk from one side of the peninsula to the other in three minutes. You can see the lake in both directions no matter where you stay.

The pension was in a beautiful setting right on the lake. The first thing I did was walk out onto its large shady terrace that overlooked the lake. A cool, fresh breeze off the lake blew against my face as I took in the surroundings. In the center of the terrace sat a huge varnished wood-grain table. Smaller tables were scattered about under umbrellas.

Ibrahim, the owner, appeared and welcomed me, introducing himself and shaking my hand. I asked him if I could stay at the pension but pitch my tent and sleep outside. He said, “Of course you can! You are welcome to do that.” The property, he said, ran down to the lake and I could sleep right next to the water if I wanted to.
Osman and his Polish group happened to be staying at Charley’s also. He and another teacher named Cem were hosting a group of teachers and non-profit organizers from Poland who were in Turkey doing a professional cultural exchange with professionals from the city of Isparta. They found me below at the lakeside setting up my tent and came over to invite me to join their group.

After I got my camp set up I met them all upstairs on the deck of the pension. We sang and played guitar—two Turkish English teachers and I, along with six Polish travelers, all of us with the intentions of unifying the group with music, the language of the universe, though none of us knew the same songs. First, Cem and Osman took their turn on their guitars playing a song that only the two of them knew. Then the Polish people took their turn on guitar, playing one of their own songs that the rest of us didn’t know. We went back and forth that way until we finally found a common ground—”Hotel California.” The whole world knows “Hotel California”! or at least the chorus.

So we all drank beer and sang “Hotel California” over and over. Everyone joined in except Osman, who spent most of the time he wasn’t playing guitar texting his girlfriend back in Isparta.

Finally, when I didn’t want to sing “Hotel California” and drink beer anymore, I went down to the lake, sprawled out on my sleeping bag, and fell asleep, lulled by the refrain of “Hotel California” off in the distance and the lapping of the waves on the lake outside my tent.

Wednesday, 26 September, 2012

The next morning after about forty-five minutes into my walk, I pulled off at a gas station for a morning break. I didn’t need to stock up on supplies, having eaten so much the night before, and I had plenty of water. I just took a seat at one of the picnic tables in the back of the gas station to rest awhile.

Some travelers from Ankara drove up in their car and stopped. They noticed my pack and came over to introduce themselves. As we made small talk, I felt a longing to go with them. I thought about how they would travel in an hour the distance I would travel in a week. Today they were driving to a town I would arrive at in maybe three months. They owned cars and worked in offices. Theirs was a world where iPhones, chargers, electricity, and hotels were common. They enjoyed staying overnight in Hyatt Regencies.

At the same time I longed to go with them I realized, No, I’m very happy to be here doing what I want to do. I was at peace with the reality that all I had was what the next kilometer was going to look like when I walked it.

As they loaded back into their car and sped off, I knew I had broken the spell of Denizli and Cardak. I stood up, swung on my backpack, and started a fairly difficult, steep descent into the town of Keciborlu.

The road was narrow and the shoulder almost nonexistent. As I walked down the grade I tried not to get hit by the oncoming trucks as they labored up the hill toward me. As long as I was willing to breathe their exhaust fumes, I was safe.

Early in the afternoon I got to the bottom of the grade and entered the village of Keciborlu. It would take another short day of walking to get to Isparta, the next major city. I double-checked the financial calculations that I made in Dinar and decided to stay at a cheap motel at the side of the road as I walked into Keciborlu.

Thursday, 27 September, 2012

The next morning I once again feasted on the traditional Turkish breakfast that came with the hotel room: the huge round platter with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, sausage, two kinds of cheese, a plate of bread, and this time, in the center of the tray was a fried egg rather than the usual boiled egg. I didn’t care that the yolk was broken. I took a picture of the breakfast plate for my website.

Before starting my day’s walk, I figured it was time to answer some questions from Denise’s students. Denise was a friend of mine from Seattle, and she taught a class of 4th grade students who had begun emailing me questions about the walk. I pulled out my iPhone to read their emailed questions and peck out my answers.

The first question was where did I get the hat I wore in so many of the photos they had seen. I wondered for a second, what hat, then realized they were asking about the dirty, crumpled-up, sweat-stained hat from Fowler Nursery in California I had been wearing since the first day of the walk. That hat had become as much a part of me as my boots.

The next question was about how I checked emails as I traveled. I used my old iPhone. That iPhone was my computer, my workhorse, and almost as much a part of me as the hat and the boots.

One of the students also wanted to know why I ate so much junk food along the way. I chuckled, thinking, Ah! When you’re an adult you, also, will be able to eat as much junk food as you want. But, desiring to be a responsible role-model, I told her that many places along the walk were sparsely populated and I didn’t have room in my pack to carry much food. I had to get what I could along the way at the gas stations. If I couldn’t eat a nutritious non-junk food meal, I told her, I would drink a carton of juice or just water and eat a roll of cookies that I could pick up at the gas stations. Whatever I could find to get me through to the next meal, that’s what I ate. I told her that I made sure I ate at least 1.5 healthy meals a day. I had learned that this was what I needed to keep up my energy for the walk. If some days I would just eat one, then the next day I would make sure I ate two.

After finishing my breakfast and my emails to the kids, I pulled on my pack and went out to the road to start the walk for the day.

I traveled that whole day through mile after mile of parched, dry terrain where the mountains had been carved away by strip-mining. I was hoping to make it into Isparta but it was taking a little longer than I had planned, and by the time sunset was nearing I was still about 10 kilometers north of the city. I hadn’t seen a gas station or restaurant all day where I might find food or water, and, since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I was quite hungry and thirsty. As daylight dimmed, I trudged on through the barrenness looking for a place to at least shelter down for the night but was finding nothing but dry open land. And then, suddenly, up ahead at the top of a hill, I spied an oasis. Perched at the top of a hill was an OPET gas station that sat on a huge green lawn surrounded by large, well-irrigated trees. Happily, I walked up the hill to the station.

The gas station attendants were very hospitable and welcoming and told me I could of course camp there on the lawn. They even turned off their automatic lawn sprinklers for the night so I wouldn’t get wet. As I drank my carton of juice and ate my roll of cookies before dark, I sat next to my tent on the hill and gazed across the valley. Beyond one of the hills I could see Lake Egirdir, where I would be in a couple of days.

The next morning I hopped the bus and went back to Cardak. I checked into the hotel I had stayed at a few days before. I worked on emails and blogs for the day. I waited until after dark for dinner, when I could sneak out to another market to buy a simple dinner of bread and yogurt.

The next morning I walked out onto the square, took good-bye photos with my Cardak buddies, and hopped the bus back to Dinar to resume my walk.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Late afternoon I arrived at my destination for the day, a village called Kaplanli (pop. about 250). Kaplanli was one kilometer off the main road, and I had to walk down a narrow gravel road to get there.

A few farmers met me walking back toward the main road. I thought they might be walking to the nearest town to pick up supplies for dinner as there probably was no bakkal in Kaplanli due to its size. I waved hello to them, half expecting them to stop me and ask what I was doing here, but they just waved back and continued walking as though foreigners carrying backpacks walked through there every day. So I continued walking too, the rest of the 500 meters into town.

As I walked into the village I could peer into people’s back yards and see old crumbled storage sheds and mangy looking guard dogs and sometimes a single sheep tied on a rope to a pole. I was stunned by the poverty I saw. Also I was right about the village having no bakkal. However, I had eaten a good sized breakfast earlier and wasn’t hungry so it didn’t matter.

I thought, Turks from Istanbul would be even more foreign here than I am, with their white-collar office jobs and their iPhones and their brand-name Italian fashions.

As had become my standard procedure when entering a village, I found the garden at the village mosque and sat outside on a bench waiting for some worshippers to exit.

I noticed a shady area off to the side of the mosque and stood to take a closer look. The ground was covered by a thick blanket of pine needles–a great place to pitch a tent. And since it was a mosque there were bathrooms and a place to wash up. It had all the luxuries I would need.

A few worshippers soon came out of the mosque, and I introduced myself to them and asked if it was okay if I camped there in the garden. It turned out that one of the worshippers was groundskeeper for the mosque. “Of course, it’s fine for you to camp here,” he said, introducing himself and a few of the other men.

I set up my camp at about 8:30, but since it was a little too early to go to sleep, I sat and rested on the wooden bench near the front door of the mosque rather than on the pine needles outside my tent. I chose the publicly visible area because I didn’t want to spook anyone by being a stranger who walks into their village from off the highway and then disappears into the darkness.

While I sat on the bench, a man from the village brought me a huge round tray filled with cheeses, olives, soup, meat, and plenty of bread and set it on the bench beside me. I started to thank him, but he scurried away before I could get a full sentence out of my mouth. I looked down at the tray. It contained so much food I wondered if I could eat even half of it.

I ate as much as I could, and then stood up to help digest the meal, looking down at the remains and wondering, Hmm! What do I do with the rest of this food? I couldn’t just leave it in the tray because I didn’t want the villagers to think I wasn’t satisfied with the meal they brought me. I decided to stuff it into some plastic bags I had been acquiring along the way, and carry it out of the village. However, as I started stuffing the food into my pack, I realized it might attract mice during the night, so I prayed to God for forgiveness and surreptitiously flushed the food down the mosque toilets.

Sunday 23 September, 2012

The next day I walked into the town of Dinar feeling lonely, uncomfortable, and out of place.I knew I needed some “alone time” to process something but I wasn’t sure what, so instead of looking for a public place to stay, I checked into a hotel and went straight up to my room.

I felt a now familiar pull. Go back to Cardak. Just spend time there and give up the walk. Part of me recognized how ridiculous that sentiment was. After all, Cardak was a small village of 3,000 people. I didn’t even speak the language. I would be bored with the place in less than a week. But the siren call of Cardak was almost as strong as the siren call of Denizli had been a week or two ago. I longed for the comfort of Cardak. I wanted to bathe in it’s familiarity for the rest of eternity.

Amidst the noise, the cold, rational Voice whispered faintly, “Listen to me now, let me drive.”

So I pulled out a pen and wrote a blog post:

The Resistance

There’s a book I love, absolutely love. I highly recommend it to just about anyone who will listen. It’s called “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield.

The book is a very quick, simple read. You never have to read it again, because the idea is so simple:

Whenever you try to do something worthwhile, the Resistance will do everything in its power to knock you off track. It will reason with you like a brilliant lawyer, or it will jam a gun in your face like a stick-up man, whatever it takes to throw you off track and put you back where you used to be.

The Resistance comes from inside you. It will never die. It will never go away. It is stronger than you are. Do not try to fight it. You will lose, and you will waste valuable time and energy that would have been better used getting your work done. So learn how to welcome the Resistance into the room, and continue working while it sits across the table from you, staring at you.

On this walk, the Resistance is with me at all times. Most of the time it appears in smaller ways, like yesterday morning in Gokcek, when I woke up and the air was so fresh and the grass was so soft I wondered if I could avoid walking for the day.

A couple of times, however, the Resistance hit me so hard I thought the walk would be over. One of those times was when I hurt my foot a couple weeks ago. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the panic and black despair that washed over me on that day. But they were just the Resistance, come to distract me from the clear thinking I’d need to get myself back on track. I stepped aside from them and spent the next few days nursing my foot back to health and chanting to myself, “calm down, just work the program.”

This morning the Resistance came in one of its more common forms, that in which I wake up worrying that A. I’m not walking far enough, and B. I’m spending too much money.

So I checked yet again, and for the 3-1/2 weeks I’ve been on the road, I’ve been covering 55 miles per week (my goal is 55-60 miles per week), and I’ve been spending $13 per day (which is what I’ve budgeted).

Even with the downtime to nurse my foot, and some unexpected hotel stays, I am hitting both of my targets: walk 55-60 miles per week, and spend $13 per day.

So at least until the Resistance hits me again, probably sometime later today, I am feeling good. Out here on the road anything can happen, and it usually does, but as long as I hit those two targets, that anything is fine.”

As I drifted off into sleep, I reminded myself of a key lesson I was learning:

Your emotions are going to fluctuate wildly on this trip, and they will be horribly inaccurate gauges of reality. So what you feel doesn’t matter nearly as much as keeping those key indicators on track.

Saturday, 22 September

In the morning, early, before anyone was stirring in Cardak, I walked out to the main road and began that day’s walk to the next village. I’d made some good friends in Cardak and knew I’d want to come back.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

I learned quickly that appearances on the plateau could be deceiving, especially when it came to estimating distances. The sky was big, the roads were straight, and the terrain was mostly flat with a few gentle rollers here and there. There was not much shelter.

When I spotted the village of Bozan ahead of me–my destination for the day, I thought I’d probably be there in 20 minutes. But the village, rather than becoming closer, seemed to keep receding into the distance, and I walked two or three hours before I finally reached it.

Other than resting, I didn’t expect much from Bozan, which had a population of barely 100, but as I walked into the village I met a man crossing the highway. He greeted me, “Merhaba!” His name was Yakub and he was 28 years old. We shook hands and Yakub escorted me into the village to a tea house where he bought my tea and introduced me to a few other people.

Yakub was from Bozan but lived and worked in the nearby township of Dazkiri, where I had stayed the night before. He was an accountant for the township there. Yakub was married with one child, a son who recently celebrated his first birthday.

At the village’s tea garden Yakub and I met up with Yakub’s older brother, and the three of us shared a couple glasses of tea and some get-to-know-you conversation. Yakub offered to show me inside the village mosque. So far, I’d only stayed outside in the mosque gardens where I could chat with people, wash up, sit in the shade, camp, etc, so I said yes, of course, I’d love to see inside the mosque. The three of us gulped down the rest of our tea and walked across the street towards the mosque.

“Take off your shoes,” Yakub reminded me when we reached the door. My shoes weren’t particularly dirty, but it was a standard show of respect expected at any mosque and most private homes in Turkey.

I pulled off my boots and stepped onto the thick layers of overlapping carpets inside. Yakub crossed the room to a table on the other side, where he pulled a Koran off a shelf. I walked over to his side of the room and peeked over his shoulder as he ran his finger along the page. One side of the page was Turkish, the other Arabic.

“Do you know both languages?” I asked.

“I know how to read Arabic, but not speak it. The Koran, in Arabic, is the unfiltered word of God, so we should all learn enough Arabic to read it.”

“This next part is a song,” Yakub continued. He began singing.

I tried to read along in Turkish, but with my limited Turkish I couldn’t understand much. I just stood by and watched Yakub.

He was very passionate about whatever he was reading and singing. His voice cracked with emotion and his finger trembled slightly as he traced the words.

Yakub didn’t try to convert me, he just wanted to share his reverence with me.

You can tell a lot about a person by listening to him talk about a subject that is important to him, regardless of what the subject is. How understanding of others is this person? How patient is he? Does he expect others to hold the same views, or is there room in his mind and heart for people who don’t? In five minutes of worship, Yakub was telling me more about himself than he could in an hour of conversation.

After Yakub’s mini demonstration of worship, as we exited the mosque, I mentioned to him and his brother that I should continue on to the next village. Yakub insisted that before I go, we should cross back over the highway and take advantage of a communal lunch that was being held in honor of a wedding taking place later that evening.
“We don’t want you to walk on an empty stomach,” Yakub said.

Good idea, I thought, it’s about time for lunch anyway.

Lunch eaten, the three of us went back to the tea garden, shared a couple more cups of tea, exchanged Facebook addresses, and then went our separate ways.

I walked down the road for about an hour, to a small village called Gökçek, found the mosque, and set up my tent in the mosque garden. Then I laid back in the grass to take a late afternoon nap.

This was one of my favorite mosque gardens so far. I was up out of the hot, humid valley below, so the air was crisp and fresh. The grass beneath me was soft and wispy. I stared up at the tall trees and the passing clouds and drifted in and out of a comfortable doze.

Shortly after dark, one of the villagers shook me from my nap and said to me, “Follow me, let’s go have dinner.”
I had no idea who this man was, and I wasn’t even very hungry, but I sprang to my feet and followed him across the street to his house. His wife greeted me at the door and asked me to sit down and have dinner with them. It wasn’t a fancy dinner, just a few dishes of eggplant and some other vegetables they had prepared for their evening meal in their small village home. When we finished I crossed back to the stillness of the mosque garden, lay down in my tent and fell asleep again with a full stomach and a smile on my face.

Friday, 21 September

I began my second full day in Cardak using the hotel’s slow internet connection to upload photos to my blog. Toward the middle of the day I ventured out into the square a few times to pick up supplies. On one of my sorties out into the square Eren and Ozgur invited me to dinner at their bufe that evening. I accepted.

I never saw or met Eren’s mother but she’d cooked up an assortment of aromatic dishes which Eren brought to the bufe and set out on a table for our dinner. It was some of the best food I’d had in a long time–lentil soup, bread, rice. There was coban salata (diced tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and lemon juice) and a huge bowl of a reduced soup with ground beef, green peppers, tomatoes, and some spices.

Motorcycle Ride

After dinner five of Eren and Ozgur’s buddies (which I’d started calling the five guys), showed up. One of them barreled in on a motorcycle which he revved up several times before shutting off. They often hung out at the bufe, and they had taken it upon themselves to be my mentors and guides. Sure enough, tonight they had come for me.
“Mert (my name in Turkish)! Sit!” Motorcycle Man said gesturing with his thumb to the back of his motorcycle. “It’s time for you to take a tour of our village.”

I hate riding on the back of a motorcycle. I feel like I’m going to die, and the fact that he was heavily drunk didn’t increase my feeling of safety any.

It was dark, the road full of potholes, and I was wearing no helmet. I figured God would just have to protect me, or, as the Turks would say, Allah beni korur. I suspected that before I touched that wire fence separating me from Iran I’d have many other opportunities to utter this phrase, just hoping for the best.

So I uttered the phrase, Allah beni korur, and hopped on the back of the motorcycle and whizzed around town. Motorcycle Man showed me different places including Eren’s and Ozgur’s apartments. Then he dropped me off back at the bufe.

I ended up the day by going with Ozgur and Eren to the village square for a cultural night with Turkish folk music and a light show. Basically everyone in the village—about 200 people—were gathered on folding chairs in the center of the village square to participate and listen to the music and hear some of the speakers. I watched for a bit, and then turned in at my hotel feeling satisfied and at peace.

Thursday, 20 September

The next morning when I woke up I went back out onto the square and saw Eren and Ozgur at the bufe. They invited me to join them for breakfast.

I learned a little bit more about them then. I learned that they were very close friends and figured they had been passing private jokes between themselves the night before and nothing more. Also, I learned that Eren owned the bakkal across the street in addition to the bufe. I realized that his darting eyes the night before had probably just been him watching his store, which had been open but unstaffed. There was nothing to worry about, these guys were fine. After breakfast I went back to the hotel to take a nap.

Greater Middle East Project

It had been about a month since my last haircut, so it was time for another one. I emerged from the hotel, strolling out onto the center square and into the barbershop.

When the barber finished my haircut I switched chairs and joined the other patrons for a cup of tea. As we talked over over our tea, a man walked into the shop. He took a chair to wait for his haircut, spotted me, and asked if I was aware of the Greater Middle East Project.

The Project was a popular conspiracy theory to the effect that Western Europe and the United States wanted to redraw the borders in the Middle East. Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, supposedly would be the emperor running an assortment of redrawn national entities which would include a smaller, carved up Turkey, a new state called Kurdistan, and other national entities, some of them loosely based on existing nations. Basically, the Project would reformat a large part of the world.

“Is this true or not?” he asked me.

His was a simple question, but my answer would not be. So I needed a few seconds to see if I could piece together a nuanced response in my Tarzan Turkish. I stalled for time.

“I don’t know. You tell me. What do you think?”

“I asked you first. Is it true or not?”

Man, I thought, I just wanted to come in here for a haircut, and then go back and take a nap. I didn’t come in here to talk politics. I usually tried to steer clear of political conversations anyway, especially when I was alone in Turkey.

He pressed, “Is it true or not?”

In my very bad Turkish I replied, “I understand what you are asking and I’m knowledgeable about the topic, but I can’t have the conversation you would like to have because my Turkish isn’t good enough.”

Usually that’s enough to end a conversation and for people to say Well, we would love to talk about this topic with this foreigner but since his Turkish isn’t good enough we will just have to stick with small talk. And then the conversation would end and we would talk about the weather.

But this guy would not back off. He was determined to talk about the Greater Middle East Project come hell or high water.

Finally he asked me rudely, “Does the Greater Middle East Project exist? Yes or no?”

I repeated, “My Turkish is not good enough for this conversation.”

But the more I said it the harder he pressed me for answers, even on other points that I cared even less about.

I swallowed my last drop of tea, then stood up and started walking toward the door shaking hands with everybody including the hostile questioner. I was so flustered, though, that I almost walked out without paying. But I remembered and stopped just as I began to step out the door. I looked over at the barber, tongue-tied. Now I couldn’t remember the Turkish for “How much?” a term I said dozens of times each day.

The barber looked at me and shrugged apologetically. He seemed to understand my frustration and how obnoxious his other customer was being. He said, “Don’t worry about it; it’s on the house.” So I left and went back out on the square.

Sipping Rotgut With Sef

I crossed the square to say hi to Ozgur and Eren. I was moving quickly from suspecting them to befriending both them and their buddies who hung around. They were a good group to know, because they had stores at the center of the village and they knew everyone. When Eren saw me he put down a container filled with bags of chips, smiled at me, and said, “Nice haircut.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I am going back to the hotel to take a nap now.”

Ozgur spoke up, “Come back this evening. We want you to meet The Mayor.”

“The Mayor?”

“Well, actually, he’s not the real mayor. We just call him that. His nickname is Sef. He used to run the local bank branch, but now he’s retired.”

“Okay, sounds good to me. I’ll see you later this evening,” I said as I turned towards the hotel.

Toward the end of the afternoon when I woke up from my nap, I went back out onto the square and found Eren and Ozgur sitting out on the curb in front of one of their stores eating sandwiches with a couple of their friends.

They offered me a sandwich. I thanked them and took the sandwich and started eating it, letting the breadcrumbs spill on the ground around me. Ozgur got a broom and swept up the crumbs, telling me that spilling breadcrumbs was a sin. “Don’t do it,” he warned.

Then I noticed that they were not spilling their breadcrumbs, and I could not figure out how anyone could be so tidy when eating a sandwich made of crumbly bread. I certainly didn’t have those kinds of eating habits so apparently I was offending God by spilling my breadcrumbs.

As we stood on the curb eating our sandwiches, Ozgur piously cleaning up after me, Sef came by.

As it turned out, Sef was the village drunk. In his retirement he had taken to booze. Not just any booze, but a particular brand of rotgut.

Sef motioned me to follow him. So we walked into one of Eren’s stores where Sef bought a bottle of rotgut and picked up a couple of plastic cups. Then we crossed the street and carried a couple of chairs up a set of stairs onto a balcony overlooking the square.

We sat down and Sef poured a round of rotgut into our two plastic cups.

I’m not much of a drinker, and it was a horrible tasting rotgut. I took only enough of a sip to taste it on my lips. Sef, however, tipped his cup and slammed the rotgut back in two gulps. Then he set his cup on the ledge of the balcony and poured another.

I realized I would never keep up with Sef. He got drunker and drunker.

A group of pre-teen girls approached below the balcony, chatting and laughing together. Sef began making lewd gestures at them. I cringed as I sat in my chair not drinking the rotgut. Sef slammed back another cup and made more lewd gestures at them as they passed. Then more innocent Pre-teen girls started coming into the square and Sef made more incredibly lewd comments and gestures at them while slamming back more and more rotgut. I got a bad taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t due to the rotgut.

I got up to leave. This was not a good person to be with. I didn’t want to be associated with this guy at all. Then I began to realize I’d been had; Eren and Ozgur were playing a joke on me. I sat back down.

A group of also-drunk teenage boys came by. There is nothing more dangerous than a group of drunk teenage boys trying to prove to each other how tough they are. I must have been the greatest story in Cardak by then because they, like the man in the barbershop, started asking me about the Greater Middle East Project. They began speculating rowdily back and forth amongst themselves.

“He’s probably a CIA operative!”

“No, he’s a KGB officer!”

“No, Mossad!”

They agreed on Mossad, and from there on they referred to me as Mossad. In the spectrum of intelligence agencies, as I had been finding out in the past couple weeks, you start out as a CIA agent. Then, if you are a bad-ass you get promoted to KGB. If you are a real bad-ass you get promoted to being Mossad. When they began calling me Mossad I knew that even though they were drunk they were showing me respect and would not be throwing me off the balcony.

They soon left to do whatever else drunken teenagers do. Sef finished all the rotgut, walked me back to Eren and Ozgur, and went home to sleep it off. By that time it was 10:30 p.m. so I said a quick goodbye to Eren and Ozgur and went back to my hotel to wash off the dirty feeling of Sef in the shower’s lukewarm water.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

When I woke up the next morning my right foot was hurting something fierce, the anxiety was back, and I still wanted to go back to Denizli.

Get off the edge of the plateau, I told myself. Get further down the road, you need to wade deeper into the pool, you need to replace this frame of mind with something else, anything else.

I decided that all I needed to do that day was get to Cardak, a mere 5 miles down the road. If I could get to Cardak, I told myself, that would be enough for today. In Cardak I could rest.

I packed up my tent and sleeping bag at 6:30 and thanked the gas station owner for letting me camp there that night. I told myself, Before you leave Bozkurt, celebrate with a nice Turkish breakfast! It was early, so there weren’t a lot of places open. But there was one small, three-table restaurant on my way out of town. I ordered the traditional Turkish breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, cheese, black olives, honey, rose petal jam, and bread. It was a beautiful sunny morning. I had a nice seat on the outside patio. I ate every crumb off the plate.

Before I shouldered my pack, I pulled my whiteboard and black pen out of my backpack and wrote a note dedicating the day to my mother. It was her birthday — 19 September. I held the sign out at arm’s length, faced toward the morning sun, and snapped a picture.

The land ahead of me was flat and the road straight, and I could almost see Cardak from where I was standing.
Get to Cardak. Just get to Cardak, I muttered to myself. I sighed and began walking, once again.

Normally, I would have covered that distance in about ninety minutes, but because my foot was hurting so bad, I knew it would take me about four hours.

As I walked, I remembered Weebles. Weebles were small, plastic, egg-shaped, human figurines for toddlers. They were weighted at the bottom. You could knock a Weeble on its side, but it would pop back up, every single time.

When we were kids, my brother and I used to play with Weebles. Every Saturday morning we heard the jingle for Weebles on TV — “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

I hoped now I would turn out to be a Weeble.

My head began its spinning again. How had I become so lonely and so disoriented, so starved for human connection that a nice dinner with a friendly young woman was enough to make me contemplate giving up everything?

It doesn’t matter! Do the work anyway! Said the Voice. I stopped walking long enough to type a blog post into my iPhone:

“Discipline is not running a marathon. It is not losing 50 pounds. It is not walking across Turkey.

“Discipline is running one mile, and then waking up the next day and running two miles, and then waking up the next day and running three miles.

“Discipline is losing one pound, and then waking up the next day and losing the second pound, and then waking up the next day and losing the third pound.

“Discipline is waking up knowing the entire day’s walk could easily be covered by a car in 10 minutes, and then doing the work anyway. Discipline is being on the verge of tears because you’ve said goodbye to someone very important to you, and then doing the work anyway. Discipline is every day having a reason to not do the work, and then doing the work anyway.

“Discipline is not the end result. It is how we get to the end result. Discipline, and its close relatives patience and faith.”

I pressed send, pocketed my iPhone, and continued limping towards Cardak, which I entered about an hour later.

Cardak is a small town of about 3,000 people. As before, whenever there were people around, I tried to minimize my limp so that no one would worry or ask me if I was okay.

I poked my head into a cafe and asked where the center of town was. The owner of the cafe told me that I had another 500 meters to go. He may as well have said it was on the other side of the planet. I thought I would cry.

I asked him if there was a hotel in town. He said yes, I would find it in the village’s main square. I couldn’t miss it, he said. It had a big sign saying “Otel”.

I smiled as well as I could, said thank you, and tried not to snag myself on the bead curtain as I walked back out the door onto the street.

I walked deeper into the village and passed a tea garden on the left full of people drinking their mid-morning tea. One of the groups at one of the tables spotted me over the stone fence, cheerily waved hello, and invited me to join them.

“I will come back later!” I called out. “First I have to find the center of town and get settled in. Is it this way?”

“Just a little further,” one of the men encouraged me.

I was feeling scared and defensive, so I didn’t trust their friendliness. Plus, because my foot was hurting so badly, “just a little further” sounded like a long way to me.

I found my way to the village’s main square. There were a couple of restaurants, barbershops, corner markets, and the hotel. It wasn’t fancy, just a nondescript and unpainted municipal building stuffed into the corner of the square, but sure enough, there was a big sign outside saying “Otel.”

I crossed the square, hobbled up the steps into the hotel, and asked if they had any rooms available. They did, and they ushered me into one. The room was drafty, but it had a shower, and I hadn’t taken one in ten days. “I’ll see you soon,” I said to the shower, “but I have some other business to take care of first.” Then I crashed onto the bed and fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up to the phone ringing. It was Ayse. She just wanted to say hello and make sure I was okay. “I’m fine,” I told her. I said that I had enjoyed our dinner very much and missed her. We chatted for a few minutes. I told her Cardak was nice, but that I had only seen the inside of the hotel. We hung up. I took a shower, washed some clothes in the sink, and then fell back asleep.

After dark I woke up, pulled on my shoes, and wandered downstairs onto the square. What day is it? I wondered. Is it tomorrow? I was disoriented from the nap. Plus, it was 8 p.m. (I had slept through lunch), and I didn’t like being out in a new town or village after dark. It was hard to gauge people and pick up on their social signals.
Most of the stores out on the square were closed, but I saw a light on in one of the bufes. Two men, probably in their late twenties, sat at a table outside drinking tea. They waved me over, and I took a seat at their table.

“Do you have any food available?” I asked.

“Of course! We will find something and bring it out to you.”

One of them went into the bufe and brought out a huge plate of rice for me. As I ate my rice we made small talk and introduced ourselves. The one who brought me the rice was named Eren and he owned the bufe. The other guy introduced himself as Ozgur.

During the conversation I noticed that Eren’s eyes kept darting back and forth, glancing at me and then away. Why is he doing that? I wondered. Does it mean he is not trustworthy? Also, I sensed Eren and Ozgur were signaling to each other with body language I couldn’t figure out. It was dark. I was new. And, except for the three of us, the square was deserted. My “you don’t understand the situation, get out of here” alarm started going off.

I gulped down the plate of rice and thanked Eren and Ozgur for the food. They invited me to sit with them for a while and have a cup of tea. “No, thank you,” I told them. “I’ll be back but I need to make a phone call first.” Then I walked out of earshot, pulled out my phone, and called Ayse.

She answered, “Hi! How are things in Cardak?”

I said, “I feel uncomfortable and the people seem strange.”

“Then be careful, go back to your hotel room,” Ayse said.

That sounded like good advice.

I hung up and walked back to the table. By then it was about 9 p.m. I thanked Eren and Ozgur for their hospitality and walked back across the square to the hotel.

Since I had slept all day I wasn’t that tired, so I sat in my room and answered emails and wrote in my journal before falling asleep.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tuesday morning I awoke with a start to my cell phone alarm. I panicked. Oh my god, I am still at this gas station! I should be making better progress. I am letting myself down and everyone back home, too. I came here to walk across the country, not to dine with pretty girls!

Okay, okay, I quieted myself, just wait a minute, all is not lost. I walked yesterday, and all I need to do to continue making forward progress is stand up, stuff my things into my backpack, and catch the bus back to where I left off yesterday. Everything’s fine.

I stood up and packed my bag and walked out to the shoulder to catch the bus. While I sat by the side of the road waiting for the bus I pulled a note from my pocket. I’d awakened in the middle of the night thinking of Ayse and had written a note to her in English. I began translating it into Turkish so I could text it to her later. When the bus pulled up, I stuffed the partially-translated note into my pocket and boarded.

I rode the bus the 18 kilometers back to Kocabas and stepped off where I’d I’d taken the selfie under the giant Turkish flag. From there I resumed my walk.

About one kilometer ahead of me loomed an unusually large pedestrian overpass crossing the lightly-used highway. The only reason for its existence, it seemed, was for villagers from Kocabas to cross the unused highway to their jobs at the local prison on the other side.

I set my sights on that overpass.

Get past that overpass, I told myself, and you’ll be out of the Denizli orbit and on to the next town.

I knew I had to break the spell of Denizli, and I hoped forward momentum would do it.

My goal for the day was Bozkurt, a small town of about 12,000 people 27 kilometers east of Kocabas, the first town I would reach when I finished the climb onto the Central Anatolian plateau. In my mind, getting onto the plateau would mark the end of the walk’s first stage in the Menderes river valley. It would mean I had finished the beginning.

The day’s climb followed a steep section of the highway through a sparsely-populated area. Sometimes I found myself walking past flat, wide expanses of tall, dry grasses and then suddenly I’d find myself in a section of rolling hills with groupings of oak trees and scrubby-looking shrubs. Like me, the land couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it needed to be. When I would see the oak trees and shrubbery reminiscent of the walk into Denizli, I would feel the pull of Denizli tempting me backwards. When I would see the tall, dry grasses hinting at the plateau to come, I would feel a push forward.

I began to get hungry but paused just before a lunch of kofte and pilav to pull the note from my pocket and type my text to Ayse.

After lunch as I was walking, Ayse called me back. I stopped to take the call. My phone Turkish is even more basic than my face-to-face Turkish, so the conversation was neither deep nor long. She had received my text message and was also reeling from dinner the night before apparently.

After our brief conversation I resumed walking and reflected on the past few days–Ayse, Metin, and the others I had met in Denizli that weekend. I thought about the wedding. I chuckled about drinking with the guys at Bes Yol.
I wanted to hop on a bus back to Denizli and settle down to spend the rest of my life there.

What craziness was that? Ayse didn’t speak English and I spoke Tarzan Turkish. We had different lives and I was old enough to be her father. I needed to break the spell of Denizli if I were going to do the job I’d set out to do.

My back muscles were aching from the climb so I stopped by the side of the road to rest for a while and to process the flood of images that had taken over my mind.

After a time, I was finally able to get up and finish the climb to the top of the plateau. The transition was quick and dramatic, like climbing up a long flight of stairs and stepping out onto a landing. In less than 100 meters I stepped from the climb, marked by scattered oak trees and short bridges over dry stream beds, into Bozkurt, perched on the edge at the top of the plateau with its grassy expanses as flat as boards. There were mountains off in the hazy distance but the road was flat and straight.

Hello plateau, nice to meet you. I’ll be with you for a while now.

I stopped at the first truckstop in Bozkurt where I thought I might sleep. My head was still whirling with images. The truckstop was busy. It had multiple restaurants. There was plenty of grass but there were too many people and it was too close to the road. I needed quiet. As tired as I was, I walked further into Bozkurt.

I found a gasoline station, but the grounds were completely paved over and there was no place to pitch a tent. I called out to one of the attendants anyway. “I’m walking through. Is there a place I can camp? I have everything. I have my tent. I have my sleeping bag. Can I camp here for the night?”

He said, “No. There is probably no comfortable place here for you. You should probably move on.”

Another half kilometer and on my third try, I found a gas station with a covered area and tall grass away from traffic. It had a restaurant. It had bathrooms. There were few people. It was perfect. I paused in front of the office, unprepared for the effort I knew it would take to converse in Turkish with the people inside.

The rational me said, I’m going to need you to be mentally present for this conversation.

The irrational me replied, No, I don’t want to be here I want to stay in my dream world. I like the people back in Denizli, and I don’t want to leave them.

Rational me: Sorry, but you’re here now with these people and you’re going to have to leave the others in Denizli in order to have this conversation.

It was getting dark, and I knew the rational me would have to take hold really fast if I were going to win this tug of war and find a place to sleep that night. I shut down the me whining to go back to Denizli and walked into the gasoline station office.

During the mercifully brief conversation with the station owner, I got clearance to set up camp and have dinner at the restaurant.

After dinner, as I nestled into my sleeping bag, I took a deep breath of the cool night air. At the higher altitude of the plateau the air was crisper and fresher than it had been in Denizli, and I was camping on green grass under the stars, not laid out on the floor in the office of a gasoline station breathing someone’s second-hand cigarette smoke.

Before I went to sleep I calculated how far I had come. I had walked 242 kilometers, or 11.5% of the distance. I noticed that at some point earlier I had written in my notebook that if you can finish 10% of anything, and are determined to do whatever it takes to finish the project, you are highly likely to make it to the end. I asked myself if I was determined to do whatever it takes to finish the project. The answer was yes. I relaxed and snuggled further into my sleeping bag. Everything was going to be okay.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Monday morning, the third week of the walk, I packed up my stuff and said goodbye to Metin and the gasoline station attendants. Then, as the sun rose from behind the hills, I walked to the main road out of town.

It was already hot and humid at 8am, so after walking only half an hour I sat down in the shade under a tree, opened a bottle of water, took a big drink, and began eating a package of cookies–my breakfast.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, was scheduled to visit Denizli that day. His motorcade from the airport would be traveling the road I was walking, so there was a lot of security out even in the early morning.

Three cops from the security detail came over to take their break with me, and we sat down at a nearby picnic table. They asked me about the lives of American cops. I am not a cop, I do not have any cops in my immediate family, and I don’t have any close friends who are cops. So I was having a bit of a hard time accurately representing the lives of American cops. Most of what I knew about the lives of American cops came from the movies, and I told these cops that, but they didn’t seem to mind and kept asking.

“What is an American cop’s salary?”

I took a wild guess.

“What is police academy like in America?”

I took another wild guess.

“How well does an American cop relate to the public compared to a Turkish cop?”

I was better equipped to field that question.

A call came over their radios summoning them back to work. After hurriedly finishing their snacks, said a hasty goodbye to me, and scurried back to work. I stayed behind to finish my breakfast in a more leisurely fashion and enjoyed the silence.

A few minutes later I stood up, pulled my pack back on, and resumed walking out of town. I wasn’t on the road for ten minutes when I heard a car driving up behind me on the shoulder, honking. I figured this was Turkey and cars drive on the wrong side of the road and honk their horns all the time, so I didn’t even look back. But the car wouldn’t go away. It kept following me and honking so I turned around to see what was going on.

It was Meltem, one of the three women I had met at the gasoline station Friday. She pulled on the emergency brake, jumped out of the car, and grabbed me by the arm.

“Here! Come with me!” she ordered, beginning to drag me by the arm to her car before I could say hello.

She stopped suddenly. “No, wait!” She yanked my arm and abruptly turned. Then she dragged me toward a market across the parking lot. “I need to get something,” she said.

As we climbed some stairs towards the market, two cops taking a break in the shade laughed at us and said to Meltem, “You got yourself a foreigner!”

“He’s not for me,” Meltem said as she marched me past the cops into the market.

When it comes to relations between the genders, I am not known for being quick on the uptake. However, when she said those words to the cops I realized she was flying wingman for someone. I was the target. I’d just been been acquired.

So we went into the store and she bought a pack of gum, all the while gripping my arm as in a vise. Then she pulled me out of the store and to the passenger side of the car.

“Get in,” she ordered. I reminded her of my backpack, so she let me take it off and stuff it into the back seat of her car.

“Let’s go to the office,” she said. “Ayse is coming.”

Ah, Ayse. I had no problem with that.

We drove to Meltem’s office which was only a few hundred meters back down the road. It turns out her desk faced the road, and she had called Ayse when she saw me walk past with my backpack. Ayse had told her to go get me and then call her.

At the office, Meltem sat me down at a picnic table outside. A group of male co-workers drifted out of their offices, gathered around, and began questioning me. But Ayse raced up just then and parked her car and jumped out.

“It’s too crowded here!” Meltem told her, waving her back. “Let’s go to a restaurant.” Then the three of us climbed into Meltem’s car and drove a couple hundred meters to a nearby restaurant.

Meltem and Ayse both seemed to know the waitstaff well. I took it they must be regulars there. The waiters seated us out on the patio at a table with a clean, white tablecloth under a thick, leafy green canopy of trees. I looked around and noticed that the restaurant was deserted except for the three of us. Two ducks swam by us in the stream below, a male and a female. They looked content. Meltem, Ayse, and I ordered iced tea and some munchies. I had been interrupted while working, but I was liking this interruption.

Ayse and Meltem asked me why I had stayed a few extra days in Denizli. Had I met someone at the wedding? They began to banter between themselves. Maybe so. No, perhaps he stayed for one of us. Who did he stay for? He stayed for you. No, he stayed for you. No, he stayed for you. No, he stayed for you.

I thought, Actually, I didn’t stay for either of you. I was walking out of town when you stopped me.

Meltem left the table for a few minutes, she said, to attend to some business. Ayse and I shared a moment of awkward silence. I broke it by saying, “You know that woman I stayed for? She’s you.”

I felt ridiculous saying that, being that I had been walking out of town just an hour before. But Ayse seemed to like it. She turned her face away from me, and I could see she was grinning from ear to ear.

Meltem came back to the table, and the three of us resumed making small talk. After a while I excused myself and went to the restroom. When I returned to the table I told them I would need to leave soon, I had some walking to do.

“Have dinner with us,” they said.

“I would love to, but I have already been in Denizli for three nights. I need to walk.”

“Stay in Denizli….One more night….What’s one more night?…Have dinner with us.”

I sat back down and thought. I needed to walk. I had to get my miles for the day. It was my job. But only a fool would turn down a dinner invitation from these two. Surely there must be a way to make this work, I thought.

“Okay,” I said after some quick thinking. I told them I would leave my pack at the restaurant, walk my quota for the day, hop a bus back to Denizli, meet them for dinner, and then stay in Denizli one more night.

Our plans for the evening made, I stood up and walked over to the waiter to ask for the bill. He looked at me, and then he looked over at Meltem and Ayse, who were gently shaking their heads and staring him down with cold, icy stares that seemed to say, “If you let this man pay, we will use a dull knife to remove your testicles.” The waiter looked back at me, smiled sheepishly, and said, “Sorry, you are not going to pay for this one.”

Meltem and Ayse stood up and the three of us prepared to leave. “Let’s meet back here at 8pm,” they proposed.

“No, 7pm,” I countered, thinking about having to get up early the next day to resume walking.

“No, 8pm.”

“No, 7pm.”

“Ooof yaa,” Ayse said, rolling her eyes at me. “Okay, 7pm.”

So I left my backpack at the restaurant and went back out to the main road to continue my walk out of Denizli.

The road east of Denizli was lined with granite mining and cutting operations. As such, that side of the city was unusually heavy with rock dust and quite industrial. The roads were still clogged with trucks belching thick clouds of exhaust, as they had been when I first entered Denizli three days earlier. But this time I had a smile on my face and I could hear the birds singing.

I ended the walk for the day up on a plateau at a village called Kocabas. It had one of the largest Turkish flags I had ever seen. I took a selfie of myself standing in front of that flag, and then I waved down a passing minibus and rode back to Denizli for dinner.

* * * * *

I arrived at the restaurant about 6pm. The waiters recognized me from earlier in the day and pointed me to a restroom where I could clean up. I spent the next half hour taking a sponge bath and trying to comb my hair as best I could.

A few minutes before 7pm, I asked the waiters if I could take a seat early and they escorted me to the same table where we’d eaten lunch. I sat drinking water and dipping bread into olive oil. Meltem and Ayse arrived at 7:30, taking their seats and waving off the waiter’s offer of menus.

About 5 minutes later, Meltem took a quick call on her cell phone, stood up, and said she needed to attend to an emergency at work and would need to leave the restaurant. As she got up to leave I couldn’t help but admire her consistent disciplined execution of a wingman’s duties. If you looked up “wingman” in the dictionary, you would see a picture of Meltem.

Ayse and I ordered dinner and made small talk. By the time the food came we were so busy talking we barely ate. At one point Ayse reminded me to eat, my food was getting cold.

“I can eat anytime,” I said. “Right now I am with you.” The conversation continued. Both plates of food grew cold and were largely ignored.

The waiter knew a little English, and when the conversation moved on to more advanced subjects he was called in to translate. At first he would just translate a few sentences here and there as he walked by, but he gradually became a more permanent fixture at our table. He may as well have taken a seat. I did not like this development. I was not having dinner with the waiter, I was having dinner with Ayse.

Come on Ayse, I thought, we have to get rid of this guy. Help me out here. This restaurant is your territory. Let’s get rid of this guy.

She did get rid of him, but not how I thought she would. “I know no English at all,” she told him. Her face was tense and her eyes watered. “What do I do? I want to understand this man.”

“Well then,” the waiter said, “Talk to him. You will have to talk directly to him, not to me.” He turned and left the table. Moments earlier I had wanted to push him off the ledge and into the water below, anything to get him to leave, but now I wanted to thank him. I had badly wanted Ayse to talk only to me, to look only at me. Now the waiter was leaving her no choice.

Ayse turned to me, looked into my eyes, and we sat like that talking for almost two hours not taking our eyes off each other. We barely acknowledged the waiter when he came back to clear our plates, or refill our water glasses, or ask us if we’d like to order dessert. It was one of the most challenging conversations of my life. I was not only struggling to keep her engaged with me in a language I barely knew, I was struggling to answer questions more personal than any I had ever had to answer before in English.

Ayse was an unusually patient and determined conversational partner. As deep as I was digging to make the most of my Tarzan Turkish, she was digging as deeply to understand the awkward stranger sitting across the table from her.
It had been a long time since anyone had bothered to discuss such personal subjects with me in any language, and if she was going to be patient and determined with me, I was going to be patient and determined with her.

At 11pm Meltem returned. She tapped Ayse on the shoulder. “We’ve got to go now,” she said.

As we pushed back from the table, Ayse asked me, “Where are you staying the night?” I blinked, disoriented. Oh shit, I usually would have taken care of that detail by now. I said, “At the gasoline station, I guess. They’ll probably let me stay there another night.”

We loaded into Meltem’s car and took a back route to the gasoline station. Metin was there as well as some of his friends. I greeted them and asked if I could stay another night. “Of course,” they said.

As I unloaded my backpack from the car, I began to hear the raucousness of a Turkish argument rising from inside. I hurried back inside and found Ayse and Meltem in heated disagreement with Metin and his friends. I understood some of the words but there was something else going on that I didn’t understand. I remembered, yet again, that the people around me had histories I was not aware of, and that sometimes, as restrained and polite and respectful as I tried to be, I would step on some toes. I suspected this had been one of those times.

Ayse pulled me to the side as I entered the building and whispered, “Don’t worry about it, everything will be okay.”

I nodded back to her like I knew what was going on, but thought to myself, No problem, I don’t even understand what you guys are talking about, I just want to go to bed.

They stopped their bickering, and Meltem and Ayse and I said a hurried and awkward goodnight to each other. Then the two of them got back into Meltem’s car. Meltem, flustered from the conversation they’d just had with Metin and his buddies, forgot to put the car in reverse and drove it straight into the side of the gasoline station. She jumped out of the car, and we inspected the damage, deciding it was not a big problem. Then Meltem and Ayse drove away. I laid my sleeping bag out on the office floor for the third time in four nights and fell asleep.