Saturday, 29 December

After my day of walking with Baris on my birthday, I still had one leg I needed to do to reach Adana. I decided to wait with that because life was so active in Mersin, and I had invitations and social calls I needed to make before I moved on. So I took few days to do that.

Ayse and Rustu had invited me to spend some time at their home in the country. On Saturday they had a dinner party and I got to meet some of their friends. I also got to meet their dog Bugday who became my close buddy for the next couple of days.

While I was with Ayse and Rustu, I visited a children’s chorus that Ayse was involved with. The group, Umut Isigi, or Light of Hope chorus, were kids of about 8-10 years old. I enjoyed being their audience of one while they serenaded me with Turkish songs in clear, enthusiastic voices.

Sunday, 30 December

I stayed the night with Rustu and Ayse, and the next morning I got up and spent a little time out on the porch swing basking in the sun and enjoying the view of the green expanse of countryside. Then Rustu, Elida (their 15 year old daughter), and I dug into a huge breakfast Ayse had prepared for us.
After breakfast I spent more time lolling on the porch swing, this time joined by Bugday who shared his sloppy tennis ball with me.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

I passed New Year’s Day back at Melih’s house doing emails, an update on the walk so far for my sponsors, and various other administrative tasks.

I’d been on the road for four months and had walked across 53% of the country. I’d walked a total of 1109 kilometers (689 miles). That’s an average of 277 kilometers (172 miles) per month. Months before the trip I planned on 300 kilometers per month, so I was pretty close to my target.

These were the numbers broken down by month:
Sep: 399 kilometers (247 miles)
Oct: 238 kilometers (148 miles)
Nov: 165 kilometers (102 miles)
Dec: 302 kilometers (187 miles)

As is obvious in the numbers, I’d hit it pretty hard in September. November, the month with two trips to Istanbul, was very light. December was actually right on plan, even with large changes in my traveling style and more social activity than in the three preceding months combined.

Money spent so far in all four months was over-budget. My total was US $3979, an average of US$995 per month.)

Monthly numbers:
Sep: US$737
Oct: US$1303
Nov: US$1143
Dec: US$684

Those numbers included everything I’d spent including warmer clothing, internet data plan, new cell phone, two trips to Istanbul, food, lodging, health insurance, and residence permit. Everything.

All the months were over budget. December was pretty close to budget, but even it was too high.

I was liking the Couchsurfing method I’d started in early December. Physically, it was more comfortable, since I slept in a bed or on a couch. I could take showers and do laundry on a regular basis.

I commuted to work in the mornings, and returned to the same home in the evenings. Since I was based out of a given place instead of moving to a new location each day, I made much closer friendships. Emotionally it was much richer.

The conversations were more substantive, too. Traveling old-style (pre-December), I had the same conversation over and over (What is your name? Where are you from? What are you doing? Where are you going? Why?) With Couchsurfing, since we had more time to get to know each other, we talked about other things too. Politics, history, professions, money, life, philosophy, girls.

I’ve always kept close track of my weight. I wondered how walking 20 kilometers per day and not being able to always control my diet would affect my weight. For 10 years my weight had never gone far from 84 kilos (185 pounds). I regularly went 5 kilos (10 pounds) over or under that, depending on what I’d been eating and how much exercise I was getting. But my weight wasn’t changing much on this trip. It was staying at 84 kilos, +/- 5 kilos.

Language-wise, the Couchsurfing community was heavily oriented towards English. In December I spoke way more English than I did Turkish. But I wasn’t out here to learn Turkish, I reminded myself. I was out here to walk across the country and show it to people.

Still, the question stuck in my mind, still unresolved. So I asked my online followers: What were their thoughts? Some people said I should dive deeper into Turkish, some people said don’t worry about it. Others said, “Whatever feels right.” It was inconclusive, so I decided only time would tell.

Another question that gnawed at me during the couch surfing experience was “Am I experiencing the country or not? Is my experience couch surfing an authentic experience?” It wasn’t what I had set out to do. It wasn’t what I had pictured as an authentic experience.

I decided that in traveling you only get to experience a very small slice of the population in front of you. That slice might be farming based peasants or economically upscale students at an expensive private school or it might be the Couchsurfing community. If you want to have an authentic Turkish experience, any experience you have inside the national borders of Turkey will be a completely authentic Turkey experience. Even if you are sitting eating a waffle with American tourists while sipping a coffee from Starbucks, it’s completely authentic because it’s happening in Turkey. If a foreigner decides what is authentic and what isn’t, he is asking Turkey to be something it is not. I stopped my thinking and analysis there, and walked the couple blocks to Burger King for dinner.

The next day, Thursday, I traveled by bus from Mersin to Osmaniye, my next Couchsurfing stop. On the way into Osmaniye, I spied through the bus window a highway sign for Halep, the Turkish spelling for Aleppo, which was exciting for me because it reminded me that the trip was shifting into another gear. Osmaniye, with a population of about 200,000 people, is about 28 miles from the Syrian border, closer to the border than it is to any major Turkish city. For a few days I would be staying at a college student bachelor pad. I was not expecting an elegant place, but it did have a lot of rooms, so I would have one to myself.

As the bus pulled into Osmaniye, I realized my attention was about to become focused on Osmaniye, and before it did, I had a thought I wanted to commit to paper before I forgot Mersin. So I pulled out my notebook and penned:

Occasionally someone asks why I don’t mention his or her name in my website. Now people may wonder why I don’t mention them in this book.

Well—

There’s a scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan where Matt Damon and Tom Hanks are swapping stories about loved ones.

Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon about his wife back home. Matt Damon asks Tom Hanks to tell him his most special memory.

Tom Hanks declines, saying, “No, that one’s just for me.”

If I don’t mention your name, or the times we shared, in my website or in my book, it might be because some memories are just for me.

Sunday, 6 January

Sunday morning was gray and drizzly as I took the bus to Mustafabeyli where I’d ended the day before. On this stretch I would be completing my walk into Osmaniye.

When I got off the bus in Mustafabeyli I stopped in at a market near my starting point to pick up some bread and cheese for the road and began a conversation with the store owner, Cevdet Aksu. I downed three cups of tea and chatted with Cevdet while he took care of the Sunday morning rush of people buying bread and newspapers. I took comfort in the fact that Sunday mornings are pretty much the same whether you’re in Manhattan or a small village in southern Turkey — carbohydrates and newspapers.

Cevdet Bey had three children: a 23-year old daughter, a 20-year old son, and a 12-year old daughter. The son was a student at Korkut Ata University in Osmaniye, the same university my Couchsurfing hosts went to.

Between customers Cevdet bey pulled up Facebook on the computer near the cash register and asked me for my profile. I typed my username into the search box, and Cevdet sent me a friend request right there on the spot.

I was starting to find something quite comical, now on the last few days while entering the eastern, Kurdish half of Turkey. The population here were crazy, almost maniacal Facebook users. Even before Cevdet, when I would walk into a market to buy water and a bag of chips, attendants at the counter would have Facebook open while they worked.

The view on the walk that day was spectacular, even though it was a bit cloudy. Osmaniye is the extreme edge of the Cukurova plain, and the mountains, visible since Ceyhan, were closer now and in clearer view. I was happy to be entering the rolling, mountainous territory that I loved.

Friday, 28 December

My birthday!

I dedicated the day’s walk to Elif Başak Kurkcu, another guardian angel who tirelessly herded me through hallways and up and down stairs at TAC.

I celebrated my birthday by walking. I did have company. Baris Aydin had noticed me on the couch surfing website. He contacted me and asked me if he could join me for a day of walking. Baris was from Denizli but now lived in Adana with his wife and daughter. He worked for a cruiseline and had a few days off before he had to fly to Miami to get on the cruise ship. Of course, I said yes!

Baris was no stranger to traveling long distances solo. He had ridden his motorcycle across the United States twice, the first time from Florida to California, the second time returning from California to Florida.

I was still commuting to work from Melih’s place in Mersin. Baris met me there and we hopped a bus to Tarsus and began our walk east out of Tarsus to a village called Arikli which was our destination that day. I was walking the Tarsus to Adana stretch. Arikli is a village about 25 kilometers east of Tarsus on the way to Adana.

I enjoyed having Baris on the walk that day. Even though he had done his travels by motorcycle, the process of doing a long solo journey, no matter what mode, was similar, and we could share our travel experiences and feel understood.

Along the way we stopped at a gas station for supplies, and when I told the attendants what I was doing they said, “Wow! If we had the money we would be walking across the country, too!” I saw Baris stifle a knowing grin. This happened often—people’s eyes glazed over and looked dreamy as though they thought I was doing something really exotic when most of what I did, walking along the highway and stopping at gas stations day after day for food, was pure scut-work. Besides, they spent more money not doing what I was doing.

Baris also commented on that irony as we walked.

During the walk Baris and I crossed the provincial border from Mersin province to Adana province that day, my sixth provincial border crossing so far.

That evening, after Baris and I said our goodbyes and I had rested from the day’s walking, Merve, a friend I’d met from couch surfing, came to get me, a full shopping bag in hand. She had been concerned that I might be alone on the evening of my birthday. We walked to the beach, and as we sat in the sand visiting she pulled two bottles of beer and some chocolate bars out of her shopping bag. This became a routine until I left Mersin a few days later. Merve became a good friend and someone I admired because she represented what I loved most about Mersin.

Mersin as it is today reminds me of what Ellis Island in the United States used to be—a welcoming haven for refugees from war-torn countries. We’ve romanticized the Ellis Island period of history in the United States but we don’t much welcome refugees these days. Turkey, and particularly Mersin, does.

Merve was Kurdish and originally from a small town near Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey. In the southeastern part of Turkey the Kurds are the majority population—between 65 and 70%. During the establishment of Turkish borders in the south, there was no provision made for a separate country for the indigenous Kurds who then populated southeastern Turkey, spilling over into the surrounding border countries of Syria, Iraq, Iran.

In the 90’s, the Turkish army was conducting military operations in the area due to a pretty violent civil war with the Kurds who were demanding a separate country and government. During this time, one of the tactics of the Turkish military was that if there were a small town or village suspected of harboring rebels or having rebel sympathies, the military would burn down the town.

When Merve was about 10, the village where she and her family lived was burned to the ground, and with it, the family home where Merve was born. The family witnessed not only the destruction of their home but the death of Merve’s brother at the hands of the soldiers. Having lost everything including their son, the parents picked up the rest of the family and fled to Mersin to begin again.

As in many typical immigrant stories (including those who fled to Ellis Island in the U.S.)—the first hurdle facing an immigrant family is for the father and/or mother to earn some money to put a roof over the heads of the family and some food on the table.

Merve’s father found odd jobs at construction sites. This led to his starting a construction business. Twenty years later he had a contractor business where he bought up plots of land and built apartment buildings on the land. This became a successful family business. Dad’s company still buys up plots of land and builds apartment buildings; Merve and her siblings sit at a desk in the ground floor of the new building and sell the apartments. When the apartments are sold in that building, Dad has finished another building so they move on and sell the apartments in the new building. The family had morphed over the space of 20 years from nothing to owning a pretty big construction company.

There are a lot of stories like Merve’s in Mersin. It’s a crossroads (as Ellis Island was). If you are from a small village that has just been torched or bombed and you want to move your family to a place that’s not so big you are going to get lost, but big enough to find some labor or construction work to do within a few days so you can put some food on the table, Mersin is a good city for that. If you can reach Mersin you can begin to escape the orbit in which people are just trying to survive and are in fear for their lives. Mersin has many such refugees.

The people who left their old country and ended up at Ellis Island, people we admire and who are our heroes, were like any other refugees today. We’ve lost the notion that the same process still goes on. Humans leave one place and go to another. Of course there’s a reason for them to leave their original home in the first place, and it takes some courage. It almost takes some catastrophe as huge as a home being torched in order for things to be so bad one wants to pick up and go somewhere else.

Wednesday, 26 December

I had spent a few days leapfrogging ahead and walking east, into and out of the nearby city of Adana. But Melih wanted to walk another leg with me, so the day after Christmas we hopped a bus to Tarsus. We rode to the main intersection in Tarsus and got off at the Nüsret minelayer display. The Nüsret is a ship which mined the Dardanelle Straits in World War I and helped the Turks stop an Allied invasion. From there we began our walk west back to Mersin. But first we dedicated the day to the pink-booted Oya Zaimoğlu, one of my guardian angels in Tarsus.

This time we planned to walk a shorter 20 kilometers rather than the 30 kilometers Melih’d had to walk the last time he walked with me.

Neither pretty nor idyllic, the area we walked from there to Mersin was a semi-populated, heavily industrialized area with lots of smog and narrow shoulders and busy roads filled with trucks rumbling by belching exhaust fumes.

Later, after Melih and I had stopped for lunch and began to enter Mersin, I felt a bit of deja vu when we approached some acres of neatly trained, manicured orchards behind a steel fence, and I thought, Oh wow, they train those trees like they train peach trees in Reedley. As I’ve said, “You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm entirely out of the boy!” Then I saw the huge sign on the fence—”Unifrutti of Turkey.”

I quickly snapped a picture of the sign and the orchards on the other side of the fence and posted it for my dad. I knew this name, Unifrutti, since I had heard my dad speak of it often. Luis, a good friend of my dad’s from Santiago, Chile, worked with Unifrutti in establishing the nursery and these orchards for the Turkish Government, and with the help of the Turks in the area Luis was responsible for planting these trees. My dad knew Luis from working with him on cooperative projects over the years between their respective agricultural companies in Chile and Reedley. Strange the connections we can find with what we know even in the remotest of places.

As we threaded our way through through the various neighborhoods on our route through suburban Mersin Melih said, “Matt, come this way just a bit. I want to show you something.”

I didn’t know what to expect. Melih’s face was expressionless. I followed him down a side street about two kilometers off our route until we came to a walled-off neighborhood. To enter this area we had to go through turnstiles where guards stood waiting to check our I.D.s.

We passed groups of men coming toward us as they exited the turnstiles through which we had entered. The buildings were dark, hollowed out storefronts that had seen better times. None of them seemed to have electricity. Prostitutes stood outside the doors laughing and making loud, crude comments to each other across the street. I realized Melih was showing me a darker side of Mersin.

My skin crawled. We had only been inside the gates for 1 or 2 minutes, but I turned to Melih and said, “Melih, I’m not going to last even ten more seconds. I’ve got to get out of here.” Melih saw how uncomfortable I was. “Sure,” he said, and we left.

That was my first and last foray into the underbelly of the sex trade in Turkey.

It had taken a huge amount of open-mindedness for me to sleep at the side of the road. It had taken a lot of acceptance to be kind to people trying to convert me in the villages when I wanted to make friends.

Mersin was pulling me in with lots of great food, but it was also forcing me to dig deep and take my own advice to see the world as it is, not as you think it is.

You are not of this world, I reminded myself.

Melih and I walked back to the main road and finished the day’s walk into Mersin. That day, plus the sections I had already walked, into and out of Adana, put me at 51% of the total distance walked. I’d walked more than halfway across Turkey! It was an honor to clear the halfway mark with someone who had become such a good friend. And to do it one day after Christmas, and a couple of days before my birthday. A great way to mark the holiday week!!

Monday-Wednesday, 17-19 December

Oh, the food in Mersin!

After subsisting for a couple of months on gas station junk food, whenever real food was presented to me I gulped it down unquestioningly. And Mersin was full of good food. In fact, during the time I took off for the holiday season, I developed some food related rituals. In the mornings I would cross the street to the bakery and buy a box full of enough pastries to feed two people for three days. This was my breakfast.

After my carb-heavy breakfast, and the nap that inevitably followed, I would schlep myself down the street to the künefe restaurant for dessert. Then I would schlep myself back to Melih’s for another nap.

After my nap I would lug myself downstairs to lunch at the hummus restaurant below Melih’s apartment. In Istanbul there’s very little hummus. But in Mersin, which is nearer Syria and the Middle East, there’s a lot of hummus.

The restaurant staff got to know that when I came in, made eye contact, and held up one finger, it meant one order of hummus, and mere moments after I took a seat, they would set before me a huge bowl of hummus drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with spices and garlic sauce. Moments after that they’d bring a basket of bread. I broke off pieces of bread to sop the hummus bowl clean. And because I was in the habit of eating all the bread that was presented to me, I ate all the rest of the bread too when the hummus was gone. If there was anything else like parsley or fruit garnishes on the table I ate those, too.

After lunch at the hummus restaurant I would walk back to the künefe restaurant for the second time in about six hours and chow down on yet another dish of künefe for dessert. Then I would go back to the apartment for my nap.

By then Melih was just finishing up his work for the day and was hungry for dinner, so we would walk to a nearby restaurant for tantuni (the flatbread stuffed with flank steak and vegetables).

Yes, Mersin was veritable orgy of food!

When the food parade was not enough, Melih and I would go to a nearby hamam, which is a Turkish bathhouse where you can get scrubbed down with a sponge until all the dead skin is gone and you walk out pretty raw. I opted to skip the scrub-down because I didn’t want the intimidating guy dressed in a bath towel scrubbing my skin raw. So while Melih volunteered for this service I would just lay on the marble in the steam room. That felt really good. For months I had been walking by the side of the road camping in weird places like abandoned pear orchards, and here I was in this hamam with abundant water, steam room, swimming pools, and hot showers. It was great!

But I had a job to do, so the food orgies and the hours whiled away under luxurious streams of hot water could not last forever. I still had a country to walk across. So I lived the life of the hedonist only on weekends and during the few days off I’d planned for this time of the year. I would never have completed a day in my walk being weighted down with carbs like I was during my days off.

Thursday and Friday, 20 and 21 December

On Thursday it was back to work, and I took the bus to Adana where my host Utku Tansug had arranged to have me speak at the mountaineering club, CUDOSK (Cukurova Mountaineering and Nature Sports Club). I stayed in his home that night.

Then on Friday I walked east from Adana to Yakapinar on the Cukurova plain where I would be walking for four or five more days. I dedicated the day to Pinar Seydim, the guardian angel at Tarsus American College who kept everything organized so I didn’t ever have to think about where to go or how to get there. I wanted to make sure each member of the guardian angels team at Tarsus was acknowledged as I owed them big time for their help.

For a few days I stayed at Utku’s house in Adana, skipping the Mersin to Adana segment of the walk for now. Melih and I had become good friends by then, and I planned to return to Mersin later and walk that segment when Melih could do it with me. Also, I wanted to be in Mersin for Christmas.

Saturday, 22 December

This morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m., my normal wake-up time for a work day, and lay in my sleeping bag for 15 minutes flirting with the siren who sang to me each morning. She whispered softly into my ear, “Oh, this sleeping bag is so warm and fluffy and comfortable, you could just stay here all day, yes, couldn’t you?”

I had heard this song many times in the past few months, and was starting to realize it was not going to go away. It was not a sign that something was wrong, it was just a sign of a conflict that was never going to go away. So I told myself what I told myself every morning when the siren sang to me like this: This kind of comfort will not last and when it is gone, I will need to be, too. So get out of bed! Must get to work.

Today was a 20 kilometer walk east from Yakapinar (aka Misis) to Ceyhan, a city of about 100,000 people between Adana and Osmaniye. I dedicated it to Bade Turgut, the guardian angel at Tarsus American College who brought me brownies that I’ll never forget and guided me tirelessly from classroom to classroom. Thanks again Bade!

As I walked I could see the mountains east of Osmaniye. It would be another week or so before I climbed into those mountains and left the Cukurova plain behind. I had a string of holidays (Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday) and a few social calls to make in Mersin before then.

So it wasn’t a straight shot to those mountains. But they were there, looming behind the clouds. I had seen them. I love mountains. I miss mountains. I was looking forward to climbing into those.

One of the features on today’s walk, midway between Yakapinar and Ceyhan, was Yilankale, or Snake Castle.

The castle was built on top of a high hill in the 11th or 12th century by the Armenians, and was probably used by the Crusaders too.

There’s another hill right next to the one where the castle was built. Much of that second hill has now been carved away to supply a cement factory but I could see that the hill partially blocked the castle’s sight line across part of the plain, even before the cement factory. So as I approached I was wondering what the castle’s occupants did about that blind spot.

Then at the end of the day I went back to Utku’s to meet with people as was becoming my habit now that I was couch surfing.

Sunday, 23 December

I stayed three nights in Adana with Utku and on Sunday I walked to the train station in the rain and took the train back to Mersin to Melih’s for Christmas and the holidays.

Monday, 24 December

On Christmas Eve, Monday evening, I attended a rehearsal for a Christmas program done by Mersin’s Nevit Kodalli Chorus. Nevit Kodalli was a Turkish opera and ballet composer born in Mersin. I went mainly because I had friends connected with this chorus, but I especially wanted to hear my friend Ayse Hanim from Tarsus sing a solo of Silent Night.

Tuesday, 25 December

My Christmas celebration on Christmas Day was meager. But having been in Turkey for several years I was rather used to that and appreciated the kind-hearted Merry Christmas’s I received from friends on that day as they went to work as usual. In a few places I would see decorated Christmas trees, mostly because generally people in Turkey like the idea of Christmas and the decorations and the lights. They just don’t celebrate the holiday. When I was married my wife always put up a tree and decorated it and loved sitting in the living room at night when it was dark, watching the Christmas lights shining.

Christmas morning I got up and worked on emails, photos, and the usual stuff. Toward noon, as I read my emails and the posts on the website I saw a greeting from an eight-year-old boy, Pryor Gibson. Pryor is a good friend and the son of some very good friends of mine in Seattle, George and Napua. They had posted a picture of Pryor holding up a drawing he had made for me of Santa and two reindeer. They had also written a note at the top of the drawing wishing me the “merriest Christmas ever.”

In turn I walked to a Burger King not far from Melih’s, took a selfie standing in front of it, and posted that along with a Merry Christmas note, telling him that I missed playing light sabers with him this Christmas and wished I could be there doing that now but I guessed I’d have to settle for something else. Then, to continue my Christmas nostalgia for things American, I ate a Whopper at Burger King for my Christmas dinner.

We met on a rainy evening in the park next to the seaside. It was a warm rain, but it was enough to drive all of the evening strollers out of the park, so we had the park to ourselves. A strong wind blew the drops sideways, but we found a pagoda sheltered by a tree, where we could sit out of the rain. Neither of us had an umbrella, and I noticed that Anisa’s windbreaker looked wet.

“You look wet, are you cold?” I asked after we took a seat.

“No, I’m fine. This jacket is actually waterproof.”

I sat down across from her, and as we huddled in the rain I learned that she was from Western Afghanistan,
“Okay, let me know if you get cold. Now, about your story. Let’s back up a bit. Tell me what you were doing before you decided to leave Afghanistan.”

She was from western Afghanistan, near the border of Afghanistan and Iran. When she was growing up, because the educational opportunities were better in Iran, her parents sent her to school at a regional city in eastern Iran. She was 16 at the time. In addition to the general studies there, she also did some technical studies like computer networking, and she earned various Microsoft certifications. By the time she was 18 or 19 years old she’d not only completed the normal high school curriculum, as well as mastering technical courses in computer programming and networking and earning various Microsoft certifications. When it was time for her to find her first job, it was quite easy. She was in high demand and went to work setting up and running the computer systems for a company in Iran.

I asked her again about her age at that time, figuring that I had misheard. It would normally take about ten years to get the kind of education and experience she was describing. So I asked her about it.

“No, no, I was nineteen at that time,” she told me.

I realized that I was sitting across from one of the smartest people I knew.

One of her first jobs was setting up and running the computer systems for a company in Iran. She did that for a couple of years. Then she returned to returned to Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002, shortly after the U.S. invasion, to take a job with the U.N. setting up computer systems for the refugee office in western Afghanistan. She soon moved up into an administrative position in the refugee office.

“That was shortly after the U.S. invasion, correct?”

“Yes,” she continued. “The U.N. ran a refugee office in western Afghanistan. Shortly after the invasion, the U.S. was hiring Afghans to staff the local office. I applied. My main qualification was my technical computer experience.”

Setting up the computer systems took about six months, and then she took an administrative position in the refugee program.

I remembered that Rory Stewart book, The Places Inbetween. He had walked across Afghanistan shortly after the US invasion. That means about the same time he was walking, Anisa was working at the UN.

I realized I was sitting across from someone who had actually lived the events I had read about.

I thought of Ismail Khan, whom Stewart had mentioned in his book, a local war lord who was fighting against the U.N. control of the region. At the time of the US invasion, Khan controlled the borders of western Afghanistan. He had his own import taxes. He was basically running his own regional government when the U.N arrived to take over the administration of the whole country. Not surprisingly, Khan and the U.N. butted heads.

I wondered if she had run into Khan. So I asked.

“Of course, Ismail Khan,” she nodded quickly. A look of fear and disgust crossed her face.

“He attacked the office regularly,” she continued. “A couple of times while I was at work, he shot rockets at us. I’d be sitting at my desk, and rockets would explode outside or crash into the building walls.”

“Once some of his soldiers made it past the security gate. They stormed into the building, running around with their machine guns. I ducked under my desk and hoped not to get shot.”

I watched the woman sitting before me before me as she talked. Not only was she smart, she was brave. She hadn’t stayed away from her country that was a war zone. She had returned to it, taken a job there. Now I could start to connect her the story with my own images of refugees: people fleeing war. But in my mind, refugees were unwashed masses with blankets and no shoes, escaping the chaos in war-torn countries. This was a woman in her early 20s with a desk job, typing at a computer.

“One day some of the soldiers followed me as I walked home from work. They started harassing me, but some neighbors broke it up. However, then the soldiers followed me at a greater distance and saw where my family and I lived.

“I could deal with rocket attacks at work, but when they knew where my mother, brothers, and sisters were, that was enough. For months my family had been saying, ‘No, no this is our home. We want to stay here.’ But finally that became, ‘Okay, let’s leave the country. The time has come.’”

The refugee image in my mind includes dramatic midnight escapes, fleeing the country on foot. But that’s not what they did. They basically took one bus to Iran, and then another one to Turkey.

“We found our way to the eastern Turkish city of Van, where we lived for about two years.

“I got a job helping other refugees with their own resettlement. And then, after the big earthquake in 2012, my family once again did not feel safe, so we moved further west here, to Mersin. And that’s how I came to be here.”

By that time it was getting late, and the blown rain was starting to soak our table. We stood up, said goodbye, and I leaned into the wind and walked back to Melih’s apartment, all the while thinking, “See the world as it is, not as you think it is. Don’t ever forget that.”

Sunday, 16 December

The next day, Sunday, I woke up at my normal time, 6:30am, and knocked on Melih’s door to ask him if he wanted to join me again. He called out good morning through the door, but he sounded like he was in pain. Probably sore from yesterday, I thought. I let him go back to sleep as I laced up my shoes and headed out the door.

I hopped the bus and rode back to the flagpole in Arpaçbahşiş where we’d finished walking the day before and began my walk back into Mersin. It wasn’t a pretty walk-by-the-seaside day. Most of the time that day I walked past tall buildings and heavy traffic. It was a day to knock out the smelly, exhaust-filled kilometers. Nothing more, nothing less.

Mid-morning, as I was standing on the side of the road struggling to open a particularly reluctant roll of sandwich cream cookies, up rode five Turkish cyclists decked out in lycra and helmets. They pulled up next to me and stopped. I had not met them before, but they greeted me by name in English.

“Where are you headed?” the lead cyclist asked.

“Back into Mersin,” I responded. The roll of cookies popped open, and a few of them dropped onto the ground.

“Looks like you lost part of your lunch,” the lead cyclist smiled. She continued, “We’re going to Kız Kalesi to greet some Germans who are cycling to China. Have you been to Kız Kalesi before?”

“Yeah, I was there yesterday.”

“Of course you were. Well, good luck with your cookies. We’ve got to go, it was nice to meet you,” she said, as she clipped back into her pedal and started away.

As the line of cyclists pulled away, I thought, Wow, they knew my name. For thousands of years people have been crossing this country, and now I’m one of them. It’s quite a club, and now I’m in it.

When I got back home Melih was out of bed, but said he had been too sore and stiff to walk across the apartment, much less leave the house that day. I showered and rested, and then attended a potluck dinner hosted by one of the faculty members I had met at Tarsus American College. I was loving my new Couchsurfing travel method. People had been feeding me all the way across the country, but now they were friends I had met a week before, and here I was getting to see them again. What a treat!

Monday, 17 December

Since I had now finished walking towards Mersin, it was time for a day or two off before I started the walk away from it. As I rolled out of bed Monday morning, I decided that my first act of my first day off under my new Couchsurfing regime would be to walk across the street to a bakery I had seen, and buy a bunch of stuff.

The bakery attendant asked me how many people I was buying for.

“Two,” I said.

He took out a small bag and shook it open.

“I’m going to buy a lot,” I told him, “You might need a bigger box for this.”

He got a box and followed me around the shop while I pointed at things I wanted to buy. When the box was full, I told him, “There’s more. We’re going to need another box.”

I carried my haul back to Melih’s apartment, brushed away the cigarette ashes on the desk of Melih’s home office, and dropped the boxes down.

“Breakfast is served,” I said to Melih with a flourish.

I ate my half of the pastries in about three minutes, eyed Melih’s half and decided not to eat it. Instead, I went back to bed and slipped into a happy carbohydrate coma. This place is starting to feel like home, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.

**************

Though I was close to half way through the walk, I had yet to meet any of the “dangerous” people I had been warned about. Instead, I met a young man, a 17-year-old kid from Croatia who was staying with Melih for a few days while I was there too. He was hitchhiking to Iran. He told me that during school breaks while the rest of his friends were hanging out at the mall, he would walk to the edge of town, stick out his thumb, and hitchhike. A couple of months before this trip he had hitchhiked through Ukraine, Siberia, Mongolia, and into China. He had gotten to Shanghai and he looked at the calendar and thought, Oh, I better get back home—school’s starting again. So he hitchhiked back to Croatia from Shanghai.

This guy is young enough to be my son, I thought. If my son were doing this I would be much more relaxed if I knew somebody was taking care of him.

So as few resources as I had myself, I said, “You haven’t eaten yet so let’s go out to dinner.” So the three of us–the Croatian kid, Melih, and I–went out to dinner and had some tantuni.

Melih and I had arranged a small party that evening so we could get better-acquainted with the local Couchsurfing community. After dinner with the Croatian kid, Melih and I went to a nearby restaurant famous for the local dessert specialty, künefe, to meet some of the community members. There were ten of us: Stew, from Ireland, Ziad, a refugee from Syria, Milad, a refugee from Iran, Milad’s Turkish girlfriend, three other Turks, Anisa, a refugee from Afghanistan, and Melih and me.

Thirty percent of the people at that table were refugees, and none of them fit what I imagined a refugee to be: someone running across the border carrying blankets and then sleeping on the streets begging for money. Ziad, Milad, and Anisa weren’t carrying blankets, and they slept in their beds at home. They were more educated than I, and their English was quite fluent.

As the group broke up for the evening, a voice at the back of my head told me I needed to learn more about Anisa’s story. While the rest of the group had been chatty that evening, she had been fairly reticent, and the few words that she did say suggested she had a very unusual background.

So I asked her if we could meet again so she could tell me her story. She nodded yes, and we agreed to meet a few days later, on one of my next days off.

Saturday, 15 December

The next morning I got up at 6:30. Melih was still sleeping. I knocked on his door to wake him up.

“Hey, I’m leaving in a few minutes,” I called through the door. “Do you still want to join me?”

“Yes,” he called through the door, “I still want to join you. I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.”

Melih got up and got dressed, and we walked two kilometers out to the main road and caught the bus I had been on the day before. We rode back to the point where I had stopped walking the day before, a landmark called Kız Kalesi—The Maiden’s Tower, a small fortress/lighthouse rising out of the sea about a hundred meters off the shoreline.

When we stepped off the bus I ran over to a dumpster and touched it with my hand and ran back to Melih, who was now standing in the cloud of dust left behind by the departing bus.

Melih looked at me, a puzzled expression on his face. “Why did you run over and touch that dumpster?”

“Well, that’s where I finished yesterday,” I said, “And I’m walking across the country, which means wherever I stop one day, I have to start the next.”

“If you don’t, who’s going to know?” Melih asked.

“I’ll know.”

Melih and I took a few selfies with the Kız Kalesi in the background, and then we began the day’s walk.

The first ten kilometers went pretty smoothly. Melih walked with pep in his step, and for the first time I could hear lightheartedness in his voice.

The road took us through an area that, in the days of the Roman Empire, had basically been a Roman suburb. We stopped to climb around on an outdoor amphitheater, and later to take a photo of me standing in front of an old Roman aqueduct nestled between lemon trees. I marvelled throughout the day that in most other places sites like these would be hidden behind closed gates and entry fees, but here they were just scattered rocks and pillars farmers drove their tractors around.

We passed a new building complex. Melih pointed out the complex and said that he had designed the electrical systems for these buildings.

Between kilometer 10 and 20 Melih started to tire. I could see on his face, and in his gait, that he was starting to hurt.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“Yeah, but my feet are hurting a bit, and my legs are getting stiff. My back hurts, too.”

As we neared kilometer 20 I looked at my watch and noticed that it was 4pm. Man, I thought to myself, if I were by myself I’d be finished for the day by now but we still have ten kilometers to go! It would be dark when we finished. I was starting to get nervous.

At kilometer 22 we stopped for börek and çay. Melih took his shoes off. I could see he was starting to blister. I thought, Man there is no way he is equipped to finish this next ten kilometers.

I asked him, “Melih, are you sure you don’t want to pack it in? We could get a bus right now back to Mersin, we’d get home early. Why don’t we just do that?”

“No! I want to finish,” Melih said.

I pointed to the road behind me. “Are you sure? The busses are right there, we could flag one down.”

“No!” Melih insisted, “I want to do this!”

“It’ll be dark when we finish,” I said, hoping he would give in.

He smiled back at me. “No, Matt, I want to do this.”

“Okay then, let’s finish up our çay and then get back to it. Daylight’s burning.”

We gulped down the rest of our tea and crossed the road to finish the last ten kilometers of the day’s walk. For seven kilometers, Melih did okay, but for the final three kilometers, I was sure that every step was going to be his last. For about 30 seconds I would walk at what I thought was an incredibly slow pace, and then I would turn around and wait while Melih caught up with me. He was not talking at all, and his face was frozen in a grimace of exhaustion. I was afraid he was going to collapse.

“We’re almost there,” I reminded him. “Just a couple kilometers.”

It was late dusk when we entered the small town of Arpaçbahşiş with Melih still hobbling through every painful step and me turning around to wait for him every 30 seconds or so. We finally reached the flagpole at the municipal building which we had agreed on the bus ride would mark the end of the day’s walk. It was well past the time I would normally want to pull off the road and stop working for the day.

At the flagpole, I turned one last time and watched Melih trudge toward me. When he spied the flagpole, and even though he could barely walk, he found it within himself to skip through the final few steps. As he reached the flagpole he raised his hand and we did a high five. I said, “Let’s go home, Melih!” A look of relief crossed his face and he broke out into a huge smile and said, “Yes, let’s do that.”

On the minibus ride back into Mersin, Melih fell into a desperately-tired sleep while I looked out the window at the passing trees. I sensed that the day’s walk had addressed a deep need for Melih. I didn’t know what that need was, but a few days earlier at TAC the universe had made me a rock star. Maybe my job this week was to repay the favor, and help Melih find the rock star within himself.

The bus let us off at our corner in Mersin at 9 p.m. I shook Melih awake and we stumbled the last two kilometers back to Melih’s apartment.

Thursday, 13 December

My short stay at TAC had been an emotional high, and as I walked away from the school I wondered what would come next. I remembered that now I was shifting into Couchsurfing. That should shake things up a bit, I thought. I wondered what it would be like.

I arrived at the bus that would take me the 30 kilometers to the nearby town of Mersin where my first Couchsurfing host, Melih Mutluay, lived. I was feeling emotionally low. It would be hard to match the high I had experienced at TAC. But by that time I was beginning to learn: When you leave something great, just get to the next thing. You’ll find something great there, too.

I ate lunch at the bus station after arriving in Mersin, then sat drinking tea while uploading photos, updating my journal, and answering emails.

Then it was time to go meet Melih. I had looked up his neighborhood on Google maps and knew I had three or four kilometers to walk to reach his neighborhood. Most of the walk was along the Mediterranean shore, so I didn’t mind. On one side of me were palm trees and grassy parks, and on the other was the marina with its fancy boats and old men fishing. For weeks and hundreds of kilometers I had been looking forward to walking next to the Mediterranean, and here it was, finally.

Via messaging on Couchsurfing, I had arranged to meet Melih at 2:30 on the steps in front of the municipal arts theater next to the seaside. Melih had said his apartment was a five minute walk from the theater. At 2 p.m. I arrived at the theater, pulled off my pack, and sat on the concrete steps. It was December but I was wearing short pants and a t-shirt, sitting in the shade of palm trees. The plateau, where I had been two weeks ago, was now covered with snow.

I thought back to the times I had sat outside a mosque, hoping they would let me camp outside, and marvelled that for the first time on my walk sleeping arrangements for the night had already been made.

I had never met Melih face to face and had only an idea of what he looked like from a photo on Couchsurfing, which had been our only contact. Since I wasn’t sure who to look for, any male passing by was a Melih suspect, and it occurred to me that I might look a little weird, sitting alone on the stairs, smiling at every approaching man.

Melih didn’t have a problem finding me and spotted me very quickly, perhaps because I was the only foreigner stretched out on the front steps with a really big backpack. He was wearing old khakis, his hands thrust into the pockets of a red jacket he’d probably been wearing for several days in a row. His shoulders were a little slumped.

“Hi!” he said in a flat, monotone, “Let’s go back to my place.” He turned abruptly and began walking back to his apartment.

I hopped up to follow. But since I had to pause to pull my pack on, I had to hurry to catch him.

He didn’t seem very excited to see me, but as I followed him back to his place I was excited to see how easy Couchsurfing made it to find a place to sleep. So much for chatting up gas station attendants, I thought, hoping they’ll like me enough to offer me a place to sleep.

We went back to Melih’s small apartment.

It wasn’t a fancy apartment. In fact, it was kind of dingy. The shower was just a nozzle on the wall in the kitchen next to the washing machine. Under the nozzle was a plastic bucket for pouring water over yourself. The kitchen sink was full of dishes that had been dirty for weeks. Scattered crumbs and stray dust bunnies littered the floor, so I kept my shoes on as I walked across it. Melih’s desk was covered with stale cigarette ashes and overflowing ashtrays.

However, I reminded myself that for the last few months I had been sleeping in abandoned pear orchards. Plus I knew this was Melih’s first Couchsurfing experience, so maybe that explained his mood.

I set my pack down in one of the four rooms of the apartment, a room Melih had designated for couch-surfers–in this case me, and we went to have a meal and get acquainted.

Friday, 14 December

The next day I resumed my walk, this time Couchsurfing style. I woke up at 6:30am and walked a couple kilometers to the main road. I caught a bus for the 90-kilometer ride to Silifke, found a seat, and propped my red knapsack on my lap. At Melih’s the night before I had filled that knapsack with supplies I would need for the day: my iPhone, my camera, a bottle of water, a pair of gloves, and an extra shirt in case it got cold. I reached into the bag, pulled out my camera, and filmed a couple minutes of footage just sitting on the bus. I was almost as excited to be on a bus commuting to work like a normal person as I had been on the first morning of the walk back in Kuşadası. The woman across the aisle from me watched me as I filmed, looking puzzled, probably trying to figure out what was so interesting about sitting on a bus that it warranted filming.

I stepped off the bus in Silifke, pivoted, and began the day’s walk, 30 kilometers back towards Mersin. I figured that without a pack, I would be able to cover 30 kilometers, not my usual pack-carrying 20 kilometers.

Two weeks ago I had been walking through forests and river valleys. Now I was walking through a string of sandy beach towns along a road lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants for vacationers. The sparkling waters of the sea were 100 meters to my right, and the hills of the Toros mountain range to my left.

At the end of that day’s 30 kilometers I hopped the mini-bus back to Mersin and walked the final one or two kilometers from the main road to Melih’s apartment.

So that’s how it’s going to be for a while, I said to myself as I climbed the stairs to Melih’s apartment. Take the bus to work. Walk. Take the bus home. Repeat that process the next day.

That evening Melih and I sat in his apartment drinking a couple beers. Melih was silent for a moment, then looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Matt, I’d like to come with you on your walk tomorrow.”

I was surprised and happy to hear he wanted to join me, figuring that having company might be fun. But I was also a little nervous. I was aware most people do not walk 6 hours a day.

Melih smoked and was a little on the heavy side and got no exercise that I was aware of. So I said, “Well, I walk 30 kilometers. Are you sure you are up for that?”

He replied, “Whatever you do, I’m determined to do it too.”

A fire in his eyes told me that yes, he was determined to do it. But could he do it? I did it, but I was used to it. He wasn’t.

“Do you want to walk the whole thing?” I asked. “Or just the beginning or the end?”

“I want to do the whole thing,” he said.

“You’ll probably be pretty sore the next day. Are you okay with that?” I asked.

He said, “Yeah, I’m okay with it. What you are doing is a test for me. I want to do it.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ll be glad to have you. I leave about 6:30 in the morning. Are you okay with that?”

“Yes, no problem,” he said.

On Sunday, I rolled out of bed and, before going down to breakfast, gathered up my stuff and prepared to check out of the Oğretmen Evi. Later that morning I would be hopping a bus to the nearby town of Tarsus, to visit the students at a school there for a few days.

It only took me a few minutes to pack, since I had gotten so good at it and didn’t have much stuff anyway. I pulled on clean clothes, feeling like a million bucks even though the clothes were just cheap nylon track pants and a Tshirt with no dried sweat or dirt, and headed down to breakfast. Having been at this hotel for four mornings now, I had gotten used to a new routine: Pull on clean clothes. Eat breakfast. I felt like I was living in the lap of luxury.

After breakfast I hopped a bus for the two-hour ride to Tarsus American College, a private middle and high school.

As I neared the school I thought back to my first phone conversation with the American teacher who had invited me to the school. It had been back in November, over a month earlier. I had been walking along the side of the road when my phone rang. I pulled the phone out of my pocket and stared at it. It didn’t ring often those days, and I barely recognized the ringing sound. From the foggy reaches of my distant memory I remembered that when someone calls you, you typically answer. So I clicked the button for “answer.”

“Hello, this is Matt,” I began.

“Hello Matt, my name is Stacey Brown. I am a teacher at Tarsus American College, a school in Tarsus, a city on your route.”

Of course, Tarsus, I thought. I recognized the town’s name instantly, having pored over the satellite maps of my route many times.

“Yes, I know of it. How can I help you, Stacey?”

Stacey told me that one of her friends had read an article about me in Outside Magazine and told her I would be walking through Tarsus. That friend had suggested Stacey call me.

Stacey asked me if I would in fact be passing through Tarsus, and if so could I come visit her students for a few days?

“Sure,” I said, “I’d be happy to. How do I find your school?”

“Walk through the city’s Cleopatra Gates, and then face east. You can’t miss us.”

The Cleopatra Gates, I thought to myself, sounds great!

“Could you check your calendar,” she continued, “and let me know when you’ll be in the area? I will need to talk to the school and get their approval for those specific dates.”

Almost no one ever asked me for specific dates. Because I had planned the walk so carefully beforehand, I knew for months ahead of time almost the specific day I would be passing through even the tiniest villages out in the middle of nowhere. But so many people back home thought this walk was a footloose and fancy-free gallivant across the country. It was refreshing to hear someone ask me for specific dates about something that would happen over a month later.

I smiled. A kindred spirit, I thought to myself.

“Sure,” I answered, “give me two days, and I’ll look at my calendar and let you know when I’ll be in the area.”

That was how I met Stacey Brown. Now, over a month later, here I was approaching the gate of her school.

As I walked up to the guard station, I imagined that I would be received like a rock star, that the guards at the gate would know immediately who I was, and would be as impressed with me as I was. After all, no one but me walks across the entire country.

I had let it conveniently slip from my memory that St. Paul was from Tarsus, and thousands of years earlier he had walked across Turkey proselytizing for Jesus. People had been walking across Turkey for thousands of years.

“Hello,” I said to the guards as I walked up to the school gates. “My name is Matt, and I’m here to see Stacey.”

I expected them to know exactly who I was, that my appearance would be the highlight of their day.

They looked up at me with blank expressions.

“Matt who?”

“Matt Krause. I’m here to see Stacey. Stacey Brown.”

“Ah yes, Stacey Brown.” They picked up the phone and dialled someone somewhere.

They couldn’t find Stacey. After a few moments of confusion, they widened the search and began supplementing the landlines with their cell phones until they reached someone who knew where to find Stacey.

“Yeah,” the guard on the phone said into the receiver, “there’s some guy out front, with a big backpack. Says he’s looking for Stacey.”

So much for the rock star treatment. I was just “some guy.” I thought back to the moment when I stepped off the bus in Kuşadası, watching the waiting cars whisk the other passengers away, leaving me alone on the blacktop, thinking to myself, You are not of this world anymore.

I waited about five more minutes and Stacey and Mr. Hanna, the school’s headmaster, appeared to greet me at the gate.

They escorted me inside to my suite in the guest wing of the teachers’ housing complex. The suite had a soft, inviting bed, a sparkling clean bathroom, and a sitting room with a computer.

“Is this acceptable?” Mr Hanna asked.

I tried to act cool, but I couldn’t help myself. “Of course, it’s more than acceptable!” I blurted out. I added, silently, You have no idea where I’ve been sleeping, do you?

As they prepared to leave, Mr. Hanna asked me if I wanted to use the wifi. He said he was embarrassed, though, because it would take them a couple hours to find the password. No problem, I thought to myself. I might not be used to beds anymore, but I have become amazingly resourceful when it comes to connecting to the internet.

I simply said, “No, that’s okay, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Stacey told me she and Mr. Hanna would pick me up a few hours later for dinner. Seconds after they pulled the door shut behind them I spread my arms and fell backwards into the soft white comforter splayed across the bed, rested there for a few minutes, and then got up for a long hot shower.

Later, when Stacey and Mr. Hanna returned to pick me up for dinner, they were accompanied by two more people: Filiz, Mr. Hanna’s translator, and Pınar, one of Stacey’s students. We walked to a nearby restaurant. Almost as soon as we sat down, the four of them began peppering me with questions. I was so happy to be speaking my native language, and to be speaking with people who understood all of my words, that between their eagerness to ask me questions, and my happiness to talk, I barely touched my food.

Filiz and Pınar wanted to know what I had been doing in the evenings along the walk. I mentioned that usually I spent time in the village socializing, but for the past few weeks I hadn’t been in many villages and had been camping alone by the roadside.

“What do you do when you are all alone in the dark?” they wanted to know.

“Well, I tried reading with a booklight in my tent after going to bed, but soon had to dispense with that.”

“Why was that?”

“With the light on I couldn’t see out of the tent, and I have to be able to see my surroundings, even in the dark,” I said.

“How do you see your surroundings in the dark?”

“Well, of course, I can’t see them like I do in the daylight,” I explained as well as I could, “but in the dark, shapes take on a different personality, and I need to know that personality. Plus, I could have a light anywhere in the world. The point is, I’m sleeping in a tent in Turkey. I need to experience that and not turn on a light and start reading.”

Filiz and Pınar stared at me without saying a word. I was afraid that next maybe they’d tell me it was time for us to go home. I was afraid they were thinking, “Who is this crazy man, sleeping by himself in the dark at night?”

But Mr. Hanna smiled and began reciting a poem by Wendell Berry, “To Know the Dark:”

“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light
“To know the dark, go dark, go without sight
“And find that the dark too blooms and sings
“And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”

I relaxed. They weren’t puzzled by me. They understood me quite well.

Filiz pointed at my plate and reminded me to eat. I finished my dinner and the five of us strolled back to the school slowly, taking in the warm Mediterranean evening air. I would need a good night of sleep, they told me, the next few days would be very busy. I wasn’t sure what they had in store for me, but I was happy to place my trust in these people I had just met.

Monday, 10 December – Wednesday, 12 December

What they had in store for me was three whirlwind days of running from classroom to classroom, from auditorium stage to auditorium stage, up and down stairs, from building to building. Pınar and 5 of her classmates (Bade, Elif, Oya, Dilek, and Lara) had been appointed by Stacey to be my guardian angels for those three days. They picked me up from my apartment each morning and led me to a huge breakfast spread in the school cafeteria each morning. They escorted me from classroom to classroom each day, where the other students would pepper me with an endless array of questions: What do you eat? Where do you sleep? How do you wash your clothes? What kind of social life do you have? Do you ever worry? Are you ever afraid? The students wanted to see what I carried in my pack, so often I would empty it onto the classroom floors. Shortly before the end of a class, one of my guardian angels would show up and wait by the classroom door. When the bell would ring, I would hurriedly stuff everything into my backpack, and the two of us would run to the next classroom, pushing our way through a sea of admiring students. The guardian angels were the cool people, trusted by the school to escort a valuable visitor from class to class. Not only was I a rock star now, they were too.

I had grown accustomed to walking alone for hours each day, talking mostly to 65-year-old men outside mosques or 25-year-old attendants outside gasoline stations, and now I was surrounded by a bunch of secular English-speaking Turkish kids from wealthy families in urban areas. I had grown used to being cared for by strangers, but within hours the students did not feel like strangers anymore, they had become family. They even got worried that I might be homesick and one day organized a “Taste of Home” luncheon where they presented me with a platter of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They took care of me, and I wanted to take care of them.

The teachers made sure my after-school social needs were taken care of, too. One evening they invited me to play in their indoor soccer game. I told them I had no soccer skills, but they insisted skills were not necessary for this game. “Then I’m perfect,” I said, “I’d love to join.”

The game was like no soccer game I had ever seen. It was played on a basketball court, and it was perfectly acceptable to bounce the ball off the walls and ceiling. It was basically a three-dimensional game played on a hardwood floor with a ball ricocheting off the walls and ceiling. I loved it. The teachers had even done away with the rule “no blood no foul” — when one of the teachers got hit in the face with the ball, she just wiped away a rivulet of blood, laughed it off, and went back to playing.

From sunup to bedtime the school kept me busy. I was happy, cared for, and comfortable.

Thursday, 13 December

On Thursday morning I said goodbye to my bed, took one more hot shower, pulled on my pack (now stuffed with clean clothes), pulled the apartment door shut behind me, and walked toward the school gates.

For three days I had swum in a sea of warm, friendly people. For three days I hadn’t had to think of anything. All I had had to do was put my hand out, and one of my six guardian angels would appear to take me to where I needed to go next, or to feed me, or to show me back to my apartment at the end of the day. Outside of the school gates I would need to do all of those things for myself again. The transition back into the real world was going to be tough.

As I neared the gate, one of the students ran up to me. He asked if he could take a photo with me, and if he could get my autograph. While I was signing one of his books, another student ran up to us. Then another. Then another. Within seconds I was surrounded by a hundred students, all clamoring for a photo and an autograph. The warm human sea was back, and I was happy to swim in it for a few more minutes. I signed one autograph, and then another, and then another, for about two hours. Then the crowd began to dwindle, and I knew my borrowed time in the Garden of Eden was about to end. The world was calling.

When the last autograph was signed, I sighed, pulled my pack back on, and walked out onto the street. The school gate shut behind me.

I sighed again, hitched up my pants, and began walking towards the city center.

Wednesday, 5 December

In the morning Ali and I both woke up around 6:30 a.m. We got up and walked down the street to Hoca’s restaurant for breakfast but found it not open yet. We hung out at the kahvehanesi a while instead. When Hoca finally arrived we stepped into his restaurant for breakfast. It turns out breakfast was not a regular meal served publicly to restaurant patrons — it was just Hoca, Ali, me, and a young man named Sahin, the village’s butcher.

While Hoca was away from the table I asked Sahin how Hoca had come to be called Hoca, since I had never met someone whose real name was Hoca (Hoca is just a nickname given to some people). Sahin told me that at one point Hoca had been an imam. With that piece of information, something about Hoca fell into place for me. He had a way of looking at me that made me squirm a bit — a calm, self-assured gaze that said, “I’m looking into you, but I don’t need anything from you, and you don’t need to do anything that you’re not doing right now.”

I remembered Enes, the imam I’d met a couple months before with the similar steady gaze that made me want to squirm. Maybe they teach you how to look at people that way in imam school or something.

Breakfast over, I said my goodbyes and thank you’s, took a self-portrait photo of the four of us, and began my day’s walk.

At no point had anyone asked for, nor would they have accepted, any money in return for the delicious dinner, or the dozens of cups of tea, or the breakfast, or the warm bed. I was simply the village’s guest for the night. For eighteen hours it was their mission in life to see that I was taken care of. After almost a week camping by the side of the road, getting rained on, and eating food wherever and whenever it appeared, I drank that in like a man just in from crawling through the desert would drink in a tall glass of water.

As I left Degirmendere I noticed a man tending his sheep in a grassy area on the other side of the road. I crossed over to say hello and realized it was Ahmet bey. Ahmet and I had sat next to each other at the kahvehanesi earlier that morning next to the fire.

We said hello again, and Ahmet gave me four tangerines from his orchard to tide me over until my next meal.

A few hours later as I began the final descent to sea level and into Silifke,I could finally see the Mediterranean! I was so happy that I dug my camera out of my backpack and filmed a video of myself congratulating myself for reaching this milestone. The sea looked to be five or ten kilometers off in the distance still, but I’d been looking forward to that moment for a long time!

I ended my day at the Ogretmen evi in Silifke. It was my 40% mark!

Layover in Silifke

A teacher at a nearby international school, Tarsus American College, had heard about my walk and invited me to spend a few days at the school talking to the students. That was still 4 days away, so I had some time to kill in Silifke. After breakfast on my first day in Silifke, I took a seat on an overstuffed couch in the lobby of the Ogretmen Evi. I knew I had some problem-solving to do, and welcomed having a few days in a comfortable place to do it.

The problem was that this next section, the Cukurova plain, was densely populated. There would probably not be many areas where I could find a couple consecutive kilometers in which to camp. My daily operational model of sleeping under trees and behind rocks and in the gardens of remote village mosques was not going to work on the Cukurova. I would need places to stay for three weeks while crossing the Cukurova, so this was a more significant problem than if it would only last for a couple nights.

But I faced another problem too. As much as I enjoyed sleeping under the stars, even when it rained, what I craved at this point was sleeping in a warm bed with a roof over my head. I craved hot showers, washing machines, and more substantive human contact. I was emotionally exhausted from the daily need to say goodbye to people I had met the night before. I wanted a little more time to form friendships.

As I sat on that couch, wondering how to solve these problems, I thought of something: Couchsurfing!

Couchsurfing.org is a website that connects travelers looking for a place to stay with local hosts. I had never tried Couchsurfing, but a friend had used it to travel the world a few years back, and he raved about it. The more I thought about it the more Couchsurfing seemed a simple, practical way to solve my problems, both logistical and emotional.

But I wondered, was I being a sellout?

Would I be giving up an authentic life on the road for an inauthentic, sanitized walk across the country? Would using the internet to make friends and find places to stay turn this into Walk Across Turkey Lite?

What would it look like, logistically, day to day? How would I stay in the same house for a week, but still make regular progress across the country?

I got up from the couch to get myself a cup of coffee, pace around the room, and think this one through.

I know, I thought to myself, I’ll base out of one house for a week, and on the first day take a bus 90 kilometers to the west, and then walk 30 kilometers towards the city and go home for the night, and the next day I will take a bus to where I finished the day before, walk another 30 kilometers towards the city and then go home for the night, and the third day I will take a bus to where I finished the day before and walk the last 30 kilometers into the city. Then I will spend three days doing the same to the east of the city.

I’ll call this “throwing,” my personal slang term for this model. Basically, I’ll be commuting to work each day.

I decided to give it a try. I would throw my way across the Cukurova Plain. If I didn’t like it or it felt wrong, I could just stop doing it when I got across the Cukurova. I set up a Couchsurfing account, uploaded a profile photo, and sent out my first messages to members in the area.

Nihat bey, the commander at the jandarma post, had told me to find and say hello to Hoca at the end of the day, so all day long I walked thinking, I can’t just camp anywhere tonight, I’ve got to find Hoca. Whatever I do, I’ve got to find Hoca.

In the early afternoon I stopped off at a tea garden near Ortaoren with an irresistible view of the river valley below. I ate patatesli gozleme,a pancake stuffed with boiled and lightly-seasoned potatoes, drank some tea, and had some conversation with Hilmi, the grown son of one of the tea garden’s owners. Hilmi was a sailor with the merchant marine and at sea for six months out of the year. When he was home he worked the tea garden owned by his mother and uncle.

But as I was looking out at the view from the tea garden I saw the storm rolling back in and knew I had to get going because I still needed to find Hoca.

Shortly after I left the tea garden the storm rolled in, except this time from the opposite direction. Instead of a warm rain coming from the Mediterranean, the storm was blown back in by a wind from the north causing me to lean precariously to the right. The rain was colder than it had been the night before.

After a few minutes a car pulled up beside me and stopped. It was a guy I’d seen at the tea garden.

“Get in the car!” he called out. “I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

I said to him, as I’d said to countless people on the walk, “Thank you very much for the offer, but no, I’ve got to walk.”

He finally gave up on me and turned around and disappeared back the way he had come.

Fortunately, the rain lasted only a short while. The clouds and the wind remained, however, and I was left cold and soaking wet but happy to be walking through such beautiful territory.

About 3 p.m. I reached Degirmendere (windmill creek), the village where I was supposed to find Hoca. Degirmendere is just a couple kilometers from where the steep v-shape of the river valley ends and turns into rolling hills through which the river meanders until it reaches the sea.

I came up on a section of the road crowded with parked trucks and thought that looked like a good sign. I started asking around about Hoca, and the third person I asked pointed to a nearby restaurant with a sign that said Hoca’nin Yeri (Hoca’s Place). I’d find Hoca there, the man said.

I walked into Hoca’s Place and started asking for Hoca. (By the way, hoca means teacher in Turkish.) At the back of the restaurant I met Hoca and told him I’d had breakfast with Nihat the jandarma commander, and Nihat had told me to find Hoca and say hello from him.

Hoca smiled and shook my hand and invited me to sit down next to the fire they kept going for the barbecue. I began telling Hoca, and the people sitting nearby, who I was and what I was doing.

Within moments, and without my even asking, someone brought me a plate of barbecued sucuk (sausage), a huge pile of bread, and a salad. I bit into the sucuk. It was the most delicious sucuk I had ever tasted. I asked Hoca about it. He told me they made it there, themselves, with their own mixture of spices. I asked Hoca what they called the sucuk[ Dialogue?]. He told me it was named after him.

After eating I sat around the restaurant with Hoca and a handful of the villagers making small talk. I could barely understand a single word they said. Their accent was very different from the Konya accent, and to me it was equally unintelligible. Sometimes I could barely even identify their words as Turkish.

Hoca got up every few minutes to greet customers as they came into the restaurant. He acted like he was mayor of the town, greeting people like they were long-lost friends, even though he had probably last seen them less than 24 hours before.

As darkness fell I asked Hoca if I could camp somewhere in the area. I told him I had everything I needed in my backpack — tent, sleeping bag, everything. He said of course, you can camp anywhere you like. I asked if I could camp out on the restaurant’s balcony, which was closed off for the winter. I thought the balcony would be a great place to camp, especially since it was right above the Degirmen creek (for which the village Degirmendere was named), and I could fall asleep to the sounds of running water. Hoca said sure, of course, no problem.

A few minutes later though, one of the earlier patrons in the restaurant, Ali, a man in his early 30s, came back, sat down next to me, and said come with me, you can sleep at my place tonight. I jumped at the offer, especially since I had camped outside in rainy weather the two nights before, and was in fact still a little wet from the afternoon’s rain.

Ali and I left the restaurant and walked the short distance, maybe just 100 meters, to his apartment. Inside the apartment I changed into dry clothes while Ali built a fire in the TV room. The TV room was small, and by the time I finished changing clothes the fire had turned it a nice toasty warm.

I took a seat amongst some pillows on the floor next to the fire. Ali spread out on the couch. He offered me some baklava, and we settled in to watch Evlen Benimle (Marry Me), a popular matchmaking show on television.

At one point some curious neighbor kids came over to meet (read: play with) the foreign visitor. They were Enes, a boy of about 5, and his sister Elif, a girl of about 2. Ali left to take care of some business elsewhere, and I played “horsey” with Enes and Elif. I was surprised that after a full day of walking I still had the energy to let a couple kids climb around on me simultaneously, but I dug deep and found it somewhere. I had no problem with Elif, who was about as light as a feather, but when Enes would decide that the back of my head made a great saddle, I had a hard time supporting his weight with my neck muscles. I didn’t complain when Ali returned and told the kids to settle down.

After the kids’ mom came to collect them, Ali and I watched the second half of Evlen Benimle. We drank some cinnamon and ginger tea that Ali had been warming next to the fire. When Evlen Benimle was over Ali and I went back to Hoca’s restaurant, and to the next door kahvehanesi (coffee house), for some tea and village conversation before bed.

While at Hoca’s restaurant I asked Hoca if he had any children. He said he had two, a daughter, aged 19, and a son, aged 16. Both lived in the nearby town of Silifke. I asked Hoca what his son’s favorite subject was in school. Hoca laughed and said girls, and sports. I told him those were the favorite subjects of just about every 16-year old boy. He laughed and said he just wanted to see his son go to college. Everything changes if you go to college, Hoca said. Life is different. Work is different. Everything is different. (turn this into dialogue)

That night I slept incredibly well, spread out on a nice comfortable couch, the fire still going, and some drama show on TV. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, being that a mere 24 hours earlier I had been camping out on the side of the road, hiding from one of the most aggressive thunderstorms I had seen in a long time. I’d always found it so easy to take a warm bed and a roof over my head at night for granted, and at some point I probably would again, but for now at least I recognized how there was almost no price that could be put on small creature comforts like that.

Tuesday, 4 December

The next morning, I woke up just before dawn to the howling and yipping of coyotes a few hundred meters away. They either didn’t know I was nearby listening, or they didn’t care.

I stepped out of my tent, put on my boots, and noticed that the soil under my feet, because it was sandy and porous, had dried quickly from the night’s rain. In fact, because a steady, warm breeze had blown almost all night, my tent was dry and only some moist wood laying on the ground indicated that a heavy storm had blown through during the night.

I broke camp and began walking about 7:30 a.m. A few minutes after I began walking it began raining again, but this time it was only a light drizzle. With the mist, the rolling hills and road lined with evergreens reminded me of mountain roads I’ve walked in the Pacific Northwest.

About five kilometers down the road I came upon a Jandarma Komutanligi (a jandarma command post). In Turkey, the jandarma are a branch of the military. Their job is to keep the peace in rural areas and along rural highways, kind of a combination of a sheriff and a highway patrol in the USA, except with a military flavor. The day before, a few people had told me about this jandarma post, so I was expecting it. And, I had heard that as I walk across the country I should keep in touch with the jandarma. So I figured now was as good a time as any to see what it was like to crash a jandarma post.

I walked up to the front gate. The guard was about 20 years old. He was wearing fatigues and a helmet and carrying a machine gun. I didn’t realize machine guns were so large!

I told him I was walking across Turkey, and I asked him if I could come in and rest a bit. He radioed his commanding officer. His commanding officer said he would check with the post commander. (convert this section to dialogue, so there’s more action)

The guard and I made small talk while we waited to hear back from the post commander. I tried not to be intimidated by the gun. The guard tried to keep his cool too. I suspect it’s not every day the monotony of guarding a rural military post is broken by the approach of a foreigner walking across the country alone with a back pack.

Word came back over the radio that the commander had approved my entrance. (turn this into dialogue too) Another guard waved me through the gate and escorted me to the headquarters’ front door. Once inside another I was shown to the commander’s office.

The commander’s first name was Nihat. Nihat bey was about 35 years old. He was a busy man, taking—and making—a number of phone calls and reading reports that were brought to him, but he and I made small talk when he was between tasks.

Nihat put the phone down and looked at me. “Have you eaten breakfast?”

I had not, and the day before I had eaten only one meal. I was ravenous. I tried to act with restraint when I shook my head and started to ask if there was food. (turn this into dialogue too, show the action of the conversation) Before I could get the words out though, Nihat called to one of his soldiers to make me some menemen (a dish of eggs scrambled with tomatoes and peppers) and bring me some tea, and make it snappy.

A few minutes later a soldier came in with the dish of menemen, a basket full of bread, and a cup of tea. I plowed into that menemen with almost no concern for decorum or restraint whatsoever. It was one of the biggest servings of menemen I had ever seen, and I had the entire thing eaten, and all the juice and grease sopped up with bread, in just a few minutes.

After the plates were cleared away, Nihat told me a bit about his personal history. He was single with no kids. He said the itinerant life of a military commander is not conducive to raising a family. He had been working at that particular post for about two months. Before that he was in the special forces in Mardin, Diyarbakir, Tunceli, and Urfa, all cities in east and southeast Turkey.

He asked me what countries I had been to, and I asked him what countries he had been to. He replied that he had been to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all on military assignments. Originally from the town of Osmaniye, Nihat had one sibling, a younger sister, who lived in Osmaniye and ran a grocery store there. I told Nihat I would be walking through Osmaniye in about a month, and he responded that he would tell his sister about me and ask her to show me around.

Nihat asked me about my route. He made some suggestions about tweaks to make to it. I asked him if gasoline stations and mosque gardens would continue to be good places to stay in the eastern half of the country. He recommended that instead I stay at facilities run by the city and town governments, and at the police stations. He said that in the east, almost all of the towns would have one or two spare rooms they kept available for travelers. These were not hotels, they were free places they opened up for people traveling through. “Ask about these,” Nihat told me.

Also, he said, “don’t camp by the side of the road once you get east of Osmaniye.”

Nihat asked me how far I was walking that day. I told him the name of the village I planned to stop in, and he recommended a particular restaurant in that village. “Stop there,” Nihat said, “and ask for a man who goes by Hoca. Tell him I sent you, and he will take good care of you.”

It was time for me to go. I thanked Nihat bey for his hospitality and for welcoming me into his facility. He ordered me up a couple of cheese and tomato sandwiches for the road. The sandwiches were ready a few minutes later. I took my leave and walked back out the front gate, carrying the bag of sandwiches. I waved goodbye to the guard with the machine gun and felt less intimidated by it.

After I left the Jandarma Komutanligi I spent the day walking a two-lane road hewn into the side of the mountains rising above the Goksu river. The road rolled up and down between 500 and 1000 feet above the river. It passed through areas of yellow and red deciduous forest in its fall splendor that alternated with areas of evergreen forest that made me feel again like I was walking through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest near Seattle.

Monday, 3 December

The next morning, I finally reached the the Goksu River. I knew from the satellite photos that just a few kilometers down the road it would start flowing through a dramatic canyon with steep rocky cliffs a thousand feet high, but here it looked more like an irrigation ditch, straight, calm, occupying only the space man had given it, its banks littered with trash and sunflower seed shells.

I stopped to look back at the hills I had just walked down, and I squinted to see if I could see the road I had walked. The descent had been fun, if not a little eerie, but I knew the I would reach the Mediterranean in a little over two days, and it was calling to me. So I turned and resumed walking.

The road along the river took me through a village too small for a name. As I entered the village I spotted a family working together in front of a tidy market rolling dough. I walked up to introduce myself. The man introduced himself as Yunus. I asked him if the nearby apricot, olive, and grape trees and vines were his. Yes, he said, and he held up his grandson, a toddler in his arms, also named Yunus. I briefly thought back to the turnip farmers weeks ago on the plateau, and how one of them had also held up a toddler grandson named after him.

He pointed to his wife, on the ground rolling dough, and mentioned proudly that they had been married 30 years. She looked up and smiled at me.

“Are you married?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, “but I used to be married to a Turkish woman.”

The entire group laughed knowingly.

“Would you marry another one?”

“Sure,” I said, “of course.”

They laughed even harder.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Rolling dough for oatmeal bread.”

My stomach rumbled.

At his wife’s suggestion, Yunus went inside to grab some cheese, which they then rolled up into two of these yulafli breads for me for breakfast.

I thanked them, and continued walking down the road, happily eating my bread and cheese roll.

About two hours later, I entered the village of Karadiken, population about 500. I was still basking in the social high of chatting with Yunus and his family, and was hoping for more of the same in Karadiken. But the sole group I met was a dour, unfriendly cluster of about 15 men, some sitting, some standing, in a large circle out in a dirt driveway, drinking cup after cup of tea and complaining about their lives and the government. It seemed as though they had been here for quite a while, commiserating, and that they had no plans to move on or do anything about the things they were complaining about. No one offered me a smile or a cup of tea, not even a place to sit. I stood with them for a short while, but after a few minutes felt like a clumsy interloper injecting unwanted optimism and friendliness into their litany of complaints, so I left.

By the end of the day I began to enter the narrow river valley, where the forest cover became much denser, and I easily spotted a tree to sleep under. I picked that tree just in time, too — moments before I climbed the embankment to get off the road, raindrops began to fall against my face — a storm was blowing in.

The storm quickly intensified, with a few stray drops becoming a torrential downpour in the 10 minutes it took me to set up my camp. Within seconds of getting the tent set up, I jumped into it to get out of the rain and lay on top of my sleeping bag listening to the rain beat against the tent’s nylon fabric walls. Tree branches above the tent protected the tent from the full force of the storm, and I knew that if I was hearing raindrops pounding against the protected tent, that meant this was a really big storm. I love a good storm, but like most people, am happiest when I can witness it from a dry place, so I thanked god for the shelter of my tent and of the tree above, and I drifted off to sleep.

About 11pm, I woke up suddenly to the crack of thunder, a cracking sound so intense I thought the tree above me had been hit, and I was sure to be crushed any second by a fiery branch falling from above. But it never came, so I exhaled and reveled in the fact that I was hearing one of the most dramatic storms of my life. My excitement at the storm drama competed with my tiredness from walking, and I drifted in and out of a shallow sleep as the storm raged above me.

About 2am, I woke up to an eerie calmness. I stepped out of my tent to investigate. The big storm had passed, leaving just a few silvery wisps of cloud to blow in front of the full moon. The storm had come from the Mediterranean, just 25 kilometers to the south, and the air was warm. I stood in a nearby clearing for 15 minutes, marveling at the peace the storm had left in its wake, loving the fact that I was probably the only person for miles around. If I hadn’t chosen to walk across the country, I would not be standing there, by myself, in a clearing, out in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land, looking up at those particular wisps of cloud passing in front of the moon.

The surrounding air was uncommonly warm, and I stood there drinking in the serenity for another 15 minutes, before I started to get cold and had to return to my sleeping bag.

Wide awake now, I grabbed my camera and ventured out onto the rock outcropping near my tent to take photos of the valley and hills below. Then I broke camp and got an early start down the hill. There were still no signs of life. The road was mine alone, and I reveled in the solitude. But I hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, and I was starving.

Out of the solitude came my second surprise of the morning. Ahead of me I saw a tiny green shack, on the right, just off the side of the road, perched precariously above the dropoff into the valley below. I walked up to it tentatively, wondering if my early morning presence in such a remote location would draw suspicion. By the door of the shack was an open ice chest filled, from what I could see at a glance, with an assortment of food items such as cheeses, olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

Inside the shack a young man stood next to a rickety stove preparing to cook on one of the gas burners. He looked up, smiled, and offered his hand. I shook it, smiled, and introduced myself. He said his name was Ramazan.

He didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. It was as though hungry foreigners carrying backpacks and speaking pidgin Turkish hiked through here regularly.

I asked if he was open for breakfast yet. Of course, he said. I eagerly took a seat at the makeshift restaurant’s one table.

By even loose standards of restaurant hygiene this setup would be completely unacceptable. But this was the biggest “restaurant” I’d seen in days, and I was starving. The simple breakfast of eggs, cheese, olives, and cucumbers was like manna from heaven to me. I greedily scraped every crumb off my plate like some starved homeless person.

While I ate I counted thirty goats in a pen next to Ramazan’s “restaurant.” Ramazan mentioned that there were a few people who lived down the hill in the nearby village of Mut who commuted to work back up the grade in Karaman, the small town I had walked through a few days before. He was getting ready to handle the early morning rush of commuters. I asked him how many that would be. He said, excitedly, five or six cars.

I finished my breakfast, paid Ramazan, shouldered my pack, and strolled outside to continue my descent down the pass. Who would have thought eating a breakfast of questionable hygiene while sitting in a small shack hanging off the side of a cliff could have seemed so luxurious. And yet I felt like a king. My stomach was full. The sun was bright. The air was fresh. I was in heaven as I continued down the mountain, passing through more rugged rock outcroppings and lush evergreen forests..

About four hours later, after seeing very few people and only an occasional passing car, I came to a village called Gecimli, populaton 200. I spied a tea garden and figured it was about time for a couple of glasses of tea and some human contact.

“Hello,” I called out to the only two men I saw, “can I take a seat?”

“Of course,” one of them replied as he jumped up from his short stool and disappeared into a nearby shack. He and his friend both looked like they were about 80 years old, and had seen better days.

The man emerged from the shack with my cup of tea. “I saw you on TV,” he said as he brought it over.

“What channel?” I asked.

“TRT,” he replied. It was a channel I recognized and had watched many times.

“What did they say?”

““That you are walking around the world, and that you walked 7,000 kilometers (4,200 miles) before arriving in Turkey. What countries have you walked through already?”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” I said, “I am not walking around the world, just through Turkey. And I haven’t walked 7,000 kilometers. And I have never walked across a country before. Turkey will be the first.”

It wasn’t the first time the media had gotten it wrong about me. Why don’t they contact me beforehand? I thought. It’s not like I’m hard to find. I’m walking by the side of the road all the time, for god’s sake.

Conversation turned to small talk about the weather. I tried to stifle my feelings of peeve at the journalists, who had been getting my story wrong from the first day of the walk. Why are you getting angry at people you’ve never met? I asked myself. There’s a perfectly good 80 year old man sitting right in front of you. Pay attention to him. I tried to stay present, and wasn’t sure why it was so hard.

I finished my tea, thanked both men for their conversation, shouldered my pack, and continued down the hill.

Within a few hours I reached the bottom of the hill, and the terrain became mixed again, with large flat treeless areas interspersed with orchards here and there, mainly olive groves. I couldn’t see the river now, and I was still a few days from the coastline. It seemed the land in this area couldn’t make up its mind, whether to be flat and treeless like the plateau above, or rolling and lush, like the river bottom I’d viewed from higher up the mountain and like it would become in a couple dozen kilometers. I walked a long way across one of the sparse areas thinking, Man, if I can’t find shelter I’m going to have to walk up on one of the hills over a kilometer off the road to try to find some.

I forged ahead though, determined to get through this sparse area and find an orchard I could camp in. Within an hour, I got lucky! Up ahead in the distance was an apricot orchard. There would be great cover amongst the trees, and nice, soft grass growing from the dirt between them.

Shortly before sunset I reached the orchard. I looked up and down the road, and in a quiet moment between cars, when I felt safe that no one would see me disappear into the orchard, I scrambled up the embankment and hurried into the orchard. The soil was hard, dry and crumbly, but I had a sleeping pad, which would even that out. I walked to the back of the orchard, where I was sure to be hidden from the road. The sun had set, but it was still light out, so I hid behind some trees to kill some time. While hiding in the trees, though, I realized I was perched just meters from a bluff overlooking dozens of orchards below, and I wavered between the safety of hiding in the trees and the pull of the view I would see if standing on the bluff.

Of all the places I had camped so far, this location had the most natural beauty. It was much like a bluff above a town aptly called Vantage, in the arid central part of Washington State, where my family and I had camped out while helping my dad with some orchard work many years ago when I was a kid. Like I had then, I stood at the edge of the bluff taking in the bird’s eye view of the rolling hills covered with orchards. It was exhilarating to gaze at such a great view, but I was also a bit nervous that someone leaving the fields at the end of the day would see me standing on the bluff, and my cover would be blown.

When it got dark, I set up camp and went to sleep.

Wednesday, 28 November

Back on the walk, Within the first hour, I passed through the town of Karaman. This was my last full day walking on the plateau. I would be glad to descend to the warmer climes, since the weather was becoming chilly on the plateau and I was now wearing my winter coat and wool scarf and hat, even when I walked. Today and tomorrow I would have a bit of a grade to climb before reaching Sertavul Pass, the point which would mark the beginning of the descent to the Mediterranean.

The walking after Karaman wasn’t easy, since the road was surfaced with my least favorite material to walk on—an unforgiving layer of tar with some rocks thrown over the top. The rocks pressed through the soles of my shoes into my feet as I walked. Thank god I’d only run into this kind of pavement a few times so far on the walk, so it was no big deal. But man, it hurt to walk on it. I suspect it was the cheapest surfacing option, and that it was what they used for lightly-trafficked country roads.

I’d started out the day on flat plains with a slight upgrade but the terrain began alternating between sections of flat plains and sections of rolling hills. Again it felt like the earth couldn’t decide whether to be a flat plain with little foliage or a mountain with lots of evergreens. I was in a transition area again.

Off to my right in the southwest rose a lone snow-capped peak, my sole companion for the day. Though it seemed only a short distance from me, the peak was in the Toros mountains, a range running along the southern edge of the Central Anatolian plateau where I was walking. Named for Taurus the zodiac bull, the Toros range marks the southern edge of the plateau. (maybe we’ll want to move this description to the first mention of Toros mountains)

That day’s walk was uneventful, one of those just bang out the miles sort of days.

The icy air made me grateful for my wool scarf, gloves, and hat. The only life I saw along the way was a gas station, where the attendant told me snow was expected the next day. For dinner I bought potato chips, cracker and cheese sandwiches, and a carton of peach juice. I hesitated for a moment before turning to the attendant to pay. I realized I would need breakfast too, so I doubled the quantities before paying.

A few minutes before reaching the gasoline station I had spotted a grove of trees next to the road on the other side of the gasoline station, and I had intended to check it out for the night’s camp spot. I reached the grove, looked both ways to make sure no one was watching, and walked off the road to inspect the grove. The ground under the evergreen trees looked well-traveled and there were leveled-out places where people had set up tents before. I saw footpaths headed out from the area. To the side was an area with enough waist-high brush to hide my tent. It wasn’t great cover, if I stood up at all I could be seen clearly from the road if a person knew where to look. But there was no other option. I tamped down an area with my feet and pitched my tent. I ate my chips and sandwich cookies while hunkered down amongst the shrubs. I was cold and the cover wasn’t very good, but I was happy, feeling free, and excited to finally be walking off the plateau the next day.

I finished my dinner and dug into the warmth of my sleeping bag and gazed out at the full moon above me. The sky was clear and blanketed with stars.

In the morning I woke up feeling cozy, warm, and right at home. In fact, I didn’t want to leave. But, leave I must! The clouds had rolled in during the night and I needed to get out of there before it started snowing.

Thursday, 29/11

The climb to the summit of Sertavul pass the next morning was short and steep. The few trucks climbing the pass with me were almost slower at climbing it than I was. They belched out huge clouds of exhaust as they labored up the hill. I thought back to the gasoline station attendant’s comment, and thought, Yeah, it’s probably going to snow today.

After about five or ten kilometers I reached Sertavul summit, took off my pack, and stood for ten minutes to mentally “celebrate” in the icy wind that whipped around me. Reaching the summit was a major milestone, marking the end of my days on the Central Anatolian Plateau. It was a little like standing on the moon. Nothing but gravel and sparse, low mounds of grass covered the hills for as far as I could see. At an altitude of 5400 feet (1650 meters), the summit was also the end of Karaman province and the beginning of Mersin province. I’d begun walking on the plateau at the end of September when I was 12% through the walk. Now at the end of November and at the end of the plateau I was almost 40% through.

But I was in no mood for an extended celebration with the cold wind blasting into my face so I shouldered my pack again and began the descent. The road was so steep in places that my main goal was just to keep from falling flat on my face.

As I descended I started seeing eerie shelters carved into the hillsides with crumbling walls of piled-up rock sheltering their openings. They had roofs of rusted tin supported by upright, weathered branches. The shelters appeared to be abandoned. There was no sign of life that I could see, anyway. I definitely did not want go look in them to find out. Just days before, while in Istanbul, I had finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and I was still under its spell. The book speaks of a post-apocalyptic world where barbarians have killed off or enslaved most survivors, and here, alone in this deserted area with these shacks, and with the wind blowing around me like crazy, my fertile imagination began to run wild. I could almost see starved, crazed barbarians flooding out of the abandoned shelters to capture and enslave me.

I hurried nervously past the shelters, and as the wind subsided I began to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, with the Goksu River flowing through the valley off in the distance, eventually emptying into a Mediterranean I couldn’t yet see. A blue haze hovered over the hills next to the valley. I planned to walk through that valley out to the Mediterranean. It would be a full week still before I reached the sea. I squinted to see if I could spot the road on which I’d be walking.

For shelter that night I found a little outcropping, sheltered by rocks and trees, where I could look off into the distance. Up on the pass the land had been barren and rocky, but now it was covered with mile after mile of evergreen forest. Not that there was much to hide from here — I had seen only one person all day, in the morning, and a car passed me on the road only once every five or ten minutes. There wasn’t even a gas station, so there would be no lunch or dinner for me that day.

Fortunately, warm air was blowing up from the Mediterranean to replace the cold air up on the plateau, so I sat on the rocky outcropping, my legs dangling over the side, and absorbed the view of the river valley disappearing into the distance, happy to know that I had reached a Mediterranean climate and wouldn’t have to hide in my down sleeping bag as soon as I stopped walking each day.

I had no food for dinner, so I crawled into my tent and fell fast asleep, a warm breeze blowing gently past the tent. In the morning I awoke suddenly, surprised by the tinkling of sheep bells that sounded very close. Panicked and thinking that I was surrounded by sheep, and that my secret hideaway in the forest wasn’t so secret, I jumped out of my tent to look, but there were no sheep within sight. I relaxed as I realized the sound had just been carrying very well, and that no one had spotted me.

Thursday, 15 November



The next day I woke up, stuffed everything back into my pack, and caught a bus back to the main road through Icericumra to begin my day’s walk. As I stepped off the bus I bumped into four guys getting off another bus. They had worked the night shift at a nearby packaging factory. They apparently recognized me and greeted me enthusiastically.


The four guys and I walked shoulder to shoulder down the road a ways, and then they bid me goodbye and headed down a side street. I continued along the main road and finally reached the outskirts of town. Thank god, I thought to myself, Now maybe I’ll be able to make some distance.


A few kilometers out of town I stopped in at a gas station, Cevahir Petrol, to buy some water. I figured I had broken free of the orbit of Icericumra and could afford to be social again, so I introduced myself to the station owner, a friendly man named Ramazan. 


Ramazan was in the middle of a business meeting with his District Manager, Mehmet, who had come down from Ankara. Ramazan invited me to take a seat with them in the office. We shared tea while Ramazan and Mehmet talked about things like who was going out of business, and how to get more minibus accounts. 


When the business meeting was over, I asked Ramazan a few questions about his family. He eagerly volunteered that he had seven children, one of whom was working at the gas station at that very moment. On the wall behind Ramazan was a photo of Ataturk and three family photos, two of which were headshots of Ramazan. I smiled and thought to myself, “At least no one has to worry about Ramazan forgetting what he looks like.”



South of Cevahir Petrol was, well, nothing. Just vast expanses of desolate, flat, treeless rocky land with a few small rolling hills and no people. There were plenty of sugar beets, though, enough to give rise to an entire sugar processing company, Torku. I had seen the Torku name on sugar packets many times both on the walk and in Istanbul.


All that broke the desolate monotony of the land was the series of Torku billboards spaced about every 200 meters advertising the company and its products.


As I walked I began debating again about whether or not I could blow through this area in four days instead of five. Icericumra had been very social, and I had not made very good time. I wanted to walk further now, but in the end, my tired body won out and I began looking for a place to camp. There wasn’t a lot of tree cover though, so I was scraping the bottom of the barrel campsite-wise when I finally saw four or five poplars and a bush by the side of the road and figured that was probably the only place I would be able to camp. 


I found a one meter space (about 3 ft.) that couldn’t be seen from the road and pitched my six foot tent in that three-foot space. It was the best I could do. I didn’t really need to worry about being seen, though, as there was no traffic on the road to speak of. I’d spent my first night in Konya province sleeping by the side of the road, and I would be spending my last night in Konya province sleeping by the side of the road. Konya had been good for practicing my hobo skills.


The night was clear. There were no lights, no traffic. I had just come from the clamor of Istanbul and Konya and the sociability of Icericumra and now, in this completely desolate and unpopulated area, I gazed up out of my tent at the panorama of stars gleaming across the sky and soaked up the quiet magic of the land as I fell asleep.

Friday, 16 November



I woke up the next morning to the surreal beauty of the sun rising above a 20-feet deep layer of wispy fog hovering over the flat landscape. The only sound I heard was a dog barking about ¼ mile away. I couldn’t see it at first through the fog, but after staring in its direction for a few minutes I could make out its shape enough to realize that it wasn’t looking my way and was barking at nothing in particular. I relaxed, comforted that I was not bothering anyone in my half-hidden campsite.


The wispy layer of fog burned off quickly in the sun, and within 10 minutes my campsite was no
longer hidden by the fog. I worried that a passing driver might wonder what this strange foreigner was doing camping next to a bush at the side of the road, so I hurriedly broke camp, stuffed everything into my pack, and began my walk for the day.

The fog came back, so thick this time that I was unable to see even 10 feet off the side of the road. The land around me was still board flat, but I knew from the day before that the tall, snow-capped peaks of the Torus mountain range were looming just a few kilometers to my right, and that I would be passing through those mountains within a few days.

As I walked I looked for the road sign marking the provincial border between Konya and Karaman. Those provincial border signs had become important milestones to me, appearing every week or two and reassuring me that forward progress was being made, but this one I couldn’t find in the fog. However, I knew from the map that I would be crossing into Karaman province within the first hour of the day’s walk, so after about an hour I pumped my fist in the air and hollered to celebrate moving into yet another province.

However, walking with a backpack in the fog that morning was starting to remind me of the 1981 British-American horror comedy film An American Werewolf In London, where David Naughton was attacked by a werewolf while backpacking on the moors. Scared that I might attract a werewolf out of the fog, I put my fist back down and tried to walk quietly. A few minutes later my courage returned and I started singing, at the top of my lungs, a jingle from a David Naughton advertisement from about the same time, “Be a Pepper, drink Dr. Pepper.”


The fog burned off later that morning, about 30 minutes before I reached a small town called Kazimkarabekir. As I entered the town I passed by a construction site. I heard shouts, and glanced around but couldn’t see what the ruckus was about or who was shouting. I stopped walking to look more carefully, but I still couldn’t see who was shouting at whom. Were they were shouting at me? I shook my head and continued walking. Within moments a young man ran out from the site waving his arms to greet me. He introduced himself as Abdullah and invited me to come back with him to the site for tea. I went back with Abdullah, shared a couple cups of tea with him and his coworkers, took a photo, and then walked back to the road to continue.


17 November



About an hour outside of Kazimkarabekir I passed a hotel advertising their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Other than a can of Pringles and some crackers, I hadn’t eaten since lunch with the cops in Icericumra, so, mouth watering, I happily strode into the hotel lobby and asked where the restaurant was. 


After lunch, my stomach bursting from the onslaught of food, I waddled back out to the road and continued my walk.

But 30 minutes later, I passed another hotel advertising another all-you-can-eat buffet, and I figured I could find room in my stomach for that one, too, and again strode into the lobby and asked where the restaurant was. What a veritable orgy of food, I thought. When it rains it pours! This restaurant featured a heaping bowl of Nutella on its buffet line, and I piled my plate high with the chocolaty goodness. I ate it straight, no bread or anything to cut it. I made sure that by the time I walked back out to the road to resume my walk, my head was buzzing.


A few kilometers later, as I walked along the shoulder south of Cariklar, two very friendly cops in an oncoming car slowed and pulled alongside me. The one in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window.

“How are you, is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, thanks, everything is great.”

“Do you need anything?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

I pointed at the sky, which was gray and overcast. A little light rain was falling that morning.

“It’s kind of rainy today,” I said.

“Yeah, but my iPhone says it’ll clear up later today,” the cop responded.

We continued making small talk chat for a few minutes, and then he suggested I stop by the police station in Icericumra, the next town. He and his partner wanted me to meet their colleagues, have some tea, and rest a bit.


When I got to Icericumra an hour later I was shaking from hunger, so I stopped at a gas station to ask where I could find a restaurant. The attendants, Fatih, Harun, and Deniz greeted me eagerly and invited me to join them in the office for couple of cups of tea. I took them up on their offer, hoping that there would be some snacks inside, too.


They were deep into a discussion about their hunting and fishing experiences in the local area, and as we waited for my tea they invited me into the conversation. I had neither hunted nor fished nearby in the recent weeks, so I just smiled and listened. And tried not to look too greedy as I munched on the large pastry they had set out on the office desk.

They chatted on, and my mind wandered as I reevaluated how long I would need to cover this stretch of road between Konya and the edge of the plateau. For a couple days I had been wondering if I could compress it into four days, so I would have an extra day when I went back to Istanbul the next week to pick up my residence permit. But as I sat there munching on cake and listening to stories about fish, I realized that compression probably wasn’t going to happen. It was barely noon, and I had already been stopped multiple times, including by cops on the highway, simply because people wanted to chat. And the day before, the same thing had happened. No, I probably wouldn’t be able to blow through this stretch. The people were way too chatty for that.

A young boy briefly entered the room to deliver a cup of tea to me. As he hurried out the door I turned back to the ongoing fish and game conversation. One of the three men was describing how large the fish was that he had caught in a nearby stream last weekend.

I finished my tea, said goodbye to the three men and hurried back out to the road to resume my walk. Maybe I could get further than Icericumra before it was time to bed down for the night.

As I reached the southern edge of town I saw the police station. I thought back to my promise to the policemen to stop and say hello to their colleagues, but I could see that the edge of town was only about a kilometer further. So, in order to make better time I decided to try to sneak past the police station and get out of Icericumra without stopping. As I passed it I muttered to myself, “Free at last.”

But then about 100 meters after passing the station, I heard someone call, “Hey, come back here!”


Damn! I thought, spoke too soon!


I turned around, walked back, introduced myself and shook hands with the cop who had run out after me.


He said it was important to check in at the police stations and to give them my information. I had heard that was true, and I thought it sounded like a very good practice, but I’d been walking for two months and not once had I done that. May as well start now, I thought to myself, a third of the way across the country. 


So I walked back to the station with the cop, and he introduced me to one of the other cops, and then more cops started flooding into the room. Pretty soon there were a dozen cops, all smiling broadly and talking amongst each other excitedly in Turkish. One of them turned to me and mentioned he had seen me on TV.

“Oh yeah,” I said, “What did they say?”

I don’t think he heard me above the excited din in the room because he quickly turned to his colleagues and jumped back into their lively banter about me.


The room calmed down and everyone went back to work, leaving just me and three of the cops to sit around and kill time in the main office. They asked me if I had eaten. I lied to be polite, and told them I had. No, that was breakfast, they said. They were talking about lunch. I told them that no, I had not eaten lunch. They ordered me a couple servings of etli ekmek and a couple ayrans (Cops after my own heart!).


After lunch we sat around watching the TV news and they began to ask me some questions about politics in the US. Someone commented that President Obama and Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey’s Prime Minister) were awfully close. I didn’t want to wade into that cesspool of alligators, otherwise known as “political conversation,” so I just smiled and kept my mouth shut.


They warned me of the dangers ahead. I thought back to the early days of the walk, and how a couple months ago Turks were telling me the Turks in this area would be bad people. I noted that the bad people were always to the east, and I wondered if I would ever find them. 


They offered me the use of the station’s shower. I gladly accepted and disappeared down the hall for an extended soak in hot water.


By the time I got out of the shower the whole day was shot—it was about 3:30 pm so I wouldn’t be doing any more walking that day. Conversation with the cops got around to what my plans were for the rest of the afternoon. I was tired. The day’s prime walking hours had passed. I had walked a lot the day before, and I knew now that I was never going to cover the Konya-to-Karaman leg in four days. I just said I wanted to stay in a hotel for the night, and I asked them to recommend something. They said there was a hotel in Cumra, a town nearby.


“How can I get to Cumra?” I asked.

“Ride with us, a couple of us are going out on patrol in a few minutes. We’ll take you to the hotel.”

“Sounds good,” I replied, noting to myself that I hadn’t ridden in a squad car yet and would now be able to cross that item off my bucket list.

We walked out of the station, piled into the patrol car, and pulled out onto the highway. On the 15-minute drive to Cumra the cop in the passenger seat called ahead to the hotel and made sure they had room for me. I sat back and smiled, noting to myself that in the past 24 hours I had slept in an unused Koran classroom and I had been escorted by cops through a village that almost never saw foreigners. I loved traveling like this.


When we got to the hotel, the cops helped me check in and then came up to my room to check to make sure everything was working.

“Yep, everything is fine,” one of them said as he turned off the bathroom faucet. “Enjoy your stay.”

I closed the door behind them, plopped down on the bed, and took out my computer to check my emails and upload some photos.

Within a few minutes the hotel manager knocked briefly. Before I could answer, he entered and sat down in a chair beside the desk.

“How is everything?” he asked.

“Excellent, thank you.”

I looked at him waiting for him to tell me his reason for entering my room. But then I thought back to how social the people in this area had been, and realized he was here simply to kill some time with idle chat, and expected I wanted to do the same.

“The weather is nice,” he said. “Sunny.”

“Yes, it’s great. Is that normal around here?”

“I guess so. Where are you from?”

“California. Have you been there?”

“No, just around here. So you’re walking across Turkey, huh?”

“Yep, from Kusadasi to Van. Have you been to Van?” I suspected the answer would be no, not just because he had just said he didn’t travel much, but because I was learning that most Turks had never been to Van, even though it was only a couple hours away from any point in the country, closer than Seattle is to San Francisco.

“No, haven’t been to Van either.” He changed the subject. “There are a couple markets and restaurants down on the street for dinner. Do you like köfte?”

“Of course,” I said, even the sound made my mouth water.

“Well, they have some great köfte at the place across the street.”

He stood up and left as abruptly as he had come in. I went back to uploading my photos. I never made it to the köfte restaurant. I was so happy to have a soft bed that I hurried down to the market for a can of Pringles, scurried back up to my room, and fell asleep before the sun set.

As I entered the village I greeted a young man coming out of one of the houses. We chatted for a moment, and then I asked him if there was anyone at the mosque a couple hundred meters down the road towards the village. He said that if there wasn’t, there were a couple more mosques in the village proper (a couple kilometers further off the highway), and I could try there, too. The imam, he said, would be very helpful. I asked him what the imam’s name was. He said he didn’t know who the imam was.
I walked to the first mosque. It had a huge garden with multiple places to camp. I stood near the door and waited for someone to show up. It was getting colder, though, and darker, so after twenty minutes I decided to try one of the houses at the back of the lot and see if anyone was home.


Someone was home. A young girl answered the door while an older woman wearing a scarf over her head, her mother, I figured, hovered in the background drying her hands on a dish towel. She appeared to be preparing dinner. There was no man of the house in sight. I knew what the answer would be before I even opened my mouth.
I told the woman that I had been walking and that I was looking for a place to camp for the night. I wondered if I could camp in their garden. She told me no, that would not be possible.


I continued the kilometer or two into the village proper. The village had two bakkals so I estimated the population was around 1,000.

It was dark out by then, and I could not see much. I stepped into one of the bakkals. It was very busy, teeming with children out of school for the day buying candy and adults just off work coming in for bread and other household goods. “Hello,” I called out.

“‘Allo,” answered a teenager behind the counter. “How can I help you?” He asked in Turkish.

I told him what I was doing, and that I was looking for a place to camp for the night. I asked if there was a place nearby where I could camp.

By then some of the adults had gathered around. They and the teenager began commenting on how cold it was getting at night. I assured them it would be no problem, that in my backpack I had everything I needed for cold-weather camping.

They began chattering amongst themselves but since I was having a hard time with the Konya accent I couldn’t understand them.

I asked the teenager again, “Is there a place I could camp nearby?

“They are looking for a place for you,” he said.

That was almost always a good sign. I’d learned by then that when a group of adults said they were looking for a place, it meant they had taken upon themselves the responsibility of finding a place for me to stay, and that if I were just patient, they would find one. In fact, the places they found tended to be better than the ones I would be satisfied with. At the end of the day, I just wanted a flat spot hidden from the prying eyes of unknown strangers. If that meant a grove of trees outside in the cold, that was perfectly fine with me. But when people told me they were looking for a place, it usually meant they were looking for a sheltered spot indoors.

I sat down in the bakkal amidst the hubbub of people coming and going. A few of them chatted with me for a bit, others just bought their stuff and left in a hurry. 
After about an hour sitting in the bakkal, the teenager’s father came in and took over the post behind the counter. He and his son had a brief conversation which I gathered was about my situation as they kept glancing over at me. Finally the father said something and the teenager grabbed some keys from the wall and told me to follow him.
I grabbed my pack and followed him to a building across the street. He unlocked the door, pushed into the first room, and began rearranging some benches to create a path to the second room. This was a school for Koran classes, but the classrooms hadn’t been used in a year or so, and the rooms were cluttered and dusty.
The first room had a cement floor, but the second room’s floor was carpeted. One of the other teenagers who had come in behind us laid out some additional carpets.

“So it will be nice and soft,” he said, patting the floor.

A few other teenagers who had followed us in grabbed a large trash bag and covered up a broken window. 
The teenagers asked if I would be okay there. I told them this would be great, and I thanked them profusely. They asked if I was hungry or thirsty. I assured them I had already eaten and that I’d had plenty to drink. I told them when I would be leaving in the morning. The first teenager said the bakkal would be open at that time, just stop by and say goodbye and leave the keys. They wished me goodnight, handed me the keys, and closed the door behind them. By that time it was about 6:30 p.m.
There was no light in the second room, but there was indirect light from the first room. I set up my tent, took care of some other housekeeping details, and stretched my legs and feet. By that time it was about 7:00 p.m. It was dark. I was cold, and I had nothing to do. I was also extremely tired from the day’s walk, so I turned in early.
About 7:30 p.m. there was a banging on the front door. I got up to answer. An older man wanted to find out who I was, and who had told me it was okay to stay there. That happened quite often — a village might be small, but communication was not instantaneous or tight. He was easily satisfied, and I closed the door (leaving it open a crack, though) and went back to my tent.


About 8:00 p.m. the teenager from the bakkal and one of his friends came to check on me. They made sure I was comfortable and not in need of anything, and then they took their leave.

I stayed up until about 9pm and then fell asleep.

Wednesday, 14 November



At 7:00 in the morning, I packed up my stuff, wrote a thank you note, and walked across the street to return the keys and say goodbye.

Mehmet bey, the village mayor, was there to greet me. We chatted for a bit and exchanged phone numbers. I asked him the village’s population. He said 1,200. I congratulated myself for seeing reality yet again hold up my “one bakkal per 500 people” theory.

Mehmet bey asked me what religion I was. At first he had thought I was Muslim, because in my thank you note I used a phrase people say to me often (“Allah sizi korur,” god protects you.). I told him I was not Muslim. He suggested that I convert. I thanked him for his suggestion and said we all love the same god. He liked that. He liked the thank you note and told me he would post it in a prominent place as a memento from the time a foreigner came to stay in their village.

At that point the bakkal became very busy with the day’s field workers stopping by for bread for their lunchtime, so I took my leave and headed out to the main highway.


On the road out of the village a man greeted me near the mosque where the woman had told me the night before I could not camp. He apologized and said that they actually had a spare room, and that had he been home when I arrived it would have been no problem. I assured him that it was not a problem anyway, that I had found a nice place to stay inside the village.


I reached the main road a few minutes later and began my day’s walk south.”

I felt happy and congratulated myself that I had pushed myself to keep going when I wanted to hop a bus to go back Konya where there the surroundings were familiar and there were people I’d already met.

Tuesday, 13 November

Two weeks after leaving Konya for a vacation in Istanbul, I was back in Konya to resume the walk. I would have only one week before I had to return to Istanbul to pick up my new residency permit, and I wanted to make good time of it.

I was stiff after having been off for a couple of weeks so I began the day with some extra stretching. Then I pulled out my increasingly ratty white board and dedicated that day’s walk to my friend Christian. I felt inspired after spending time with him during my vacation and happy that somebody understood that when I was walking I was not on vacation, I was at work. This walk was my job. He had understood that even before I opened my mouth to articulate it, and I was grateful for that. On the dedication board by his name I wrote, “Get the work done.”

As I walked to the edge of Konya I got lost taking a wrong turn and finding myself at the eastern edge of town when I had wanted the southern edge. I thought back to the 4th graders in Denise Waters’ class, and how one of them had asked me if I got lost often. I was ⅓ of the way across the country, and this was my first time getting lost. It’s hard to get lost when you are walking straight across a country.


When I finally got my bearings and started down the right road, I spotted a carpet salesman standing in the doorway of his store with his arms folded, watching me and grinning.


I said hello and introduced myself in Turkish. We shook hands and he introduced himself in English. He was still grinning, and I wondered what was so funny.

He asked me about my walk and why I was doing it. As usual, I had trouble explaining the why in Turkish, so I switched to English. But I couldn’t explain it in English, either.

“Your walk is pointless, it is a waste of time,” he said.

Wow, you are very forward, aren’t you? Do you always speak to strangers this way? I couldn’t explain the deep reason for doing what I was doing, but I did not want to agree that I had sacrificed so much for nothing.

I bit my lip. “Perhaps it is,” I said. “I guess it is about as pointless as selling carpets.”

Be careful Matt, don’t get dragged into that conversation. For months I had tried to steer clear of feeling I needed to answer the “why” question. The drive to answer that question was strong, and I wanted to learn how to keep from feeling I needed to justify myself. So, I waved goodbye and told him I needed to keep walking.

As I walked through the south side of Konya, an area filled with car repair and cattle feed shops, I stopped for lunch and ordered fasulye ve pilav (beans and rice), a very typical lunch for me. A very social guy stopped by my table.

“I know who you are!” he said with a wide grin. “I saw you last night on our news channel.” He introduced himself as Ali bey and asked if he could join me.

“Of course,” I said and motioned for him to sit down. Ali bey, I learned, owned a motorcycle repair shop. He had two kids—a boy and a girl—and a cousin who was a teacher in the USA.

It became obvious that Ali had made it his mission to take me to tea after lunch and introduce me around the neighborhood. 
One of Ali’s friends in the neighborhood was Hikmet usta (usta means “craftsman” and is often used as a title of respect for a professional who works with his hands). Hikmet was a mechanic at a car shop next door to Ali’s motorcycle repair shop.


Hikmet insisted that I have tea with him and the cluster of mechanics in that particular neighborhood. I had to stop at three cups of tea, though Hikmet begged me to stay longer— I still had a long, long way to walk that day. 

As I left Konya, headed south, I saw very few places to camp in the flat almost treeless terrain.

In Icericumra, I stopped at a gas station to ask a quick question and ended up going inside for a couple cups of tea with the attendants, Fatih, Harun, and Deniz. 
My plans to hurry through the stretch from Konya to the edge of the plateau in five days, maybe even four, I realized was not going to happen. This place was way too social for that. 

I pulled into a village called Cariklar, about 25 kilometers south of Konya at 4 p.m. It was starting to get dark. I figured that if I couldn’t make it work in Cariklar I’d hop a bus back to Konya and stay in Konya.