Saturday, 29 September 2012
In the morning I packed up, snapped the daily dedication photo, and resumed the walk into Isparta.
I entered the city around 1 p.m., had lunch, and decided to look for a hotel in Isparta for one night before continuing on to Lake Egirdir.
While roaming the crowded sidewalks of the central part of the city, I felt lonely and out of place, paranoid that everyone was laughing at me. In the space of a month I had become most comfortable walking through small villages, arid deserts, and farm country , and now I was in a city of 192,000 people. I felt edgy and mistrustful of nearly everyone I saw, and I imagined I stood out, a hick from the countryside, lost in a city too big for me.
I tried a few hotels, asking first about the price and then asking if I could see a room. Finally, I found a relatively inexpensive one that was clean, well lit, and that had running water for showers. I decided to take advantage of the luxury and kicked off my shoes, lay down on the soft bed, and took a nap. I left the room only once that evening, for a short trip to get dinner. I spent most of my time following up on correspondence, particularly the growing stack of questions from the fourth graders.
Sunday, 30 September 2012
The next morning after greedily scarfing down the hotel’s traditional Turkish breakfast I began my walk towards Lake Egirdir. I didn’t think I could make it to the lake that day because it was a 1½ day walk, and my foot was still hurting a bit.
As I was leaving Isparta I came upon a woman in her mid-50’s who was going to a nearby grocery store. I greeted her on the sidewalk. She said she was going to the store to buy items for her family’s Sunday morning breakfast, and she asked if I needed anything from the store. I said, “No, thank you. I’ve just had a big breakfast.”
“Would you like to come to my home to have breakfast with my family? We’d love to have you.”
“Thank you,” I said, “but I’ve just eaten a big breakfast at the hotel and I couldn’t swallow another bite.”
She continued into the grocery store and I continued walking down the street. A few moments later she caught up with me carrying a bag full of groceries.
“Please, join us for breakfast,” she said.
“Thank you,” I repeated, “but I’ve just eaten a big breakfast and I couldn’t swallow another bite.”
She opened her shopping bag and insisted I take something from it. I knew she was not going to leave me alone unless I took something, so I looked into her bag and chose a package of marshmallow cookies, not wanting to take items she needed for her family’s breakfast. I wished her a very nice breakfast with her family and thanked her again for her kind offer and continued walking.
As I reached the edge of Isparta, a mini-bus, also headed out of town, pulled to the side of the road and stopped. A man jumped out of the bus. He ran over and introduced himself to me in English as Osman. He taught English, he told me, and he lived in Isparta. He was on his way to pick up some friends visiting from Poland. They would all pack into his mini-bus and ride to the lake for the day.
I told him I was heading to the lake also.
“Oh, would you like to ride with us?” he asked.
I declined, of course and told him I would see him there but I knew I was unlikely to reach the lake that day. I did want to seem him again, though, and meet his friends.
About three kilometers later I walked past a sun-baked couple driving back from their field on a tractor pulling a trailer full of watermelons. They waved hello and offered me a melon.
I tried to decline politely, telling them I wouldn’t be able to carry a melon.
“You can carry it in your arms,” they insisted.
I knew they weren’t letting me go without a melon. So I peered into their trailer, chose one of the smallest melons I could find, and cradled it in my arms like a baby. I thanked them for their hospitality and continued walking down the road carrying the melon.
I thought about ditching the melon by the side of the road, but I didn’t want to be rude, even though no one would see me. So I continued carrying it. After about a quarter mile my arm was growing tired and I thought, I’m going to have to pay this one forward really fast.
Most of the intra-city bus drivers recognized me because they passed me on the road every day. When they saw me carrying yet more produce several of them gestured at me, raising their palms to the sky and rolling their eyes as if saying, What, now you’re carrying watermelons, too?
I just smiled and waved with my free arm and continued walking.
I stopped and arranged my watermelon in the grass by the side of the road, my bottle of water next to it, and took a still-life photo of them. About three kilometers later I found a gas station with one attendant and no customers. I said hello to the attendant and showed him my watermelon.
“Do you have a knife?” I asked. “Let’s cut this watermelon open and we’ll split it.”
He excitedly went into the store and found a knife. We cut open the watermelon and sat out on one of the picnic tables eating the watermelon together. He asked me if I would take him back to the U.S. with me.
I told him, “Yeah, next time I go back there why don’t you go with me?
But he seemed serious and wanted to get further into the details and asked when we would leave.
“Got a passport?” I asked.
He didn’t have one, and the conversation ended as it usually did when people along the road asked me that.
We finished the watermelon and I thanked him for his hospitality and he thanked me for the watermelon.
About two kilometers later I walked a stretch where the shoulder of the road plunged off into a steep 20-25 ft. drop-off so that it wouldn’t be easy at all to clamber down off the shoulder if I had to. I passed a huge tomato garden below me and a family out harvesting them. They saw me walking above them and waved up at me to come down to join them.
Okay, I thought, I have this really large backpack on. I can barely move as it is. There is no way I can just scramble down this steep embankment with it on just so I can come and have tea and tomatoes with you. I pretended I couldn’t understand what they wanted and waved back at them and kept walking.
Pretty soon I heard feet pummeling the ground below. I turned and saw one of the boys in the family running alongside me down in the garden holding a plastic bag that had been stuffed with fresh red tomatoes. He was looking for a place to climb up. We finally, after about 500 meters, reached a driveway where he was able to climb up and meet me on the road and give me this gift.
I took the tomatoes, thanked him profusely and waved goodbye to them all. The boy turned and ran back to his family to continue with the tomato harvest.
Now I was walking down the road lugging the bag of tomatoes. The scent of the warm, ripe tomatoes caused me to salivate. I started devouring them, stuffing them into my mouth like popcorn, the juice running down my chin and soaking my t-shirt. I let the skins drop to the ground.
Meanwhile, the oncoming inter-city bus drivers laughed and pointed.
In these initial weeks of the trip, some of the viewers back home in the U.S. would see the pictures I’d taken and the blogs I’d posted. There was a group of them who, when they saw in my photos and blogs how I survived on the road, would ask me, “Doesn’t it feel bad to be a freeloader? Taking these poor people’s food and sleeping in their houses for free?”
Though I was a bit chagrined at being called a freeloader, I had known in my heart before the walk and had learned first hand on the road that money isolates people and does not bring them together or make them feel respected.
When people offer you something they are not looking for $5. They are looking for another human being to look them in the eye with respect and accept what they have to offer with gratitude, a smile, a nod, and a thank you. Humans want to help other humans and they feel good when they do. This seemed to be my lesson of the day.
About five kilometers after I had finished all the tomatoes and stuffed the bag into my pocket, I met another farmer who called to me from across the road and waved me over. This farmer was harvesting walnuts. We chatted for awhile, and I asked him if the trees were his.
He said, “Yes, and I’m harvesting walnuts; would you like to take some with you?” Since the walnuts he had just harvested were still in the green husks, he went to his garage and brought out a plastic bag filled with freshly husked walnuts. I thanked him for the walnuts and continued on.
As I walked, I cracked some walnuts under my shoe and ate a few. The day was a warm and I didn’t have a whole lot of water and was extremely thirsty. After eating a few walnuts my dry mouth started to feel like it was full of cotton. I didn’t want to be disrespectful or rude, but I needed to ditch the walnuts.
A few kilometers from his house the road turned a bend and I threw the walnuts into a ditch and covered them over with dirt. I stuffed the empty bag into my pocket along with the tomato bag.
About another hour or two after I met the walnut farmer I came to the town of Yukteli. I had marked Yukteli on the map as the town I would stay in since that was where I would finish my 20 kilometers for the day. On the map it looked like a nice place to stay but up close it felt inhospitable. It wasn’t a village where an indigenous population lived and made their homes like most villages I’d been through. It was a series of strip malls and gas stations for weekenders passing through from Isparta to the lake.
I decided to continue on to the lake since it was only ten kilometers further–and staying at the lake would be a lot nicer than spending the night in this God-forsaken wide spot in the road. However, my foot had begun throbbing again so I decided not to chance walking. I would ride the bus instead and come back to finish this leg of the walk in the morning. After finding a notable landmark that would be a clear marker of where to start the next day, I took off my pack, turned around, and faced the oncoming traffic to flag down a mini-bus into Egirdir.
The bus was packed, standing room only. I did find a place for my pack and didn’t have to wear it inside the bus. Since I’m over six feet tall I stood with my neck bent and the back of my head crushed against the ceiling, so my view of the scenery on the drive to the lake was minimal, and I was unable to track the route we were taking. Mostly I saw the floor, and I took it on faith that we were headed in the right direction and that I would arrive at the lake as intended.
The bus did stop and drop me off in Egirdir village, a narrow little town nestled on a strip of land between a steep, rocky mountain on one side and the lake on the other. On the outskirts of the town of Egirdir was an elite military training center for mountain komandos. The center of the town was filled with hotels and hostels for people fleeing the city on weekends.
I walked the last kilometer or so through the town looking for a place called Charly’s Pansiyon that had been recommended to me by a british woman who lived in the Antalya area near the Mediterranean coast. She had mapped out a number of historical walks for tourists, one of the most famous being the walk of St. Paul which passes through Egirdir village. One of her contacts in the village was a man who, along with his family, owns Charly’s Pansiyon.
His name is Ibrahim. As are most of the hotels and hostels in the area, Charly’s Pansiyon is located on a narrow peninsula that sticks out into the lake. By narrow I mean you can walk from one side of the peninsula to the other in three minutes. You can see the lake in both directions no matter where you stay.
The pension was in a beautiful setting right on the lake. The first thing I did was walk out onto its large shady terrace that overlooked the lake. A cool, fresh breeze off the lake blew against my face as I took in the surroundings. In the center of the terrace sat a huge varnished wood-grain table. Smaller tables were scattered about under umbrellas.
Ibrahim, the owner, appeared and welcomed me, introducing himself and shaking my hand. I asked him if I could stay at the pension but pitch my tent and sleep outside. He said, “Of course you can! You are welcome to do that.” The property, he said, ran down to the lake and I could sleep right next to the water if I wanted to.
Osman and his Polish group happened to be staying at Charley’s also. He and another teacher named Cem were hosting a group of teachers and non-profit organizers from Poland who were in Turkey doing a professional cultural exchange with professionals from the city of Isparta. They found me below at the lakeside setting up my tent and came over to invite me to join their group.
After I got my camp set up I met them all upstairs on the deck of the pension. We sang and played guitar—two Turkish English teachers and I, along with six Polish travelers, all of us with the intentions of unifying the group with music, the language of the universe, though none of us knew the same songs. First, Cem and Osman took their turn on their guitars playing a song that only the two of them knew. Then the Polish people took their turn on guitar, playing one of their own songs that the rest of us didn’t know. We went back and forth that way until we finally found a common ground—”Hotel California.” The whole world knows “Hotel California”! or at least the chorus.
So we all drank beer and sang “Hotel California” over and over. Everyone joined in except Osman, who spent most of the time he wasn’t playing guitar texting his girlfriend back in Isparta.
Finally, when I didn’t want to sing “Hotel California” and drink beer anymore, I went down to the lake, sprawled out on my sleeping bag, and fell asleep, lulled by the refrain of “Hotel California” off in the distance and the lapping of the waves on the lake outside my tent.