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.