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.