DISCOVERING TURKEY AFTER TWO YEARS HIKING
On a mountain pass, in the middle of a forest, by road, officially or unofficially, we have crossed some borders over the past 2 years. We don't know how many exactly, we passed several times in certain countries and at the beginning of the Alps, we sometimes crossed the Franco-Italian border several times a day. If all our entries in each of the 16 countries are all engraved in our memory, our arrival in Turkey is a little special for sure. The last frontier of the whole trip! Difficult to describe the state of mind in which we were during the long hours that lasted the crossing of this final border. We were moved, excited, a little sad, proud too! The border post covers 3 km and you have to present your passport 5 times. In addition to our backpacks, we carried a heavy package in our arms with our winter gear. We felt it was safer and cheaper to send it to Istanbul from the first post office we would come across and take it back to France ourselves, rather than sending it to Paris from Bulgaria. The police and customs officials were all nice enough to take our word for it and not make us open our full package.
It was long, but there it is: we are in Turkey! And no chance that you won't notice the change. We arrive at Edirne and it hits us head on. Life. We left austere Bulgaria and we throw ourselves into a city teeming, singing, shining with a thousand colors, smelling grilled meat, pressed pomegranates and hot tea.
Very quickly, we meet some young girls, they study and live in Edirne, give us some advice, suggest visits. We exchange our phone numbers and the next day they invite me to go to the Turkish baths with them. Happiness! After weeks in the Bulgarian mountains, that's all I dream of. We meet near the mosque, the mother of one of them offers me a glove to lather the soap that she knitted herself. I am delighted with this super rapid transition. Yesterday we didn't know each other and today we soap our backs. After having softened our skin, it's time for the scrub. An overweight Turkish woman in underwear beckons me to lie down on the marble slab. Using a pillowcase, she lathers up her soapy water and then rubs it down from every angle. I come out of there “new”.
Let the pros do it
We quickly understand that food life is very codified and segmented in Turkey. If you want to drink tea or coffee, you have to go to the cafe. Nothing unusual so far. There, if you are hungry, you can not get anything, you will have to go to a pastry shop or a restaurant. In the restaurant, if you want to finish your meal with a small tea or coffee, the waiters will probably go and get it from the nearest tea room. Each his job in summary.
Stars in Turkey
In these cafes, we have never seen women. It’s just not okay for Turkish women to go to the cafe. At the restaurant ok, because you have to eat. Never at the cafe. On the other hand, no problem for me, foreigner. One day, we were told Julie and I that we were definitely the first women to come to this cafe. We were photographed with the boss and assured that the photo would be quickly hung on the wall.
We encountered an exception to everything I just said. In the village of Durusu, a few days before we reached Istanbul, we entered a cafe/restaurant. First exception. It is exclusively run by women. Second exception. They serve tea and coffee as well as dishes and desserts. They gave us a wonderful welcome and their cuisine is forever engraved on our taste buds.
The Mayor's wife
In small villages, the owner of the cafe is often the Muhtar, the equivalent of the Mayor. Very early in our crossing of Turkey, we were recommended to go and introduce ourselves to the Muhtar when we arrived somewhere. This is how we met Ibrahim, Muhtar from the village of Kapakli, who insisted on trying to become my stepfather. Let me explain. We arrive in the village, we look for the Muhtar, he invites us into his cafe and tells us that we can spend the night there. We spend the end of the day chatting with him and the customers. When the cafe closes, he prepares us a dinner which we all share together. When it is time to go to bed (it is already close to midnight and we are exhausted), he refuses to let Catherine, my mother, sleep in the cafe. We understand that due to her age and senior status in our group, she should go to sleep at his place. At least that's what we understand because if we make the effort to communicate via Google Translate, he doesn't. It takes us over an hour to convince him to give up. He leave angry.
In the Batcave
After a day of walking in the rain, we arrive in front of the Dupnica cave. The small park in front must be charming in summer: market stalls, restaurant, swings... But it is superbly empty and everything is closed when we arrive. As we search for a place to camp, everything is quickly covered in a thin white coat. Out of conscience, we are trying to open all the little cabins around. Magic, one of them opens! It is empty, freshly built, perfectly waterproof. This is where we will sleep tonight. Before dark, we leave to explore the cave and discover, by the light of our headlamps, thousands of sleeping bats. The next morning, two guards get in the cabin next door. They offer us a hot tea and to visit the part of the cave open in winter. This is where we understand our mistake. Last night we actually visited the forbidden part dedicated to the hibernation of bats... Oops!
Yes, it's still winter
From the cave, there are only a few tens of kilometers between us and the Black Sea, but what kilometers! Dozens of icy rivers to cross, sometimes with water up to mid-calves, impassable bramble barriers and... snow! We wake up one morning, the tent is covered with snow, the condensation has frozen on the inside walls and us with it! After the first difficult moments (preparing breakfast in the snow, packing the frozen tent, etc.) we set off and arrive in Wonderland. The soft morning light and the thin layer of snow make every detour on the way sublime.
Black Sea and white beach
Our steps lead us to the Iğneada Flooded Forest Park. It's beautiful, but you lose a little interest in flooded forests when everything is covered with snow. Finally, the highlight of the show was at the exit of the forest. We come out on the beach, facing the Black Sea. The sky is almost black, the beach is white with snow, the wind is blowing and we are alone in the world in the midst of this extraordinary landscape. In the distance we see the town of Iğneada, a small seaside resort which will mark the end of our week with Catherine. A few tens of meters before arriving in town, we have to cross an estuary or make a 12 km detour. The water is much higher than we had imagined but we are reaching the goal and none of us are tempted by the additional 12 km. We know that we can change our clothes quickly after that, we have reserved a hotel room. Not thinking twice, we dive into the water that will reach above the navel for Catherine, the smallest of us. The water is freezing, the air is no more than 1 or 2°C, but no regrets, we had good fun!
Shortly after Catherine's departure, Noé and Julie joined us. 1 km after we hit the road, it's a tragedy. A tree fell across the path, it is lying about 70 cm from the ground. Nil climbs on it, on the other side is a thick carpet of dead leaves under which hide large stones. His ankle gets stuck between the stones and twists in a horrible noise. Cold sweats, spinning head, Nil is close to fainting. If it’s not broken, it means that he still has a bad sprain. Two years without major injury and he ruins his ankle 8 days from Istanbul! We console ourselves as we can by saying that it could have happened 8 days after the start of the trip... He decides to continue but the next day, the pain is too strong and he goes to the hospital to do an X-ray. The absence of a fracture is confirmed, but an MRI should still be done to find out the extent of the damage. This little hospital is not equipped for this, we will have to wait. Normally, if we would have been the two of us, we would have found a place to wait a few days or even a few weeks for Nil to feel better. But we have two guests with us and 6 others on the way, some arriving from the end of the world and we will have to deal with it. This is surely the last indisputable proof that Nil is a robot, a superman, whatever you want. We learnt when we returned to France that he has completely torn off several ligaments and damaged all the others.
On the way, we got to know Yusuf and Ayse who welcomed us into their Bed & Breakfast. A family of artists, as much in the field of music as in gastronomy. We probably had our best Turkish meals at their place and, even if they did not speak English, we had a great time with them.
February 15, 2020 is a great day. To our team of 4 hikers will be added 6 others and they are arriving this evening. We will end this adventure with 10 people of 3 different nationalities. Matt, Buzz and Benny are the ones from far away. They are coming from the United States and we are making a very long trip to join us. Petar joins us from the neighboring country, Bulgaria. Finally, Clémence and Hugues arrive from Paris. Most of those souls did not know each other until February 15, some met on the plane, others at the airport or in the taxi that took them to us.
That evening, the excitement is palpable, we set up our first camp of 6 tents, have a huge bonfire, share our first moments together and enjoy the pleasure of being all together. In the morning, most of us see each other for the first time in daylight. I think we all have the same feeling: it wasn’t a dream, I’m in Turkey with this bunch of people and the week is going to be crazy!
Obviously, life on the road for 2 or 10 is a little different. We had to adapt, wait, learn how to live together, find a common pace, look for gigantic campsites, cook for 10 hungry people... Very quickly, a group spirit was born, friendships were created. No one says it as well as Julie in her article: "a united body that always helps each other when one of the limbs fails". We crossed these 6 days together with a strong emotion, that of the proximity of our objective obviously but also of this energy created by this atypical group.
We were afraid that this last week was not very exciting in terms of landscapes and encounters for our guests. We were less than 150 km from Istanbul, we had seen on the map that we were going through quarries, that we had to bypass the new airport (the largest in the world!) and the peri-urban areas are not really the terrain of predilection of the hiker in search of nature.
Finally, we spent a lot of time walking on the beach, absolutely alone. The perfect place to walk at your own pace, to converse with two or more, since a narrow path does not require us to walk in single line or walk alone without risking losing the group...
1KG FOR THE PLANET
We won't lie, these beaches were hardly a bed of roses. Needless to say, the amount of extra effort it takes to walk in the sand. To tell the truth, we were almost relieved to arrive where the sea had left tons and tons of garbage so we could step on it. Who is to blame? Who is to blame for this filth all along the Black Sea? Not Turkey, at least not only. Six countries border the Black Sea and are all equally responsible for what we found on this beach. Add all the boats that are sailing and the tourists on the beach and here you get the complete equation that led to this desperate situation.
Oytun, our Turkish guide
While looking for information on the trails around Istanbul, we discovered the Hiking Istanbul association and thus met Oytun, one of its very active members. Oytun gave us lots of advice on the route to take and came to walk with us for the penultimate day of walking. Passionate about history, he delighted us throughout 1001 details on the lands we crossed. Oytun was also the accomplice of a huge surprise that awaited us at the bend of a path...
What are they doing here?!
We have been walking for an hour or two in this landscape disfigured by construction machinery. The earth is gaping, torn and dripping. Coming out of a bend, we see three people seated around a fire. We often come across Turkish people who settle by the side of the road, make a fire and drink tea. At our approach, they get up, turn to us and take off their hoods. They are not three Turks but Lindo, Kiwi and Lya, Nil's father, step-mother and sister! As if we haven't had our share of emotions for the week. They will spend this day and the next (the last!) hiking with us and will return to sleep in Istanbul, all our camping equipment being already loaned to our guests.
For this last evening, we are all exhausted. All week long, we have walked between 30 and 35 km a day, often in the sand, bodies are suffering. We are all exhausted and yet we all have a hard time saying goodnight and going to bed. The emotion is too strong and we know that tomorrow it will all be behind us and that it will be almost time to say goodbye.
Hiking in urban terrain
One last awakening in the tent, we try to get everyone up early enough because we know that a group of 10 is slower to start than two people and because our destination is still far away. The gates of Istanbul are only about twenty kilometers away but it is a sprawling city and we will have to walk another 15 km before reaching the symbolic point that we set for our arrival: the mythical Hagia Sophia.
The finish line
These last kilometers were undoubtedly the most difficult of the trip. If we knew the distance that separated us from our objective, we had not at all measured that the center of Istanbul was surrounded by hills. In the end we will have walked 42 km that day but above all climbed more than 1000 meters of elevation gain! We reach Hagia Sophia at 10 pm past, in the rain, we limp, we suffer, but the excitement carried us to the end with a smile on our face. After a moment where we were all a little lost, the joy explodes. We did it!! We feel excited, exhausted, lucky, empty, whole, relieved, loved and thankful.
Other fellow travelers
The next day, we come back to take some photos in the light of day with our flag. A group of men are watching us with interest. One of them approaches. "You're French ? I know this road on your flag, I also tried to do it, but in the other direction ”. His name is Mohamed, he is Algerian and has been trying to reach Western Europe for a while now. We are speechless. Since we started to prepare for this crossing of Europe, we knew that the migration crisis would have an influence on our adventure. In some countries we were taken for migrants, in Croatia, Serbia and Turkey, we got sent the police to check us. In Bosnia, Greece and Turkey we have met these men whom no one wants in their country. These people, like you and us, sometimes very educated, who seek a better life for themselves and their family. But between us, if you were born in a country at war or without prospects, wouldn't you do the same?
We spend a few days in Istanbul, we do not explore the city as much as we imagined because our bodies don't want to! If Nil has managed to get there, his ankle lets him know that it will go no further. For my part, small tendon pain arises everywhere and will not leave me for a week. Now, a new adventure awaits us, the homecoming. We have tons of projects but this is still quite vague... Stay tuned, there may well be more to say around here!
Talk to you soon ;)
Marie & Nil