In retrospect the first part of my walk wasn’t too strenuous, after thinking about it so much whilst planning and imagining everything that could go wrong, in fact it was fairly straight forward walking. The first few days put a few challenges in my way:
- On the first day my proposed route over green rolling hills past a lovely reservoir was barred by a military zone, necessitating a huge detour through some nondescript urban sprawl of Istanbul, and a small stretch of walking along the side of a busy dual carriage way (no pavement, no way of avoiding walking on the road)
- On the second, the path on the map turned out not to be a path in actual fact, but impenetrable scrub, again necessitating a large detour, and a quick thumbing of a lift to get over the other side of a nasty motorway cloverleaf.
- On the third I had a terrifying encounter with 10 Kangal shepherd dogs at close quarters, and afterwards the path on the map turned out not to be a path in the real world, this time necessitating an impromptu camp by the side of a dual carriage way.
- On the fourth I was presented with 5 kms or so of walking in the rain on a morass of cloying clay which passed itself off as a jeep track on the map. Thick clods of clay building on the feet and poles after every step, making forward progress extremely slow and effortsome.
At the time, these seemed to be significant and had a stong effect on my morale – why was I doing this again? But in retrospect, I think this is just part and parcel of such an endeavour, each set back was exceedingly minor in the grand scheme of things and easily remedied. For the whole of my Thracian walk the terrain was relatively gentle, the weather never really nasty, the days route never extremely long (25-35km, building to 40km on the last day into Edirne). I was adjusting to walking with a heavy (c.20kg) pack – which I gradually began whittling down as disposed of without various items which had seemed so essential during my packing in the UK, but which now seemed like so much dead weight – but no massive dramas here either, some sore knees and hips at points, nothing you wouldn’t expect for such an endeavour.
What I hadn’t expected, and which proved an enduring, and ever pleasant contributor to my growing confidence and enjoyment of the trip through turkey, was the extraordinary hospitality, friendliness, and generosity of the Turkish people who I encountered. I have very rarely experienced such spontaneous hospitality, and never so consistently, for such an extended time. To list each and every act of hospitality of them would not be practical here, as they came thick and fast, with almost every one of my interactions with a Turk. I will endeavour to give a flavour of what I experienced though, as this was the part of the walk which left the deepest impression on me, and will stay with me forever, long after my memories of individual villages, or woodland stretches has faded.
A few instances stick in my mind as particularly demonstrative of the hospitality extended to visitors in this part of the world.
- In kirklareli, I went to the Barber get my beard trimmed, and my throat shaved. When one of the customers found out that I was a tourist, he promptly ordered tea from a nearby tea shop. We chatted, he asked if I was hungry, I confirmed that I hadn’t had lunch yet, and a doner kebab was promptly delivered to the barber shop, and paid for by the fellow customer (despite me trying to pay, he was having none of it – this was a feature of interactions with Turks). More tea was procured afterward. Then I asked the proprietor about how to deal with dry skin under the beard, a problem I had been getting as a result of the cold, dry winter air. He produced a bottle of aftershave balm, which I have been using for the last week or so and its cleared up all of my problems. Finally I said I had to go, and tried to pay for the after shave, and my trim. Nope. No money would be taken. Welcome to Kirklareli was the only response I could get.
- Whilst nearing the end of a long days walk about 2 hours out from the town of Pinarhisar (where i was going to stop for the night), I encountered an old man with some chickens next to a derelict house. He beckoned me over. There began an entertaining game of charades where we tried to communicate a little to each other. Finally he held up a long bony finger and beckoned me over to the boot of his car. He opened the boot, and rummaged around inside, before withdrawing a hand full of monkey nuts, which he started stuffing into my coat pocket. I thanked him, and continued on my way, munching away on the monkey nuts, which were excellent. I had came down into Pinarhisar from the limestone plateau to its north, with excellent views over the Thracian plain as the sun was going down. As i entered the town, I heard the beeping of a car horn. I looked, and it was the same old man from before. he beckoned me into his car, and then drove me 100m to what was evidently his local tea house, and ordered me several large and incredibly gratefully accepted mugs of turkish tea (served, strong, black, and always sweetened with sugar). I still have no idea whether it was sheer chance that we ran into each other, or whether he was sat in his car waiting for me for arrive, just so he could welcome me and buy me tea. It was a startling gesture, especially as we could barely communicate other than through crude gestures.
- Finally, When I arrived into Edirne (the end of this section of the walk) after my longest section of walking so far (40km or so) with the last 10km or so in horrible cloying clay which balled up on anything it touched, I was absolutely filthy, exhausted and night had fallen. I sat on a bench across a busy road from a tea house, lit up a cigarette (I’m quitting from Greece onwards), and started checking my phone to see if I could find some cheap accommodation. I could see that some of the customers in the tea house were looking at me, but I thought nothing of it. Then, after 5 minutes or so, the proprietor of the tea house came out, crossed the busy road, and wordlessly handed me a cup of tea. It was all i could do to get a quick thanks (Teşekkürler) out before he was back over the road. I drank my tea down, then headed over to the shop to offer some money for the tea – nope, don’t worry about it, welcome to Edirne. This was astonishing, i cant have been much more than a dishevelled, dirty, blur as viewed from the lit tea house. And yet the proprietor had spotted me, and felt compelled to come over and give me a cup of tea, with zero expectation of getting anything back, other than the feeling of welcoming a stranger to Edirne.
More general occurences included, when I stopped in a village tea shop to catch a breather, 90% of the time I was not allowed to pay for my tea. I started eating a packed lunch before entering villages and towns, because otherwise food would be procured for me by the villagers and I felt bad to take it. I was beckoned over and offered refreshment from people of all walks of life, builders on the building site, farmers in the village tea house, the village headman in his office, electrical engineers, shop keepers, soldiers in the army base, policemen in the police station, truckers in the pub, even a convicted drug dealer who had done 3 years in prison. Many of them advised me to stop what I was doing, many offered to help in any way they could, all of them seemed pleased to see me in Thrace, and all of them offered me tea (or beer when i was in the pub in Kirklareli 🙂 ). At no point in my trip did I feel threatened for myself or my property. Crime seems to be very low indeed.
For the first 5 nights of my walk, every night when I got to a village, I would head to a tea shop and, get out my script written in my journal, saying what I was doing, and asking if there was any accommodation in the village, and that I could pay for it. Each time I was found somewhere to sleep (once in the headmans office, once in a house, once in a wedding hall, I never knew where I was going to sleep from day-to-day), no money was ever asked for, and each time I was fed and watered, with no money being taken. These people are not rich, they are almost all much poorer than the average person in the UK, and yet, they considered it nothing to look after a bizarre foreigner, who had appeared in their midst as the sun was setting. If I can adopt just a fraction of this hospitality in my own personal dealings with travellers/strangers (as I intend to), then I will be a significantly better person for it. For the following 5 nights I passed through larger towns and was able to get formal accommodation.
So I will finish this post with a heart-felt thanks to all of the Turks who I encountered on my walk. If any of you are reading this, you have made a deep and lasting impression on me of a people of exceptional warmth and hospitality, and you have made my trip so far.