20 August 2014
contributed by Gerald Maclean
Breakfast this morning was rather gloomy, but the riders were keen to set off in good time.
Today’s first logistical problem for the riders involved finding the best ways to cross through a saddle in the Melendiz foothills. In the event, the consequent slow-going as the horses made their way along stony tracks either side of the road, often requiring the riders to walk on foot, raised new challenges; not to mention the question of how much further horses and riders could manage in a single day given the heat and rocky going.
Even for the motorized vehicles, the going was slow, largely because the kamyonet was only ever at best delicately balanced given the weight of the water and heavy sacks of horse-feed stored on the roof rack. Following in the minibus, I seldom needed a gear higher than second on the steep and curvy mountain road. Once we dropped down to the plain before Çiftlik, a local shepherd led us to a water pump in a rather dirty flat area by the side of the road. Once they came over the ridge, the riders could not fail to see us.
We loaded water while Fadime washed breakfast dishes and Yunus made lunch. Then we waited with our eyes on the horizon over which the riders would be appearing.
After lunch the riders set off again, though earlier plans to reach a camp beyond Altunhisar were quickly abandoned given the slow going.
So after packing up, we set off for Altunhisar where we would wait for news from the riders when they had a sense of how far they could get. Along the way, we met up with them by the side of the road. It was hot. The going had been even steeper with rougher ground to cover than the morning ride across the foothills had been.
With no clear idea of how far the horses and riders would be able to manage, waiting for a phone call when we might have been setting up camp was peculiarly frustrating. It was not until after 6:00pm that the riders managed to find a phone signal and let us know that after heavy going they were approaching the village of Yesilyürt, on the edge of Altunhisar municipality. Ikinci and I promptly set off in the minibus for Yesilyürt, in hopes of spotting a suitable camp site close by. Along the way we spotted a number of suitable fields, but the kamyonet would never manage the steep and tight access points. On arrival in Yesilyürt in advance of the horses, locals told us of a football field with some grassy edges and a water source. But alas, we next learned that the muhktar – the local head-man whose permission would be necessary to camp within the village domains – was off in the mountains somewhere. So we swiftly back-tracked across the municipal border into Altunhisar where, on the edge of town, we spotted a cattle market where there were stalls for the horses, a dry flat area for tents, water, and even toilets (of the kind that require bravery, agility, and a strong stomach). This was by no means an ideal spot, but given the late hour and fact the horses had been working for more than ten hours, finding somewhere better as the night came on seemed too risky a bet.
We sped back to Yesilyürt just in time to meet the horses and riders. After such a long, hot day for everyone, the meeting was a great relief to all. Ikinci took over Mehmet’s horse and led the riders to the cattle market, about 3 kilometres down hill, while I drove Mehmet to the proposed site, for his approval, and then to pick up the kamyonet and rest of the support team.
I have never been able to confirm this, but Ercihan has always insisted that there are presumptive rights for equestrian travellers in Turkey. While a village muhktar has the authority to move on anyone he considers a threat to village life, I have been led to believe, the authorities in charge of the larger regional unit of a municipality (belediye) are obliged to allow equestrian travellers water and a resting place (on the understanding that they will move on). Such has always seemed to be the case when travelling with horses in Turkey, and I am reminded of the regulations governing camping on Dartmoor in England, where it is ok to ‘bivouac’ (ie put up a tent and stop anywhere but only for one night) but not to ‘camp’ (ie putting up a tent and settling in for longer).
But there was one (minor) disaster waiting to happen. Having dropped Mehmet off to pick up the kamyonet, I managed to blow the back tyre on the minibus, right in front of the regional police headquarters of course, moments after setting off for the cattle market. Mevlut was with me, together with all the rider’s bags and groceries for tonight’s dinner. It was after 7:00pm and growing dark. Barely had the noise of the tyre blowing faded when a friendly chap pulled up and insisted on phoning his friend, a lastikci or tyre-fixer. Mevlut, eager to show his mettle, insisted that since we had a spare, he could take care of things unassisted and promptly set about throwing all the backpacks from the back of the minivan onto the dusty road into order to get to the tools. The crowd that gathered to watch him was, given the time of evening, seldom more than four or five men of a certain age, all of them seeming experts in how to change tyres with constant streams of advice to inflict upon Mevlut, who was soon sweating profusely from the effort of removing the lug-nuts. The lastikci showed up on his motor cycle with tools, but before I could say anything Mevlut insisted once again that he could manage, so with what was clearly a knowing-grin, the lastikci rode off with a friendly wave.
Once the blown tyre was successfully off, the challenge of removing the spare tyre from underneath the back of the minibus began. It was close to 7:30pm by now, and I was sure that I was being cursed by the riders for delaying the arrival of their kit, and by Yunus for delaying the arrival of groceries for tonight’s dinner (barbecued chicken). Anyone reading this who knows about Mercedes minibuses will be able to anticipate some of what was about to take place. Shamed and embarrassed, Mevlut eventually gave up trying to free the spare from under the minibus, after only about 20 minutes of sweating in the dust. I tried to reassure myself that this would all make a funny story one day; though it didn’t seem entirely comical at the time. As if on cue, Ikinci showed up on the motorbike to take over, sending Mevlut off with the bags of food for dinner.
The prospect of calling the lastikci back continued to prove offensive; manhood was at stake, could I not understand? So for the next half hour, Ikinci began his ordeal of grovelling in the dust beneath the minibus, kicking and banging, sometimes coming up to reassure himself once more that there was no access to the tyre from inside the back of the minibus—the area was too well sealed off. At around 8:00pm, a policeman came over from the offices and discussed the problem. He announced that a friend of his was a Mercedes mechanic, and a phone call was promptly made. There is, we learned, a ‘dingel’ (I have no idea what to call it except the vernacular Turkish that was being used) that you have to stick into a hole, located somewhere near the back fender, to release the tyre. Otherwise it would never come off! Enlightened, Ikinci set about looking for a suitable hole and a dingel. Various holes were found, but nowhere could this instrument be found, so he asked the policeman to call his friend back and ask if he would mind coming over to help. This produced a roar of laughter from the policeman: ‘My friend lives in Kayseri’ (only a few hundred kilometers away), he retorted in good form.
So eventually the lastikci was called back and he promptly identified the dingel as the metal rod that had, all along, been lying next to the spare tyre, and identified the right hole for inserting and turning. The tyre dropped; Ikinci bolted it in place; I repacked the luggage, and we headed for the cattle market camp. As we set off, the display in front of the police station told us the temperature had dropped to 32 celsius.
By the time we reached camp, the chicken was just about ready, tents were going up, and the riders happy enough with cold drinks and not too worried about their luggage for the moment. As always, numerous local notables had shown up to admire the horses and find out what we were doing; for the local police, we were the only show in town and the best relief from the boredom of driving around scaring young boys from getting into too much trouble. The lastikci was there too, ebullient and cheerful as he regaled anyone who would listen with the tale of how, in a moment, he had solved a problem that had thwarted Mevlut and Ikinci. Sometimes being a daft and ignorant foreigner has its advantages in this world of competitive manliness.
After dinner, Erdinç arrived from the Akhal Teke ranch in Avanos with the new camping beds. Plans were made for the future. Clearly the going was rougher and slower than anticipated, and there were some nominal deadlines – a new rider was joining the expedition on 7 September in Kütahya, and the horses were needed back in Avanos for October rides. With the recently augmented crew, it was figured that the riders should set out first thing and stop before the worst mid-day heat, which tended to set in around 1:00pm, and meet up with the support team. Mehmet would then set off on the motorbike to scout out a suitable and nearby campsite a couple of hours ride away, then return to lead the riders when they set off again in the cool of evening.