We were really pleased to receive this article from Mac about the Evliya Çelebi Way 2014 ride and to hear that other riders joined along the way to complete the journey. Hopefully we will have more stories from Mac and Donna this year about their forthcoming horse-riding adventures.
Central Anatolian Trek, or Büyük Anadolu Tür 2014, Completed Successfully!
Gerald Maclean (Mac)
Donna and I reported on the early days of the 2014 ride from Avanos across the Konya plain to join up with the Evliya Çelebi Way in Kutahya, and we’re delighted to report that the ride was successfully completed (almost on schedule). Caroline Finkel left the riders once they reached Kutahya, but Tim Grace arrived from Australia to join the group on the final leg of the journey, which picked up the Evliya Çelebi Way.
Plans are underway to develop a series of equestrian extensions to the existing Evliya Çelebi Way in the Bursa-Inegol area. Tugrul Avci has met with Caroline Finkel to discuss proposals being put before the local provincial mayors to open up routes suitable for horses and walkers that would extend the ECW to take in the villages of Cumalikizik and Oylat.
Cumalikizik has recently been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This unspoilt village in the foothills of Mount Uludag provides an amazing example of early Ottoman village design and architecture; just as it was in Evliya’s day. Oylat is an ancient hot-spring ticked into a ravine which people continue to visit in pursuit of the beneficial effects of the mineral baths.
In addition to offering new possibilities for walkers trekking the ECW, the new route will provide new equestrian possibilities since the Cumalikizik-Oylat extensions would make for short-term riding expeditions of one to three days in the saddle. These shorter rides should suit anyone who cannot find the time to ride the Evliya Çelebi Way for the full two weeks from Kutahya to Iznik (or Yalova).
There are also hopes that the new equestrian route will be suitable for further development as a course for use in Equestrian Endurance Trials. If all goes according to plan, there will be an initial horseback expedition to find the best ways in May.
Meanwhile, the ECW remains open for trekking and spring will soon be bringing the flowers in profusion! Despite the troubles hundreds of miles away to the south, this will be a great year to visit Turkey since tourist bookings are down, making deals available. The exchange rate makes Turkey excellent value. Equestrian enthusiasts should know that the horses used on the Evliya rides are in fine form at the Akhal Teke Ranch in Avanos, and there are spaces available on most of the scheduled rides (see: http://www.akhal-tekehorsecenter.com/en/index.html )
It is now the 21st and I am back in Avanos at the ranch having decided that the heat on the road really was way too much for me, even in the relative shade of the minibus cab with occasional a/c and regular cross ventilation when there was a breeze outside. Yesterday at about 2:00pm while we were parked in the shade on the edge of Altunhisar, I noticed that the temperature was 42 celsius. So when Erdinç showed up at camp that evening and plans were being made, I begged a ride back to the relative cool of Avanos and the ranch. Even here in the relative cool right by the Kızılırmak river, temperatures are only dropping below 30 after dark.
I spend most of the day rather glumly drinking as much water as I can while sitting in a comfy armchair in Ercihan’s private cabin at the ranch. In the evening, a wedding is being held in the garden restaurant at the ranch. The music is frightfully loud, so when Donna phones from camp, I can barely hear what she is saying over the broken and crackling connection. Erdinç and I drive to meet the ride in evening camp outside a village called Zengen. We have borrowed a pickup truck and are carrying various supplies. By road, Zengen is just over two-hours drive from Avanos, but in a day or two the ride will have moved deep into the Konya plain and beyond daily reach from the ranch. When we arrive at camp, we find that Yunus has set up a rakı sofrası for the evening meal, that traditional collection of dishes to be snacked on while drinking the aniseed-flavoured spirit that some confuse with ouzo and arak. On the table here is white melon, yellow and white cheeses, olives green and black, a green salad of roka (rocket or arugula) and chopped tomatoes, and in the kitchen a pot of kuru fasuliye, dried white beans stewed up with tomatoes, onions and small pieces of lamb. But all too soon it is time to say farewell, to wish the riders luck with the rest of the journey, and to load Donna’s bag into the pickup. I fail to stay awake on the drive back to Avanos.
We find seats back to Heathrow for the 26th, and spend the intervening days trying to make ourselves as useful as possible. Donna helps Raphaëlle train the young horses that have recently arrived on which she will be taking customers riding later in September and through October. Disconnected reports come in from the riders; all are enjoying themselves, though the going continues slower than can be maintained. We hear they made only 15 kilometres one day. Plans for cutting the route and finding a lorry to move the horses ahead are in the making.
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.
First, a few notes from my notebook—of course I couldn’t scrawl in my favourite red, which I find more legible when reading it later, but managed to read the blue scribble reminding me to comment on a couple of things.
On the 17th, shortly after the riders had set out, I made a note that on too many occasions before leaving England I had felt the need to explain to well-wishers that the trip was not ‘going on holiday,’ though there were three similarities: it was expensive, unpaid, and fun. Three legs are enough to balance a milking stool, so perhaps three common features make this a holiday. But it also has often been, and will continue to be, something other than holiday fun, though not strictly ‘work’; for Donna and myself this has so far mostly involved adding international prestige in face-to-face meetings with suppliers, municipal authorities, and, more recently, introducing horses and riders as they arrive. None of these activities amount to ‘work’ of course, but there are times when even welcoming local and inquisitive guests just when it is time to relax, watch the sunset and catch up on the day’s events can feel a bit like attending a diplomatic summit as we explain ourselves and our aims once again. But the sunsets always make it worth while!
On the 17th I also noted down that over dinner we recalled the ‘worst things’ that can happen on such expeditions. In the five years of its operation, the ‘Great Anatolian Ride’ – as the Evliya Çelebi Way is marketed by Akhal-Teke – has had only two serious episodes of horses escaping and running away. There was, in 2009, the occasion on the penultimate day of the ride, before the support vehicle was ‘arrested’ (as reported on the 2009 Hoofprinting Blog. Most commonly, problems have involved the supply vehicle getting stuck or breaking down. Since I would have the ambiguous position of driving the minibus (like the small motorbike, needed in case of emergencies and occasions when the kamyonet was unsuitable because of terrain and inadequate speed), I would be in the thick of mechanical and other problems for many of which I can be of no use. In 2009, following a bloody foot injury that prevented me getting my riding boots on, I had accompanied the support team for the final ten days. So I had a pretty good idea of the many kinds of logistical and other crises that were largely hidden from riders.
I also made a note to myself to comment here on a question much in my mind regarding Evliya, but also about travel writing in different languages and from different cultural perspectives more generally. Surely everyone who has travelled in a group of like-minded strangers knows there are various things travel writers invariably must leave out for reasons legal or personal. In terms of reading between the lines of Evliya’s The Book of Travels, I am not alone in being pretty certain that there are things he does not tell us about. Certainly his sexuality is titillatingly ambiguous at best – he never married or reports heterosexual relations of any kind; he tells us he was clean shaven when such a thing was relatively uncommon and ambiguous at best; he admires the boys who frequent hamams or bath houses in various cities comparatively, distinguishing those who are there to be looked at and admired aesthetically, and those who advertised their sexual availability. As I commented earlier, Evliya several times protested rather too loudly that he never partook of any of the intoxicants forbidden by religious law which he nevertheless served to his friends at various times: these included coffee as well as opium and a range of hallucinogens.
On the 2009 Ride, for example, I made a list of such events as they took place, things that happened but are better left unmentioned for what we might call legal reasons, and I find it was quite short: mostly occasions when we drove faster than local speed limits, and when local officials who visited us drank alcohol. Once we arrived at camp, having been reported ‘lost’ in a mountainside forest, to find a number of men in uniforms of the forestry service and jandarma corps. It was later observed: ‘They hassle us on the way, but are happy enough to drink our rakı!’
The first full day of the Ride went perfectly as Ercihan led the riders through the magnificent volcanic landscapes from camp outside Ibrahimpaşa to a spot just south of Derinkuyu, famous for the nearby ‘underground city’. By 10am, those of us in the support team had arrived at the proposed site and met the local contact who directed us to a water supply amidst fields of green beans and a field of straw stubble with some trees that was perfect for horses and tents.
Apart from myself, Mehmet – who was driving the kamyonet – was the only member of the support team who had previously made this kind of expedition as part of the Evliya Çelebi Way Project support team. Ahmet – known as ‘Can-Can’ (which in Turkish sounds like ‘John-John’ but means something along the lines of ‘life-life’) – is one of the hands from the ranch, and came along to help take care of the horses when in camp. Yunus, from Kayseri, and Mevlut, from Ağrı in the far distant north east, are both students in the sports science programme at Nevsehir University. Neither have had previous experience with horses but they are young, energetic and keen. Yunus, tasked with being in charge of food and drinks, quickly proved himself a skilled cook, while Mevlut took care of the camping equipment (including the tented long-drop toilet). Both seem to have managed to avoid being in front of the camera. Everyone, of course, pitches in when setting up and breaking camp, but Mehmet is the only one who fully understands the mysteries of the support vehicle and how to pack it all up in a relatively efficient and balanced way.
Shortly after we arrived, something supporting the engine of the overloaded supply wagon snapped in a profound and emphatic way just as it was turning off the track into the camping field. It was serious enough to summon help, so Mehmet and I set off into town with the minibus to find the guy who would help: one of things that I long ago learned, though clearly Turks themselves know this almost instinctively, is that whatever goes wrong, and wherever you are, somewhere nearby is a guy who will help. By 3pm, the mechanic had been to see, gone away to get what he needed, returned with his young son, fixed the problem, joined the crew for lunch, and left. The riders appeared shortly afterwards.
The brief thunder storm that passed over the camp just before dinner freshened the air, enabled Mehmet to show everyone how the canopy over the dining table that folds out from the side of the kamyonet works (and it did keep everyone dry), but the rain was not bad enough to leave significant mud behind. Apart from discovering I had run-down the camera battery, the only other snag this day came later when we realised that the new self-inflating mattresses had not arrived, so some slept better than others this night.
19 August 2014
As if on cue, after making that note to comment on the question of what gets left out of travel accounts, such an event would occur today, something simply unfortunate. But horses and riders were all happy with their partners, and adventurous expeditions cannot avoid mishaps of various kinds (isn’t that partly the point of such kinds of travel?), so everyone was keen to get going as early as possible to ride in the relative cool of the morning. There was one brief delay after breakfast when some itinerant Kurdish workers who were camped about a kilometre away came to visit and admire the horses. Ann gave some of the children rides around the field on Kelebek while Ahmet and the other riders tacked up. But by 7:50am, the riders were off, heading across the lowland plain in the direction of the Melendiz mountain range. Relying on the modern miracle of mobile phones, we planned to meet them around mid-day with food and water for the horses.
Since no-one was certain how long the horses would take, we drove as far as Alay, the first small town (kasaba) outside Nevşehir province; we were now in the poorer Nigde province, where tourists seldom go in significant numbers. We parked opposite the mosque, beyond which was a large paved square with a few shops. I bought some biscuits, a box of peach nectar and some chewing gum, but declined the shopkeeper’s kind and enthusiastic invitation to sit and drink tea—‘My friends are waiting,’ I announced in my best and most polite Turkish. Crossing the square, I noticed a fruit stand tended by an extremely polite and efficient small boy from whom I bought a few shrivelled bananas. Ahmet, meanwhile, had bought a bag full of potato crisps and the sickly sweet chocolate bars to which he, Yunus and Mevlut seem addicted. As we sat in the shade of the mosque, snacking, the young boy from the fruit stand re-appeared with his hands clenched together and presented me with as many sunflower seeds (çekirdek) as he could hold, smiled and went back to his fruit stand.
Eating sunflower seeds is one of those rather lowly and rather messy activities (or even skills, perhaps) that persons of breeding look down upon, but really can be a nutritious way of passing the time (provided no one is about to complain about the noise and piles of wet shells that accumulate). I first developed the habit going to the open air cinema in Kavala, Greece, while living there in the early 1970s, but generally it’s an outdoors activity, not to be carried on inside a car or bus without risking the wrath of the driver. Here, sitting in the shade outside the Alay mosque, was a perfect and clearly customary place for such an activity since, even though the area was paved and clearly kept clean, there was plenty of evidence that others before me had sat on this spot and dropped çekirdek shells.
Anyway, the riders caught up with us in good time, and we found some shady trees for watering the horses. After lunch in a traditional kebab restaurant, the unfortunate and unreportable incident occurred, which delayed us for a couple of hours. With Hasan Dağ and the Melendiz range on the horizon before us all, the riders set off overland across the field system towards the kasaba of Bağlama while we took the black-top road to scout out a suitable camp site. Having parked the kamyonet by the roadside just outside town, Mehmet and I set off in the minibus to find a suitable field with shade and water.
By now, of course, riders and support team had attracted a substantial group of followers, young boys with bicycles and mopeds of various vintage. When Mehmet and I returned from our scouting mission, some had caught up with the kamyonet having followed us along the road, while others arrived overland after running in advance of the horses.
Mehmet and I had found in a beautiful spot just beyond Bağlama, among a fine stand of trees, with spectacular views to Hasan Dağ and the Melendiz range. The heat across the plain was intense as we waited for the riders to arrive.
Despite the unspeakable event, dinner was lively this evening. We had been joined by another Mehmet from Avanos (so I will call him ‘Ikinci’ Mehmet or Mehmet the second) with his daughter (whose name seems to be either ‘Fatma’ or perhaps ‘Fadime’) to supplement the support crew. Ikinci seems to be a jack of all trades and is here to help with all aspects of the camp while his daughter will assist with meal service and cleaning. Much of the evening after dinner is taken up with route planning and maps in the attempt to figure out how long it will take to cross over the foothills of the Melendiz range into the plain beyond around Çiftlik and then on to Altunhisar on the other side of Melendiz Dag itself (with a peak at 2963 meters high).
14 August 2014
Another very hot day and I am exhausted from doing little or nothing. Ercihan spent several hours on the phone to the heads of the various jandarma forces (state rather than municipal police) with whom we anticipated making regular contact along the way). A box of T-shirts and some saddle blankets from our new sponsors with their logo arrived. In the evening Jude arrived from Oregon to join the 2014 team of riders. Originally from the UK, Jude Vawter currently breeds Akhal-teke horses at the Page Creek Ranch.
15 August 2014
Two more of the team arrived from the US. Susan flew in with her good friend Ann Hume, who rode the EÇW in 2010 and fell in love with the Turkish countryside. There are still delays to airline schedules across Turkey. One of Ann’s bags and some new saddles that Susan bought in the States have failed to arrive. There is now only Jean Matton to arrive from Belgium to complete the group planning to ride. His flight to Kayseri is supposed to get in tomorrow evening. Everyone expects delays.
16 August 2014
Well, it is now looking like plans to send regular posts to Tracey, along with photos, is destined to be something of a problem. The first intimation was discovering, on arrival at the ranch that the red pen I had brought to keep notes does not work. Abandoning thoughts of keeping longhand notes, this morning I found that the laptop may have developed a new glitch, one that tells the internet to switch itself off seconds after switching on.though Ann tells me this may simply be a problem with the strength of the signal and that seems likely.
This morning Ann, Jude and Donna went off with Ercihan to see how they liked their assigned horses – Ann on Kelebek (‘Butterfly’), Jude on Zorlu (‘Difficulty’), and Donna on Aşgar. Susan joined them on her horse Juno.
At dinner this evening, with all the riders except Jean – yes, his flight was delayed and he would not be in Avanos until about 4am – we shared memories of ‘things that go wrong on horseback riding holidays.’ We quickly agreed that our most vivid memories of this kind were invariably about the personality of one or more of the group riding. And now we had all met, we were pretty certain that we would not have that sort of difficulty on this trip. Anyone who willingly sets out to ride across Central Anatolia in the heat of the summer was unlikely to be a whinger. All of us had travelled this way before and knew what to expect, and what to dread. All of us at one time or another had been on equestrian camping expeditions in company with Susan, who had hand-picked the riders for this trip.
Amidst the various activities and unanticipated complications, these days have been hot, cooling off only after 5pm in the evening to below 30 celsius. I know I won’t be able to take the heat and direct sun at these kinds of temperatures, so will set out with the support team tomorrow, driving the mini-bus.
17 August 2014
Now that he is here, all are agreed that Jean is certain to be a good member of the group and he has the right sense of humour about being among so many women. Anyone so eager to get going after less than four hours sleep following airport delays is certainly no whinger! But whingers are easy enough to find, especially in the pages of sites like TripAdvisor.
I’ve recently been reading a lot of nineteenth-century travel writing by Brits who travelled across Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire as some more correctly termed the region, and a surprising number of them were whingers. Many of them were going further east into Persia and Kurdistan and beyond. Like Evliya, these were writers who travelled by horse, and there were a lot of them, including some women. Trains and steam ships were rapidly making parts of what we now call the Middle East increasingly available to new kinds of European traveller. A new class distinction was in the making, one we now hear at work whenever someone talks of being a ‘traveller’ and not a ‘tourist.’ Except in extreme cases – choosing a package holiday to the sun is obviously different from setting out to hike the Himalayas – it can be a rather vague and fuzzy distinction, but one that attracts believers. I strongly suspect it inspired some of the writers I have been reading to travel by horse and write about it in order to stake a claim to a more traditional and certainly more arduous form of travelling than those earliest ‘tourists’ on organized group tours of Constantinople or the Holy Land. Whether diplomats or missionaries, military types exploring overland routes to India, archaeologists intent on finding the next big site with important (ie having a high market value) relics of some bygone age, or those who travelled simply because they could, all who published memoirs and narratives of their equestrian journeys east shared one thing besides a love of horses. The single most recurrent topic, one that regularly becomes a repeated theme for some of these writers, is the impossibility of leaving camp on time.
I don’t know if anyone believed that horses and riders would actually manage to leave the ranch at 8:30am as planned. In the end, it was close to 10:00am and close to approaching 30 degrees when the riders posed for a group photo or two before striking out for the national park at Göreme, where the support team would be waiting with lunch for horses and riders.
We have arrived in Turkey!
Contributed by Gerald Maclean
On the 8th, we got up at 3:00 am and by 5:00 were at Heathrow Terminal Three ready for our 6:50 flight to Istanbul only to find a delay until 10:00 was already posted. Storms had wrecked flight schedules in and out of Ataturk airport; we knew we could not make the internal flight to Nevşehir, so I texted Ercihan in Avanos not to try meeting us there at 19:30 (his time) as planned. We proved lucky. When we did eventually arrive at Nevşehir, only 20 hours behind schedule, the bags we had checked back at Heathrow were waiting for us and there was Ercihan with the minibus ready to take us to Avanos and the horses. In the 3 months since we left, Göksu had foaled, producing a perfectly conformed and beautiful filly foal, yet to be named.
Today is already a historical date in the evolution of the Republic of Turkey. Today Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected the 12th President of the Republic in the first popular election to the post (previous presidents have all been appointed by the Prime Minister from elected members of the Meclis, or parliamentary assembly).
We spent the day at the ranch, catching up on local events and playing with horses. It is proving to be as hot as we expected. That was among the reasons we came over a week before the 2014 Ride is scheduled to set off. Would I be up to riding in the heat? A few days to get the blood accustomed to daily temperatures in the 30s and the digestive system on track to accommodate local (yerli) water and food.
While Turks voted, the history of the EÇW Project was also in the process of being made at the Akhal Teke Ranch where we met our first major sponsor for the 2014 Ride, Dr Mehmet Küçük, Director of the Kütüphane-e Türkiye Projesi (‘Turkey E-Library Project’), which is establishing up-to-date digital resources and training programmes in provincial public libraries throughout Turkey with funding supplied by Bill and Melinda Gates. Dr Küçük and his team had driven down from Ankara, with his colleagues Drs Sinan and Göknür Akilli of the literature and technology departments respectively at Haceteppe University and METU (Middle East Technical University); other equestrian colleagues came to the meeting from Nevşehir University. Since the brief of Dr Küçük’s project shares ambitions with the EÇW Project of improving material and cultural conditions in impoverished rural areas, we soon found common ground. Sinan has recently translated Donna’s book about Eastern horses into Turkish and has are delighted to have this opportunity of thanking Dr Küçük for his support.
Another hot day at the ranch. Donna took time away from talking to horses to make a note of the horses being brought into condition for the forthcoming Ride.
Time to clean out the support vehicle and make sure the kitchen and shower facilities are in working order.
Time to dry out and test the camping equipment.
Time for the nalbant (farrier) to shoe some of the horses for the expedition.
Getting ready: 7 August
Contributed by Gerald Maclean
Donna and I leave from Heathrow for Turkey first thing tomorrow morning. Why are we doing it again? Taking to the saddle to ride horses for weeks across central Turkey?
The 2014 plan is to ride from Avanos southwards, beneath the foothills of Hasan Dagi, the ancient volcano whose eruptions of tufa caused the strange geological formations that bring tourists to Cappadocia. We will continue southerly, skirting Nigde and Ereğli before turning westward to pass south of ancient Konya, home of the whirling dervishes. It will be very, very hot for the horses. We then ride northerly through ancient Pisidia and on past Afyon to join up with the UNESCO designated Evliya Çelebi Way at Kütahya, which we will ride to the south shores of the Sea of Marmara, passing Bursa and Iznik.
One simple answer for setting out on another expeditionary ride is that many of us who explored the 2009 route vividly recall just how horrible life was AFTER that ride ended. Donna and I had a six-day lay over in Istanbul before we could fly home, and I have never felt so depressed in a city that I have loved since my first visit in 1975. To put things another way:
When we set out in 2009 to ride the first stage of Evliya’s 1671 route from Istanbul on his pilgrimage to Mecca, one of our unexpected discoveries was how travelling for weeks with horses meant that every hour in the saddle, even when tired and sore, was experienced as pleasure.
As your route unwinds limitlessly before you, with each ridge of the horizon promising something previously unknown, being ‘on the road’ becomes addictive. Horses bred for long distance riding know this, and eagerly eat up the miles in search of the next lush green space and the next source of water. This equestrian delight in being on the road is something that Evliya must have fully understood since he made travelling with horses his entire life.
If all goes to plan, we set out on Saturday 16 August, and will be in touch when we can find three bars!
The 2009 Ride – The Final Chapter
Contributed by Gerald Maclean
We camped in the open.
We were always happy to wake up in the morning.
And we were always eager and more or less ready to get going.
Some 1300 kilometres later, the horses and core riders fetched up in Kütahya, unfazed by adventures and ready for more.
The end of the Road: Titiz and Elis in Kütahya ready for more.
It was time to go home. The Ride was over. It had been a great success. Not one of the horses went lame. Did nothing go wrong?
Things that went wrong include:
matters that simply cannot be related in public
delays the first day over tack and rains that pour as soon as we set off
coping with the mud next morning
excessive hospitality on the part of villagers
getting lost in the forest
the problem of leaving waste behind
the politics of village life: the incident in the night at Ovacik
accidents to people requiring medical attention
the police arrest the supply vehicle
the snows come…
By any standards of comparison, the 2009 group of riders were and remained a happy bunch; there were far fewer of the kinds of personality clashes that I have known on other expeditions of this sort, and will draw a curtain over my memory of them, since they were seldom more than petty. And it is true to say that in general, the Ride that year was successful in all of its objectives. But there were, of course, unexpected problems along the Way. In addition to matters that should not be reported, these include:
delays the first day over tack and rains that pour as soon as we set off, and coping with the mud next morning
excessive hospitality on the part of villagers
getting lost in the forest
being suspected of being sheep rustlers
the problem of leaving waste behind
the politics of village life: the incident in the night at Ovacik
accidents to people requiring medical attention
the police arresting the supply vehicle
the snows arriving…
Note from Editor: Stay tuned for some reporting from the 2014 Ride – live from the saddle 🙂
The 2009 Ride: On Setting out and Returning…
Contributed by Gerald Maclean
The core group of riders set out on 22 September 2009, accompanied by our cook and driver, Metin Aker, and Sedat Varış who took care of the horses.
Riders who joined for shorter or longer periods included Patricia Daunt and botanist Andy Byfield, Turkish Jockey Club vet Ayşe Yetiş, Cappadocian entrepreneurs Özcan Görürgöz and Alper Katrancı, trekkist and academic Pınar Durmaz, and Montreal advertising executive Thérèse Tardif.
The expedition was accompanied for early stages of the journey by Mehmet Çam and other members of the Istanbul production company Ajans21, who shot footage for a potential documentary about Evliya and the expedition.
From Hersek, on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, we followed Evliya to Iznik, Bursa, Kütahya, Afyon, Uşak and Simav, before turning back through Çavdarhisar and returning to Kütahya, Evliya’s father’s city.
While finding the Way, we established beyond a doubt that the Turkish countryside remains ideal for riding, trekking, and other forms of independent and sustainable tourism.
So long as traditional agricultural practices of semi-nomadic grazing and farmers’ shared use of the land keep the countryside open and unprivatised, Turkey remains one of the very few places in the developed world in which it is possible to make such long distance cross-country journeys unhindered by ‘No Trespassing!’ signs and barbed wire fences. Turkish hospitality guarantees travellers safe passage and a warm welcome.
Another thing we learned was just how widely Evliya is still known wherever he went. In every village that we passed through where there was a school, the children had mostly heard of him.