Evliya Çelebi Way Project: 2014 Ride, Part 3

18 to 20 August
Contributed by Gerald Maclean.

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!

Evening Camp - Entertaining Local Dignitaries

Evening Camp – Entertaining Local Dignitaries

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!’

18 August
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.

18 August Mehmet and Ahmet setting up first camp outside Derinkuyu

18 August Mehmet and Ahmet setting up first camp outside Derinkuyu

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.

18-19 August Derinkuyu to Baglama - camp sites marked with crosses [Unclassified Tasnif Dişi, Harita Genel Komutanligi, Series 1501, sheets NJ 36-7, 8 (2003)]

18-19 August Derinkuyu to Bağlama – camp sites marked with crosses [Unclassified Tasnif Dişi, Harita Genel Komutanligi, Series 1501, sheets NJ 36-7, 8 (2003)]

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.

19 August - meeting up with the riders and local friends outside Baglama

19 August: meeting up with the riders and local friends outside Bağlama

19 August: Jude, Susan and Juno, Anadolu, Ahmet, Zorlu, Mehmet and local guides outside Baglama

19 August: Jude, Susan and Juno, Anadolu, Ahmet, Zorlu, Mehmet and local guides outside Bağlama

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.

19 August: first sight of riders approaching Baglama in a heat haze

19 August: first sight of riders approaching Bağlama in a heat haze

19 August: Donna, Ahmet, Susan, Ann, Jean arrive at Bağlama camp

19 August: Donna, Ahmet, Susan, Ann, Jean arrive at Baglama camp

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).