Central Anatolian Trek, or Büyük Anadolu Tür: Part 3

Day Two. Monday, 18 August. Ibrahimpaşa to Derinkuyu.
Contributed by Donna Landry

Donna on Titiz

Donna on Titiz

We set off as agreed at 7:30 towards the underground city of Derinkuyu. Soon we would be out of familiar territory and exploring new paths far from the tourist trail. As we left Cappadocia behind, we had a fine view of Mount Erciyes and the rising sun on our left to the east, and then at our backs. This great mountain, together with Hasan Dağ, part of the Melendiz Range to which we were heading, and which is said to be the primary donor of today’s tufa, produced the volcanic landscape through which we were riding.

Our first taste of remote modern Turkey came with the town of Kavak Kasabası (‘Poplar Smalltown’), a place of many cave-depots for cold storage of fruits and vegetables. Lemons and potatoes were especially featured, the lemons coming up from Mersin, the potatoes locally grown. Where there are natural caves and small hills from which warehouses can be hollowed out, it is possible to retain an even cool temperature, especially if air shafts are attached. We skirted small forests of these, feeling acutely we were on the verge of industrial farming for the first time. Where fruit had been trucked in and deposited, much of the packaging was lying waste in colourful piles. The scent of fermenting lemons was pungent.

It occurred to me that both outgoing Gül and his AK successor, Erdoğan, ought to see more of what we were seeing as we were seeing it. If they couldn’t ride horses, they could ride quad bikes. The çöp, or refuse, problem in Turkey is endemic and growing exponentially with economic development, especially beyond the reach of tourist buses. It seems beyond the current capacities of villagers themselves to deal with the accumulation of plastic alone. Perhaps this could be a development supported by the Gates-funded project – which is about educating and skilling people. The libraries involved could help to mobilise municipalities and smaller communities to tackle waste collection and disposal. Education in recycling of plastics and other non-traditional materials could lead to new business and employment opportunities. Cleaning up the countryside from the intensifying littering and dumping would benefit local people. We were not the only ones to notice differences amongst places, places people took pride in and looked after, and places where the environment seemed neglected and the people alienated from it. The current government has not taken much action that could be called environmentally sensitive, favouring big infrastructural projects such as dams, bridges, and tunnels without much, if any, environmental or ecological consultation or assessment. Yet if these questions are not addressed, there are always consequences in the long-term. There can even be a backlash. How soon before tourists stop coming to litter-spoiled places? How soon before water contamination and maximal extraction-exhaustion become major problems for Turkey?

Such thoughts were fleeting as we rode high in the hills, looking down on Güvenlik and Kaymaklı, passing between large cultivated fields of pumpkins, squash, potatoes, green beans, barley, and wheat. The pumpkins were particularly surprising to see in such quantities, especially since they look exactly like Ottoman turbans as pictured in so many old miniatures. These fields were irrigated with underground systems and sprinklers. The older network of roadside fountains and troughs for watering grazing herds was nowhere to be seen.

Thus began the theme of the search for water in a land famous for its freshly flowing snow-melt- and spring-fed rivers and streams. There has been a drought in Turkey this year. After a mild winter, limiting the snow accumulation, and a late frost that killed early sprouting crops and flowering fruit trees, the modern irrigation systems were also taking their toll. We passed dry, disused çeşmes. The upside was that the irrigation systems sometimes include beside their pumps rectangular storage tanks like David Hockney’s blue swimming pools. The horses could drink from these or from the inevitable plastic buckets left lying about. We made several stops of this kind, for the horses to drink and graze, and for us to consume a few cucumbers or tomatoes from the small market gardens usually surrounding such a pumping station.

Eventually we came to higher country with cattle, more trees, some orchards, and grand views over the valley of Derinkuyu. Here there were farmsteads from which we were hailed by women in bright headscarves and asked where we were coming from and where we were going. A couple pruning their apricot and walnut trees gave us directions. Kelebek took this opportunity of our pausing for a chat to attempt to roll but didn’t get very far, as Ann got her up instantly, clinging on even when jolted in front of the saddle and then back again. (Zorlu had had a go a couple of hours earlier on a sandy track, tipping her hand to Jude that she would give no warning if she saw a desirable place to get down and dirty in.) Those who like eating sunflower seeds were given whole sunflower heads to sample as they rode along. Ercihan and Susan were experts at this game. And since we hadn’t taken much food with us, still novices as to what and how much to carry for the day . . .

As we came down towards the plains below, we skirted migrant worker camps. There was a huge one for Syrian refugees, with scores of tents and vehicles covering a treeless hillside. The dry and rocky steppe gave way to fertile fields on a vast plain. Were these among the luckier refugees, to be able to earn a pittance by working in the fields during harvest time?

After passing more fields of lushly watered crops, including delectable looking green beans, we came to our campsite on a market gardening farm on the plain. It was 3:30 by now, after 8 hours in the saddle, and had begun to cloud over.

We had mainly walked, trotted only intermittently, and had one longish fast canter. This was the plan. We were in training for endurance. Although the horses were already fit, we would condition them further by slowly increasing the amount of faster work they did incrementally, day by day. We hoped this would coincide with the temperatures dropping as August became September. Of course our speed would also depend on the nature of the terrain.

The horses were turned out to roll and graze and eat yonca. Storm clouds blackened suddenly, and we had just enough time to cover our saddles and baggage with tarpaulins before the deluge, and take shelter under the truck canopy. Soon a rainbow appeared. We dined that night on taze fasulye, the green beans we had coveted, and drank Turkish red wine by the campfire for the first time.