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Published: September 25th 2004
Under a Tree
This is me on morning of the final (#6) day of my walk.
Last saturday I got the notion in my head that I'd like to do some walking... Bursa is cool and all but the constant stares and "hello"s one gets in a city get old real fast.
After some quick consulting with my rudimentary map I decided that Balikesir would be a decent target: roughly 150km -- not too near and not too far.
I had left most of my heavy gear (including walking shoes, socks and warm clothes) back in Istanbul and admittedly had too much useless gear with me (4 books!), but I figured I'd give things a shot and I could always bail if things got hairy. I bought a pair of socks, a loaf of "village" bread which looked like it wouldn't dry out too quickly, a kilo of grapes, some peanuts and raisins as a trail mix, and half a kilo of very salty stringy cheese which the seller assured me wouldn't go bad even in a year.
So, after a temporary setback at the walls of Bursa, our glorious armies headed south and west to the plains of Balikesir. I'm uploading a copy of the map I was using so you can appreciate
View at dawn from my first campsite. You can see the main road to the left. The mist quickly cleared :)
the dearth of information I had to work with. I basically knew Balikesir was southwest and nothing else. By the way, Bursa is founded at the foot of a large mountain (Uludag), so going south means passing through its foothills -- something I didn't quite appreciate in time.
The days all were similar in structure: 1)wake up at sun-up, eat bread and salty cheese, count the remaining sheets of toilet paper, begin walking 2) stop for a break around noon; eat more bread and salty cheese, nap for an hour or so, continue walking 3) make camp at sundown, eat more bread and salty cheese, take off my sweat-drenched walking tshirt, put on my "clean" tshirt, sweater and socks, hope it doesn't rain, pass out. I tried to average 40km a day, which isn't that bad when you consider that at least half the walk was uphill.
The first day was uneventful: I left Bursa around 1:30pm and took a minibus partially up Uludag and from there was instructed that I really wanted to be going downhill towards Orhaneli
, so spent most of the remainder of the day walking downhill amidst beautiful hill country. I made camp on
Village from day#3
This is a view of Civilicam where I spent night #3. You can see the mosque to the left.
an outcrop by the side of the road a little south of the Doganci
dam, roughly 25km south of Bursa.
The second day was torturous: I had met up with the main road by now and it was slowly winding its way uphill while trucks and other vehicles honked at me or simply blew smoke in my direction. I had a moment of pure despair when hours (and countless calories) after I had seen the "Orhaneli 30km" sign I saw the "Orhaneli 20km" sign and felt like the road would never end. I finally made it to Orhaneli and turned on the village road which I hoped would stretch all the way west to Balikesir. It was a gamble since I didn't know if the road would suddenly end (neither did the locals), but at that point anything seemed better than walking alongside the main highway. I made camp under a tree in a field and fell asleep to the sound of dogs barking in the not-so-distant distance.
Day #3 was much better as there were fewer cars to negotiate. Most tractors or other passing vehicles would offer me a ride and look at me in amazement when
This is a view of what "Camp" looks like. The forest begins with the trees behind camp, and the road is to the right.
I said I was walking to Balikesir. Nightfall found me at the crest of a hill and I was seriously worried about staying warm that night; as I passed through the village (Civilicam
) there the locals invited me to stay the night at their "guesthouse" inside the mosque. It didn't take me much convincing to accept. I talked with 3 local "kids" who were attending a 2-year university course in Bursa proper and who were planning a visit to a town nearby which promised women and alcohol. I declined, was given bread and tomatoes to eat (for which I was very grateful) and passed out. That was the last village in Orhaneli
, and the next day I passed over to the district of Devecikonagi
Day#4 saw me walk 22km downhill by noon to Devecikonagi (something I'm very proud of), and then 18km uphill from there to the village of Sogucak
at the top of the hill. The asphalt road ended a couple km after Devecikonagi, and was dirt from then on. I had heard that all the villages in the area had "guesthouse"s and I was determined to try to sleep indoors. I brazenly walked over to the village
Here's a very rudimentary map of the path I took; if I can find something more detailed I'll upload it.
coffeeshop, sat down and started engaging the locals. As luck would have it this was a Circassian village (ie, one founded and inhabited by natives of the Caucases who were exiled by the godless Russians in the 19th century); and Circassians are renowned for their hospitality. I was at first a little put off by their apparent lack of interest: in the previous village people had been asking all kinds of questions such as who I was why I was here why I was walking, how old am I, etc. Here they asked where I was from and that was all. Instead they told me about their village: that they don't raise crops but tend sheep and cattle; they're all Circassians but the newer generation doesn't speak their language; they used to have horses, but about 20 years ago decided to abandon them in favor of motorcycles which are more economically feasible. There weren't any young people in sight; they were all working in big cities. Here I was asked if I had eaten and I replied "no", trying not to seem too desperate... a short while later a man brought me a tray piled high with what seemed like
Balikesir at last
enough food to feed an army: a green bean dish, rice, and tomatoes, bread, and a pile of some form of pastry. I finished everything except for the pastry for which I was too full, and then proceeded to sit around waiting for them to invite me to spend the night. I was struck by the good-natured way in which everyone who entered the room regarded me and said "welcome" when they entered. Once inside I felt at home rather than a spectacle, something for which I felt very grateful. A short while later the same man asked me if I'd like to stay the night, showed me to my room (again in the mosque), and asked me not to leave the next morning without saying goodbye but to come by and eat breakfast first. I went to sleep, very tired but very content.
Day#5 began with me eating a full breakfast (with the same man who brought the food joining in, presumably so I wouldn't feel uncomfortable), making more smalltalk with the locals, and then heading on my way around 9:30am. The road was supposed to be mostly downhill from there but instead had its fair share of uphill climbs. Sogucak
was the last village in Bursa, so I had officially crossed over into Balikesir by early that morning. By now I had a clear view to my right of a sheer drop to the winding river far below and the hills opposite. The road passed between beautiful forestlands straight from a book, as it had done since leaving Orhaneli
. I couldn't make it to Kepsut
which was a town big enough to make it to my map, and instead made camp under an apple tree a short distance outside the large-ish village of Dereli
at the bottom of the valley and by the river. Apart from a pair of bees (or were they wasps?) which persistently flew around my bed at night and two shepherd dogs which were ever-so excited to see me in the morning, the night was uneventful. The next day would bring me to Balikesir, which was a good thing since I was out of food by now.
Day#6 saw me baking under the sun as I plodded along the (now asphalt) road in the shade-less flatlands. I barely made it to Kepsut
(rouhgly 15km) by noon, and decided that rather than walk the remaining 25km to Balikesir and reach there exhausted and late at night, I would attempt to hitch the remaining portion after my noon-nap. The thought being I'd have enough time to find me a hotel and something to eat before becoming too tired to function. Surprisingly (at least to me), now that I wanted a ride no-one wanted to give me one. For the past 4 days almost every single vehicle which passed by would offer to give me a lift, and now not even one showed interest. As Murphy's law dictates, the cars going in the opposite direction honked and waved. I eventually did get a ride to the junction 5km from the city, just far enough to take a picture of myself, and from there took a minibus into town from right next to "Balikesir Fen Lisesi" (sister school to "Bursa Fen Lisesi", my highschool alma mater).
The rest of the day went downhill: the first hotel I tried wanted 12.5 million (roughly $8, 2.5 million more than what I paid in Bursa), and wouldn't even consider negotiating the price down. He also asked some inquisitive/obnoxious questions. The next didn't have any room. In the next hotel an oldish man ignored my questions of "do you have a room" and proceeded to ask me where I was from, where I was coming from, what I'm doing in Balikesir, and the sort of questions you'd expect to be asked when questioned by the KGB. After good-naturedly answering most of them I finally said "but do you have a room", to which he gave me the once-over as if to say "how dare!" and said "oda moda yok" ("we don't have any rooms")... meaning "$#!# you! no room for the likes of you"... he then proceeded to claim ignorance of the whereabouts of any other hotels in the area. My hard-earned peace of mind was in grave danger of being blown to pieces so I quickly made my retreat to the original hotel I had visited, ignored the fact that they were rude, repressed the urge to say "screw you guys, I'm going home" and passed out after taking a shower, too tired to brave the outside world and look for food.
Thus ends the account of my walk from Bursa to Balikesir. The road was beautiful, the apple trees plentiful (and their fruit delicious), and apart from the flies that swam in front of my face, persistently trying to fly in my ear or nostrils, it was a most enjoyable journey. Too bad it had to end amongst rude and hostile stares. I think I'll try hitchiking for the next leg of my trip (to Canakkale and the Dardanelles), which will hopefully be less exhausting. And I'm leaving Balikesir as soon as my tired body feels fit for more adventures (hopefully tomorrow).
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