I started my walk on the St. Paul Trail from Perga, the same place he would have started his initial sermons, a momentous point in history as it represented the first time Christianity was preached outside of Palestine. Another starting point is to the east at a Roman bridge near the ancient city of Selge.
I had a devil of a time finding my way to Perga and surely wouldn’t have started on October 5th if not for several Turks who helped me find a tramway that went all the way outside the city to a large town near the site–one of whom I could only communicate with in a spattering of German.
In Perga I found exactly what I wanted to find on this walk, excepting the fact that I couldn’t have slept the night amongst the ruins had I wanted to because there were numerous staff members controlling access to the site via tickets.
Perga was initially founded by the Greeks and/or by several heroes from the Trojan War as the legend goes. In either case the earliest parts date to more than 3000 years ago and over time it passed hands to Persians, Lydians, Alexander the Great and his successors, ancient Rome, even the Byzantines, until finally taking its last breath with the Arab conquest in the 8th Century.
With this blog I’ve taken more to trying to experience things, feel the past, present, future of a place. In Perga I walked around the colonnaded streets, touching the pillars, stones, breathing the air, even having a late lunch picnic as close to the Acropolis looking over the site as I could.
Sitting above the city as I was, I wondered if Alexander, the great conqueror, walked along the same path to visit the Acropolis after he claimed the city as his own, probably not too long before or after his first decisive battle with the Persians nearby at Gaugamela. Looking over it all, at the Agora in the distance, you can almost feel the energy of the bustling lanes, merchants selling wares from near and far to passers-by heading up to the Acropolis or elsewhere, packing the streets’ sides just as sellers pack streets in markets and bazaars still in Istanbul, in Marrakesh. This now headless fountain, perhaps a tribute to some god, greeted everyone who sought to ascend their way up to the Acropolis.
Around the site large patches of woody grasses impeded movement through, probably hiding some unexcavated treasure underneath, while large lizards scattered every which direction to crack and crevasse. Markings on stones throughout the city, Ancient Greek, probably proclaim the greatness of people largely forgotten now.
Over time the city was continually re-purposed and numerous Christian basilicas are lying dormant around Perga, in worse shape than many of the Roman and Greek buildings are. As to people, I saw perhaps 6 or 7 non-locals, mostly Turks visiting on holiday. A couple small groups of other local Turks were also around the site, conducting renovation works or slowly excavating other parts. Across the road a massive theater complex was indefinitely off limits to visitors because of a danger of collapsing.
Here are several other pictures of the city’s main drags.
The buildings in or near one of the bathhouses.
And one of many basilicas.
Back to Walking
I left Perga late, at 5 PM, a problem since the sun starts setting in this part of Turkey by around 6, with it being just about pitch black by 7 PM. I quickly discovered that this isn’t the Camino de Santiago: the waymarkings are extremely hard to find. I got lost within about 15 minutes, ultimately ending up on a frequented road a good bit to the west of the path the Trail takes. Rural Turkey has a problem with aggressive dogs not on leashes, so perhaps it was that, the hard to find waymarkings, the looks from every villager, all combining to cause more than a little confusion. On the Camino it’s strange to get stares since so many people pass through on the trail, they should be used to it; here, I can fully understand and respect the stares since surely not many walkers pass by on a regular basis, even more so with my long hair and beard. I just wave, and they almost always respond in kind. More than likely, it’s just bemusement at why someone would choose to walk.
In Antalya numerous Turks told me the people in rural areas, variously called mountain people and village people, would be much nicer than those in the cities–and I should point out that people were quite friendly in cities too, particularly people like Burak who helped me get my cell phone. It was only 7 kilometers from Perga to Kursunlu waterfall and after I got lost and onto the semi-busy road, within a minute a man stopped and asked to give me ride to his restaurant near the waterfall, where I could also camp. I declined though the offer was very nice; coming off the Camino, I still had this silly notion of wanting to propel myself. Perhaps a minute later, a tractor with two farmers stopped, pointing for me to get on the small trailer on the back of it that raises up hydraulically. I declined but there weren’t taking no for an answer, and so I rode a couple kilometers back in the right direction, them pointing the way to continue walking once they stopped at a restaurant. Here’s a picture from the back–I almost fell off several times with how bumpy an amazing ride it was.
Walking the rest of the way to the falls, I asked people at the entrance to the park where I could camp. We couldn’t communicate well since I hadn’t had a chance to dive into my Turkish-English cards I bought earlier in the day. But as has happened every time before, some Turkish man or woman showed up from out of nowhere, speaking some English and asking what I was trying to do. He pointed me to a restaurant just down the road where I could camp.
At a restaurant, not the one they pointed me to, I couldn’t find anyone working there. As I was just about to leave, a middle-aged man appeared from the house/restaurant combination, apparently not hearing my yells “hello!’ before, and as though he truly didn’t even give my request a second thought eagerly led me to the backyard of the restaurant, proposing several places I could sleep, two of them even covered. He motioned me to sit for tea and by his hand signals it seemed clear he wasn’t expecting me to pay anything. The touristic areas of Morocco will cause you to lose hope in humanity; rural Turkey, even the cities to some extent, will cause your faith to soar.
Beautiful Turkish music flowed from the restaurants speakers out to where I slept well past the time when I went to bed and it didn’t bother me at all.
I visited Kursunlu National Park as early as it opened. A picturesque pool filled with overgrown trees, a waterfall coming down, it looks like something out of a movie depicting a savage paradise. In other places, gnarled trees grow in every which direction, like some haunted forest, some even defying nature and seeming to grow right out of rocks.
It was an extremely small place but memorable even for how short the visit was. I’d wanted to sleep there the previous night but the people running the entrance wouldn’t have it, so I set my eyes on sleeping this night at another waterfall 30 kilometers away, Ucansu. Not a problem in the slightest on the Camino, a potential problem due to the waymarkings on this trail. I felt good following the trail for perhaps 2 kilometers. thinking I’d left getting lost as a fluke of the first day. But it didn’t take long before soon I found myself extremely disoriented, somewhere far to the east of the trail, trying to find some indication of north. I spent a good bit of time trying to find a way through a creek, ultimately just taking off my shoes and wading through, sinking to my knees in the mud during the crossing thanks to the weight of my pack.
Asking a few people, I eventually found my way headed towards the town where I knew I could find the trail, Goluluk, passing many farms and greenhouses along the way.
I was sitting down for one of my frequent scans of the guidebook and map, when the local police stopped by to see what I was up to. They motioned me to get in, and then promptly drove off in the direction I didn’t want to go. After failing to explain what I was doing in the middle of nowhere rural Turkey–walking a trail they’d never heard about–I thought they might take me to some central station, but after motioning that I needed to head to Goluluk, they gladly turned around. Even though I motioned a desire to walk there, they insisted on driving me, all while the head officer called a few numbers trying to figure out what trail I was talking about. They eventually left me at the Mosque once a local villager let them and me know the next direction I had to head towards: a dam called the Regulator. Lesson learned, almost nobody in Turkey knows about or has even heard the name of this walk.
If you look at the above picture you’ll notice that there isn’t a bridge or way to cross. That’s because I had to cross on the little concrete pad you see on the right side of the picture, stretching 400 meters on slippery stone. I wasn’t looking forward to it, my balance isn’t the best. After getting lost and already adding a couple hours onto the day’s walk thus far, the worst thing that could have happened was me slipping and falling in…
Luckily that didn’t happen even though it was slippery with slime at times. The hardest part was climbing down and up the ladders to reach the concrete and the other side.
Right after the Regulator, I was waylaid by a group of friendly Turkish construction workers building a canal who insisted upon me joining them for the by-now common welcome tea.
I stayed on the trail for a short while, then got lost again, to the west of the trail this time, I think. I saw a town in the distance on a hill where I knew I could find the trail, Akcapinar, so I just cut through spiny brush, farmer’s field, trees, rocks, eventually getting there. With a lack of food options on the trail, I bought a couple things to replenish my pack’s larder in the village’s bakkal, a tiny shop with more sweet options than real food.
A sign before town–probably the trail the book followed–pointed to Ucansu. But a sign in town also pointed there, so I figured I’d do that rather than backtrack out of town. This time I got lost a good bit to the east again, heading north still but unsure of how to get to the falls.
After the morning and afternoon debacles, this one started to wear heavily on my mind, my will to keep going for the day, even for the walk. After getting lost so much already, I wanted nothing more than to just sleep next to the waterfall for the same reason I wanted to sleep on mountains and cliffs and under church roofs in Spain, the same reason I want to sleep in ruins here in Turkey at some point: the atmosphere, ambiance of it, an intensity of emotion and beauty that burns the experience into memory. As 6 PM rolled around, me still lost from the main trail, I became irritated, perhaps more than a little. By 6:30 PM, the sun fully set but with a little light still to be found, I was unhappily resigned to sleeping in the forest. But a few minutes later, cutting due west to try and reconnect with the trail, a sign said “Ucansu 2 kilometers” and even the trail waymarker appeared too. I arrived at the base of the waterfall by the time it was pitch black, exhausted but also overjoyed at the victory of it, the constant obstacles of getting lost that I keep hitting in just two days, and me staying resolute and carrying on. In Santiago, Maciek gave me a headlamp, joking that someday it might save my life. Someday, quite possibly so, but today it just made it a lot easier to setup a camp.
I slept on a small dock that extended over onto the large pool of water below the falls.
Waking up, I had my first view of the waterfall I’d slept under.
I lazed about during the morning knowing I was only going to walk 4 or 5 kilometers today, an unthinkable amount for the Andrew that walked the Camino. The time was spent staring at the beautiful sight, the small fishes swimming in the pool, and then going for my own swim in the cool greenish water before heading uphill towards the second waterfall with the same name. I had a devil of a time finding it, understandably so because at this time of year the water was insufficient and probably passed to the pool below through some underground tunnel. Finally, I was looking at a waterless rockface and finally realized this was it.
The trail went for a short while on a footpath through woods and next to the stream feeding the waterfalls before leading up to a small grouping of ramshackle homes near the forest. At this point I had the option of detouring to the village of Kozan where a restaurant and a hot meal appealed, or heading straight for Peldinossos, a ruined site I planned to stay the night at; the hot meal easily won out. The place was empty and for a minute I thought shut down, but a woman appeared from nowhere and gladly started pointing at objects I could possibly eat: fish or chicken–I went for the fish. Peeking in once she started cooking, I asked for some further essentials, mostly cheese. But when she opened the fridge I was surprised and couldn’t resist a coca-cola and a beer, or three. When she’d finished cooking she came out with quite a feast, which included tea after.
For food later she included a bunch of vegetables and bread along with the cheese, and suddenly I was carrying my excessive amount of food in-hand with bags, more than I needed since I had plenty left in my weighty backpack but happy nonetheless. More food than I need is better than having to ration.
At Pedlenissos I found a city in extreme ruin, overgrown with vegetation everywhere. It’s what a forgotten, never excavated city looks like, stones strewn about in dense concentrations by weather and earthquakes and human destruction. It took me a bit to even find the parts of it still standing. There weren’t many, but it was beautiful regardless; abandoned, untouched by tourism, an ancient city to myself for an afternoon and night. A couple city wall towers, several stretches of city wall, and a building with an unknown purpose were about all the easily discernible buildings. The rest were foundations, cisterns, probably some sarcophagi, and rubble.
The city has a history and fate not dissimilar from Perga: settled by Greeks, passing hands to Romans, and with permanent settlement ending sometime in the early-Christian era. It’s at a strange location: high up and at the base of the rocky, three-peaked Bodrumkaya, with a beautiful view taking in the mountains and valleys to the west and east.
I ate only a part of the large portioned sandwich fixings the women sent me along with, sitting atop the most intact wall, feet dangling over to the ground far below, watching the sunset.
Earlier in the day I’d stumbled onto the most significant part of the site, an old shrine dedicated to Apollo with a carved relief being the highlight in an area enclosed by trees and walls.
If you’ve read much of my blog by now then it should be no surprise that of course that’s where I slept, the most special place still remnant from ancient days. Even though the ground was rocky and not the most suitable or comfortable, I still spread out, even saying a little prayer of my own to the sun god, hoping for continued sunny days like I’d been blessed with thus far.
Day 4, a Post-mortem
Leaving my shrine camp, I was eager and happy as could be to put some kilometers behind me this day. I soon passed some large, deep cisterns, in which anyone who unluckily fell would surely be trapped for ages.
Shortly after the cisterns I lost the trail again, with the book saying to keep on a Roman road to the right and uphill, and no Roman road appearing, or any discernible trail to the right for that matter, only one to the left, downhill. I followed that one, and eventually covered the 3 or 4 kilometers to the hamlet of Hasgebe in about 2.5 hours, a plodding pace, beyond frustrated at being lost so many times already. There’s certainly a value in getting and being lost, though perhaps not when you’re carrying loads of water and food because of that likelihood and the resulting uncertainty of finding supplies or a water source. With one final, beautiful look at the surrounding mountains, I decided with a heavy heart to head back to Antalya and regroup, irritated at the half dozen large detours I’d already made in two full days and parts of two others.
I hitchhiked very easily to a highway which lies along the route of a minibus, apparently stopping anywhere on the route where there is someone waiting to be picked up.
In hindsight there were several problems right out of the gate on this walk for me: I could never seem to see or find the waymarkings with even a slight consistency; the book’s descriptions of steps to take were vague, which made looking for the waymarkings even more difficult; finally, it seems that GPS is highly encouraged, expected for use with this walk, and GPS is something I neither have, nor ever wish to use in my life because I believe use of it dulls humans’ spatial thinking drastically. It’s a trap to me.
So, what now? I have no idea, I still wish to walk but am put off from it for now and am probably more than a little burnt out from traveling so hard the last few months. Welcome to my wild, ever-changing life where nothing is a certainty. Until I figure it out, I’ll probably take a short breather from this blog.