I am not a hiker. Nor am I an early riser. So why did I agree to be picked up at 6:30 AM to take a two-hour bus ride to Burdur ? It’s strange the way I do things here in Turkey that I would never do at home. I tend to say ‘yes’ to any offer to go someplace I haven’t been, so when I ran into Rezzan at the Symphony and she invited me to join her and her husband on a group hike around Burdur, I said ‘yes’. Rezzan is Turkish but grew up in Germany, and I knew her from our ladies lunches. We usually conversed in German, but the group we were going with was Turkish so I looked forward to trying out my new-and-improved Turkish on the trip. Rezzan and Ahmet were at least as old as I was, and I’d managed to hike up to Termessos, so I figured I could handle it.
Rezzan and Ahmet picked me up exactly on time at 6:30 am and we drove to the bus stop, where we waited for half an hour for Turks who presumably hadn’t been brought up in Germany. We were meeting another bus of hikers from Isparta, but this didn’t stop us from taking half an hour for lunch at a bakery in Burdur before continuing on to our starting point.
My first clue that I’d got in over my head was the size of Ahmet’s backpack. He explained that it contained, in addition to food and water, a change of clothes for both of them so that they could change out of their sweaty clothes before going home. Excuse me? We’re going on a walk, not a run, right? I didn’t have a change of clothes. I didn’t even have a backpack, because, you know, I’m not a hiker.
I did have a pair of hiking boots though, only because when I arrived in Edinburgh last summer Billy had left the shoes I’d brought for Scotland at his mother’s house. So I popped into one of those charity shops and found a pair of hiking boots. They were a bit big, but I figured with my orthotics and an added insole and heavy socks they could work. I didn’t expect to be using them much once I got home to Antalya, not being a hiker and all. So I had a purse cum backpack and ill-fitting shoes. Plus I could only find one glove this morning. Yeah, I was in good shape.
My second clue of what was to come was when everyone started assembling their gear. People were carrying what looked like ski poles and putting polyester guards on their legs below the knee and over their shoes. I guessed they kept their pants clean, but I didn’t really get it. I mean, why not just wear pants you can get dirty?
At first everything was fine. It was a bit tiring walking uphill but I figured I could handle it. I even got to see a flock of sheep. They seemed to have no problem walking uphill, but I don’t think they were doing it for as long as we were.
Where there’s sheep there’s got to be a shepherd. Sure enough, I spotted an Anatolian Shepherd dog. I’d never heard of this bread before coming to Turkey, so when I first noticed them wandering the streets of Antalya I thought they were some kind of Labrador mix, but they’re actually a distinct breed native to Turkey. They’re quite friendly, but this one was doing his job protecting his sheep by barking at us.
Shortly after admiring the dog my difficulties began. The purse on my back was heavy and my back started to hurt. Rezzan took my purse and carried it along with her own backpack without missing a step. Then the trail disappeared. We were climbing up very steep hills, some full of brush and some just rocks. It was at this point that I discovered the purpose of the shin guards, as spiky plants punctured my legs.
Other hills were just piles of mud. Climbing a 90 degree slope of mud is quite a challenge. Climbing on the rocks was no piece of cake either; a bit easier to balance but more painful if you fell. I wondered how would I ever get down from here, but Rezzan said not to worry, going down was easy and quick. Right.
I’d like to post some photos of all of this, but it turns out that while you’re holding onto rocks for dear life you have no hands free to reach for your camera. I’d also acquired a walking stick by this time, which Ahmet had found for me.
The next photos I took were on top of the mountain, where we stopped at a circle of rocks to eat our picnic lunches. I have to admit that when the sun came out the view was quite stunning, maybe even worth the climb up there.
But it wasnt worth the climb down. This is where I genuinely feared for my life. As difficult as climbing a hill of mud was, descending was far worse. I kept sliding and twisting my ankles.( The insoles made the boots fit my feet fit but did nothing for my ankles.) I wanted to give up and just slide down on my ass. “No, no, that’s dangerous!” everyone said. Unlike climbing on rocks, I suppose. So one of the guys took my hand and guided me down the entire descent. He used his foot to mold the mud into steps for me. Walking sideways and holding his hand I continued.
Even with his help I fell three or four times. The first one wasn’t too bad, but the second one, when I landed face down in the aforementioned spiky brush, was a doozy. It could have been worse, given that I fell on some pointy rocks. But I only got a couple of little bumps on my head and some splinters in my ungloved hand. I also twisted my knee.
But this was just the beginning of our four-hour descent. I kept pushing forward for the first two hours, climbing up and down across creeks filled with freezing water. I’m very grateful I never managed to fall into the water. The last couple of hours were cold, and if I’d been wet as well I think I would have had to huddle up in a cave and die like a wounded animal.
At one point the crossing was so steep that I had time to take out my camera as I waited my turn to be assisted across the ravine. Somehow, with half a dozen guys holding on to my arms, legs, boobs, whatever they could reach, I made it across.
After this trial was passed everyone started saying “we’re almost there”. But the steep rock and mud climbs continued for another hour. Then finally I heard “we’re here!” But where is the bus? “Oh no, we’re not at the bus, we’re at the caves.”
Oh yeah, the caves. Rezzan had said there were interesting things to see on the “walk’, pre-historic caves where people used to live. But because we were an hour late starting the walk there was no time to actually visit the caves, so all we got to see was this mountain with some holes in it. Fascinating, right? Totally worth risking life and limb.
After admiring the holes in the mountains the encouraging cries of “Az kaldi” (not much longer) resumed. By this time I’d figured out that they were only repeating this to get me to keep going, and that there was no truth to it. In fact, it soon became clear that our leaders had no idea how long it would take, since they didn’t know where we were. We got to a place that seems impassable, and people looked in all directions for the path of least resistance. Wouldn’t you think they’d know the way out of the mountains before taking twenty-five people up there? Nah, this is Turkey. They like to wing it.
So, another hour of rocks and mud surrounded by freezing water, and then finally there was a path. But it was like a mirage, because the path didn’t mean we were getting close. We weren’t headed back to where we started. This path led us around a large lake. After another hour of pushing through the cold and the pain, and trying not to trip in the dark, we finally arrived.
By the time we made it to the bus it was 6:00, an hour after sunset. The hike had started at 10:30. I’d been on the road since 6:30. I was done.
I stopped only to take a photo of Ali, the guy who saved my life. Then I was on the bus, going home to a hot shower and a soft bed.
But wait, there’s more! Why take your sweaty, mud-soaked, aching body home when you can stop for a meal of famous Burdur Kebap! So we went to the lokanta, and I was all set for this “special” meat that you can only get here. I was expecting big,succulent pieces of lamb. As it turns out, Burdur Kebap is chopped beef cooked on a spit. Finger-shaped meatballs. Served on bread, which Rezzan and Ahmet used to make a sandwich. I had a salami and cheese sandwich in my bag which would’ve served the same purpose.
Two hours later the bus arrived in Antalya and we got out to walk to the car. My muscles had stiffened so much that I was walking like Frankenstein. Rezzan even offered to take me to the hospital. I told her I’d be fine after some rest, though I wasn’t sure. I’ve learned from previous injuries that often the real pain starts a day or two later.
When they dropped me off at my apartment I thanked Rezzan and Ahmet. “Would you like to come again?” asked Ahmet? But he was kidding.
Anyway, it turns out I wasn’t really hurt. In the next couple of days I was even able to do yoga again. And I got a blog post out of the experience. So all’s well that ends well, I guess. But I’ll never be a hiker.