Friday, 30 October 2009

over the hills and far away, to Simav and after

Camped near Kalkan, just outside Simav (Donna writes) . . .

Delighted with Susan's pictures, posted from New York, those of us remaining are already remembering the Evliya trail with nostalgia. Her photos capture so much of the spirit of our adventure so far. Village hospitality has been overwhelming. Our stays in or near cities and towns have also been made most comfortable by thoughtful hosts. Metin Bey continues to provide feasts of all descriptions, again as Susan's photos show. Metin also continues to make our arrivals in belediyes and villages much smoother and more graceful than they would otherwise be. He can speak of Evliya and the project more eloquently than anybody else. Every project should have a shaman and Sufi philosopher to back it, a fixer and diplomat who can charm the most recalcitrant of officials.

Ercihan Bey continues to find the way with panache. His horses (our horses, for the duration, and we wish they could be ours forever by now) are brilliant. They cross rivers, climb mountains, hardly ever run away from camp, and are as feisty at the end of the day as at the beginning. They are wonder horses indeed. And all Turkish horses! İ cannot imagine parting from Titiz, who has been such a sensitive and gallant companion on all of the route. She is also a fruit eater extraordinaire, which makes travel with her more fun as we can share what we pick or are given along the way. Ercihan has an uncanny knowledge of country, and an eye for a landscape and how it might be ridden that is unmatched by anybody else we know. He can also speak persuasively about the project. One of his missions is to improve local knowledge of horse culture and horsekeeping. He has advised the cirit players of Usak about harsh as opposed to gentler bits, for instance. Always he finds an attentive audience. Maybe this will make a difference eventually. Four hundred years ago, when Evliya was travelling, Ottoman horsemanship and the regimen of 'kind leniency', as one European traveller wrote, were the envy of the world.

Sadly, we have begun the countdown of the last days remaining until our return to Kutahya. Some of us, perhaps all of us, don't really wish the ride to end. We would much rather continue to travel, as Evliya so often did, month after month. Did he enjoy riding the horses he prized and acquired as we do ours? Or were they much more like vehicles, means to an end?

Mac, who injured his foot on the ramp of the van (while awaiting the arrival of Tricia Daunt and Andy Byfield back in Aydinlar, outside Afyon) wonders whether he will be able to get a boot back on in time to ride again before the tour ends. He has had the stitches out after a fortnight but can only imagine riding barefoot and bareback at the moment. Given the mountainous terrain we have been crossing and continue to face, a saddle would seem to be recommended. He has been part of the camp and logistics crew since the accident and is developing a new angle on the tour which might indeed have pleased Evliya beyond expectations. (Watch this space.) İt should be said that the only accidents so far have not involved horses at all but motorized vehicles (Mac's slip up on the van's ramp and Bekir's motorbike accident on the very day he arrived from Avanos.) İnshallah these will be the only mishaps.

We sent three horses to Kutahya by small lorrie from Eski Gediz three days ago. The four remaining are enough for Ercihan, Caroline, Donna, and Mac, if he can get his foot in the stirrup in time. Or for any visitor or friend we meet along the way. Meanwhile, we hope to be joined by Mahir from İstanbul in a very few days. İf he can get away from Gocmen Ranch after the Yirmi Dokuz Ekim holiday, he will ride with us too. And somebody can try the van's eye view as a contrast to the view from the saddle. Which is, after all, a very particular view.

Simav, which travellers used to speak of as lying on Lake Ancyra, is where the routes of Lady Anne and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and of Evliya converge again. The Blunts travelled from İstanbul to Bursa as we did, and as Evliya did, but then they went westwards rather than to Kutahya. Simav in 1873 was situated in a pampas-like plain, according to Lady Anne, spring fed, and full of flocks, herds, and fine horses grazing. This plain lay adjacent to a lake that used to be much bigger than it was when they saw it, she speculated. Wilfrid caught fever in this marshy country. Now the lake is largely dried up, and poplars stud the plain, but there are still hot springs, kaplagis, where people go to take the healing waters.

Tomorrow we set out for Cavdarhisar and the old road to Kutahya.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Tuesday, 27 October 2009