Thursday, 23 September 2010

Rules of the road

Pursuing the strange and surprising along roads that never come to an end: this is the dream of committed travellers everywhere. Travelling on horseback, the day properly begins when one mounts up. Nothing is the same as it was for a mere pedestrian.

The view from between one's horse's ears changes things profoundly. The route maps studied at the campsite now unfold topographically in three and even four dimensions, the fourth consisting of a horse's sense of the appropriate pace for tackling each piece of terrain. The going is everything. Surfaces take on new meaning.

The red earth of forest tracks may translate into the desire to fly along twisting paths, or pick one's way daintily, acquiring galoshes of holding, clinging mud with every stride. Some mountainous ascents invite scrambles up ancient patikas, roughly paved stone paths unmoved by generations of farmers, shepherds, traders, and their working animals. Other ascents command more respect from the four-footed kind. They gather themselves, powerful hindquarters revving, to walk lightly uphill without wasting energy.

How often did Anadolu say to Ercihan, as clearly as horse can speak to human, THIS is the way? When he deferred to her, she was always right. Sometimes humans in the landscape can help with directions as well. Two tractor-borne farmers heading for Bahcekaya materialized seconds after we had not taken the sharp left turn uphill that would have been the most direct route. Such occurences happen so often in Turkey it is hard not to become complacent. The rule of the road, however, is that one must never take such magic for granted.

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