Mar 18, 2015

Random Thoughts From The Road

Since leaving the long stretch of resorts near Alanya, the past several days have been spent walking for hours on end without seeing so much as a village or petrol station. That has meant packing along a little extra food and water for the day, but it has also meant lots of solitude. Since I have over five hours to kill in Taşucu while waiting for the ferry, here are some of the thoughts with which I have amused myself along the way. Perhaps they'll amuse some of my readers as well -- either that, or confirm that I'm a bit, shall we say, odd.

As a language, Turkish is unlike anything I've attempted to learn before, but like several other languages, its written form is very straightforward. By this I mean, once the alphabet has been mastered, there is no ambiguity in reading what's written. This is very different from English, which is highly irregular. A few examples are in order.

"Does" can rhyme with either foes (The hunter shot three deer: one buck and two does.) or fuzz. (Does that make sense?)

The letter S usually indicates a sibilant (mast), but consider the words Asia, his, and insurance. Try coming up with a simple way of explaining what S sounds like to a person trying to learn the language!

New topic. When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2010, I set out on my own. It's a very popular pilgrimage route, so even in January and February, I met many pilgrims along the way. Since everyone is following the same path and walking at about the same speed, it's very easy to meet companions either on the road or in the hostels at night. The shared experiences forge a sense of camaraderie, so even if the day is spent walking alone, there are familiar faces at the end of the day, and possibly also at cafés and restaurants along the road. Some of the pilgrims I met were walking with a friend, and they were rarely more than five metres from each other at all times. Other pilgrims walked at their own speed, sometimes with their pilgrimage partners‎ but sometimes on their own, meeting only for meals and at the end of the day. The last five days of my Camino, I wound up walking with a woman from the Czech Republic. She was good company, but there were times when I really just wanted to be alone. My updates from the road were much shorter while I was walking with her, mainly because I did not have the hours of silence to order my thoughts. (Why yes, I am an introvert! How could you tell?)

My decision to walk the Camino crystallised after reading an article in The Walrus magazine. The author and his friend spent many hours in conversation as they walked, but they also had many solitary hours. (And if you're at all interested in pilgrimage, here's the link to the article: ) When I started planning my current folly, I assumed I would be walking by myself. Not many folks I know are able to take five or six months to go traipsing through two continents, but two people indicated a willingness to do so. I think both of these men would have made excellent travelling companions, but it didn't work out for either of them. Carsten, Peter -- maybe a less demanding trip in the future?

New topic. Although it's been a while since anyone has asked, a common question posed to me has been, "Why walk?" It's certainly easier to ‎use a plane, train, or automobile to get to my destination, and when the cost of daily food and lodging are factored in, motorised transport would also be cheaper. I answered this question in an earlier post (, but since then I've realised there's another reason to prefer a walking pilgrimage.

Every great feast in the Orthodox Church is preceded by a period of preparation, marked by fasting and additional church services.  (One regret I have about my current pilgrimage is that I've missed so many of these beautiful services. It was to get to church again that I decided to go directly to Lebanon from Turkey, instead of spending several days walking across Cyprus.)  While the notion of fasting and going to church during the week may be seen as "penance" by some, these are tools for opening our hearts to God. Perhaps penance properly understood has the same function, but to many it smacks more of punishment than preparation.

After Pascha, my favourite feast is that of the Transfiguration of our Lord. Not only does this feast reveal Christ's glory which is His by nature, it shows us what we are all called to become by participation in His grace.  The troparion for this feast begins with "Thou wast transfigured upon the mountain, O Christ our God, showing Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they were able to sustain."  

This is not to denigrate those who don't have the luxury of spending weeks or months on pilgrimage, but travelling at the human pace of 4 km/h allows the heart to slow down from the frenetic pace of modern life with all its distractions. Arriving by bus, train, or airplane removes the opportunity to prepare for the τέλος of the journey, the "end" both in the sense of completion and goal. Walking a pilgrimage is a means to an end. The traditional Christian understanding of the pilgrimage is always teleological. (Don't know that word? Look it up!) Spending the time walking is a means of preparation for me to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ at the empty tomb. I have not kept the Lenten fast as strictly as I normally do (walking up to 40 kms per day is demanding)‎, but it's my prayer that I will be ready for the Feast of Feasts by the time I arrive in Jerusalem.

And now for something completely different. In anticipation of my upcoming transit to Lebanon, here is a wonderfully cheesy video by one of my favourite ska bands. Wrong continent, but this is "Night Boat to Cairo."


  1. I looked up the word and feel more enlightened thank you!

    The ground you cover physically and mentally is extensive. You are 'there' but seem to be 'here' as well. Fascinating and I like that very much, and the 'Madness' video too!

    The 'Via Egnatia on foot' book is most informative and it was the Roman expeditions to Britannia that first got me really thinking of journeys to Rome (and now beyond). This book provides lots of 'Roman' history. I suspect I will only be able to experience a fraction of the book content as the relative speed of cycling does close down the mind a bit. A sample is better than nothing I suppose!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you're happy with the book. I was disappointed I couldn't purchase an electronic version, but at least the historical section is safe at home. The route instructions have been discarded as I travel. Sad, but true.