After a month in England and a quick visit to Germany, I arrive back in Olympos, Turkey, with a huge grin on my face. I am back in paradise. I am very lucky to have a friend, Yucel, who lets me stay at his pension. I spend a week swimming in the sea and making new friends.
I become good mates with Neil, an English guy, and when our friend, Francois, texts us to say, “come to Cappadocia! The weather’s beautiful!” we decide to hitchhike there together. It’s Neil’s first experience with hitchhiking and he loves it! We get a lift to Konya with the happiest man alive, who dances whilst driving and shouts, “life is beautiful!” in Turkish. He treats us to tea and food in the mountains.
The following day, we find ourselves in the village of Sultanhanı, somewhere between Konya and Cappadocia in the middle of nowhere. A man in a posh car picks us up. He tells us that the village is famous for its antique rugs, and that he is Prince Charles’s rug restorer. He claims to be friends with many of London’s elite, and states that he is deputy in charge of Sultanhanı. He offers me a job as the village’s English teacher. He will pay me well and give me accommodation in a new hotel. “Why not?” He states. “Why not!” I reply, but in reality I can not see myself living in this tiny place in central Turkey.
We arrive in Cappadocia and it’s grey, raining and cold. “Beautiful weather,” Francois had said! Still, it’s good to be in the alien landscape and even better to spend time with friends.
Francois is travelling in the same direction as me, so we hitchhike together. Once again, I arrive in Sivas and once again the lovely Ismail hosts us (thanks Ismail)! Sivas is as friendly as ever, and the locals love Francois, with his blonde, curly hair.
The next day, we are lucky enough to get fast rides to Erzurum, stopping briefly to help a car that has crashed into the side of the mountain.
Erzurum is cold and snowing, and I find it remarkable that just a couple of days ago I was swimming in the warm sea in Olmypos. We are hosted by a young married couple from Couchsurfing. It is Bayram (a religious Muslim holiday) and an important feature of Bayram is the sacrificing of animals. The next morning I wake to the sound of distressed cows. I look out of the apartment window and watch as a cow is tied up by a group of men. The cow clearly knows what will happen, and he puts up a fight, kicking at the men. He falls to the ground, and the men pin him down, pulling him by his tail to drag him along the ground. Someone takes a sharp knife and I sob as a man slits the cow’s throat. Blood spurts out everywhere – I have never seen so much blood – and the cow convulses for about thirty seconds as the man slices through the neck. I look away for a minute, and when I look back the cow has been beheaded. I am amazed at how quickly the group behead, skin and cut up the cow.
I feel terrible in my hosts’ home. I have underestimated the importance of Bayram (it is as important as Christmas is to Christians) and my hosts have found themselves in the company of a weeping vegan. They are, however, very understanding of my distress, but I can’t help feeling that I should have stayed in a hotel.
They take us for a walk in the mountains (we walk past a cow about to be slaughtered and I keep my head down. I can not look him in the eye. I am gutless and helpless). I can’t shake off the feeling of deep depression. Walking back home, there are pools of blood, a cow’s head dumped next to a bin, and a lone hoof on the path. Death is everywhere. It is a nasty day for any animal lover. My hosts are lovely enough to teach me how to make vegan stuffed vineleaves, and we manage to have a pleasant evening, despite a heated discussion about politics and a revelation that I am actually an atheist. I am possibly the worst guest they could have for Bayram.
The following day I say goodbye to Francois and meet Sara at Erzurum bus station. Sara and I hiked together on the Lycian Way, way back in April. She has travelled on a coach for nineteen hours and now we are reunited, ready to cross the Iran border together. We hitchhike through small towns that never see tourists and drink tea with the locals.
We arrive in a town called Ağrı, a place that looks worse for wear, but has at least 60 internet cafes. I can’t fathom out how a town needs so many internet cafes. Still, the locals are typically friendly and once again it’s fun to be a novelty!
In the morning we will cross the border to Iran, wary of the latest news reports of possible Israeli military action in Iran in the near-future.