The Carian Trail (or the Karia Yolu in Turkish) is an 800km hiking trail along the south-west coast of Turkey. Having walked the Lycian Way in Turkey a few years before, I am certain that I know what I am getting into.
My intention is to walk 400km of the trail, and I want to do it alone. I’m sure that I will meet no other hikers, as this trail is pretty new. It will be an amazing journey of personal growth, and I will spend days walking, meditating, foraging for edible plants, and swimming on deserted beaches. It’s going to be paradise, I think to myself….
Day 1: İçmeler to a meadow close to Amos (8km)
I pack my rucksack in my guesthouse and lift it up. “SHIT! It’s so fucking heavy!” I say out loud to myself. On all of my recent hikes, I have shared the load with Chris. He would take the food and water and I would take the tent. But now I am alone and I have to carry it all: a few litres of water, food, tent, sleeping bag and mat, clothes, books, notepads for writing, compass, torch and other accessories. Immediately I ditch a book – my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I hadn’t been enjoying it much, anyway.
From the starting point at the tourist town of İçmeler, it becomes immediately clear that the Carian Trail isn’t going to be easy. With 17kg on my back, I huff and puff up steep rocky ‘paths’, sweating in the 30 degree heat. It’s the beginning of May, and unfortunately for me, summer has come early in Turkey this year.
The beauty of hiking alone is that you can go as slowly as you like. And I’m going SLOW, completely unfit and unprepared for the steepness of this hike. Ten minutes into my hike, I meet two other hikers. They’re a couple from Canada. So much for thinking that I won’t see any other walkers, I think disappointedly to myself.
“We’re worried about the lack of water sources on this route,” they say to me. They tell me that they’re carrying a fold up bucket and a rope to use at wells. I feel completely unprepared in comparison. They go off ahead of me, and I’m certain that I will never see them again. They are, in fact, the only hikers that I will meet on the entirety of my hike who are walking the route in the normal way, camping as they go.
Despite the steep ascents and descents, day one of the Carian Trail is stunning. The sweet smell of the pine trees fills the air, and the forest is filled with purple flowers.
I stand and look out to sea. Suddenly, there’s a crashing sound. I turn round swiftly, and see a small tortoise clambering down the rocks towards me. I laugh. Tortoises are such funny creatures – their tiny legs having to haul them up and down rocks ten times their size. The tortoise eyes me with suspicion. “I’m a vegan,” I say to her. “I’m your friend.”
After a few kilometres, I reach the tourist village of Turunç. I ditch my hoodie, leaving it by a bin. Why had I thought that I would need two jumpers? I think about whether I can throw anything else in my rucksack away, but decide that I need everything else.
I struggle up a few more kilometres of steep rocks, and arrive at a meadow where I will camp for the night. As I sit amongst the wild flowers, I realise just how alive it is here. Ants crawl all over me, bees buzz all around me, and countless insects that I have never seen in my life walk or hop all over the plants. A giant spider crawls up my leg. I check the Carian Trail guidebook for warnings of poisonous spiders. It doesn’t mention any.
I put the tent up and tie my food in a nearby tree, and then sit on a rock and watch the sun set, listening to the call to prayer coming from the mosque below in Turunç.
Darkness comes. Just as I’m about to fall asleep I hear something. A human or a large animal is walking over the loose rocks in the dark. They’re coming towards my tent. My heart pounds. I reach for my Swiss army knife and wait. The steps get closer and closer. And then I hear a snuffling noise. It’s a wild boar, and it sounds like she’s found my food in the tree. I’m instantly relieved that it’s a boar and not a man, and I turn my torch on. The boar lets out what I can only describe as an almighty ROAR (who knew that pigs could roar?!), and then another roar, and then another, before fading away.
I barely sleep.
Day 2: Meadow close to Amos to Kayalıözü (14km)
Before going on the Carian Trail, I didn’t think that I would have to learn how to be in harmony with nature. I thought I already was in harmony with nature. But as I curse the mosquitoes, the ants and the giant spiders, and as I shit myself at wild boar, it becomes clear that I have some adapting to do!
I sit and eat my breakfast amongst the wild flowers, and a swarm of bees buzz around me. “I am in harmony,” I say to myself. After a few minutes of repeating this mantra, I give up on trying to sit in harmony with the bees and walk away. One bee chases me and I run through the meadow, screaming and flapping my arms wildly in the air.
My day starts with a steep ascent and an even steeper descent down loose rocks. I finally reach the ruins of Amos. The view from up here is unbelievable.
“Gel! Çay!” a family shouts to me as I pass through the village of Kumlubük, beckoning me into their garden for a cup of tea. My first invite on the Carian Trail for a cup of tea. I’m certain that there will be many more in this hospitable country.
Onwards I hike, before reaching the ruins of an old Byzantine church. And then I continue for hours and hours and hours. As dusk comes, I reach the outskirts of Kayalıözü village. I put up my tent and hang my food in a tree far, far away.
I fall asleep fast. But at 1am there’s footsteps. I wake up with a start. Shit shit shit, I think, checking that my Swiss army knife is next to me. Someone comes up to my tent and shines a torch into it. My heart pounds for the second night in a row.
“What are you doing?” a man asks me in Turkish.
It’s obvious what I’m doing, I think. “The Carian Trail,” I reply. Why else would I be camping here, on the trail itself?
The man pauses, and then says okay, and then walks away.
I finally get some sleep, but at 6am I’m woken up by a dog coming up to my tent and barking incessantly for half an hour.
At 8am I emerge from a boiling hot tent. There’s a woman on the land, cutting plants. “Good morning! Welcome!” she says with a smile. I’m grateful for her friendliness.
There’s a million insects crawling over my tent. I try to get them all off, but as I pack my tent away, some of them will inevitably die.
Day 3: Kayalıözü to Bahçeli (16km)
A snake is frightened by me and slithers quickly away. And then the trail becomes overgrown. I find myself walking through metre-high wild flowers, barely able to make out a route through them. Thousands of bees swarm all over the flowers, and as I push my way through the foliage, I’m certain that I’ll be stung. I swear and panic, wishing that there weren’t so many beehives on the Bozburun Peninsula of Turkey. A tick sticks itself to my trousers. URGH! I have a real fear of ticks.
The trail cuts up another mountain. The Carian Trail’s guidebook frequently describes the path as “undulating along the coast with spectacular views”, but what it actually means is “an insanely steep climb which goes on forever, where you sometimes need to use your hands. There will be thousands of spikey bushes scraping at your skin as you climb and climb in the heat, and there will be no trees for cover!”
And then I come across another problem. Someone is making barricades across the trail, using the spikey bushes and trees to deliberately block the way. At first I think that they are barriers to stop cows from walking too far. But when I come across the barricades again and again, it seems clear to me that there are some local people who don’t want the Carian Trail to exist. I feel uneasy. There’s someone, somewhere close by, who doesn’t want me here.
I swear loudly as I try to climb over the barriers and my trousers get caught in the spikes. “I can quit any time,” I say to myself. But an egoic voice inside me says, “no, you will continue this, even if you hate it.”
The route climbs and climbs and I’m almost out of water. Although the trail has amazing views of the sea, I barely notice it. I’m too tired and upset, and my skin is burnt.
The trail veers inland, past some grazed land. In an exhausted, thirsty haze I stumble along, crying. I lose my way and walk around in circles. I see a mother cow with her baby calf again and again as I walk the same paths. “I’m sorry. Please don’t attack me,” I say to her. I pass a tortoise. He hisses at me.
Finally, the route starts going downhill towards the village of Bahçeli. I really want to be hosted, to be surrounded by some caring people. So I ask a family whether I can camp on their land. They invite me inside for a cup of tea and some dinner. I sit with the mother, the father, the grandparents and the two children. They feed me amazing vegetarian food and shower me with smiles, kindness and compassion. Then they invite me to sleep inside, and I have a hot shower and the most amazing night’s rest ever.
This is just what I needed after three days of being alone on the trail with only my thoughts for company. I have imagined every possible bad scenario that could happen to me. Where did all these fears come from? I have never been afraid of camping alone before. I have never been afraid of wild boar until now (and I have camped close to them many times). My mind has never before become so out of control with fearful thoughts, and I can’t work out what is rational and what is irrational.
This experience must be making me grow in some way. It’s all part of a journey of self-discovery. At least, that’s what I hope.
(to be continued in part 2)