More reflections on being alone: Hiking the Carian Trail (part 3 )

All hiking posts, Carion Trail, Turkey, Hiking, Turkey
A waymarker on a pine tree (yes, I have to climb up the mountain on the other side of the beach!

A waymarker on a pine tree (yes, I have to climb up the mountain on the other side of the beach!

I am walking the Carian Trail, an 800km long hiking route in south-west Turkey. See parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Day 8: Eski Datça to Pigs Hollow (15km)
I have started a new section of the Carian Trail – the Datça Peninsula. To my relief, the trail becomes unbelievably beautiful and, thank god, a lot more easy! The hike is much more similar to the Lycian Way (hurrah!), with massive limestone rockfaces, pine forest, sea views and a beach that is only accessible by boat or by hiking. No longer am I just surrounded by prickly bushes!

Hızırşah village

Hızırşah village

Limestone!

Limestone!

View!

View!

I hike to Pigs Hollow. The beach and valley at Pigs Hollow (Domuz Çukuru) used to be a backpackers’ camp, but it closed down two years ago. Now it’s inhabited by two men, a dog called Dırdır, some cats and some chickens. The only access here is by Carian Trail or by boat. The men welcome me and give me dinner, most of which is grown in their vegetable garden.

Hiking the Carian Trail (part 1): endurance and struggle!

All hiking posts, Carion Trail, Turkey, Hiking, Turkey
The stunning view from Amos on the Carian Trail

The stunning view from Amos on the Carian Trail

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.

Hitchhiking South East Asia: some tips!

Cambodia, Hitchhiking, Laos, Thailand
A view from a pickup truck, somewhere close to Phonsavan in Laos

A view from a pickup truck, somewhere close to Phonsavan in Laos, just before the monsoon rain soaks me!

During my last couple of months in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, I didn’t hitchhike as much as I usually would. I completely lost the enthusiasm for it – maybe I had hitchhiker’s burnout, so to speak. However, I did do some hitchhiking whilst I was here! These are my tips, or observations, of what worked for me, mostly as a solo traveller:

To be alone…

Society, Spiritualism & Buddhism
Just me and the rice paddies...

Just me and the rice paddies…

I have been travelling alone for one month. Before this, I was travelling with Chris every day, so the feeling of being alone was all the more intense when he left. It’s been interesting observing myself: my feelings of loneliness or contentment, and observing when I have clung to other travellers so as not to feel lonely.

Paradise Almost Lost

All hiking posts, Cambodia, Hiking, Kep, Cambodia

So speak out loud of the
Things you are proud
And if you love this coast
Keep it clean as it evolves
Cos the way that it shines
May just dwindle with time
With the changes it will confront
Xavier RuddMessages

Some of your people can’t hear it
The cries of the Earth
Some of your people can’t feel it
The way that it hurts
Nahko – Great Spirit

Koh Ta Kiev, a Cambodian island

Koh Ta Kiev, a Cambodian island

Tina Turner’s Private Dancer blasts out of the stereo, taking me back to my childhood, when me and my sisters were subjected to Tina Turner on a daily basis. The sand is white and the sea as warm as bath water. I’m on Otres beach, Sihanoukville’s more tame tourist spot.

“Massage? Pedicure? Oh! Hair removal!!!” a woman says, pointing at my legs. Maybe I’m the first western woman that she’s ever seen who doesn’t remove the hair from their legs. I politely decline her offer.

Five minutes later another woman approaches. “Bracelet? Oh! Hair!” she says, looking at my legs.
“No thanks.”
“Where are you from?” she asks.
“England.”
“You have a nice body. English people are fat.”

For the next hour, more people approach me, all analysing my legs and deciding that I really need to remove my hairs. I think about discussing patriarchy, sexism, and the pressure that women are under to conform to a particular image of beauty. I want to tell them how unfair it all is. But then I realise that these women are just trying to make money, and it must be really frustrating for them to see the hairs on my legs and then not be allowed to do anything about it!

“Well done for not shaving your body hair,” a French woman says to me. “Me and my friend tried it for one week and felt too self-conscious.”

There’s also children selling things. They’re cheeky and funny and when I last came to Cambodia, me and my friends bought lots of books off of them. This time, I’ve decided not to give the kids any money. Travelfish says why here and here.

After the tenth woman comments on how hairy my legs are, I decide that Otres beach is not a good place to relax and do meditation!

I take a boat to the relatively unknown island of Koh Ta Kiev. The total population on the whole island must be about twenty or thirty people – a fishing village which I don’t see, and a couple of beach hut-style guesthouses.

Deliveries arrive at the island

Deliveries arrive at the island

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The view of the sun setting over another island from Koh Ta Kiev

The view of the sun setting over another island from Koh Ta Kiev

Alone on one of Koh Ta Kiev's beach...soon to be changed forever

Alone on one of Koh Ta Kiev’s beach…soon to be changed forever

I walk in the rainforest, all alone as beautiful massive wild hornbill birds fly overhead. The island is famous for its many species of birds. The trail is completely overgrown and l get lost. Afterwards I find out that nobody has walked on my route for months and months.

Lost in the jungle, I laugh as I come across this carving on a tree

Lost in the jungle, I laugh as I come across this carving on a tree

As with everywhere I visit, this untouched, perfect island is set to be destroyed. The Cambodian government has leased half of the island to a French company and half of the island to a Chinese company. Whilst the French company has, so far, done nothing to ‘develop’ Koh Ta Kiev, the Chinese company has already chopped down and logged trees, and a huge, ugly road has been bulldozed through the forest.

The company is called KSKW, and is owned by Ni Zhaoxing, President of China’s ZhongRong Group. They boast about their plans on their website. I’m told by locals that they plan to build a huge resort, with a golf course and casino for the rich. During my stay on the island, the company come to collect rent from the beach hut-style guest houses. It’s really sad to think of the destruction that is to come, and the inevitable death of the beautiful wildlife.

The start of the destruction of Koh Ta Kiev - a road through the rainforest

The start of the destruction of Koh Ta Kiev – a road through the rainforest

As I walk along the deserted beach (there’s literally no-one around: the island is so unspoilt!), with thousands of crabs scurrying across the sand and rocks, I’m shocked by how much plastic washes up here. Every day, piles and piles of plastic wash ashore on an island with barely any people living on it. As humans, we’re completely disgraceful, abusing and destroying our land and our seas without a second thought.  I guiltily acknowledge all of the plastic that I use and casually discard on a daily basis, knowing that it’s not biodegradable. I vow, there and then, to cut down on the plastic I buy, and to try to wean myself off of plastic completely.

Plastic plastic plastic

Plastic plastic plastic

More plastic. It stretches around the whole perimeter of the island

More plastic. It stretches around the whole perimeter of the island

Inspirational plastic-free activist Beth Terry summarises on her website why plastic is so toxic, both to the oceans and sea creatures, and to our own health.

A few days later I head back to the mainland and travel to Kep, and it becomes my favourite place in the country! I really, really love this small town and the locals are so friendly. Kep’s full of delapidated French colonial villas, ruined by the Khmer Rouge, and there’s wild monkeys.

2015-01-05_11.47.59

One reason why I love Kep is because there’s a MARKED HIKING TRAIL through the jungle! There’s no need for guides, and there’s no one in Kep trying to sell me a tour of the national park. And so I embark on a small, 8km trek alone. At the start of the trail there’s a warning: ‘DIFFICULT: ONLY FOR EXPERIENCED WALKERS’, mostly because you need to use ropes to haul yourself up rocks. “Fine,” I think, “I’m an experienced hiker.” There’s also a big photo of a scorpion on the warning sign.

The route map and warning signs at the start of the hike, kindly marked out by Led Zep cafe in Kep :)

The route map and warning signs at the start of the hike, kindly marked out by Led Zep cafe in Kep 🙂

I walk happily uphill, looking out for birds and monkeys. However, within minutes I realise that there are thousands of spiders in this jungle, and hundreds of them want to cast their webs across the trail. Each web seems to be at the exact same height as my face, and I spit cobwebs out of my mouth every two or three metres.

“Lucky that I’m not scared of spiders,” I think to myself.

But then I stop suddenly.

The biggest web ever, which reaches from the ground to my head height, stretches across the small dirt trail. Visions of Shelob from Lord Of The Rings come to my mind. I hack down the web with a stick (sorry spider, but there’s no other option!) and I walk on.

One minute later I see it.

The biggest spider that I have EVER seen in my life: the size of my hand, yellow and black in colour, sitting on a web at my head’s height. Petrified, I duck beneath the web. “What if I’d been looking at the ground, searching for scorpions?” I think to myself. “That spider would have landed on my head!”

For the rest of the trail, I nervously thrash a stick in the air, cutting down webs in front of me.

The next day, I hitchhike with a beautiful family to the Vietnam border (they go far out of their way to take me to the border), and I’m so happy that I visited amazing Kep with its wonderful people, old mansions, monkeys and even its giant spiders.

48 hours in Phnom Penh (part 2): a dinner date with the Filipino Mafia

Cambodia

“HELLO!” a woman shouts at me and waves from the back of a scooter. She gets off and walks up to me. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” she says, grinning. “I thought you were a friend of mine. You look exactly the same as her!”

We get chatting. Sue* is about thirty-five years old and tells me that she is from Thailand and is visiting her brother, who lives with his wife in Phnom Penh. “Do you know London?” she asks. “My sister is going to be a nurse there.”
I tell her that I lived in London for years.
“Will you come to my family’s house for lunch and meet my sister? She’s nervous about moving to London and she doesn’t know anyone there.”
“Well, actually, I’m busy right now…” I reply. Sue looks visibly disappointed.
“Maybe later then? When are you free?”
We agree to meet at the same spot in a few hours.
“Don’t eat!” Sue says with a huge, friendly smile. “I will cook you a big meal!”

I walk away, bemused by the persistence and friendliness of Sue, but not surprised by her invite or her openness. After all, I have had countless invites to strangers’ houses in my years of travelling…..

* * *

Thunderstorms in Thakek, temples in Champasak and burnout in Kratie!

Cambodia, Laos
The Thakek countryside

The Thakek countryside

Another guesthouse, another set of rules on the bedroom door. In this hotel, I’m not allowed to stick naked pictures on the wall. Damn it.

I’m bang-smack in the middle of Laos, in a place called Thakek. Back in 2007, Tom and I did The Loop, a 500km scooter trip on red dusty roads, staying in beautiful bamboo and wooden-housed villages. I’ve come back to see what’s changed.

The countryside around Thakek is still one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, with its huge jungle-covered limestone rocks. Like years before, I hire a scooter. But this time it’s monsoon season and I’m alone. The rain lashes down on me and thunder crashes so hard around me that it feels like the sky is going to collapse. I drive against the pelting rain, frightened of the mightiness of Mother Nature, but with an enormous smile on my face as I experience the Earth’s powers.

Cluster Bomb Country: more travels in Laos

Anarchism & Activism, Laos
A roadside warning in Laos

A roadside warning in Laos

I’m in Luang Prabang. A man walks past in a T-shirt that says Same Same. The phrase, known to everyone in South East Asia, sums up the backpacker life in Laos. Everyone’s travelling to the same towns, doing the exact same route, staying in the same guesthouses, eating in the same restaurants, and reading the same copy of the Lonely Planet. People are even wearing the same clothes (including me!). Conversation is always the same: “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, “Have you been to….?”

Whilst travelling in South East Asia, you don’t need to use your brain: restaurant menus are in English and every guesthouse will book a bus ticket for you, so you don’t even need to attempt to buy your own tickets. I find myself turning into a Travel Snob: the kind of person who I usually frown upon, who thinks of themselves as more authentic than other travellers (“I’ve hitchhiked through Iraq, don’t you know?!”). Because of this, I decide to get off of the backpacker trail, say goodbye to the Same Same T-shirts and hopefully leave my conceitedness behind.

Georgia and Armenia: The Wrong Time Of The Year To Visit The Caucasus!

Armenia, Georgia, Turkey

Kar means snow in Turkish, and the north-eastern Turkish city of Kars certainly lives up to its name. The residents here are super-friendly and the kindness of Turkish and Kurdish people can be compared to nowhere else. The Turkey-Georgia border close to Posof is very remote indeed!

The border is somewhere in these mountains!

The border is somewhere in these mountains!

I don’t like borders because of political reasons and also because when I travel alone I always have problems. For some reason, a lone female hitchhiker whose passport is almost full with stamps raises suspicion. The Georgian border is no exception, and I am made to wait whilst everyone else is ushered through. The border guard makes a phone call about me before finally letting me into the country.

An Update About Hitchhiking Solo As A Female In Turkey

Turkey

I wrote this blog post when I was feeling very low after experiencing sexual harrassment whilst hitchhiking. This post is not meant to scare women, and I hope that you will find the comments section at the bottom useful, as a number of people have commented.

I have previously written a lot about Turkey, gushing about the people, the culture, the nature. And whilst I still love Turkey, it is certainly a country of deep contrasts. There is super-traditonal next to super-modern; hideous five-star hotels close to poor farmers´ houses; modern women walking alongside the traditional women who wear headscarves and baggy Turkish trousers; a generosity and kindness that I have known nowhere else, and yet a huge amount of racism towards Kurdish people.

And I have experienced contrasts with the men, too. I have hitchhiked hundreds of cars here, and I have always encouraged women who want to hitchhike alone, as most people think that we shouldn’t do it. However, I want to list my bad experiences here, because sadly they are starting to add up (BUT the good experiences far outweigh the bad).