It was about halfway through my latest trip to Turkey when I walked on to the Lycian Way, a pilgrimage that has connected the cities of Fethiye and Antalya for centuries. I entered the trail just up the hill from the tourist town of Ölüdeniz, just after the sun rose at around 7 that mid-October morning.
My hope, as I traipsed along the flat gravel path lined with scrubby evergreens still covered in dew, was that I’d arrive at the viewpoint overlooking the iconic Blue Lagoon right around the time the light began shining over the ridge in earnest. Nature, unfortunately, had different ideas.
And I’m not talking about the persistent haze in the sky that blocked out any semblance of sunshine, though that didn’t help. No, the rustling I heard into the woods about 20 minutes into my trek was not campers scurrying inside their tents, but a family of wild boars who definitely wasn’t interested in co-existence.
The good news was that the mother swine, although she stalked me back almost to where I began, did not so much as threaten the harm a cursory Google Search (and recollections of a similar experience in off-the-beaten path Japan last year) revealed to me that such animals were inflicting upon humans, particularly humans all by their lonesome like me.
The bad news? She stalked me back almost to where I began, which left me with little choice but to wait there until additional hikers arrived. Given that I was traveling along the Turkish coast at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, this was far from guaranteed.
Eventually, after a warming (but tasteless) breakfast of savory gözleme pancakes at a nearby café, I walked back under the arch that welcomes visitors onto the Lycian Way. Sure enough, not one nor two but at least a dozen other people were beginning their sojourns just as I was restarting mine.
Among them were a British couple I ended up rejoining at the end of the trail at Butterfly Valley, where there were no butterflies, but lots of garbage. There, the three of us linked up with a Russian I’d met at the beach the day before, and dined and drank far past my ordinary bedtime.
Although I’d spent a week in Istanbul and three days amid the travertines of Pamukkale prior to arriving at the seaside, it was that joyous evening when my trip to Turkey began in earnest. Indeed, it was when I was finally able to let go of the pain and stagnation that had largely defined my year up to that point.
As many of you know, I was in Taiwan when nearly all the governments of the world shut their borders in fear of Covid-19. Although I was thankful to have been there—Taiwan had the best virus response in the world, one that notably did not see the country lock down for even a single day—this constituted my longest stay in any country (let alone one the size of the US state of Maryland) in more than a decade.
In addition to not being able to travel off the island—and, more materially, earning hardly a single dollar for more than half a year—my forced geographical stasis manifested itself mentally and emotionally. If I’m honest, I didn’t choose to visit Turkey when my Taiwanese visa expired in early October out of burning desire. (I’d been waiting, it turned out in vain, for Japan to release the hermetic seal with which it locked its borders in April.)
To be sure, while I have long wanted to return to the place where the East kisses the West, fulfilling this desire in 2020 was more by default than by design: Turkey was (and remains, as I write this) one of the only countries in the world fully open to foreign visitors.
Purely from the perspective of a traveler, Turkey humbled me, particularly after I completed my nearly-aborted hike above the beaches of Ölüdeniz. The charming old city of Kaleiçi in Antalya impressed me just as much as mainland European citadels, particular in the hotel and eatery department; returning to Konya (the global hub of Sufism) and Cappadocia (one of the globe’s foremost hubs of Instagram) during what proved to be the final days of warm weather in central Turkey allowed me to don a smile as the sun–finally—began to set on this god-forsaken year.
It humbled me but more importantly, it reminded me that life goes on, even if it does so out of alignment (or, in my case, out of sequence: Japan is now postponed to January, and maybe later) with how you thought it was going to go.
As I write this, I’m on a layover at Istanbul Airport on my way to the Black Sea city of Trabzon, which will be my last stop in Turkey—I think—but only the beginning of my journey back to a life I had almost forgotten how to live. It’s as terrifying a prospect as it is an enthralling one, not unlike my having made a second go at the Lycian Way after being chased off it by a beast I didn’t anticipate encountering.
I can’t wait to share words and images from my trip with you over the next several weeks, starting with the pictures of Turkey I’ve curated for your enjoyment below. If you’re ready to get back on the road (Turkey, remember, is now fully open to everyone), I hope they’ll inspire you to book a flight to Istanbul—and to seize the joy in life, instead of waiting for the world to give it back to you.