In August 2022 History of Art graduate Minna Coke travelled from her Norfolk home to Turkey’s Taurus Mountains. Her mission: to help our Journey Designer Emily put the finishing touches to Hidden Anatolia, our new journey through a small slice of Turkey’s interior, and to welcome our first guests. Here she tells of her experiences.
A cool mist appears over the lip of the mountain. It glides down towards us like a pale, fleecy glacier. The sparrows are chatting amongst the persimmon trees and the now familiar clacker of a red squirrel mutters away. Erdinc, Emine and I exchange glances, our expressions rippled with contented smiles as we take it all in.
A voice rings out. It is the Imam’s call to prayer and it courses down the ancient river bed. Within seconds it collides with the cockerel’s call and then the Turkish guard dog joins in. A soundscape erupts and another day begins, nestled deep within the Taurus Mountains.
This is Hidden Anatolia, The Slow Cyclist’s most recently discovered destination and my home for the last two months.
Long before we welcomed our guests to Turkey, our founder Oli cycled through this vast country. He took note of the Turks’ unparalleled hospitality (as well as how well-suited the tea-houses were for drying out wet bottoms during wet months) and he pencilled it in as a must for the Slow Cyclist. Twelve years later and he has a team tinkering about the Taurus Mountains creating this Anatolian adventure. These things take time and for The Slow Cyclist. The adventure began on Oli’s trip, many years ago.
Slow and steady wins the race.
We cannot expect to conjure up a holiday in a matter of minutes, at least not one with a positive impact on people and planet. We are in it for the long run. This means we get out on the ground, establishing and nurturing relationships with the people we work with and the communities we become a part of.
We recognise that places exist as much more than being ‘the perfect holiday get-away’. They are complex and beautiful spaces and it is a great privilege to be welcomed into them.
Throughout the heat of Turkish August we prepared our trip in the mountains. In the village of Cukurça, life was transformed. We worked with the mayor, Hassan and made menemen with his wife Emiti. We worked with Rashid and ate feast after feast prepared by Pala’s ever-extensive family, as they awaited their first Slow Cyclist guests. Pala’s sons even returned from the city to help erect the tents and build the furniture.
As we got to know the local families we learnt that their villages tell a unanimous tale of the young, migrating to the cities. So, when Pala, his son and his grandson perched themselves upon a tiny tractor and drove off to work at camp, Hassan noticed our smiles and reminded us that the Slow Cyclist has re-ignited an energy in the village which had not been there for a long time.
We want to bridge the gap between traveller and local, between urban and rural because the shared experiences that come out of it are what life is all about. Watching three generations working together in a village where the school has closed because of lack of opportunity, it doesn’t get more touching than that.
Yet, so often people think of the countryside as a bucolic and unpopulated landscape, visible but rarely lived in. Cycling through a place is a way of unpicking this myth. It changes the way you experience the rural, the emphasis is on feeling the landscape, rather than simply observing it.
“We experience the contours of the landscape by moving through it, so that it enters – as Gaston Bachelard would say – into our muscular consciousness”
Moving slowly through the landscape enables you to embody it and to do so in harmony with its people. After all, paths and tracks are manifestations of the habitual movements of generations.
You get to feel the undulating hills, to smell the scents of the seasons. To taste the colours of the garden in every feast, to look up in awe at the drastic cliffs of the Tuva canyon or appreciate the rust-red dirt kicked up by wild horses grazing the plains of Yenikoy.
This is what the Great Slow Down is all about. The opportunity to become part and parcel of a place. To notice how it evolves with every interaction and responds to the steady cycle of the seasons. The Slow Cyclist is now part of the fabric, it has been woven into the local kilim and the result is breathtaking.