The Great Affair’s Guide to: Trekking the Evliya Celebi Way.
“The walking of which I speak…is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Ever since completing half of the Camino de Santiago trail across northwest Spain last year, I’ve had a thing for pilgrimages.
There’s just something about walking, about moving at your own momentum and carrying everything you’ll need along the way on your back – it is simplicity and self-sufficiency at their Thoreau-inspired finest. There’s something about getting to know a country through its back roads and rural lanes, taking it all in step by step. You’re literally at ground level, and the terrain you are traversing is both exterior and interior.
But the thing I love most about pilgrimages is that they’re more than just long walks. The routes I am drawn to – the Camino, the Shodoshima 88-Temple Circuit in Japan – have a story to them; they are rooted in centuries-old cultures and religions you get to learn about naturally, slowly, building on one layer of understanding after another.
This autumn, I’m grateful to have walked my third pilgrimage: the Evliya Çelebi Way, a 22-day, 330-km trek across the Anatolia region of northwest Turkey. While I so enjoyed sharing stories and lessons from the path with you, today I’d like to get a little more practical. What follows is a round up of information I hope you’ll find useful, should you be interested in walking the route yourself (referred to from now on as the EÇW). And if there’s anything I haven’t covered here, please leave your question in a comment!
Table of contents
A little background
The starting and ending points (and how to get there and back)
When to go
Food and water
Money, money, money
Navigation and trail finding
Helpful Turkish phrases
A final note on not giving up
A little background
Although as a walking route the EÇW was only established in 2011, the path it follows is based on the 1671 journey of Evliya Çelebi as he completed his hajj from Istanbul to Mecca (on horseback, I might add). Çelebi was a prolific Ottoman traveler and writer who is still very much ingrained in the consciousness of Turks today. For instance, even though many of the people I met hadn’t heard of the EÇW itself, whenever I described what I do as a travel writer, they would often say, “Ah, so you’re a modern Evliya Çelebi!”
If you’re looking to experience a different side of Turkey – a Turkey far removed from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul – then I cannot recommend this journey enough. It is a wonderful taste of rural life in the Turkish countryside, where shepherds still take their flocks out to graze every day, farmers park their tractors in the village square for their afternoon tea break, and men and women alike ride donkeys to gather firewood for wood-burning stoves, often their homes’ only source of heating.
You’ll also feel as though you’re walking back in time. A few kilometers outside Iznik, the path leads directly by an obelisk built in the 1st century AD. That’s 2,000 years old! And past the village of Altıntaş, woodsy tracks turn into crumbling Roman roads, complete with faint wheel ruts carved into the stone. It occurred to me somewhere around Iznik that it isn’t only Evliya Çelebi’s footsteps we’re following in here, my friends. Get ready to have your mind blown by some incredible history.
Quick note about doing the route by horse: It may go without saying that I did the EÇW on foot, but it’s also quite popular to do as Çelebi himself did and follow the route on horseback. The Akhal-Teke Horse Company, based in Cappadocia, offer horse tours of the route every September – read more about it on their website, where the EÇW is listed as the Great Anatolian Ride.
Good news for the indecisive: there’s only one! The Evliya Celebi Way: Turkey’s First Long-distance Walking and Riding Route was written by the two women who established the route – Kate Clow and Caroline Finkel – and costs £16.44, or about US$27. (Note that the book is only available on the UK version of Amazon, so make sure to visit amazon.co.uk).
Kate is an expert on cultural walking routes in Turkey – since establishing the Lycian Way in 1999, she has helped form several other routes across the country. Caroline is a Scottish historian and writer based in Istanbul with a doctorate in Ottoman history. Between their combined expertise, you couldn’t have found two better people to establish the EÇW.
What made the entire book a worthwhile purchase for me was a three-page glossary at the back. The words included are beautifully specific and tailored to what you’ll need while walking. There are sections on trailfinding, architecture, food, people, weather, etc. I can’t even tell you how many times I flipped back to the glossary – and I think having it all in the same place, as opposed to having to dig through a dictionary, really helped me pick up more Turkish vocab than I would have otherwise (more on language later!).
There is also tons of context included, letting you know when a village first appeared in historical records and especially if it was mentioned in Evliya Çelebi’s notes from his own journey. So while the guidebook isn’t perfect when it comes to directions, there are definitely other reasons it’s worth bringing with you.
The starting and ending points (and how to get there and back)
The EÇW begins in Hersek, a village near the city of Yalova, and ends in Simav. Here’s an idea of what your route will look like (bear in mind I did as the guidebook suggested and walked to Kütahya, caught a bus to Uşak, and continued walking from there to Simav):
I found Hersek to be very easy to reach via ferryboat from Istanbul:
- Catch a ferry from Istanbul’s Yenikapi terminal.
- The ferry company is IDO – http://www.ido.com.tr/en.
- The ticket is usually 15 Turkish Lira (TL) one-way, or about US$7.50.
- Ferries depart from Yenikapi several times a day – currently 8.30, 11.30, 15.30, 18.00, and 20.00 – and the journey takes 75-90 minutes.
Once you’re in Yalova, exit the ferry terminal and follow the road to the dolmuş parking lot (a dolmuş is a Turkish minibus that operates like a shared taxi; destinations are displayed on little placards behind their windshields). Look for ones heading to Altıntaş – it’ll cost 3 TL ($1.50) and take 20-30 minutes.
In Altıntaş, there are ATMs and small markets (or bakkals) where you can stock up on cash and food for the first few days of the journey. And from Altıntaş, you can catch another dolmuş to Hersek for 1.75 TL (or a taxi for 15 TL, but there seemed to be a dolmuş departing every hour so there’s really no need to take a taxi).
And now about the return. The EÇW ends in the town of Simav, from which it couldn’t be easier to get back to Istanbul:
- Head to the otogar (or bus terminal) to book your ticket.
- The bus company is Kütahyalılar – http://www.kutahyalilar.com.tr.
- The ticket costs 60 TL ($30), which includes water, tea, coffee, and snacks along the way.
- Buses currently depart three times a day – at 8.00, 11.15, and 21.15 – and the journey takes around 9-10 hours, including stops.
When to go
I began walking on the 23rd of October and finished in the third week of November, and while the sun was plenty warm during the day, boy did it get COLD at night by the end – i.e. in the 40s F/5-7 C.
In the guidebook, Kate and Caroline write, “July and August may be too hot for walking, unless you are well acclimatized or only plan to walk forested sections.” Between my own experience and what the guidebook recommends, it sounds like February-July and September-November are ideal times to consider walking.
And in terms of weather, I only had one day of rain. There was a bit of heavy fog and cloud cover at times, but otherwise the skies cooperated with my mission. Thank you, weather gods!
My backpack was big. Probably too big. But I really did use everything I brought, so I think the only way I could have cut down on weight was by bringing a lighter tent and sleeping bag.
Here’s a list of what got crammed into my pack (and in case you’re curious, I always travel with this 70+10-liter Kathmandu backpack):
- 1 tent (I brought this one by Ozark Trail)
- 1 sleeping bag
- 1 small camping burner*
- 4 propane fuel canisters*
- 1 set of cooking equipment (two pots, two plates, two cups, and a potholder)*
- 1 pocketknife with cutlery attached*
- 1 compass*
- 1 small flashlight*
- 1 lighter*
- 1 small towel*
- 1 travel first aid kit
- Antibacterial wipes*
- Toiletries + sunscreen
- 1 pair of rain-and-wind-proof pants*
- 1 pair of tennis shoes (which worked just as well as hiking boots)
- 1 pair of flip-flops (your feet will thank you!)
- 1 Sunice hiking pullover (mine wasn’t fleece, but was still warm)
- 2 tank tops
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved t-shirt
- 1 long skirt (which I wore at night in family homes)
- 1 winter hat*
- 1 pair of gloves*
- 1 scarf
- 1 pack-away raincoat
- As many pairs of socks and underwear you’ll need between washings
And because I’m a glutton for punishment:
- Laptop + charger
- Camera + 2 lenses
- Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard + Evliya Çelebi’s An Ottoman Traveller
- Watercolor paint kit, pens, and pencils
- Notebook + guidebook
- Wallet + passport
- Cloth bag to use as a purse when staying in larger towns
What I wish I’d brought:
- English-Turkish dictionary (to help with words not included in the glossary)
- Pedometer (to keep track of the guidebook’s directions)
* All of the asterisked items were bought in Istanbul, so don’t feel like you need to have every piece of equipment when you arrive in Turkey. Just across the Galata Bridge from Sultanhamet, by the Karaköy tram stop, are several outdoor stores carrying major brands like Colombia and Jack Wolfskin. I went to Atlas Outdoor (http://www.atlaskamp.com), where the total cost of my purchase was 250 TL ($125).
A brief note on laundry: Two of the families I stayed with very kindly offered to do a load for me (I’ve still yet to determine if this was more for their benefit or mine), but other than that I was left to wash things in hotel sinks at night and let them dry overnight. I also remembered an old Camino trick of hanging any damp t-shirts or socks from my backpack to dry as I walked the next day.
I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of accommodation along the EÇW and the fact that I didn’t often know where I would be staying that night. If I was due to reach a bigger town, I could generally count on finding a hotel, but otherwise it was a bit of a mystery – whether I would end up camping or be invited to stay with a family. Here’s a look at the different types of accommodation available:
While four nights might not seem worth lugging a tent and sleeping bag for throughout the entire trip, I’m glad I had them. I could have camped a lot more but the people I met just wouldn’t hear of it. When they saw that I was a woman hiking alone – especially with how cold it had gotten – they insisted I stay with them. As you can imagine, I didn’t need much convincing.
But I loved camping when I had the chance to (even if I was fairly terrified after nightfall) – from pitching my tent below the village mosque of Kidzerbent to sleeping in the abandoned village of Eski Çelebi. I also liked knowing I could stop at any point during the day and set up camp, and that I didn’t have to worry about making it to the next village. To explain this a little better, I’m borrowing a line straight from a New York Times article by former Frugal Traveler Matt Gross, about the time he walked from Vienna to Budapest:
“Often, I wished I’d left my tent and sleeping bag at home, but they helped in two ways: If I really needed (or wanted), I could camp, and carrying the tent made me appear self-sufficient. Many of my hosts might not have been so spontaneously generous had I not looked prepared to go it alone.”
Most towns have a muhtar, or a kind of village headman or mayor who is in charge, and the easiest place to find them is at the kahve (teahouse). Chances are you’ll begin to recognize them by the little pin they wear on the lapel of their blazer (literally every muhtar I met wore a blazer – it must be their unofficial uniform). As you’ll read in the guidebook, it’s best to ask the muhtar for permission before you camp.
Several times along the way you’ll pass through larger towns and cities where it’s possible to stay in a hotel. I found them all to be clean, basic, and incredibly affordable – often just 30-40 TL ($15-20) a night for a private room with hot shower, wifi, and breakfast included.
Here’s a sampling of places I stayed:
- Iznik – Kaynarca Hotel and Pansiyon, 35 TL/night (+90 224 757 1753)
- Yenişehir – Otel Güngör, 50 TL/night (+90 224 773 2230)
- Kütahya – Otel Günes, 40 TL/night (+90 274 216 1113)
- Domaniç – Önder Otel, 35 TL/night (+90 274 661 4015)
- Simav – Huzur Otel, 30 TL/night (+90 274 513 9438)
Something else to keep in mind is that a big town is often not far away. For instance, just before reaching the village of Hacikara one night, I was desperate for a little wifi and a shower, so I caught a bus into Inegöl (30 minutes and 3 TL), found a hotel, and then took another bus right back to where I left off the next morning.
Muhtar’s guest rooms
It happened twice that a village had a room for visitors (misafir odasi, or guest room). In Dırazali, about 4 kms outside of Iznik, there was a cozy guest room in the same building as the muhtar’s office, which included a table and chairs, sofa, bunk beds, and attached sink (the toilet was just downstairs).
And in Şenlik, the last village you’ll stay in before reaching Kütahya, it’s possible to sleep in a building across from the mosque – the lovely muhtar even set up a twin mattress for me, lit a fire in the stove, and gave me fresh fruit. Hello, luxury!
There’s one Turkish word you absolutely have to learn: misafir, which means “guest.” Many of the families I met insisted I be their misafir, and I soon learned it was of little use trying to reimburse them. They would share their dinner and breakfast with me – as well as keep me plied with endless amounts of tea – and set up on a sofa bed for me to sleep on. As nice as it was to have a roof over my head each night, what I loved most about these homestays was simply getting a glimpse of their way of life.
Food and water
Most villages have a small, one-roomed bakkal, or market, stocking items such as eggs, bread, pasta, cheese, sausage, soup packets, chocolate, and single servings of Nescafé – which pretty much sums up my diet when I wasn’t eating with families.
You’ll come across bakkals regularly enough that you won’t need to carry a huge amount with you. I generally tried to have 1-2 days worth of food on me, as well as crackers, biscuits, mixed nuts, etc. for snacks. I also carried a pack of Maggi chicken stock cubes, which I would mix into a pot of pasta for my own take on instant noodles, and I was given a ridiculous amount of fresh fruit from villagers – apples, grapes, pomegranates, ayva (or quince), oranges, etc.
Another thing you might see available in some bakkals is tost, a pressed sausage-and-cheese sandwich usually served with ketchup and mayonnaise. Obviously it isn’t the healthiest snack on the planet, but I usually had it whenever I came across it, as it made for a nice change from pasta.
When you hit the bigger towns, especially those mentioned above in the section on hotels, there will be plenty of restaurants to choose from. I rarely paid more than 10 TL ($5) for a meal. Options include pide, a kind of Turkish flatbread pizza, and köfte, or minced meatballs usually served with flatbread, grilled tomatoes, and a grilled green chili pepper. Here are a few places to get a tasty meal:
- Iznik – Köfteci Yusuf (+90 224 444 6162)
- Inegöl – Sefa Inegöl Köftecisi (+90 224 715 4046)
- Cerrah – Köylüm Pide Dünyasi (+90 224 724 2648)
- Kütahya – Ahmet Bey (+90 274 513 20 90)
- Şaphane – Piknik Restaurant (+90 274 551 2242)
And in terms of water, I only ever carried a 1.5-liter bottle with me. One of the great things about the EÇW is that all along the route, you pass yalaks (watertroughs) and çeşmes (drinking fountains). I never found the water undrinkable and filled my bottle every chance I got (from the spout, not the trough!). Also, if there is a stretch of trail with a noticeable lack of yalaks, the guidebook is good about letting you know this.
Money, money, money
Just to sum up the hotel and food sections and give you an idea of how much you’ll need total, I spent 682 TL ($340) over the course of 27 days, which averages out to around $13 a day. This includes everything – the ferry to Yalova, bus back to Istanbul, any other dolmuş or bus rides, hotels, meals, and groceries.
Something to be aware of is that this figure is far lower than it should be – again and again I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people I met. I don’t think I paid for a single cup of tea in the villages, and many of my meals were provided by the families who invited me to stay with them. When you’re budgeting for the trek, it may be wise to plan to spend a little more on food just in case.
Navigation and trail finding
Unlike on the Camino or the Shodoshima circuit, there is no waymarking on the EÇW. Although there are a few yellow signposts at times, the last one I came across was in the village of Baçhekaya – i.e. there are no signposts for the last 12 or 13 days of the walk, so don’t think you’re going crazy for not seeing them. This made the EÇW an entirely different experience, where getting lost swiftly becomes part of your daily routine.
The guidebook says a GPS is essential. As I only got the idea to do this trek after I left the US, I went shopping for a GPS in Istanbul and was astounded by how much they cost there – somewhere in the range of $300-400. In the end, I decided to do the EÇW without one. If you decide to go with a GPS, there is a file of over 500 waypoints that you can download from the website and plug into your GPS (and even if you don’t get one, you can still upload the file into Google Earth for a peek at the route before you arrive).
The route section of the guidebook is divided into suggested stages for each day’s walk, and gives how many kilometers you’ll cover as well as an estimated number of hours you’ll spend walking (it is quite generous and includes time for breaks). On average, you walk around 15 kilometers a day, which takes 6-7 hours to cover. Like the glossary, the directions included are specific, but I found they were not always easy to follow. Here’s a look at how one set of directions reads:
Cross the asphalt diagonally and scramble up the bank on the W/far side, to the ridgetop. Head R/N for 900m across rough hillside with sparse fields, following the ridge to join a tractor track. Turn L and follow the tractor track for 200m and then turn R/NW. Descend to a gully and ascend across a hillside, over the ridge to a junction with tractor track just below.
Two tips from my own experience: Firstly, it is possible to do the route without a GPS – but it’s absolutely essential you have a compass. Mine was $7 from the Atlas Outdoor shop I referenced above, and I would not have made it to Simav without it. There were a few times when I was lost in the woods, and I literally just pointed the compass in whatever direction I needed to be walking in and walked.
Secondly, except for sections in the forest, there was often an asphalt alternative, and if need be – for instance, if nightfall was approaching or if I’d just had enough of being lost for the day – I would retreat from less clear paths and take a paved road to the next village. I also asked farmers and shepherds for directions whenever I could, who could at least point me to the next village; in this way, each day’s walk was often a series of smaller victories, where I was happy simply to make it from village to village.
Helpful Turkish phrases
It wasn’t often that I came across someone who could speak any English, but this also meant that I learned more of the language than I ever have anywhere else in the world. As something of a language buff, I was thrilled by the challenge. Like I mentioned above, the guidebook’s glossary is fantastically useful, but here are a few words and phrases to get you started:
- Hello = merhaba
- How are you? = nasılsın
- Good (in response) = iyim
- Thank you = teşekkür ederim
- Thanks (informal) = sağol (sounds like ‘sow’)
- Welcome = Hoş geldiniz (literally “It’s nice you came”)
- Your response to hoş geldiniz = Hoş bulduk (literally “I find it nice”)
- I’m sorry, I speak very little Turkish = Maalesef, çok as Türkçe (with çok being pronounced like ‘choke’)
- Tent (for explaining when you want to camp) = çadır (pronounced chadur)
- Food = yemek
- How much? = Ne kadar?
- Where? = Nerede?
- Walk (for explaining what exactly it is you’re doing to people) = yürümek or gezmek
A couple other useful sites:
- Manisha Turkish – a free Turkish learning website
- Matador Network – 12 extraordinarily useful Turkish phrases
Just about every person I met along the EÇW warned me about dogs – köpek in Turkish – as well as bears, wolves, and wild pigs. I’m relieved to say I never had a problem with any of the above, nor were there any close calls. The dogs are definitely not friendly, but the worst ones I came across were always on chains. Otherwise, they’re sheepdogs, and their shepherd is never far away to call them back. I also started carrying a stick with me after a few days, just in case I needed to fend off any unwelcome encounters.
As a woman walking alone, I had a few other concerns on my mind, and well, there were a couple of tricky moments – it happened twice that pairs of teenage or 20-something guys followed me out of a village, but nothing serious ever came of it. As I’ve written about in regards to traveling in India, it’s important to listen to your gut and discern whether or not a person can be trusted. When I felt even remotely threatened, I walked as fast as I could and wasn’t afraid to raise my voice to let someone know they should leave me alone.
A final note on not giving up
Something to be aware of about the EÇW is the lack of what I’m calling “pilgrim culture” around the trail. In Spain, the 400,000 people who walk the Camino each year are called peregrinos, and the large number of pilgrims means you develop an incredible sense of camaraderie along the way.
In Japan, pilgrims are called ohenro-san and they always wear white kimonos. I bought a white kimono jacket from the main temple that immediately let locals know what I was doing – just in case the massive pack on my back didn’t. Although I never met another walking pilgrim on the Shodoshima 88-Temple Circuit (only scores of Japanese doing the circuit by bus), it was still nice to know that what I was doing was defined and understood.
The role of a walking pilgrim doesn’t really exist in Turkey. Every person I met said the same thing – “But that’s so far! And so difficult! Aren’t you afraid? Don’t your shoulders hurt?” As the trail is so new, they didn’t understand what I was doing – and more importantly, why I would bother – and having to explain this countless times certainly made me question the whole endeavor at times.
But here’s the thing: It is possible, and it’s a chance to push yourself on every level.
Now that I’ve finished, people sometimes say how brave I was to do the trek alone. Believe me – if you could have seen me huddled in my tent at night, jumping at every noise and crackle in the woods, you would not have pointed at me and said, “That is the picture of bravery.” But what made it all worth it to me, what kept me walking day after day, was the extraordinary kindness I was shown.
Apart from the occasionally snarky shepherdess – like the one who shooed me away when I tried to ask her for directions – so many people went out of their way to help me, and what I missed in sharing the journey with other pilgrims was made up for in discovering new friendships along the way.
If you get to a point where you’ve had enough of the trail or can’t take being lost anymore, take a day off. Find a nice hotel, get a shower and good meal, and maybe call home to your family or friends for a little de-brief session. I took several days off, either just to explore an interesting town or to work on a project, and each time I returned to the trail refreshed and ready for a new week of challenges – and with a renewed sense of belief in what I was doing.
My mother asked me an interesting question about the EÇW – What one truth did you discover that would make me want to take the time, energy, and emotional challenge of this trek? – and well, I’m not sure I’ve processed the experience enough yet to know what that one truth is. But what I do know right now is that I’ve never felt a greater sense of accomplishment in myself, or an even greater sense of gratitude for those who helped me along the Way.
Here’s one last look at some of the people who made the Evliya Çelebi Way for me – and who I have no doubt you will cross paths with there as well.