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Chapter 30: Strawberry Fields

Anamur, Turkey. May 19-20.

There had been some thought to my stop by Sipahili Bay. About eight kilometers ahead was Gilindire Cave, an attraction which by many accounts should not be missed. The entrance lay with a tremendous view of land and sea, and inside was the most beautiful cave I have ever seen, and I have seen a fair few. What can make a cave beautiful, one might ask? After all, it is in the nature of a cave to be dark, with little to no light.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and humans know what humans like. What makes Gilindire Cave so marvelous to behold is the combination of natural formations and artificial light that make them visible to us. And not just visible - enchanting. The warm light sources placed in unnatural plates makes the atmosphere supernatural as if torches lit up a city under the mountain or burning lava was flowing through the chambers of a volcano. As it often does, my mind wandered to the tales from magical realms, to the dwarven mines of Erebor and Moria that shimmered brightly, but also drew devastation of fire and wroth. Even to Mount Doom, with its fire that could make, and unmake, the most treacherous jewelry imaginable. Gilindire was the former name of nearby city Aydıncık, but it always make me think of a "gilded" cave, as the light truly make it shine as if full of gold. Besides, Gilindire or perhaps Gilindor or Gilindar is a name fitting and worthy of the Middle Earth saga, is it not?

My wild imaginations aside, I believe it is healthy reminder that nature does not care about whether we are able to enjoy it or not. Without lights placed or brought by man, we could not see a thing in any cave, least of all one as deep as this one. But with them, we can experience caves as places of natural beauty. At least, we like to think of it as natural, but is the beauty truly natural if it only exist with artificial aid? Reflecting over this, I gained an increased respect and appreciation for the orchestrators that create, or grant access to, such spectacles, in this case whoever have planned the lighting. Natural or not, the visual atmosphere in Gilindire Cave is top of its class.

My next planned stop was in Kaşdişlen, a village near the town of Anamur. Ahmet in Adana, whom I wrote about in Chapter 27, had arranged for his family to host me there in his childhood home. As l arrived, one of the most important events of the Turkish year was about to unfold: Galatasaray facing off with Fenerbahçe in Turkish Süper Lig, the two biggest teams by some margin in terms of fans, fame and finances. The football game was played in Istanbul but watched all over the country and beyond, gathering extra attention as it could settle the winner for the whole league.

Eventually, the result of the match - Fenerbahçe surprisingly winning despite playing away and with one player sent off - meant they still had the slight chance to topple Galatasaray in the final game of the season, to be played a week later. Everybody watching in the house were Gala fans, which included both family and friends, and they were obviously disappointed over the outcome. Even so, it was engaging to see the passion they shared. After years of working in the sport, football has become more profession than passion for me. I can miss the excitement, the hope of victory and the fear of defeat, being cast between dream and dread. Feeling it through others brought some of it back.

Southern Turkey is known for its strawberries and its bananas, and hosts Yaşar and Güllü had vegetables and fruits of all kinds in their garden. Taking a stroll in the neighborhood with Yaşar didn't lead to much conversation as we shared no language, but love for fresh fruit and berries transcend such artificial limits. I even took the opportunity to stay an extra night in this peaceful paradise, grabbing oranges from the tree just outside the door and literally eating strawberries to my heart's content. These strawberry fields were indeed very real, but while I told Ahmet I would stay forever, I didn't.

The most difficult thing when traveling with a plan and a purpose is not to follow it, but to keep the spirits up when leaving places and people that called for more time. Many have been the moments when I wished to press paus, stay for a week, and then press play when I felt ready for it. But I have to trust the judgement of me when choosing to embark on this quest. Trust that, in pressing forward, i practice that which I need the most. Trust that reaching home is more important, that the grand goal is worth small sacrifices. Even, that the sacrifices are necessary, that they are what make the journey a great one. And so I left the village. In a sense, I had gone from Mount Doom to Hobbiton, but despite the strawberries, the safety and the comforts, I kept going. Into the west.


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