Explore Product and Operations Director John Telfer recently had the chance to return to a much-loved country of his - Turkey - to trek the Saint Paul Trail. Here, he gives a somewhat irreverent viewpoint of the trip!
"Saint Paul Trail. Doesn’t sound exciting does it? Did Saint Paul actually walk along this trail? Probably not and frankly, who cares? Want bragging rights from your precious holiday – well no-one will ever have heard of the places that we stay in. (Imagine, in a slightly braying accent, “Oh yes, you just MUST go to Caltepe”).
Let’s reset. Want to walk through stunning scenery, meet the locals in places totally off the tourist trail, wander through little-visited Roman ruins and eat fabulous food? Well then, this trip is for you. Reasons not to take this trip are churches or anything about Saint Paul - the name was applied to a long distance route in an attempt to give it historic context. The entire route it is 500km long, so if you want to walk all of it, don’t come to us. Instead, flog your earthly possessions on Ebay and take a sabbatical. What we have done is cherry-pick the absolute best of the trail, which meanders from Lake Egirdir in western Anatolia down towards the coast. (We don’t even do it in the right direction for godsake!)
Let me nail my preferences and prejudices to the mast. I have been travelling to Turkey for the last 30 years – indeed I spent two seasons leading tours there in the early 80s. I honeymooned in Turkey (which was a little tense at times – I remember standing at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere for five hours in the blazing sun with my wife and suitcase, protesting that we didn’t have to wait much longer for a bus). Anyhow, one of the places I'd visited was Lake Egirdir - a beautiful lake whose hues (that was almost poetic) shift in the course of the day and where an isthmus snaggles out into the waters – still covered by old ottoman houses. This is the start of the Explore trek.
Almost all Turkish place names mean something – in fact the name was changed from Egridir to Egirdir. Not surprising really as the original name meant “it’s twisted” while the new means the perhaps slightly more appealing “it's spinning”. I was slightly frustrated as I went to the local commando outfitter shop (Egirdir is a military training centre) to find I couldn’t fit into any of the t-shirts. However, I managed to make the most of it as, for me, sitting on a balcony toasting the setting sun with a glass of Raki is one of the top experiences on the planet.
The next few days were spent in village houses, simple pensions and hotels. Our bus taking the odd hop, skip and jump to allow us to walk on the finest routes, wending our way through pine and deciduous forests, along river valleys and through wind-eroded badlands. This is a part of the world where there are travellers rather than tourists, the pace of the trip allowed us to meet the local people (and stay with them on one or two nights), and to be introduced by our Tour Leader to shepherds in the mountains. One of my abiding memories of this trip was walking through a small village and an old Turk coming out and asking how many people were with us – I said 10. He went into his garden and returned with 10 bunches of grapes. We stopped at an old ruin as sun was setting - we were alone there - the rays of the sun turning the limestone a luminescent orange. Priceless.
Whether Saint Paul travelled on the trails we followed – who knows. But what we do know is that there were ancient trading routes. These ancestral memories are brought vividly to life as you wait on ancient rock-hewn steps for flocks of goats to pass by, their arrival preceded by the sound of their tinkling bells.
Towards the end of the trek we walked into the amazing Roman theatre of Selge, 8,700 capacity set at 1000m altitude. And guess what – Saint Paul did come here. (Sorry – I just made that bit up!)."