Curious Journey: East to West along a Turkish River

A Winding, Quixotic Journey Down A Turkish River

By Kristina Kulyabina

East to West along a Turkish RiverImagine traveling down the Turkish Meander River for 550 km in a one-man canoe. Travel writer Jeremy Seal made this into his reality, which he impeccably captures within his novel Meander: East to West Along a Turkish River. Seal has been researching and writing about Turkey for many years as his life-long fascination. His book illustrates not only his personal journey along the windy and debris-occupied river, but also in depth historical facts crucial to understanding this body of water.

Meander: East to West Along a Turkish River is filled with detailed maps and photographs to familiarize readers with the Meander Valley region and to help develop visualization. Seal implements excellent research and historical facts regarding ancient times, some of which he acquired from former Turkey travelers as well as the locals. He intertwines key adventurers, such as Xerxes, Alexander the Great and the Crusader Kings, while de describes his own journey from Turkey’s steppe interior to the great port city of Miletus – home of the very first Western philosophers.

Seal’s encounters help him develop a vivid illustration of a river that first brought the cultures of East and West Turkey together, and later on apart. He truly reveals a rural Turkey on the cusp of change including recent industrialization deteriorating the river’s natural beauty, and also makes overall bold claims for his region. Seal’s love for Turkey is obvious, but it does not prevent him from showcasing its flaws and failings. Although his subject matter is serious, he does manage to pull off a funny voice in the majority of his passages while maintaining a passionate and knowledgeable portrait of Turkey. Ultimately, Meander: East to West Along a Turkish River is an excellent introduction of history and culture for anyone planning to visit the Meander Valley of Turkey.

Excerpt from Chapter Five

The bag was at the hotel. It was heavy, but not for what it contained. From the moment I had first stumbled upon the Meander I knew that the only way to tackle the river was by being on it; there a man might surrender to the windings, pit himself against the currents and so get closer to the truth of things, all the while putting himself beyond the reach of the local kangals.

The boat, which I had bought in England, suggested a convenience as high-tech and portable as a folding bike. The collapsible craft, to give it another name, actually had established expeditionary antecedents; canvas kayaks had served in the Second World War, and the Lady Alice, the transport that had carried Henry Morton Stanley down the Congo a century earlier still, had likewise broken down into transportable sections.

The Victorian explorer was on a considerably bigger river, of course, and where he had hundreds of native porters at his command, I currently relied on the bemused goodwill of a Turkish lawyer. The sections of Stanley’s boat, so much bigger than the component parts in my bag, built up into a forty-foot steamboat; mine was a one-man canoe weighing just eleven kilos. It was hard to believe that there could be sufficient room for my luggage, little that there was of it, through the more immediate worry was not so much fitting into the canoe as fitting the canoe into the Meander.

For Dinar’s fitches had been troubling me from the moment I first encountered them. It was not possible to believe that anything could ever come of their sorry litter-strewn blows and brutal lines. Industrialization appeared to have done for the historic river that I had discovered in my researches and even now imagined to be: the river that Cyrus’s forces on their way to Celaenae had once crossed by a prototype pontoon bridge almost 200 feet wide; that a nineteenth-century visitor, alive to his readers’ reference points, had compared to the Moselle, or to the Forth at Stirling; and that numerous ferry crossings were still serving in the mid-twentieth century.

Travel writer and author Jeremy Seal.
Travel writer and author Jeremy Seal.

While it might be argued that the Meander must be given time to grow, the complaint stood that it might by now have provided for a canoe at home on the most modest trout stream.

So much, then, for the departure that might have been, Truecheroes, Darkeyes, and Wolve’s valley watchers all wishing me well as I paddled out of town. The only thing for it was to walk on until the river grew big enough to accommodate the canoe.

Turgay Darkeye was sorry to see me leave. ‘We love you,’ he declared. I appreciated the sentiment, supporting that Turgay spoke for the wider hotel crowd, but it was the parting gift, a box of baklava tied with a pink ribbon, which touched me.

I like baklava, and I liked Turgay Darkeye, the more so for having made me his pastries proxy. Those that ill health barred from such sweet pleasures often tended to begrudge them to others. Diabetes, though it had put him on a parsley diet, had in no way embittered Turgay.

It would be a privilege to honour his generosity by eating the baklava, but later when I might also be able to congratulate myself on successfully negotiating a first stretch of water. I embraced Turgay and set off into the bright morning.

I rejoined the Meander at the confluence of its feeder streams here I had left it in the previous evening, and followed the ditch through Dinar’s nondescript outskirts. I passed close to the train station, traversed an empty market area and reached the edge of town. Here a prison stood by the banks of the Meander.

Turkey has an unbelievable reputation when it comes to prisons. The encounter might then have been suggestive, substantiating my fears by confirming the Meander’s poor start in life; the tough infancy having apparently led to an inevitable first spell inside.

It might, less fancifully, have added up to a tableau so depressing- nick, ditch, concrete, rubbish- as to have stopped me in my tracks. Except that this prison bordered on the picturesque, its features apparently lifted from black-and-white breakout movies: a single guard in a tin helmet surveying a square compound from a whitewashed watchtower with pointy overhanging roof.

There was a washing line hung with what I took to be inmates’ smalls; high wire-topped walls, in the way of a proper jail, but with a gate so oversized it might have been the entrance to a giant’s castle; a dinky visitors’ waiting room for doting mothers; and, against the outside perimeter wall, an outdoor basin with a mirror hung above it…..

The Meander River in Turkey.
The Meander River in Turkey.

The river had barely passed the prison when it too went free, slipping from the concrete ditch to run between root-veined banks of earth.

For a moment, conditioned by captivity to its linear lot, it held course; then it remembered its name and the freedoms it had known above Sucikan, and at last it vegan to deviate, throwing loops, which grew full and fat.

Beyond the river, lines of spring wheat shoots unfurled in the sunshine. Shawled women, rears to the sky, bet with their mattocks to weed around spinach seedlings.

Willow trees rose along banks. Coots scuttled across the clear stream, and the wing strokes of rising herons sounded like beaten carpets beyond the trees. Turtles basked on the banks, ditching inelegantly at my approach.

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