Lisa has abundant energy and wants to keep walking. Sara and I have less energy. We decide to hitch-hike ahead and meet Lisa and the others in Pydnai, a 15km walk away and the starting point of Patara – the 12/14/16/18/20*km beach.
We have to walk back along the way we came for a few kilometres before taking a different road. Before long we have a ride on a milk truck. This truck is collecting, not delivering milk, and stops frequently to meet old ladies with metal buckets by the roadside. The man sticks a device in and pours a little milk on his hand to determine the quality. Sara and I, both vegans, ride in the back of the pick-up with the milk, clinging on for dear life and squealing every time we round a corner and milk sloshes over us in waves.
We’re dropped at a crossroads. There’s no town or village marked on the map, but here we find shops, dolmuşes and a çay shop, along with maybe one-hundred-thousand greenhouses of tomatoes. It’s a strange place, made stranger when we meet a young albino with woggly eyes who asks us lots of questions, and his shy gawky sister who merely smiles and stares. Soon enough a car stops and we’re on our way again…
Kınık is a small town, but appears a giant city after days of fields and forest. We buy some supplies and sate our watermelon craving in a school playground, then hitch a ride out again. The man takes us to the end of the road at Pydnai, where he owns a pretty pension, with some of the tables and chairs right on the river itself. He says we can camp here for free, and shows us to a small patch of stony ground, perhaps large enough for my own small two person tent.
While waiting for our friends, we get chatting to a couple of German backpackers, Felix and Carl. They’re walking the Lycian Way too. Somehow we’re the only other trekkers they’ve seen the whole time they’ve been walking. They thought they were alone on this trail – a vision we ruin completely, telling them we saw forty people the preceeding day. We invite them to camp with us. Our friends arrive and after dinner we all trek into the woods and set up camp there, on an altogether nicer, grassier patch of land. Most of the Turkish guys have gone, only Deniz the guide is left along with Lisa, Sara, Ben, myself and the two Germans.
Raki and music by the fire, finally we get to hear Ben play his trumpet – the only thing he’s been carrying with him this whole time, since he left most of his bags back at the pension where we first met him. He thought he’d be back a day later.
It’s a very windy beach. No other tourists in sight, and all the women are fully-dressed locals in head-scarves. The further we walk, the windier it gets. We manage a quick swim and try to enjoy lying in the sun, with scarves over our faces to protect mouths and eyes from sandstorms, which seep in anyway through tiny cracks. But who’s this? Could it be… yes it is! – our foxy dog friend from Kabak and Pirate Bay. But now we are 30-40km from either of those places. This dog must really be the spirit of Lycia, we decide.
Finally we give up trying to enjoy this beach. We hitch a ride for Ben to Fethiye and hug goodbye. He’s got a lift with a very smiley man, who’s smiling particularly at Sara and myself. Another goodbye, another chapter turning. More wet eyes, especially Lisa.
A little forlorn at the loss of our adventure buddy, we three walk slowly back in the direction of the camp we made last night. Somehow after hitching Ben’s ride we’re on the wrong side of the river. Walking around a house in search of a way across, we’re waved at by a man and woman drinking çay on their balcony. They invite us to join them. Sara and I answer the Turkish questions as best we can – Sara somewhat better than myself. When we get up to leave, they send the daughter out to pick tomatoes for us from their garden. They give us some water and when they see where we’re trying to get to, send both the daughter and son to take us across in their boat. “Every day,” says Sara in wonder, “every day something wonderful like this happens to us. How lucky we are.”
Back at camp we three sit around the fire. We’re almost ready for bed when some car headlights flash into our clearing. A car drives right in beside us. “Merhaba!” says the smiling smiley man who we hitched Ben a ride with. He has a friend in the seat next to him, but we can’t see his face very clearly. Oh god, what is this man doing here, driving into the woods to find us? How can he know where we are? Could Ben have told him?
“Problem var mı?” asks Sara, curtly. He mumbles something about giving our friend a ride and getting to Fethiye safely. We thank him shortly. He waits, presumably for us to invite him over, which we don’t. “If there is no problem,” saya Sara in Turkish, “then good evening.” Pause. “Good evening,” he says, and drives off – first coming closer into the clearing, turning around and shining his headlights on both our tents. He leaves, smiling and waving. Shit. Now what?
We have a brief chat. None of us feel safe now. Our security has been compromised. But we’re also very tired and moving will be a pain. Damn, damn, damn, why did this have to happen the one night we’re all women? “What if he brings back more of his friends?” says Lisa. Ok, that’s it then, we have to move.
We pack our tents quickly and head back to the pension, put one tent up on the other side of the shonky bridge and all sleep in together. We’re not sure if the guys at the pension understand what our problem was, but anyway our çay is free tonight, as well as our camping.
We get a lift to Kınık in the morning with the man from the pension. He lets us pick some of the small orange fruits “yeni dunya” (New World) from the tree outside his house on the way. From Kınık we walk to Xanthos, ancient capital of Lycia.
The men drinking çay greet us warmly and decide not to take our entrance fee money. We leave our bags in a cupboard and go to explore. A small yet strong looking prune-like character becomes our self-designated tour guide and tells us about the place in his own blend of English, Turkish and German. We learn that the city was burned down not once, not twice, but three times – and two of those were the inhabitants themselves, who locked up all of the women, children and slaves and set fire to them, before committing suicide themselves. Pride can do crazy things to people.
Perhaps seeing that we’ve given this man some lira, two other men decide to escort us, but the energy is different and we quickly leave to picnic under a tree nearby. A teenage boy comes over and gives us some carrots, before walking quickly and shyly away. “Every day,” says Sara again in wonder.
We hitchhike to Patara. “Where do you want to go?” ask our drivers, two Turkish men. “Plaj!” (beach) we tell them. We drive in, through and out of the small village quickly and wind up a road on the other side. “Close your eyes,” our driver tells us. We do as directed, giggling in the back. “Now open!”
“Woooooooowww!” all three of us exclaim in unison. We’re looking down over kilometres of pristine beach and mountainous sand-dunes. It’s like a dream, like another planet. We clamber down the sand with our backpacks, find a nice hidden place to camp and watch the sun go down. The last edge of red orb sinks into the ocean, the sky glows a final peach-pink and shadow sweeps the dunes. 12/14/16/18/20*km of beach which allegedly close at 7pm. Somehow we can’t imagine being chased from this place – our little tents hidden from view in a small sand-valley encircled by small trees. You couldn’t paint a more perfect picture than this.
As usual we’re short of food and water. A shame because I want to live here on this beach forever. We walk the few kilometres to the touristic end of the beach, a far cry from the windy locals end 12/14/16/18/20*km away. Here it’s all British accents, sun loungers and wonky swimsuits barely covering white and red blotched flab.
Bartering for our dinner in Gelemiş, the small village, we’re offered a free place to sleep on the roof of a pension. To me it’s a warm night, but the woman comes up just as we’re settling down to sleep. She says it’s too cold and is worried about some men who may have seen us going upstairs. We’re given a small room with three beds and an en-suite bathroom. Our first beds in many days, but unused to the stuffiness we get little sleep and are bitten alive by mosquitoes. Still, we feel very grateful. (“Every day!” Says Sara).
Deniz meets us for breakfast. He’s walking the next part of the Way with Lisa, while Sara and I take it easy and hitch-hike to Kalkan, after a bit of çay and gözleme of course.
I step out of the gözleme place, raise my thumb and the next car stops. We’re in Kalkan 15 minutes later, calling our CS host to tell him we’ve arrived.
*the length of Patara beach remains undetermined.
People sometimes comment on how I never write anything personal on my blog. Well, it all feels personal to me. I suppose this post feels more so somehow though, like I’m opening myself a lot. It’s hard to write about something as personal as a retreat without doing so, even if it doesn’t feel like much is happening at the time.
We went to the Outer Rushen retreat, with Keith Dowman as a teacher. It was held near a small village in Hungary, somewhere in the Bakony mountains. It’s not so remote, but as remote as it gets in Hungary.
I have spent a long time editing the bits and pieces of my diary that I wrote during the retreat into something like a blog entry, but somehow it doesn’t read well. This is an attempt at starting again. I’m not even sure I should bother writing about the retreat as it doesn’t seem so immediately of interest to other people as the political stuff and travel tales, but my blog will feel incomplete to me if I miss it out. So here goes…
Each morning begins with a group meditation session in the one big room, which I will refer to as the Shrine Room. Keith sits at the front on a stool behind a little table with a bell and a vajra. He’s facing us. Everyone stands when he comes in until he is seated, then we sit, everyone cross-legged or kneeling on their little cushions.
Silence for some minutes, then Keith says “the 9 breaths”. It’s hard to explain why this is funny for me, but anyway, I don’t laugh. This is our cue. Everyone slowly raises one hand and places their middle finger over one nostril, exhaling loudly in unison. Three times, then swap nostrils. Then both nostrils uncovered. Some people are more emphatic about this than others.
Now it’s time for the meditations. Guru Yoga, then the red and blue Hung visualisations, followed by the red and blue vajras. What’s a Vajra? What’s a Hung? They are symbols. I have a sheet with a Hung in front of me, red on one side, blue on the other. What does it mean? Couldn’t tell you. Apparently it’s very complicated and hard to explain. The final meditation isn’t a visualisation, but Purification of Thought: “If a thought is arising, look at the place of the arising; if it’s abiding, look at the nature of the thought; if the thought is dissolving, look at the place of it’s dissolution.” My thoughts are all over the place. I’m thinking about thinking about thinking about the thought about thinking about a though. I’m confused.
After a little pep talk from Keith we are each to our own again. Traditionally this retreat is to be practised in complete solitude, for three months. This is a Westernised version, calling for “relative solitude” for ten days. There are twenty of us and we are each to have our tents at least 100m apart. There’s a lot of space up here: woods, meadows, etc. There are also a lot of loggers and hunters. We are warned not to put our tents up within view of a hunting tower, lest we get shot at.
It rains relentlessly for the first three days. The main part of the practice is suspended, as Keith says it’s not supposed to be an endurance test. We are just milling about, meditating in the morning and again late afternoon. I am having a lot of doubts. I think about leaving several times. This retreat is a lot of money. Is it a waste of time for me?
I put my tent up before we were given the proper instruction for the practice. After some days it becomes evident I am not in a good position. When the rain eventually stops I can hear people chatting and laughing back at the house where the kitchen is. Quite a few people haven’t started the practice yet because of the rain and have been sleeping in a dorm in the house with a woodburner and sitting around chatting and eating all day. It’s more like a very expensive social camping event than a deep retreat and seems like odd behaviour for people who’ve spent so much money to come here – many for the third or fourth time. My tent can also be seen from one of the paths. I think again about leaving, but am persuaded by Pete and a woman named B_ to continue. I decide to move somewhere further away, also to go into silence for three days, fast during the daytime and be in as much solitude as possible. If that doesn’t work, nothing will.
I take some vegetables from the kitchen and move all of my stuff to a deeper darker forest half an hour’s amble from the house. I pass two hunting towers on the way, fortunately they are unoccupied.
I open a circle around my new space. This is a Buddhist retreat, but I practiced Witchcraft for years, and these rituals feel more comfortable. The movements, gestures and words come back to me like an old friend. Down in the woods outside my grove I see a man. It’s Keith, looking like father Christmas in his red jumper and white beard. What’s he doing here? He wanders off and reappears a little closer some minutes later. I continue what I’m doing, very aware of his presence. He stands and watches me for a long time. I’m walking around my circle, doing various things. The third time I turn my back, he’s gone.
I’m back at the house gathering some last supplies. Some of the guys are having tics pincered out of them by ‘Uncle Joe’, the funny little Hungarian man from the kitchen. The forests are teaming with them and one quick roll on the ground leaves you covered in about 30, making for a long and unhappy time in the bathroom with a pair of tweezers. Keith comes by. I’d like to talk with him about seeing him in the forest, but I’m nervous. Why I should feel nervous I don’t know. I’m not in my element here and it has a strange effect on me. Finally I go over to sit with him where he’s talking to some of the other men. He seems nervous too somehow. He asks if it was me he saw earlier. Apparently he was looking for his friend who looks after him. She’s put her tent out that way somewhere too. Maybe he thought I was her, from a distance we both have long hair. Suddenly I see him just as an old man and not a teacher at all. I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s funny, but this almost sounds blasphemous. I’m thinking of the way some of the others speak to him. One man in particular, with utter devotion and adulation, calls him “Maszter” and is constantly at his beck and call. “Master, would you like something to eat?” “Master, is there something I can get you?” I realise this is a traditional way to interact with your teacher, but my modern Western mind finds it difficult. I wonder if Keith finds it difficult too, or if he likes it, or just thinks it’s normal?
The main part of the practice, the Outer Rushen, is basically to act out suffering, like an induced madness. This can be done formally or informally. I began with the formal method, working through each of the realms on the Wheel of Life (a Buddhist concept which was previously unfamiliar to me) in turn. Visualise, then vocalise, then physically act out each realm. Now I decide to try the informal method, just acting out whatever impulse comes. I’m trying, trying, trying. The new space feels better and I can move into the practice a little more, but it’s still stunted and stuttering. I find myself jumping around for a few minutes then just sitting down, bored, staring into space. Keith says the intellect doesn’t like this game, it’s harder than it sounds. Maybe. I can’t get past this feeling like a waste of time. I’ve been sleeping a lot, mostly out of boredom. I am extremely untired. I long for my book, which I left back in the van. The purpose of this practice? To separate Samsara from Nirvana – I think just so we can recognize them as the same thing when we put them back together again at the end. Confused? Me too.
I do venture down from my grove on a couple of occasions, to have Pete remove tics from me and if I’m honest, out of boredom. When my three days are up I take a long walk down to the van and return smiling and brandishing my book. I have made it through, now I can read.
On the last day is a feast, a “Ganapuja“. It involves meat and wine. I am drinking wine these days, but I haven’t had meat for four years. I’ve been warned it’s coming and asked if I’ll eat some. It seems unlikely. I can’t think of a particularly good reason for doing so and unless Keith tells me one I’m sticking to the bean burgers Pete and I are cooking.
Before the Ganapuja we have a field trip to an old Soviet nuclear bunker. It’s a spooky place where a number of massive nuclear warheads were stashed, waiting to strike out at Milan or London. There is a satellite tower to climb, up a rickety metal ladder and an underground shelter. It’s like another kind of Rushen, in a way.
The Ganapuja is followed by drinking, wine and music round a fire. The ‘music’ is a digeridoo and several tubs and things that people drum on. One is a proper drum. I don’t eat the meat, but Pete does and so do all but one of the other vegetarians. While I’m handing round the cake we baked Keith asks if I ate the meat. I tell him no. He says he thinks I should. I tell him I don’t really feel like eating meat right now thanks. He says I should do it to show my commitment to “the Dzogchen way of life”. Well, I don’t have a commitment to the Dzogchen way of life, and I’m not going to eat meat just because somebody tells me to.
Why did I come on this retreat? After going to some seminars of James Low, another Western Dzogchen teacher, in Berlin and having a very profound “falling into place” experience, I felt drawn to this type of practice. Pete emailed me the details and I just thought, yeah, why not. I didn’t know the price until much later, by which time I had already made up my mind to come. Unfortunately, this retreat has put me off Dzogchen, Buddhism and retreats in general for now. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for it, maybe this practice isn’t for me at all. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
As anticipated, Zagreb is a big European city with lots of expensive shops and tourist traps. I’s a big contrast to the Serbian cities I visited and there’s evidently a lot more money around. Pete and I find that suddenly we can’t afford things again. Internet is €3 an hour. After some hunting we find a place for €2.50, but it’s so slow it hardly works and the staff deny all knowledge of computers. People are less friendly elsewhere too and finding a free toilet proves impossible, even in the cafe where you have already bought a drink. Capitalism has a strong hold on Croatia it seems.
We find out about an eco-community in a village a couple of hours drive away and decide that will be better for us. We send an email but then decide to just go there anyway as who knows when they will check their email. We park up for a night in a forest on the way.
The people in Recycled Estate at Vukomeric are surprised to see us. There are not many people around and those who are seem very busy, but we still get a guided tour of the land they own before being left loitering around the kitchen area where we drink lots of fresh herbal tea and wait for people to stop for lunch. When they do we jump on the chance to help cook. Pete makes his now infamous potato pouffas and I make a salad with fresh leaves from their garden and the last of our wild garlic. I’m glad we stayed as more people arrive and we all sit together to eat around a large outdoor table. Now we get a chance to speak with people properly and find out more about their project and Croatia in general.
Nobody lives at the project yet, but a few people plan to eventually. Most people live in the city and come down to work over the weekends or during the week, depending on what other work they do. The land has been owned by the collective for a long time – I think they said 10 years! The way I understand it, the first group of people were very young and excited by the possibilities of the place, but didn’t know what they were doing. Eventually some of the energy diminished and people left the project, but then it gradually began to pick up again as new people came along and the remaining original people grew up and learned the skills they needed to look after the place.
Now they have acquired more land and people are taking on individual projects as well as joint projects in different sections. They also run training courses and other events regularly. We promise to keep in touch and plan on coming back this way to visit again after Hungary. We are also interested in some other eco-village projects in Istrija, a peninsula in the North-Western part of Croatia. We also learn that there are usually more people around at weekends, but some of them are staying in a protest camp in the centre of Zagreb. Well, this gives us an excuse to go back. We had heard of the protest, but after hearing no more about it had assumed it had finished. Now we find out it’s alive and kicking.
On returning to the city, we find a couchsurfing host who is active in feminist politics and one of the organisers of the annual Pride event. She lives in a shared house with some other smiley queers from various countries who are all very lovely and interesting. Our host tells us a little more about the protest site as well as about a squat social-centre near the city centre. We go to visit both, making our short stay in Zagreb quite a busy one.
Sadly the squat isn’t much to speak of. Maybe we came at a bad time. Like in Germany, this isn’t really a squat at all now as they have permission to use the building and pay some rent, but people still call it a squat, perhaps because it looks like one. At the time we visit in the early afternoon it’s occupied by a small group of drunk people sitting around telling offensive jokes. We stay for a small coffee, then leave.
The protest site is far more promising and I leave feeling excited and homesick. It has the smell of the UK Climate Camps about it – people occupying a street with sleeping bags, board games and a cheery atmosphere. We meet and chat to some people and bump into one of our friends from Vukomeric, who is pleased to see we found it ok.
The group who initiated the protest, Zelena Akcija (“Green Action”) have an office and a small centre around the corner. The group is more Friends of the Earth than Green Anarchist, but for some reason they have the best anarchist book library we’ve seen since leaving the UK. This is the kind of place we could both spend hours just reading, but we’ve decided to leave today to start driving north to Hungary.
Below is an article I have written for Schnews about the protest site in Zagreb:
Right to a City (or insert witty title here)
Protesters occupy a pedestrian street in Croatia’s capital and are demanding the mayor’s resignation.
Spirits were high when Schnews visited an assortment of students, NGO representatives, disgruntled residents and dreadlocked activists camping out on Varšavska, a pedestrian street in the centre of Zagreb. At the time of writing, the occupation is around two weeks old and is the latest tactic in a two and a half year campaign against a dodgy development by tycoon-owned HOTO Group. The development has the unconditional backing of city mayor Milan Bandić and was ok-ed by the Minister of Environmental Protection, Planning and Construction – unsurprising as she has shares in the construction company set to carry out the work.
This stage of the campaign began early on Monday 17th May as contractors erected a metal fence around Varšavska – a public space soon to be privatized and turned into an access ramp for the private investor’s underground car park. The entrance was blocked by activists in the morning, stopping any further work. At midday they were joined by several hundred city residents who hammered on the fence and eventually pulled it down and occupied the area. Now the fence itself is used by protestors to form a tent-like structure, over which they have draped clear tarpaulin. A long line of sleeping bags are neatly laid out inside. Activists are keen to stress the non-violent and alcohol-free nature of the space.
There is a huge amount of public support with local residents bringing food and hot drinks to support the occupation and protests have attracted numbers unheard of in Croatia. On May 20th, 4,000 people marched to Zagreb City Council demanding the resignation of Mayor Bandić over the dodgy plans. In an effort to encourage him to “pack his bags” and find a new job, protestors helpfully piled up suitcases outside the council building.
The site was previously occupied earlier this year using shipping containers. That occupation lasted 10 days but was evicted forcefully by riot police in the middle of the night with 23 arrests, out of which five were charged, none convicted. The real casualty was the trojan horse – a giant wooden structure built by activists and presented to the City Administration as a symbol of all swindles and deception related to the project. The horse was brutally broken apart using cranes in a two hour long eviction in the snow.
Complaints against the development include concerns about restricted emergency vehicle access, increased traffic and of course the loss of a well-loved hang-out area, several large trees and protected cultural heritage buildings in the old part of the city. There is now a belated investigation by the state anti-corruption office USKOK of potential criminal liability in issuing the permits for the construction of the “lifestyle” HOTO Centre, luxury flats and car park. This follows several months of corruption charges against Croatian politicians, in which the Vice President and Minister of Defense are still awaiting court decisions.
The protestors, gathering under the banner “Right to a City”, have vowed to continue their occupation of Varšavska for as long as is necessary to stop the project. They say, “this is not just about this street, this is a symbol of the fight against corruption in Croatia. The system is rotten”.
More information (in Croatian): http://pravonagrad.org