A guest post by Matt Conley
One of my passions in life is to dive into other cultures through travel and outdoor adventure. It was during my first camping and hiking trip with some Turkish friends of mine that my belief that outdoor adventure can play a role in making the world feel like a smaller place was confirmed. Experiencing the great outdoors together, as I learned during a two-day trip up Bursa’s Uludağ Mountain, can bond people from vastly different backgrounds, languages, and cultures, and can teach us some important life lessons. This memorable outing altered the way I think and see the world and its people.
We started our trip by camping near the mountainside village of Soğukpınar on the south side of Uludağ. That evening as we enjoyed our meal together, I learned my first lesson of the trip from my Turkish friends: the absence of a kitchen should never compromise the presence of good food. Dinner that night consisted of fresh french fries, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and peppers, all fried over an open fire and served with fresh bread.
After stuffing ourselves, we sat around the fire with swollen bellies, working hard to share stories the best we could across our two very different languages. The beautiful thing about the charades-infused, overly simplified “Turk-lish“ stories we shared was the laughter that resulted. So much detail was lost in translation, yet somehow everyone’s stories were met with hilarity and roaring laughter. Perhaps our laughter was due to how ridiculously hard we tried to make ourselves understood, or perhaps it was simply from the joy that comes from the realization that despite the barriers in language and culture, we really aren’t all that different from each another.
The following morning we were all up early to get a start on a long day of hiking. We gathered our supplies and headed up the mountain with the goal of reaching the 2,500-meter (8,000-foot) summit known locally as Yalancı Zirve (False Peak). After our first two hours of hiking, we stopped at a mountain waterfall to enjoy our breakfast to the sound of trickling water. But it was at breakfast that I realized that my Turkish friends had never been higher than this point on the southern slope and that there actually was no known trail beyond the waterfall. It’s a good thing that a sense of adventure and a strong desire to not admit defeat cross cultural divides, because for the next five hours we slowly and painstakingly crawled our way up a treacherous, 60-degree rocky incline. Loose rocks and relentless sun made our packs full of camera gear, water, lunch, and safety equipment feel all the heavier.
As we slowly ascended the rocky slope, we heard what sounded to us like the distant clanging of bells. We eventually learned that these bells belonged to a herd of goats roaming an adjacent ridge above us. At first, we appreciated the goats as they gave us something to watch and listen to as we struggled up the slope. It wasn’t long, however, until they became a source of fear. As the incredibly agile animals traipsed along the rocky ridge above us, they would occasionally dislodge basketball-sized rocks that uncontrollably tumbled down the steep slope next to us until coming to rest somewhere around the waterfall that we had relaxed at hours earlier.
As the hours wore on and the slope felt steeper and the packs felt heavier, more than once we considered turning back down the mountain in retreat. But each time we asked ourselves that question, we agreed that descending the loose, rocky slope would probably be more dangerous than continuing upward. Plus, we were all driven by the culturally transcendent desire to complete what we had started. So we pressed ahead, encouraging and pushing and helping and relying on each other for each step up the mountain.
Needless to say, it was a fine moment of relief when we reached the point where the mountain relented its steep slope and began to level out to a gentle uphill walk. Our approach to the summit was a defining moment of the trip for me: we hadn’t quite reached the top of the mountain, but we had together conquered the most difficult task of the journey and realized the goal well within our reach. We rejoiced, laughed, and reflected with elation on what we had just accomplished together, and a bond was built and friendships were deepened that will last our lifetimes. And our newly forged brotherhood made the view from the summit even sweeter.
This hiking trip is unquestionably an experience that I will treasure my whole life. The adventure was great and the views were beautiful, but it is the memories made with my Turkish friends that I will remember most as we struggled across barriers in language and culture to discover our commonalities, combine our resources, learn to rely on each other, and reach a lofty goal. These are life lessons learned on an Uludağ hike.