• 19 December 2013

Any road in the world is a pilgrimage for the faithful

Any road in the world is a pilgrimage for the faithful

Any road in the world is a pilgrimage for the faithful 300 169 Gürkan Genç


The photographs I exhibited between the years 2011-2013 were the beginning, the continuation or the end of the happenings, the experiences which I have harvested and put in words along the road. The design of the exhibition, the details in the photographs…. The set up and presentation was actually a unique work! Many of these photographs had never been presented elsewhere or posted on my homepage. And now, these exhibition photographs are residing on the shelves waiting for me to return (Just to underline, I would have liked to say “residing on dusty shelves” but I’m pretty sure that my mother removes the dust regularly.)

“Gurkan abi (elderly brother in Turkish) it looks as if you try to tell something different apart what your photographs are portraying. Am I right or just imagining?”


I dismount from my bicycle and start to walk. There is the voice of wind whispering through the branches and leaves of the trees, a voice which speaks to me as I enter any forest. I feel as if each sound is telling a different story. I like to stop and listen to stories. The wind stopped as soon as I stopped. I sat on a bank next to me.

I just watch the forest and close my eyes. The road I have come from appears in my mind. I live once more all what I have gone through, my life experiences… I’m breathing deeply in and slowly out.  

Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuwwwwwwwww , hvvvvvvvvv, huuuuffffff

Aslı and Hans work on their thesis in Holland. Anil and Cecile Luca are playing in the garden under the shadow of the French Alps. Oguz is feeding the wood we had cut down during summer into the stove. Mert is cleaning his motorcycle. Onur is trying the new desert recipes out he has learned. Murat is on the way to his work in one of the nice trams in Italy. Benjamin is listening to his unborn child his ear on Nora’s belly.  Nilufer is trying to catch the beautiful sun set from his balcony in Oslo.  All of a suddenly I squeeze my fingers, they hurt, it is cold. Micheal is preparing meal for Sputnik in his kitchen in Sweden.  Orkun is strolling on the streets of Moscow… The sound of snow squeezed under my bike’s wheels still rustling in my ears… Snezhana is having a walk with his dog on the Kiev square watching the sky. As I see Burcin in Moldova, I call her out from Durham: “Alooo Burcin, what if I get a flight ticket and visit you on a week end”, I smile. Sefa is strolling along the streets in Bucharest with his bicycle. Melih has started preparations for his new tour. Ayca is pedaling along the sea cost dreaming of an Africa tour. Enes is struggling with the visa procedure in Istanbul… I smile…. My father is looking at his mobile phone at the construction area. I come closer to see what he is looking for… He is looking on the map to see where I’m. .. Gurhan is in his office working silently with patience… My mother is in a hustle and bustle … Haa, I see where she is running to. I kiss her. I rise up to look down to Ankara.  A very familiar voice is emerging


–          Bro, what’s up? 

–          Can…. Can (A Turkish male name)

All of a sudden my thoughts scatter and I open my eyes. Can my chum…..I slowly walk towards my bicycle and pedal to Durham down the pathway along the river.  Hummm very interesting, a young man from Durham, his name Can had sent a message to me …

The cathedral of the city rising above the streets looks impressive. I stop and photograph.  Then, I come to a fork near city center. I think I better stay at a hostel this time. I’ve my last clean underwear on. I started to change my underwear daily since I have fallen victim to crotch abrasion. I have to wash my underwear. I wait for the car pass to cross the road.

At the same time a young man coming down the hill, slowed down recognizing me. On top of it, he was smiling at me. All right, he might be a long distance tourer knowing well what I’m feeling. Just a possibility…

–          Hi

–          Hi

–          Where are you going to?

–          Towards Edinburg

–          Where will you stay tonight?

–          I’m planning to stay at a hostel. I have to wash my laundry.

–          Okay, you can stay by me.

–          Thank you very much. I would be glad if I can.

–          Not at all. By the way, I’m Thomas

I was thinking that he would invite me and so did he. Thomas’ flat was downtown. Entering his flat my university life came in my mind since it resembled my flat at that time. Four students were sharing this flat. Thomas, Joral, Sylvia and another one who wasn’t at home. They immediately prepared lunch for me and Sylvia offered her room.

–          I really don’t want to bother you Sylvia. I’ll stay only for one night. I didn’t come to disturb you.

–         No, not at all you are our guest and you came from a long way. I wish you feel comfortable.

Thomas tells me why he invited me. He had gone to Rome from Durham last summer cycling all through the pilgrimage route.

–          What did you feel when you arrived in Rome?

–          At the beginning I was scared. On top of it, nobody around me was believing in me. But, now I know that I can succeed in many things if I want to. This pilgrimage made me trust and believe in myself. This was a particular experience. I do understand more or less what you are feeling. 


I shared my Europe and also my Asia road memories and experiences with these students and they shared their experiences related to their university life and dreams which turned in to a nice conversation. Well, now that I met such nice people having such a nice conversation let’s see what I have in my bags for these lovely people. One Liter of gold series Tekirdag raki. Hahahaha. They got very surprised and also very happy. They knew raki of course but it was almost impossible to find and drink raki in this city. We drank a glass of raki together with leblebi (roasted chickpea). I carry leblebi in my bags. Hahaha you see what type a voyager I’m. You may find a bottle of wine in Moldova, a bottle of vodka in Ukraine and a bottle of Tekirdag brand raki with leblebi in England in my bags. Also, baklava (Turkish specialty made of finely layered pastry filled with nuts and steeped in syrup) in Norway. (“Aaaa are you taking alcohol, you do not set a good example” would say some people, I can handle them : )

While we were in a deep conversation, the door opened and the fourth housemate came in. As he saw gold series of Tekirdag brand raki (the conversation in English)

–          Aaa Raki… Where did you find it?

–          Our guest’s offer. He is on a world tour

–          Super. Raki is our traditional beverage.

Well, since this guy said raki is our traditional beverage, I couldn’t make up where he is from. I tried to defend our beverage

–          Yes, it is the traditional spirit of Turkey. And the gold series is the best.

–          Yes, yes I know. I’m also Turk

From this moment on we continued to talk in Turkish.

–          No way dude!!! Are you Turk?

–          Yes abi, who are you?

–          A voyager traveling on his bike you see.

–         No way dude, did you really come all way downwith your bike?

Thomas interrupts us: “Aaa, I forgot to mention that our roommate is a Turk” We started to laugh. His name is Ali making his master degree at Durham University. What a coincidence. He asks me “who are you abi?” I say “I came with my bike”. He says “no way”. Aha my bicycle lies behind the door. He goes out and examines it. 5 minutes after, he writes a message on his Facebook page: “Gurkan Genc who is on a world tour is my guest” Immediately a reply: “Say hello to my Gurkan, kiss him for me” Ahu…

–          Abi do you know Ahu from Istanbul? She is a very close friend of mine.

Wonders never cease! She is also my friend. Look, what came in my mind right away?

We had a tour with the students from Atilim University and other cyclists from Ankara. Afterwards I was having a conversation with them. They were asking me questions about my road memories.  Well, I’m sure they were talking among themselves about my answers and my memories: “F…k it dude, these are all palaver, nobody would face with that many happenings. Now, if say “I introduced raki to a Turk in England” nobody will believe me.

While we were chatting with Ali, Thomas made a phone call and said: “Gurkan, tomorrow I’ll hold a presentation at the university about my journey. There are also other speakers. I talked with my instructor. He wanted me to invite you.”  I accepted and Sylvia had to give his room for one more day.

Can studying at Durham University since 2013 had sent me a message hearing that I’ll be pedaling to England. I try to do my best and try to answer all the messages. I also read Can’s message while on the road but my chum Can was who reminded me that he was in Durham. The next day I sent a message and we met in front of the cathedral.

He had graduated from high school with an honorary degree. He found himself in Durham while his dream was to enter Cambridge University. Can tries to follow the footsteps of his family’s dreams. During our short meeting he showed me around and shared his dreams with me. He talks so impressive that I listen to him for hours. He thanks me and leaves me to attend his lecture. Actually I thank him for giving me both hope and new ideas.

I attend the meeting Thomas invited me in the evening. Prior to the meeting we went out for a nice dinner. I enter the room and sit down at the rear row. The audience takes my attention. Staff, department heads, a reverend and academicians, young people above the age of 60. There aren’t any students. A very familiar case I’m accustomed from my presentations.

First an author holds his speech. He talks about the beauty of life and the road map of god.

Then, another author talks about his pilgrimage route Camina de Santiago in Spain. He shares his experiences and feelings during this pilgrimage.  I realize that how many people prefer to go on a pilgrimage as a means to escape from daily life.  Well, what then? What will you do if this pilgrimage doesn’t satisfy your expectations?

At last Thomas talked about his voyage. His route started from the North of England and ended in Rome. Before he set off, he had read a biography – a life story about a man who walked to the biggest capitals without any money in his pocket.  He walked for peace and to show and prove that people are actually good. Thomas got inspired from this story and set off.

I deepen in my thoughts… To walk for peace, to pedal for the nature, to play for the nature, and many other headings…. Actually, presenting this way, these projects sound meaningless.

I still remember the day when I said to the words of a student standing in front of the “Pedal for Nature” poster. He was saying: “F..k it, he had went for himself” and I replied as: “You are right, the term nature is just a camouflage” Even, a general manager of a company said: “We sponsor him to travel for himself”. But one needs to think about this issue. Assume that someone “X” is realizing the projects “Pedal for Nature” and “Pedal for Future”. What were the goals of these projects? Just attend the presentations of people who realized their dreams and listen to them. Look at me! I was inspired by the presentation of Ahmet Mumcu. I had said: “Aaaa that guy really traveled all around, dude.” Then, thereafter, I added new dreams on my dreams I realized and continue to add.

At the end the head of department:

–          Today we have a voyager as our guest. Actually he is not on a pilgrimage but traveling around the world with his bike). Let us listen to him, what he thinks about the roads of god.

This was a pretty hard unexpected question… I was asked for my opinion about pilgrimage. Sure, I’ll also visit Mecca during my world tour. Sure, I want to see the birth place of the Prophet Mohammad and to visit Kaaba as a faithful. But, I’m not on the road particularly for this reason. Hummmm. Pilgrimage….

“Hi. I’m Gurkan Genc and I travel around the world for the last four years. I believe that I’m a very lucky person having the opportunity to listen to your experiences. Honestly I have no idea about the pilgrimage routes leading to Kaaba. I had never thought about this before.

–          Encountering and helping Popia who was lost to find his owner while I was pedaling in South Korea. This was my pilgrimage.

–         Setting off for Karakum desert forgetting to take any provisions. While I was complaining to myself not coming across even a single building along the 120 km: “How could I ever forget to take any bread?” a truck driver appeared and offered me bread and ayran (salty yoghurt drink). This was my pilgrimage.

–          Getting scared from the silence for the first time pedaling in Gobi desert for days. This was my pilgrimage.

–          Rescuing an almost frozen old woman who had collapsed on the snow pile and guide her to her house in Ukraine. This was my pilgrimage.

–         While I was heading towards the Arctic Circle at minus 36°C in Finland, a driver offering me a thermos bottle full of tea. This was my pilgrimage.

–        Stopping to listen to the voice of forest just 5 minutes before entering the city Durham, gave the opportunity to meet Thomas and you. This is also my pilgrimage. (The stories which ensured Thomas to meet me on the road were also quite interesting.)   

I believe in that, any road in the world is a pilgrimage for the faithful.  



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