Sunday, September 25, 2016

An urban island nocturne

As modern urban dwellers, we're generally out of touch with the world's natural rhythms, waking to alarm clocks instead of the sunrise and going to sleep under the glow of streetlights that obscure our view of the stars. A friend confessed
Ready to hike through the night.
Photo by Nick Hobbs/Hiking Istanbul.
recently that while newly living in an Istanbul apartment with a Bosphorus view, there were some nights that the water was so brightly illuminated she thought there must be floodlights on at a nearby stadium or construction site. "And then," she said with a laugh, "I realized it was the full moon!"

An urge to overcome that sense of disconnection is part of what drove two dozen nature-starved Istanbul residents to do something a bit mad on a recent Friday night.

The 9 p.m. ferry from Eminönü to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands off the city's coast, was mostly empty. During the hour-and-a-half ride, those of us traveling alone with backpacks and walking shoes eyed each other curiously, finally working up the nerve to ask, "Are you going on the hike?"

Taking in the view.
Photo by Nick Hobbs/Hiking Istanbul.
After disembarking and assembling as a group around 10:30 p.m., we reviewed the plan: to walk through the night under the full moon around the quiet country roads and sparsely wooded paths encircling the island.

The glow of streetlights dogged us for longer than expected, but once we'd escaped their intrusive glare, it was just us and the night. We strode forward surprisingly assuredly under moonlight strong enough to cast shadows of tree branches as distinct as any you'd see in the daytime. The only sounds at times were crickets chirping, a murmur of wind, and the ground crunching underfoot. (Those moments, unfortunately, were few and far between thanks to the loud and banal chatter of a handful of hikers who ignored repeated requests, first politely and then not-so, to allow others to enjoy a quiet walking meditation.)

The empty streets of Büyükada.
From the top of the island, rocky outcroppings glowed white in the moonlight as the lights of the city sparkled far beyond. Though the islands are far from its heaving crowds and densely packed development, Istanbul in some ways never seems so massive as when viewed from this remote vantage point, its buildings upon buildings sprawling out along the distant horizon as far as the eye can see. Beneath us, the rolling slopes of the islands themselves spilled down to the dark sea. Vain attempts to capture the scene photographically only served to show to how much more the eye can see than an iPhone.

As the night wore on, our feet started to move forward almost mechanically as a dreamlike state began to cloud our tired minds. Creating an 18.5 kilometer hike on this small island meant looping back to some of the same points and starting out anew on a different trail, adding to the disorientation as we wondered amongst ourselves, "Have we been here before or I am just imagining things?"

First light from the ferry.
Notions of a middle-of-the-night swim were thwarted by the high walls erected around the island's privatized beaches, and we ended up finishing our route earlier than expected, with nothing to do but plop down on the sidewalk on the outskirts of town and stare at the sea until the first ferry back to the mainland departed at 5:50 a.m. As we walked to the dock, the streets of Büyükada were still shrouded in darkness and had something of the feel of an abandoned movie set. Scattered lights shone from only a bakery or two, the smell of fresh bread emanating from within.

Back to the city.
The first glimmers of dawn only began to appear in the sky as the ferry made its languid way around the smaller islands, picking up a scant few passengers on each one. Unable any longer to resist the embrace of sleep, we stretched out on the vinyl-covered benches and fell into deep slumbers, rousing periodically to watch and photograph the progress of the sun into the sky until the familiar minarets and skyscrapers and apartment blocks were again in view, all bathed in a warm, welcoming glow.


blogger on said...

Intressting blog !

Nick Hobbs said...

lovely writeup, thanks, Nick

The Turkish Life said...

Thanks, Nick! Looking forward to the next hike.