My name is Ben Viatte and I'm just like you: I'm not quite sure how I got here.
I am finally a semi-permanent resident in the city of Van, Turkey. Crossing Turkish Kurdistan was no easy task: I had my share of death threats, of fears, of gunshots. I’ve slept everywhere from mosques to police stations, from beaches to dumpsters. But I am ok, my body in one piece, my mind recovering. I’ve now been volunteering at Van’s Backpacker’s Hostel for a month, living the local life. I have another 2 months here before making my way through Iran, when the weather will allow it. At 1640 meters high, the soda-salt Lake Van makes for a blessed exeperience, with cool and breezy weather even in the middle of July, when the plains are scorching hot. This is the perfect time to recharge my batteries, do my paperwork, find fresh new tires, fresh new shoes, and a fresh new mind for the 5000 kilometers awaiting me.
Kurdish Conflict Zone
I nearly finished walking through Turkey, which is by far the largest country I’ve ever crossed. I am now in the region of Kurdistan, which is by no means devoid of armed conflict between the Turkish Army and PKK rebels. Is it easy? No. Am I ok? Yes, by the grace of god. Do I still meet amazing people along the road, full of love and kindness? Absolutely.
Cops are Friends
When a police car stops, it’s not to ask for my passport: it’s to ask if I’m ok. It’s not to give me a hard time, it’s to give me food. When they bring me to the police station, it’s not for interrogation, it’s for lunch. They ask if I have a tent, not to fine me but to make sure I’ll be ok at night.
Imray and Sekeria were two of those sweet-hearted officers. They even gave me a rose. “We stand for peace, just like you do with your white flag. Our very job is to maintain peace. In fact, you can document this encounter and show the world that we, the police in Eastern Turkey, are here for everyone’s well-being.” So here it is, I’m documenting this encounter, and with so much gratitude.
Halfway through Turkey, and also halfway through my trip to India! Life is still just as easy as it was when I started. Since day 1, people have been telling me Of course it’s easy, but wait till you get further east! And here I am, further and further east… And still I don’t know what they’re talking about! Hurray!
Yes it’s official, the world is trustworthy! It always gives you what you need, when you need it. Even when the situation seems hopeless. The only thing you have to do is trust it: it’s easier than it seems. I had pouring rain, heaps of snow, mud, slush, and freezing wind almost every night for a week. First, I worried. How in the world will I pitch my tent in this mess? But now, I trust. The world is taking care of me, because every one of those nights miracles appeared out of nowhere, like this abandoned Unicef shipping container which made a very dry and comfy home.
I may be crazy. But not alone.
It’s ever-so-rare that anyone walks with me for more than a mile. Well this time, my brother Jonas walked 120 km with me as we exited Istanbul out into the Turkish wilderness. We slept all over the place and lived the real gipsy life! Of course everyone thought we were crazy, but we found the greatest respect in every encounter we made. Beautiful country, beautiful people.
People often ask me about my family. “Do they even know you’re doing this? It must be horrible for them!” Actually, not only do they know, but they come and see me on the road and we have amazing times together! Istanbul was one of these places where I gave myself a walking deadline so we could meet with my mom and brother. One week of meditating in the mosques, playing music, dancing in the streets, and sleeping in a bed was a real change in lifestyle! However, as the photo suggests, walking out of such a huge city was a challenge. It took my brother and I two days, one sleepless night, 63 km of walking in order to simply find a green space to set camp.