I’ll admit that I didn’t really know what to expect when we signed up for a free walking tour of the Mağlova Aqueduct. Perhaps a nice Saturday afternoon walk away from the city center, sprinkled with architectural history.
What ended up happening more closely resembled our disastrous quest to get cell service in Turkey. But rather than navigating city streets, we traversed an industrial mining site and blazed through the Turkish wilderness.
Our journey began with a ride on a double-decker city bus, which careened toward the northwest fringes of the metro area, running at least one red light along the way. We got off the bus about an hour later, in a rural area somewhere between Istanbul and Bulgaria.
Just a few minutes into our walk, our group – about 15 of us from Kyrgyzstan, India, Germany, France, Turkey, England, and the U.S. – was greeted by a giant pit used for mining. This perhaps hinted at our looming descent into a figurative hell, but that symbolism was lost on us at the time and we forged ahead anyway.
We trudged in drizzly weather along a muddy road along several limestone quarries, past dilapidated houses with chickens scurrying around the yard, and through some kind of a concrete-producing plant. Every time we turned a bend, one of our fellow adventurers would speculate we were just ten minutes away. The road eventually became less of a paved surface, and more of a stream of gunky gray concrete sludge.
At one point, a pack of snarling, barking dogs — the most aggressive I’ve ever seen — blocked the road ahead, seemingly trying to threaten us from going any further. We of course waved that red flag away too, and continued onward. After all, we were now just ten minutes away.
An hour later, we finally reached a large body of water and a vast expanse of tree-covered hills, but there was no aqueduct. It seemed like it was just around the bend, so we decided to trek down an unmarked trail along the lake. It would only be ten more minutes, right?
The trail snaked through a steep hillside, a route made more challenging by the rainy, muddy conditions and lack of anything resembling hiking attire. We forged ahead toward what was probably an imaginary aqueduct, climbing up slippery slopes, pushing away branches, leaping over large pools of water, dodging thorns, avoiding the pesky vines that try to trip you, and wondering what poisonous plant made our hands so itchy.
I managed to take a few photos, but my primary focus was on trying not to wipe out on the mud and tumble into the lake.
We heard we were just ten more minutes away, which at this point had become a fictitious unit of time, perhaps how long it takes for a purple unicorn to go to Narnia and back.
After we scaled the biggest hill yet, finally, we saw the aqueduct. Cool! Let’s take some pictures and find our way back because it’s going to get dark soon.
A few wrong turns and many ten-minute intervals later, we finally saw the industrial road we arrived on. Just as we were wrapping up the “nature walk” part of the day, we saw a flock of sheep led by a shepherd who, like all the mining guys, seemed bewildered by what we crazy yabancis (foreigners) were doing wandering around the area. He asked our guide, in Turkish, why the heck we took the trail we did instead down the other, better path to the aqueduct. Good question.
Finally, we made it back from Istanbul’s hidden aqueduct, thoroughly soaked, covered in mud and concrete sludge, and laughing about an adventure we’d never forget.