Bodrum to Sivas. February 27th – April 3rd.
A new country, new continent, a new language, currency, religion and a new writer! We’ve switched roles as in – this is me Pete – writing and Chris will be musing later. Just an hours ferry ride and everything has changed.
We crossed from Kos in Greece to Bodrum in Turkey across a stretch of water that has seen thousands of refugees crammed into unsafe rubber boats coming the other way. That tide has now been stemmed by political agreements but I don’t think it’s gone away. It’s just been moved to somewhere else.
Our 14th ferry! I know it’s hard to believe but if you count them all (no, there’s no prize) including the ferry across the Mersey there have been 14 ferries!
Bodrum was an attractive pulsing waterfront town with tiny back streets and a history stretching back millenia. In fact in hindsight we wish we’d stayed a night to soak up the atmosphere. But the plan was to cycle on out. So on we cycled. Though normally the plan is – there is no plan…
We followed our optimistic computer map. The road rapidly deteriorated. In some places there wasn’t much left of it at all but it was fantastically quiet. Very few cars , the odd shepherd looking after half a dozen cows and spartan villages .
On our second day we had wild camped, packed up in steady rain and thought we’d stop in a village for some breakfast. We saw a cafe sign, pulled in and were shown past the group of men sitting outside drinking tea into a room with a radiator. We gratefully pulled off a wet outer clothes and put them on the radiator to steam. There was hot tea to drink but when we asked for food the proprietor took us to the ‘shop’ part of the store. All we could see to eat was bread. As an afterthought we bought a packet of cookies – so we had cookie sandwiches for breakfast!
A wet morning of cycling. Some roads terrible, others just bad but still quiet! We passed some quarry workers splitting rocks into an even thickness – by hand! Hammer and chisel!
Slogging up another hill there seemed to be a building ahead where we thought we might shelter under its eaves and eat a bag of crisps – bread and cookies don’t last long. As we got closer we saw that the building was a coal merchant’s. Big trucks, piles of coal, coal in plastic bags and black mud under foot. A man appeared in the shed door and waved us in – the bikes were put under cover and we were taken into the shed, sat down next to a stove blasting heat and we were then fed tea. And there we sat while the heaviest rain of the day lashed outside outside. Three glasses of tea and we were ready to push on. Did I mention that he had one arm? And that he had a three-legged cat? If this was fiction you wouldn’t believe it.
A couple of days later the quiet roads gave way to duel carriageway. We had no choice. There was a good hard shoulder but it was like cycling on a motorway – no fun at all. There were large petrol stations, modern, with huge forcourts, clean toilets, water and friendly staff. Smooth tarmac. Fruitstalls – mostly oranges.
And long 8% hills that I found increasingly heavy going. I have to say that I passed through a low point on this road. I think I contemplated the entire elephant, I felt very tired and seriously wondered if we had any chance of completing this journey. Down periods are inevitable and I knew that, but knowing something isn’t the same as feeling it. I had a sore throat at the time and Chris diagnosed a mild chest infection so we rested a couple of days in Gocek – known more in yachting circles than by touring cyclists. Cafes and tourist shops with a couple of chandlers too. A welcome
Chest infection fixed, strength gathered, we set off again passing mile upon mile of greenhouses growing tomatoes. We were in the tomato zone. I’ve no idea why. The climate? The soil? Possibly. We expected a treat for our taste buds when we bought some but sadly they tasted much the same as they do from the co-op.
Xantos was our next stop. Xantos was the capital city of the Lycian Federation. Somehow that seems to conjure up in my mind a planet far far from here possibly under attack from a Death Star… However, the Lycians date back to around 1400 BC but very possibly earlier than that. Lycia existed as a self ruling state until around 1000 AD in the area of present-day Turkey between the bays of Antalia and Fethiye and their history was violent. Not once but twice they committed mass suicide rather than submitting to invading forces. Now the ruins are peaceful and quiet and for a modest fee visitors can walk in the streets and sit in the amphitheater of Xantos and imagine Brutus attacking the city in 42 BC to raise money and recruit troops.
We cycled past yet more greenhouses . Reaching the coast we spotted a supermarket. We needed re-provisioning. The only trouble was the supermarket was on the waterfront and it was within the yacht club. So we had to pass through the ‘guard house’. ‘We just want to go to the supermarket’ we said, the guards looked us up and down but we passed! They let us in. Shopping done we got talking to a former yachtie. He had recently sold his yacht but was evidently still allowed in. One thing led to another and we ended up being let into the shower block and enjoying a much-needed shower. 3 or 4 nights in a tent and a shower becomes very important.
On the road once more and our next stop was Demre. The town where Saint Nicholas- as in Santa Claus- first brought joy. He was a forth century bishop and lived and worked in Demre. And now there’s a Santa Claus museum there. And just in case you were wondering, he’s the patron saint of virgins, sailors, children, pawn brokers and Holy Russia…
It was in Demre that Chris was presented with a flower because it was International Women’s Day. This was when we went into a cafe for some food. We asked what they could give us to eat and they suggested borek – very good it was too. It was only after we came out that we realized that it was a borek cafe…
On to Olympus – a laid-back hippie sort of place and it’s near, and slightly more upmarket neighbour, Cerali. We opted for a cheap pension. The bed was awful. I could feel each individual spring. Supper was good. Chicken barbecued over an open fire in a wheelbarrow.
That evening we set off to see the chimera. A rocky outcrop where flames constantly erupt from the ground. A quick check on the computer map and we set off around dusk. It was an easy half hour walk. Well, we walked, we followed arrows painted on rocks, we climbed up through trees, we lost the path – it was dark by now – found it again and struggled on. ‘I thought this was a place everyone went to see’ Chris said’ it’s meant to be easy walk! This can’t be right.’ We blundered on in the dark but eventually lost the path completely and were forced to admit defeat. We came back down. The following day we found the path up. It was the other side of the mountain completely, and an easy walk. A broad path – clearly marked. I blame the computer completely.
Onward along the coast and suddenly things changed. No more rugged coastline no more yacht clubs. Just hotels – 5 star hotels. Sparkly, ridiculous monstrosities. Each trying to outbling its neighbour. And each no doubt with its own carefully manicured beach. I assume the beach was there. We never got through the bling blockade to find out.
We camped in some quiet peaceful woods that night a couple of miles from 5-star strip but a very different world. The next batch of hotels were golf hotels.
Tens of golf courses and more luxury hotels. We cycled on eastwards, still on a virtual motorway. (at one point I was reminded vividly of the elevated section of the M4) Eventually we reached our road north. And the climbing began. We had to get from sea level up onto the central plateau which meant climbing to 1800 meters. We left the warmth behind. Clumps of snow still dotted the side of the road. A cafe where we had our supper offered us his terrace to camp on. One night we succumbed to a hotel – not much of a place but when a storm started crashing around the valley that night we were sort of glad to be indoors.
One evening we pulled off the road and decided to camp by some reeds. Not very well concealed but there wasn’t a lot of traffic and we thought we would be undisturbed. I was just spreading the tent out when two young lads on a motorbike pulled up. One swaggered over and asked for cigarettes. I noticed that he had a 10 inch hunting knife strapped to his leg. ‘I don’t have any cigarettes’ I smiled. He really didn’t want to take no for an answer but I really didn’t have any cigarettes. There was something about his smile that I didn’t like. He ambled baçk to his giggling friend on the bike. And took out a shotgun. He broke it and loaded it. Then he casually fired it into the air. His friend took it from him. They argued and struggled with it a little but eventually it went back into the pannier and they took off. We decided we wouldn’t camp there after all and moved on. I’m not sure we had time to be frightened as it was all over very quickly and it’s not until afterwards that you start asking – what if…
Petrol stations were still plentiful. Sometimes we’d stop just to use the facilities and sometimes we’d buy tea. On one occasion I asked for tea and we were seated in the office to drink it. I thought it was a cafe. It wasn’t. But without a hint of anything amiss they brought us tea and of course refused payment. Often the garage staff wanted to take a photo of us. Once when this happened we both smiled politely and posed with the garage staff. Then when we asked to see the photo Chris was totally excluded. It was just me and the staff…
We were making a cup of coffee in a bus stop when a police car pulled up. We smiled and waved. They smiled and waved. Three police men in a large 4×4 armed with automatic weapons. They called me over and asked the usual questions – where are you from and where are you going. More smiles. Then we all looked at one another. Nobody seemed to know what to ďo next. It was as if we were in a play and had all forgotten our lines. Then the senior officer said ‘ passport’ . He’d hit on something he could do. Passports were duly inspected and returned and off they went.
Cappadocia up until recently was a name I was vaguely familiar with from the bible. It is in fact only mentioned twice in the bible. Cappadocia is an area in central Turkey which is now known both for it’s remarkable geology and its history. The Cappadocia kingdom was established in 332BC and in the Roman era served as a shelter for escaping Christians.
As to it’s geology- it’s all to do with volcanos and ash and soft rock and hard rock. The ash was eroded and up popped fairy chimneys… It’s a remarkable landscape and we spent several days exploring the Rose valley (where the rock is rose coloured), the White valley ( where the rock is white), Red valley (where the rock is red) and Love valley where the rock has been eroded…)
The area was pretty much undiscovered until the 1980s and some of the hundreds of caves cut into the soft rock were lived in up until very recently. Now, however the tourist buses have arrived. By the hundred. And all the paraphernalia that goes with people on holiday. There are hotels of every hue – most trying to include the word ‘cave’ somewhere. There are hundreds of quad bikes for speeding around the sandy tracks, trail motorbikes to roar up the valleys and jeep safaris. We did find places of peace and quiet though I’m very glad we were not there in high season.
Then there are the hot hair balloons. Every morning, wind permitting, white minibuses race the tourists out of Goreme to the take off areas where hundreds of balloons are slowly filling with hot air. The whole town is awash with the noise of fan motors and propane burners. Dawn breaks and one at a time they gently lift off, each basket with 20 people, the Chinese shouting, others just marvelling at the strange landscape below. It was an amazing sight.
I have to say though that when we left Goreme behind and set off cycling again I was a tiny bit pleased to be in ‘normal’ country again. Do we spoil everything that’s beautiful?
I can’t though, leave Cappadocia without mentioning Frances. She was sat in a cafe when we tied up our bikes outside and looked across at us as though she was sure she knew us. I looked back, politely glancing away before it became a stare. And of course we did know one another – in a manner of speaking. We were all cycle tourers. She was doing more or less the same route as us, at least from Turkey onwards. She had come a shorter, colder way across Europe than us. We were both thinking we were alone on the silk road and maybe getting a tiny bit lonesome. So it was great to meet someone else travelling east. I think she might be a little bit faster than us though. A little bit like Thomas who, when he’s cycling with us, goes ahead and then cycles in circles until we catch up.
Our first night after Goreme and we were looking for a camp site. It didn’t look very promising. The fields were flat and cultivated for miles in all directions. There were no stands of trees and no tracks meandering to a tent sized patch of waste ground.
We gathered up our courage and knocked on the door of a house that looked as if it might have something to do with the surrounding fields.
It certainly did have a little patch of garden. The man who answered our tentative knock was certainly a little taken aback but told us, mostly by sign language that yes we could camp in his garden. So with lots of thank yous we got out the tent. Then he reappeared- would we prefer to sleep indoors in a little room downstairs in his basement? We would. Then no sooner had we unrolled our sleeping bags than he reappeared again and invited us upstairs where we spent a great couple of hours with hardly a word of commen language eating and drinking beer and some very sweet homemade wine.
The following day started out wet but soon the sun was shining and we were bowling along. Behind us however the clouds were building black and heavy. Very quickly the sun was wiped out and it became obvious that a storm was about to overtake us. Fortunately we found a shelter. Breeze blocks and a corrugated iron roof. The hail, when it hit was marble sized aand clanged onto the roof with a continuous roar. We huddled in a corner and were very pleased that we weren’t outside on our bikes. The only downside was the mud. We had to push our bikes across a red clay muddy carpark to get to the shelter and by the time we were back to the road the bikes were virtually immovable. Utterly gummed to a standstill with red sticky clay. We got them rolling as best we could and at the first petrol station we asked if we could use a hose. Which they happily provided. Then insisted we have coffee – our first coffee in Turkey! – and a warm up. I shall remember that day as a day of gifts. In the cafe where we had breakfast (lentil soup is normal for breakfast here) the owner disappeared out, came back and presented Chris with a scarf. After the storm we were struggling on into the wind and the last of the rain, a truck driver stopped and asked if we wanted a lift and later someone stopped and offered us a beer!
That night was one to remember too. We camped early because we found a rock face dotted with caves. And it was hidden from the road. It would have been rude to pass it by. We gathered some wood and at dusk lit a little fire in the mouth of the cave and Chris lit a candle which she’d bought on impulse the day before. Not exactly ‘cave man’ because we pitched the tent outside the cave on the grass. In the morning though, I wish we’d gone the whole hog and slept inside the cave because a piece of rock high on the cliff above us was dislodged, probably by a bird. It fell onto the tent smashing straight through the fly sheet. We thought we were under attack! So now our tent has some war wounds too.
Media Induced Fear.
Fear is probably too strong a word. Unease, trepidation, call it what you will it was probably born from media reports of Turkey that we absorb despite trying to keep an open mind. It seems that for news to be interesting it has to shock and disturb in equal measure and if we read only of Turkeys beauty and friendliness it wouldn’t make any headlines. Added to that, leaving Europe and our nice lttle EHIC card becoming useless (the card that ensured that femurs were mended quickly and efficiently in Hungary) and getting further away from family and home, Turkey was yet another Rubicon.
From the minute we stepped off the boat in Bodrum it felt “different” and as we headed for the nearest kebab restaurant passing numerous mosques along the way and hearing our first “call to prayer”.
Then it became exciting, exotic and fascinating and any doubts we had were dispelled over the next few days when we experienced the warmth and friendliness of the Turkish people. At times it has almost been overwhelming, sometimes irritating.When you have told someone for the tenth time that day, where you are from where you are going and asked if you would like yet another cup of tea? But those feelings are rare and some of our encounters have left us feeling humbled and moved. Like the man who stopped when we were stood looking at our map to ask if we needed any help. He spoke a little English and we were able to understood his message as he talked about the connection he had with us “we are all the same, we are brothers and sisters” pointing at us and then himself. “It is only the politicians who seek to divide us with their lies and need for power”. His message was simple and passionate and we listened and nodded in agreement. The waiter in a cafe, running out into the rain and returning with a beautifully wrapped scarf as a present for me. The ladies who gave me a carnation for International Womens Day. The people who have stopped their cars to shake our hands, Pete was even offerred a can of beer from a car window. The pips and waves, the laughter and the thumbs up. People do seem to find us quite funny, is it our helmets? Is it our grey hair? Have we got our clothes on inside out ? People continue to ask us how old we are. Is it just the fact that we are travelling by bicycle? Whatever it is it doesn’t matter-its surely better to make people laugh than cry !? The children can be quite funny. We were in one shop and saw a group of three boys looking, laughing and talking about us. One very bravely broke away and came and asked us in English where we were from. He then got stuck and couldn’t go any further despite us trying to help. His friends giggled in the back ground but I think they admired him for his bravery and they then all came forward to chat. A not so good encounter with kids was when we were sheltering from the wind in a bus stop when the school bus pulled up and disgorged about 20 over excited children. They immediately started shouting, even screaming,”money, money, money”. One boy even tried to climb onto my bike.We were guiltily pleased when a man came out of a nearby house with a stick and chased them away but they were soon back so we packed up calmly and moved on. That hasn’t happenned again and did surprise us as the children generally have been giggly but nice and often cycle next to us showing off their cycling skills.
The lovely family we met when we stopped at their cafe for supper. Dondu and I bonded over shared photographs of our grand children, comparing ages, names and cheeky grins. They invited us to camp the night in their garden and the next morning Dondu gave me a lesson in making ekmek the flat bread cooked on a griddle. I think her assessment was “could do better”!
The family who saw us on the road and stopped further on to wait for us and have the tea ready and waiting.
We have felt happy and comfortable here and even though not everything is rosy in the garden for Turkey we feel that we are seeing the side that matters the most.
Cats and Dogs
Before we arrived in Turkey we were told horror stories regarding Turkish dogs and the fact that their greatest sport was to chase and eat cycle tourists. We were frightened by this and discussed strategies for when the inevitable attack occurred. Should we stop as some advised, stare them down and then pretend to pick up a stone in readiness to throw it at them? Should we just cycle on as fast as possible, hoping we could outrun them? Should we use a dog dazer or pepper spray? Should we distract them with a ready supply of sausages which we could throw behind us hoping they might find them tastier than us? The lists of advice are endless and our first night of wild camping in Turkey we thought we might be tested. We found a nice copse of trees just off the road and well out of sight and there didn’t seem to be any habitation nearby. All was quiet and we were just dropping off to sleep when we heard distant barking that gradually got nearer and nearer. Hearts started thumping a little faster. We then heard running and the legs that were running were definitely attached to the barking. Unsure of whether our thin nylon tent was protection enough I prepared my speech so that I could appeal to the dogs common sense ie. we are awfully scrawny and probably not very tasty and if they sunk their teeth into Petes left thigh they could well damage them on all that metal. The speech was not needed as we felt the breeze from what felt like a hundred dogs (probably more like two or three) as they flew by and disappeared into the night. All very Hound of the Baskervilles and it took a while for our heart rates to slow.
Subsequent encounters have all been surprisingly mellow although I refuse to be smug about this , but I find myself really liking the dogs we meet to the point where I feel like putting them in a pannier and taking them with us.
We have learnt that it is not the done thing in Turkey to keep a pet in the house and dogs and cats are considered dirty. That doesn’t however mean that people don’t care about animals because the many strays that are on the street are often cared for and fed, given clean water and even vaccinated.
We visited the beautiful Lycian ruins at Xanthos and were greeted by 15 friendly dogs. The man at the ticket booth told us that they were fed daily by a couple who were part of a group of people who paid for their food and also vets bills. Some of the dogs had tags on their ears showing they had been vaccinated and the females had been sterilised.Four of the dogs broke away and followed us around the ruins like canine tour guides. When we stopped to look at something, they flopped down in the sunshine and when we moved off, heaved themselves up and carried on by our sides. I half expected them to start telling us about their ancestors who had once gaurded this place but maybe that was a bit fanciful.
Another night, whilst camping in a restaurant garden another large, yellow dog took it upon himself to gaurd us for the night. This was very kind of him but we really would have rather he hadn’t as he barked loudly right next to our heads every time something moved, probably down to a beetle or spider going by. Added to that a donkey braying loudly evety 2 hours and our friend then joining in, then the call to prayer at 5am not much sleep was had. When we got up in the morning he looked at us as if to say ” didn’t I do well and the only reward I require is a tummy scratch” at which point he rolled on to his back with his legs in the air.
We have passed dogs on the road and immediately tensed up and I make sure that I ride with Pete in between me and them. Sometimes they bark in a half hearted way, sometimes they thump their tails on the ground and look at us in a kindly way but not once have we been chased.
As we head further east we have been told the dogs get wilder and more aggressive. The picture is of big yellow shepherd dogs with black faces and spiked collars to protect them from wolves and with yellow teeth that drip with saliva at the sight of a cyclist going by.
Lets hope our luck holds out.
I would never have said that Pete or I were supersticiously inclined but neither of us has mentioned to one another the fact that despite over 6000 kms of cycling we have not had a p……e. We were secretly very pleased and congratulated ourselves on having good reliable tyres. Once again rather smug.
hen we met the wonderful Frances who is cycling to Mongolia via China. We had a great evening with her, sharing our stories and experiences so far. She too was wary of mentioning the p word but we were all so pleased with ourselves that we couldn’t resist. Frances too revealed that she had not had a p……e since leaving London so we all wallowed in self congratulation but wondering that now we had said the word it might come to pass. What superstitious nonsense and we waved goodbye to Frances, sad to see her go and knowing that we would never catch her up as we are like tortoises to her hare.
A day later we had an email from Frances saying she had her first puncture. Two days later came Pete’s and then mine the day after that. Added to this I then had a puncture in my air mattress that I sleep on. The day after that some rocks fell onto the tent and ripped a hole in the fly sheet.
If we want to carry on this terrible saga, I then fell off my bike and punctured my skin in various places but maybe that is taking the analogy too far. We were however beginning to feel a little bit jinxed and lets hope the p……e gods have gone back to sleep.
Pete’s manliness is questioned.
We needed some paracetamol and stopped at a chemist shop. The pharmacist was very friendly and we chatted for a while. He then turned to Pete and asked him if he would like some Viagra. Pete’s expression changed from shock, mild embaressment to indignation and he puffed out his chest, flexed some imaginary muscles and politely refused. The pharmacist then started to enthuse about how wonderful it was and how he used it himself at which point we backed out of the door and beat a hasty retreat down the road clutching just the paracetamol. Honest.
The Hope Chest.
Turkey is famous for its beautiful handwoven carpets and kilims and so we were fascinated to see some laid out on a pavement in the sunshine. It did however seem odd that someone was using a blowtorch on them and working his way over the surface of each rug, front and back. When we asked, we were told that all of the rugs were over 100 years old and were being restored, the blow torch removing any loose bits of wool or fraying. The rugs would then be washed and dried and shipped out to the USA to be sold. The man who told us this had a strong American accent and was Turkish but lived in Colorado and visited Turkey every year to buy carpets.
What made us rather sad was the fact that most of the carpets came from Hope Chests which held the dowrys of a woman before she married. Carpets, bed linen and other household items would be collected in the chest ready to set up a new home. The mans “agent” in Turkey scoured the land for these old Hope Chests that still contained carpets and bought them from the owners or their descendants I suppose. One can only imagine the desperation that can make someone part with something so precious and beautiful that is part of their families history and we found ourselves not liking this man very much.
Coffee with salt.
When we stayed with our first (and only) Warm Showers hosts Veli and Bahar we were delighted to hear that they are to be married this summer. We learnt so much from them of Turkey in the short time that we stayed with them and they told us of the unusual tradition of a potential husband being tested by his bride to be. It seems that when the two families get together the woman is expected to make the coffee. This is not just a test of her coffee making skills because the coffee she serves to her potential husband has salt in it rather than sugar. It is a test if his character and kindness and how much he loves her if he doesn’t react in any way and give the game away to the rest of the family.
A true test of love indeed!
On hearing of the sad death of Stephen Hawking I felt that in his memory my musings should dwell on quantum mechanics and black hole theories. I lasted about 10 seconds as I know nothing of either other than the black holes that sometimes appear in Turkish roads and threaten to send us into a parallel universe.
I have a stereotypical picture in my head of all great scientists in front of a blackboard covered in numbers and equations that I am sure no normal mortal would be able to understand. I therefore decided to create my own formulae that help to describe or evaluate the perfect cycling journey in the hope that it would help in any future decision making. Actually the real reason for doing it was to distract me from the pain of going up a very long and steep hill, the only difficulty being that I couldn’t write my formulae down or remember it but I think this is how it went.
Basically the two extremes of a journey are:
Indescribable joy (IJ)
Abject misery (AM)
There are three core conditions that lead to both these extremes and they are:
Weather good or bad ( GW /BW)
Hungry or not hungry ( H/NH)
Tired or not tired ( T/NT)
But of course this is far too simplistic and there are many variables both positive and negative. Even within each category definitions can be broken down into many parts. For example what is good weather? To some it is a lack of rain, to others it can only mean clear blue sky and sunshine. Hunger could be just a little peckish or ravenous enough to eat an elephant.
So many factors can be added that a whole blackboard could definitely be filled and look really quite impressive.
The grading between IJ and AM also needs to be more clearly defined so we can start with IJ and then go:
JOK ( Just OK)
BFU (Bit fed up)
CGO ( Can’t go on )
Examples of a few more factors could be:
SB (sore bottom)
GFS (greeting from stranger )
CF (cold feet)
FDH (flying downhill)
GW+NH+SB-GW+CF = JOK. This could be to the power of 4 if all else was equal.
In the end I got to the top of the hill slightly delirious and feeling even more confused than when I started.
Instead of formulae I found a lovely quote from John Steinbeck which sums up at least the joyful part of a journey and we have decided to ignore the rest.
“and again there are mornings when ecstacy bubbles in the blood and the stomach and chest are tight and electric with joy”.
We’re only about half way across Turkey. Things have happened and we’ve tried to give a flavour of what we’ve seen and done.
Our camp site last night was on Easter Sunday, we again lit a fire and sat by the glowing embers and made up our own celebration.
Chris and Pete, with love.