Climbing hot, sweaty mountains (of kebab meat) in Turkey!!
October 8, 2014
So we'd finally rode our way out of Europe...ok the last bit was on a ferry but that's not important and it's also not cheating...jerk. Decided to catch a ferry from Chios in Greece to Cesme in turkey's southwest basically so we could avoid riding our bikes through the huge traffic monster of a city that is Istanbul. Felt refreshed and recovered from my birthday hangover and happy to be back in the magical land of kebabs and baklava! Spent the first night wild camping in the scrub just off a main road as the ferry got in fairly late in the afternoon and then hit the beach the next day to escape the afternoon heat and expose my pasty white flesh to the savage Turkish sun.
We'd come up with a new cycling routine to tackle the Turkish heat; wake up at 5am, ride until 12 (or whenever it got too hot) and then find some shade and hibernate until it cooled down. Got our first taste of Turkish hospitality at the beach as a local family took pity on our rather sad sweaty efforts at erecting a sun shelter by stretching the tent between the bikes and brought us over a huge beach umbrella and a plate of freshly roasted chicken! After receiving a free plate of chicken I thought id pretty much reached the pinnacle of human happiness, but then I found something almost as good as free food....free money! Just as we hit a fairly steep hill I spotted a crisp 100 lira note (roughly $50) smiling at me from in some weeds at the side of the road. I was in a tight ass budget traveller’s dream!!! 100 lira = 50 kebabs if you shop around!!
Turkey proved to be the easiest place of the trip to camp, just roll up to a petrol station and ask to put up a tent! 95% of the time they say yes and within 5 minutes your tent is up and the petrol station staff have shoved a steaming hot fresh cup of chai in your hands! Stayed at some awesome petrol stations across turkey, conditions varied from extremely noisy with trucks pulling up cms from our tent to extremely peaceful sleeping in shady tea gardens behind the building. We chose a rather strange route across turkey and didn't bump into any other cycle tourists, which was a bit disappointing, but I guess that happens when you choose a random route to get across the country.
We were on a bit of a strict schedule to get across turkey as we had elected to collect our Iranian visa in Erzurum in the east and had been told that we had 30 days to pick it up from when we applied. The race was on! What a shit race. Meant we had to skip the amazing southern coast and several other sites along the way and cut short our time in a few cool places, but even so the natural beauty of turkey's landscapes and huge amount of extremely friendly locals still made it fun. We skipped Ephesus ruins and Selcuk and headed to Pamukkale to check out the calcified travertines and wash our now extremely disgusting feet and bodies after a particularly sweaty gross stint without a shower. Locals were beginning to avoid us (mainly Kelly) due to our shabby appearance and passing sheep herds fainted from the odour. Had a well deserved couple of nights in a hostel and hit the road again after a beer or two and some gozleme (Turkish spinach and cheese pancakes!)
We were heading across Central turkey and the Central Anatolian plain which meant some steep and hot hill climbs, but also meant some awesome landscapes and picturesque farmland areas. Apart from our first night, I don't think we truly 'wild camped' the entire time we were in turkey, the abundance of petrol stations and the fact that it seems to be the norm for truck drivers/cars to pull up and sleep outside made it bliss for us and made cycling in the afternoon stress free as we didn't have to worry about where we'd be sleeping that night.
One petrol station outside Afyon went above and beyond what we could have hoped for when we asked if we could camp; they invited us to stay in their home above the station! Young Emir generously gave up his bedroom for two grubby cyclists and let us have a hot shower and even use the washing machine! I think our clothes probably went into shock at actually getting a proper wash instead of a hand wash in hostel sink. That's just one example of the dozens of acts of kindness and generosity that we experienced across turkey, I love this country!!
Continued on our merry way to Konya past mouth watering cherry and apricot fields and got into a real rhythm with our cycle routine, early start, rest in the heat then continue until it's too dark and crash at a servo! I also developed another routine during this period....a pretty major addiction to ‘helva’. If you have never experienced the glory that is helva then I pity you for you have not truly lived my friend. Helva is basically a big weird block of crushed sesame paste stuff with sugar and some form of fucking alien magic that scientists do not yet understand. Whatever it is it rocks my nuts off, costs roughly $5 for a kilo in the right shop and I began eating 500 Grams every day. It's like a pure thick dense energy bar that makes your taste buds happy in the crotch.
Another slightly shitter routine began occurring across Central Turkey too...dogs chasing the bikes trying eat our bum cheeks. Normally it's not such a big deal, you just stop the bike and hop off and the dog(s) usually get scared and back off. That's the theory anyway, but on one occasion we heard a deep rumbling bark in the distance and didn't think much of it, until we glanced over our shoulders to see a cloud of dust rising into the air and several very large dogs running like race horses led by a monstrous Kangal (Anatolian sheep dog) the size of a tractor. Some times you stop to intimidate the dogs, on this occasion the dogs intimidated us and we promptly shat our pants and started pedalling furiously. It was clear from the speed that these dogs were traveling they didn't like us riding near their farmland and intended to feast on our sun burnt flesh. The leader of the beast like dogs resembled a hairy mutant T-Rex and I will probably wake up sweating in years to come thinking about the image of that gigantic fuck trying to run us down like mice. The routine worked well but it did become a bit of a grind after a while trying to reach Erzurum in time and also I'm sure Kelly got sick of listening to me have the same conversations everyday in my extremely poor Turkish.
We took another break off the bikes for a couple of nights in Konya and were lucky enough to arrive in the city on a Saturday when the famous whirling dervishes perform a ceremony for free. The city is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of Sufi as the tomb of Mevlana the founder of the Sufi religion is in the centre of town. To be honest I’m a bit of a heathen and just wanted a beer. Not that easy in one of turkey's most conservative cities during Ramadan. Some shopkeepers weren't too pleased I was looking for beer and made it clear that I was dickhead for even asking.
We treated ourselves to a slightly nicer hotel than we usually frequent as it was still pretty cheap and had...can you guess? A buffet breakfast!! Of course we destroyed it as always and I was particularly impressed by Kelly's efforts at filling an entire empty jar full of tahini from the breakfast buffet. So proud! We rode out of Konya happy after a couple of nights break from the bikes and pushed on towards Cappadocia to observe the wonder and beauty of a valley of dick shaped rocks. Along the way we ran into some pretty fierce dust storms, continued our day time picnicking and night time petrol station sleeping and also I stopped on a nearly daily basis to fix flat tyres after being sold a dud piece of shit in Thessaloniki. Didn't have a flat for the first month of the trip and then after replacing my busted old tyre after the tread ripped away with a supposedly 'puncture resistant' one I had over 20 flats across turkey despite the roads being generally very good. Fuck you action bike club Thessaloniki!! Also had a slightly less pleasant experience camping on a patch of grass outside a petrol station on the way to Cappadocia as we caught a creepy guy skulking around our tent at 2 in the morning.
When we'd arrived at sunset and had received the nod of approval from the heavily moustached owner to camp out the back of the Lokanta (self service restaurant) this rather dodgy looking character turned up and insisted on 'helping' me put up the tent...the same tent that we'd put up every night for the past several months. He was very interested to see inside the tent and find out the price of all our gear and bikes. I didn't have to lie to him as all our crap cost roughly 50 cents on eBay. From the second he arrived trying to get me to have a cigarette with him despite me explaining I don't smoke we got a bad vibe off him and were very happy to finally see him walk away. We thought that was the last we'd see of this chap until we heard a crash and the tent shook violently as the clumsy fuckstick tripped over our guide lines. Presumably he was trying to get around the tent to the tree we'd locked the bikes to. We were both instantly awake and peering out of the tent at him standing in the shadows next to the restaurant where he'd quickly fled to. He was a stealthy character and clearly a master thief as he stood there dead still with the lit cigarette in his hand glowing in the dark and his outline clearly visible in the moonlight. Eventually he slowly crept up the stairs to the restaurant when he was sure we couldn't see him. Knob. That was the first and hopefully last time anyone has approached the tent in the night.
Had a couple of nights in a dorm room in Goreme in Cappadocia and went on a few very hot hikes around the bizarre cock rock formations and valleys and was forced to pretend I didn't know Kelly as she was tittering like a schoolgirl at the mountains of willy. Very childish. We plodded on eastbound through Sivas towards Erzurum through mountains and valleys, lush farmland and barren rocky landscapes. Climbed several mountain passes in a row including the highest in turkey (2190mtrs) and had the absolute shit scared out of us by a truck driver at 9 o'clock at night in the dark at the top of another mountain pass as he stopped his truck and ran over to us yelling that we were crazy and cycling in a terrorist filled area controlled by the PKK (Kurdish terrorist group) and were likely to be shot any minute.
My Turkish is pretty basic but I definitely understood when he told me that he had been shot at in his truck in this area before and was convinced we were about to be ambushed by armed men. The poo began to flow. He insisted that we ride down the hill in front of his truck to a Jandarma (military police) station 4km away. We were pretty shaken up and agreed having very quickly given up on looking for a camping spot! It turns out that we think he was over exaggerating a wee bit and perhaps there had been a PKK presence in the area in the past but not so much now. While I don't doubt that he had been shot at and was genuinely concerned for us, the Jandarma assured us (and gave us chocolate!) that the area was safe and recommended we camp a few kms down the road at a petrol station where the English speaking son of the owner told us the same thing. Not what you want to hear at the top of a dark mountain at night but all ended well without a single shot fired and underpants relatively unsoiled.
Had a late night hill climbing incident at the opposite end of the spectrum too as we asked in a small village if we could camp anywhere and were shown to the local mosque where we were invited to sleep in the library room under the mosque and then given a huge meal by the friendly locals that gather to chat outside the mosque in the village square. Awesome experience and some more cool people to add to the list of legends we met across turkey.
After some more hills we finally hit Erzurum!!! Race over! As it turns out we didn't need to race as the Iranian consulate was pretty unorganised and I'm sure our visas would have sat there gathering dust for years before they got rid of them. Felt pretty fantastic to finally have it stuck in our passports….we were going to Iran!!
Spent the next few days recovering hanging out with our amazing Couchsurfing host Saadet and learning about Ramadan and Turkish culture and feasting on her fantastic meals!! Had to stock up on boring crap such as camping gas and more inner tubes as my tubes were now more patch than tube and then it was time to start heading towards Iran with our shiny fresh visa stickers proudly slapped in our passports! Things got a bit nasty the further east we headed; the adults seemed cool yet the children were satanic anuses. While having lunch under a tree in a field on the way to Dogubayzit we had a group of kids around 12 or 13 years old throw stones at us and I was forced to unleash the cone headed bald man fury and chase them up a hill and away from us to continue being evil shit stains elsewhere.
The next day an old farm truck rattled past us and a particularly sadistic little fuckwit that was sitting in the open back of the truck thought if would be a good idea to frisbee a hubcap at us! I was behind Kelly and it flew between us narrowly missing the back of her head.
Yelling abuse at people on bikes is one thing, honking horns right next to your head while driving past is annoying, but throwing a huge hubcap is just plain dangerous. I don't care how old or from what background you come, it's not cool and you deserve syphilis.
Had a few more rocks thrown on the way to Dogubayzit. Nowhere else in Turkey had this happened, just in this particular region. On the way into town it was chaos with a group of roughly twenty kids chasing us throwing stones and yelling for money trying to grab stuff off the bike, not easy to make a get away too as the road suddenly turned to a muddy potholed mess. We timed it poorly as it was the day Ramadan ended as we came into Dogubayzit and all the kids were on holiday and in the streets to get free lollies and chocolates kind of like on Halloween. We were prime targets really, as all the shit on the bikes kind of resembles a mobile piñata.
It also meant the banks were closed for three days and we couldn't get the US dollars that we needed to enter Iran with so we did the only logical thing....bought a bunch of beers and locked ourselves in a shitty hotel room to enjoy our last taste of sweet liquor before we were forced to endure disgusting, sickening sobriety in Iran. So that was our adventure in beautiful turkey drawing to an end! In a way we had been thinking about the European leg of the cycle as a training period for Turkey and Turkey as a training period for Iran and Central Asia...we'd passed the test! The bikes were going strong and we felt healthy and ready to enter unfamiliar territory for both of us, Iran!!
As we approached the border I felt hopeful that Iran was going to be as beautiful and full of friendly welcoming people just like turkey. Teserkuredirim Txurkiye Benim arkadash!!