So we decided to ride along Turkey’s northern coastline to avoid continuous climbing in the searing heat. What we found on the coast however was, well, continuous climbing in searing heat. As we rode dozens of steep climbs and descents around the rugged coastline’s beautiful coves, tarmac melted under our tires making for slow and sticky riding. Turkey has made Europe feel like a cyclist’s playground in comparison. In contrast to the hospitality of the incredible people here, the cycling conditions are just rude. Gone are the flat riverside bike paths with dozens of campsites and amenities en-route that we had enjoyed just a few weeks ago. This was tuff. But it was nothing compared to what was to come further down the road so we better get used to it. It was however jaw-droppingly beautiful and the reward of setting up camp on the beach at night made the strenuous riding well worth it. This nights five star accommodation was so good that it wouldn’t let us leave the following morning and we spent a guilt-free lazy day on the beach eating grilled fish, swimming in the sea and snoozing to the sound of the waves. Every night that our tired bodies sink into the tent, we are reminded that we are on a personal expedition, this however was pure holiday bliss.
Leaving the holiday vibes behind we climbed up and out of the bay. It was only 7.30am and the heat was already blistering. A smiley energetic couple in their 50’s standing by a car at the side of the road waved us to a stop. They spoke perfect English with a strong French accent and quickly praised us on our achievements. I think just the sight of two sweaty dishevelled beings on bicycles each with five bags attached is enough for some to acknowledge that we are doing something praiseworthy; as we are clearly not just popping down to Sainsbury’s. For others I am sure, the sight of us raises thoughts of sheer stupidity. This couple however knew very well the hardship and pleasures we were experiencing as they had cycled from Paris to Istanbul a few years before. It was nice to speak to people who were neither shocked nor impressed to hear where we had cycled from, nor did they think we were crazy. They shared with us their passion for travelling long distances by bicycle, their love for Turkey and their dreams of travelling a long distance across Turkey, by bicycle. We did the kind and generous thing of offering to swap our bikes for their car to facilitate their dreams. They declined. They were clearly not pursuing their dreams.
The day was getting hotter and the climbs harder. The downhills sadly gave us no reprieve as the increased number of potholes meant braking and swerving instead of flying and whizzing. Halfway up one particularly steep climb, a van pulled up in front of us and wound down the window. As he pointed his thumb to the large empty space in the back, he told us he was going to the next town and would happily take us. To his bemusement I politely declined. A helping hand would be very tempting in the heat and hills, but this is a cycling expedition and we wanted no help along the way. This has happened a few times on the road so far and people really don’t understand what it is your doing. They think you are trying to get somewhere on your bicycle out of necessity and that clearly their vehicle is more superior at the job and we must surely take them up on the offer. I told this particular man that we are doing this for fun, that this is what we do, that we actually enjoy this. He burst out laughing as he put the van in first gear and wound up the window. Hannah quickly undid her seatbelt and got out of the passenger seat of the van.
As the sun lowered to a point in the sky that meant it was time to look for a camp spot, a small empty beach appeared a few hundred metres below the hill we stood atop. It was a good few hundred metres from the road and dense trees stood between the two. It was worth a try. At the bottom of the hill we rode back and forth looking for some kind of pathway, but it was no use. A burly man with thin hair and an endearing smile could sense our frustration and pointed to a thin, bush-covered track metres away. An elderly gentleman with kind eyes and the same smile as the other man quickly appeared behind and enthusiastically confirmed that down the track is where we must go. We pushed our bikes down the narrow track past a pretty stream, over giant tree routes and further into dense trees and bushes. As the sky ahead came into view so did the sand beneath our feet. The trees opened up to the most beautiful empty small white sand beach you can picture. A single old blue fishing boat sat in the middle. We looked at each other and smiled at the prospect of sleeping in such paradise. We pushed our bikes through the sand and sat to take it all in.
Standing at the seas edge full of excitement and anticipation of washing away the day’s sweat, dirt and sun cream, I caught sight of hundreds of small jelly fish. As I stood deflated and defeated in the knowledge it was their sea not mine, a young family appeared beside me. The father without fear strolled straight threw the large swarm of jellyfish and dived in. I asked if the jelly fish were harmful to which he replied with laughter, no way, we play catch with them! I laughed, and then apologised in my head to the jellyfish. I told the family how beautiful a beach it was, to which they told me they swim as a family here everyday, twice a day, without fail. Another example of strong Turkish family values and ties I thought. I tentatively tip-toed my way around the jellyfish and laid on my back in the warm sea, thoughts of family strong in my mind. Walking out of the sea I was ushered over to the family who were sitting in the sand together chatting and laughing. Three generations; the women modestly covered in accordance with their Muslim faith, the men rubbing their rotund bellies. Hannah and I were given tea and in response to my asking permission to sleep on the beach that night, was told it was everyone’s to enjoy.
Sitting outside our tent that night after cooking up a plain but very satisfyingly large amount of ‘manti’, a Turkish dish of tiny ravioli type parcels, we mimicked the Turkish belly rub as the sun set on the day. A figure appeared behind us with another in tow and we quickly rose half expecting to be told by the pair that we could not sleep here and would have to leave. The two men were the same men who had guided us down the path to the beach some two hours before. Elgin and Chetin were a Turkish father and son with strong German ties. Chetin had lived in Germany for many years before returning to his homeland to retire. He spoke fondly of Germany and would smile enthusiastically as he spoke German to me not knowing my German was limited to bratwurst and a very rusty count up to 20 taught to me when I was 7 by my brother in our Nan’s garage. I smiled and laughed as he spoke to me and somehow managed to not reveal my non-existent German. I sat hoping that he would produce 17 German sausages from under the table so I could show off my limited German. Elgin lived in Hamburg and was spending his three weeks of annual holiday allowance in Turkey seeing his mother and father. There was clearly a lot of love between the two, the father was obviously proud of his son and kept a hand on his shoulder at all times. They came with a gift in the form of a 2-litre bottle of coke and invited us to join them at their home for breakfast in the morning. Now I could say that it was to absorb ourselves in the Turkish way of life that we quickly accepted their offer but after our basic boiled meal it was probably the images of another Turkish breakfast banquet that led to our drooling nods. With a wave and a mild warning of bears and wolves, the pair disappeared into the night leaving us again heart-warmed by the eagerness to be kind in Turkey, not merely in physical gifts, but far more endearingly in the time they have for you.
We woke early to bird song. I swam in the sea. Hannah watched the waves. Not a sole could see us. It was our own little paradise. We sat and made coffee with thoughts of never wanting to leave. The jellyfish throwing family returned for their morning dip and tea drinking ceremony. Tea was delivered to us along with an invitation to join their breakfast picnic which we rather embarrassingly had to decline. This was Turkey, they were not surprised to hear we had already made friends in the tiny village and already had breakfast plans. They still delivered two plates of food as we packed away our tent however. We met Elgin in the centre of the nearby tiny village at 9am. As he guided us and our bikes up a dirt track towards his parents’ home, we were both distracted by the scent of the plentiful and varying fruit trees that provided both shade and food to the houses. Chetin greeted us at the top of the steps at the entrance to their home with the now familiar huge smile. We sat on a shaded breezy terrace for several hours discussing and comparing our different lives, our passions and our outlooks on life. It was sad to hear that both father and son both experience hostility as Muslims back in Germany. Such a kind, respectful and peaceful religion so naively misunderstood by so many. Elgin’s mother and her neighbour joined us after they had together cooked up every ingredient in the kitchen and laid it out for all to enjoy. We tried to make conversation with her, yet she was quickly distracted by any tea glass that fell below half full. I thought of my Mum doing the same. Hannah and I shared glances as we both spotted the similarity. Hannah also pointed out that Turkish goodbyes share the same distinct drawn out characteristics as my family’s. I love a long goodbye. There’s nothing better than starting a deep and meaningful at the doorstep.