Turkey Pt 3. 27th June – 3rd July

Today’s ride was less relentless in its elevations but more so in its temperatures. We are well aware of the discomforts and dangers of riding in extreme heats all day from our riding in South East Asia a few years back and are quite in tune with our bodies and their messages. Whilst the legs continue to move as if they know nothing else, the head provides as many signals as it can to stop this self-inflicted stupidity. Despite gallons of water, by mid-afternoon we were both feeling the signs of dehydration; light-headedness, were quite sick and zapped of energy. The breeze on your body when cycling in this heat masks and even comforts the strength of the sun’s rays felt if you were still and you can quickly turn from feeling well-hydrated to weak. Our clothes bore dry salt puddles from the dried sweat. We carry rehydration sachets by the bundle for such situations and half an hour in the shade with a couple of sachets containing the essential salts and minerals lost, normally gets the body back to a cyclable condition.

Apparently today was ‘national asshole behind the wheel day’ in Turkey. The Turks seem to take their time with everything in life, except when they get in a car. It’s like they slide off the sofa on to the floor in a puddle, then roll themselves up and drag their feet lazily toward their cars with their heads bowed down like zombies and once the key turns in the ignition their bodies enliven in a rage. Their eyes widen with a crazed glare and their right foot crushes the accelerator pedal almost through the footwell until they arrive at their destination, turn off the ignition and slide lazily out of the car resuming their normal relaxed ways. We pulled into a petrol station to make use of the WIFI to let family know we were alive and well. The inquisitive members of staff made for a good hour-long chat about our journey, football, and the amounts of meat each boastfully claimed to eat each day. Conversations came to an abrupt and uncomfortable end when we announced we were vegetarians. One guy was not perturbed however and continued to show me images on his phone of his family, his house, his car, the inside of his car, and then the furniture inside his house. I politely nodded and made an ‘uh-huh’ noise to every photo whilst Hannah smirked and pretended to be on her phone.

After a long hot days ride we reached Sinop, a historic town on the coast. We bought two cans of beer from a small shop on the beach to enjoy on the sand whilst looking out to sea, grateful of the strong, draining sun finally setting. Alcohol is given to you in a black bag here whereas everything else is in a white bag. You are (quite rightly) shamed for your purchase, much less so as a tourist but enough to make you hide your purchase in your pannier. The beach in Sinop was more commercial than others we had camped on so decided to get advice/permission from a beachside restaurant on camping here. We were told that camping was forbidden but that we could camp on the patch of sand in front of his restaurant for a small fee. We didn’t entirely believe him but for a small fee and some security we weren’t going to question the situation further. The elder brother of the small family run restaurant told us it was completely secure to leave our bikes unlocked in front of the restaurant whilst pointing to a small CCTV camera that was pointing to the sky with a tuft of cut wires hanging out the back. I locked the bikes with an extra lock whilst watching Hannah being chased by a sheep from the toilets.

We woke early the following day as a big day lay ahead with lots of climbing. Turns out the map on the GPS was not aware of the many tunnels that had been blasted through the mountain terrain some years before and so we cruised along making great distance despite the terrifying ordeals of Turkish tunnels. We stop just short of the entrance to tunnels to turn on our bike lights. Now when I say bike lights what I actually mean are not only our dedicated bike lights but our head torches turned round to the back of our heads and our tent light that has a strobe setting known as the ‘party-party’ setting, dangling off the back of one of the bikes. We are lit up light Christmas trees as we cycle at warp-speed to reach the end as the tunnels acoustics make a car sound like a lorry, a lorry sound like a fighter jet and us sound like big screaming wuss’s. We don’t look back, we just have faith that Turkish lorry drivers like Christmas trees.

We arrived at our intended end location for the day at lunchtime and after some delicious pidé (Turkish pizza), we carried on for another 75km. I was distraught to pick up my first puncture of the trip, not because I had to fix it, but because it was on my bike and not Hannah’s. At this point we decided to keep a tally of punctures and the person with the most at the end of the trip would have to do a forfeit. The campsite on the beach was hosting at least fifty tents and was blaring out Turkish pop music to volley-ball playing teenagers, picnic eating spectators and lazy dancers. Despite the forgotten ‘party-party’ light still flashing on my bike we were in no ‘party-party’ mood so decided to wild camp on the beach somewhere. This proved trickier than we thought when we were moved on by a police officer after rolling out our tent on the sand. Whilst in two minds whether to return to the ‘party-party’ campsite in a more ‘party-party’ mood or find a more hidden spot away from prying police officers, we spotted a couple of tents on a lawned area facing the sea amongst some buildings. We asked the tenters if it was okay to camp here and as they nodded and assured us it was, we pitched our tent in relief. All was well as we watched a wedding celebration in the neighbouring building spill out on to the beach and kick off the evening’s celebrations with the first dance. However, come 8pm all the tenters around us had left, clearly just picnicking with a tent for shade, leaving us alone and feeling very conspicuous as evening walkers passed by looking at us inquisitively. We had no choice than to stand our ground and hide in the tent. In true Turkish fashion though the night did not get quieter as it got later, but louder and busier. We gave up on reading in the tent and went out to see what was causing the rising commotions. Dozens of groups of people surrounded our tent chatting and laughing whilst tending to their tea-urns. Fireworks from the wedding were filling the skies and everyone’s ears. There was a man selling fish, another selling pumpkin seeds, and a clever fellow selling fish and pumpkin seeds. Children ran around our tent playing hide and seek. Then a topless child rode by on a mobility scooter. At this point we realised we should have stayed at the ‘party-party’ campsite for some peace and quiet.

This theme continued into the following night. We arrived in a town called Ordu after cycling our longest distance yet of 171kms. We were shattered but unwilling to splash out on the costly campsites on this stretch of coastline. There was no public opening to the beach where we could sneak down and find a hiding place so instead opted for cycling along to find the shabbiest looking accommodation to plead for a safe place to pitch our tent. A small group of static homes in need of much repair appeared up ahead. A pack of equally shabby looking street dogs roamed outside and a broken swing and even more broken fridge-freezer were the chosen ornaments by the nearly broken entrance gate. Perfect, we thought. As we wheeled our bikes past the lazily growling dogs a greasy-haired lady too hunched for her age peered up at us from her standing position on her rubbish-filled porch. She pointed at another chalet in response to our request to pitch a tent somewhere. A kind looking man sat in a doily-covered armchair, clearly the authority, gave us permission to pitch our tent just outside the chalet grounds on the beach for free. He smiled endearingly as we thanked him greatly as such permission inadvertently comes with an element of (possibly false) security from the host. Not long after cooking up and devouring our third Turkish ravioli dish in as many days, a just-married couple strolled on to the beach from their plush wedding venue for their wedding photos. I can’t imagine they best pleased to see us on their photo set but we were far too impressed by the wedding fireworks and Turkish music to notice.

Standing between two signs on the beach in Tirebolu after another puncture-dampening days ride, we looked at each other not knowing what to do. ‘Campsite closed’ read one old rusty sign outside the only campsite for tens of miles. ‘Camping forbidden’ read the other sign on the public beach. We asked a man at a closed-looking beach cafe if they knew if the unpermitted camping on the beach was actually enforced. His friend quickly arrived to interrupt the other man’s head scratching and told us we could camp on the patch of grass next to his cafe. The cafe was closed for a few weeks and the two friends were making some repairs in preparation for its opening. We thanked the friends greatly and quickly assembled the tent before the rain came. Refi, the more knowledgeable of the two friends as we found out as we sipped on tea gifted to us, turned out to be the owner of the cafe. We watched dozens of people dolphin spotting off a nearby rock as we spoke and asked if there were many dolphins this time of year. We were told that in fact the spectators were looking for the missing body of a local school teacher swallowed by the monstrous waves two days before. We felt awful for our comments. Refi quickly flipped the awkwardness on its head by smiling and offering us a joint. I thought I could smell it as we rolled into the cafe.

Shopping for an easy and quick meal in the local shop, Hannah was stopped by a lovely lady who asked her if she wanted a shower. We looked ourselves up and down and realised that a week’s camping on the beach was now visible in our appearance, well, Hannah’s anyway apparently. Hannah thanked the lady and politely declined, and then told me it was probably about time we paid for a hotel for a night. Maybe tomorrow we concluded. I too was making friends – comparing prices of jarred roasted peppers on the shelf, a firmly-spoken “this one” was accompanied by a point towards a particular brand of peppers. The owner of the strong voice was a man in his 30’s donning a tight vest and a military style haircut. Two girls of roughly 6 and 8 hugging a leg each did much to soften his look. Metin asked many questions about our journey and was keen to talk of his life in Germany and his holiday home where they were currently spending three weeks visiting family. I was met with a confused look when I told Metin we were camping on a patch of grass next to a cafe by the beach. I told him we liked it. Neither of us believed me. He wished us well as we walked from the shop armed with our jarred peppers for dinner and box of chocolates for a gift to our stoner host. A couple of hours later as we sat in our tent eating cheese spread and roasted pepper sandwiches and listening to the heavy rains hammer our tent, a “hello” came from outside. Ready to inform whoever it was that we were given permission to camp here, I unzipped the tent to find Metin’s face behind a large tupperware pot of mixed vegetables and rice. “My wife made this for you”, he said bent over peering into the tent with rain sliding off his slick short hair on top of his head. Our hearts melted once again as the Turkish hospitality made itself known. “You must come to breakfast at ours tomorrow. Meet me at the shop at 8am. Ok?” There was no other option than to gratefully accept.

Across a table coated in the entire contents of Metin’s fridge and cupboards we spoke with him and his family about their lives in Germany, and ours in England. Yet again what stuck with us was their devotion to their families, and their kindness to their friends, neighbours, and strangers. We were just about to carry our stuffed bellies from their home when Metin’s father came through the door with a large bag of cucumbers from his garden. A gift for us of course. Was there no end to this family’s generosity? I was half expecting Metin and his wife to ride our bikes to China for us. It was an emotional goodbye for someone we had met in the local shop only the night before. As we cycled away from the town we were in high spirits and laden with cucumbers. Yet again we had been shown the same valuable lesson taught by so many in our short time in Turkey. The lesson was becoming ingrained.

We had not made our families aware of our whereabouts and safety in a while so stopped after an hour or so at a roadside restaurant with a WIFI sign and ordered some tea. None of the staff knew the WIFI password but they did know how to socialise. The mother and father of the family-run restaurant joined us at our table followed by the grandfather, the two daughters, two cousins, an English teacher friend and of course her cousin. We were so full from Metin’s expansive buffet breakfast that we could barely sip our Turkish tea let alone accept the onslaught of offers to feed us from all corners of the now bustling table. We felt almost rude declining and felt they didn’t believe our breakfast story, or just chose not to want to hear it. We left two hours later well informed of the family’s history, future, current politics and with our family none the wiser of our whereabouts and safety. It was ok they assured us, we were now part of the Turkish family, or as they advocated, part of the human family. We were now close to the border of Georgia, a day or two away maybe and were already anticipating missing Turkey greatly.

Our final day in Turkey started with a call to prayer at 4am and ended with a beer in a Georgian beachside bar filled with scantily clad teenagers – what a contrast. At a roadside shop where we drank ice cold fizzy drinks as a feeble attempt to deal with the impending dehydration, a guy in his 20’s on a road bicycle pulled in and in a rather well-spoken English accent introduced himself as Tim. Tim, a trainee GP cycling from England to Azerbaijan had a big smile and a kind heart. We cycled together for the remainder of the day getting to know each other. Tim drank water from a petrol bottle and ate chocolate spread for lunch. I questioned at what stage of his GP training he was at. At the border with Georgia we were excited to be in a new country with new food, a new religion and contrasting views. However we were also sad to be leaving Turkey. It has been an incredible host. It has taught us the respectable values and morals of Turkish Islam that The West could learn a thing or two from. It has been a portrayer of genuine kindness, consideration, love and hospitality to us strangers as members of the same human family, and it has shown us the importance of time spent with, and love given to, family and friends. Turkey, thank you for hosting us and teaching us. We respect you, love you and will miss you.

Watch our 1-minute video ‘Cycle Touring Turkey’ here…

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