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Move over Europe. Cos there’s a big bad gunslinger looming over the hill, and things are going to be very different here on in. So I have finally made it to Turkey and the entranceway to Asia and my god the difference to my safe old days back in Europe has been stark.
I had only crossed the border from Greece just a day before when, as I slowly and very manfully tackled my 423rd hill of the trip a truck driver crawled past me on the dual carriageway, stuck his head out the window and beckoned me to grab on to his aging, failing rust bucket and hitch a free ride to the top. I mean, yes there was a fair amount of traffic around and death seemed a far higher likelihood than me reaching the top unscathed but hell, no one has ever offered to give me a pull me up in boring old foddy-doddy Europe, so I grabbed the opportunity with one firm hand while the other steadied my bike and began the process of weaving around the inside lane, trying desperately not to tip the bike over and attempting to ignore the not inconsiderable pain caused from his light-on-padding, high-in-tetanus rusty cargo bed. Finally arriving at the top, my first of many legendary Turkish encounters ended with a lot of waving, horn beeping and wound tending.
I then spent four days taking a long detour to arrive into Istanbul by boat from the town of Bandirma, rather than following the infamous roads that lead into the city from the west and almost certainly result in, if not death or serious injury, then years of psychological trauma. I was excited to arrive into the ‘bul since I was meeting my parents for 5 days. Thats right. Time to roll back 16 years of my life cos I’m going back on holiday with the parents…??. Just like the good old days they put me up in a hotel that was way outside of my impecunious vagabound lifestyle, and proceeded to plump me up like a Christmas turkey for fear that I was wasting away on my trip. The city itself was a bit hectic and cycling around town was downright terrifying but it was my first experience of travelling in a Muslim society and I was enjoying observing the differences in the cultures and way of life. The calls to prayer that bellow out every few hours are always a personal highlight since whether I’m in a city or cycling through the remote countryside they can always be heard from some vantage point. Istanbul is particularly captivating at these times of day (and night) since the various mosques that dominate the touristic centre of town all sing at the same time and harmonise with each other.
I left Istanbul after a week and caught a bus to Cappadoccia, which allowed me to save some time in getting to the Himalayas before snow fall. Cappadoccia is an incredible natural geological haven with penis shaped rock formations a plenty. I spent a few days with a cool girl called Pallavi who I invited to go for a coffee on arrival at my hostel. She agreed and then convinced me to escalate the quick trip out into a walk she had planned around the sites. Five hours later with no hat or sun tan lotion to call his own, Mr Cadence Bro had managed to catch a bit of the sun… The following morning Pallavi went up in one of the early morning hot air balloon rides while I stayed on the ground and photographed from below. The results were pretty bloody stunning.
Finally the time came for me to head off into Eastern Turkey, away from civilisation and the relatively European culture of the west of the country. This was a part of my trip that countless people had warned me about before I came due to the inevitable, kidnapping / targeted bombing / mugging / murdering that I would doubtless experience (delete as appropriate). What I found was by far the most friendly experience I had ever had from travelling through a country. The people are just so god damn friendly. Twice I had people pull over their cars in front of me to give me some sweets or cold fizzy drinks from their cars. Everyone would beep their horns in support as I rode along in the day, and whenever I stopped for a break or to get food in a restaurant people would greet me like a local legend, and more often than not would get on the blower to the only English speaker in town to come down to give me the requisite interrogation on who the ruddy hell I was.
If no English speaker can be found then the technique for getting through conversations is –
Nail down the traditional Islamic welcome of “As-Salam-u-Alaikum”. Once they hear this and give the necessary repost, they are putty…
Next up – they say something. Anything. You don’t have a clue what it means.
You respond with “Inglaterra. Londra.” Doesn’t matter what they said, this is the most likely response they were looking for.
‘Ahhh. Inglaterra. Londra.” They say something else you don’t understand.
“From Londra. To Turkiye. Bicicleta”. Do the obligatory hand and feet gestures of riding a bicycle. A couple of whooshing noises with hand gestures to get across I have cycled all the way.
“Ahhhh. Biclicleta. Londra. Turkiye??!” Obligatory back slap. Hand shake. General bloody good laugh all round. “Chai?”
“Yes… I’ll have my fifth cup of chai today please….”
And then repeat at every subsequent encounter. Simples. Go easy on the sugar in your chai though…
I finally had the opportunity to chance my hand at wild camping which was definitely a first. Both the hotels in town were fully booked for a public holiday so I went up into the nearby foothills and found a secluded spot to set up for the night. Once the tent was up and I was trying in vain to light the stove a car drove up right next to my camping spot. The two lads looked to be doing something illegal or morally frowned upon (I may have spied a totes romance sunset kiss) and seemed rather surprised to find me sat 10m away desperately trying to mind my own business and look at something, anything else! Thankfully once the formulaic conversation was over they left and didn’t seem to inform the rozzers since the rest of the night went by trouble free.
In some ways, the wild camping was more stress-free than some of the petrol station hotels I ended up in. One particularly nightmare accommodation I wound up in only had one squatting toilet between all the occupants. Now after a long day in the heat cycling away the last thing you want is to have to squat in a windowless room and trick your sphincter into relaxing enough to dislodge the day’s pile up. But Mr Cadence Bro is made of stern stuff so I went through the horrible sordid affair, finally felt the wonderful plop of relief, only to stand up and see I had completely missed the squatter toilet and landed my refuse on the flooring. The place wasn’t exactly pristine to begin with but I definitely managed to leave it in a worse state than I found it.
So I finally made my way across the rest of eastern turkey and the culture shock only continued to increase. Much of my time in the country was during Ramadan, so restaurants were shut during the day, and people would get annoyed with me for eating or drinking in public during sunlight hours (5am to 8pm FYI). Pretty tricky if you’re riding a bicycle during those times in the baking sun… However the nighttime street feasts I would see in this particularly religiously conservative part of the country were wonderful to observe.
What was less wonderful was the lack of any alcohol and women. I am only a fleeting visitor to these shores so I could just about make do without, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the young local population. The men ended up sitting in cafes with other men, drinking chai and then unbelievably walking arm in arm down the street (who decides who will take the man and woman roles? Horrific game of Rock Paper Scissors every time you leave the house?? Suffice to say it was not a good look…). And the women – Christ knows what happens to them or where they were hiding. Someone told me the girls get married off at 13 or 14 to 60 year old me within the community. No idea if there was any truth to it but I couldn’t help but feel that this religion, while beautiful and awe inspiring in many ways seems to pay a heavy price on the quality of life of its more devour members…
Anyway, onto Georgia next and after spending a month to get across this enormous, beautiful country, it has most certainly been on my mind for a while now…