Another week on the road passes by and Turkey continues to throw up an endless array of surprises. From euphoric highs to soul destroying lows it all continues to happen at lightening speed and I can barely stop to take it all it in or even begin to appreciate the significance of what is happening. So as I’m resting up and nursing yet more wounds I’ve splurged it all down in this blog post whilst the memories are still fresh.
It’s a long one so I hope you’re sitting comfortably.
Leaving Sinop at midday I was oblivious to the mailstrom which had developed outside. Once on the road gusting crosswinds would whip me up to 60km/h then slam me from the side sending me veering uncontrollably across two lanes of traffic with all the associated screeches, beeps and curses from other road users. I would have comfortably said that this was the most scared I’ve ever felt on a bicycle, but I did not yet know what lay in store.
Further down the coast the road thankfully tends so that the wind sits firmly on my tail and the tarmac turns butter smooth. Here the road has been blasted out of the cliff to run flat by the sea. It’s a feat of engineering, outrageously fast and I stomp out 120km in an afternoon, but the miles seemed as soulless as the road and I felt no wiser for having covered so many.
Relieved to reach Bafra where I could put an end to the pedal mashing flat I diverted south to the mountains. The road wound its way up to just above 1000m and gave beautiful but hazy views out across the hills.
In the morning I stopped by the road to chat and appreciate the light with a farmer who was bringing his cows in for milking.
When travelling by bicycle you spend lots of time passing by in-between places which nobody in their right mind would ever purposefully visit. Seeing all these places from the saddle gives you a wonderfully holistic view of a country and its people but individually they are rarely worth a mention. However, every now and again I serendipitously stumble across places which seem to speak to me, they force me to stop, get off the bike, have a nose about and take a photograph. The last was the cafe in Inebolu and now here in a small town near Havza a new petrol station had put all the old pumps out of business. The grass reclaiming the gravel, rust on the pumps and the coloured glass all under a blue sky and a blazing sun seemed to make this place come alive. Old is definitely sometimes better.
Just as I thought I was getting the hang of the Turkish backroads my road out of Havza turns to track…
but it was idyllic stuff; remote and with a panorama of snowy mountains on the horizon.
It climaxed beneath Mt Egribuk (2058m) which was sporting a fetching bonnet of snow thanks to the recent storm…
and then as the sun was setting I sat by lake Ladik and watched cattle cool off in the water. It was a pretty perfect end to a pretty perfect day.
Beelining to Erbaa I met Servet who’s “fixing” the road. He’s a forceful character and welcomed me with a knuckle crushing handshake and a slap on the back which had me catching my breath.
“The road is good for bicycles” he declared but at times it was just a flattened pile of rocks which my tires cut into and I had to walk.
In Erbaa I’m warmly welcomed by Kayahan and his wife who I arranged to stay with off Warmshowers. They have two daughters who have bundles of energy and keep everyone on their toes.
Kayahan, an english teacher, was keen to introduce me to his school pupils and the adults he tutors. They all seem to appreciate the opportunity to practice their english but are most interested to learn about the nitty gritty details of western life. The subject of conversation soon turns to girlfriends, the role of women and religion. It’s most interesting to hear from the women as they often only speak after being introduced and they rarely acknowledge my hellos when I’m out on the road.
These Renault Toros’ seem to be the car of the Turkish people and can be found all over. They’re relatively cheap, reliable and easy to maintain.
I tore myself away from Kayahan and his endless hospitality and amazing food to head back into the mountains. This time spending a day heading up to 1600m where the hills plateaued and the road wound its way through some of the most spectacular scenery so far.
Shepherds grazed their sheep grazed just below the snowline.
Dogs haven’t really been an issue so far, I get chased three or four times a day but if I stop they nearly always lose interest. Riding down from the mountains and out of Aybasti I rounded a corner and three dogs came bounding over so I slowed and got ready to stop as I’ve done countless times before. But as they close in it soon becomes clear that these dogs are brimming with intent (I later found out two were Kangals which are notoriously protective). It was a blur of fur and teeth and as I kicked one that went for my pannier another sunk its teeth into my shin. I threw down the bike, screamed my lungs out, put on my best war face and flailed my gangly limbs. The dogs retreated and their elderly owner walked over leisurely whilst I sat and sprayed the puncture wounds and flapping flesh with the last of my water. My mind was filled with expletives and a red mist was quickly descending, but I tried to keep calm and asked for some more water, where the nearest hospital was and whether the dog had rabies. He swayed with his hands in his pockets avoiding my direct stare, shrugged his shoulders then turned his back leaving as leisurely as he had come and ignoring my raised voice. Sat in the middle of the road staring at the oozing blood and prodding the numb flapping flesh every horizon seemed to fill with despair.
Thankfully my foot still seemed to be in working order and the adrenaline made cycling fairly painless so I pulled myself together and headed back to Abaysti (which is of course a half hour slog up hill). On the way I stopped some women to explain what had happened and asked for water and where the nearest hospital was. They each took a look, turned their backs and walked away. It wasn’t until I reached Aybasti did I get any help and I met Muhammed, my knight in shining armour. He showed me the way to the hospital on his scooter and sat with me as I tried to explain to the Russian(!) doctor through Google translate what rabies vaccinations I have had and how I’m going to pay for the treatment. It was laborious, but eventually £30 gets the wound thoroughly cleaned and dressed, a rabies vaccine, tetanus shot, anti-biotics and painkillers. I’ll need another vaccine in April.
Muhammed then took me to his restaurant and stuffed me with kofte. We’re the same age but living very different lives; he has a wife and child and he didn’t understand why I’m travelling alone and by bicycle. After the bite I can’t really say that it’s mostly risk free anymore, but I spend a long time showing him photos and describing the experiences I’ve had. They seem to make an impression, but he’s not convinced the risks are worth it.
After they refused to let me pay for the meal I helped make some more kofte…
then they took me to the town’s hotel only to pick me up an hour later to whisk me off to their house for dinner.
They put on an enormous spread and the food came thick and fast. Half way through it hits me; this is it, this is what I’ve come looking for, this is the adventure and I’m in way over my head. I’ve thrown myself out into the world, come off the worse for it and been practically rescued by the friendliest of strangers. Nobody notices, but I spend the rest of the meal fighting back waves of emotion and tears of joy.
And of course the most important person of all, the cook. Everywhere I’ve been in Turkey women often fill the role of housewife; cooking, cleaning and looking after the men. I offer to help as much as I can but it’s not always welcome.
Today I spent the afternoon with their family in the fields shovelling muck and making them ready for the next harvest. It’s smelly work and I was a little relieved when they wouldn’t let me help. So I sat and we chatted about everything from football to world politics through the all important phrasebook.
The fields are full of hazelnut bushes which will be ready to harvest in August.
So here I am resting up in another hotel, a little more wiry than when I left London, but with no frothing at the mouth quite yet and looking forward to the next couple of thousand kilometres just as much as I’ve enjoyed the last.
Dum vivimus vivamus