Turkey so far… the bustling market streets of Izmir on the final day of Ramadan; Eid celebrations with thousands of joyful Syrians camping on a beach; constant hospitality, extending to people literally running home to bring baklava to my tent; submerging myself in the white chalk of Pamukkale’s hot springs; and, thankfully, joyful cycling along sun drenched highways, stopping for fresh peaches, black tea, large kebabs, and 12 pence twister lollies.
Leaving Izmir was a bit of a wrench. It was very hot. Back when I was doing the charity challenge from Croatia to Greece, I was in fear of burning out. I worried that I would resume the longer cycle tour and find it pointless set against going really fast and really far as well as raising money for a great cause. So that was in the back of my mind, an extended leave of absence in London was in my legs, and the prospect of cycling to China was daunting.
So happy to say I did three solid days with an average of nearly 100km and am definitely back in the groove! The pride in doing over 80km is a strange thing. I must sound like a Strava addict posting lap times. But there is also something about overcoming the mental as well as physical challenge and maintaining your momentum. You could easily just stop and drink beer. Always a risk for an Englishman abroad.
So which way did I go from Izmir? The long way, south, of course. One more day at the beach, just north of Pamucak, rather than an inland dash to Ankara, and then on through the valley to Aydin and Pamukkale. It is not that long and should see me through Turkey in about 2500km, as opposed to 1500km the other way.
Leaving Izmir was mostly about navigating a warren of gravelly highways in the extreme heat. I remember finding it quite difficult in a car with air conditioning about five years ago, when on a road trip with a good friend. And I can’t even drive, so this was a big step up in responsibility. Drivers are friendly though and there are wide hard shoulders that you can make your own. But because of the heat they don’t pack down the asphalt and gravel in the road to make a smooth surface, as it would melt. So it is often like someone has helpfully superglued small rocks to the surface of the road.
I was heading about 80k to the beach at Pamucak to find a place to camp. About 5 kilometres before though I saw a different beach from my vantage point up high, descending from the hills, bright with car lights and alive with the sound of music. I thought it was hippy travellers and young people from the nearby towns, but when I descended down the gravelly path to the beach I realised it was a huge number of families celebrating Eid, as far as I could see and from the few I talked to from Syria. I attracted quite a few confused glances on my bike in my lycra. This increased to a small group of bewildered onlookers when I tried to set up my tent in the really, really high wind. One of those moments when you really need a travel buddy.
After finally managing to keep the tent upright, tieing it up to my bike and camera tripod, weighing it down with bags, and burying the tent pegs under a defensive mound of packed sand, I retreated inside, covered in sand, and ate some cereal. I wasn’t that sociable as it was so windy and I was covered in sand, sweat and grime, but I was serenaded by people walking along the line of the sea singing songs. I managed to build enough confidence in my tent to stop holding it up when the gusts of wind came and gradually fell asleep. No sleeping bag needed as it is still 25+ at midnight. No need for any of my winter gear at all, actually, until Tajikistan. Hot and heavy.
The next morning I ventured out for a swim to freshen up. There must have been 1000 kids in the water along a km or so of beach. Great sight. There was even an impromptu icecream van with multi coloured icecream.
I set off with a smile and navigated the traffic around Pamucak, with everyone escaping the cities and heading to the beach for the holidays. My desire to cling to the coast and not let go satiated I headed inland on more highways, planning to get to Aydin and go a bit further to camp somewhere. Largely uneventful day spent getting into the rhythm of Turkey’s highways, which are actually quite a pleasure. That is because of one thing: petrol stations. These are like multi-function traveller emporiums with adjoining cafes, restaurants, garden terraces, camp sites, and friendly staff. I wonder if BP know that their sites are a key part of the hippie trail. I learned to stop out of town at the fruit stalls and the kebab grills, and had a break quite regularly in the blistering heat.
Aydin was great but my poker face fell apart when I went to get something to eat. It was an open air cafe / restaurant and I was instantly invited for tea. I instantly accepted, when I should have said no and gone to eat something, so had to have a coke for the sugar content to stay upright. Second place I found at a respectable distance not nearly as good. My tactics need some work.
I found a petrol station to camp at 10km out of Aydin. After setting my tent and washing the sand away in the bathroom, I was chanced upon by a group of lads with some limited English buying cigarettes from the petrol station. Cue them inviting me to their homes, and when I turned this down a procession of trips to various shops and their houses ensued to bring back snow halva (local mountain cherry juice over ice), various biscuits, and baklava. Epic hospitality!
Day three was the longest at 120k. The last 30 or 40 was with a headwind on poorer roads than I have been on thus far. I think I stopped everywhere wirh a fridge. Good to finally arrive in the tourist town of Pamukkale and enjoy a few beers with a fellow cycle tourist on his way to India. And now a day off… on the famous white chalk travertines, aka hot springs/pools, set into the rock, with hundreds of tourists contorting their bodies to pose for pictures. The crowds aren’t that big though unfortunately, due to the terrorist incidents, and there are very few tourists from Western Europe or the US.
So apparently Cesme was the terminus for the Silk Road(s) in Turkey and I am basically following the Silk Road. Good advance planning kicking into gear there. If you want to see what that looks like watch out for gopro timelapse no 1 coming up!