The ferry from Kos to Bodrum on the south west coast of Turkey was a brief affair. One passenger, a resident Turk, warned us that we should be very careful on the roads because Turks don’t think about or expect cyclists on their roads and their driving is dangerous and aggressive. It wasn’t the most warming forecast of what we could expect in Asia! We duly noted concerned gentlemen’s warning but kept in mind that many people had said the same about Greece, Bosnia and Croatia already and we coped just fine in those countries.
By the time we had reached Bodrum it was getting quite late; there was perhaps an hour of twilight left before we’d be forced to search for a camp by torchlight. I didn’t relish the prospect of digging about trying to find an unoccupied patch of land to pitch the tent on my first night in a new country. Especially using a new map and surrounded by people I didn’t know or understand so the race was on. We topped up our tyres with air – they had seen some real action in Greece and were now, more or less, a mass of repair patches and glue that slowly seeped air from numerous minute perforations which were small to detect and hardly worth sealing. A quick look at the map suggested beaches a short distance north might make the ideal campsite and so without further adieu we ventured out of the ferry port in search of a camp.
I immediately misjudged the map ratio and had aimed to lead us over about 1.5cm of map surface which equated to 15km of actual land. We hadn’t time for that, it was already dusk. With the sun firmly set below the horizon and our head torches on we hurriedly vacated the main road in preference for a side street where we hoped to find a smaller beach and a suitable resting spot. This first evening we saw the ugly side of Turkey; restaurants pushed up against the shore occupying every last inch of space, no communal areas for us to camp and we witnessed a pack of dogs barking menacingly at a young girl, perhaps only 5 or 6 years old, whilst her Dad tried to shield her from their snapping teeth, edging around them at arms length. It was a rotten place where you would be superficially treated well if you were spending money in the attractive sea-side restaurants but left to the dogs in the street if you happened to close your wallet.
But I’m pleased to be able to say that this is the first and last that we saw of this kind of Turkey and, actually, this wonderful country has become one of my favorite places to cycle and it’s a deeply interesting and hospitable place to visit as a tourist. After that first rocky night camped on a rough outcrop of land overlooking the sea everything improved dramatically.
During the course of our 9 day cycle to Istanbul we received a dizzying amount of generosity and warmth from everyone we met. If I can just recall a portion of our experiences here; upon developing a flat tyre on Ellie’s bike we bailed into the first roadside cafe to discover it was attached to small farmhouse and was very cosy indeed; we received a specially made breakfast with omelette, cheese, bread, fruit and veg, honey, tea and more. The hosts were so concerned to know that we were enjoying the delicious homegrown food it’s all they could ask us and at the end of the pleasant diversion, and after fixing Ellie’s tyre in their garden, we paid a very special, reduced price. We know this because the price quoted after the man had admired our bikes and enquired into our journey was substantially less than the one before (which was still very reasonable by any measure).
This kind of generosity happened so often that now I’ll just pick out the truly exceptional experiences in attempt to keep this post from spanning several volumes; we were given free cucumbers for pumping up a man’s wheelbarrow tyre (after he spotted us, without permission, on his land).
We once ordered tea in a cafe and were given, along with our chi; melon, Turkish delight, nuts, Turkish coffee and bottled water. When we tried to pay we were outright refused and under protest that we must pay for at least some of it we were discreetly ignored until we left.
Resting halfway up a considerable mountain alongside a water fountain we received a huge bag of fruit from a lovely family that wanted a photo with us, I can’t imagine why they were carrying so much fruit, it took us days to get through! Then, minutes later, a guy came and gave us a big bag of Doritos crisps (or something similar) offered no real explanation, waved his arms about a bit, smiled, laughed and then drove off again.
After being spotted on some guys land again we were invited to join him for breakfast. He was single-handedly building his own house and had loads of home grown produce that he was keen to share with us. Another family took us in when they learned we needed a campsite and fed us one of the most diverse, tasty and highly nutritional meals I’ve ever had – we all sat in a circle on the floor and helped ourselves to numerous hot and cold dishes laid out in the center. This really was a highlight of rural Turkey and the whole evening was such a memorable and unique experience it really deserves it’s own post sometime.
One shop/stall owner, upon overhearing us ask a lady for directions to a local fountain, called us over and loaded bottles of frozen water on to our bikes – I enjoyed spending the first hours of that evenings camp sucking frozen water out of my bottle content to have something to drink that didn’t conform to the ambient temperature of nearly 40°C.
When food shopping toward the end of our trek through the rural heart of turkey the proprietor, having seen our bikes, gave us additional fruit and veg, then, just as we were about to leave a lady in a flat above the shop, who presumably had been following our exchange – and mandatory photograph – with the shopkeeper downstairs, threw a plastic bag of money out of the window and instructed the shopkeeper to buy us some bread. I’ve never been anywhere like this before, it’s cycle touring hospitality heaven, and that’s without any mention of our CouchSufing host in Istanbul whose brilliance also lies far beyond the scope of this post.
In summary Turkey is defined by it’s people; warm and hospitable, interested and engaging – it’s an excellent place to travel if you have the energy to boundlessly socialise and engage with the people, especially the in the rural heart of Turkey. That’s what I enjoyed the best.
Have you any stories about the kindness of strangers? If so, please tell me about it in the comments below.