This Route is the BestAfter we had been riding through landscapes dominated by farmland and hills with olive groves on them, today was the first time we had to climb a longer slope. On our way to the first little mountain pass of the tour, an attentive Turkish man stopped his vehicle and felt the urge to explain the correct route to us. What Turkish people (amongst many others) fail to notice is, that we had already planned a route and knew exactly where we were going. They were also oblivious to the fact that cyclists preferred different types of roads and terrain than drivers of cars or lorries. Roads that are impassable for them might be just perfect for us and a wide, well paved highway that you can rush your car on at high speed are one of our worst nightmares.
Our helpful friend explained that we’d best take the main road to such and such town because it was the best route — and most probably the only route he knew. I thanked him for his advice and said we would keep his recommendation in mind, already knowing that we’d stick to our planned route and not trade it in for the four lane trunk road with crash barriers blocking our sight, which was what he had suggested.
What also caught my eye was the abundance of fountains that lined the road. Sometimes we could see three or four at once. We for sure wouldn’t suffer from thirst in this area. I began counting them but stopped when I had reached thirty. Without doubt, we were traveling the „Hills of Fountains Aplenty“.
It is widespread knowledge that Turkish people drink a lot of tea. As a bicycle traveler, exposed to the outside world all the time, unlike one who moves about well secluded in his car, we were many times invited by the locals to share a tea with them. Çay is a type of strong, black tea which is then diluted with hot water and sweetened with sugar to water down its bitter taste.
There are different ways of how to come into possession of a freshly made Çay. For example, in front of a grocery store in Gönen, we were asked if we wanted a tea. We accepted and the owner of the shop produced a Walkie Talkie from one of his pockets and shouted something about „Üç Çay!“ into the hissing device. We witnessed yet another possibility in a different city, where a man went to the intercom on the door of his house and hollered some incomprehensible syllables into the box on the wall. In all cases, someone appeared from out of nowhere with a tray in his hand a few minutes later, carrying the requested amount of Çay.
My Shop is Very CheapWe decided to buy food in a small mountain village, ride out of the village a few kilometres and call it a day. We entered a shop and bought food worth at least 15 Lira but the shop owner repeatedly insisted we should pay only 5 Lira for it. His shop was very cheap, he argued. Well, if he insisted, we were glad to accept the discount. The local grocer from whom we bought tomatoes and onions sold them directly off the trailer of his tractor. I suppose he delivers his vegetables and fruit to several villages in the area. When we left, I forgot my helmet with the GoPro still attached to it next to the stone we had sat on to smoke a cigarette. But the group in front of the tea house called me back and pointed to where the helmet was lying. Apart from hospitality we might add honesty to the list of Turkish traits.
Yol yokWe were following the track through Çırpınar, just about to leave the small village with its steep alleys, when the whole of the professional tea drinkers jumped up at once and shouted something at us, throwing their arms about in wild gesticulation. I stopped the bike and finally understood what they were saying: „Yol yok, yol yok!“ – there’s no road there. They explained that we had to go back down to the village center and take a right across the bridge.
But first they urged us to have tea with them. In no time, we were sitting amongst them. I showed them on a map where in Turkey we wanted to go but when I mentioned that from Van we would cross into Iran they became a bit serious. We shouldn’t go to Iran. There was war in Iran, and many terrorists and it was not safe to travel there. The situation was the same as in Syria, they postulated. So the media seem to provide the same distorted picture of Iran here as it is doing in Germany. At least I was hoping that it was a distorted picture and not the truth.
Two Çays later we said goodbye, went back to the center of the village, crossed the bridge and after climbing a short but incredibly steep slope that felt almost vertical, we arrived in the next village, called Bağlı („baalee“ – almost like the original destination of this trip, before I changed it to Singapore). I asked for a market and the old man pointed towards a tea house at the corner of the street. Apart from being the tea house of the village, it doubled as a market and also as the office where you’d pay the telephone bill.In German, we were talking about today’s dinner when the shopkeeper intervened in almost perfect German. He had lived and worked in Germany for 35 years and returned to Turkey only six years ago where he was now building a house for himself and his wife. He explained that on „this side“ of Turkey, referring to the rural areas of the country, many people were without a job. Because of this, most of the young folks had gone to nearby cities in search of employment while the old ones stayed in their villages doing nothing all day long. He alleged that they did so because they were too lazy to work and expected the government to pay them a rent to live on. He claimed this inertia was one of the reasons why many villages were so dirty, the streets littered with waste and the houses dilapidated. We bought more supplies in Kalkım, a bigger settlement than the ones we had come through before, and a little way out of the city, we spotted two empty buildings in bare masonry. This meant we wouldn’t have to pitch the tent tonight and were also sheltered from the cold wind that was blowing especially in the evening hours. Mia noticed that she had somehow managed to punch a small whole into the skin of one of her panniers. We fixed it with Gaffa tape as best as we could, hoping the bag was still was as waterproof as before. My cooking pots also showed some signs of damage. One had a few small dents in it and the cover was also a bit battered. I decided to cushion them better when they went into my panniers, which seemed to do the trick.
I began to create a little dictionary with the most important words for the trip translated into Turkish, Farsi and Russian. It seemed like a good idea at the time but in the end, I had never used it even once. Then I prepared our food: onions, garlic, paprika, tomatoes. More or less what we ate each and every day, give or take a few ingredients like Sucuk or beyaz peynir (white cheese).
An unexpected DürümWe mastered a pass of 740 meters — not much, but at least it was something — and rolled on, downwards, through endless olive groves, until we reached the city of Edremit close to the Mediterranean Sea. We had a very tasty Dürüm for a mere 3 Lira each (about $1,30) and made for the coast.
In Çoruk we reached the Mediterranean for the first time during this journey. We bought a couple of beers from a market nearby to celebrate our little victory. We took photos, listened to music, scrutinized the mussels that clung to many of the stones in the shallow waters near the shore and idled away the afternoon.Behind us, all the time, cars came and went, their drivers sniffing the fresh breeze of the sea or waiting to watch the sunset. One man got out of his of car, approached us, handed us two cigarettes and romanticized what a nice couple we were — we left him in his bliss and didn’t tell him that, in fact, we were not a couple at all. He trotted back to his car and drove off half an hour later. I went back to the shop to stock up on beer. In a fit of optimistic lightheadedness I also bought 10 eggs before I noticed that I had to transport the fragile shells across several hundred meters of gravel on my bike.
The sun had already set and dusk almost consumed today’s last light, when the guy from the car came back with two plastic bags in his hands. He handed them to us and with a smile declared that he had brought us beer and Dürüm. He asked whether he could sit down with us. Sure he could.The food was tasty and Mia liked it despite of her new-found dread of lamb meat. We talked as good as we were able to, using our hands and feet for communication, and spent a nice evening together. Our new friend was one of the few people who was good at talking without words, just with his hands. I still don’t understand why most of the Ottoman population seems incapable of inventing intelligible gestures for the words and concepts they seek to convey.
Eventually, the cold drove us to our tent and our friend to his car. This night the thermometer would fall to a frosty two degrees Celsius.
Dining with a Table ClothWe rode on south, the road leading us inland and back to the sea several times. In Ayvalık we stopped to have some tea and coffee in a Café that had free WiFi in order to find a place to stay in Izmir. Two hours later, Sencer from Warmshowers wrote me an SMS saying that he would be happy to host us – our first accommodation and a genuine shower was secured. I asked him for his full address because I had arranged that Malte send me the Hepatitis A and B injection I had forgotten in the fridge of my former flat. At this point I didn’t know that the injections would never leave Saarbrücken.
At dusk we reached the sea again. We rode through a huge holiday village called Sahlıleraltı – judging by its size, it was more of a holiday city – which seemed like a ghost town at this time of the year. Hundreds of buildings stood deserted, waiting for spring to bring back life into their walls. A few workers were tending to some of the houses, mowing the lawns, mending fences, but leaving them aside, the whole area was dead. We found a small Büfe close to the sea that had a nice lawn and some tables and chairs under a canopy to shelter us from rain.
Unfortunately, there also was a “jandarma”, a guard who looked after the place during the off-season. He said we may use the tables but would have to pitch our tent outside the plot of land of the büfe. This sounds worse than it was. All we had to do was take a step from the lawn of the Büfe across the very low wall that separated it from the beach and pitch our tent there. The watchman observed us as we prepared our bedding and food, while he smoked a water-pipe. He immediately identified us as Germans and told us that many Germans owned a house here. When the season started again in April, they would flock back to the seaside as every year.
He even brought a tablecloth and put it on our table. It was a nice change from eating in the fields with the plate sitting on the ground, oneself crouching next to it. He offered us to warm up next to the oven in the Büfe building and also allowed us to charge our electronic devices. Once again, we hailed Turkish hospitality.
Since two days Mia’s hands had been covered with a mean, itching rash which is why she slept with my gloves on this day. We tried to rule out different factors that may have caused the condition. As she had shown allergic reactions to down several year ago, we wanted to rule out that our sleeping bags were the reason for her discomfort. In the end it turned out that down was not the culprit and we kept on guessing.The 10 eggs I had carried in my pannier for may kilometres had all survived the trip without even a single crack and made for a delicious breakfast. Today we would leave the Marmara region and enter the Aegean. The backs of Mia’s hands looked as if she had rested them on hot embers. She bought some lotion from a pharmacy that was supposed to alleviate the itching. As we didn’t exclude an allergic reaction to sunlight we wrapped her hands in bandages for the rest of the day. The itching subsided for a while but neither the lotion nor the sunscreen she had put on her hands seemed to help.
Meanwhile, Malte had gone to the post office and filled in all the forms necessary to dispatch a parcel to Turkey. When all was ready, the clerk told him it was impossible to send drugs to Turkey via Mail. I would find out later that the express parcel would have cost about 150€ – more than double the price of the vaccine itself. All the hassle had been in vain, but at least we had tried.
We saw several flocks of flamingoes in Çandarlı, their plumage lacking the pink-reddish tint known from television documentaries. Probably they couldn’t find any of the red crabs in Turkey, that gave the plumage its distinctive colour. Next we rode through an industrial area that stretched on for more than twenty kilometres. The dirty metal complexes and iron structures were a real eyesore but nevertheless, this landscape of contorted steel, smoke-coughing chimneys and humming factory buildings had a certain charm of its own.
In the next article, we pass through Menemen before finally arriving in Izmir and meet our first WarmShowers host Sencer.