Through the Plain towards PamukkaleAfter leaving the Mediterranean we headed east on a straight and almost flat road. Our next destination was Pamukkale. We passed the ruins of Efesos without entering the ancient city. The fee to get in was probably exorbitant anyway and I had no knowledge of the city’s history. A visit would have been nothing more but strolling among some old stones.
After Efeler we turned south for a few kilometers to get away from the heavy traffic of the main road, then headed east again, onto a smaller sidetrack that ran along the base of the mountains delimiting the plain we were riding through. Riding here instead of the truck-infested four lane trunk road was far more rewarding.
We stayed on this road for about forty kilometers, only stopping once for a short breakfast which we bought in a small Ekomini market next to a park. The temperature was at 23°C so we sat down in the sun in said park to have some food. Naturally, the owner of the shop approached us and asked if we wanted a coffee. We accepted the offer but unfortunately my Turkish skills were still insufficient to convey more than basic information such as our country of origin, our destination and a few other fragmented sentences. We eventually ate in silence, slurped our coffee, chomped the remaining eggs, took a good-bye photo with Erkan, the shop owner, and rode on through many small villages until the path led us back onto the main road.
Cycling here wasn’t as pleasant as riding through the small, rural villages along the sidetrack, but the tailwinds blew strong only in the center of the valley. Without any gradients to overcome we made good way. With the wind pushing us forward, we rushed towards the “White Castle”, Pamukkale.
Pamukkale and the HierapolisAround three o’clock in the afternoon we stood at the northern gate of the Hierapolis of Pamukkale. Much to Mia’s chagrin the gate was situated 200 meters above the village proper but I had gotten used to her nagging. Now, in mid-April, as I am writing this article, she also had grown accustomed to the many long gradients we had to conquer and only complained about the heat, the cold, back aches, hunger, feeling too full, tiredness and the pungent stench of flatulence.
Like most historical sites of Turkey, the entrance fee for the Hierapolis and the warm springs was almost insulting. As much as we wanted to see the ruins and take a bath in the hot water that had deposited its minerals on the rock basins which covered the slope, turning them white in the process, prices were just too outrageous. 32 Lira, about 15 Dollars, for the springs already seemed a lot. But to get to there, one had to cross the Hierapolis, which cost another 25 Lira, 12 Dollars, for a total of 27 Dollars to take a dip in mineral water. We decided to save the money and took a photo from outside the fence. Then we went back to the parking lot where we had met a French couple on our way to the gate before.
Julien and EstelleThe two travelers from France, our Baguette-devouring neighbour, had almost reached the end of their journey. Their means of transport was an old Mercedes van, kept together as much by rust as by rivets. They had travelled from Spain to Scandinavia and from Poland to Turkey. The back of the van was cramped but cosy and provided enough space for the four of us plus their two dogs. While a thunderstorm and heavy rain raged outside we had dinner in the van. When the rain finally stopped we went back to our Pokemon tent, which still didn’t have a name, and went to sleep.
The Next FailureWhen I tried to heat water for a coffee next morning, I noticed that the stream of petrol didn’t exit the jet of the stove vertically. The flammable liquid fizzed in every direction but straight up. Cleaning it didn’t help, nor did swearing. After 20 minutes I gave up and exchanged the jet. I had hoped the necessity to open the stove’s repair kit would never arise, but here I was, tired, annoyed, fingers covered in soot, and yearning for a coffee, screwing the replacement jet in the stove. If our equipment keeps failing at this rate, by the time we will reach the Chinese border, everything but four spokes and a pair of underpants will be fubar.
The new jet did the trick. A few minutes later, my hands still dirty, I was enjoying a steaming hot coffee while watching the sun slowly rise above the mountain ridge to the south-east. Clouds hid the highest peaks from sight. I took a couple of photos and started to pack my panniers. Mia was still sound asleep in the tent and would still be two hours later. Why? Because she gives a fuck.
PamukkaleWe said goodbye to our French friends and rolled downhill into the centre of Pamukkale. There were a few overpriced markets and a bus stop next to where a swathe of white rock almost reached the village. The artificial pond next to the road, with its obese ducks and bellicose swans who extorted food from tourists, was surrounded by restaurants and food stalls. Forests of small signs covered the meadows surrounding the pond, prohibiting almost everything but breathing. I felt as if I was back in Germany.
While we had breakfast on a bench near the pond, several buses full of camera-hung tourists spilled their contents into the little park. The scene was the same every time: “marvellous”, “amazing”, click, click, “now you two”, click click, “one more”, click, “oh, lets feed the ducks”, click, click, “shall we get back in the bus?”, click.
Denizli and Kazıkbeli Pass
We rolled back towards the centre of the plain and eventually crossed it to Denizli, the capital of this region, which lay at the foot of the mountains opposite Pamukkale. After stocking up on food, we began to climb the mountain range I had photographed a few hours before.
The pass lay about 1000 meters above us, so this was one of the longest continuous climbs of the trip, if one discounts passes that we would climb in more than one day. While going up, I felt the full weight of my 45 kilo cycling machine. For the last few meters, I had to push myself forward, pedalling hard in first gear, silently shouting at myself in order to not give up and push forward.
When I reached the sign that announced the pass, my GPS displayed 1170 meters of altitude. The sign said 1250 meters. But I knew that the altitudes on street signs in Turkey were not very precise, sometimes off by more than 100 meters.At this altitude snow still lined the road. The temperature had fallen significantly below the benign 20°C of the plain below. I knew we would stay above 1000 meters for the next couple of weeks which meant we were in for some cold weather. We had entered the Turkish uplands. Slightly freezing, we rolled down from the pass and into the plain that was, as always, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. In fact, most of Turkey consists of plains surrounded by mountain chains. Only this time the snow reached all the way down the slopes into the valley.
At an altitude of more or less 1000 meters we cycled into the first village, Serinhısar. Mia proposed to have a çay to warm ourselves. We stopped in front of the mosque in the town centre to have a look at the GPS. Then we approached the tea house directly opposite from where we had stopped, answered the standard catalogue of questions, had a tea and, as always, didn’t have to pay for it. We explained that we usually slept in a tent and were looking for a good spot to pitch it. One of the youngsters recommended we ask at the traffic police station seven kilometres outside of town.
Turkish Traffic PoliceIt felt a bit weird to ask the police if we could camp on the station precincts. Yet another impossibility in Germany. Mia also doubted that they would let us sleep there so we stopped under a huge tree next to the police station, leaned the bikes against the stem and smoked a cigarette while watching the officers in front of the station. They, in turn, were watching us. I suppose both sides were curious as to what the other was thinking and doing. After a while, the policemen disappeared inside the building.
We said to ourselves: “The worst that can happen is that they send us away.” So, we pushed the bikes onto the lawn in front of the station and climbed up the five steps that led to the entrance and the warmth inside. I asked one of the officers if we could pitch our tent on their ground. He regretted that it was not allowed within the limits of the station but proposed that we camp under the tree right outside of the station. The surveillance cameras covered this area as well so we would be save, he told us. They gave us tea before we left the station to prepare for the night.
As we were about to step through the door another policeman we hadn’t seen before entered the building. He started to talk in German and told us that his father had lived and worked in Austria for 25 years and he himself had stayed there for three years as well. After a short conversation we said goodbye and moved our bikes back to the tree.
As we were unfolding the tent, the German-speaking officer approached us and asked why we didn’t pitch the tent on the station’s lawn. We embraced the opportunity and quickly moved all our belongings inside. He offered us the small pavilion in front of the building for cooking and eating, which we happily did. We could even charge our electrical devices there. After dinner, another policeman brought us two steaming cups of tea and wished us a good night.
Morning SurpriseWhen I woke up next morning I cursed myself because it seemed that I had pitched the tend really badly. In many places the fly was slack and stuck to the inner tent, channelling water through the thin membrane into the interior of the tent. Furthermore, the weather appeared to be ghastly as it was quite dark in the tent and I had heard the sound of rain during the night. The material the fly of the tent was made of was sensitive to temperature and moisture so even if the fly was taut in the evening, by the time it had cooled down and possibly got wet in the morning it had lost all tension. To check, I poked my finger into the fly. It felt as if I had poked it into fine-grained sand. Also, I noticed a sensation of cold on my fingertips. Could it be? Was it really?
I pushed harder and heard something slide down the side of the tent. The interior immediately brightened up. It was, in fact, snow. Copious amounts of snow. When I finally opened the tent and squinted into the sea of white outside, I started to smile. Despite the cold it was pure bliss to see the whole world covered in a pristine layer of perfect white. It looked as if a whole shipload of candyfloss had exploded.
Snow and Slush
I would have preferred to start riding right after breakfast but there was so much slush on the road that every passing truck hurled about huge, brown fountains of wet sludge. We would have been drenched from head to toe within minutes. Thus, we sat in the police station once again, drank tea, had some more breakfast and waited until the passing traffic had cleared the road of snow, slush and puddles.Later I found out that setting up the tent under a tree hadn’t been a good idea at all. By the time we wanted to take down the tent and pack our stuff temperatures had risen above zero and all the snow on the tree was melting. We were literally packing in pouring rain although it wasn’t raining.
Around half past eleven the time to hit the road had come. We rode through the crystalline valley towards the next pass. From time to time the cloud cover broke and the sun bathed an small area in a golden cone of light. But most of the time the sky was just grey with the odd snow shower inbetween.
Salda GolüThis pass also marked the dividing line between the Aegaean and the Mediterranean region of Turkey. The capital of the Mediterranean region is Antalya, our next destination. The pass offered amazing views of Salda Gölü, one of the deepest lakes of the country. As we cycled along the shore of the lake I noticed that on this side of the pass only small patches of snow remained, though the weather was still ghastly.
In Yeşilova we stocked up on food in the local BIM market. Besides Şok and 101, BIM was one of the leading food discounters in Turkey. We cycled on in search of a suitable spot to camp but this time we were out of luck. All spots were either too sloped or soaking wet. We rode on and on until it was already getting dark. Still no luck.
Tales from the Mudpit
We eventually decided to camp on a muddy patch of field right next to a fountain. As we began to set up the tent we quickly noticed that, with each step, the amount of mud that stuck to our shoes grew. After only ten steps my shoes weighed about five kilograms. I set down some flat stones around the tent so I could move for a few steps more before the weight of my shoes forced me back to the road in order to clean them.
I was just about to curse the mud, the country and the universe when it started to rain. The slight drizzle quickly turned into a downpour. By the time everything was set up we were freezing, half-soaked and not in the best of moods. Today was the first time I had to cook in the vestibule of the tent. It was also the first time I really appreciated having such a monster tent because I could easily prepare our food and change clothes inside without feeling like lying in a coffin. It was a good idea to carry the extra weight and pack a five kilo tent that permitted cooking and “living” during periods of bad weather without feeling claustrophobic.
In the next article we will cross the mountains and reach Antalya. It will be the last time we see the Mediterranean.