Hafik to Zara: friendly encounters

For the larger part of my journey I had some pretty nice weather. The sun was a good companion while traveling through Europe. I would take a rest day if it rained. I find it difficult to start the day when it’s pouring, I imagine the discomfort and just don’t want to go. But when the rain catches you on the road, you just man up and take it how it comes.

When traveling through Turkey I had to cycle through some bad weather for a couple of days. It started nearby the village of Karagöl. The night before I found  a nice camping spot a kilometer or two from the main road, it rained all night until the morning. When the rain stopped I packed my gear and set off. I followed the same path back to the main highway but the dirt road became a mud road. It took me two hours to push and carry my fully loaded bicycle through the mud. I just couldn’t peddle through, the mud would accumulate between the tires and the mudguards, blocking the wheels. When finally liberated I could continue with my trip. I reached the city of Şarkişla and stopped to buy some groceries. When I was ready to leave it started raining again. A store owner saw me as I was trying to stay dry under a rooftop, he invited me into his store, gave me a cup of çay and let me use his wi-fi. When the rain stopped I continued with my trip.

After the city of Sivas, where I stopped for a day to visit the dentist, I headed up to Zara. It rained all day. At midday I was planning a lunch brake, but didn’t find a pleasant or a dry place to rest, until I reached the town of Hafik. Reaching the city I saw a car riding on the opposite side of the road, the occupants waved at me, I waved back. A couple of minutes later the same car drove aside me, the driver and two passengers invited me for lunch. Without hesitating I accepted their offer. I followed them to the town’s main street, where we stopped at a gun shop.

My hosts were three brothers and the gun shop was the family business. Ata, Okan and Ersin received me and invited me to eat pide (turkish version of pizza). The couple of hours I spend with the guys until the weather cleared, was great. Without knowing each others language (their English was very basic) we managed to communicate using different tools such as google translate or me making some basic sketches. It kept on going like this until one of their friends came and translated our conversation. A question they made and one of the most frequent asked during my trip through Turkey is about football, specifically which Turkish football team was my favorite: Galatasaray S.K. or Fenerbaçhe. Difficult to answer when you don’t have a clue what’s going on with the national league of your own country. The brothers took me for a ride around town and showed me the nearby Gölü (Turkish for lake). I had a great time with them. They also taught me some swear words and they targeted some of their friends on which I could use the word piç (bastard child) on, it was immensely funny for them.

I still wanted to ride some kilometers that day, so I kept my stay short. As they say in Mexico, “Panza llena, corazón contento” (belly full, happy heart), I left my hosts grateful for their hospitality.

The next kilometers were difficult. It started raining harder, the temperature dropped and I had to cycle uphill. Even while wearing appropriate rain gear I got soaked. I reached the city of Zara at night fall and took shelter at a gas station. The gas station attendant who saw how wet and tired I was, invited me into the office. Their the owner seated me near the electrical heater and gave me a cup of çay. I just sat their zombified for hours as people came and went. I asked the owner if he new a place where I could camp for the night, he kept silent for a couple of minutes and after he asked me to follow him. He showed me the terrace above the gas station and asked me if it was suitable to setup my tent there. It was just perfect for me. The rest of the night I spend it with Murat B., the attendant who received me when I arrived. Even without having a common language, we talked for hours. Murat talked about his family and hobbies. In his free time he likes to go fishing and he’s a pigeon fancier. Before we knew it it was midnight and time to close the shop and so I retired to my improvised sleeping quarters.

The next morning I woke up feeling cold, the temperature had dropped considerably. I didn’t have any food left so I went to the bakery just across the gas station. I only bought a loaf of bread and as I was ready to get on my bicycle, the baker came out of his store and asked me if I wanted to join him for a cup of çay. And I never say no to a cup of çay or coffee. He put up a chair near the bread oven and instructed one of the employees to get some cheese, jam and bread, breakfast was served. As talking in English wasn’t useful, I had to improvise to understand and answer all of their questions. Some of the other customers gathered around to see what was happening and joined the conversation. As the time came to leave, the baker gave me another loaf of bread, three simits and a pot of jam; what he gave was so much more than I what I had bought. I felt a bit ashamed but thankful for his kindness. Before I left they took some pictures with me. I regret that I can’t share photos of such nice people.

That day I had to ride my bicycle in the cold but with a warm heart.

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Lake near the village of Hafik

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From right to left: Okan, Ata and the others…

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In front of the gun shop. From right to left: Okan, Ata and the others…

 

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Kayseri: Recep

Before reaching the city of Kayseri I spend some marvelous days in Göreme, a town located in the Cappadocia area. The open-air museum is conformed with such beautiful places, that it formed one of the most memorable moments of my journey. The visit to the “fairy chimneys” rock formations in the Rose and Red valley, left me in awe. The weather was still pleasant, so I settled in one of the so many camping spots surrounding the area. The first day, I was the only camper around, but that changed when some Turkish university students spend a night at the camp grounds. Earlier that day, as I was cleaning “la paloma negra”, one of the members of the group, Volkan Ö (who was the only one of the group that could speak English), approached me and asked who I was and what I was doing. Soon the other group members gathered around. They invited me to join them that evening for some BBQ and beers. The night passed rapidly talking about life, the difference between European and Turkish life and me answering a bunch of personal questions. Volkan served as translator.

The next day I set off for Kayseri, where Recep, a warmshowers member, had agreed to host me. I was his second guest. That night I arrived late to his place. I didn’t imagine the city of Kayseri to be that big. It took me a while to cross the city and it wasn’t easy to find the exact location of the apartment building where Recep lived. Google maps or the other GPS apps on my smartphone didn’t find the address. But after a few calls and some guidance using landmarks I finally got there. After this experience I always ask my potential hosts, if their kind enough to share the latitude and longitude coordinates of their home. With this data I don’t need online connection and can locate the meeting point in the GPS app.

Recep lives in a student neighborhood located in the eastern part of the city  and shares an apartment with three other guys who still are students. Recep is a recent Industrial Designer graduate and works as a product manager in a company that manufactures domestic appliances. He is native to a village nearby the city of Konya (city I still regret not have visited) where his father is a farmer.

I spend just a few hours with Recep that night, as he had an early start the next morning. He prepared a dinner of eggs and home made beef sausage. His family had sacrificed a cow during the Kurban Bayrami, so his fridge was stocked with a lot of meat. The rest of the night we spend repairing the chain of his bicycle and talking about Turkish customs; the compulsory military service (as a recent university graduate he has to present himself for service); religion and girls. About the last topic, he shared that his family was putting some pressure on him to find a suitable wife. The topic came about because of me being thirty five years old and single, and he was curious how my family thought about that.

The next morning I didn’t see Recep as he had left early. He gave me a prayer beads as a good bye gift and made sure that I had breakfast before I left. Afterwards I packed my stuff, loaded the bike and closed the door of another home that had been kind to me and maybe  never see again.

Muchas gracias Recep!!!

Recep

Recep

 

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Güzelyurt: Osmanoglu hotel

Güzelyurt is one of those villages they oversold me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice picturesque village with some antique Greek houses, but for me it was not worth the detour and climb. It was difficult to find a camp spot, because the village is situated on a mountain. There are plenty of hotels but they didn’t fit my budget.

Until I found the Osmanoglu hotel, a family run business. They allowed me to camp on the small green patch in the courtyard. At the moment I was the only guest of the hotel and had some personal time with the owners. They bought a couple of years ago the old Greek house and restored it so it could function as a hotel. They do all the work by themselves, cooking, cleaning, repairs, and so on.

The owners were very nice and indulged me with one to many çays.

Camp spot in the courtyard

Camp spot in the courtyard

owners of Osmanoglu.

owners of Osmanoglu

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Kaymakli: and the Ünal bims manufacturing co.

The town of Kaymakli is located in the Cappadocia region and is known for the underground city. It lays between the Ihlara valley and Göreme National Park. I had planned to wild camp nearby the city so I could visit the archeological site early the next morning. As night started to fall I searched for a good camping spot, as I was cycling near the highway I didn’t find one. The area was surrounded with agriculture fields and open areas. As I was nearing the city I saw a small apple tree garden next to a bricks manufacturing company, I decided to ask the owner if I could put up my tent in the garden.

I went to the office and the task of explaining my intentions was a bit more difficult tan expected. First I tried to explain in English but nobody understood a word of what I was saying. Then I used the “Point it” book I carry with me, and that didn’t help. Luckily one of the guys let me use their computer so I could type in Google translate what my intentions were and then it was OK. I could camp in between the stacked bricks, out of sight and out of the wind. The Ünal bims brick manufacturing co. is a family run business. Two generations of Ünal work there. I met all the family while pitching up the tent, the father, the sons and their children. Everybody curious of what I was doing; where I came from; where I was going… When everything was ready they left me so I could have a good nights rest.

The next morning they had prepared breakfast for me, scrambled eggs, bread and çay. And I was set to continue with my trip. Sadly I can’t remember their names, nor did I take any pictures of them. But the memory remains. The only thing I can share are the pictures I took that night.

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camping between bricks

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Ünal bims

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Ankara: Evren G. and kids

It took me three days to cycle from the city of Sakarya to Ankara, the capital of Turkey. During those days I wild camp twice, one day nearby the village of Damlar and the next day near the village of Çayirhan. The weather was still warm and the surrounding sites pleasant.

Before I left the city of Sakarya I contacted a couple of potential warmshower hosts for my stay in Ankara, without any luck. People were responding to my request and apologizing that they couldn’t host me. The timing was just bad; it was the start of the Kurban Bayrami (Feast of the Sacrifice) and a lot of people were on the move visiting family and friends to celebrate the holiday. A brief summary for those unfamiliar with this Muslim holiday:

  • The Kurban Bayrami is the second of two religious holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide each year.
  • The Feast of Sacrifice commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah.
  • The festival lasts four and a half days. A goat or sheep of minimum one year old is  sacrificed (it can also be a cow, a camel or a ram).
  • The meat is to be divided in three parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.
  • more information see the wikipedia entry about the Feast of Sacrifice

The day I planned to arrive to Ankara started with a stop in the town of Beypazari. I needed to stock-up on some food and drink a nice cup of çay at a bakery. The place had wi-fi, that gave me the opportunity to search on-line for a hostal in Ankara and track the route on my GPS. I tried my luck and contacted other warmshower hosts, without expecting much responds.

When reaching the urban area around Ankara I though that I almost had reached my destination, but  It took another 40km to arrive to the hostel which was not there anymore. The place was out of business. Frustrated, I started looking around the neighborhood for an alternative. I stopped at a coffeehouse/bookstore to ask the owner for help. He gave me the address of another hostel nearby. I asked him if I could use his wi-fi connection so I could load the google map on my smartphone. Once connected I saw that I had received an email from warmshowers. Evren G. graciously agreed to host me at such short notice!

I stayed at Evren’s home for 2 nights. I must say the time I spend there was the highlight of Ankara.

Evren is a bicycle and sports enthusiast and nature lover. When we were talking about our bicycle touring experiences you could see her eyes spark while she was showing me her pictures of her past trips in Turkey. She is the mother of two wonderful kids. The youngest, Kuzey, is a very energetic child, I called him speedy gonzalez. The oldest Ekin is on the other hand a relaxed kid, acting very mature for his age (11yrs when I met him). To save for buying his own laptop,  Ekin was working after school hours as a waiter at a local coffeehouse. I learned some basic Turkish from Ekin, he took the time to explain himself with some basic examples and using whatever material he could find to communicate with me. Children have a way of simplifying their ideas, while we “grownups” tend to over think it and make everything a bit more complicated than necessary.

The days past for me walking around Ankara visiting the few historical places the city has to offer. At night I had some pleasant conversation with Evren’s flatmate (shamefully I forgot her name) and her boyfriend Osman. Drinking raki, we talked through the night about the customs of our respective countries, religion and our travels. While interchanging ideas, I noticed that we all have the same dreams and fears. I also got to know how passionate Turkish people feel for Atatürk (founder of the Republic of Turkey). I commented to Osman that I had visited the Anitkabir (the mausoleum of Atatürk) and that it had impressed me. I found it a bit to big and nationalistic (in all countries you will find landmarks like these to encourage national identity). Saying that, Osman was a bit surprised about my remarks, and took the time to explain the importance of Atatürk in Turkey in the past as well in the present. During my stay in Turkey I noticed that a lot of the old and young strongly belief in the ideals that the “father of the Turks” represent.

My host in Ankara was fantastic, she took the time to talk to me; share food and joy; she even washed my clothes and sewed a button back on to on one of my pants! I felt very lucky and grateful. I hope she can go on a lot of bicycle tours, and that at one point I can show her the same kindness she showed me!

After saying our goodbyes it was time to hit the road again.

Next stop Cappadocia.

From left to right: Kuzey, Evren and Ekin

From left to right: Kuzey, Evren and Ekin

Evren with her youngest child Kuzey

Evren with Kuzey, her youngest child

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Sakarya: Murat and Ugur

When going on a bicycle tour, and time is not an issue, you don’t have to take the shortest and easiest way. Most of the time the easiest road will be dull and unsatisfying. When asking people which road to take they will recommend the easy one. This is not a bad thing, they are trying to be considered and helpful, taking care that you get to your next destination without any problems.

On the other side of the coin you also have the intrepid, the ones that will send you through places that you only can access with a 4x4WD. Sometimes it works to go through those roads with your touring bicycle. And after all the sweat and cursing, you will be satisfied and glad to have gone off the beaten path. And in other moments, you just have to return and take the alternative road.

And then there is the path that forms before you as you go. The one with the least expectations, the one that will give you that WTF feeling, make your curse, test your strengths, make you feel in awe and in the end put a big smile on your face (maybe not on the same day, but for sure days or years later).

This has nothing to do with my hosts in Sakarya, just sharing something  I’ve learned the last couple of months, which I know sounds very cliché. But now, instead of reading about it, I had the opportunity to experience it.

After leaving the city of Izmit, I decided to take the the secondary road to Sakarya. I traveled along the countryside and saw some nice rural villages..

I had contacted Murat through the warmshowers website a night before to see if I could stay at his place for one night. All very last minute. As I didn’t receive a reply in the morning I decided to just pass the city of Sakarya and camp somewhere along the road. When I arrived at the city I decided to quench my thirst for a sugary drink in one of the local bars. The waiters of the place bought me a drink and aloud me to use the free Wi-Fi. Loading my emails I saw that Murat had replied, I was welcome to stay at his place if cats weren’t a problem. This was a bit of a problem for me due my allergies for the furry critters. But as long that I don’t pet them there shouldn’t be any problem.

I was well received by Ugur, a friend of Murat , with whom I had a nice chat. He spoke very good English. That wasn’t the case with the other fellows I met later that night.

Ugur took the time to tell me his life story. He’s a twenty-something who had recently graduated and got married. His passion are mountaineering and diving. He’s a certified diving instructor. He shared me his experience how to dive safely, the best way to camp and what to eat during trekking excursions. I added his recipe of pasta with tuna and sweet corn as part of my camp menu. At the time, Ugur was going through some stressful moments. His wife was granted a PhD in The Netherlands so he was trying to get a visa so he could join here (I don’t now how that worked out).

After our talk we went to the nearest shopping center and grabbed some fast calories from Burger King. There we where joined by some friends of Ugur and Murat, also passionate mountaineers. After dinner they gathered at Murat’s place to play a “first person shooter” game. Which didn’t interest me for the moment.

One of the guys start talking to me, looking interested in my trip and the kind of gear I was carrying. After I enlisted everything and their purpose he simply responded that I earned to much money. I tried to explain that the gear I carried was in function of the length of my trip, my personal interests and perceived quality. His answer was the same: “you earn to much money”. I just stopped explaining. I still don’t know what he wanted to achieve with his remark, I it made me feel a bit guilty. I just concluded that he was trying to make me appreciative of what I had. I tried to see this as a lesson and not as criticism.

The night ended with Murat and I sharing our interest of music. Youtube was a great tool for showing our favorite musicians. Murat recommended bands, such as: Baba Zula, Baris Manço, Cem Karaca, MFO, Jehan Babur, Erkan Ogur, Mogollar, Kâzım Koyuncu, and many others… I shared some songs from Mexican bands such as Café Tacvba and Caifanes. People really seem to connect to these bands. With Belgian bands it’s a bit more difficult.  Gorki’s song Mia and music by the band Hooverphonic seem to be favorites.

The next day I left without taking the usual picture from my hosts. Ugur had to take an early bus to Bursa and Murat was sleeping. I left after saying goodbye to a sleepy Murat.

My next destination was Ankara.

I end this post with 2 videos of what I think is one of the most interesting Turkish bands I’ve listened to.

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Izmit: Magsud H.

On September 30th 2014, day 67 of my trip, I left Istanbul and started on the Asian part of my journey. All looked still the same on this continent…

It all started well that day. As usual, I took my time. Before leaving in the morning, I spend what time with my host from Kadikoy. And after having breakfast and say our farewells I started pedaling.

The first 30 km were a joy. I cycled near the shore of the Sea of Marmara. The weather was fine, the roads were free of traffic and flat, until I reached the city of Kaynarca. Bye bye calm seashore and hello heavy traffic!!!.. The D-100 highway to the city of Izmit was nerve-wracking, the shoulder of the road was very narrow, a lot of trucks, noise and the industrial landscape, made this part of the road a bit unpleasant…

The ride was also a bit longer than I had expected (but that happens very often).  Once I arrived to the city of Izmit I followed the road to the home of my warmshower host according to route the GPS (iPhone app. Pocket earth) had laid-out for me… And as I learned that day, it doesn’t give you the best road to follow: steep climbs (where I had to dismount and push the bicycle) and some pointless turns, made the last kilometers very tiring. The dark of night caught up with me and I was late (I know that a lot of my friends would say: “well, no surprise there”). I was glad that Magsud was still waiting for me at the rendezvous. His smile and calmness, made me feel relaxed and welcomed from the first moment.

Magsud H.  is a twentysomething computer engineering student at the University of Kocaeli. Originally from Azerbaijan, he moved to Turkey to continue his studies. He shares an apartment with his friends Sinan and Fatih. As a great warmshower host, he gave me a place to rest, shower and eat, topped with some great stories and insights of the daily life of university students and Turkish culture.

Magsud is an avid cyclist, having already done several short bicycle tours… In the summer of 2014 he had planned his first big one: a bicycle tour from Kocaeli to Baku. But due family affairs, he had to cancel his trip.

The night I spend with those guys (and some other friends of theirs) I got some new insights in the life of Turkish university students, their aspirations and challenges. So recognizable but also so different to my own experience.

The night passed with good beer and laughs. The beer was a bit difficult to get around their neighborhood. According to Turkish law, selling alcohol near schools and places of worship is prohibited. And retailers are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. That is a big bummer for 18+ students, and for me.

My hosts were very considered and left me to my own, and so I had a good nights rest. The next morning the first to wake up was Fatih, he prepared breakfast for us all. Everybody was at the table, sharing…

After taking some pictures to support our memories and saying goodbye I got on my bicycle feeling a lucky man. Thankful for having met such great guys!!!

“Magsud I’m looking forward to read, hear and see the stories of your journey”… For everybody else I share with you a video that Magsud filmed during his bicycle trip between Kocaeli and Ağva and an other from Kocaeli to Sapanca.

See and feel the joy of a bicycle trip!!

From Left to Right: Magsud, Fatih and Sinan

From Left to Right: Magsud, Fatih and Sinan

 

 

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