My cycling rights in Turkey are best compared to Women’s voting rights in 19th century America, they don’t exist. Many automobiles and trucks sport the bumper sticker “ALLAH KORUSUN” (God protect) on their bumpers, more appropriate would be to have the sticker on the front windshield as a warning to everything in their path. Regardless of if I am pedaling on the shoulder or even on the sidewalk, automobiles in Turkey will drive on and over anything, to shorten their commute. On several occasions while pedaling on the shoulder of a busy highway, I would encounter a car heading in the opposite direction taking up the shoulder I was pedaling on, the car would honk as if I were attempting to play chicken and forcing me into the busy highway. Passenger buses and city vans will stop anywhere, even in the slow lane of the highway to pick up/drop off passengers. I even remember seeing a man dropping off his 9 month pregnant wife on the side of the highway, as there was a hospital on the other side of the guard rail! The local saying couldn’t describe it better: “Burasa Turkiye” – This is Turkey!
Tempers continue to flair, and I have noticed many (older couples) getting into disputes at the market place. Fighting over which fruit or vegetable to buy and even which loin of meat to take home and cook. The ever-present fasting breath, an extreme version of halitosis is also rampant! While conversing with locals I really have to try hard to keep my distance as many Turkish people think that talking inches from your face will help you understand what they are saying, ahhh. All in all I have enjoyed my experiences in Turkey but I would advise future travelers to avoid the holy month of Ramadan, people are too edgy and it is extremely hard to find fresh cooked food during the day.
After my last post, I decided to take some side roads through a large green section depicted on the map (the peninsula between Fatsa and Ordu) . Within a few km, the road started to climb though a beautiful jungle. There was a lingering morning haze, and I could see jagged mountains, a waterfall and even the minaret of a mosque tucked away in the foliage. The surroundings were much like Hana, HI and invoked images of classical Chinese paintings. It was hot and humid though, and before long my clothes were soaked with sweat. The sun is so strong out here that I actually got burned through my long sleeve shirt. I used to think that UV protected clothing was a bunch of bull, especially when REI started selling it but when one is exposed to strong UV rays 24/7 normal clothing can’t hold out.
I passed several Turkish villages situated directly on the beach and was shocked by the Islamic Oceanic culture. “Normally”, from what I have experienced in CA, Hawaii, Greece and other locations, in a city, town or village located in a tropical place it is not uncommon to see locals in swimming suits, bikinis, and even a few sun burned tourists here and there. But here were nothing of the sort. Women were fully dressed, head to toe, with a little skin showing between the nose and forehead, men were in slacks, and long sleeve shirts sometimes with jackets wearing the popular devoted Muslim white skull-cap. There were no fisherman or seafood vendors, (most shops were selling lamb and beef), no one was in the water swimming and kids could be found playing in the courtyard around the mosque. This was a beach environment I had never experience. It was almost as if you transported a desert culture to a tropical beach, there was no visible assimilation with the ocean.
I pedaled on and found a black sand beach, with crystal clear water. After pushing Gabriella through the sand I found to my astonishment I was the only one there. This was the nicest beach I had been too since Croatia or Montenegro, and none of the locals want to go for a swim? Or hanging out on a hot day? (Later I learned that most the locals were either at the tea house or in the Mosque). I swam out and was quickly surrounded by a school of Moon Jellyfish (Jellyfish without tentacles). They felt like big squishy blobs as I pushed them away while swimming. At first I was a bit scared of being stung but there was nothing there to skin me and their squishy bodies tickled my arms and legs. No long after I heard the afternoon call to prayer and I looked to the huge Mosque built near the rocky cliffs. A tropical paradise in a conservative Islamic country.
Hours later the small jungle road rejoined the highway and the lush terrain morphed into flat fields and long sandy beaches. Hotels, restaurants and cafes lined the coast and I stopped again to refresh myself in the cool water. “No beach unless you pay 10 TL”, valets collecting money near all the roads leading to the beach, and even on a bike it seemed I couldn’t get by without a duty. “I go to beach and camp”….”OK”? I said. “OK” the valet said and let me through without the 10 TL fee. (Not sure how that worked but I did). The beaches here were populated as the large city of Ordu was not far away. Domestic tourists, mostly sun bathing their large bodies in the intense afternoon sun and children playing backgammon. The sand was too hot for bare feet and the large beach took on a mirage similar to that of a desert.
A relatively similar environment as before, the only people in the water were children under the age of 15, and many of the sun bathers, other than the Turkish men with big stomachs were fully clothed. I walked several km of the beach in search of the ever-present women swimming in Burqa,(which I had heard about from several sources) but unfortunately I didn’t see any. I watched the sun make tall/long shadows and spent the day swimming in the cool murky waters. I made camp on a random patch of grass a few meters from the sea and cooked pasta in the early evening hours. Somewhere between the hours of 1-3 am a small boat got stuck in the ropes of a swimming lane near the shore, and drifting in and out of sleep I listened to two Turkish men curse at one another while they banged a hammer like tool on the propeller.
A storm blew in and the next few days were filled with rain and thick fog. The weather caught me off guard and soaked all of my clothes! It was so warm and humid that it wasn’t much of a bother but sleeping in the tent with the fly on was almost unbearable. For two nights I prayed that the rain would stop and the clouds lift just long enough for me to get some sleep without the fly, but both nights a drizzle prevailed. Like in Jordan, I played Adam and Eve in my tent and slept completely naked waiting for the late evening coastal breeze.
I pedaled past the large cities of Giresun, Trabzon, and Rize, stopping in Trabzon to view the ancient Byzantium church converted to a Mosque and yesterday I crossed the rainy border into Georgia. The customs official gave me a bit of flack because he had to take my passport out of ziplock bag, to check my nationality, but I crossed the border before dark and spent a dry night at a guest house near the border. Since leaving Istanbul I have pedaled over 1,200 km and am ready for a new language and culture. Georgia, like many of the future countries I will be pedaling through was once part of the USSR, making Russian a common second language out here. Tonight I will learn my necessary phrases as I prepare to pedal into the remote Georgian alps.