Fast, light weight, long distance, self-sufficient cycling, during the holy Muslim month of fasting and self-reflection.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish) began a few days ago on June 29th. During this time all practicing Muslims observe fasting (all liquids and solids) and sexual abstinence during the hours of dawn to dusk. Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, and during the summer days are close to 17 hours. A typical day begins with Suhoor the predawn meal before Fajr (3:30 am) the first prayer, followed by fasting until Maghrib (8:40 pm) the evening prayer. Practitioners usually wait at the table till the completion of the ezhan (call to prayer) then say a short prayer and begin Iftar the evening meal. (The exact times change and vary due to location but are the actual times these events will be practiced in Istanbul tomorrow, the 4th of July).
Traditionally Iftar, begins with eating a few dates. I have heard that this is symbolic and goes all the way back to the time of the Prophet (pbbh)., This is to remind those who fast that the body does not need as much food as the mind desires. Other than dates there is the traditional Ramazan Pidesi, thin, oven baked bread, sold fresh and hot throughout the city in the late afternoon and early evening. (Certain bakeries are widely known for their Pidesi and long lines begin as early as 5 pm). Many women and home makers begin preparing for the evening meal early in the day and spend most of their time shopping for ingredients and cooking.
Depending on the location and time of day, many restaurants and coffee shops can be completely deserted. In some areas like the fundamental districts of Fatih and Uskudar it feels almost as if the city is asleep. In contrast in the western shopping districts no observation of Ramadan fasting can be witnessed. In many cities throughout Turkey the Iftar evening meal is paid for by the government with booths, tables, chairs and lighting set up on street corners. I will be looking forward to these meals as I pedal east.
My new wheels have arrived!! Finally, after a long day at customs and the help of my two fantastic hosts, Semra and Rich I have my “zombie proof” wheels, These are said to be the strongest man has to offer in terms of cycle touring and I quickly noticed that the new wheels weight substantially more than the last set. Unfortunately this extra weight will slow my pace when trying to escape from flesh-eating zombies. (I am a little unsure as to what they meant by zombie proof). Due to the time spent waiting for the wheels my route through Turkey has changed. I have now decided to pedal north along the Black Sea directly to Georgiastan. This will give me plenty of time to explore the exotic lands of the 4 Stans; Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik before crossing the Pamirs into China.
I am all set up and ready to hit the road again, I have a visa for Azerbaijan which begins on July 28th and because of some fantastic diplomatic relations I can now travel to Kazakhstan visa free!! I am sad to leave my new friends. I have gotten so used to their company, that I have almost forgotten what things are like on my own. I have learned so much from them and even had my Vedic Astrology birth chart analyzed. I have felt this way with several people on this trip, the most recent being with Ljubinka and Nino on the island of Krk in Croatia. I adapt quickly and that there is so much more awaiting me on long dusty sweltering roads to Central Asia. I leave on Saturday. One year ago tomorrow I was partying at a BBQ in Marfa, Texas! Enjoy Ramadan!!