Women’s suffrage and Turkish cycling

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!

This is Turkey, there are a lot of great wild camping spots on the beach

This is Turkey, there are a lot of great wild camping spots on the beach

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.

Turkish tailor double stitches SWRVE knickers while Gabriella waits in the window

Turkish tailor double stitches SWRVE knickers while Gabriella waits in the window

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.

Qing Screen depicting Chinese countryside

Qing Screen depicting Chinese countryside

Tropical peninsula between Fatsa and Ordu

Tropical peninsula between Fatsa and Ordu

Mosque on the beach

Mosque on the beach

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.

Desolate black sand beaches

Desolate black sand beaches

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.

More secluded beaches

More secluded beaches

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.

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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 red river meters before meeting the black sea

A red river meters before meeting the black sea

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.

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Frescoes inside the early Byzantium Church, now a Mosque Ayasophia Camii Trabzon

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Inside Ayasophia Camii, Trabzon

Inside Ayasophia Camii,
Trabzon

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.

Looking down at the city of Batumi, Georgia

Looking down at the city of Batumi, Georgia

 

 

Pushing On: Central Turkey to the Black Sea

Remember Julian you have the source (just follow it).  

    

 

Leaving my friends in Turkey

Leaving my friends in Turkey

I pedal away from Istanbul on a set of new wheels,  and a few extra pounds of energy. It has been a full month since riding a loaded bicycle and I feel the familiar feeling of balancing 4 panniers and two top bags. As I head up the street I begin to wonder if my tires are low or if I am dragging something, but continue on and slowly pedal beside traffic. While in Istanbul I actually had the opportunity to rid myself of several nefarious items (mostly war relics from Sarajevo) and after repacking was able to get an accurate weight of Gabriella with all the gear. 54 KG (130 pounds) This is a relatively light weight and I am glad as I pedal through the warm temperatures and rolling hills of Central Turkey.

Turkish plateau, 1500 meters, rolling hills and dry dusty roads

Turkish plateau,  elevation 1500 meters, rolling hills and dry dusty roads

It is odd, my muscles at first didn’t seem to remember pedaling a heavy bicycle and on several occasions I felt so fatigued I wondered how I would go on for the day. I stop every 20-30 km to buy water, and practice my Turkish. The store keepers are almost always grumpy and bothered by me drinking liters of cold water in their presence. To me it seems that they spend the whole day suffering over fasting (Orich) and thinking about what to eat at Iftar. Ramadan is to remind people of their devotion to god, and to give them an opportunity to practice, but I am yet to experience a person who embodies this.  A good way to piss off a lot of devotional Muslims is to take a full loaf of bread and make a huge peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then eat it in the town square. I actually was bold enough to do this because I felt that the temptation was part of the practice, but in the conservative city of Bolu I was told by several people not to eat in public.

Local Turkish tea, served in its traditional glass and saucer. One great thing about Ramadan is that restaurants don't bother you to order food, you can actually rest in one and order nothing

Local Turkish tea, served in its traditional glass and saucer. One great thing about Ramadan is that restaurants don’t bother you to order food, you can actually rest in one and order nothing

In the evenings the local grocery stores are packed with hungry Muslims buying last-minute items. When the evening call to prayer sounds the streets become empty, even traffic seems cease, soon after the sound of people eating (forks and plates clanking and glasses clinking) can be heard throughout the town. On my first night on the just after the call to prayer I found a clearing of tall pine trees that looked quiet enough to sleep in. With little energy I found a flat spot near a local trash dump, pitched my tent and after retiring noticed a pungent odor, “what the heck kind of trash smells like that” I asked myself? It smells like a rotten aquarium tank!! I sniffed around and discovered to my amazement that the fetid odor was coming from the tent! To my amazement I realized that  I had forgotten to let it dry after my last night camp in the rain. The tent had been sitting wet inside a plastic bag for a month! Oh well, I was too tired to care and slept peacefully to top of years of accumulated trash.

Not trash camping, a nice spot near a quiet brook

Not trash camping, a nice spot near a quiet brook

After finally leaving the urban sprawl of Istanbul I climbed several thousand feet to a plateau of rolling hills and dry pine forests. Traffic is tame but I am constantly honked at by excited travelers and bored lorry drivers. Many trucks have custom horns and I often hear tunes similar to “La Cucaracha” blasted while passing. The open country brings back recent adventures and beckons me to discover its beauty. Wild camping is more than plentiful and on several nights I camped on dry stream beds and listened to babbling brooks. Each morning is filled with procrastination as my extremely sore body lounges around till noon, looking for excuses to take a day off. There is too little water to spend a day in nature and the sun is by far too hot during mid day, all I can do is push through the tough times.

Local windmill

Local windmill

After 4 to 5 days my body becomes accustomed to life on the road. My muscles no longer ache at night and seem to have built up reserves. There is nothing more than wilderness between towns and before camping I often have to ride any extra 20 km to a town to pick supplies, then another 10 km to a remote camping spot. All in all, the terrain is great as I never have to travel more than a km off the main road to find a secluded camp.

More quiet fields to camp in

More quiet fields to camp in

I am riding east through central Turkey until I reach the city of Merzifon where I will begin my journey north and meet up with the black sea. I will then following the cool coastal road all the way to Georgia and proceed from there to Azerbaijan. My Azerbaijan visa has given me much hassle, and in the last few days I have spent countless hours on the phone talking to confused personnel. The 20 day Azerbaijan tourist visa required a wire transfer to the embassy’s off shore account in the British Isles, when my US bank saw the transfer they blocked it and froze my account saying that the funds might be used/sent to Iran. I tried on several occasions to explain that Azerbaijan is totally a different country and that it is hundreds of miles from Iran but somehow a red flag was placed on my account, the Patriot Act was invoked and now all I can do is wait. Luckily I have some Turkish lira, (make sure to always have cash with you on tour!!) even with a new bank card (which I recently had to go through the hassle of having expedited) I would still be unable to access my account. The processing time for the visa is several weeks meaning I might get stuck in Georgianstan for a few weeks. There is always exploring to do but I would rather spend the time in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Things will work out one way or the other! I will write again from the temperate coasts of the Black Sea.

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