Western and Medittereanean Turkey

The mosques of Turkey rule the countryside just as Turkey once ruled Islam

Few countries on my trip were as pleasant a surprise and a case study in contrasts as Turkey was. Crossing the Bosporus straight on a small ferry in Istanbul last August, I could feel the weight and challenge of the vast continent of Asia in front of me. It was with some joy that I left Europe behind; not becuase it was unpleasant but because it was secure, and predictable, and thus a bit less dramatic than I wanted this trip to be. Well, the at least the drama soon picked up! Before I left turkey I would see an total eclipse, feel a 7.4 earthquake and run a gauntlet of petty thieves that was enough to make your skin quiver. Do not bicycle in eastern Turkey, or many parts of Romania and Bulgaria, unless you are willing to endure petty crime, attempted ripoffs of your equipment both on and off the road on a frequent, annoyingly regular basis, and have stones thrown at you by children, young and old. For ways to beat this hassle or at least minimize it, see my section on Cycling in Dangerous Places. I have not specifically updated this for Turkey and Pakistan yet, but I will add a section soon.

But enough of this scary stuff. Turkey is a wonderful place to bicycle..in most places the roads are new, quite wide, and the traffic is fairly light in the country. One hassle i distinctly remember is the incredible amount of oil/tar which is put on the surfaces..it was like riding in a puddle sometimes and my tires were always black and wet with tar on them. Even the chain needed washing with solvent regularly.
Turkey is a great place to bike for many reasons. First, most of the country is hilly and rural, so its fun to ride in, easy to find camping places, and attractive countryside. There are many forested places that just beg you to camp...although oddly and frustratingly, the ubiquitous Turkish army usually has taken the very best sites. On my first night in Turkey I camped on a bluff above the road and spent then evening listening to Turkish soldiers maneuvering in the bush on the other side..which was marked with signs warning people to stay out. I had fanciful ideas that they might send a patrol out to scare me that night, but they had better things to do with their time, I guess. I **did** manage to hear many of the Turks singing their praises to Allah. That, and the sounds of the evening prayers at sunset, were all part of unique joys of cycling in Turkey. No other country..even Iran and Pakistan, which are more fanatic about their Islam ... can't hold a candle to Turkey when it comes to having minarets sticking up and out of the surrounding forest and fields! Unlike the cities (such as Istanbul) where all the wails at prayer time collide and confuse one another (sort of like a constipated Time Square), in the country, there is but one voice. Praising Allah and all his works, exhorting the fvaithful to join him. In the evening, with the shadows long and after a hard days riding, it was just beautiful to hear. I often used it, somewhat irreverantly, to say some prayers of my own.

In western Turkey there are so many ruins and sites to visit i could not do them all..i chose Troy, since I do enjoy the story and the poem, even if I think (STRONGLY)that Homer's epic of the Trojan war can't hold a candle to Tolkien's Silmarillion. Troy is one of those places that could easily be tacky and shallow to visit. Instead I found it well done..excavated with a self-guide walking trail that takes you thru most of the ruins and, too boot, lets ya see how the mound of troy dominated the countryside, especially at a time when battles were fought largely on foot or from horse drwan chariots. I went around it twice..simply because I was surprised at how compact the actual site is, and was very pleased to be so informed by the plaques along the way. I even delivered a brief speech at this amphitheatre: it was as well attended as all of my other lectures!

From Troy I continued southeast, leaving the coast (although I blew a kiss to the Isle of Lesbos, in honor of all women i know in Northampton and elsewhere who are proud to be Dykes...) and returned east along the medittereanean shoreline. Up/Down...up/ Down! In the morning ya had a headwind, most of the time, from the remnant of the land breezes; by afternoon and evening it had shifted to behind you, as the seabreezes took over. Day after day...east, east, finally to Tarsus, famous from Biblical fame, which is covered in my next section.

Before I got there I still had a fair share of dealing with the Turks and their kindness. What a very family oriented society the Turks are...often the guys would introduce me to their mothers, kiss them; they would in turn introduce me to their daughters, or sisters, or their parents and kiss them! until it was just lubby-dubby time. There is alot of truck traffic in Turkey, since its the overland route to Asia and/or the middle east, so there is no shorteage of places to get a road meal, and the truck stops will often offer you a place to stay even if, as is the case in Pakistan and India, rope beds have not caught on.

I had to replace my pedals in Turkey. In fact, I had to replace my pedals more often on this tour (4 times!) than ever before! First one would start to squeak, then catch and not turn around all the time; then it would finally just lock up and be impossible to ride on. Well, the latter happened on a Sunday and I couldn't ride without a pedal, now could I?? Well I asked at a local merchant if there was a bike shop nearby. 'Yes, but it is closed!.' He invited me to stay the night at his apartment..big, airy, full of art and various handicrafts..the turks are very tasteful in these matters. The next day i got the pedals and off I went. They lasted till Thailand.... 1