The East-West Contrast
Eastern Turkey was pretty in its wild way, but a rough sort of place. The Polish cyclist told us of the East-West contrast he’d observed. In Eastern areas kids yelled “money, money, money” and “would try to take your items,” as he put it. Having made the logistical move from East to West, we can confirm Andrzjej’s observations. The East is a relative have-not area within an otherwise developed country, and the political tension is palpable. Soldiers were positioned in foxholes at most intersections. At one point, truckers stopped to greet us and inform us tersely that we were in Kurdistan. The Eastern part we were in was a Kurdish area.
We aren’t purists set on riding an unbroken line from Thailand to Europe, and logistical moves have already been dictated by Chinese Public Security Police, Tajik soldiers, and short Turkmen visas. The recent move to Ankara was dictated by a mislaid passport, but it was a good move for other reasons as well. Although we’re physically fit, we feel a certain psychological road weariness setting in. Perhaps we’d had enough of challenging travel in Central Asia, and were ready to be bourgeois tourists. We enjoyed the museums in Ankara; we enjoyed three nights in a Best Western; we enjoyed going for dinner with Robin. She’s an international American, who had recently arrived in Ankara, after three years in Oman, to take up a teaching post in Education at the university. We needed a taste of the easy urban life, and the rural travel since Ankara has been relaxing, with friendly locals, good food availability (despite Ramazan), and much tamer children.
2009/08/31: Apple Orchard Camp 71 km
Our first day of travel from Ankara involved pausing in suburbia to install a new pin in Chris’s chain. We had all necessary tools and parts, unlike the time this happened in Kyrgyzstan, and our repair was a success. We were moving into dry and open country, and there was some road construction. We tucked ourselves into a small orchard for the night. The orchard was a green anomaly in an otherwise dry landscape; it had been created with the help of irrigation, and eggplants and tomatoes were being grown between the trees.
2009/09/01: Rustling Rodents Camp 73 km
We started a bit late due to dew on the tent, and had lunch at a quiet café. In Eastern Turkey, all restaurants in the villages were closed between sunrise and sunset, so this was a treat. We found a campsite in an overgrown orchard behind a disused farm outbuilding. The ground was riddled with holes which we suspected were occupied by some sort of rodent. It was impossible NOT to pitch the tent on or near these holes. Just for added excitement, I started a small grass fire when lighting the stove. We stamped it out. I managed a bit of a wash in the nearby stream, and we settled for the night. There was a lot of rustling and nearby movement of small creatures as we tried to go to sleep. There was a thunderstorm during the night, and it rained pretty hard. The parched ground really needed the moisture.
2009/09/02: Poplar Rows Camp 82 km
It was a late start again because of a soggy tent. We climbed long gradual hills, and glided down pleasing descents. We had our lunch picnic beside a gas station. These parts are very civilized in that we are starting to see roadside amenities such as picnic tables, and some gas stations even provide pleasant gazebos which shade the tables. We later stopped at one of these just to sit and drink water in the shade. Two jolly characters at the neighbouring gazebo invited us to join them for roast chicken, making it clear that they thought that fasting during Ramazan was for the birds. We’d just eaten lunch, but accepted their offer of Coke. It is dry and hot here, and we drink a lot.
We found a campsite among some rows of planted poplars and near a stream. We’re getting quite adept at camping discreetly near civilization. It’s more relaxing not to have evening visitors, so when there’s a chance we’ll be spotted, we cook dinner but don’t put up the tent till it’s dark. We try not to use lights, either. This time, there were people working in a vegetable patch only 30 m away across the stream. We could hear and see them, but we carefully remained under their radar.
2009/09/03: Gőreme 75 km
A few hundred metres from our campsite, we passed what looked like a Gypsy camp. Before our trip to Eastern Europe, a Hungarian friend had warned us about Gypsies or Roma. I know it’s not politically correct to pigeon-hole groups of people, and I know they’ve been hard done by, but we we’re wary because they have little to lose. We were glad we camped particularly discreetly. I haven’t read of Roma in Turkey, but surely they must be here if they are in Bulgaria and Romania and points West. Is their history any less difficult here than in ex-Soviet-bloc Eastern Europe?
A man at a gas station waved us into his gazebo for çay -tea. We accepted. A few months ago we would have waved in acknowledgment and ridden on, but our need to press onward is diminishing these days. If our original goal was “to reach Europe,” we’ve just about done it. This gazebo was hung with kilims and furnished with cushions, and our host was duly proud of it. We could see the beginnings of the unique volcanic landscape for which Cappadocia is famous as we rode further. Cliff faces of grey tufa had dwellings carved into them.
Looking for a lunch spot, we paused at the gate of a “palace” site and inquired about entrance costs. No ticket required, we were told, just a baksheesh directly to the gatekeeper. Not keen on such arrangements, we backtracked across the road to a spot under a spreading pine tree, and had lunch in the company of a cloud of small mauve butterflies. We sensed we were nearing the Mediterranean.
As we neared Gőreme we began to see the fabled fairy chimneys. At times, we’ve been cynical about The Lonely Planet Trail and the must-see sights thereon. It would take more cynicism than either of us could muster not to be enchanted by this landscape. Unique volcanic geology and ancient civilizations combine to create whimsical surroundings, with surprises at every turn. We hadn’t even reached Gőreme when we came to a natural fortress riddled with ancient dwellings and dovecots. Guest houses were built into the face of it, and we pushed our bikes up a road to find delightful accommodation. I find my cosy fantasies from childhood books are met here. I am Mrs. Tittlemouse in her “little box bed.” I am an adventurous hobbit who is safe in a hobbit-hole. I have a room carved inside a fairy chimney. It has two balconies, one of which overlooks the Gőreme Valley, and the other of which is reached by wireless. What more could a busy mouse or an adventurous hobbit ever want?