2009/09/04: Mrs. Tittlemouse Day
Maybe that’s not such a good subtitle, because Mrs.Tittlemouse would have been busier. There cannot be a better place to sit during the day than on a shady balcony set into a fairy chimney. Likewise, there cannot be a better place to sit in the evening than a fairy chimney balcony that overlooks the Goreme Valley. We sat, read, wrote, and drank tea all day. In the evening, we walked up the fortress to where the fancier hotels are, and had a dinner geared to French tourists, complete with a bottle of local red wine. This was our first bottle of wine in eight months, and we wobbled home to bed.
2009/09/05: Overgrown Orchard Camp near Musafapasa 24 km
We rode into Goreme with stops for views and cold drinks. In Goreme we met Paul, a cyclist from Avignon, France, and discussed possible routes into Europe. We took our time at the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many churches, monasteries, and refectories dug into the tuff of a twisting canyon. Tour groups were being led though in English, Spanish, and Mandarin, with many of the Spanish women wearing mantillas. This area is very much the cradle of Christianity. I remember Miss Ward’s scripture class; we had to draw a map of ancient Mesopotamia, showing the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Now I’ve learned that Turkey has dammed the Euphrates, and the downstream Syrians are hopping mad about the reduced flow.
Leaving the open air museum, we moved away from Goreme. In the evening, we pushed our bikes up an overgrown track to an old orchard to camp near a not-often-tended vegetable patch.
2009/09/06: Gravel Pit Camp NE of Guzelyurt 86km
Emerging from our overgrown track onto asphalt, we realized we had three flats, all caused by prickles embedded in the tires. We patched five holes, and spent quite some time inspecting tires and removing prickles with needle-nosed pliers.
We cycled along a pretty valley, dealing with a gang of ratty kids in one village where we’d happily have otherwise spent more time. We met several older people who approached us to speak French, and I was happy to respond. This was a change from the many who try German on us and to whom I cannot respond beyond guten tag. Late in the day, we wheeled into a gas station, hoping to fill our water bottles before looking for a campsite. The gas station was non-operational and semi-derelict, but an old couple sitting on a wall in the evening sun, caretakers of sorts, indicated a tap. Then they patted the rug beside themselves inviting us to rest in case we were fatigué. They spoke French, and had worked in Annecy running a restaurant. The gentleman, wearing his woolly beany as many old men do here, explained they had two married sons and five grandchildren in France, but sons here in Turkey as well.
We found a gravel pit. They really do make functional campsites; they provide flat ground and are hidden from the road although near it. We knew we still had slow leaks and were trying to avoid prickles.
2009/09/07: Construction Area Camp Camp E of Aksaray 59 km
Both my tires were flat in the morning. The sleeping bags got a really good airing while we mended flats and went through the tedious process of inspection and prickle removal again.
We pedalled to Ilhara village, then along to a viewpoint over the Ilhara canyon. Purchasing the necessary ticket and safely parking our bikes, we walked down steps into the canyon where we had lunch by the river and I had a refreshing swim. We toddled along the bottom, inspecting more churches mainly cut into the relatively soft tuff under the angular basalt columns that line the canyon. Using a headlamp, I felt like Indiana Jones again, exploring with more freedom than you’d ever get at a site like this in North America. It was good to have spent the middle of the day in the relatively cool canyon.
Climbing back up to the hotter prairie, we pedalled toward Aksaray. We were putting kilometres behind us, and stopped to eat at a gas station cafe rather than cook. The cafe was deserted when we stopped at 6:30, but filled as we finished our supper. It’s still Ramazan, so most of the others sat poised to dive into their food precisely at sunset: 7:20 p.m.. This meant the road was almost deserted as we rode on, because many were eating. We found a construction area up a side road, with no visible hazardous vegetation, put up our tent and crawled in. The wind blew all night and the tent flapped noisily.
2009/09/08: Karayollari Building at Kuzoren 92 km
We began the day by pumping up tires that had slow leaks, and pedalling to Aksaray to buy another patch kit. We had given our extra one to Mansur in Uzbekistan as part of our appreciation for his hospitality. Fortunately, a standard patch kit seems easy to find here. We stopped for a snack, and met two Danish cyclists travelling ultralight on road bikes. They’d started in Istanbul and planned to pedal though Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
We proceeded into a headwind that increased to a gale and forced us off the road at a gas station. We sat at a picnic table and watched the weather ahead. When the sky blackened, we were asked inside the restaurant building. Then the heavens opened, with lightning, thunder, and horizontal rain. Having met relatively few cyclists here compared to Central Asia, it was a coincidence that a drenched Basque-Spanish cyclist travelling the opposite way suddenly raced in for shelter too. We shared tea and grub as we waited for calmer weather.
When the storm abated, we moved on about 20 km. We pulled into a picnic shelter at sunset and made tea. We decided to set up our tent just outside the shelter, because it seemed to be raining earwigs from the ceiling of the shelter. Just as we were doing this, the uncle-and-nephew truckers on the road near us invited us for tea, and then we were joined by the caretaker of the karayollari or road maintenance station that was just behind the picnic shelter. We asked the caretaker for permission to camp at what was not really a campsite (pansion hayir – hotel no etc.) and were invited into the karayollari building, fed, and provided with comfortable bunks. On television, we saw scenes of serious flooding in and near Istanbul, and assume the storms there were related to our storm, which had been dramatic enough.
As we got ready for bed, we could see lots of feral rabbits playing outside our window. Our host seemed pleased we appreciated them, and took us outside to watch them as he fed them bread and talked to them fondly. I found it reassuring to watch this man show kindness to the rabbits. Earlier at the gas station, I had brought a grubby stray puppy inside when it was yelping in fear of the storm. I was encouraged to put the beast outside, which I agreed to do only when the storm had abated. Later, I heard the puppy yelping again, and was told with a dismissive chuckle that someone had thrown a rock at it. For the most part, things haven’t improved much since Central Asia as far as the treatment of animals is concerned.
2009/09/09: Konya 72 km
We were on the straight road to Konya by 7:00 a.m., and entering the city by midday. At an intersection on the outskirts, a group of about 20 feral boys tried to swarm us. They crowded around yelling “Toureest! Toureest!” at us as we rode through the intersection. Hands were reaching out and one was brandishing a large stick. We yelled fierce yells and blasted through, afraid of being grabbed or knocked off our bikes. In a quiet moment a little later, my blood still boiling, I noticed the perfect defense weapon on the ground and stopped to pick it up. I’d been thinking of arming myself with a dog-defense stick again, as we’ve done in other areas, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use my new weapon on a group of boys in another situation like that one. I now have a 60 cm length of lightweight PVC pipe tucked under a front pannier strap.
With the help of a kind local cyclist, we found the hotel we’d selected. We got clean, and went out for a cafeteria meal. Striking up a conversation with a man working in the cafeteria and who spoke excellent English, we were asked about our experiences of Konya so far. We described the attempted swarming, and he expressed surprise. When we told him where it had occurred he said we’d been in a Gypsy area. We hadn’t noticed the gang of kids being particularly dark-skinned, and wonder whether it was just a case of it being easier for the locals to point at a scapegoat than to acknowledge their own problems.