TURKEY, 4th – 7th July 2017
I was full of expectations when I woke up the next morning. According to Chris the landscape that lay ahead of us should look like something from another planet with the most incredible colours and rock formations. A tiny part of me worried that my expectations were higher than the landscape could bear, and as we rolled down the hill to the first plain with coloured cliffs in the distance I actually was a little disappointed. The sun was standing low in the sky to the east right in front of me, blinding me and not falling on the cliffs, but causing a foggy haze around them. Fortunately I soon realised that all the beauty was to be seen if I just turned around and looked behind me to the west where the direct sunlight made the red, white and yellow layers of cliff shine like rock solid rainbows. And I had many chances to stop, look and take pictures as I frequently had to roll off the road to let the heavy trucks pass. We were on a narrow road without a shoulder, it was quite busy this morning and the trucks didn’t brake for a little, orange cyclist like me.
We rode through several plateaus with different rock formations and colours on display popping up between the farmed fields where men were working on their tractors. What a place to work. It was truly incredible, like nothing I had ever seen before.My expectations were not disappointed.
And we had not even come the best of it all yet.
A stunning mountain that was blue at the bottom, white in the middle and red at the top like three coloured ice cream (yes, I know it sounds surreal, but it was really how it looked) appeared on our left and Chris took me to the same place away from the road where he had sat three years before admiring the landscape. From here we could not only see the three-coloured mountain but an ocean of rocks and cliffs in changing colours and layers rolled out in front of us. We just sat and stared and Chris took a lot of pictures. It was hard to believe that what we saw was really real and just there, hardly noticed by the drivers of the trucks on the road and the tractors in the fields. For them it was so normal, just one of Turkey’s many looks.
We found a little gravel road that went down along the coloured cliffs and we decided to go that way just to get more and closer views of nature’s incredible show. And for a little while we were right there in the middle of it. It didn’t make it less unbelievable, so Chris put on his sun glasses that makes him look like a space rider I had named ‘Crisis’ and Crisis now named the planet we had arrived on Sargon. Being a part of a science fiction movie was the story that suited our surroundings best and it would have been no big surprise if a spaceship with aliens had come by.
Back on the main road planet Sargon disappeared behind us and the road grew wider into a four laned dual carriage way with a wide, hard shoulder where we safe and steady could make our progress. The landscape became less spectacular with endless fields of hay that from time to time still got interrupted by layers of raw, old cliffs and some quite stunning table mountains outside the town Beypazari. On these big Turkish highways it was as if the flow and speed of the constant traffic transferred to me and I got into a kind of mind free cycling, steadily pedalling up one rolling hill after the other, fulfilling the purposeand quest of the road to keep going, keep going, without many other thoughts. It was efficient cycling and somehow it felt good, it was like taking a break from all the impressions and experiences I was otherwise constantly being exposed to, but I noticed less of my surroundings and the hours blended into a blur.
Like this we cycled till it got dark and continued the next day over big hills and through the town Ayaz until the sight of Ankara came into view. What an alien looking thing a big city is when you see it from the outside, suddenly popping up out of nowhere with its sharp, structured outline from the soft, rolling hills and infinite plains. It was like watching another strange planet, but this time we were not so attracted by it and instead we bypassed Ankara by taking smaller roads going to the north around the big city.
Taking the smaller roads was a bit of a risk, as we were not sure of the conditions of the roads and if they really existed. But that also made it an exciting one that turned out to be a great success in the end. The roads grew more and more quiet and turned into gravel, there were some breathtaking climbs, but after the highway it was like waking up again allowing my senses and mind to explore again. We were cycling through flat, farmed valleys that got busy with tractors and farmers working in the fields in the evenings when the temperatures dropped to bearable levels. We went through small, dusty villages with light, colourful mosques and people staring at us from their worn sofas on shaded balconies. These villages felt like places that never had been reached by the speed and shine of modern life, for better and worse.
We entered little towns finding ourselves suddenly in a hectic, lively scene of streets busy with cars, trucks, scooters and a few bicycles, lined by little shops, vegetable stalls, teahouses and an incredible number of car mechanic workshops. It was in one of these towns called Cubuk, that we had a different invitation to tea. It didn’t come from a group of men as usually but from a short, round woman with a cheeky look in her eyes. And instead of sitting in a teahouse where I used to be the only woman, she led us into the women’s world, a sewing workshop, where several women of different ages were either working on their sewing machine, knitting or looking through various piles of colourful, decorated cloth. The women chatted cheerfully with each other about us, the cloth they were working with and about all kind of other things that I did not know, while they worked. There were emotions and gossip in the air, eyes rolled and burned and lighted up by smiles. The short woman who had invited us in touched my arm from time to time and made gossiping eyes to me as if I understood what they talked about. As if I was a one of them. Chris sat back, alien in this world and drank his tea.
Around Cubuk we battled some steep hills and every time we got to the top of one we got the next in sight. But that day I was flying. I felt like I had finally reached a physical level that made me truly capable of this that we were doing, and even though my mind protested a little asking “Why?” when the next hill rose before my wheels my body and mind as a whole boasted with joy and energy when I stood, sweating and gasping at the top silently shouting “That’s why!”. It was tough, it was good and I loved it.
That evening we camped up in the hills accompanied by yellow flowers and overlooking a stunning lower landscape with a blue lake and more hills and mountains in the horizon. Turkey seemed to have a new look for every crest we passed and we didn’t have a clue of what was awaiting us.
After more hills, villages and small roads we had to join the main road the next day. This also meant that we could stop in the gas stations that each had a restaurant, toilets and a little shop. This day we went to get some real food from the canteen as the Turkish cuisine was quite alright for our vegetarian preferences with some good vegetable and bean stews, that only maybe had been cooked with meat juice. It was served together with a plate of rice, tomato and cucumber salad and one or more loafs of white bread simply put in the table in a big plastic box, so casual that I thought it was a mistake. We were served by a man who spoke good English and he told us that he was a refugee from Iraq, working here for a minimum wage hoping he could get permission to move onwards to the US. He naturally had a sadness over him and I wondered about the strange and unfair system of the world that made it possible for me to travel almost freely almost anywhere in the world only because it was my dream whereas a man like him had so much need and so few options for going where he wanted. A few days before we had passed by some small camps of white tents, little settlements that seemed to have been there too long to be called temporary. Women were working with house holding and kids were playing around the tents and up by the road. We didn’t know how to perceive these camps, didn’t know if they were The Refugees that we heard so much about in the media. But we guessed that they were and let them become real to us.
Due to our success in taking the smaller roads we later that day spontaneously opted to leave the main road when a smaller road went off to the right. On the map it seemed to join the main road again further east and in real life it seemed to disappear over some hills. Up we went, slowly and sweating in the afternoon heat, while the cars and trucks roared behind us. As we got further and further up silence grew and the hills amazed us with secrets kept from the faster traffic. From the top we could see the soft, wavy hills on the other side of the valley, they looked like big puddings or frozen fountains. It looked just like pictures I had seen from other people’s blogs about cycle touring, it looked just like what I had wanted to see when I dreamed about cycling through Turkey. I squeezed my arm to make sure I was not dreaming, and I felt a delightful little twitch of pain.
Cycling in Turkey had taking the journey to a new level for me. At first I had felt intimidated by the size of the country, but it was exactly what made me merge with it now. The beginning of it was so many memories behind me and the end of it was too far away for me to imagine. It was too big to comprehend and it left me enclosed by it, surrendered to it. We lived the life on the road, camping every night, washing and filling our water bottles from the many springs we found along the roads, we stocked up on the groceries we had come to like (and you won’t believe it, but in the BIM supermarkets they had the Dutch stroopwaffles we had liked so much back in Holland) when we got to bigger towns, we went to a restaurant to charge our devices and our energy and connect briefly with the rest of the world every two or three days, we met so many people, so much kindness, generosity and curiosity, so many smiles, so many waves and “Hello”’s, we saw the landscape change again and again and again, we learned a few Turkish words and saw the same words on the road and shop signs over and over, we heard the call to prayers from the mosques, all sang with distinct and different voices, sometimes solo and sometimes a polyphone concert and sometimes we didn’t even hear it because we became so familiar with it all.
I felt I became one with the journey and only lived for the next turn, the next hill, the next view, the next spring, the cooling in the evening and the peace at our campsite at night. Turkey had peeled all excessive thoughts and worries of me by its challenging and encompassing nature and finally forced me to blissfully, simply just be here and now.
Beypazari – Ayaz – Kazan – Cubuk
299 kilometres cycled
Click below for more photos in the Flickr album #28: The many looks of Turkey