The Gozleme Lady’s Nephew.

Our Turkish adventure was coming to an end. After climbing craggy mountains, cycling over high mountain passes and sleeping on the beach every night for 3 weeks, we were exhausted. So were thankful that Antalya and the airport were in sight. However there were still a few more kilometres to go before our arrival in the big city, surely nothing could go wrong now?

On closer examination of the map we had began to really acknowledge the full expanse of the Turkish wildness, fearing it ever since our exploits over the enormous mountain passes near Fethiye. There were huge areas of very high mountains. It was doubtful that there would be any life up there, let alone food or shelter. We had come to appreciate the light sprinkling of tourist facilities that we could take advantage of, if cycling close to the coast line.

Despite this and our proximity to our final destination we decided to take one last risk and venture into the interior. There was nowhere else to go to slow us down, apart from lying on the beach or exploring a dusty city. That was certainly out of the question, we wanted mountains.

Michel had identified some dirt road that would take us over the tops to the ski resort of Salikent and then we would travel down to Antalya. After gatecrashing a French tour group lunch and interrogating their tour guide on the road ahead, we left feeling uncertain. Noone seemed to know anything. A few people denied that there was even a road up there, some had never gone to find out. It was staggering how many local people simply did not venture out of the boundaries of their local communities. Their knowledge of the surrounding area was absolutely minimal.

Being our usual foolish selves, we decided to give it a go. On finding the mysterious dirt road, we headed on up. However a slight problem was becoming apparent. After the tremendous rain fall of that morning and the previous night, the dirt road had transformed into a muddy mess which was impossible to pass. Mud was clogging up my bike chain at an unmeasurable rate, soon it was even impossible to push the bike up the hill.

I couldn’t even pick the bike up and carry it, my shoes had half a ton of mud cemented to the sole. After 20 sticky metres we collapsed on the side of the road and questioned what the hell we were doing. With storms building up over our heads, 3pm and still 800 metres to climb, it all seemed rather ridiculous. So we turned around and headed for the big city of Antalaya. Sure enough once back on tarmac, the rain came and came. Free wheeling down the mountain, we passed damp, mossy shacks and skinny, stray cows. It was all part of the Turkish scenery that we had become accustomed to over the last few weeks. We then entered a series of extremely sharp hair pin bends as we descended a gorge like valley. Then, in an instant, I lost control. I couldn’t turn in time over the steep, slippery, wet road. I was going too fast and I panicked. My front wheel gave way and threw me off. My body some how flew through the air and my bum crashed down on the hard tarmac. A shot of unbearable pain stung my body. I screamed out and I kept on screaming, the shock had thrown me. Michel crouched over me, checking for broken bones.

There I was, lying down on my stomach in the middle of a Turkish road, in mucky, scruffy clothes, under the rain and now with a broken bum! Slowly Michel got me too my feet. Even though it was the last thing I wanted to do I had to go on, as there was no shelter close by, only cliffs, cows and rocks. I very carefully navigated my way, slowly, through the rest of the hellish bends, terrified of falling again. We were soon onto the valley bottom, splashing through deep puddles. I stood up on my pedals as we cycled, my new injury prevented me from sitting down.

Our eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of a hostel. This, however, was becoming very difficult as three weeks of rain seemed to be falling in three minutes, clouding our vision. The valley bottom went on and on, cutting through the steep rock faces, in a constant descent. I turned back and admired the cliff face we had just descended, with the sharp hair pin bends cutting away carefully at it.

We had no idea where we would stay that night, there would certainly be no camping out. It was 6pm and we were frozen. We arrived at a cross roads which was surrounded by large tents, maybe it was a holiday village? A lady poked her head out of a nearby doorway and insisted that we came inside. Then, to our delight, we entered a Gozleme kitchen. Young girls stood in front of large hot metal disks, preparing our very favourite Turkish dish of savoury pancakes with crumbly cheese and spring onions. The friendly Gozleme lady appeared again with a metal bucket and filled it with a few hot coals from the fire. She put it in front of us and we gratefully warmed our hands. Her friends all giggled, they obviously thought we were those crazy foreigner types. I was just sat there with a pathetic look on my face, feeling like a bedraggled mermaid who had just been swimming along the Turkish highways.

We asked this happy Gozleme lady if she knew of a pension in town. She took a minute to think. And then she took out her mobile phone and made a call. She pushed the phone into Michel’s hand. Apparently 10km back up the mountain a young man had a holiday home park with little cabins for rent. I pictured a soft comfy bed and a nice warm bathroom where I could take a hot shower.

The young man arrived 20 minutes later in a white pick up truck. He had a friend following him in a red car. He seemed a bit shifty and quiet. Michel said that he had spoken more on the phone. He took one look at our bikes and then nodded to the truck. Not quiet sure what we were getting ourselves into we hesitantly loaded up and got inside.

The key was in the ignition but the truck would not start. As the rain came tumbling down even more I had a sneaky suspicion that this could be the opening sequence of a horror film: A young foreign couple, lost and stuck in a thunder storm, the friendly locals take them in with wrong intentions.

We really didn’t have any choice. There was nowhere else to go. Michel had the interesting idea of attaching the white truck to the red car and then pushing it down the street, turning the ignition at the same time to see whether it would then start. So, soon the Gozleme lady and I were watching with bemused faces, as Michel and the friend ran down the street pushing the truck. My amusement quickly faded as I saw the red car and the white truck disappear off around the corner, along with all of our possessions and our bikes stuffed in the back. “Erm” I stuttered to Michel as he came trudging back up the road, “I hope they come back”.

A few worried minutes later the white truck and the red car came back, but with no success, the white truck was still broken with a soaked engine from the storms. Eventually they loaded all of our stuff into the back of the red car. It all fitted fine except for Michel’s bike, so as we drove up the wet mountain roads towards this supposed cabin ground Michel was sat on his bike, being dragged by a piece of string that was attached to the red car.

I was in the back of the red car with the creepy young man who was asking me a few questions, “where did you meet?”, “How long have you known each other?” I was starting to feel a little uneasy.

It was getting dark now as we trundled slowly along a bumpy lane over large cobble stones and deep potholes. I was holding my breath, not wanting to know what place was just around the corner. In the darkness a series of garden sheds appeared dotted around a grassy field. This had to be a joke. I shuddered. All the ideas of a comfy night disappeared instantly. “Oh my god” I slowly whispered to myself, awkwardly avoiding the gaze of the young man next to me, probably the Gozleme lady’s nephew. 

Soon we found out that there was no heating, instead creepy guy had a pile of firewood collected from his Gozleme aunty. There was one hole in the ground for a toilet, and there was one shower. Shower and toilet were both in a flimsy wooden shack outside, in the middle of a field, under the pouring rain. Not exactly the warm, comfy and relaxing bedroom with en suite that I had been hoping for.

The creepy man showed us into the main building which was rather more substantial then the wooden toilet shack. There was a small wood burning stove, with a chimney, in the centre of the room. The creepy man opened the hatch and started to light the fire.

I sat there on a smelly dirty old mattress, contemplating the situation on the verge of tears. My bum was still extremely painful and sitting was a difficult task. We were both still compeltely soaking. The man showed Michel the kitchen, inviting us to use anything we wished. Then he turned on the TV, trying to find an English TV channel for us. All I wanted to do was sleep, but worried that he was going to hang around all night.

The creepy young man picked something up from the shelf next to the TV. I saw the blade of a knife gleaming in the light of the lamp and I gulped. He smiled to the other man, as he grasped it in his hand, but then he went straight to the kitchen. It was just a flickering second of uncertainty and I didn’t say anything to myself or Michel but a certain type of thought lingered with me throughout the night.

Eventually the man left to get some food and when he returned, I pretended to be asleep, hopefully, this would get rid of him. And it did. Michel politely told him about my injury and explained that we needed peace and quiet. The creepy guy got the message and left.

During the night I kept dreaming about “The Shining”. Maybe this man had a big axe and was planning on chopping us to pieces as soon as the moonlight came out to guide him on his murderous path. Maybe he lured unsuspecting tourists up here with the help of his aunty, the friendly round faced gozleme lady, well positioned at a cross road in the travellers way. Outside in the night I heard distant thuds and bangs, there were dogs running around, probably chasing rats in this horrible mess. 

Michel woke me at 6am and suggested that we make a move. In the safety and clarity of daybreak, I saw the situation for what it actually was, a messy and disorganised young man, trying to start a business for tourists to the area and failing miserably. The kitchen was a pigsty. Dirty dishes and rubbish was piled high on every surface. I couldn’t help thinking that he needed a woman around to keep him in check. We wandered outside and suddenly appreciated the spectacular location, surrounded by cliffs and green forests. Wandering down to the river, there was a terrace, an ideal spot for a holiday breakfast, it was just a shame about all the flies, dog shit and rubbish. Whatever we thought, this place had potential.

I had thought he was some suspicious murderer but maybe I had not given him enough credit. We were honest customers, and maybe a bit too nice, as we left 40 Lira on the TV for him and slipped away before he appeared. I was rather thankful to be on the road to the big city at last, having survived the wild Turkish interior and the draw of the Gozleme lady.

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learning to trust people in the turkish middle of no where…

I entered the only shop we had seen in the last 30 km, looking for supplies for our trip into the national park. I shuddered slightly as I looked into the fridge to find two packets of mouldy cheese and a opened tin of tomatoes covered in cling film. The rest of the shop wasn’t much better, some boxes of cereal and a few bottles of cleaning products. If only the solemn faced shop keeper had had the initiative to use this stuff and clean the place before we arrived- it was filthy.

Unsuccessful on the grocery shopping, I jumped back into the car and we headed off deeper into this mysterious national park just outside of Antalya on the southern coast of Turkey.

We were going in search for a mountain, but the problem was, no one seemed to know where it was, they had not even heard of its name. After enquiring one last time at the last tourist spot before complete wilderness we were met by blank faces yet again. The young rafting guy had no idea what we were talking about.

So, before we entered the big blank spot on the map we popped up to a little village above the rafting canyons. We had read that here we would find some very well preserved ancient ruins. On the steep road up there it started to rain heavily. We saw a local lady, sheltering under the cover of the forest. She stuck her hand out at the last moment.

Shall we stop?” Michel said.

I wanted to say no, but as usual I could not resist Michel’s infection confidence. So, this old Turkish lady got in the back of our grubby rental car and we sped on down to the ruins. Michel and her chatted away in German before the inevitable arrived.

Do you want to come to my house and I will cook you lunch?” Groan,…persistent Turkey was back.

We parked outside her house and as we walked towards the ruins she followed us, flashing bags of cheap jewellery in our face. She was getting rather pushy and making me feel a little uncomfortable. Michel dismissed my behaviour and in response he produced a rather intriguing theory: “Out of every 1000 people, 900 are friendly, 50 will hassle you, 46 could be bad and 4 may be really bad.” Pleasant…I thought. I just hoped that we would not be meeting anybody in the latter category.

We had already seen a fare share of ruins during our weeks in Turkey, in a way we were all ruined out. And after some consideration I decided that the Turkish tourist board had dressed up the description of this place just to have another thing to put on the tourist map. The ruins were covered in grass, they were rather broken – even for Roman ruins. Also cows were now inhabiting the secret caves, steps, arches and walls of this place. I was rather disturbed as I locked eyes with a big fat cow on the other side of the amphitheatre, trying to anticipate its next move, so as to avoid it – I was not a fan of these ugly beasts.

Soon we were away again and began to get a little nervous. As we carried on into this spooky national park the quality of the road surface simply deteriorated. It started to rain and then pour. The overgrown shrubbery on the sides of the road nearly swamped us as we squeezed through in a hopeless search of some sign of civilisation.

The roads that we saw before us corresponded in no way to what appeared on our map. The distances were completely wrong, the towns had different names and things appeared to the east instead of to the west. On top of this the road signs were simply horrendous; a random collection of rusty antiques that could have been put there by any fool, they were certainly completely unreliable.

Of course we had faith that we would eventually find something along this tricky trail in the Turkish middle of no where, however as afternoon turned into night there was still nothing so we resigned ourselves to a nights slept in the car on the side of the road.

When a suitable clearing arrived we parked and settled down for the night. As I was nibbling on a piece of bread I heard a strange noise. A man was singing. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Michel didn’t acknowledge it and carried on making the bed and collecting water. Then a figure appeared on the road a few metres above our clearing. Oh no, I thought. The figure immediately stopped and started staring. This was my worst nightmare. One crazy Turk from the country coming to spy on us when really we wanted to be invisible. This suspicious man came straight down to the car, waving enthusiastically. I moaned with displeasure but then again I considered the fact that we were on his territory and he must be incredibly confused and amused by our being there. It was only natural that he would be curious.

He was wearing dirty, old clothes and was carrying an orange in one hand and a great string sack in the other. He had very short hair, a big round head and two eyes that didn’t quiet see eye to eye. It was clear that he wasn’t quite all there as he began to dribble over our car and incessantly straw at me through the open window. I felt increasingly uncomfortable and looked around to Michel for help. Michel gave the dribbler a friendly smiled and carried on with his work, insisting to me that he was friendly and harmless.

When this dribbling man put out his hand for a handshake I felt like it would be rude to decline and I took it. Instantly regretting this decision as when I took back my hand, it was now covered with slime, dribble or juice from the orange, who knew?

The dribbler babbled on in an excited manner. I was sure that even to Turks he would be incomprehensible. I reciprocated by babbling on in my own language: “I am sorry I just don’t understand you, please could you go away”. It did not have the desired effect and only amused him even further. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder which of Michel’s categories did the dribbler fit into.

After maybe 20 minutes he stepped back up to the road. A white van stopped and he climbed into the front seat. “There! You see! His mate just picked him up to take him home, he was probably waiting here for a lift!” enthused Michel. “Yes yes” I grumbled, thinking that now all the locals in the neighbouring villages would be hearing about the two strange foreigners camping out. Clearly I slept a bit poorly that night.

The next day, the first village we came to was a tumbled down mess of a place with cows scattered everywhere and villages sitting on steps, staring forward gloomily. “This must be where the dribbler lives” Joked Michel in a very cheeky way.

After hours in the car we were both in need of a good hike, the problem was our elusive mountain was still no where to be seen, it was clear that we had come unprepared, completing underestimating the distances involved in the spaces of inland Turkey. We decided to settle for a smaller peak and considering the fact that we had no good hiking map we needed a peak where the route was clear, just straight up and straight down. We pulled off the only main road in the area and parked in the village where the road would go no further. Above us there were two suitably sized pinnacles and surely a way to get to them.

I was pretty shocked by the state of the village. Michel had confidently affirmed that Turkey was a modern country, everyone had a TV and a mobile phone but out here I was seriously doubting this over optimistic estimation. More cows wandered free between houses, which themselves resembled pig sheds rather then country residences fit for families. Shy faces peered at us from wooden doorways and little children collected water in buckets from the village fountain. Goats nibbled the grassy banks beside the road and I spotted one rusty yellow car. How people made a living around here was beyond me. The sun was awake now and heating the earth beneath us. We ploughed on up, following these slight trails that squeezed between the properties and eventually out onto the open fell. The hike to the tops was prickly and stony but when we reached it we were rewarded with panoramic views of this mysterious national park. Looking at the horizon we tried to identify our lost mountain but it was impossible, the sheer number of massive peaks was daunting and impressive. Several were lost in their own banks of cloud, maybe just a trickle of snow was visible.

We were in awe of the power of this place. It had weight beyond the safe territories of the Alps where a comfortable mountain restaurant could be found in many valleys. Here there was simply nothing, apart from scared villagers who had never really seen a tourist. Of course we loved it, anything away from the tourist trail was a bonus.

On the descent we had a disagreement about which way to take, we had already forgotten where our tracks were from the hike up. My mind drifted away, thinking back over our weeks of adventure and then I realised that Michel was no where in sight. My mind had wandered and now we were separated.

I assumed that we would just meet at the car so I continued straight down, back towards the village. I ran into problems when I realised that I had no idea how to get back. I entered the village from the top side and found myself climbing over garden fences and sneaking through back yards trying to quickly make it to the road unseen. It was a maze of passages and steps, between long grass and piles of sticks and bricks. Eerily, there was no one about, these stone houses were quiet and empty or maybe people were just watching me in silence from afar.

I found an easy trail which I thought would take me back down to the car when I saw a young girl in an apron and bonnet heading my way. I gulped and remembering Michel’s words about how friendly human beings were, I greeted her with a broad smiled and “hello” in Turkish. Her expression quickly turned from confusion and worry to warmth. She encouragingly nodded as I pointed down the track. My confidence with strangers was growing. The next lady I met was equally welcoming and responded to my request for directions with several enthusiastic hand gestures. A big smile and hello spoken in the local language seemed to have a good effect. But still the residents of this village must have been very amused by these two lost foreigners running around seemingly without a clue.

The track lead on down to the river, twisting and turning until I saw the car at last. To my horror Michel was not there. Oh what a mess! I thought. I stayed put and sure enough he came puffing round the corner a few minutes later, very confused about where I had been.

He then continued his favourite Turkish past time of jumping into animal troughs for a bath, washing off the sweat of the hike and the uncertainty of the Turkish middle of no where. We had both been a little freaked but laughed at ourselves when ten minutes later we had joined a main highway and were greedily picking out sweet treats in a well stocked road side store. At least that venture had taught me a little something about trusting people, no matter where they were from. At the end of the day we are all kinda the same.

 

Climbing Tahtali in Turkey.

We had been hearing about this mountain for days. Did it really exist? I looked at the horizon. Where was it? And then we came over the lip of the next rolling hill and a massive bulk of land came into our minds. A monster of a mountain. A beast of a mission. I wanted it right now. If there was anything that excited me it was the thought of climbing a huge mountain in a foreign land and not really knowing how it would all go.

Michel had read some unreliable post on a blog about how to climb the thing. Start from this unknown, tiny pinprick of a town, hiding somewhere in the delicate slit of a gorge far away. Cycle up 900 metres, finding your way through the maze of dirt roads, climb 100 metres, leave the bikes on the mountain pass, climb another 600 metres vertical through rumble fields and then maybe, we were not sure, be confronted with the working mechanisms of a local tourist attraction. Tatahli apparently had a functioning cable car that would whiz people up to the 2,300 metre peak in 20 minutes, saving them the hard slog, energy and pain.

The man at our hostel in Kemer helpfully told us that we were crazy, it was far and we did not have a chance. Hmm, as has happened to me many times before, I simply loved it when people told me that my plans were impossible, it just made me want to do it even more.

And then we made that fateful turn inland. It seemed as though the suburbs of that tourist town would carry on forever but then it gave way to a large rock wall. Where was our gorge? As we had already discovered in Turkey, things constantly seemed to hide themselves until the last moment. Then sure enough, a whisper of a crack appeared, followed by slight wind and then a trickle of water. We passed into the cool, damp shadow of the gorge and soon found ourselves climbing slowly, up and out of the heat of the coast and into a new environment of mysterious mountains.

The road started to twist and turn in a rather alarming fashion, bend after bend. Tortoises were stranded in the way of the large heavy trucks that came flying round the corners, nearly flattening these hardy creatures and ourselves. I’d had enough and needed a break. The forgotten town then came into site so we had climbed the first 750metres. Michel had talked about camping for the night somewhere in the dirt road maze but I refused. There was a cheap room going at the only restaurant in town. I felt obliged to take it, after all we had to save our energy for the big climb tomorrow.

Up in the mountains, I felt as though the mood had slightly changed. I had to look over my shoulder and be careful about where I stepped. This was not holiday land any more. It was more deserted, less shiny, less fancy. In this town, whose name is unimportant and forgettable, we were amongst lush green fields, a few barns and a tiny ornate mosque, nothing else.

The creepy owner of the restaurant showed us to a room. The sheets were a mess and the bathroom filthy. I had to clean a while before I could sit down. Dinner was a mixture of crisps, crackers and white bread. The creepy man told us that we could leave early the next day but to be careful as the dogs would be out, guarding the front of house. Thrilling, I thought, was there a reason to have guard dogs?

In the early morning we carefully crept out of the hotel. I had my eyes peeled for a dangerous dog, bounding in my direction. It was a little chilly as we started climbing slowly on our bikes. This is when the scary dogs appeared between door frames of rusty old buildings and tumbled down barns. The locals exchanged whispers, confused by the behaviour of these foreigners, “Where were they going?” Nothing could be found up that dirt trail, they thought.

I looked up towards the sky and what I thought could be the summit of this huge mountain. Michel looked on his GPS and gave me discouraging statistics, only 100 metres climbed, still 900 to go. The trail became difficult to follow. The maze really was a tangled mess with tiny tracks or dirt roads heading up, down and around the mountain. It was difficult to really know where we where going, if we would end up in the next valley or back down by the coast. Michel kept stopping to consult his GPS device. We had missed the turning. A tiny faint blue line curved slightly to the north and then to the south, while we were curving off into nothingness. The tempting thought came to us that we should just go up. Even if we had to carry our bikes, we would struggle up and up through the undergrowth. Even if it killed us we would still eventually reach that peak. But logical reasoning stopped us. We had already gone through a few sticky moments in Turkey where we had forgotten good reasoning and been left in a tangled up mess afterwards.

Turning back, we made the comparison with the tiny faded map on the screen and the land that we saw before us. A new trail carried on up the side of the mountain in between thick wads of trees and vegetation. Occasionally a clearing would appear in a very mysterious way, full of mud and silence. I cycled particularly quickly through these sections as I wasn’t sure what could be following me. This mountain had put an ominous spell over us as we feared that it was quiet possible to be lost or forgotten up here amongst the hairy green walls. But then, to my sheer amazement, the untrustworthy description on the blog post came true and at roughly 1700 metres altitude the cycle-able dirt road abruptly stopped and gave way to a rocky hiking trail.

Here I would leave my bike and continue on foot to the mountain pass which supposedly was only 100metres above us. Michel was going to carry his bike for the last stretch and hide it in the undergrowth on the pass. We would then go for the summit together. On our return, I would cycle directly back down to the village while Michel would ride his beloved single trail down the other side of the mountain to the coast. He then felt it perfectly reasonable to speed along the highway and retrace of footsteps of the previous day, up through the split of the gorge and back to the village. He would make a complete circuit of the mountain in a day.

Back to the spot where I changed from wheels to feet. Insects were nibbling at my neck as my body floated off the ground. It was enlightening to change the mode of transport, giving me a new lease of energy. However, I did groan slightly when I saw that the time was about 08.50. We had made that impossible first climb of 900 metres in about 2hours 20minutes. Only relentless pedalling and iron determination had got us there.

I hopped, skipped and jumped up to the pass, racing along as Michel trailed behind with his bike over his shoulder. The rock walls of the mountains around us were immense and suffocating. We were alone in this mountain desert but then I turned a corner and came face to face with a tired, puffed out old French couple. They had climbed the col from the other side and were now considering the summit. Michel asked about the trail on the other side as this was his single trail. “Not Bad” muttered the couple, “but certainly not for a bike”. Michel was like me, nothing put him off when he had an idea in mind.

After Michel chained his bike to a tree we were soon racing up the side of the rocky slope. It felt like a volcano, as it was a barren rocky waste land with no features. We were excited for the summit and after days of cycling hard we were conditioned well for a final sprint. This giant mountain that we had seen from the coast was about to be conquered. Clouds moved in and we considered the possibility of being caught in a fierce Turkish storm. We were with very few resources, always travelling light. We had a thin water proof each, our one water bottle was empty and there was half a packet of crackers in my back pocket. We were dancing a delicate line and if Turkey decided to throw a storm our way then disaster could follow.

We were still a little unsure whether this fabled cable car station existed and the only way to find out the truth would be to get to the top. And sure enough there was a grey and ugly square building perched on top of this beautiful mountain. Summit excitement was taking over us as our competitive side made an appearance. We started running after miles and miles along the Turkish coast line, and after metres and metres up that rough mountain side in the early hours of the morning, we still had energy to run. I was a good few metres ahead and as I sprinted to the finish line a gang of Turkish construction men started to cheer me on, “Champion” they shouted. And in a rush of excitement the road ended. There were no more metres to climb. I smiled broadly, laughed and cried as I collapsed on the deck chairs outside the souvenir shop. We were happy but very hungry, so we tried to get a free meal in the cafeteria amongst the fat tourists, cheekily adding, “But we climbed this mountain”. The view from the top of this mountain was shrouded in fog, but unlike the hoards of holiday makers we were not here for the views, we had made the journey under our own steam and it felt pretty dam good.

We left the summit and the safety of the building to enter the wilderness again. I descended alone as Michel went off to find his beloved single trail. I knew that the only way was down and that is where I went until I reached our creepy guest house and the shack of a village shop where I bought bread, juice, cheese and yet more crackers. I sat on a rock on the side of the road where I knew Michel was soon to appear. In my dirty, sweaty clothes and exhausted state of mind, lost in the Turkish out back, I found myself thinking that I was exactly where I wanted to be, no questions asked. Michel appeared quicker then I thought, hanging onto the back of a truck that had pulled him up the last climb. A pair of keen eyes fell on my juice cartoon and before I knew it, he had slurped the whole thing up.

Lovely Jubbly Turkish Breakfast

Didim was not exactly my ideal holiday destination. Free-wheeling down the main street, we passed fast food restaurants, Irish pubs, English pubs, American diners. Was this really Turkey? And then we arrived on the coast and I nearly fainted with distress. There was a swarm of signs and neon letters advertising shepherds pie, Bangers and mash. Walking along the sea front a man with extremely tanned skin, shiny hair and flashy jeans ran after us, trying to convince us that he had a fantastic English Breakfast for us.

All in all mass tourism seemed to be destroying the Turkish coast line. As we cycled through the area I began to feel very strongly about this; wanting to scream at these restaurateurs that I did not want an English breakfast, I was in Turkey! I could not understand how anybody would pay to be in Didim for a week. It was a hell hole and I was mildly embarrassed when I considered the prospect that this resort had grown in response to a demand; a demand from many English tourists who wanted sun, sea and English food in a safe environment that would not challenge them to deal with another culture.

My heart sunk when I thought off all the places around the world that have lost their identity thanks to our greedy culture of sun shine holidays. I can understand that these local people wish to make money and maybe the whole system actually works perfectly, however I cannot help imagine the day when every seaside town in the world looks exactly the same. Michel and I are the type of travellers that enjoy authentic towns, local food, unexpected encounters and the open road.

Back in Didim, we were desperately trying to find a half decent restaurant for an evening meal. I was about to loose hope as we passed row upon row of tacky fish and chip shops or grimy kebab stalls, but then we came across an interesting looking place. It was a large room with a huge window. Inside there was a rather traditional Turkish decoration; patterned carpets covered the floors and colourful hangings were on the walls. There were a few small chairs and tables dotted around the space. We glanced at the menu which was displayed outside, there was a curious list of things written in a rather jumbled English. As soon as our eyes had fallen onto this list the waiter stormed outside to give us a keen and warm welcome. His smile was so huge and his cheerfulness was so intense, it all made me feel a little overwhelmed. But we had no choice and our stomachs were feeling empty so we went inside to have a look. We asked what there was to eat and he pointed to several bowls behind the counter, these bowls looked like they had been there for a very long time and contained questionable contents which, we assumed, were different types of cheese, olives and vegetables. “Hm” we paused. “Yes!” cried our happy friend, “Turkish breakfast! Very good” Had we made a mistake? Were we in a Turkish breakfast bar that happened to be open in the evening? The man could not seem to offer us anything else and I was loosing hope until I remembered my guide book which I pulled out of my rucksack, flicking to the food and drink section. “Try Menemen for breakfast” the author had written. It was basically an omlette with lots of fried vegetables: it sounded good. Ok, I thought, if this is a breakfast bar then this should be possible. And sure enough the man directed his wife to the stove and she began working anyway. She, he assured us, had been making Menenam for 25 years, so was ofcourse an expert. I was extremely tired after our very long day and began to fall asleep at the table. The happy man said to Michel, “you need a car for her, she is too tired”. I was too dazed to take any notice, even when he mused that rain was certainly coming tonight. Thankfully the Menenam turned out to be delicious.

We began to consider a camping spot for the night. This is something totally normal to Michel, he had slept in ports, phone boxes, beach bars and golf courses, and had never experienced any problem. I, on the other hand, was not used to this and I felt rather reluctant and hesitant but I knew that we were travelling for a long time, so had to economize. Plus, waking up in the morning, without having paid a penny for the bed, really was a good feeling.

So, we were trying to find a camping spot in a very touristy town. We were hotel dodging hobos, on the run. We considered a dark beach by the funfair, but the merry-go-round was making a lot of noise and there was a white van, with some shady looking passengers, pulled up by the sea, so we gave that possibility a miss. We then moved onto a dark wood, wedged in between residential houses. It was certainly dark inside there. We tied our rope up in between two trees to make a shelter from the rain, which then came and came during the night. But we felt very snug and warm, curled up next to each other, sheltered from the wet.

We woke the next morning to dogs sniffing around our things, I peaked my head out to a very bright wood. It was sure that we were now not covered by the shield of night. There were scores of people power walking up and down the rows of trees which were planted very neatly, in exact lines and rows. We sat there there for a while, brushing our teeth and admiring the dedication the Turkish locals had for exercise. It was 6.35am after all.

We felt like we had to return to the questionable café for breakfast, to try its product at the right time of day! Instead of that enthusiastic smiling man, we were greeted by an even happier and enthusiastic looking younger man who, on learning that I was English, could not stop saying Lovely-jubbly, “Turkish breakfast for you? Lovely-jubbly”. Is this all foreigners know of my culture? How disappointing.

Later, on the boat to Bodrum, I felt sick. The vessel was tipping up and down violently and I could feel my lovely-jubbly Turkish breakfast flying around inside me. However, a group of middle aged British ladies did not care, they were disco dancing on the top deck with the young Turkish skipper. Simba, our captain was stood at the front of the boat, looking thoughtful and surveying the coast line for our proposed landing spot. His Turquoise bandanna blended into the murky waters and Michel snapped a picture. And as we sailed on to Bodrum, we realised that we were not actually going to Bodrum, despite what our tickets read. There were buses on the north of the peninsular to take the tourists into town. As always seemed to be the case in Turkey, you never quiet knew where you were going or what you would find when you arrived.

Blue-eyed bad luck…On the Aegean Coast.

We were on the water front in Kuşadasi, sharing a large pot of yoghurt on the open air gym equipment when we met an elderly Turkish man who spoke German like a native. He told us that he had lived and worked in Germany for thirty years, describing it as the “the best years of my life”. However, now he had returned home and high rise hotel had appeared and blocked his once pleasant sea view of the Greek island of Samos. He gave us some recommendations about were to visit, muttering under his breath, “Dilek national park is down the coast,…it is wundershön”.

Later on, while we were wandering the streets in town, I pointed out the blue eyes to Michel. These blue glass eyes, like flat marbles,could be seen in every Turkish home or place of business. They were know to ward of evil and bring good luck. Michel bought one for me and attached it to my handlebars; we certainly needed good luck on our bike adventure through the Turkish wilderness! The shop keeper seemed impressed by my knowledge of Turkish culture as he listened to my explanation of the blue eye and when he saw my rucksack plastered with travel patches he gave me a Turkish flag to add to my collection.

We had decided to follow the recommendation of our German speaking gym friend, making our way south as the sky filled with grey. The Dilek National Park began on the edge of a small town named Güzelçamli. The houses stopped abruptly and the kiosk at the park entrance seemed deserted, there were few cars heading this way. We were immediately thrown into nothingness. It was a spooky place under the forth coming cloud, the tree covered mountains rose steeply from a coast line scattered with wide beaches. One road went out towards the headline. Out to sea there was a mixture of different sky lines. There were several Greek islands very close to the Turkish coast, this was were Europe blended into the east. Rain looked likely so we took cover under the terrace of a deserted beach bar and planned to camp there.

I was sewing onto my rucksack, my new Turkish patch when a sinking feeling came over me. A trio of Land Rovers were coming towards us. The vehicles pulled up outside the bar and 12 Turkish men appeared. They came straight up to us and introduced them selves. These men were clearly the owners of the beach bar and they told us they were here to check out a few things, in preparation for the beginning of the summer season, the following weekend. One of the men particularly took a shine to us, he told me he used to be a policeman. “Look” he said, and he lifted up his jacket to reveal his hand gun beneath. “I am a very dangerous man”. Michel burst out laughing and whispered to me that this was the typical Turkish sense of humour, but I did not care for this cultural observation. He was a very dangerous man and I was on his land. The group carried on chatting as if we were not there. I was feeling extremely uncomfortable and eventually persuaded Michel that this would not work for a sleeping spot.

We quickly said good bye and carried on along the road, between beach and mountain. I was relieved and pleased to have escaped the group but then we came up against our next obstacle. Two young boys with machine guns. They were manning an army road block. Apparently the road ahead was closed for military activity and the whole of the national park actually closed at 7pm every night. It was getting dark now and we had no suitable place to pitch camp. We laughed in disbelief at our awkward situation but then again if you are willing to leave things so unplanned then you have to put up with some discomfort every now and again.

We decided to leave the park and grudgingly re traced 20km back to the park entrance. Night was close by when Michel got a puncture. There was a covered viewing platform by the side of the road and we took cover there from the impending rainfall. We knew what was coming and two minutes later a military truck came round the corner and stopped beside us. We motioned to the wheel and flat tire, making squashing faces – whatever that looks like. They understood and seemed happy to take a rest from their military duties. They offered us a cigarette, they were a fascinated audience as Michel removed the wheel, found the puncture, put a patch on it and then sealed it all up again. However, ten metres down the road, the bloody wheel went again. We found another roadside veranda and this time discovered the source of the problem: a big fat rusty nail. How we had not seen it before was unbelievable. And unfortunately we had burst two inner tubes; valuable things in a country where good bike shops were extremely rare. The whole trip seemed to be turning into a catastrophe – a catastrophe ever since we brought the blue eye for my bike. I looked down at this blue eye, it stared back at me and I was beginning to resent this piece of Turkish trivia. It was only the third day, we had twenty-two more biking days to go; surely it had to get easier.

As soon as the bright lights of the park entrance came back into view we were relieved. The spooky feeling of the park was still clinging to us as we tumbled into the first bar we saw to order a couple of beers, after an escape with the law and a couple of gun men, we needed a moral booster. I remembered the public beach huts that we had seen during the afternoon and I suggest that we return to to them, as it would be a good hiding place if the rain did come.

It was quiet on the beach. Nothing but the empty tourist villages and the wide open sea. I felt exposed and vulnerable, but what choice did I have’? I could not just sit there, the whole night. My eyes were tiring and when we laid down the sand was surprisingly comfortable. I woke several times during the night, when a giant wave broke on the shore or when the wind picked up slightly.

The next morning, Michel did not hang around. He was straight in the sea to freshen up; according to him the best way to start the day. However, as usual, I was a bit slower and wanted to enjoy my sandy bed a bit longer. He eventually dragged me to a fresh water shower on the promenade and snap hilarious photos of me as I squealed and shrieked, washing under the icy water.

Reluctantly, I accompanied Michel back into the park, insisting that we checked if it was permitted to cross the peninsular by bike on the dirt road. The guard said yes and Michel’s mind was made up, we was keen. We had a box of Turkish delight and a large loaf of bread and we hoped that this would sustain us in our crossing of these mountains.

The dirt road was ideal for us; easy to ride, a gentle gradient but challenging in its length and consistency and in total it would be a thousand metres to the top. We lost our orientation when road curled and crawled around several ridges and mountain tops. Thinking we were close to the top when really we still had a great altitude to climb. Fatigue set into my legs.

Michel had got away from me and was somewhere ahead. He was carrying all the food. My hands were trembling and I needed to eat something but all I had were the blueberry energy tablets he had given me. I gobbled down five in my desperation and frustration with the never ending road. I turned the next corner and my legs felt like they were going to collapse, but then I saw him with our large loaf of bread, waving it in the air. “Come and get it” he shouted, so this was my motivation to carry on and not to get off and push. We sat on the side of the path gobbling down Turkish delight sandwiches and he told me that the blueberry energy tablets were only for emergencies, “that was an emergency!” I protested, “I would have collapsed!”

We felt a scary sense of isolation as we neared the top of the park. It seemed as though few people ever ventured up this far, I had read on a notice board that you needed a special permit in order to hike up here, so I had been surprised when the man at the gate said yes to our mountain bikes. There was a Jeep parked just near the col. And a few minutes later a father and son passed, greeting us, as they wandered off I noticed there large rifles slung over their shoulders, hmm…I pondered, my turkey-gun-count was increasing by the minute. We dressed up for the down hill as the wind had picked up, with gloves, scarves, leggings and glasses, I looked like a fugitive on the run. Or an extreme adventurer, really I was anything but.

The ride down was chilling; the path dodged several spiky bushes and misty patches of undergrowth. Around every corner I was expecting a giant snake or moose to appear, or a bear or a crazy tribal axeman. Although, as we continued speedily downhill, I realised it was just us on that windy mountain side descent over a thick layer of stones and rocks and pebbles, possible space to slide and roll all over the place.

I was thinking that the streak of bad luck was finishing and Michel was just commenting on how I was managing very well with the rocky descent. His last words were just being said when there was an immense crash, bang, and messy clash somewhere behind me. A large branch had become stuck in Michel’s de railer and clogs, ripping it all off so it was hanging free. This was a disaster and serious bike damage. Despite understanding well the scale of the damage and the possible consequences for our trip, I had to take the opportunity to take a nap, I was exhausted. I curled up on the path and fell asleep in a minute. A lack of sleep at our beach camp and the immense climb had caught up with me. When I woke, Michel proudly announced that he had fixed the problem with a spare piece of wire and a few plastic tires. Having escaped disaster yet again, we were beginning to realise that this trip was balanced on a knife edge, a serious piece of damage to the bike and we could not go on. The Turkish hills could be harsh and I wondered whether we would be able to cope.

Eventually we decided that the bad luck and catastrophe was mainly happening to Michel, with his ridiculous number of flat tyres, it was possible that my blue eye was shielding me from it. We passed by the Miletus ruins and immediately bought another blue eye for Michel to attach to his bike, along with a couple of cans of turkeys favourite salty yoghurt drink named Ayran. Now we were ready for whatever the Turkish hills had to throw at us.

Two sugars and cream, please…

I was stood outside Izmir airport, in western Turkey, waiting for Michel to put his pedals on. Grasping the handlebar of my white mountain bike, I gazed up into the Turkish sky, on the brink of a new adventure, I was feeling nervous. And then we were away, zooming off into the unknown and the outlying towns of Izmir city; wild dogs chased us, little kids ran after us, and the parents looked on, staring, but not saying a word. We were foreigners, aliens, biking down tiny country roads, pausing to let old ladies cross. These women dragged a single, skinny cow behind them. White brick tumbled down the hillside and blank faces peered at us from arched doorways. As dusk drew nearer we found the lake where we would camp that night. We laid our bikes down in a clearing by the lake. Some mysterious animal hummed and buzzed near by. The grass around us was thick and lush, hiding tiny or hairy crawling beasts.

We washed in the lake before we retired to our sleeping bags. Michel jumped into the shadowy waters all the way and swam out fifty metres. I on the other hand, gingerly dipped a toe in and with my blue wash cloth, wiped my sweaty body clean. Later, when we were all tucked in, Michel simply said, “can someone turn off the light”, as the sky was alight with a million stars.

I lazily opened my eyes and saw Michel curled up next to me. The fresh morning air combined with my stiff limbs eventually dragged me out of my temporary bed. We still did not have any Lira, as we had forgot to get them at the airport, so we set off towards the nearest town on the coast, in search of breakfast and some means of buying it. The landscape was empty and bleak. At 8am, only trucks and motorbikes beeped at us on the way up the first hill.

We stopped in the first major town we came across named Gülmüdor. More wild dogs barked, more locals stared but when we sat down in a local café we were touched with an exceptionally warm welcome and felt terrible when we could not even say “thank you” in the language of this country. We enjoyed some delicious pastries as the father in charge bossed around his daughter and I rummaged around in my backpack for my phrase book. “Tes, Tes, ker…” I stuttered and then Michel grabbed the book of me, catching the attention of our host, and took a chance at this tricky pronunciation to impress him with an eloquent, “teşekkür ederim”. In response he held his hand to his chest and nodded with a faint smile. It seemed impossible to us; such a common word yet so long and complicated. We cycled off into the higgledy-piggledy country side towards deserted beaches and winding roads that curled up and down and around the coast line.

A couple of hours down the coast line we came across the world famous site of Ephesus. I said that we could not pass it by, given it’s fame and reputation. Although when we entered the site the crippling heat sent me into a daze and all I could do was sit on the steps and stare out to the sea. After taking a nap under a random tree we found a tiny road to Selçuk. We were staying at the ANZ guest house in the grandly named Ottoman suite. Our bed was sprinkled with flowers and we had two showers and soap, so we were happy. The place was run by an Turkish ex-resident of Australia. “Please.” We begged him, “how do you say ‘thank you’ in Turkish, we are confused and feel so rude!”. “Well”, he replied, “it is very easy, all you say is: ‘two sugars and cream’, quickly mind you, otherwise it shall not make sense! And by the way, here is the place to go for dinner”, and he handed us the business card for his brothers kebab house. As we wandered down the back streets, on our way to our recommended eating house, we practised this phrase, slowly getting to grips with these new sounds. We took our first Turkish meal at the kebab house and I did feel a little hesitation when the Australian Turk’s grubby brother appeared with two large plates of salad and meatballs, however the scores of drawings, done by previous backpackers pinned up around the window and doorway, proudly declaring their love of the kebab house, did not lie. We also had our first sip of Ayran, which would later become our standard go to drink after a few sweaty and steady climbs over the never ending Turkish hills.

Cycling uphill after leaving Selçuk, every truck, motorbike and van was beeping, waving, cheering and egging us on up the hill. I felt like a celebrity, a rock star, a hero, but in reality we were only lonely and already scruffy bike tourers. Diverging off the main road, we climbed into the mountains and arrived in a town, which was not actually a town, simply a few barns, a few chickens and some broken down trackers. A little further on, as the sea came into view, we were confronted by a group of Dutch families, accompanied by their Turkish tour guide. They were on a mountain safari trip. Coming from nowhere, out of the wild, we seemed like intrepid adventurers, but in reality the tourist trap of Kusadasi was just around the corner. The tour guide took a photograph of us in front of this spectacular view. We smiled in thanks, proudly adding a clear and confident, “two sugars and cream please”, we were slowly and steadily, settling into this wild new country.