5th November 2012

More Turkey!

I awoke restored and renewed on Friday morning quite replete with good cheer - partly because my tooth had mercifully not shattered in the night as feared after the rogue olive-stone-in-mezze incident of the previous evening, but more particularly because the sun was shining and bright weather was back on the menu! After a quick breakfast I packed up and decided to head south to the little lakeside town of Koycegiz. By mid-morning I had managed to get myself in a pickle trying to navigate around the supersized city of Izmir and ended up quite lost, though mercifully I managed to lose myself in an area with a lovely bakery/coffeehouse - not a bad result!

After this brief refuel I managed to find the right path out of the city and stay rubber side down despite encountering some pretty punchy driving styles. At one point I became quite hypnotised by a silver Volvo ducking and diving across the 3 lanes with a terrifying sense of urgency - in fact I was so engrossed, I failed to spot 2 little Herberts tailing me very closely on a scooter until one of them sounded their comedy claxon horn so loudly, I let out a startled girly scream of surprise and nearly jumped out of my skin! The young offenders found this very amusing and raced off into the distance laughing and slapping each others shoulders. To be honest after I’d got over the shock, I also had to laugh - that’s exactly the kind of juvenile prank that I’m afraid to say I find very entertaining.

In any case after a delicious kerbside spot of Gozleme (a kind of pancake stuffed with a variety of fillings, cheese in this case) from a proprietor who also had a vast stall of pomegranates for sale as well as jars of olives, I set off for the final push down to Koycegiz. My parents had stayed there before at a little place called Rose Aparthotel, which they had highly recommended, so I decided to head there myself and check it out. I was greeted warmly by the owner, Gul, who showed me to my room and given that I was the only guest at the hotel, offered that I join her and her parents for supper. Gul loves natural produce and grows a lot of her own vegetables, so supper of lentil soup followed by a salad with baked leeks from her garden was a real treat. Gul then offered to take me on a walk into town to show me around and also to go for an ice cream at the best parlour in town (I confessed that this was one of my weaknesses!).

I stayed at Gul’s Aparthotel for 2 nights, deciding that it was a beautiful place for a rest day particularly given the kindness of her hospitality and friendship as well as the peacefulness of this town. Staying in Koycegiz was like being wrapped up in a big hug - there is a very strong sense of community, of respecting relationships and giving to other people, which made me feel very contented. The stillness of the vast lake surrounded by the protective embrace of the mountain range seemed to mirror the atmosphere of the place. Even though there was a substantial language barrier, the locals did their best to interpret my gestures with patience and often a good deal of laughter (by far the most bewilderment was caused in the hardware shop where I tried to ask which of two potential tow-ropes was the strongest by pointing to my flexed bicep and then pointing to each rope - we got there eventually!)

On Sunday morning it was time to leave, so after our usual early morning walk into town to visit the bakery followed by a hearty breakfast, it was sadly time to leave. After a goodbye hug and the typically thoughtful and comforting news that Gul’s mother had prayed for my safe onward journey that morning, I set off for Antalya. I arrived into the baking hot city by 4.30ish and entered the walled old part of the city with winding cobbled alleys heading off in all directions. Eventually I found the Sabah Pansyion and was made to feel like a local celebrity by one of the owners - he insisted on taking several photos of me with the bike as well as a video of me riding Suzi into the internal courtyard area of the building, saying “we have a beautiful woman on a motorbike staying here perhaps once a century, I must take a photo for our web page!”. After sweating it out in the mid 30s through the hot streets of Antalya trying to find this place following a long day of dusty road riding, I could only conclude that the poor man must be visually impaired - and went for a shower.

After a banquet of a breakfast this morning, I decided that today was the day for a mega-miles ride all the way to Sifike (250 miles) to give me the best chance of getting to Iskenderun on Tuesday ready for my ferry to Egypt on Wednesday. The morning proceeded fairly easily and by 1pm I was ready for lunch, so stopped off at a little cafe at the side of the road. Shortly afterwards a red minibus pulled in and the driver was also seated for lunch. After a delicious plate of Gozleme, I set off once again Eastwards. About an hour later, winding through the mountainous tracks of the D400 road, I decided to pull in at one of the numerous roadside banana stalls and pick up some fruit. I’m normally not that big a fan of bananas but riding through valleys and valleys of burgeoning banana plantations was giving me a craving - the power of suggestion eh! After a brief gesture based chat with the lady on the stall and having been craftily up scaled from 3 bananas to 5, I paid and left, but not before the same red minibus drove past the stand, tooted the horn and waved. I assumed that the ladies at the stand must know him so thought nothing of it. A little later and back on the road, I spotted the bus again at another banana stand and this time we exchanged toots. Given the winding track I was taking my time and soon he’d caught up with me. After a few kms I suspected I was holding him up so pulled over to let him past. To my surprise, instead of racing off, he pulled up next to me and the side door slid open. He now had a passenger with a bicycle next to him, who was Turkish too but called out to me in English, “where are you going?”, to which I replied “the direction of Mersin”. He then said “ok, the driver is also going that way, he says if you have any trouble, we will look out for you”. I was very grateful for the offer and thanked him, though within a few more kilometres we lost each other and I thought no more of it.

Several hours later at just gone five and with barely any daylight remaining, I arrived into Silifke and parked up, deciding to look for a hotel on foot. By chance at that very moment a young man cycled past me, asking “hey, do you remember me?”. It was the passenger from the red minibus! He had been dropped off there by the driver very shortly beforehand and was also looking for a hotel - fantastic! We both decided we wanted somewhere clean with wifi, so he entered a hotel to negotiate while I looked after his bicycle. After securing a bargain price, we each cleaned up and went in search of some supper. He offered to introduce me to some more Turkish dishes, so we ate a variety of tasty dishes and had a good chat. It turns out that he has cycled all this way from Istanbul in 15 days down a similar route to the one I’ve taken, and is continuing on to Hatay (the furthest eastern point on the south coast). Today by chance he was picked up by the driver of the red minibus as he wasn’t feeling well so took the lift from the driver who told him to look out for the girl on the motorbike. At first, he told me, he didn’t believe that I could be a girl and told the driver he must have made a mistake, but the driver insisted he’d seen me earlier and to prove he was right, pulled over next to me (with the offer of assistance) so that his passenger could see for himself. He told me over supper that he was indeed very shocked to see that I was a girl, adding “I thought that I was crazy to be cycling across Turkey, but now that I have met you I can say that I have met someone even crazier!”. I had to laugh, not least because he is probably right!

Tomorrow will be my last full day in Turkey…Egypt, be ready!