Day 4 back in the saddle…
Its been hard getting back on the bike after the time off in Istanbul.
I’m not sure what changed but the bike feels heavier, legs weaker, hills higher and temperature hotter.
We sweated up some long hills every day, often sharing the road with a lot of traffic.
I had a few moments of panic. What are we doing? I don’t like this anymore. Why don’t I like this?
I realised that I had been deploying a few tactics to get me through the first part of the journey, and they had been used so often I thought they had become part of myself. Having put them down for a week I couldn’t remember how to use them, they felt contrived. However, contrived still works sometimes.
We got up those hills. We pitched our tent. We made our food. We got up and did it all again. We’re doing nothing like the distances we were a few weeks ago. But we’re on our way.
Today I found myself grinding up another hill, and was relieved to find I wasn’t really worrying about it. Just getting on with it, looking at the scenery.
The big joy moments happen. There have been extraordinary views. There has been good cake. But the big joy isn’t always at the surface.
Eskishir is a lovely city, different from any other I’ve been to in Turkey. Lively, young, spacious. Fun. Cafes spill on to the street. Rock and roll played late in to the night. Arms bared.
We explored the old city this morning. Pastel painted houses, the book says they are old ottoman houses. The old caravasaray converted to museums with glass blowing, jewellery workshops, a photo gallery. Full of schoolkids.
Weaving our way out we see more unkempt versions of the houses, falling into disrepair.
We ride out of town for a while on the main road. We stop briefly to buy supplies and are befriended by chap who insists on buying us tea and ayran despite his own Ramadan fast. His name is Mustapha and he and Jamie do well conversing in German with a little Google translate thrown in. I follow along well enough, Mustapha is good at sign language.
Eventually we strike out looking for some ruins we’ve read about in the guidebook. We see a sign which seems to tell us we’re heading in the right direction. We reach a fork, and appear to choose the wrong one as we never find the ruins. But the landscape is dramatic, towering cliffs, jaggedy rocks, then some ruling farmland. Thunder is rolling around us. We are drenched a couple of times, then sweat our way up the next rolling hill before we stop to take off the waterproof, then have to don it again a few minutes later.
Beautiful though, and great to be off the main road even if it is slow. We stop to camp at the top of a hill, the next waypoint is 9km off but at our current speed that’ll be another hour and we are both flagging. We get the tent up in time to shelter from another downpour.
All in all a good day.
Having carefully followed guidance from our guidebook yesterday, looking for something, though we weren’t quite sure what, we had finally given up finding it. When the guidebook’s “follow the track for 2km” becomes 10km easily we decide that even a car driver couldn’t get it that wrong…
So we’d camped up overnight and set off again in the morning, this time towards a different landmark marked on one of our mapping apps.
A turn off on to a very bumpy track makes me grateful for my mountain biking practice in Italy last year. Eventually the weird looking hill on the horizon resolves itself in to a rock formation riddled with caves. In fact two rock formations, the very ones we’d given up on finding.
Bolstered by this find we clambered up the ladder in to the main set of chambers. My mind muttering that you’d never get to do this in the UK, no railings, big holes, massive drops. The view is spectacular. We try to make some sense of what we’re seeing, there’s clearly a number of chambers leading off the main one, and you can see from outside that there are more way up. There are some hand and foot holds carved up the side of the rock too. We’re floundering to make sense of it really, but it’s seriously impressive.
Eventually we leave and carry on down the track, finding – we believe – the turn off we were supposed to find yesterday, though we’re still at a loss to know what it was 2km from.
We’re on a roll now. We start to see the landmarks left and right. A carved rock face, a temple-style facade leading to tombs. We meet a few more sight-seers on the road, we were lucky to be alone at the first spot, clearly Sunday is a popular day to look at the local landmarks.
The final landmark is Midas city. From what I gathered the Phyrgian’s worshipped the mother goddess, Cebele or Kebele, of whom I am a fan. They also were serious plumbers, carving huge underground cisterns, waterways and water pools which must have kept many people in water all year round. Apparently this is the first known example of such water storage. Again, very impressive, and fun to explore.
There were also numerous chambers carved in to the rock, and equally fascinating ones which had been started but not finished – giving a very visceral sense of the work it took to cave them out of the rock. The unfinished work also raised the question of why, what happened that made people down tools? Where did they go?
After spending a good part of the day exploring we took to our bikes and peddled a thirty km or so before giving in to a beautiful view and setting up camp for the night.
We wake and pull ourselves out of bed. As I poke my head out of my tent I register – a little late – the clanking of bells that means that goats are near. Sure enough, they start materialising out of the scrubby forest we’ve camped near. Two or three at first, then ten, then a seventy or spread out before us. A goatherd follows, if he’s surprised to see us he doesn’t show it, just raises a hand in greeting and shepherds the goats around away from us.
We start our morning dismantling routine, while I get the kettle on. By the time the water has boiled the goats and their man are back. We chat a little in broken sign language. We share some coffee. We break out Google translate to ask him some questions about himself. But soon the goats have wandered off and he’s off after them.
Jamie and I ponder whether we’d enjoy such a life over breakfast. It certainly has it’s charms, but I suspect it’s not everyone’s dream job.
We come down off the hills and cycle across the plateau for 80km or so. The road is pretty flat, which is a change, but predictably perhaps we have a headwind. The landscape is strange. In the distance on both sides their are mountains. We see no-one in most of the villages we pass through, though they must be inhabited. On the outskirts of many there are little camps, we suspect migrant workers of some kind. We see some out in the fields, the minibuses signs that these aren’t the locals.
We’re heading east, we don’t have a particular destination in mind until we reach km 70. The map tells us we’ll reach a town in 20km+ and we’ll need water for the night if nothing else, though a hostel would be welcome too. With no mobile network we have to wing it.
Arriving in the town we see many inquisitive and welcoming faces. It’s the end of the day, so there’s a lot of people on the streets and we feel very conspicuous. A car drives past us slowly, and we see we’re being filmed.
We pull off and try to consult the internet, but before we can get very far a car pulls up beside us. A man rolls down his window and I think asks us which way we are going. He asks – using excellent sign language- whether we’d like to come and eat and have somewhere to sleep. We would, so we follow him. He leads us to his apartment block and we are ushered in to his house. I don’t know if his wife was warned but she welcomes us heartily.
We’re given çay and showers while we are waiting for the sun to set. Our hosts are observing Ramadan, which is wonderful news for us – two weary cyclists. Zehiya has prepared a feast – çorba, bread, rice, chicken, lamb stew, salad, dates, watermelon, and more lovely sticky desserts with icecream. We all eat and laugh as more food is piled on front of us. We are truly grateful and humbled by their hospitality and warmth.
After dinner we chat with the help of translate and eat more cherries. We talk about family, work, religion and travel.
We slope off to bed, overwhelmed by another extraordinary day.