-From Erzurum in Eastern Turkey we caught a train for 14 hours westward to Kayseri on the edge of the Cappadocia region.
-We spent a few days with friends enjoying Cappadocia and since then have cycled 1000km south to Mersin and west along the Mediterranean coast to Antalya.
Arriving in Cappadocia I really had no idea what to expect. I’ve never really been one for pottering slowly around museums, art galleries or historic sites reading information boards and wowing over cultural phenomena that is supposed to impress and engage me. Often I associate these places with the guilt I feel for becoming quickly bored and tired! With it’s famous ‘open air museums’ and big reputation would Cappadocia really be any different? It was.
I was energized as we scampered around the cliffside remains of the Cavusin acient city and my imagination was excited as we wound our way around the ‘fairy chimney’ cone-shaped limestone houses of Zelve and Goreme. I was far from bored climbing the tunnel-ridden rock towers of Ortahisar and camping amongst the limestone littered hillsides near Urgup, waking to a sky filled with all colours and sizes of hot air balloon.
Our final foray in Cappadocia was a visit to the Kaymakli underground city, an incredible labyrinth of eight levels with tunnels leading to wineries, living areas, sleeping quarters, stables, communal kitchens, food storage spaces and churches. Kaymakli was just one of many underground cities in the area, between the 5th and 10th centuries and was home to several thousand early Christians who would move underground when there was threat of attack. Scurrying about in a space now well lit by electric lighting it was easy to romanticize the experience. The huge circular stones sitting ready to block any entrance ways served as a sobering reminder that this was not an enchanted fairytale experience but must have been literally dark and desperate times lived out of necessity in order to simply survive.
Yet amongst all the ‘normal’ wonders of Cappadocia a great highlight for me was slowing down and spending some very special time with wonderful friends. We were delighted to catch up once again with our friends Michael and Lulu and along with other cycle tourists Rafael (Spanish) and Heike (German) we had a very cruisy few days and fun 32nd birthday party for Michael. We’ve now met up with Michael and Lulu in Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey!
New Zealand may have a dramatic climate and fast changing weather systems but never before have I experienced the temperature changes of the last ten days. Over three days in Cappadocia temperatures dropped from a high of 30 degrees to a high of just four degrees. As we cycled through the Taurus Mountains we encountered flurries of snow, yet soon after were back to shorts, t’s and jandals on the beaches and banana growing regions lining the Mediterranean coastline.
Turkey is a land riddled with grand remains of a rich history. There is so so much that one can be overwhelmed by what to prioritise and we must be ok with not doing everything. Fortunately for us along our way, without having to deviate off our route we’ve sampled the beauties of the island castle at Kizkalesi, the inspiring castle remains at Anamur, and the peaceful sprawl of Anamurym, an ancient coastal city from the 3-4th century.
Along our way the Turkish kindness has consistently prevailed. Somehow within cycle tourist folklore an expectation has arisen that in Turkey you will be welcome to camp at petrol stations. Not really knowing how true this was and how this expectation had come to be we thought we’d give it a shot anyway and have not been disappointed. Our petrol station camps have come with free wifi, chai, Fanta, showers, toilets, chilled water and even lentil soup on occasion! With the feel of a modern day Caravanserai we’ve been consistently warmly welcomed and cared for and have felt very safe, even in busy areas, camped under security surveillance cameras and with an attendant being on duty 24hours a day!
As it turns out October 15th is a very significant national holiday and Muslim celebration, Korban Bayram, we’re told similar to the significance of the Christmas holiday for Westerners. In our naivety we asked some locals if we could camp in the back yard of their restaurant, imagine doing that in NZ on Christmas day! Soon enough we were witnessing the traditional killing of their goat and not long later sitting down to enjoy the annual feast.
Navigating through Turkey on a map that covers the whole country means it’s often difficult to really know what’s coming up and certainly what the terrain may be like. Fortunately the roads with special scenic interest are marked with a green line and so we’ve based our route loosely around that. The beauty of the coast of the Eastern Med has exceeded any hopes we had and the size and number of hill climbs we’ve had to ride has similarly exceeded our expectations . To reach the flat lands of the Antalya coastline has been both a relief for the legs and an enormous change. Our quiet roads and small villages have been suddenly replaced by multi-lane highways and high-rise hotels. The friendly Turkish village roadside stall has given way to beaches filled with overweight foreigners sunning themselves to a crisp and riding camels with sun hats! Needless to say we’ve found Turkey to be a land of incredible diversity.
Where to from here? The roads are insanely busy, possibly added to by the national public holiday, roads labelled as back-roads on our map have recently been widened to four or six lane main highways. We hope to ride to Izmir, leave the bikes there and bus to Istanbul for a while before returning to Izmir and catching a ferry to Greece. With every day surprises arise so we will just wait and see what’s around the corner!