1) We have only had one rest day in the last three weeks, the rest of the time we have been in the tent, and
2) I wrote nearly all of my blog a week ago while in the tent, then when I found an internet cafe later that day realised my laptop had closed my document and I hadn't saved it - a quick google search told me there was no getting it back either. Anyway, enough excuses, let me tell you about Turkey...
After three weeks of waiting around in Istanbul it was finally time to leave. Dan wasn't quite feeling 100% but good enough to go. We had one last photo outside what had become our home for January, and said goodbye to everyone at Mavi Guesthouse. Dan got on his bicycle first and we all watched as he pedaled his fully loaded touring bicycle for the first ever time - It would soon become apparent that Turkey isn't the best place to get used to cycle touring.
I was hoping for a little fall or something (being the nice friend that I am), but he handled the pressure well and cycled off around the corner and out of sight. I waved goodbye to everyone and set off to catch him up.
After two months of cycling through Europe with my front pannier rack being kept in working order by tape, tree branches & finally an apple core, I'd eventually replaced it in Istanbul with a brand new one....only for me to then not fit it correctly and somehow cycle over a part of it that dropped off within those first five minutes of leaving the hostel. I bent the whole thing. My bags just about still fitted onto it though, but it had to be taped together. I wasn't going to buy a new one again though so it would have to do.
Cycling out of Istanbul was craziness. We rode over the bridge that connects the two continents and past the 'Welcome To Asia' sign and then found ourselves on the hard shoulder of a five lane motorway, heaving with traffic. A couple hours of hugging the side of the road carefully and we were out of the city. The weather was freakishly hot for winter at around 18 degrees Celsius - a welcome surprise after the last three months of freezing cold I'd been through. We cycled on as the sun was setting that first day, both of us excited to be finally on the road and into Asia..
Good to see it comes with a wise warning on the packaging though...
We'd read horror stories of the road that hugs the coastline which we were planning to take, but nothing could prepare us for what was to come.
The first few days of that road were pretty horrid. The hills just rolling from one to the next without pause for a flat bit of land. It did however offer up some great camping spots for us. One of the evenings Dan went off hunting for a camping spot while I waited on the side of the road with the bicycles. He came back to tell me he had found a bit of flat on one of the hills just big enough to fit the tent - It was literally just that, no bigger for anything else. We set up the tent perched on the side of the hill overlooking the valley, got the Cornish flag flying and began making dinner of pasta, chicken & vegetables. While sat there outside the tent that night, dinner on my lap, stars filling the sky and a cozy tent to soon retreat to with a movie on the laptop awaiting, I couldn't have been happier.
The toughness of the hills has been cancelled out by the friendliness of the Turkish people, and we both agreed that they are possibly the friendliest people we have ever met. Random acts of kindness happen constantly, whether it's people simply offering to buy you a tea, giving you food, offering you their garden to pitch the tent, even offering money in one instance, or strangely a frisbee - which now actually gets used every night as a plate. Every day we are welcomed to join someone in drinking tea or given something by a total stranger. Saying all that though, probably the most important thing we were handed in that first week out of Istanbul actually already belonged to us - why Dan was carrying all of my cash for me, I don't know, I should've known better, but somehow he ended up with a big wallet that contained my cash for the next four countries, his cash and his passport...which then ended up on a supermarket floor. Luckily though a young guy picked it up and brought it over to us asking if it belonged to us - I now carry my own money.
We finished our food and went to meet the guys - Omer, Murat & Hasan, all about our age. Omer could speak good English as he was an English teacher, but it would be Murat & Hasan - both paramedics, whose flat we would be staying at. We've never been looked after better - we got given a bed each, a shower, all our clothes washed, we had the use of the neighbors wifi and they brought out plate after plate of food, followed by countless cups of tea - which after 26 years of hating I have now been forced into liking.
Heading out of Zonguldak we were a bit apprehensive - we'd been told by all the guys and other people that we'd met that the hills for the next 50km were even worse than what we'd already been through. They were all correct, it was horrendous. By lunchtime our legs were killing and it started raining, so we took shelter next to some shops in a quiet coal-mining town.
A guy came up to us who couldn't speak English but all it seemed he wanted to do was gesture just how steep the next few km was going to be. He left, and then another man came - he could speak English but he also just wanted to explain what was to come, the word he used to describe the upcoming road was..."vertical". Another guy then came along, probably younger than us, who spoke even better English. We spoke for about 30 seconds before he offered to buy us a pannini each from a nearby cafe. We accepted as we were tired and it's often too difficult to refuse...and also we were hungry. He ordered them and carried on with whatever he was doing, 5 minutes later he brought them over to us, but was too busy to stop, so wished us a good day and drove off. We were both baffled again at just how nice the Turkish people can be.
Each day you start at sea-level and immediately begin climbing a stupidly steep road that zigzags its way up to the top usually taking about 3 or 4km to do so. Before you've reached the top, whether by cycling or pushing the bicycle, you see above you a sign warning that there is a steep downhill for the next 3 or 4km. Immediately upon reaching the top you are zooming down the other side, awesome hairpin bends one after another. All the way down you can see the next hill right in front of you and the road zigzagging back up again. In the words of Dan - "What is this landscape??"
Doing that once or twice is difficult, but doing it all day knowing you have to do it all over again every day for the next 800km and you start to forget that there is such a thing as flat land. Because of all of this we're only managing around 40km a day, and because the road bends and zigzags so much, only about 30% of the distance we are doing is actually heading in the right direction - East. Which makes it depressing viewing when we look at the map and what we have done in the last few weeks.
A week after leaving Zonguldak and we were only half way to our next planned stop. To add to the misery for Dan he then got a puncture in his blow-up camping mat - these things are the one bit of kit you don't want failing on you, they are a god-send, and make camping more comfortable than the average cheap hotel. In true Dan-fashion though, he got a little over excited while slicing his cake in the morning and unfortunately for him he'd chosen to use his camping mat as his plate...A big pop and hiss sound later, followed by a "NOOOOO!" and Daniel wasn't a happy chap..
Later that day we managed to repay a bit of the kindness we have been shown throughout Turkey, where we found a couple trying unsuccessfully to bump-start their car. We pushed the car back up the hill and they tried again, no joy though. Dan then explained to the guy what he was doing wrong and gestured to him what he had to do and when, and we gave it another go. This time it worked, it felt great to be on the other end and to actually help someone and for that reason we tried really really hard to refuse the huge fresh loaf of bread they were trying to give us, eventually we had to accept though.
It was now ten days without a shower or a break from cycling and we were about three days away from Sinop, our rest town. The weather had been kind to us for nearly the whole time in the last three weeks, although you go from winter to summer depending on which side of the hill you are on within a matter of seconds. One moment it's 18 degrees and you are stripping off to your t-shirt then you go down the other side of the valley, out of sight from the sun and its freezing and icy.
A couple hours of cycling later, with Dan constantly reminding me how much better at stone throwing he is than me, and we were at the top of another huge hill for the third time that morning. Dan went down the other side around hairpin after hairpin while I stopped to admire the view. After a minute or so I sat back on my bicycle and went to catch him up. I went around one hairpin bend - each one is virtually identical to the next, and they are a joy to go down. Straight after, there was another hairpin bend, and this time Dan was stood there with his camera out recording me as I came down the hill. It was the first time in the whole trip that I was being recorded while cycling...I took the corner very wide so I could go close to Dan as he filmed, and as I came out of the corner realised I was going too fast and was running out of road to turn. I was heading for the crash barrier but before I knew what to do the bike went from under me on the loose gravel and I went flying across it face first, scraping myself along the gravely surface. I came to a halt face down and instantly everything hurt. Dan came over to me bicycle in one hand camera in the other, laughing uncontrollably like a true friend would in this situation, and after telling me how excited he was that he got it on camera he got the First Aid kit out and started helping me. In between passing me plasters, bandages, antiseptic cream and laughing, he made sure he got some photos as well...
Turkey has been immense so far - I almost glossed over Turkey and barely thought about it before getting here because I was so excited about getting through it fast and getting into Iran. I underestimated the landscape, the size of the country, the hairpin bends and mostly the people - which now makes me happy that we are only half way through it.
We are looking forward to the next week now, as we only have about four days of the hills left and then a bit of flat before we head inland and up into the the mountains, where it will be back into the cold again for a couple of weeks. Proper cold this time though, I checked the weather today for Erzurum, a place we'll be cycling through in a couple of weeks, -18 degrees at night right now - camping's going to be interesting then. For now though, we are enjoying the weather, loving Turkey and even the hills can't keep the smiles off our faces...