Turkey: It’s blooming good here!

11 11 2012

*Warning, you may want to make a cup of tea before reading this. It’s OK, nobody dies, it’s just dauntingly long and you might need one to perk you up, or you could do as the Turks do and have seven.

We spent 3 weeks cycling in turkey and probably (sorry other countries) found it the most rewarding to travel in. But we knew this already, that’s why we have planned to stay here for several months. With this in mind we have separated this blog into little categories. It seems overly flattering it is in the slim hope that the people who issue the work permits are reading. We hope you enjoy it.

Generosity

 

In the beginning we were left astonished by the fruit seller who gave us some grapes for free instead of upping the price, as we would normally expect as daft looking foreigners on even sillier looking bicycles. By the end of our few weeks cycling through Turkey Rhiannon was quoted as saying, “So what free stuff did we get today?” Which I think unflatteringly demonstrates how quickly we had become desensitised to Turkish generosity. The answer to her question on this occasion was 6 teas, 2 bunches of grapes, tomatoes, cheese, bread, raki and onions. How you might wonder, well it goes a little bit like this: cycle along, say hello to someone who then invites you in for tea (it is difficult to say know, in the end we had to limit ourselves to only accepting 3 times a day otherwise we would never have got anywhere) and then sit and talk for an hour whilst your cup is constantly refilled. The Turkish people we came across were almost always interested in what we were doing and on learning of our trip would offer us a gift, this would often be food, in the form of breakfast in their house or fruit and veg from their stall or car.

On one occasion it was late in the day and we were looking for somewhere to camp when a man in the vineyards begun frantically waving and whistling at us. Now this is always a critical moment, we must quickly evaluate someone’s sanity from distance, in our experience some people are genuinely enthusiastic and kind and others are just downright crazy. On this occasion we were struggling to find a decent camp spot so despite our misgivings decided to give the guy a chance. After a strange interaction in the middle of the vines we established that we could not camp here because we must stay at his house, a farm in the nearby village. ‘Hamza’ was his name and we stayed for two nights and had a lovely time, cooking and eating fresh wholesome food, drinking homemade Raki and repairing the bicycles whilst Hamza milked his cows and tended to his vines. We had a much needed rest and more importantly had a small glimpse at life in rural Turkey. Hamza if you’re listening, thanks for having us and I’m sorry for my dancing and breaking the sink..

Actually Knowing Something about a Country

On the boat over to Dikili something was different, eerily different… we knew this country, we could say hello, order dinner even, we knew the dinner would be good, we knew the people were friendly, we knew how much stuff cost, this was all new to us.

How would we cope with this unprecedented power? Quite well indeed actually. It is such lovely feeling to be able to communicate with people in their mother tongue rather than having to point and gesticulate, or find an English speaker (this does make you feel quite useless after a while.) Whilst Rose and I know the rudimentaries of Turkish Rhiannon has lived in Turkey for 6 months and worked hard to get to grips with the language. So with her leading the conversations and us chipping in we were able to have rather enjoyable interactions, with the bonus of improving our Turkish quite sharply. I think this really contributed to our overall experience of travelling through rural Turkey as the confidence this gave us enabled us to deal with situations in a relaxed manner. This has not been the case in other countries where understanding nothing of the language can lead you to feeling anxious (almost always without reason) in certain scenarios. Plus you get to know local people more easily and it is through them I think that you can truly get a feel for a region.

So, I think in an ideal world we would travel to new countries with some language skills, but in reality this just isn’t feasible. To get to Turkey we came through 11 countries in 12 weeks, even for the adept hyperpolygot this would present a challenge. So I think we will make the most of our extended stay in Turkey and continue to muddle through future countries. It isn’t so bad, but it just isn’t as good.

Grub

Another amazing thing about this country is of course the delightful food and if any of you have been to Turkey you will know what I mean. The first stop on our culinary tour was a pide restaurant. This is a thin pizza like base with different toppings, cheese meat, spinach and chillies on (no tomatoes base). These are a delicious and cheap lunchtime snack or evening meal with the complimentary salad that is offered in all Turkish restaurants.

All the salads in Turkey are fresh and delicious, none of this wet or soggy lettuce leaves.  In fact many of our evening meals were dependent on what we could pick during the day. Fruit and veg are being grown on every patch of land there is.

Our favourite places to eat out were these Turkish workers cafes that serve hot food. These cost around 5 lira each and are almost enough to turn you to vegetarianism. The only problem with getting a plate of beans or slow cooked aubergine or peppers (and probably the reason they taste so delicious) is that they are drowned in oil, this is not such a bad thing when cycling though!

As Jimi mentioned before, Hamza invited us to his home for dinner. I was delighted when (I thought) he said “Tavuk Mango” which I interpreted as chicken and Mango. Mmmmm delicious I thought something different, I wonder where he will get the mangos from. When he barbequed the chicken and there was no Mango, I thought oh he’s forgotten to get the mango, but Tavuk Mangal actually means BBQ chicken. It was delicious and we had a rooftop feast of Chicken and salad, pilav (rice) and some Chi Kofte that Rhiannon rustled up. Let’s not forget the home made Raki which he offered (more or less forced on us) but was a delicious compliment. He made the Raki – which is like Sambuca – but drunk with water so it goes cloudy, from the grapes from his vineyard.

Rhi wrote a blog about campsite cooking so you can see some of the recipes of the delicious food we made on her Campsite Cooking blog.

Camping

During our trip as you have heard, we have had some funny experiences of our nightly accommodation. The wild camping has been some of the best as there is so much unused land that we find a hidden spot, usually out of the way but mostly near a main road, and more often than not we are frequently approached by farmers and hunters with large guns or a huge pack of sheep with the shepherd and sheep dogs. The ‘sheep’ dogs however in Turkey are purposely bred big dogs known as ‘kangals’ that are vicious and do not like the idea of cyclists which they think are in fact trying to steal their  sheep. We had many occasions where these ugly creatures growled and barked as we passed them guarding their sheep.

On one occasion Rhi and I (Rose) went off to investigate an abandoned barn, we set off 500m through the field and then noticed a farmer and his sheep. He started shouting at us, but then turned and walked off so we carried on. A few seconds later I saw the dogs and shouted to Rhiannon, “the farmer has dogs and they are coming for us, quick!” I sped off as fast as I could but didn’t hear Rhi behind me shouting “stop and they will stop chasing us!” Three large sets of teeth were at our heels and barking viciously. I sped off and poor Rhiannon was left to shout at them to stop. It was close and they did eventually back off and we were unscathed but none the less were very shaken. The trick we have realised (but in my panic did not remember) is to stop and get off the bikes, shout in an angry farmer sort of way and then pretend to throw stones at them. Much to Rhiannon’s disgust I had left her behind to deal with the dogs on her own and throw things their way. Jimi did not know what to do as he rounded the corner after looking for a camping spot elsewhere to see us surrounded by large angry dogs. The situation soon resolved when they realised we were no threat to their sheep and our bikes were nothing exciting.

Bayram, it’s like Christmas

As we climbed our way through the Taurus mountains on our last leg of this year’s cycling we didn’t know what would be ahead or how many hours of uphill we would have to cycle that day (we were using a tourist picture map). The weather was noticeably milder and we stuffed extra layers on, fished out our unused winter gloves and plodded slowly up into the mist.

Meanwhile Rhiannons bike, ‘The Doctor’, had been experiencing mechanical problems. Both front and rear racks had snapped on one side and we had cable tied and gaffa taped them. As a wise man once said, “if you can’t fix it with cable ties and gaffa tape then you haven’t used enough.” This was becoming very much our mantra. But these problems were now compounded by rear brake failure and recurring punctures caused by a battered old inner tube.

We contemplated hitching the rest of the way to Antalya but this was to be our last night on this leg of the trip so we decided to spend our last 90TL on a hotel room, a celebration beer and a nice meal in a restaurant. We limped into Korkateli and tried to find a room, but in our haste forgotten it was the eve of Bayram and the town was buzzing with people rushing around buying last minute presents in all the shops. Alas there was ‘no room at the Inn’ and all the hotels were closed for the holiday season. In pitch black we cycled to the edge of town and camped in someone’s garden. This is like anonymous generosity I guess. There were the obligatory dogs barking in the distance and the sound of the mosques singing out the prayers as we set up camp. We felt our last night of the trip should have been more of a celebration but I guess it was more fitting. As it was we had a lovely evening and early to bed as we knew we would have to be up extra early to leave in the dark. It’s always a surprise in the morning to see your surroundings in the light for the first time.

We awoke to a live performance from the nearby mosque and a chilly mist in the air. We picked a couple of apples from the orchard and embarked on our final days riding. The roads were unusually empty. We exchanged, “iyi Bayramlas,” with the few people we saw heading home, cars full of kids, food and presents to exchange. It really did feel like Christmas.

As the day went on and we passed through villages, we saw more people, increasingly often carrying large knives. Why? Because the Bayram tradition in Turkey is that each family who can afford it will buy a live goat or sheep and slaughter it outside the front of their house.  The meat is then shared with the poorer neighbours.  We looked on as the whole family gathered round the goat outside their house ready to be slaughtered and skinned for the traditional dinner. They were more than happy to pose for pictures as they celebrated.

We flew down some 1000 metres of altitude in the final 2 hours and were in Antalya by lunchtime. We had celebration Urfa kebabs in the old town before heading to Jimi’s mum’s place. We knocked on the door and begun our Bayram carol singing we had been rehearsing. A confused Terry (Lems husband) answered the door and as we carried our bikes into the back yard it felt very strange. It still does. When you get used to moving on everyday it feels quite foreign to have some roots and put your feet up on a settee to watch a dvd.

The End- Sort of

Although the bikes are being rested for a few months, until we have saved enough money for the next leg of our journey, the keyboard is not. We are going to continue blogging about life in Turkey and the challenges and adventures we encounter.

Thanks for tuning in

Rosy and Jim

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2 responses

12 11 2012
amccullagh

Nice legs

12 11 2012
rosyandjim

Which ones?

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