Jimi and I spent hours deliberating about what to write in the blog and which bits of our Turkish life we could share. However Jimi’s mum has kindly solved our dilemma by writing this brilliant article, not for us, but for one of the Turkish national daily’s; Today’s Zaman. We are posting her article as it has everything we wanted to say, but better she is with the English (what’s a noun again?). We will update again soon but for now this will more than suffice. Enjoy.
I catch snippets of conversation emanating from serious-looking individuals, heads bowed intently over their work, bizarre-looking tools in hand. Sometimes similar sounds waft in my direction from the same somber heads, this time riveted to laptop screens or poring over maps and guidebooks. The conversations go something like this:
James: “Twenty-eight-inch wheels? But surely you can’t get any replacements for these over here?”
Alex: “Ah, maybe, but they roll for longer.”
James: “I thought all Thorns came with Rohloff hubs?”
Rose: “Only as an extra.”
Around the world on two wheels
And so on. It’s like a whole new language or a whole new world, and one that I will clearly never belong to, nor, to be truthful, do I wish to. These are the words of a new breed of travelers known as “cycle tourists.” Until two of my children became suddenly and inexplicable obsessed with bikes — as children they had never shown more than a passing interest in their childhood bicycles — I had absolutely no idea just how many people were prepared to set off around the world on two wheels. I can fully understand the wish to travel to foreign parts and even the pleasure of being in the open air, but am still struggling to understand the attraction of pedaling uphill on a bike loaded with all your worldly goods, including the kitchen sink, with nothing but a bleak night in a tent to look forward to.
I also had no idea of just how many of these tourists pass through Antalya. It was, of course, no surprise when my son, his girlfriend and my eldest daughter turned up last October, all looking suitably sunburned and ridiculously fit after their 5,500 kilometer trip from the UK. They had warned me about their imminent arrival and, though I managed to be absent for the event, I have had plenty of time since then to hear all the gritty details of life on the road. For my daughter, the three months in the saddle were perhaps enough to abandon her bike in Antalya and hop on a plane to İstanbul to seek her fortune, or perhaps just to enjoy the comforts and contrast available in a big city. The other two have equally happily swapped their specially padded and balanced bike seats for the rather softer options of beds and our sofas for the winter months. They are now, however, beginning to get itchy pedal feet and busy plotting the next part of their round the world cycle tour.
Wild camps and warm showers
Like all moms, I like to think that my children are unique. But when it comes to cycle touring, quite clearly they are not — far from it. I now know from personal experience that there are many people from all parts of the globe who pack up their belongings into a few saddlebags (or is that panniers?) and set off around the world — because I’ve actually hosted them in my house.
Although operating on a tight budget and therefore camping (preferably “wild”) most nights, living off semi-cooked lentils and pasta, all the while huddled in four-season sleeping bags and watching out for rabid dogs, they occasionally need respite from their self-induced life of hardship. This is where we come in. My son and his girlfriend (James and Rose) cleverly joined the website, appropriately named, Warm Showers (www.warmshowers.org) before leaving the safety of their home in Manchester. Unlike its “rival” website, http://www.couchsurfing.com, Warm Showers is specifically aimed at those who understand bicycle banter and the needs of those who have traveled long distances in the saddle. Joining this website entitles the members to turn up and stay at the homes of other participants. Obviously, the deal involves the use of a bed (or sofa), preferably the chance for a hot wash and, if possible, the use of a washing machine rather than a quick rinse in a passing stream. During their time in Manchester, James and Rose hosted a couple of Koreans, a pair of Australians and a solitary Frenchman. In Manchester, they were able to treat these foreign guests to the delights of warm beer in British pubs, over-sized portions of greasy fish and chips and a guided tour round Manchester United’s football ground. What more could any self-respecting traveler hope for?
During their journey here, they also made use of a few warm shower hosts en route in several European countries, interspersed between the many nights spent under canvas. When they reached Turkey, however, they found very little use for either tents or warm shower hospitality. For the majority of their nights, they were offered shelter and often food by locals in villages they passed through, such being the nature of Turks, particularly those living away from large towns. With their limited knowledge of Turkish, this gave a great opportunity to learn first-hand about the culture of this most hospitable of countries.
However, when they reached Antalya and had recovered sufficiently from their trip, they realized that although they might not be “on the road” they still had a burning desire to communicate in their newfound language — the arcane lingo of bicycle banter. Initially, they tried with us and a few of our cronies to inspire an interest in their stories, but nobody could make head or tail of their conversation. So they logged on to the Warm Showers website, updated their status to “living in Antalya,” and, within a few days, requests from itinerant cyclists began trickling in. Fortunately, it’s perfectly acceptable for participants to turn down a request if it’s inconvenient, so there’s no obligation to put up those three Finnish cycle fiends when half your relatives from the UK have just turned up for their annual holiday in the sun.
A different breed of traveler
We have, however, successfully hosted several of this breed of traveler. They may come from all parts of the world, but, no matter what their indigenous language, I’m glad to report that they all speak fluent bike banter and I am able to leave these folk to twitter away for hours about handlebars, spokes, lycra shorts with sewn-in nappies (that’s what they look like anyway), where to buy fuel for their state-of-the-art stoves in downtown Antalya and whether it’s possible to renew their Turkish visa by taking a detour into northern Iraq and re-entering from there.
To date, a very sweet Swiss couple, a lone girl from New Zealand, a charming 50-something-year-old guy from South Africa and a very vivacious German pair in their 20s have all made use of our facilities. Not only do these guests provide hours of entertainment for my son and girlfriend, they have also all made the most of having a kitchen and cooked delicious food for all of us. Their energy, enthusiasm and refreshing attitude to life are infectious. They defy the principles that my generation was brought up to uphold — the “must get a job, save money and settle down” philosophy. Instead, these people from assorted backgrounds may have saved money — but only in order to enable them to travel the world with their bikes in tow.
All seem to enjoy their stay here, spending much of their time sleeping and eating, but the rest of the time they can be found enjoying Antalya’s old town, swimming in the sea, testing out the best food spots and soaking up the good weather from the comfort of our garden. Most importantly they can — and do — indulge in endless hours of bicycle banter whilst busy mending punctures, truing spokes and greasing hubs.