Up in another world

After the thrills, spills and stresses of the first week of my trip I was happy to get back to a slightly less eventful riding experience. Leaving the crisp sheets, clean towels and not to mention buffet breakfast (which I managed to devour for the best part of an hour) of the öğretmenevi in Gediz I got back on the road to more rolling downhill. This time there were no hidden rain spots, flying glass bottles or toilets surrounded by mud-traps – just ever growing farmland and the warm, sometimes too warm, sun of the early Turkish summer. The bruise from my knee had by now spread almost as far down as my ankle bone and after each break from pedaling there was a slight tearing sensation as I got going again, but it was getting easier with each day. There was also plenty to keep me distracted from it along the way; I saw my first ever wild boar – unfortunately dead by the side of the road, but the size of it was a surprise to me. It must have been to the car with which it met its end as well, because next to the large, rough-haired road kill was a large section of a bumper and part of the side wing.

The woodland was by now giving way to more open farmland, some of it given over to large fields of wheat, sunflowers and other cash crops, whilst other areas were still small subsistence small holdings. One sight that caught my eye was a field of long grass being cut by a pair of men working in mesmerizing synchronicity with their scythes. I watched them for a few moments unnoticed, before wishing them ‘kolay gelsin’ (a really nice Turkish expression roughly meaning – let it come easy to you – that is conveyed to anyone who is doing some work, particularly manual labor.) They thanked me as one voice and wished me the same as I sat back on the saddle and pedaled away. I slept another night at my ‘go-to’ choice for accommodation when wild camps are in short supply – a petrol station. At this one I was offered a spot for my tent in a small pic-nic gazebo that came complete with its own picket fence! Also sleeping on the forecourt was a man and his son who were waiting for the wheat harvest to begin in the surrounding fields.

As we watched the light fade over the fields he explained how he had traveled from Konya with his harvesting machine to find work as the wheat cutting season started. After a few weeks in this region they would probably move onto Azerbaijan, and he asked if wheat was grown in England and when it would be cut? They were sleeping in their cars and to all extents and purposes it sounded like a very hard life trying to eek out a living for a family back at home. With my nice tent to sleep in, lack of work commitments and dependents, I felt the familiar feelings of guilt, humbleness and embarrassment at the journey I was on, compared to theirs.

As if to compound that fact, 2 days later I was on the road to the tourist hot spot of Pamukkale. As I came into the Denizili region and closer to Pamukkale, the fields gave way to rows and rows of grape vines and fruit trees. I stopped by another ancient site at Tripolis, about 30km from Pamukkale. These equally impressive remains of a Roman settlement with covered market, main street and nobleman’s villa were totally deserted except for a small group of archaeologists working on them, one of whom gave me a personal tour. Away from the main road I followed a dirt track along an irrigation canal and was stopped my a local farmer on his scooter who offered me some fruit from his fields. I was a bit wary that this was a ploy to lure me into the bushes, but true to his word Ghassan just picked me a hat-ful of apricots and plums and handed them to me – complete with his hat that he also insisted I take.

I took a couple of days rest in Pamukkale – and joined the hoards of tourists visiting the beautiful natural phenomenon of the calcium travertines and the impressive remains of Roman site of Hieropolis. An industrious elderly hotel owner offered me a space for my tent in the shade of an apricot tree next to the hotel swimming pool and I happily bathed my tired muscles day and night. A stroll up the calcium waterfalls as the sun was setting was truly magical and had the added advantage of the bus loads of tourists having already left. A few beers on the way home and a long chat with the hotel owner from his street-side seat seemed well deserved after 9 days hard pedaling. Raven got some TLC too as I finally removed all the mud at the car wash and thoroughly cleaned the mucky chain too. Leaving the tourists behind – and being photographed by one bus load of them as I cycled out of town – I continued on my way south and towards the Western Taurus mountains.

At yet another petrol station camping spot, the young mother of the family who lived on site took a particular interest in my tent and was very curious to see how it came together and what my bed was like inside. Her young daughter was much more preoccupied with her dad, who she precariously toddled around the petrol station after, whatever he was doing. Soon after my bed was made for the evening, the grandmother then beckoned me over to the dinner table set outside under a large tree and invited me to join the family for Iftar – the evening meal during Ramazan when the days’ fast is broken. She had lived in Germany for several years and wanted to talk to me in German, but it now seems my bad Turkish, is still better than my very bad German! A not so great part of Ramazan (if you are not fasting yourself) is the drummer who roams through the streets an hour or so before sunrise to wake people up for a last snack before the days’ fasting begins. For the third night running I woke up with my heart thumping before I recognized the sound of the drum banging away nearby.

It may have been a lack of sleep, or it may have been the kms catching up with me, but the next day was a real slog. The morning was no problem as I steadily pedaled across the flat plains towards Gölhısar, but after a lunch time stop at the ancient city hill-top site of Kibrya, I just had no get-up-and-go. I decided to head out of town to try and find somewhere for an afternoon nap to see if that would help, but just as I reached the junction for the main road the wind suddenly started gusting along the streets and a huge rainstorm broke out. I took shelter in a nearby bus stop to wait it out – but it wasn’t letting up. After an hour or so of fitful dozing on the narrow bench I decided to cut my losses for the day and find a cheap bed for the night in town. Unfortunately the öğretmenevi was closed, as were 2 other student pensions I tried. On the one hand I was lucky to be in a university town to have cheap accommodation options in the first place, but on the other hand I was a week or so too late as the summer holidays had just started. After nearly an hour of pedaling around I found a girls hostel that still had a few stragglers re-taking exams and got myself a room. By 7pm I was showered and in bed, feeling too lazy to even go and get some dinner so I had a packet of crisps in bed before putting some earplugs in in preparation for the morning drums.

I wouldn’t say I leapt out of bed the next morning but I definitely had more of a spring in my step. Good thing too as the day started with 2 mountain passes at 1300m and then 1500m. Alongside the road were some curious pic-nic shelters – best described as 2 storey open pavilions with a bench in the middle and a fireplace and chimney for a BBQ. Many of them seemed to have been privately built and had a WC hut and a spring, but as it was not the weekend I didn’t see anyone using them. After the second pass the road dropped down for one last time before I started the climb up to my plateau destination of Girdev Lake. This remote mountain pastureland is accessed by 18km of dirt road that climbs up steeply from the nearest village. The last town of any size is Seki and is a further 5 km away. As I arrived there in the early evening the market place was filled with plastic tables and chairs set out for the large communal Iftar meal. I stopped briefly to buy some food and to enjoy an ice cream, then headed on towards the mountain track.

The junction out of town passed a strange sculpture of a huge hand holding an apple – which must have been in reference to the road that led to Elmalı (Elma is apple in Turkish), but it looked totally out of place in this small farming town. As signposts became scarce and the map more confusing, I had to keep stopping to ask for directions. The responses were not overly encouraging but kind of what I had been expecting. You know if some one warns you ‘çok rampa’ (lots of uphill) it will be hard going, but if they make a whistling sound, throw their head back and say ‘hep rampa’ (all uphill) then you know you are in for a tough time. Without delay the asphalt came to an end and 1 km later I pulled into a secluded field to camp for the night. As it was summer solstice I made sure I had a blissful view of the mountains (slightly less blissful when you know you are riding up them the next day it has to be said) and a few swigs of cha cha to salute the sunset.

This time there was no early morning drum to wake me and after an extra doze I loaded Raven up and returned to the rocky dirt track. I told myself it would be tough but it was only 17km and could be no worse than some of the ‘roads’ I had ridden in Tajikistan. Unfortunately my legs were not convinced and felt like they had gone on strike. I would pedal a short distance and then ignore my attempts to mentally push a bit further before stopping and pausing by the side of the track. I would find every excuse not to move again – put some sun cream on (to sweat straight off), rummage around for a lost sweet in my handlebar bag, take a photo, check the cursor on the map (not moving much at all), or try and spot the invisible goats on the mountain side whose bells rang out constantly. But what I frequently didn’t do was move. When there is only you to motivate yourself it can be very tough to fight tired legs, bad roads and steep gradients, but after several hours of huffing, puffing and some pushing I made it over the pass at 1900m, down and up a small valley and was staring down on the small plateau of Girdev, with its lake shimmering in the midday sun. At the far end was my destination – Girdev Kamp.

Through an online network called workaway.info I had arranged to spend some time working here in exchange for a bed and food and I’ve spent the last few days doing just that. A bit of gardening, some help in the kitchen when the odd visitor drops by, whatever needs dong for a few hours each day. In return I am being taken in as a part of the family, muddling by with my Turkish and soaking up the total peace and quiet. The sound of bird call, sheeps’ bells and their shepherds cries and the sound of the wind in the trees fill the fresh air. There is a fine cloud of (happily non-biting) flies each morning that look like a huge gathering of dancing fairies, before they inexplicably disappear after lunch. There is no phone signal or internet, you can watch the odd car circle the whole lake from the balcony and spy frogs leaping into the water out of the corner of your eye as you walk along the waters’ edge. Compared to the hectic 2 or so years living in Istanbul, it is another world. Which is precisely what is offered to the guests – traditional plateau huts to sleep in and homegrown, home cooked food from the gardens. And for me, I am hoping it will give me some time to read and write as I have carted all my diaries from my walk up here with me with the intention of revisiting them and putting the whole account into words – but that is another journey entirely.

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