So after nearly 4 months of beautiful beach life, living and working in Cirali on the Mediterranean coast, the time came to move on. I seem to be both very good and very bad at leaving, and often feel like I am doing it too often, but one way or another I had to leave Turkey (at least for a short while) as my residence permit was coming to an end. The plus side is of course some time back on my trusty sidekick, Raven the bike, and this time I opted for a 650km meander inland to Ankara.
The first 2 days along the coast to Manavgat was a cruising flat road without too much to trouble my legs and a Mediterranean winter climate, but as soon as I headed inland the climbing started and the temperature plummeted. It’s easy to forget about the outside world in the alternative cocoon that is Cirali and winter had definitely arrived. On a couple of days the temperature struggled to make it above 0 degrees and my layers of clothes were barely enough to keep the cold out.
At night I was lucky to find a couple of hosts through warmshowers and couchsurfing, and steered my routes towards towns with Ogretmenevi (teacher’s hotels that often have spare beds for the public, at a fraction of the cost of a regular hotel) on the other nights. On the one occasion I was miles from anywhere I turned to my trusted friend – the petrol station, and was offered the women’s section of the Mescid (prayer room) for the night.
Another night the ogretmenevi I had found was full, but I was directed 30 mins down the road, where I found a small spa, with run down, basic rooms, surrounding an historic hamam. As it was out of season and empty, the family who ran it insisted I needn’t pay anything, but invited me to soak in the hot baths before inviting me to join their Sunday evening BBQ for a mountain of grilled meat. You don’t get that at an ogretmenevi too often.
As usual I chose the smaller roads to avoid monotonous highways and endless trucks and the scenery was beautifully sparse and rural, with the short daylight hours dominated by crisp blue winter skies. Buzzards and other big birds soared overhead, herds of sheep and goats dotted the horizon and I spotted a cheeky stoat eyeing me up one day when I stopped for some lunch. As I crossed the large plains of central Anatolia, endless ploughed fields or barren scrub-land covered the gently undulating landscape as far as the eye could see and there was a constant chorus of high pitch squeaking from the roadside. For a couple of days I thought that the cold was aggravating the ear infection I had had trouble with in the summer (too much swimming in the sea), but eventually I spotted the culprits: tiny little rodents were just visible scurrying back to the burrows as I pedaled past. Just like the marmots I had heard but so rarely seen in the French Alps, they were warning each other about me with these high pitch calls. After a while my eyes were tuned in and I could spot them every where, and felt very relieved that I wasn’t going mad and hearing squeaking!
So after 10 days riding, a few historic diversions, a tour of a shotgun factory (courtesy of my host in Huglu), a soak in an historic thermal bath, consuming pretty much the same volume as the bath in tea, red-faced windburn and de-frosting toes, a 1600 m mountain pass, a good dose of cold fresh air, Turkish hospitality and plenty of wide open spaces – I am in Ankara. Raven will take a break for the winter and stay here, whilst I am hitching a lift with the Dogu Ekspresi – a 24hr train route to the eastern Turkish city of Kars. From there I will hop over the border to Georgia and carry on my adventures with my good old ruc-sac friend until the weather thaws out a bit 🙂