When a guest in someone’s home, how do you know when you have probably stayed too long? My
hair had grown visibly and a baby had learned to both walk and talk…. It was time to leave Istanbul.
Caroline and Gurkan: you are heroes!
Arno the Frenchman, a University friend, had been to visit. We slept rough in sewage pipes and
abandoned mansions, drank tea (chai) with old men and wallowed in deep Turkish baths. I was rested and ready for Africa. I crossed the Bosporus, waving au revoir to Istanbul’s wonderful skyline and to Europe.
If all goes to plan the next crossing of that water will complete a circumnavigation and prompt a
spectacular level of celebration (from me at least).
The call to prayer rose up the forested mountainside from the village mosques. Echoing and sliding
around the autumnal cliffs, the singing was a beautiful sound. But the magical silence that followed was
comically broken by a Public Service Announcement from one of the mosques: “bing, bong, BING,
BONG, would Mr. Ahmet please report to reception” (or something like that!).
We stopped to eat in Beypazari. Before I knew it Mr. Youssef had invited us to his home for the night
and I was whipping his sons at basketball. Cross-legged we feasted around a low table. A great evening,
except for the agony of folding my legs beneath me as we ate. There were perfectly good chairs all
around… The next day we misjudged distances and spent the night trapped in suburbia (a horror that
happens for life to many people), camping in Ankara beneath high-rise tower blocks. Four youths high on
solvents pestered us late at night, for money, for alcohol, for cigarettes and, saddest of all, for the glue
from my puncture repair kit. Plastic bags puffed full and empty in your face by frantic 15 year olds
looking for escape is a deeply depressing experience. The prospect of their return later was not conducive
to restful sleep either.
A dilemma: if you drop your bike computer down a filthy Turkish squat toilet, what do you do? Chris
reached in and went fishing! I haven’t laughed so much in ages. We paused to help a tortoise cross the
road before finding a beautiful wilderness campsite. As we drank hot tea and watched the sun sink a wild
pony came to say hello before galloping away across the empty plain.
Cappadoccia is one of the most stunning natural sights in the World. It ridicules my vocabulary. It
makes a mockery of photography. You need to wander with your own eyes up its surreal canyons, lured
ever forwards even though you know the way out is behind you. The rocks are mesmerizing. Endless
chimneys, haystacks, mushrooms, waves, pyramids, gorges and cake icing. Whites and creams and pinks
and greens and reds as far as you can see. A silence so deep that a childish mind may find the echoing of
farts hilarious. But that is only half of Cappadoccia, for in all these outrageous rocks are thousands of
human homes. Everywhere you climb are the fascinating caves of troglodyte populations. Persecuted
Christians hid here too; beautiful cave paintings and rock hewn altars a testimony to their undimmed
faith. And to smugly walk up the red carpet at the entrance to the smart hotel we were kindly being hosted
at by Omer just topped it all off perfectly!
Omer’s breakfasts were vast and, fuelled like performance athletes on several kilos of deep fried eggy
bread, we rode like demons: 5 hours without stopping once is an absurdly long time in the saddle. Chris
and I parted company: he to fly to India, me to ride to Syria, and I had deadlines to keep. I was on a
mission to get to Beirut as fast as possible. The physical endurance challenge of cycling is a major part of
the fascination for me, and I had one on my hands now.
Ahmet, a shotgun armed night-watchman of an orange grove fed me like a king and let me sleep in the
back of a wheel-less wagon on the top of a hill in a thorn field. Adrian, a cyclist with 1800 hats in his
collection warned, “sorry to p*ss on your oil painting, but there are some big bastard hills ahead.” He was right. I pedaled 8 hours a day up and down irritating passes, heading as fast as I could towards Syria and the next phase. But even the hills of Turkey aren’t too bad compared to the privilege of pedaling at dawn through tiny mountain communities, tranquil and awakening, sharing my tea with shepherds beside my tent and the unquestioning hospitality of the Turks that puts to shame our mistrusting selfishness in Western Europe. Even the outrageous headwinds of Turkey fade against the view from the ferry up the Bosporus of Istanbul at dusk, happy and replete from a bellyful of 25p kebabs. Turkey is wonderful. Now for the Middle East.