Turkey: Fat and Large

Lying in a tent somewhere on the Black Sea. I can hear waves crashing on the shore and rain drops spattering on to the outer surface of the tent. Blanket like cumulus clouds cover the scene to the horizon over the dark sea, small openings provide bright white patches among the quilted sky. There is a small cliff above us with bare wintry branches silouetting this grey sky and dimly lit houses crest the hill of the clifftop village.

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This scene is so incongruous with my vision of Turkey. This all feels very close to home, very familiar. My idea of Turkish landscapes has been slowly crafted during the last few weeks to mean vast open undulating plains at high altitude. The steppe-like plateau of central Turkey, open only to silence and the occasional shepherds call. Wild, natural beauty of unprecedented epicicity. The Jesus zone has not disappointed, and now the sound of the waves brings me back down to earth.

Josh and I had a crash. As we were riding out of a town one morning and a dog started to dash towards us. Josh stopped to throw stones and I hit his back wheel and fell down on to the road.

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What I can remember is sitting on the road with my head in my hands. The sun was bright above me, almost piercing a hole in my head while confusion filled it. Josh walked towards me and I asked to be left for a second as my head hurt, but I didn’t completely recognise him. He asked when we had met. I said yesterday. But at this point we had been together for over three weeks. He tried to restrain his surprise but I could tell in my confused state that something wasn’t right. He asked if I remembered anything else. Nothing. Didn’t have a clue what country I was in.

It was like being landed in the middle of Turkey. ‘Waking up’ during a large cycle trip across continents.

You gradually get used to the difficulties, the risks and dangers. To awake in to all of that was overwhelmingly stark, like raw skin exposed to heat, the skin is much more sensitive to it; as was I more sensitive to the fact that we were strangers in this place, putting a lot of trust in the wilds and locals of Turkey. And that faculty of trust took a few minutes to return. In the same way when you enter a new country it takes a while to trust people. Then a warm person behaves in an exceptional way and the landscape loses its edge. How can this place be foreboding when old car mechanic I spoke to lives here? They’ve got my back.

Within minutes Josh, being a decent practical bloke an’ all, had the map out. The holy map of Antioch. It becomes the lifeline of the trip in a lot of ways. You come to live by it. And it becomes the anchor of your awareness, the first way in which you experience the land. After seeing the map thoughts started re-emerging rapidly. I was in Turkey, we had been together over a week, I wanted to see photos to jump the start the memory. The bike was at first an alien sight, then it dawned on me what we were doing and I wanted to ride right there.

Some Turkish men had approached us by this point having seen the crash. They were talking to us and as they left I said “Tesheke”, Turkish for thank you. This instinctive reaction brought back vivid memories and life on the road could start again. We rode another 10km that day which seemed to stand as the best treatment: re-aligning a cloudy mind with the wholly familiar.

Most of Turkey sits on a vast plateau around 1000m in altitude. As we climb on to this plateau massive landscapes of mountains and ridges stretch outc before your eyes. The roads climb up and hug ridges, allowing you to see well across valleys towards the next range of hills, a distance of over 100km. Hills that send you speeding down as though slingshotted, trying to take a photo as you descend. The undulating farmland prior to Istanbul has been replaced by mountainous fiery volcanic rock opened by quarries and their exploratory diggers.

Awesome is for once the right word. The landscape on the plateau is reminiscent of the Mongolian steppe. As we leave Eskisehir the Turkish plateau starts to unveil itself from it’s mountainous gates and hundreds of miles unfold in front of the eye, enveloping all manner of canyons, hillsides, small mud-hut villages, distant whistling shepherds, their grazing flock and tarpaulin covered shacks.

Whenever you think of the bible, Jesus wandering across some plain, this is the kind of scenery that it evokes. Dry grassy plains amid red canyons and far off singular snow-topped volcanoes. Biblical setting and epic in scale, the scenery is open and vast, a naked landscape of nature untouched. It is hard to imagine any humanity existing whatsoever on the plateau amongst such a quiet wilderness. But exist it does and we pass towns on hills and petrol stations with differing styles of mosques: the former with tall elegant minarets overlooking the terracotta roof tiles of the town, the latter a corrugated metal shed with a Turkish flag and a megaphone. In one town a man calls open-armed and smiling out of his window “Hello”.

We stopped in a town called Yunak for some bread and tea. The shop owner sets us up with a table and chair, and buys us some apricots. His friend stands in the shop and speaks good English. They are charming and tell all of the customers that come in about our trip. As we leave the friend says “Good luck… I hate Mourinho!” with a smile. There were many such encounters in Turkey and countless cups of tea or fresh apples handed to us by locals, often followed by a “afiyet ulson” (buon appetit) and a shrug. When I had dreams of travelling as a teenager, my naive fish-bowl mind had never imagined far parts of the world to be so welcoming.

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