We arrive in Capadoccia, a site full of magnificent rock formations and the sculpted cave monasteries carved out of them. It is where George Lucas is said to have got inspiration for his Star Wars films (the planet Tatooine especially).
As I sat in a caf in Göreme centre in the early morning sipping the distinctive Turkish rose-shaped glass of tea it is raining and only Turkish locals sit under the canopy with me, one wears a Sherpa jacket and another a black rain jacket with a balloon symbol on the back, hot air balloon rides are the big business in town. The rain pelts down with the certainty of an overnight downpour. A cat is chased under a collection of chairs outside the adjacent café by three dogs. The cat is cornered, hissing at them vehemently and the dogs are braced expectantly, tongues hanging out. It’s my guess that all the animals are stray. The man next to me dressed in paint-streaked and fur-lined denim jacket and dusty boots shouts at the dogs, interrupting the attack and suddenly they scamper off calmly. The cat waits for thirty seconds then rushes out from under the table. It’s the second time I’ve seen this kind of cat protection from locals.
While in Cappadocia we met Will, a fellow bike tourer. He had set out from Limerick, Ireland around the same time we had, in January, and had been riding since on a trip that would take him around the globe. After a day in Capadocccia we continued on together, heading from the central plateau to a north coast which promised warmer winds and the mystery of the Russophile Black Sea.
This company was welcome: Will was an excellent lad and had some stories that he told with obvious relish, kindled in the growing length of hindsight.
One involved arriving in a Romanian village late one evening, being invited in to a local man’s house only to be poked on the helmet emphatically then shown a bucket of chicken broth with chicken breast floating in it. The man then started to rub his crotch violently while pointing to the bucket. He left and ended up camping in the rubbish-strewn seclusion behind a billboard, this was certainly type 2 fun: only to be enjoyed after the event.
While we stayed in Capadoccia Will was unfortunate enough to get attacked by a pack of dogs and bitten, meaning the continual schedule of Rabies jabs throughout the rest of his month in Turkey. Even this he took with what seemed typical acceptance and a deal of good-natured patience. We made sure there was a beer waiting for the man after his first immediate shot and got on the road the next morning
The three of us rode out in to Turkey once more, setting up three tents in a stealthy section of meadow, sharing the reminiscent joys of talking to female tourists in the cities: trying to pass off this mad quest as something more than a collection of showerless weeks and mornings telling your riding partner to wipe chocolate spread off his face, while concealing the filthy socks you have used as gloves all week. We spoke of the joys: revelling in a well-earned bowl of pasta outside camp, set up in the recently shadowed base of sunset-fired snowy peaks. Lengthy discussions ensued about the selection of biscuits in Turkey and we spoke of the harder moments: times when you want to weep as you sit in the dark rain and realise comfort is a far sight.
The sun would set and the symphony of calls to prayer from the dotted surrounding villages would begin. But between these three living on the road we laughed around the stove as it failed to heat up the culinary delights of half-raw rice and three stock cubes, and we recalled the untamed delights of Eastern Europe, Turkey and trying to imagine what was promised further East. We had each had a stint alone on the bike, which made this company all the warmer and the laughter the heartier.
We parted as we approached the northern mountain ranges of Turkey and Will headed for Iran. The great web of political playground talk going on above our heads would form an obstacle to our entry in to Iran, something for David Cameron and his band of merry men to try and fix, this was a country Josh and I had been looking forward to most. Being British (or American or Canadian currently) would not allow us easy access to the heart of the Persian empire without the compulsory aid of an Iranian tour guide, but Will’s Irish passport had a fresh Iranian visa in it so we parted and saw the back of him, cycling away on to a slip road and in to the unknown.
There was something that made me stop for a moment. Seeing his small frame set against the mountains and shadowed valleys behind, the sound of lorries thundering over the dual carriageway he was entering, and it got me thinking of his trip around the planet on two wheels. Seeing that figure ride off in to Turkey’s by now distinctively epic scenery made me consider bike touring as a whole. His figure tiny, landscape massive; him putting in great effort, landscape powerful, passive and unyielding beyond. And he was heading around the globe; to Australia, across South America and on to Africa heading north back to Ireland. This guy we had come to know over the last few days was to pit himself against what the world had to offer: the weather, the people, the deserts and mountains that he would cross. What stories would the lines on his face tell next time I saw him?
A couple of phenomenal mountain passes separated us from the northern coast: alpine hillsides to finalise the diverse scenic spectrum of Turkey and we descended for 60km off the plateau and down to the Black Sea, visiting some extraordinary cave temples en route at Sumela. And with that our Turkish excursion was almost over. Georgia, Azerbaijan and the post-Soviet Stans to come.