It’s been a tough introduction to Turkey – as the three obstacles above have conspired to slow my progress. But as I camp in the hills above Istanbul, I can be happy that I’ve nearly made it to the end of the first stage of my trip – mainland Europe.
Out of Plovdiv, where I last blogged, I have headed south and east, dropping into Greece for a night then over the hills towards Istanbul. It’s been hot. Really hot – peaking at 43 degrees. Generally I haven’t minded as when you’re cycling there is a breeze to keep you cool and in my case there have been headwinds blowing in off the Black Sea, however when the road melted I knew it was time to stop. That’s not a metaphor by the way – on Saturday at around 2.30pm the asphalt (like my legs) gave up on being solid and promptly turned to mush in the intense sun…
The hills have been trying, knocking my average speed down to below 10mph. But I better get used to it, as my route through Turkey will head up and down many times over.
You can take the boy out of Somerset
I’ve wild camped every night since Plovdiv and for my first night in Turkey I found a spot down a dirt track off the main road next to Sunflowers in one field and corn in the other. Having eaten and about to bed down I heard a tractor like noise and saw some flashing lights. Yep, the farmer had come along on his combine harvester and my tent was in the way. Having flashed my headtorch to stop him ploughing through me we had a stand off for a minute or so – I was blinded by his lights and couldn’t tell if he was smiling, angry, remonstrating or just bemused. Suddenly he starts up and rotors turning and cutters cutting he comes towards me! I shout and wave but still he drives on until at the last moment swerves on to the field. I see his face then and he’s in hysterics, laughing and joking and making it clear it’s all fine for me to camp. I pop into the cab and we then spend the next half hour happily harvesting the grain, talking about wheres and whys and hows (he in Turkish, me in English, both of us gesticulating). It turned out that Ali was local but didn’t own the field, he was paid to harvest grain for landowners. I headed to bed afterwards, with a smattering of grains around my tent, but happy to have met a friendly face.
On the whole, I’ve found the Turks to be very friendly so far (when not behind the wheel of course). The proliferation of English has been limited, so it’s been mostly pointing and smiling but we seem to understand each other. I’ve been given cherries, offered coffee, had a tow from a passing car (holding on to the door handle through the window!), I had biscuits from Ali the farmer and, perhaps most refreshingly, was given some cucumbers by a friendly chap and his Dad who stopped as I was resting and refilling my water bottles outside a mosque (which are great places to stop and rest, as long as you take your shoes off!).
In the car though, things change completely. Everyone is rushing, madly overtaking is ubiquitous and I’ve found myself nudging further and further to the right (perhaps appropriate given where the country is heading politically). This is ok for the most part, but I’ve had a couple of low speed crashes where I’ve knocked into a barrier or rough stone on the side. Everyone honks here as well, with the reasons following no discernable pattern. People honk when you go too slow, too fast, to say hello, to say get off the road, for jumping the lights, for not jumping the lights, etc. etc. Pretty much every possible emotion is expressed via the horn, which of course makes the meaning impossible to figure out.
Mad dogs and Englishmen
Mad dogs and Englishmen… stare at each other, before the dog jumps up and with loud incessant barks gives chase. The Englishman panicks and pedals faster, whilst shouting at the dog to go away (or F off, if he’s in a particularly bad mood). The dog, pleased to have got rid of another intruder, gives a final triumphant bark and slinks back to his owner’s house… whilst out in the midday sun.
Dogs have become more of a nuiscance in Turkey (and to a lesser extent Bulgaria) and unfortunately I’ve had to start carrying a few rocks in my pockets. If that sounds cruel, then I apologise but we’re not talking about cutesy little pets here. The dogs chase, they bark, they snap and they growl and of course there’s a very real chance of meeting a rabid one, where one bite could kill me within 48 hours. The strays also join together in packs, which is pretty scary when you have 4 or 5 angry dogs surrounding you. The first few times I panicked, but I’m getting better at maintaining a stoic exterior which seems to do the job. One night wild camping, a dog turned up and all through the night barked at other dogs who came along, almost in a protective way. Sure enough the next morning she was asleep outside my tent, tail wagging peacefully. I gave her some leftover breakfast noodles, maybe they’re not all bad.
Istanbul and the end of Europe
I’ll publish this blog when I get online next, which means you’ll probably read it once I am in Istanbul (if I survive the hellish motorways on the way in). I’ll rest there for a few days and do a pompous “Here’s what I learned about Europe” piece as well. For now, here are some more pics from Plovdiv to (just outside) Istanbul.