Cycling across western Turkey is a lot more demanding than I anticipated. For one, Turkey is a lot bigger than I thought, and at this pace I could be cycling across countries in Europe every week. Second, it’s very mountainous. I’ve been above 1000m for nearly the entire duration of my trip so far, all the way from near Izmir on the west coast to Nevsehir in central Turkey. This makes it much cooler than if I were at the south coast, but much more challenging and subject to some unpredictable weather. There have been thunderstorms every damn day, and they appear randomly above you and can linger and follow you around for hours. Since I’ve climbed and descended several thousand metres in a matter of weeks, I don’t recommend cycling through central Turkey in a hurry unless you’ve got strong legs, which right now I don’t have.
It didn’t take long to find out the internet is censored here. Booking.com is banned by the government and sadly Wikipedia too, the latter a shame since I’ve only just realised how much I actually use it when travelling to learn about the places I’m in. Facebook also seems to run more slowly, though I’m not so bothered about that one. One way to get around these blocks is by using a proxy server or VPN on your mobile. I’ve been using SoloVPN which you can download from google play and allows you to surf the internet normally. I usually choose a server in Vietnam, and this also leads to some funny Vietnamese adverts popping up on screen.
Although I’ve been somewhat surprised by the modernity in Turkey, I haven’t been blown away by the nature at all. It’s completely underwhelming. In the 1000+km I’ve cycled so far across the middle of the country, I’ve mainly seen three things: farms covering the plains, quarries dug into the sides of the mountains, and everywhere else seems to have near-perfectly, almost-deliberately positioned power lines to ruin every picturesque landscape. One exception was when I camped at Lake Salda, but it sits alone in the lake district of Turkey in that it’s virtually the only lake without human interference. Wild camping is pretty easy, and I doubt many people will care even if you are discovered. I’ve heard it’s more difficult at the coast.
As for the roads and traffic, it’s been all right so far. Wider roads make for some easy cycling: there is often a huge safety zone at the side of the road which you can cycle in and not have to worry abut the traffic, which is usually way less than the road has been built for. On smaller roads however, which are often poorly surfaced and running up and down hills, trucks show little regard for your safety. Bus drivers and regular car drivers seem to leave enough room. But the truck drivers are just insane, and will often toot their silly four-differnet-tone horns in what seems like a friendly hello to tell you to get the fuck out their way, seconds before they brush past your panniers.
Out of interest, Turkey still doesn’t make my top 5 most dangerous countries for cycling. They are, in no particular order:
…drum roll please…
Italy (fast drivers)
Macedonia (faster drivers and narrow roads)
Poland (vodka and crazy drivers)
Portugal (silly overtaking)
UK (impatience and road rage)
From what I’ve heard, cycling in Georgia (next) will blow all the above out the water.
Food and Hospitality
But what Turkey lacks in scenery and road safety, it certainly makes up for with great food and incredible hospitality. Despite what many say, travelling in Turkey as a vegetarian isn’t really difficult at all, and there are so many tasty (and cheap) foods, everywhere. Cigkofte goes down a treat and there are all sorts of pide, like Turkish pizza. My favourite sweet food is tahin and pekmes (which is tahini mixed with some kind of grape molasses) and is equivelant to peanut butter on steroids. Some of that with bread, dried apricots and nuts and you feel like you can cycle forever. There’s not much in the way of booze, but you can find it by visiting the huge supermarkets and expect to pay 8TL for a bottle of plain beer.
The people here are just great. I’ve lost count of the many invitations to tea and food I’ve had. I’ve found it surprisingly easy to find hosts on warmshowers.org (the bicycle equivelant of couchsurfing) and every single host has been insanely generous, often paying for all my food (even though I’ve been eating like a pig), providing more than excellent company, and even entrusting me with their house keys.
So far, it’s been a great trip. I’m excited to see how things change as I head further east across Turkey. Are the people more or less conservative? More traditional Muslim? Is the food better and cheaper? Turkey has a pretty diverse internal culture so I think it’s going to be an exciting ride!
That’s all for now.