I arrived to Ayvalik, Turkey from the Greek island of Lesvos on a small passenger ferry for €15. It actually had capacity for about 150 people but there were maybe only 10 of us on the boat. Alluding perhaps there aren’t many tourists in Turkey right now. (Since leaving Izmir, I haven’t seen a single one, and I’ve cycled about 800km since then.) It was a strange feeling leaving Greece, a place where I planned to cycle through in no more than a couple of weeks, and stayed for a year and a half. I feel a bit like I left another life behind me.
I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in Turkey. My plan up until this point consisted of “wing it”. Basically, all the things I arrived to Athens with, I shoved back in my bags, and there I was back in cycling-mode, in Turkey, continuing a trip which I imagined would have happened over a year ago.
The border guards took little interest in anything. I awkwardly walked through the passenger gate with my bicycle, squeezing through the metal detector, looking a bit strange to the regular boat-goers. One guard pointed to the red bottle of petrol attached to my bicycle, “What is that? Water?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
That was the end of the bag checks. I could have smuggled two or three small children and a few kilos of cocaine into Turkey.
It was already about 7pm when I arrived, so actually I missed the day, and already was looking for somewhere to camp. I found the surroundings surprisingly modern and “western.” It probably wouldn’t have been so if I’d bothered to google anything about Turkey beyond “is Turkey safe?” Which of course yields millions of results saying that it’s not.
The roads were very smooth and well surfaced, the traffic mild, the cars quite fancy (probably more so than in Greece I’d say), and the drivers weren’t any worse either. Hardly any women were wearing a hijab, maybe 30%. Some people are smiling, waving or saying hello. It feels like I’m still in Europe. An Islamic version of Greece. But there are Turkish flags everywhere. They like their flags.
It was sunset and still hot and humid. I found a place up a hill not far from the road, up a dusty track and into a small, rocky, wooded area. Two teenagers were hanging around in the trees smoking a joint or something but left on their scooter when I arrived. There was already a spot that had been used by others further up, with a small ring of stones for a fire. I wasn’t going to make a fire, but the mosquitoes forced me otherwise. I prepared camp to the sounds of Muslim prayer echoing across the hills from the mosques and out to sea. First one village, then another, then another, like a wave of wailing ghosts passing over. It was quite enchanting, reminding me of little villages in Morocco, of foreign lands and ancient cultures, and sadly the connotation of war—that I put down to sensationalist Hollywood movies. Shortly afterwards, in the distance I could hear women ululating (I had to google that), probably at a wedding because after I could hear some guns going off.
First night camping in Turkey. Awkward pose but I'm too "old" to give a shit now. It's funny that we do these things like push timers on cameras and then run away and try and look natural. The first night camping was a success and even got away with making a small fire to keep the mosquitoes away. Seems there are many places to wild camp here despite what they say. Turkey is super nice, the food and people are lovely. Everyone I've met so far has been so kind and helpful. Don't believe the scare stories. #cycletouring #worldbybike #bikeramble
I woke up at 6:30am. It seems the shift since I left Athens makes for a noticeably earlier sunrise. I was already cycling by 7:30, and covered 50km by midday. Not bad for the first day on the bicycle. I didn’t have any Turkish money, and after the cash machine refused me, at the next town I managed to exchange some. It took me an hour to find because the place that everyone kept referring me to was actually a gold pawn shop that doubled up as an exchange. I found it when a kind woman literally walked me there and sorted everything out for me. Later in the day I discovered just how cheap everything is compared to Greece, when a bar of chocolate, a loaf of bread and 2 bottles of water from a random shop didn’t even cost a Euro.
It’s going to be a hot trip across Turkey, since it feels already too hot to cycle and the whole country is just up-and-down hilly mountains. The heat was so much that I rested under an olive tree for an hour or two. Olive trees are crap at providing shade, and I got really sunburnt. The weather forecasts are crap too, because nearly every day since I’ve arrived it’s been wrong. Probably owing to the mountains and the lack of weather stations. If you’re cycling in Turkey just be prepared for anything and watch the sky.
I spent my last days at the Mediterranean in Izmir, probably the most liberal city in Turkey. it’s interesting to think how many different countries and cultures share this sea. Already I’ve been at it’s coast in 11 different countries now (just 10 more to go!). I was warmly welcomed by Mehmet in this city, a warm and generous Turkish guy, and was given my first taste of the unbelievable Turkish hospitality. With Mehmet, I basically impromptu planned my entire trip across Turkey, because well, his advice was better than no advice at all and so I took it. And that was that.
That’s all for now,