Ride to ancient city of Ephesus spy large amphitheatre carved into the hill then wander amongst the well preserved ruins. On to Selcuk we camp between fig groves and grape vines and dine on our new staple of tortilla wraps of pseudo-sausage and vegetables. Days pass on one long flat road as cities and towns merge into each other. Germencik, Buharkent, Saraykoy. Kids aim catapults and rifles squint eyes as they track us in their crosshairs. Oranges plundered from groves as the moon rises slow a sultry red colour that hangs low in the sky like a lantern above a window.
Pamukkale is a unique treasure incongruous throne of white calcified rock, lagoons and rock infinity pools of warm remedial water gushing from geothermal vents and caressing our skin as it once did for Cleopatra.
Part 1 of Sue and Michael two intrepid Canadians travelling in a converted British army ambulance.
Alcohol prohibitively expensive now beer tour evolves to chai tour as we morph into the Chai Bandits Pedal Cycle Club inspired by nightly outdoor screenings of SOA. Invitations for perpetually brewed chai and food sees us spend our days loitering in petrol stations then as the first snows of winter descend we are invited to sleep in the Mescits, the prayer rooms that each petrol station has. Body warm inside but bike discarded outside wake to find gears and brakes frozen and the road icy and slippery. In Dinar road to Cay closed we try to pass but are forced back by the fading light and the shards of ice whistling towards us face mask wet from breath it freezes as soon as it is lowered from the mouth we retreat past the corpses of wrecked cars abandoned in the snow most amusing sight is that of the vehicle recovery truck balancing like a seesaw over the central barrier separating the roads back to our last petrol station for an invitation to dinner, the discovery of Bariş Manҫo (such clothes, such hair, such mustache), and another night in a Mescit.
A whole day spent waiting for a midnight train in a warm station waiting room which we commandeer. Tickets bought I return and not for the first time find Hussey being tugged at by a group of young boys. 3 hour train to Afyon. Gifts from the station clerks of olives, milk, cheese and bread, then 3 hour train to Konya to search fruitlessly for tutun. Now days riding through a barren plateau in minus temperatures. We sleep in abandoned buildings to escape the elements. One an old fish restaurant surrounded by dead dogs with no eyes. Cycling in the snow we turn off the main road to follow a sign to an underground cave city when we are ushered into a milk factory to eat soup and meet the workers, Ali, Z and more. Onwards to the underground cave city the attendant invites us in for chai and after chatting lets us enter for free the patter of our now extensive Turkish once again the subcutaneous gateway we descend beneath the earth into a warren of caves to crouch and crawl through low narrow tunnels there are wells, fire pits, bedrooms, escape tunnels, airways for circulation and smoke release, all which once housed and protected villagers and their animals as they hid from merciless marauders and invaders in this perpetually conquered land.
Through Nevsehir with a plethora of punctures poorly repaired with fumbling fingers in freezing temperatures then to Goreme and the fantasy realm of caves and snowcapped fairy chimneys, fields of mystical volcanic rock formations distinctively formed over eons. Goreme is tourist cesspit i.e. the capitalist dream, it is the travelling dichotomy of unique beauty and parasites. We inquire at empty snow filled campsites to discover price is the same as a room so we stay 3 days in a cave room get invited into another by an old lady for chai and small talk we are both waiting for the sale it comes in the form of scarves we decline and are quickly ushered out. Bump into Michael and Sue for part 2 and together we go to Derinkuyu another underground city with more than 8 floors that was large enough to shelter 20,000 people together with livestock and food supplies. The caves may have been first built by the Phrygians in 7th-8th BC then subsequently populated and expanded by the various races that migrated to the region.
We hitch a ride with Michael and Sue 70km to Kayseri to stay with Emre who has surprises for us, including a combined front rack to replace my broken ones which Filip and Wojeich had appropriated for me from an old discarded touring bike in the Erd House project in Payamli and carried with them until Emre’s house where they had stayed a week ago. Time to kill we sit in a petrol station chatting and drinking chai for an hour then cycle 500m down the road and repeat the experience in the next petrol station we now more chai whores than bandits. Local kids informs us that we have crossed an invisible border now alcohol only sold in a very small number of special shops and in a city of over 1 million inhabitants there is only 1 bar that serves alcohol. Instead we go to a Playstation café with the décor of a discotec full of dimly lit leather booths and neon yet no felines the focus is Fifa we are ushered to the VIP room but alas no Wu-Tang style. Days of chess. Water thrown behind us in Turkish custom we wave good bye to Emre and his flat mates head to the train station shiver for hours on the platform given gift of walnuts by a young man then train 200km to Sivas the city looks like one big Jandarma camp. Apartment buildings pump out thick acrid smoke from a central furnace Soviet style. We climb to the highest altitude of our trip so far, 1600m. The way down is a slalom the wind rips bags rattle brake pads eroded piercing shriek of brake metal grinding into the wheel rim snow hurled from banks lining the road claws at the face front inner tube bursts bike shudders front wheel begins sliding from side to side as tube deflates road too icy and gradient too severe to slam brakes just manage to stop before control is lost. No flat space to make repairs forced to walk 1 hour down the mountain until the bottom is reached and flat land found. Internal puncture caused by spokes breaking through the rim tape. Also notice one rear spoke is broken. Massive downhill in the dark to 400m altitude and the city of Tokat where we are chased by a man called Kur who has been waiting for us. Most lavish warmshowers experience sees us stay in a hotel room then taken out for dinner by Mamet, Ismail and Kur, presidents and members of Todex, Tokat’s extreme sports club. Mass larceny of breakfast condiments and repercussions from Izmir surface then day of chai sitting in at Ismail’s café in the grounds of the old caravanserai, bike repairs, back wheel trued new front rack added comedy bumper stickers purchased, tooth then chipped eating Pide, a Turkish pizza body disintegrating then in the eve first visit to a hamam, the Turkish baths, as we approach we see small brick domes like outer space colonies smoke and steam billowing out as we enter a guy in a car advises we seek the services of a Mr Ekram inside private wooden changing booth then into the lair of centuries of negotiations, bartering, plotting, backstabbing, betrayal we sit on marble floor pour water over us so hot it hurts then sauna heat soporific sense of fainting exhaustion through inertia endurance of heat meditative then Mr Ekram summons us lathers our bodies my hair hangs like vines entrails his hands physical but skilled he washes us then leads us to the work bench body massaged toes, fingers, spine all cracked retire after 1 hour to the sanctuary of the private booth recline on bed elation exhaustion peace tranquility transcendental a complete calm pervades post coital satisfaction harmonic paralysis fade out.
Next day we have our first newspaper interview but they fail to ask the real questions instead focusing on logistics and taking photos of us with our bikes pretending to look like we know what we are doing then Kur and Ismail led us out of the city with a guard of honour we continue to Niksar reunited with Fati who we met in Tokat he leads us to camp in a park where his friend works and where we will learn the Turkish salute. Big climb out of the city. More punctures, then meet Tunay who invites us to sleep in his house on his campsite and we end up whoring ourselves out for a bed when he makes us promote his business. First dog bite luckily only a pannier but a warning as teeth penetrate the fabric of Hussey’s rear bag ripping a hole and also a hole in a tutun pouch inside holes also punctured in tent ground sheet during the night after camping in a field of protruding roots.
Road leads us through the mountains then down to Unye to reach the Black Sea coast road flat now metallic noise emanates from rear wheel spoke is slapping against another turns out the mechanic in Tokat did a bodge job having wedged a new spoke in and bent it under another there is no head securing it to the hub not entirely his fault as this rim purchased in Sarajevo is unusually deep proving impossible to find spokes to fit it meaning that any broken ones cannot be replaced so a new normal sized rim is needed. Add it to the list. Soon more cash will have been spent on repairs than buying the bike itself.
The Black Sea coast flows by full of rivers and springs leading to the Karadeniz torrents and trickles of water gush and drip through valleys and cascade down rocks upon which are houses spread out over the hills or grouped around a Minaret plantations of hazelnut bushes the most evident crop. Imam Ali offers us a place to sleep in building full of old apples after a 3km tunnel dash. Then in Ordu we stop at traffic lights when kids come running invite us to a restaurant where Ordu Bisiklet Safari bicycle club is celebrating its anniversary with a buffet for all its members we are dragged in for photos and gorge on the unexpected and unsuspecting table of earthly delights. Emin the owner takes care of us allowing us to sleep in his restaurant after we swim in the sea on 1st March water so cold to cryogenically preserve seed for future generations jumping into the water is a cardiac arrest as capillaries explode. Day ends with the percentage of social media friends that are Turkish males rising to 48%.
The road curves along the coast while the bland functional towns and cities sit unfathomably far from the water as though mistakenly built there why use the most picturesque land for motorways and regulate people to the foothills to reside in Giresun, Espiye then a mosque to camp at bread given as a gift a bus restaurant on the shore and a drunk owner bids us to make camps gives us food next a visit to a bakery and we are invited in to have lunch with a manic man that we might go into business with exporting helva then Akcaabat then Trabzon but our contact doesn’t answer our calls no place to stay no Kamanche party of Turkish folk music that this city is renowned for so we detour inland to visit Sumela a Greek Orthodox monastery built in 386AD in to the side of a mountain takes 2 days to get there as we climb sleeping one night in another Mescit, getting fed by strangers who take pride in fixing a puncture for a guest so I leave the crowd to it then back camping in the countryside it takes 3 hours to light a fire with rain sodden wood but perseverance and petrol are key as a nascent flame is cajoled to adolescence we have climbed 800m the night freezing prelude to sickness Sumela rises with the morning short cycle to 1200m then steep walk to its door rock hangs above rooms carved into the mountain frescos with faces scratched out and snow falling on tourists from the overhang above. Takes half a day to descend to Trabzon to re-join the coastal road days are a dash to Tbilisi now but still with time for petrol station loitering next is our old friend Turkish Petroleum outside Arsin Fati welcomes us with food and a room to sleep once the local Dolmos cartel have concluded their meeting sickness hits hard in the night perfect preparation for fast days 50km in 2 hours the pace relentless past the squat green chai fields covering the hills and the cities of Rize, Pazar, dark now no free land to camp between the shore and the rocky hills Mosques become our refuge we sleep under their verandas debate sleeping in a one of the stacked coffins always onwards in the morrow Findikli, Arhavi then into Hopa, Kemalpasa and finally Sarp and the Turkish/Georgian border which unlike so many borders is clear demarcation between distinctly different civilizations and cultures. From the kind arms of a land so unconcerned with aesthetics we return to Christendom at its European frontier our faith restored by the vast shelves of vodka bottles that fill the glass windows of the supermarkets behind which a quaint cubic church sits in the shadow of an obscure white plastic tower formed like sprouting limbs sideways water travelling in rivets it is a command tower a statement an oddity the road leads us away past a giant sculpture of mystic creatures, old military bases and ubiquitous currency exchange booths buying the $ for between 1.4 to 1.8 GEL on to Batumi the Black Sea resort city full of students in parks, Casinos, banks, promenades and old men playing chess grand Soviet buildings and new unique landmarks negate any sort of collective identity as each project attempts to claim superiority in its bizarre individuality upside down buildings buildings with hatches, pseudo Roman palaces but the greatest find is a 2.5lt bottle of beer for 7GEL (£2) which we sup in the sun while waiting for our hosts to finish work when time comes we cycle along the coast as the sun sets to meet Teimu and his cousin Eric outside their old Soviet apartment block it takes a 5 Tetri coin to take the lift up yet is free to go down we stay 2 nights with Teimu and his family he is the real border control initiating cyclists into Georgian life we are introduced to Khachapuri thin flat dough filled with salty cheese it induces instant heart burn but is irresistible, and to the Tamada the toast master the compere of the dinner party the ritual and the tradition as glasses are raised and big shots of wine disappear in one.