Tuesday, 26 October 2010

14/10/2010 Intepe - Gelibolu (Distance 86km)

I'm definitely getting worse at these early starts. And talk about some late Mihailo influence - I now roll over and snooze when I hear the pittar patter of rain on my tent...what a softie I have become!

By 10:00am my oat and caffeine levels are sufficiently boosted and I'm feeling most operational. As I wheel my bike to the road I detect a slight tailwind. So to those of you who wished me a "good wind" - thankyou, I just got it! As to be expected (with said wind assistance) the ride to Çanakkale is easy and I arrive thirty minutes ahead of my ETA.

As I cycle toward the ferry port I notice a number of cycle paths! I think the first I've seen in Turkey. The town of Çanakkale has quite a modern feel - atleast when compared the settlements I've been passing to and from Babakale. Some quite trendy looking shop fronts and many cafés. I suspect tourism is rife here but it doesn't have the same feel as Sultan Ahmet (the hostel/hotel district of Istanbul, that gets quite tiresome after anything more than a few days thanks to the tourist density).

I pay my 2tl and take my place on the ferry. For the third time on the trip I use my webbing strap to lash the bike down securely. That's three uses in as many months - enough usage to justify the carrying the weight...let me consider it for another 5000km. I can't help but think that when I reach more exotic climbs it will become a sling from which to suspend my bike as I traverse a crevasse on a zip-line made of vines...yes...anyway.

Forgive my brief departure from reality. The real me is currently sitting under a meagre shelter on the top deck of a lumbering car ferry in the pissing rain.

Half an hour later, back terra firma, I roll through the town of Eceabat. I lean the bike against a bench and call into a shop for some bread and a jar of honey(which I have been craving for some days). By some bizarre means the tailwind has become a slight headwind - though I maintain the same direction as this morning. The flat road tucks tight to the coastline and so makes for interesting cycling. I see many potential scenic camping spots but having had several lazy days I need to press on atleast a little while longer. A road sign informs me I'm 300km from Istanbul - assuming no problems occur that's three days ride.

My only company for the latter half of the day is the raindrops - sometimes lots, sometimes only few, but always some. Not a single car passes me for several hours. At five o'clock I pull into a café to warm up with some çay (pronounced chi). I sit for almost an hour. My eyes flitting between the rain, my emails(thanks to free wifi) and the half dressed women that seem to feature in every Turkish music video(courtesy of a TV meters from my table). All the staff are very friendly and insist I sit inside rather than head out to the rain. At 0.5tl for one çay I could well do just that - but it wouldn't serve to get me any closer to Istanbul. Back on the wet saddle my body takes some warming up. I see the slightly unnerving sight of a kid(perhaps 14 or so) with a gun - that looks mighty substantial for an air rifle, though I suspect that's all it was. He doesn't return my cheery greeting and for the next 200 meters a tuck my head a little lower down between my shoulders – half expecting to feel the sharp sting of an air propelled pellet.

At 6:30 I start looking for camp spots. I'm not feeling very picky. Actually I'm feeling cold and wet. I wheel the bike down a small embankment and wait for the cover of dark.

Note: I've been attempting to shoot video - hence a lack of photos.

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13/10/2010 Kosedere - Intepe (Distance 59km)

6:30am - it's still dark. At 8:00am I remove myself from my pit to another grey day. I utilise my now functioning stove to make coffee and porridge. Somehow several hours pass and I'm still faffing around my camp. Dry out the mattress, wash up my pots, air the sleeping bag etc. At 10:00 I finally make it to the road.

Along the way I see some familiar sights. These bring some comfort - knowing that my course is correct. The usual friendly faces, toots and waves accompany my ride. I get to the town of Ezine. The faces aren't all so friendly. Nothing excessively unfriendly, but the blank stares make me feel very much the outsider - looking through my ever moving window at a tough, old fashioned, industrious town.

From Ezine I pick up the main road. It feels good to know I'm heading straight for Çanakkale - my intended stop for the night. The few big hills that I encounter are mellow enough. Up a particularly long climb it begins to rain. For no apparent reason my face cracks into a smile. I'm still very curious to find out what it is that I enjoy about this particular situation. I wonder what people think as they see my grinning mug pedalling up the hill in the downpour. “What could he possibly have to smile about!?”...And I sort of see their point – hence my curiosity...

I opt for no soundtrack today. There being two main reasons for this: the first - I'm hoping to wean myself off music a little, or at least not lean so heavily on it for purposes of motivation. And the second - its nice to get as much warning as possible from the angry dogs that are abundant in this area. Every meter proving vital in my sprint for survival. Okay - perhaps that's a little dramatic, but boy do those dogs look angry!

Twenty kilometers from Çhanakkale mother nature cranks up the anti and the rain really starts to come down. I take temporary refuge under the canopy of a disused fuel station. I remember passing it in the other direction thinking "that would make a cool place to sleep". I explore further and find the automatic doors can easily be pried open be hand. I wait for a gap in the traffic so no-one will see me enter and then roll my bike inside. I take a look around. In the cupboards and the desk drawers to see if I can find anything of use. Feeling a bit like a character in "The Road" or "Twenty-eight Days Later". I unroll my camping mat and tuck into my book. As I sit and read, my eyes constantly flick to the door with a porthole window leading to storage rooms at the back – fully expecting one of “The Infected” to slam against the glass before coming to eat me. This place is hardly the Marie Celeste but there's something eerie places once occupied by human life – with evidence they exited with little care for what was left behind. On the counter is the remnants of someone’s lunch, along with a news paper. I turn up various other artefacts when I have a poke around. I couldn't help but satisfy my childish curiosity and go “exploring”.

I feels nice not to be concerning myself with big distances per day. In the last of the light I cook some spaghetti and get an early night. Noting that the nights are definitely drawing in.

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12/10/2010 Kosedere (rest day)

The chirp of my wristwatch drags me from a deep sleep at 6:00am. Gathering my senses I hear the sound of rain on the tent. I need little excuse to sleep in. What a lazy git I have become!
Over the next few hours I wake periodically to the sound of persistent rain. I am pulled back into a slobbering dreamworld. Though I haven't been pedalling this past week, I don’t feel entirely rested. My days being spent slugging away with a pickaxe, and evenings slugging away at the organic wine on offer.

After some thirteen plus hours of sleep I unzip my door to the world, knock the sand off my boots, and step out to face the day. By the time I get myself ready for breakfast its practically lunch time. I decide upon the inevitable - that today will be a rest day. The quiet stretch of beach I occupy seems the perfect spot.

I fiddle for some time with my stove until I get it roaring (for the first time in weeks). Hot porridge with jam. Made with oats I brought way back in Austria! My friend Ellen whom I met first in Istanbul and then in Garp gave me Life of Pi, much of the afternoon is spent between the pages. I talk briefly with a shepherd who’s heard of sheep pass close by my tent. I share my biscuits with him, unable to understand most of the chatter.
I wave at passing fishermen – almost indiscernible against the grey sky and sea. I push the boat out with a whole bag of peanuts for dinner. More reading and I enjoy another early night – rock on!

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Monday, 25 October 2010

11/10/2010 Babakale - Kosedere (Distance 30km)

My iphone dies at some point during the night and so I miss my expected wakeup call. Fortunately I rouse just before 8:00am - giving me sufficient time to pack and eat. Once I'm through with breakfast I haul my bags up the hill to the main house. Sitting on the patio I soak up the vista before me. It's as though everytime I cast my eyes over the scene I see something new. Various features of the landscape are respectively cloaked and highlighted by the fluctuating light. On this particular morn the sun has pushed its way through the grey fluff to touch a circle of ocean. Another highlighted sliver appears at the base of the Greek island of Lesbos.

As the routine goes - George arrives on the quad-bike and we gather our gear for the days work. We walk the narrow path to the cluster of olive trees. With stick and rake we harvest a respectable quantity of fruit. Once the work is complete we make our way to the western most village in Turkey. I video my final ride - it being a most pleasurable segment of each day. If the commute I was making back in England had been like this, perhaps I would never have left.

As I pack my bike in the olive processing room George calls in to tell us its çhy time. For the last time I take my seat on the plastic garden furniture and sip the sweet tea. Looking around I see the walls I helped to work, along with the faces of my new Turkish, Australian and American friends. My investment of time, not to mention a few blisters, has been worth every drop of sweat. But as always the road calls. And I really must get on and sort this visa out.

Murat (Garp founder and owner) has returned today. Sahli suggests I stay for lunch and meet Murat. Well, who will eat Ramazan's delicious leftovers if not me!? I take a walk around the pretty little village and along the castle walls. At lunchtime I return for fish stew and fresh bread - scrumptious!! Once full I am beckoned up to the tea room over looking the harbour. Here I meet Murat and his girlfriend Simone who is from Holland. I'm glad I got to meet them but wish we could have spent more time talking. Sahli get a call and the group rush to catch a boat for an evening fishing. I say my goodbyes. Alone again.

I think because I was expecting the riding to be really tough, it turned out to be OK. Though I noticed my head throbbing as I crested the bigger hills along the coast - that’s a new, and slightly unpleasant sensation. I'm immediately struck by the silence, and actually I don’t mind it. It allows me the time to think and reflect on the week. Which has, even in its chilled out way, been quite full on. I'm excited to be back on the bike. In the three weeks that have passed sin e I arrived in Istanbul the weather has changed massively. It now feels very much like autumn. A very pleasant autumn, but autumn none the less. The temperature drop will no doubt make the riding easier. But the reduced daylight hours will mean I need to make efficient use of my time – hardly my strong point.

I use my phone map to pick the coastal road. I quite fancy a night on the beach listening to the sea. Soon enough a suitable path arises and I roll down towards the sound of the waves. Unsuccessful fire making attempt. Simple tea and an early night. Rain.

03/10/2010 - 10/10/2010 Garp (Babakale)


Here's a link to the website so you can see what the place is all about...


My first morning at Garp takes a leisurely start. Deon makes chy with root ginger – perfect morning drink to wash away any ill effects of lastnights wine. After breakfast George arrives on the quad-bike - he is one of the guys who works for Murat (the owner of Garp). George has a cheery persona and we enjoy trading language lessons at every possible occasion. After breakfast we take a short trip to the area of the valley littered with olive trees. With giant combs and sticks we pilfer the bitter fruits from their leafy home. The work is fun and not particularly strenuous. The responsibility of musical accompaniment falls at George's feet and he sings, hums, and whistles as we work. Once the tree is empty we bunch up the cloth (that covered the ground to catch the olives) and pour the goods into a sack. The process is repeated until the yield reaches 10-15 kilos - typically this is between one and three trees. With sufficient supply for a days olive pressing we go to Babakale. In the day light I can see that the tiny track is just wide enough for a quad-bike, and the cliff drops away quite dramatically to the waves below.



The guys get to work pressing the olives. The process itself is simple but the machine is very temperamental. As it turns out, I don't need to concern myself with this, as my work lies nextdoor. The adjoining building is constructed of sandstone block walls and orange clay rooftiles that rest on rough timber trusses. Quite a charming building that appears to be a few hundred years old – that is, to my untrained eye. Inside the walls are rendered, but the covering is old and must be removed. I'm handed both a small and a large pick-axe. Periodically over the next few days other workers come and go, George, Ahmet and Mahri(who Ellen decides is a Mediterranean version of Elvis) but I remain a constant feature, ever chipping away. I to-and-fro between enjoying the work and loathing it. There's an aspect of manual work I've always enjoyed, the feeling of using my body, and the strength that comes from doing so. It's simply a form of exercise I guess, and in this case I'm utilising my ever diminishing upper body. The loathing comes from the life I thought I had left behind. One of the reasons I chose to work for myself is that I often had “my way” of doing things. In part because I often thought my way was better – and although sometimes I think it was, obviously there were times when I was proved otherwise. And as you may have guessed, this time I wanted to do things my way – queue frustration and intermittent sulking. The job could be completed in less that half the time by employing the use of one power tool. My frustration was only aggravated when I asked myself “Why do I care?”. It was not my money on the line, I was simply a pawn in their game. And why should I inflict my way of doing things on anyone else? - Perhaps speed and cost aren't the only players here. As with cycling, mindless manual labour leaves lots of time for introspection. I was able to look at my rather selfish lifestyle.

Self Employed – for various reasons, chiefly to avoid being told what to do.

Travelling predominately solo – Allowing me the freedom to do things my way.

As I type this I consider deleting much of the above, to save you from my sulking. But sod it! My Blog, my way! : )

You gather I didn't learn as much about sustainable agriculture (and the like) as I expected from my first Wwoofing experience. But it was far from all doom and gloom. And I'm very grateful for the experience, if for no other reason than it allowed me time to think.


Lunchtimes are always a big event during my working day. Ramazan (the man in charge while Murat is away) is an incredible cook. Each lunchtime, using only a single gas burner, he prepares the most wonderful feast. Fish caught the very same day, fried up with peppers, tomatoes, herbs and spices. Fresh bread and raw onion make up the side dishes side dishes. We all sit around a plastic patio table and eat from one giant pan. Immediately my sulks and blisters are forgotten. I earn the nickname “dustbin”. All leftover bread and food is pushed to my end of the table – one of the advantages that comes with having the appetite of the touring cyclist. Often lunch is concluded with several glasses of chy and a rest.

Evenings are always a highlight. Sometimes Sahli takes us to the restaurant for more excellent food (and beer). At other times we return to the house and cook for ourselves. We are allowed to use Murat's house. A house that I have to mention would be a worthy contender for one of my favourite TV shows back home “Grand Designs”. The open plan kitchen/diner/lounge is vast, simple and beautiful. A colossal glass sliding door opens out onto the patio, beyond which the Aegean Sea extends to the Greek Island of Lesbos. Every night we are given bottles of the wonderful wine. One one night we make use of the giant TV to watch some of the Martin Scorsese Blues boxset. Some nights we just chat and listen to music – it's bliss. Ellen and I are both very much into music and so trade songs and albums late into the night. Once Rebecca from the US turns up she add's further to the musical cocktail. One night we have a party. A group of Architecture students from Istanbul are doing projects in Babakale. With Sahli's invite they come to the house on excessively loaded quad bikes. There is much live music, singing and dancing. One girl (whos name I didn't catch) has an incredible voice and we are treated to some traditional Turkish songs. All in all a very good night. Another great night was had down at the fire pit. We brought fish from the local fisherman. I showed Ellen and Rebecca how to de-scale, gut and prepare them. At times I had to blag my way through it – having not done anything like that since my early teens. We then grilled the fillets on the open fire along with foil wrapped veggies – yum!

If I appeared to whine about the work then - my apologies. I must stress that the lunchtimes and evenings more than made up for it. Upon leaving Babakale I felt I had made good friends, and I would absolutely return anytime. I do suspect my view of wwoofing is somewhat obscured – but that just means I need to do more of it.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

02/10/2010 Bozkoy - Babakale (Distance 67km)

I rise with the sun, keen to be on the road early. I have to wear my fleece while I pack up - a sure sign that autumn is here. I push my bike across the claggy soil field and back onto the asphalt - hopeful that today I will arrive at Babakale, and the eco village that lies just beyond.

My habitual garage stop is as entertaining as ever. Several people stop to gawp at the sweaty stranger sitting in the shade of the forecourt. All are very friendly and let me know I'm on the right track for Babakale.

I ride south with the Aegean Sea on my right. Along the way I pass many smiling tractor drivers. Often these tractors are pulling trailers packed with people on their way to a days vegetable picking. The vibrant and colourful clothing in contrast with the stern expressions that looks back at me...perhaps they're not morning people.


Climbing on cobbles up to Gulpinar takes some doing. The surface is boneshakingly rough and I rattle along in my slowest gear to make it bearable. It's hard to give a dignified and cheery greeting when your eyeballs are shaking in your skull and your teeth rattle about your mouth.

I arrive in the tiny fishing village of Babakale in the early afternoon. I have no contact information, only the knowledge that I must ask for a place called "garp"- which I believe means west in Arabic. This makes sense as the village I find myself in is the western most point in Turkey. As I park up under a tree in the market square I see two other touring bikes leaning against a bench. Martin and Penny from England are doing a tour of the Turkish coast. They very kindly buy me a chy and we chat in a vine shaded cafe. Once they leave to head off down the coast I get to finding my hosts. I query a few people and receive blank expressions, but third time lucky I find a hotel owner who knows the place. He points me off down the coast but just as I'm rolling of down the hill he calls me back. We walk down a narrow street and round a corner, he pops into a building and out runs Ellen from Istanbul. I enter the room and meet Deon, another volunteer from South Africa and Sahli who is the grounds keeper/organiser while the owners aren't here. Ellen and Deon are pressing olives that they picked this morning, and turning them into oil. Knowing nothing about it I simply sit and watch, learning what I can, while Ellen and Deon talk me through the process.

After a free dinner in the local restaurant I throw my belongings in the quad-bike trailer and jump in after them. We ride down a tiny little track cut into the cliff side for two kilometers to Garp. Bouncing along in the trailer I choke in the fumes and dust - but I have a feeling I'm going to like this place. Sahli show me my accommodation - a yurt style tent with two beds overlooking the ocean. It's a very cool place to sleep. I take a shower for the first time in days and head up to the main house. I am offered some home made wine that was processed by last years volunteers. Very nice it is too - lacking in any yeast (other than that found in the air) or preservatives it tastes quite different, but good different no doubt! I learn that Sahli sees me as competition for Ellen’s affections - yet another case where the platonic relationship goes misunderstood. Deon gives me the tip off to work hard to "win them over" as it were. They tend to not have men stay here as they are too lazy and drink too much (In fact Deon and I are the first guys to visit GARP in over a year). Maybe I can prove them wrong...but maybe not : )

Once the wine is finished we head down to the water for a midnight swim. The water is pleasantly warm - I suspect that is in part due the the "wine wetsuit" I'm wearing. The three of us bob and splash for some time. I notice we are surrounded by bioluminescent plankton. As our arms and legs push through the water the little critters light up like stars. I am forever fascinated by the beauty of the natural world - tonight is no exception.

This isn't my picture but gives you an idea - swimming in the stars!!!!

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Saturday, 23 October 2010

01/10/2010 Biga - Bozkoy (DIstance 115km)

With not so much interesting wildlife to keep me awake I had a great nights sleep. Despite the landscape that suggested wonderful creatures of of all shapes and sizes. I wake at 7:00am to rain. City living altered my bodyclock - I no longer rise and fall with sun, and thus decide to sleep a while longer. I expect by now I don't need to tell you, but just for the record, when I finally did wake - breakfast was bread and jam. By 10.30 I make it to the road and climb out of the valley I dropped into last night.

I observe that the road surface vastly effects my speed and energy levels. This road, although I'm sure great for cars, is hard work without an engine. Thanks to the recent resurface there is still lots of loose stones. And, as I'm doing my best not to get flattened by the trucks, I spend most of my time tucked up to the gravelicious verge. More of a headwind today makes the going a little tougher. On several occasions the road points straight into the wind. At such times I'm forced to duck my head down, grit my teeth and grind away (and I'm not referring to the manner in which one might dance to “Apple Bottom Jeans” etc. in an R'n'B Club). I resort to my podcasts to stimulate my mind – it usually does the trick, either lifting my mood or atleast make me think about something else. I've found a mental “dip” always appears after a break from cycling. The main reason for this being the notable drop in fitness.

I stop in Lapseki for lunch. As with Istanbul, vendors sell bread goods from small carts – and so I give 2TL for some quick carbs. I sit on a small wall by the entrance to the port. A group of school children on their way to afternoon lessons stop to bombard me with questions. “Hello what is you name?” “Hello what is your name?” “Do you like Turkey?” “Hello what is you age?”. It's quite good fun, but soon enough they shuffle on back to school. I jump on the bike and cut an arc through the carpark to the exit. Over looking the scene an old man finds my rolling contraption hilarious and proceeds to laugh so hard he falls off his stool. I suspect his hysteria may have been chemically fuelled – if you dig...

Later on I'm forced to pull into a garage in Canakkale. The bolt holding my left crank secure decided to drop out at some stage over the last few kilometers. I bash it back on with a rock and then tighten up the retaining bolts. It's not a big drama, but could become one if it happened in a remote location, and so I prime my wallet to fork-out once back in Istanbul. A man approaches to ask if everything is okay. A cyclist from Turkey (So he's the one!) recommends a nice route for me to take avoiding the main roads. Mere meters down the road my trailer tyre finally lets go once and for all. I'm Very glad I got tyres in Istanbul. With the bike back in one piece I take his suggested route – which turns out to be a gem! There's still a few trucks, but I'm winding through some very pleasant tiny little villages. Evidentially tourism doesn't get to such places and it's very refreshing. Old men in woolly jumpers sit in chy shops chatting and playing billiards. As I pass, many of them stop what their doing to turn, smile and wave. Other groups gather in workshops around beat up vehiles with open bonnets - more chatting than working, but perhaps thats the way it should be. The areas between these villages are loaded with agriculture. Many fields of Olive tress, corn, pepper and tomato plants. It's the end of the working day and people crowd into the back of pickup trucks for the jouney home. Sacks of harvested goods are then hoofed into the press of bodies.

Such areas provide plenty of camping opportunities, but knowing that I will be on someone's land I have to wait for dark. I'd hoped to be on the coast today, but no such luck. In the very last scraps of light I trudge down tractor tracks to the middle of an olive tree orchard. I'm not entirely confidant that I cant be seen from the road, but in a matter of minutes I'll be cloaked in inky black, and so take my chances.

Friday, 22 October 2010

30/09/2010 Istanbul - biga 105km

So I consider this to be little "holiday" from travelling. And as I'm going West not East I opt for the ferry to take me across the Marmara Sea. Originally I wasn't going to blog the detour, but I though it could be useful to get used to my new gizmos. So please consider this an experiment.


My new iphone alarm app alerts me that it's 6:00am. Yet to adjust to the fandangled gadgetry it takes me atleast thirty seconds to get the thing to shut up - much to the irritation of those I share the dorm with. Thanks to the beers lastnight and only five hours of shut eye, I don't exactly feel like a spring chicken. I force myself out of bed, knowing that I have but fifty minutes until the ferry leaves port. I pay my whopping bill of €225 - not whopping because it's over priced but because I've been there too long. And with eyes that are yet to adjust to the light I roll my bike out into the cobbled street. Fortunately I know my way to the dock having spent two days at the waterfront. I swipe my credit card through automated check and am on board with fifteen minutes to spare. I purchase an exceptionally expensive baguette and take a seat. A Turkish fellow has taken my reserved seat to talk to his friends. I spend the first thirty minutes of the boat ride getting asked to move out of people's seats that I illegitimately occupy. Aside from that the two hour crossing passes without drama. My stomach doesn't feel tiptop - I'm not sure if it's to do with lastnights alcohol or the price of the baguette it's currently digesting.

Just after 9.00am the boat tucks into its mooring. With impressive efficiency all vehicles are off within a matter of minutes. I spend some time looking at useless sign posts but get on the right track once I employ the skills of a local cabbie. My map of Turkish is a vast scale so I pedal a long way for seemingly little gain. I stop a several garages for water top ups. It feels good to be back the bike again. Though having spent the last week chatting with many travellers I note a tinge of jealousy at the seemingly effortless and rapid travel experienced by others. Just before the town of Biga a man waves me in onto a garage forecourt. We get introduced and I meet his three friends. Before my arse has touched the seat I'm offered a round of çhy is ordered. He then takes me into the restaurant for a free lunch of chicken stew with a side of fresh vegetables. More çhy outside and then I'm back on the road.

Riding along the coast is great, the ever changing coastline makes it difficult to get bored. I'm aware of an ache in my knees - I can't tell if rest is good for them or not. I pass many groups of waving children, not to mention the usual tooting cars. Cutting away from the coast slightly I head through some very pretty green hills. The road surface is poor making the going a little slow. I see a chap with a rifle and motorcycle on the side of the road he flags me down. I shake his hand and he shares his food with me. Cream cheese on fresh bread with plenty of raw onion. He gestures that he is a hunter – which helps explain his appearance and weapon. Wrapped up in many layers of clothes he is here for the night and will shoot in the morning. I feel bad taking his food, but he insists. I figure it's rude to refuse what is offered to me. I push on to find a camp spot. Sure enough a gem turns up. An abandoned building suitable for hiding me from the road. I think about camping inside, but I quickly go off the idea – piles of rubble litter the floor and when the wind is right a whiff of piss fills the air. I read my book with the last of the daylight and then put up the tent. The hills extend up all around me. It looks like wolf country – still getting used to camping with them. In reality it's a species I know little about and I suspect my fear is somewhat irrational. The Jack London stories are still fresh in my mind. Perhaps it's good that I am reminded just how far I am from my fantasy of a cycling Ray Mears...

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18/09/2010 - 29/09/2010 Istanbul

I spend my first few days in Istanbul doing the usual sights. With a population of seventeen million it's the biggest city I've been in – and is fast becoming my favourite. The mosques are as glorious and beautiful as you might expect. I regret that my budget isn't really upto the museums and such like, and I decide to save a trip to a hamam (Turkish bath) until I get further East – where hopefully the price drops off a little. I spend two days walking through the city. Being the European Capital Of Culture 2010 there are many free exhibitions and concerts to pass the time.

I meet with Dan and Claire (fellow tourers from Linz, Vienna and Belgrade). We lunch and then go for afternoon beers in Taxim. Afternoon drinking becomes evening and by the time we head back to Sultanahmet it's gone midnight. They are great company and I enjoy hearing the stories of their travels. I suspect this will be our last meet as from here they head South for Syria and I East. Dan ends the night in comedy fashion by falling off his bike – good on ya dude : ). I may have already linked it, but if you'd like to follow their progress to Ethiopia here's the link.

Over the next three days I see more familiar faces. This time they take the form of my mother and partner Bob. They have brought me my laptop and an iphone – the theory being that the blogging should come a little easier with such gadgets. And I can also thread together more Couch Surfing and Wwoofing. Not to mention waste vast quantities of time editing photos etc. It's great to catch up. Together we do more of the sights – Grand Bazzar, Spice Bazzar, boat ride, fish markets etc - Bob is a keen photographer and so has a great time. Istanbul is a very photogenic city. The sight seeing is interspersed with lots of coffee drinking. We are all booked in to the Big Apple Hostel. They in a private room, and I in the dorms. The hostel staff are great, Sharan the manager helps me with the Iranian visa process. Which is going to take a little longer than I had hoped. I have to send for a reference number which I then take to the embassy, then and only then can I actually apply for the visa. It's my own fault for not starting the process sooner. But now I understand the system a little better, future applications should become easier.

Bob and my mother leave I attempt to knuckle down to some blogging. Sitting in the hostel lobby at the same desk I soon gather a reputation for not moving. I hear “Still here are you?” several times each day. I spend so long there I feel myself becoming part of the furniture. I make some great friends, and revel in opportunity to chat with folks from all over the globe. Together we go to various gigs and bars. A great day was spent with James from the US and Ellen and Georgia from Brisbane. Taking a walk down through the park to the waterfront we chance upon some locals who suggest we join them. We take a seat on the rocks they offer us some freshly cooked Mullet fillets wrapped in fresh bread. They taste great! We exchange names as they hand out cans of chilled Efes. For the next few hours the four of us attempt to perfect the technique of eating sunflower seeds. The local guys do it so quickly!! The outer shell is nibbled and then with nimble tongue you remove the heart – yum! The beers continue to disappear, and eventually the light does too. Taxim is the place for nightlift, with endless bars and clubs from which to choose. At the hostel we pick up Mark from the US and Ludwig from Germany and then head out into the night in search of live music. Some very good night's with some very good company, so if you happen to be reading this - cheers guys!! : )

My restlessness increases as the days pass. Ellen tells me about an Eco Village Wwoofing community that she is heading to down the coast. The sown seed then germinates in my mind over the next few days. Before I know it, there is no other possibility - I will go to GARP. I am itching to get out of the city. For no other reason than I spend too much money keeping myself entertained. And so after ten great days of sightseeing, making friends, and copious amounts of beer, coffee, chy and nargile(shisha) I prepare myself to leave Istanbul and get back on the bike.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

17/09/2010 Durusu - Istanbul (Distance 68km)

I breakfast on my own as Maria is leaving early to work on the monument. Most mornings Sinan goes to the town of Gokturk to meet friends at Starbucks. On this occasion he invites me along. I get an hours headstart on him as the town is around thirty kilometres away. The road is brand new multi-lane glassy asphalt. There are some reasonable hills, but on such a surface that going is easy.

I arrive half and hour after Sinan. He very kindly buys me a coffee and then introduces me to his friend. I feel a bit out of place sitting with two, well presented, wealthy businessmen. I muse at the contrast between our chosen paths – in full knowledge that I will never reach such places. They express admiration at my position and obviously I at theirs...though I suspect neither of us would be willing to swap. Though we only sit together for perhaps an hour I enjoy the time very much. I suspect I could learn a lot from sitting in on their coffee sessions.

I bid them both farewell and thank Sinan once more for such wonderful hospitality. The closer I get to the city the more the traffic builds. I revel the fact that I'm often able to keep pace with the cars, and on occasion overtake. The road disappears under me at 40kph and soon enough I hit the suburbs that I recognise from yesterdays commute. I stop off to visit Maria and Serkoun. We drink lemonade in the shade of a chestnut tree and I take some more photos of the pair at work. I'm sad I wont get to see the finished work, atleast not on this trip. Here's a link to her website - http://www.mariasezer.com/index.html - though I'm warned it could be a while before the monument features as the website's a little behind...much like this blog : )

With more “thanks” and “goodbyes” I continue on into the city. I'm told I need to head to the Sultanahmet district as his is where the majority of the tourist accommodation is. The signs are easy to follow and it's not long before I'm in the right area. I find and check into a hostel – it's the first I find but seems to tick all the right boxes. With the bike stowed away I get to exploring. Maria and Sinan put me in touch with their son Bora who lives in the city. So first job is to find a phonecard.

In the evening I meet Bora and his wife, and friend Charlie from England. We eat at a great fish restaurant a stones throw from the fish market. Later I'm shown around serveal of the bars that the Taxim area of Istanbul has to offer. Bora runs a website (http://www.beyogluin.com/ if anyone’s interested) which is a free guide to everything that's happening in the city – Parties, gigs, exhibitions etc. I think it's a great idea and it has several thousand follows, so is clearly well used. Taxim has a really great vibe, and seems to be where the locals go out to socialise – nice to dilute the touristic feel. Impromptu gigs can be seen down many of the side streets off the main road. I can see myself returning to Taxim over the coming days. My life has been lacking in live music for too long...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

16/09/2010 Durusu (rest day)

My plan is to make the city in good time and so I wake early. I join Maria and Sinan for breakfast. Maria keeps bee's and so on the table there are two jars of fresh produce – I make the most of this fact by devouring piece after joyous piece of honey drenched toast. Their garden produces a wide wide array of fruits and vegetables. I sample, for the first time, yoghurt made from Buffalo's milk – it's super rich and very tasty. I feel my arteries clogging with every moreish mouthful. With bulging gut I pack my belongings and prepare to say my goodbyes. That is, until I find that Maria has an offer for me. She is going to the city today to work on a monument she is creating in one of the parks in Istanbul. She suggests I join her to help out for the day as it could be fun and interesting. Keen though I am to get to the city this seems like an offer not to be refused. The opportunity to assist in the creation of such a public monument with a talented artist is not something I saw coming out of this venture.

Before we leave for the city I watch her work on a fountain sculpture for an exibition. While watching I explore my own thoughts on Art. Music aside it's an area I've given remarkably little thought to over the years – at least conscious thought. I realise that sculpting appeals vastly to my practical nature. I make a promise to myself to attempt some form of creation on my return home. Though I desire to leave the construction industry behind me – I'm still greatly interested in creative, sustainable and low impact building solutions.

Maria drives along the same route into the city which I will ride tomorrow – this helps to remove the pressure of navigation. Upon arriving at the park we get to work. We are also assisted by Serkoun - Maria's gardener. A friendly fellow of around my age. He lives not far from Durusu in a gypsy community. He suggests I come and stay at his house for a night – from where we can taking a fishing trip to the lake. It sounds like a great idea but sadly he has to cancel due to other commitments. It's a hot day but the work is pleasant. The monument takes inspiration from a recently discovered ancient shipping port dating back several thousand years. I use the opportunity to learn about Maria's approach to her art. Though she currently teaches in the city she's aspires to give more time to her own works. It's a pleasure to be working with my hands once again. I find it more satisfying to help create something like this, than to line pockets back home – be they my own or others.

After a productive day we pack up and head back to her house. On the way I notice serveal packs of stray dogs and note that it could be an “interesting” ride. Swimming, beer, food and good conversation make up most of the evening. Sinan and I watch the new Robin Hood on a larger-than-life projector screen.

15/09/2010 Chakala - Durusu (Distance 96km)

At five o'clock(ish) I wake to hear the first call to prayer of the day. I slept well thanks to the several layers of rugs beneath me. Katharina and I rustle through I bag of goodies that was mysteriously dropped off to us at some point in the night. Coke, peanuts and cake make up our breakfast...or so we think. Leaving our room we are bathed in bright sunlight, though thankfully the heat has not yet come to the day. While packing our sleeping bags they motion us to come inside. Once again we kneel around the table though this time with Tayfun's mother and father. Round two of breakfast is delicious and is washed down with plenty of Chy. I pay close attention to our hosts in an attempt to learn correct etiquette. Only simple things like placement and use of cutlery, how they manage with one hand etc. They give us more fresh bread for the journey and then we say our goodbyes – two kisses. I get the impression it's going to be a long learning curve.

In Saray we stop for a coffee as from here on Katharina and I go in different directions. She hopes to take the bus from here to Istanbul, I am going to attempt the, apparantly hellish, ride into the city. We sit in the cafe and Katharina notices that she is the only female, a fact I overlook entirely. A stranger appraoches and introduces himself as Umut. A jolly fellow with a very shiny gold tooth. I roll the map out on the table and he helps us both with our routes. After coffee Katharina and I say our goodbyes. It's been good to cycle with company once again. I wonder if these encounters will drop in frequency as I move further from the beaten cycle path.

At Aidanlar I make the usual stop at a garage. The cashier greets me with a bottle of chilled water. We sit and “chat” for ten minutes or so. I use inverted commas because he doesn't speak English, and I no Turkish. That said, it's surprising how much you can communicate without a common language. Obviously it holds one back a little, but it's still very possible to have a conversation, and it's certainly shouldn't be an excuse not to try. In between story swapping he goes to serve some customers, only to return with a bag of goodies selected off the shelf. We continue to talk and drink chy, until I realise I've been sitting for nearly an hour. The road calls me back as always. The first unfriendly faces in Turkey appear in the form of two children. From the back of a pickup truck they throw rolled up news paper at me and gesture that I should go back to wherever it was I came from... “U picku materinu” - you could say. With this my mood takes a slight dip. One of the effects of riding alone is that my mood swings are 'lubricated' and as such slide up and down with increasing ease.

I find a shaded spot to stop for lunch and a WP, and here take some time out to talk to my girlfriend Jess on the phone. From 15.00 onwards I'm following my hand drawn map, which to my utter amazement actually serves me rather well. Two men in an official looking pickup truck blast me with their siren and motion me to stop. Perhaps wrongly I expect their first words to “papers!”. I'm disappointed in my own cynicism when actucally they jump out and say “Hey cyclist!” One of the guys is a cyclist and is interested in my contraption and my trip. I sense my slight discomfort – still haven't quite got used to all the people carrying guns(these guys both are). I figure better officials than bandits though, and I expect to see much more of it the further I go. They point me in the direction of Balaban – where I expect to find a campsite. I don't really want to pay to camp, but the dirt is mounting up once again. I continue riding in the soft evening light. My course gradually turns North and in the distance I can see the Black Sea. At the entrance to a private estate I ask the guard if I'm in the right area. He motions me inside and points me up the hill. After asking around it seems there is no camp ground. A little confused, and running out of light and patience, I head back to the road. I get more than twenty meters down the road before a lady in a Navara stops on the other side and lowers her window.

“Hello, do you know where you're going?”

Momentarily I struggle to compute that I'm being spoken to in English.

“Er H-Hi, I'm looking for somewhere to camp, and was told there is a campsite around here...”

“Follow me I will show you where, and if not you can stay at ours”

Relief flows through me. My mind switches to try and ascertain where this very kind lady is from - speaking excellent English, and not looking typically Turkish. It turns out the camping is not available and so I roll back down the hills I've just climbed up and through the gates to a rather grand dwelling set into the hillside. It turns out Maria is from Holland, and her husband Sinan is Turkish. I waste no time in warning them of my excessive and unpleasant odor. It's only fair to give them the “heads up”, not wanting to offend my new hosts while they form their first impressions of me. Maria shows me to my room and I put my stuff down. Sinan hands me a cold beer and Maria suggests I take a dip in the pool while she prepares dinner. It's at this moment that I wonder if I've actually been hit and killed by a car, and now occupy a dreamy world of hedonistic eternity. It seems fortune favours me today. I rest my beer on the table and go for a splash – using arm and chest muscles that have hardly been tried over the last months. I can't help but laugh aloud at my rapidly changing situation. I wish there was a way I could demonstrate my gratitude to those that show such kindness. From the small (chy and conversation) to the overwhelming position in which I now find myself. Sometimes a verbal “thankyou” just doesn't seem enough. It's nice when people take an interest in my trip – as that's really all I've got to offer...my story. At such times I have renewed enthusiasm for my blog. In this instance Sinan and Maria do take an interest. We talk at length about it and other topics over a wonderful dinner. Sinan is retired from the textile industry and Maria is an artist. We drink wine and smoke cigars, Sinan's hobby is gadgets – and he has an array that would put most to shame. They both speak English as well as I and make great company. I learn about their work and family life, and also get some background info on Turkey. Sinan lends me some books on Istanbul and I spend an hour before bed making notes on the things that take my fancy. I sleep very, very well.

Didn't take any pictures today it seems....

Monday, 18 October 2010

14/09/2010 Derekoy - Chakala (Distance 74km)

As a four we eat apples while packing the tents away. We ride together into to village of Derekoy to find somewhere to drink coffee. The first place we stop at is open and we take a seat outside. The owner is very friendly. We eat some tasty cakes and drink strong coffee. A trio of men are playing some very loud live music in the street. We glean from Kilic (the coffee shop owner) that a soldier is leaving town for a tour – or something to that effect. I snap some pictures of Geerts funky bicycle, which inspires me to get a little more creative with my own setup. His customised dashboard features include – thermometer, compass and various family photos!

Kathrina and I say goodbye to the Geert and Wilbert. The guys are taking a more mountainous and scenic route to Istanbul, whereas the two of us are going a little more directly. We make some very loose plans to meet up in Istanbul and then depart Derekoy in opposite directions. The mornings riding disappears with ease. In Pinharishar Katharina and I stop for lunch. With the bikes parked up we immediately gather the attention of the locals who approach with smiles and several rounds of “Welcome to Turkey”. With full food bags we ride through the town in search of a bench on which to eat our lunch. The hunt is without success and we opt for a shaded patch of pavement. A passing woman hands me half of her bread loaf and continues on her way. Moments later the shop keeper from up the street approaches with two cold bottles of apple juice. We are amazed by the generosity of strangers and agree that it wouldn't happen in our homes countries – as disappointing as that is to admit! On a stretch of road in between towns two men hop off a tractor infront of us. In a field next to the road they pick a couple of water melons. Seeing us pass they pick another and run to the road to catch us. We cheerful waves they continue on their way. The watermelon is packing some weight and so we decide to sit where we are and devour it.

With full bellies the afternoon's riding is a little slow. We stop at a garage to restock our water supply. The owner offers us chy – Turkish tea, which is generally served strong and sweet. It's my first taste the traditional drink and it goes down well. Kathrina (who has spent considerable time in Muslim communities) guides me through the process of making and pouring. The cup is filled half with tea and half with hot water and then sugared to taste. As we prepare to depart the garage the owner hands us a pack a wet wipes each as a parting gesture. These folks are fast becoming the friendliest of the trip.

At the village of Chakala we decide to ask if we can put our tents somewhere. On our second try we get lucky. Very lucky infact. We spot a man working in the allotment of a small-hold and go to ask him – mainly with sign language rather than verbal communication. We motions that we wait. We wait. After half an hour or so we meet Tayfun, he is twenty six and speak a tiny bit of English. I show him my Turkish lesson podcasts and then splutter some hideously pronounced Turkish, which gets a laugh atleast. They motion for us to cross the road. We push our bikes through an old wooden door and into a grassy courtyard. Tayfun motions us inside his family home where we meet his mother, her two sisters, and his grandmother. We kneel on the floor around a wooden table set eight inches from the floor. Plate by steaming plate a feast appears before our eyes. Seemingly just for us as no one else eats. I try desperately to pay attention to using only my right hand, but on occasion fail just as desperately. I suspect in time it will become habit but this is my first time in a Muslim household. The food is wonderful, and I suspect all the vegetables are home grown, olives and cheese too. After the meal the table (and carpet on which it sat) are put away and we sit on the floor in a circle, mother and grandmother taking the available sofa. More family members arrive and I feel like may have interrupted some kind of occasion. After questioning it appears we are the occasion. We meet Tayfun's two younger female cousins and one older guy who speaks a little more English. They bring out a Turkish – English phrase book and most of the evening is spent attempting to speak the others language. Which generally brings about eruptions of laughter all around. They struggle somewhat with mine and Katharina's relationship – or lack there of. I gather that much of the conversation (to which we are not part) surrounds that fact that we are not married, and what our wives/husbands back home must think. As the party disperses we are shown to our room. An unused room of the house with wood burning stove and crumbling horsehair plaster ceiling – it's great. We're both rather chuffed we asked for somewhere to pitch up.