Sunday, September 11, 2011
Turkey begins with more eating than cycling
29 August - 3 September.
The last four months have been therapeutic. Being back in Montreal enabled us to get back into a routine and be in our elements. Time was spent working, servicing the bikes, acquiring visas and new equipment and testing Mefloquine. This malaria med is cheap and hassle free. You only take it once a week. However, it can drive you insane. Hence testing it for three weeks. The result for me was nothing but Michèle felt high when she took it. She is worried about being on the bike and not being fully alert. Besides, we won't be hitting too many parties along the way. So, we have plenty of time to figure out something else. We won't be in malaria zones for a long time.
I have to make a side note. It is not without anxiety that we leave again. There has been much bad news over the last two years. I want to say to those affected that you are in our thoughts and that we hope for a quick resolution to your problems. You know who you are. We feel fortunate that we have been spared by the universe and allowed to keep going on this trip. In addition, even though we feel more prepared and more synchronized, one negative attitude will outweigh ten positive ones. As we travel towards the "evil" zone, the nail-biting news-watchers are the first ones to dampen our spirits.
We left Montreal in the midst of hurricane Irene. With high winds and torrential downpour, Michèle's sister Leslie was kind enough to give us a ride to the airport. At airports, I always stress that things are not going to go smoothly. Catching a plane with two bikes is like walking on a sidewalk, blind-folded and littered with dog shit. We almost stepped in a pile when some idiot security guard, with a staircase haircut, who looked and talked like Andrew Dice Clay, requested that we unpack our bikes so that he can inspect them. The bikes wouldn't fit into the x-ray machine you see. Luckily for us, this halfwit had a coworker with normal intelligence who suggested we take the bikes to another, much bigger, x-ray machine. Crisis avoided.
Michèle comments: The ten months of travelling that we did last year have given me a new 'zen' perspective on life. When I feel things slipping out of my control, I imagine that I am in a carriage being pulled by horses and I see myself dropping the reins and letting the horses have their heads. When I relinquish control, it seems that things just suddenly work themselves out. Like when the security guard was telling us that we had to open our bicycle boxes, tightly wrapped in metres and metres of packing tape, I felt my stomach twist into knots. Then the image of dropping the reins popped in my head and I noticed that behind us in line were two travellers with bicycles in even BIGGER boxes than ours. It was at that moment that the sensible security guard suggested that the bicycle boxes could go elsewhere for scanning. I also believe that my sister Leslie was our good luck charm that day. Thanks Leslie. Everything worked out in the end.
Unfortunately for us, the incompetence of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport doesn't stop here. At the check-in counter, I ask if the baggage handlers will keep our bike boxes out of the rain. The woman tells me not to worry and that baggage handlers are used to this sort of thing. Well, fast forward about 10 hours and we find our bike boxes in a state of paper maché. Lucky that I wrapped each box with a hundred metres of packing tape; the only thing keeping the soggy boxes together.
Michèle comments: Cycling from the Ataturk airport to the hostel wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. In fact, all I had to do was picture myself back in Montreal and it seemed that the drivers could have been from either place. There were some assholes honking and squeezing you off the road; and others who just tapped at their horns to warn you of their approach and then passed around you with plenty of comfortable space to spare. When we rode around the city, I was surprised by how hilly it was. We had visited Istanbul on a trip in 2005 and nothing of those hills stuck in my mind. Only by bicycle do you notice every change in elevation.
With all the airport stress behind us, we head out into the controlled chaos of Istanbul traffic: The GPS guiding the way to the first place I want to visit, Decathlon: The dollar store of sports equipment. They have basic cycling shorts for $10. Sorry MEC. And they're made in Romania. So, being in Istanbul, I figure that the carbon footprint is minimal. Unless they have to be shipped to China to get the washing instructions sewn on.
We spent three days in Istanbul. The skyline is littered with huge mosques. Despite being hundreds of years old, some of them look futuristic with their four minarets and multiple bulbous domes.
Early in the morning, in our hostel room, it's the first call to prayer. I open my eyes and let the melodic chant take me on a mystical journey. The journey, however, was not so mystical a few hours earlier when three young French tourists decided to smoke a joint on the balcony next to our room. Des espèces de babacools à la con! Talking loud, they give us a full recap of their evening. Being French myself, I have no problem being rude and to tell them to skedaddle. I guess they're too young to have seen Midnight Express.
Michèle comments: On our first day cycling from Bandırma, we found ourselves in Karşıyaka, a village at the bottom of a long hill and at the dead end of a road. Not where we expected to be. An "oh no" sinking sort of feeling hit me. Of course, this always seems to happen when our energies are drained and as the sun is setting. A young guy got out of his car to help, we got out our map, and within seconds, he was joined by a crowd of young guys, all laughing and pushing at each other. Looking at the map more closely, it was clear that we missed the turn we wanted. The jostling crowd of young guys seemed to have elected a translator from their midst and one guy was pushed to the front. His English was pretty good, but his voice quavered as if talking to us was making him really nervous. I found that so endearing, that he seemed more unnerved by the situation that we were. Suddenly my "oh no" feeling disappeared and I knew everything would be okay. We left the village, intent on retracing our path as far back as Dalyan, where our nervous interpreter had said we could camp at the beach for the night. But retracing our path meant climbing back up the hill. Too tired even for granny gear, we got off to push. Not soon after, some rescuers appeared in the form of three young guys in a flat bed truck. They seemed to understand that we were lost. A short discussion in basic English like "Bike, truck, go, camp, beach," and off we went, ourselves and our bikes in the back. Soon the truck turned down a dirt lane towards the sea and we were at our destination.
Shortly after we get dropped off by our young truckers, I find a small restaurant where I pick up two large beers to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. The good feeling is back: We have something to drink, a restaurant for food and a place to stay for the night. It's early September and for the Turks it's the Bayran holiday. Sort of like the construction holiday in Quebec. The beach is filled with Turkish tourists. Not a single foreigner in sights. That means we won't get ripped off! It smells really good because everyone there has a BBQ going. While we wind down from the wrong turn earlier on, it doesn't take long before a family calls us over to welcome us to Turkish hospitality. They fill our bellies with fried sardines, chicken kebabs and salad. We try our best to exchange a few words because they don't speak English or French.
Michèle comments: Purple Derya, if you are reading this, your email address that you gave me didn't work so I couldn't send you the photos that we took with your family. Please contact us.
It turns out that there are cheap rooms at the restaurant where I got the beers. We end up staying for two days doing absolutely nothing.
When it's time to leave, it's not long before we are again invited for a picnic. This time there is someone who speaks a bit of English. We all relax in the shade and eat great food.
Later, after a swim in the sea of Marmara, they offer to strap our bikes to the roof of their car so we can come spend the night at their place. Unfortunately, their car is too small and we have too much stuff. So, they give us more food and their phone number so we can call them once we are back in Bandırma. More on that later.
Michèle comments: While swimming in the sea, we learned that the small white jellyfish are "no problem" and that only the brown jellyfish will sting. That was good to know. Only two days early, I had wiped out on a slippery rock at the beach trying to sidestep one of the white jellyfish. I had skinned my knee for nothing.
In the next town, we are quickly pointed to a place where we can pitch our tent. There is no problem wild camping around here. No regulations typed out in tiny paragraphs that state "thou shall not camp". Nobody cares. Not a great spot but it will do. As we set up, three kids come over to investigate. By this point I'm tired and not in the mood to deal with obnoxious children. But these ones are different. They speak only Turkish but one of them seems very concerned about our well-being and that we will not have enough food for the night. Luckily, a woman who speaks English comes by to translate. Turns out that the kids are warning us about a crazy man who lives in the hills and that there are a lot of snakes where we are set up. I tell them that I'm not scared of crazy people and that I eat snakes for dinner. They all go scampering off and come back an hour later with bags of veggies and one bag of home-made Turkish delight: Very cute. All in all, it turned out to be a great camping spot.
To be continued...