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Monday, October 3, 2011

South to Izmir and eastward with Jacques

September 4 - 16.

In the last post we had found a place to set up our tent and a bunch of kids gave us veggies and Turkish delight. The ride back to Bandirma offered some great scenery and unusual encounters with wild life.

After a hilly ride we meet up with our new friends: The ones that invited us for the picnic. İsmail, our interpreter, tells us that we can stay at his brother's place for the night. After a tour of Bandırma, we arrive at our destination where we all relax, drink tea and have a little party. Later in the evening, İsmail's cousin Berkant shows up. Berkant is quite the character. Telling us all sorts of jokes like when before marriage, everything is yes yes yes! But that afterwards it's all no. Berkant also tells us the story of the Turkish flag. What it actually represents is the reflection of the moon and a star in a pool of blood. We tell him that the Canadian flag is just some leaf of a tree. Towards the end of the night, Berkant asks us to please give him permission to leave. We grant him his wish because we are very tired and have a long road ahead the next day. In the morning, after a Turkish breakfast, it's time to head out. We want to thank İsmail's family for their hospitality and we hope that İsmail decides to go to London to deepen his English skills.

For us it's south to a town called Gönen. As we leave Bandırma, fighter jets fly past us. As a tail wind pushes us I think about how fast they are going, and how slow we are. The GPS is allowing us to navigate country roads. I have a feeling that it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship, the GPS and I.

The scenery is similar to the European country side. Everywhere you look, someone is farming something. The only difference is that mosques replace churches. On the way to Gönen we pass by a lake famous for its pelicans. We stop to take pictures but unless you have one of those Paparazzi zoom lenses, the birds end up looking like pigeons. They all fly away as soon as you get within a half kilometre. Instead we get invited by some fishermen. This time it's to eat some watermelon.

We finally get to Gönen and the only thing I can say is that I recommend the following hotel: Filiz Pansiyon. The owner was very friendly and there was plenty of space for our bikes.

Michèle comments:One of the Filiz hotel cleaning ladies took a real liking to me. She cooed and clucked around me, chattering away in Turkish with a huge grin and twinkling eyes. Barely understanding one word out of ten, I guessed by her gestures that she was saying that Canadians and Turks are friends sleeping under the same sky. As we prepared to leave the next day, I was wearing my cycling 'kit', which for me is a sports bra under a regular t-shirt and spandex cycling shorts hidden under regular shorts. My #1 fan of the cleaning staff was there with a couple of the other ladies. She started staring at my chest, her eyes wide with wonder. Then more rapid-fire Turkish, which I think was to say "Look how small your boobs are," as she compared them to the ample bosoms of her companions. And to drive the comparison home, she squeezed a boob of one of the ladies with an "Ah!" and her voice going up. Then she gestured the same squeeze at me, but without touching my boobs (thank goodness), and her voice deflated with the "Ah". Squeeze, voice up, gesture, voice down, squeeze, voice up, gesture, voice down... repeated until we were all laughing.

The next morning it's a big climb and at the end of the day we end up in a small village lost in the mountains. As we ask around for a place to camp a man by the name of Zeki Gül invites us to spend the night. By this point we are both very tired and don't have the energy to be a guest. We try to get out of the invitation but can't find a way to refuse. I am cranky but I try my hardest to be nice. Turns out that Zeki could easily run a B&B. He offers us a private room with everything we want. I offer him money for the accommodation which he promptly refuses. As usual, we hit the hay early. Before we do, we have to get our point across to Zeki's seventy year old father that we don't want to join him for tea. It takes a valiant effort and at times he seems to get mad. We finally get our point across and head to bed.

At the crack of dawn, we wake up to the call to prayer which ignites a howling session with all the dogs in the village. Of course Zeki and his wife have a traditional Turkish breakfast waiting for us.

Several villages later, we hook up with several young people who invite us for a picnic. The location is a small house at the top of a hill, overlooking the village. The owner of the house loves movies and heavy metal music. That doesn't stop him from offering us the Turkish hospitality. He invites us to stay for the night. So, we all kick back with beers and listen to Ramstein. Later, he tells us that he is trying to go to Canada to work and he ask us if we can help him "get in". We have encountered this situation before. Yes, we can give him a place to stay but there is nothing we can do to get him a work visa. There are, however, several options to explore, none of which seem to offer a solution. Finally he proposes something that took three tries with Google translate to understand:
1. You can peel me as a child.
2. You can adopt me as a shell.
and finally:
3. You can adopt me as your child.
I have never had such a request. I tell him that this probably would not work since he is 27 years old. Anyways, I'm finding it hard to understand this desire to come to North America. Turkey seems to be doing well economically. We haven't seen a single beggar. Besides, Turkey is much nicer then being stuck in Toronto, unemployed, in the dead of winter.

Finally in Bergama: Our first tourist trap in Turkey. No free tea or invitations here. Even the kids are annoying. So, let's play the part and head up to the Akropol. One of Turkey's many Roman ruins that have been standing here long before the first call to prayer. Back when there were many gods.

I have to say that the site is impressive. You can imagine the wild orgies and Biggus Dickus rounding up his troops for the next glorious battle. The crowds were minimal too. There were even several minutes where we had the place to ourselves.

Michèle comments: The contrast between tourist areas and the small villages along country roads is quite striking. In Bergama, the kids ran out in front of our bikes to block our path, or grabbed at the handlebars. In the small villages, the kids would wave and say hello how are you what is your name? where are you from? always friendly and sometimes really trying to be helpful. In Bergama, the english phrases came out as taunts in mocking tones. It is as if people from another country are no longer seen as human. Just monkeys in a zoo to poke at with a stick. So then the tourists try to ignore the mocking tones and the taunts, and in so doing, probably come across as less human. A vicious circle where no-one wins.

Navigating small roads, we left the tourist trap of Bergama to end up in a small village called Seyitli. It's the end of the day, and, as we ride into town, it's not long before we are invited for dinner and to spend the night. We have learned to accept invitations even though we have been taught not to impose. Refusing is a huge disappointment for the Turks. Michèle is offered a change of clothes. Now looking traditional she is requested to help with dinner. Naturally I tag along but I am quickly motioned to go join the rest of the men who are more interested in drinking tea and watching football. We want to thank İlhan and his family for their hospitality.

Michèle comments: I loved that İlhan's mom offered me a change of clothes after a shower. She even put out a pair of underwear and bra for me. The traditional pants that the women wear are super comfortable. So baggy and loose, not a binding seam anywhere. It is too bad that the baggy legs would get caught in my chain, or I would wear them while cycling. I also loved that I was allowed to help with the meal. Well, all I did was peel and cut a couple of potatoes. They wouldn't let us do anything else to help!

From İlhan's place it's all downhill to the next town where we want to catch the train to İzmir to avoid the heavy traffic. Just before arriving at the train station, I ride over a dead hedgehog and puncture my tire. Next comes one of my pet peeves: People trying to help when it's not needed. I know they mean well but it's so annoying. I finally get my tire patched, had another tea and we head off to the train station to arrive just in time for the train to İzmir.

We check into the hotel and wait for Jacques who will be joining us for a few weeks. While sitting with a few beers, Jacques laughs while telling us all sorts of hellish airport stories which ends with him getting to İzmir. He is missing one bag. So, we spend a good part of the next day cycling to the airport. We have to ride on a huge busy highway all the way there.

Surprisingly, it is not as hellish as I anticipated. Or I'm just getting used to shit traffic. At the airport, Jacques miraculously finds his bag which means that we can start our ride to Pamukkale: Yet another tourist trap. More on that later.

Now that there are three of us, wild camping is more fun. In Turkey, it seems that you can camp anywhere. Since we are in a farming area, one of the nights we decide to go into a small town to ask for a spot. A man who claimed to be a mechanical engineer and a software developer shows us a spot at the outskirts of the village.

Right away I get a funny feeling about this guy. Something tells me he is not what he claims to be. He comes around to our campsite several times even after we have gone to bed. In the morning he gives us a rude awakening, very early, to invite us for tea and breakfast. The only thing is that he doesn't seems too happy about it. His home doesn't look like the home of a mechanical engineer or software developer. His mother goes off to prepare breakfast and in the meantime he shows us his collection of books. All of them in Turkish. The only one I recognize is an Anthony Robbins book. As I look at it he says to me:
- Best seller, best seller!
He also shows us pages of quotes from all sorts of people ranging from Albert Einstein to Charles de Gaulle. Then, in accelerated Turkish, he goes off on a rant about god knows what. Some of the words I could make out was tourist, kuran, muslim, capitalist system and psychopath. This goes on for quite a while to the point where Michèle gets upset. Jacques has a vacant look on his face and I'm somewhere in between. So, we decide to pull the plug: Fuck the tea and fuck the breakfast. This guy is crazy! We head back to our bikes with the guy not far behind us yelling:
- Where are you going!?
At our bikes, the guy grabs me arm to pull me back in the direction of the house. I don't like being grabbed and luckily he lets go. We finally get on our bikes and as we are about to pedal away he asks us for our phone number. Luckily we don't have one but if we did, we would have told him 555-5555.

To be continued...


  1. wow ils sont droles leurs mechanical engineers ! -S

  2. We had problems with extremely annoying boys in Turkey too, in the touristy areas. They would yell "Money , money , money!" in a way that was taunting ...not requesting. This annoyed me (Margo) so much that I looked up the word for "beggar" and yelled back "Dilenci, dilenci, dilenci" in the same tone as they were using, which was quite effective at shutting them up a few times.

    Were the ruins Roman or Greek?

    Love your blog, and following as always.

  3. Ha Ha ! Oui ils sont tous ingénieurs comme en Iran... Mais celui la était plus proche de la psychatrie...

    Bonne route

  4. Hello M & C. Were the ruins Roman or Greek? Not sure, all I wanted to do is make a joke about the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Thanks for the term, we'll remember dilenci if we ever need it. Let's hope not.

    Salut L & L. Oui, un psychiatre et une chambre capitonné.

  5. Ahhh, Biggus Dickus! Love that flick! We miss you guys and are soooo sorry we couldn't get together before you headed back out across the Atlantic.
    Gus is as laid back as ever, and he says "hi!"

  6. Hey J & C. Jay, I knew you would like the Biggus Dickus comment. We're sorry we missed you guys too. So glad Gus is chilling out. Rub his bully for us.

  7. Hey guys! Great to see you back on the road! Seems like Turkey is more fun than Morrocco for hospitality. The turkish breakfast looks yummy...

  8. Hey J & C: I think Benoit means "belly"!

    Hey Caroline: It is great to be back on the road. Yes the Turkish breakfast is very yummy.