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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The wacky adventures of Michèle, Benoit and Jacques

September 17 - October 1.

In the last post we ran off in a hurry from a nutter. With that behind us, we continue our cycling journey. Jacques is a power house. He cycles up a hill three times faster than us, comes back down to see how we are doing and cycles back up. One day, we get stuck on a big hill in the middle of the day. The dark asphalt frying us like bacon in a pan. As usual, Jacques cycles ahead while we stay behind, pushing our bikes. All of a sudden it's the cavalry to the rescue. A truck stops and offers us a lift up the hill. The non-touristic Turks, god bless them: There's never any problems. We pile into the back with our bikes. The truck is used for hauling cows so the floor is full of cow shit. We laugh that we are in deep shit for taking this ride.

They drop us off at the top and it's all downhill to the next town where we stay for two nights in a hotel to get cleaned up and to take a load off.

Our efforts eventually take us to Pamukkale. Yet another tourist hub. As we come in to the town, Turkey seems to vanish. There are about a hundred hotels and guest houses. As we pass by, hotel owners chase us down the street to get us to stay at their establishments. I go into a restaurant to use the bathroom and the owner comes out to yell at me because I used the facility without buying anything. It takes 1 TL to shut her up. The sight of interest are these natural staircase pools filled with turquoise water. The pictures are out of this world. I imagine myself jumping from one pool to the other. Turns out that the pools only fill up during the spring runoff. This is when the tourist pictures are taken. The rest of the time the pools looks like dirty dishes in your sink.

They do keep some pools going by pumping water into them. If you stand in the right spot you can see a resemblance of the pictures. There is also a section where you can "swim" in them. You get about a thousand tourists walking around in the murky bath water of the pool.

It is an oasis of liberalism. Loaded with macho Russian guys and their trophy wives in g-string bikinis (the only thing worth looking at). Next comes the "Antique Pool". It's a regular swimming pool in which they've put old roman columns. You can swim around and pretend you've found Atlantis; so romantic! Of course, it costs more to go into the pool and with the cost of food and drinks you would think that you're at the Zurich airport. But Pamukkale redeems itself with the massive ancient Greek city. Ruins as far as the eye can see.

There is a road that runs through it, with regular shuttle buses taking most tourists to the swimming pool. This means you get the city to yourself. Like most archeological sites in Turkey, you can basically go into and climb anything you like. Jacques and I venture into a tomb chamber for a closer look.

We didn't end up staying in Pamukkale. Instead, we pitched our tent in a farmer's field.

Michèle comments: Since we first arrived in Turkey, it was nothing but good weather. Sunny skies and hot hot hot. Until that day that we visited Pamukkale. The wind started to pick up, flinging dust into our eyes, and the skies began to darken. To get to the field where we camped for the night, we pushed our bikes across a dry little ditch, not thinking much of it at the time. Just after putting up our tents, the rain began and continued all night. The next morning, there was a mini torrent of water running through the ditch. "Just like 'Into The Wild'," Benoit joked. Jacques was amused that we had broken a basic rule of Camping 101. Of course, Jacques charged through the ditch river on his bike, his back tire fishtailing but he still stayed up. Just the thought of going across myself had my legs shaking. I eventually made it but Benoit had to come back for me.

Turkey seems to be immune to globalization. As we stop for breakfast on the outskirts of Denizli, there is a large Home Depot type store next to the restaurant. After breakfast I head straight there to use the facilities. No one yells at me this time. The parking lot is empty and I seem to be the only one there. It's a different story in the centre of town where there are countless small stores selling anything you are looking for. As we wander around, Jacques starts drooling at the sight of a forge.

He is an amateur blacksmith so we have to stop and watch artisans build hand-made tools. Something you don't see in North America. Maybe there are a handful doing it in an artistic context, selling their workings for an exorbitant amount of money. Not here. It is solely for practical purposes. Everyone at these shops has a special intercom. It's only purpose seems to be to order tea: The chai network.

Of course it's not long before we are offered some. Jacques contemplates buying a hand-forged axe blade for five dollars. He ended up getting it.

Michèle comments: From Denizli, we rode for a couple of days in the mountains over gravel roads to get to Lake Salda. We had heard about this lake from Mehmet, a cyclist in Izmir whom we found through Warmshowers. In fact, he and his friends were heading to the lake to camp for the weekend, and we aimed to meet them there. On the way to the lake, we were invited to tea as we passed through a small village in the middle of nowhere. Our hostess handed me a cellphone: on the other end was a group of kids who were scrambling to form questions in English. "Where are you from?" was one. When I answered Canada, there was a huge whoop of a yell "Whoaaaaa!" from the kids. A final push up a steep gravel hill and we could finally see Lake Salda.

Its water was Mediterranean turquoise. Its shores sparkled with what looked like the whitest sand. At closer inspection, the sand was more like a sticky clay. It would envelop your feet like quicksand if you waded into the water and stayed for more than a second in one spot. The beautiful blue water beckoned and so we just had to go for a swim. We thought that we could just follow the beach to the camping spot where we had arranged to meet Mehmet and his friends. But it wasn't so easy. On our shortcut-via-the-long-way, we had to heave our bikes across a canal of water.

In the end, we found Mehmet with his friends as they were setting up camp. In the evening, they brought out what seemed to be an infinite amount of meat to barbecue. That reminded me of a question about Turkish that I had. The word "çöp" means garbage. And the word "şiş" is the shish of "shish kebab". So why do some restaurants have signs outside announcing "çöp şiş"? Garbage meat?? After the uproarious laughter at my question died down, they showed me what "çöp şiş" is. They had brought some for their meal: it was just meat cubes on a skewer. We tried some. It was delicious.

Briefly back to the topic of garbage, the only downside to the gorgeous Lake Salda was the trash strewn around on the ground. The campsite had closed down, so we were camping there "illegally". Maybe there was no-one there to clean up the site. I dreamed that I had organized a cleanup crew, people coming from all over the world with stick spears and garbage bags to pick up all the trash.

Several villages later, it's the medium-size town of Burdur where we hop on an overnight bus to Cappadocia. I'm the lucky one that get the vomit seat: Cargo delivered by the last passenger. That's OK, the bus ride is only 10 hours! At four in the morning the bus pulls into Göreme: The heart of Cappadocia. The stench of tourism lurks. We head several kilometres out of town to pitch our tent. When it's time to wake up, it's to the tune of a large flame thrower. The big attraction here is hot air balloon rides to watch the sunrise. Seven years ago, I remember you could see three or four balloons. Now, you can see seventy of them plastered on the skyline. It's actually really pretty to watch. The balloon that wakes us up flies by 20 metres off the ground with its passengers yelling out "good morning" to us.

After an expensive coffee, we decide to go to a paid campground so we can do laundry and take a shower. At the campground, the owner shows us a spot. We pay him and give him our passports. This is a common practice although not every hotel or campground will ask for them. Usually, they write down the information and give you back your passport. This is when the problems start. After an hour or two I ask for our passports back and the guy tells me that I will get it back once we leave. So, I ask him again to please return my passport. He tells me that if I don't like it I can leave right now. I tell him that's no problem and to, again, return our passports. The situation deteriorates to the point where I yell at him. The guy loses it and runs towards me with his fist in the air, yelling out gibberish. He then tells me that I should watch myself because he is dangerous. Luckily Jacques is there to diffuse the situation. We pack up our stuff, he returns my passport and we leave. Unless they are a police officers, no-one has the right to keep your passport. A passport is the property of your government and you are responsible for it. I would highly recommend to anyone going to Göreme NOT to go to the Panorama Camping. It is located at the top of the hill coming from Nevşehir.

Instead of feeling unwelcome by the tourist trap of Göreme, we take control and end up doing four nights of the best wild camping yet. Right in the midst of the world famous rock formations where Jacques gives Biggus Dickus a run for his money.

We did not spend any money in Göreme and did our shopping in the neighbouring town of Avanos which is much nicer and friendlier. One morning we realized that we had bushwhacked across thorn bushes and ended up with five flat tires; Michèle two (same tire twice), Jacques two and me one.

Michèle comments: My no-flat-tire record was broken. Not once but twice. That hurt. I had done about 6000 kilometres on those tires without a flat. I was hoping to do 10 000 km or more. Our group flat tire fixing session happened on the morning that we were to ride to Nevşehir to meet Tacettin, the brother of Necmettin, a Turkish mathematician who was also a postdoc at the Centre for Nonlinear Dynamics in Montreal when I was there about 10 years ago. We got all our tires fixed and made it to meet Tacettin in time. His family was incredibly hospitable. He is a physicist and his wife is an engineer. They served us a huge meal for lunch. Including "mantı", a Turkish meat ravioli-like dish that is superb. All home-made. After stuffing ourselves on the delicious food, it was unfortunately time for us to go before it got dark. Outside, where our bikes were locked up, a small group of curious kids from the neighbourhood had gathered. Tacettin translated some of their questions: "Don't you fall over?" one girl asked me as I was attaching all my panniers to the bike. Thank you, Tacettin and Gülizar, for the lovely lunch and conversation. We hope to meet again.

We leave Cappadocia for our final ride with Jacques. On this ride, Jacques get his wish to camp inside a cave. On our way to Kayseri, we find the perfect-sized one. Two rooms and a bike storage cubby hole. The perfect little cave to spend our last night wild camping.

In Kayseri we find a hotel with internet. I eagerly connect to check my email. After gmail finishes with its little progress bar I get hit with news so bad that it doesn't even register and I actually move my mouse cursor to go check another email. Our friend Noa, who has been suffering from the illusion that he was not worth anything, who has been clinically depressed for years, decided to end his life.

Michèle comments: Noa's death is a real shock. It is hard to deal with. It almost feels unreal. We had so hoped that he would win his battle with depression. It helps to remember him in happier days, carefree on his bicycle.

To be continued...


  1. on veut une photo des femmes touristes russes...


  2. Seb - Il va falloir commander le calendrier pour Noël!

  3. Belle photo de Noa... au salon funéraire, il y avait pleins de belles photos de Noa, il y en avait même une avec vous, à l'aéroport, lors de votre départ en voyage.

  4. vous me l'envoyez ?

  5. Beautiful pictures and insightful writing, it is nice to follow you again and still. Thanks and be well! Daria back to Concordia Uni in Mtl in Art Therapy.

  6. Viviane: Moi, aussi, j'aime beaucoup cette photo de Noa sur son vélo. Je me souviens de lui à l'aéroport lors de notre départ.

  7. Le lac est superbe et vos aventures me semblent fantastiques!
    Désolée pour Noa, et bonne chance pour les prochaines trappes à touristes.


  8. Daria - Salut! Content que tu nous suives toujours.
    Shanty - Oui on s'est bien amusé au lac avec Jacques. J'espère que ça roule bien à RTM. A+.

  9. avez-vous ete proche du seisme ?