Our book
Vagamonde: Chasing Euphoria and Getting Hit by Reality
is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr,
Amazon.de, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es
In Montreal: at bookstores Bertrand and Paragraphe
Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts

Monday, December 30, 2013

Read our book and ride with us!

Our book Vagamonde: Chasing Euphoria and Getting Hit by Reality is now available in English on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es.

Update as of January 7, 2014: our book is now available on Amazon.ca.

Update February 2, 2014: in Montreal, our book is available at Bertrand Bookstore and
Paragraphe Books.

In May 2010, we left Montreal, Canada to pedal our way to what would end up being a two-year journey through sixteen countries. Most bicycle travellers leave for a year or two, renting out their house and putting their belongings in storage. We left our jobs, sold our stuff and gave up our apartment. Except for some sentimental objects kept by family, all that we owned was with us on our bicycles.

Having hoped for a more relaxed and carefree lifestyle, we quickly learned the hardships of long-term travel. To cope with this, we started documenting the trip in this blog. We just finished writing a book that enhances our blog with more stories, drawings, hand-drawn maps and chapters of the long preparation and the reintegration back into so-called normal life in Canada.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Turkey, Kurdistan towards the Iran border

October 1 - October 17.

In the last post, we were in Kayseri trying to digest the bad news of our friend's suicide. Devastated and no desire to get on our bikes, we ended up staying for four nights. This is also where we say goodbye to Jacques. His positive energy has shed new light on our trip. Regretfully, Jacques lost his hair during his three weeks with us.

Hopefully, he can join us in India so that it can grow back. For us, it's the train to Kangal: Known for its large dogs and doctor fish.

The train cars are set up in compartments of six seats. One car is packed with families who have set up camp. Some of them are fully equipped with gas stoves. Vegetable peels litter the floor as well as random puddles from all the dish washing. Waste water is just thrown out the window. Seats are no longer seats. With blankets across all three they are now beds which, I'm guessing, they all take turns sleeping on. No rules and regulations here. It's all pretty crazy and I was glad that our car was less busy.

After the train pulls out of the station, I realize why it takes seven hours to do four hundred kilometres. Checking the GPS, I observe long periods of time where the train is only doing forty kilometres per hour. But even at that slow speed, the train eventually gets to Kangal. It's pitch dark when we arrive and the station is nonexistent. From the cargo car we have to jump six feet down onto the tracks while the personnel hands us our fully loaded bikes.

The train takes off right away and the only living thing in sight are the large dogs mentioned above: Our flash lights igniting the red glow in their eyes as they bark at us in a psychotic manner. But no matter, we are here for doctor fish. Small bottom feeders that will eat your skin problems. After a night of wild camping, we get to the little known tourist spot that attracts mostly Turks. The fish live in warm water which makes it easy to go into the pool. Checking it out reveals two old guys with two or three fish on their backs. Yet another tourist rip-off I'm thinking, but as I jump in, I instantly get swarmed by about three hundred fish nibbling at every part of my body. Lucky that I'm wearing swimming trunks. It takes a good half day to stop laughing. Finally you relax and let the fish do their work. It's a truly unique experience and the eczema on my right hand has almost vanished. Unfortunately we only stayed one day. It is recommended to stay a week for best results.

Michèle comments: The fish pools were segregated. Benoit went off to the men's pool and we agreed to meet back up an hour or so later. In the women's pool, the Turkish ladies watched my every move. I wasn't expecting much from the fish spa experience, because I too noticed only a few fish nibbling at the backs and elbows of the women in the pool. I thought, whatever, we only paid a mere 5 TL each for the entrance fee (about $3). Then suddenly I was swarmed by fish, little tiny ones that looked like bottom feeders and also slightly larger ones that would "dive bomb" at my toes and fingers. The sensation was unlike anything I have ever felt. I had no point of reference to prepare myself for the feeling of hundreds of tiny nibbling mouths on my legs and arms. Simply put, it tickled like hell. I burst out laughing, and the Turkish ladies laughed at my reaction. The only other sensation that I can think of that made me laugh out loud from the sheer newness of it was when I tried the Russian bar at circus school. (Here is a youtube video of "barre Russe" by the Cirque Eloise of Montreal.)

The next day offers some ideal riding conditions; small country roads, no traffic, clear skies and a mild tail wind. It feels like low level flying. As I glide on the straightaways, the loud hum of the tires take my thoughts for a ride while the whole bike hauls my sorry ass down the road. It's mostly down hill to Malatya and the road takes us through some great scenery.

At a gas station, looking for some fuel for the stove, we get stopped by two police officers. One of them is really nice and speaks English. The other is a bit grumpy but he ends up cracking a smile later on. They ask for our passports and where we stayed the previous night. We tell them that we have been camping and that we intend to do it tonight. The guy who speaks English tells us that the commander (the grumpy one) says that it is not safe and that we have to set up camp at the gas station. Well, I'm not going to argue with him. They show us a comfortable spot and we pitch the tent. I really don't think that there was any danger. My guess is that they were just bored and wanted to be helpful.

Michèle comments: At that camping spot behind the gas station, we got another dose of Turkish hospitality and also a reminder of how scarred we were by Morocco. We had our camp stove going to cook our evening meal, when we saw two teenage guys walking towards us. Our eyes narrowed in suspicion. What do they want from us, we wondered. (That was the Morocco effect: Rarely did we meet anyone there who didn't want something, usually money, in return for their "kindness".) As the teenagers got closer, we noticed they were each carrying a melon in their outstretched hands. With huge smiles on their faces, one of them said a simple "Welcome Turkey!". They passed us the melons and then ran back to their tractor and were gone.

The next morning, it's off to Malatya where we are greeted by Fatma, our Warmshowers host. It is such a great thing to have someone take you into a comfortable home when you arrive in a strange city. Fatma shows us around town and later on we all go to a restaurant to meet her friend Seher.

Michèle comments: We had an amazing stay in Malatya. And we usually don't enjoy cities because it is such a hassle with our bicycles. But Fatma and Seher made it so much fun: One day taking us to the apricot bazaar (Malatya is known for its apricots) where we sampled delicious sweets until our bellies couldn't take any more and the next day to a restaurant that offered a traditional Turkish breakfast consisting of a myriad of dishes covering the entire table.

The bus ride to Tatvan was annoying. Another overnight bus ride where the driver wanted us to pay extra for our bikes when we were told there was no extra charge at the ticket booth. In the middle of nowhere, at some ungodly hour, the bus stops for a break and I get invited for tea by two individuals. As usual, I get out my few Turkish words but they both laugh and tell me that they are Kurdish. I had forgotten that we had entered into what some people call Kurdistan. There is a fight for sovereignty here and if you don't feel it in the air you can see it on TV. The CNN type news is full on images of fire fights that are replayed twenty times during the reporting. There is also the interactive maps showing you where the action is. For us, it's at most a hundred kilometres away: How exciting!

In Tatvan we met up with our travel partners Tommie and Marie. The next day we all take a trek to Tatvan's main tourist atraction; Nemrut: A huge crater with a lake in the centre. We spend the day enjoying the fresh air and fried fish. While preparing the fire, one of our Kurdish guides tells us that the leader of the Taliban is himself Kurdish. Michèle and I give him a shifty smile and quickly change the subject to questions about mountain climbing in the area.

The next day it's time to take the ferry across lake Van to the city of Van: Famous for its tapas breakfasts: Small trays of olives, cheese, some sort of creamy honey, breads and much more. The ferry is a rusty piece of shit where rules and regulations are mere suggestions. No restrictive access to the car deck on this ride. Being the only passengers on board, we were able to come and go as we pleased. We even got full access to the bridge and its equipment from the nineteen fifties. The ferry is used specifically for the train. No cars here. The train cars roll onto the boat with plenty of room for our bikes.

In Van, the vibe takes a slight turn. The first clue is a man yelling out "Welcome to Kurdistan". In the city centre, and for the first time in Turkey, there are beggars. There are also a large number of kids desperately trying to sell anything from Kleenex to cigarettes. Some even walk around with a scale to weigh people for a few Kurus.

We stay a few days in Van and opt for the main road to the Iran border. The road is being renovated probably because of the new border crossing we are heading towards. Or maybe it's for another reason, I don't know. It's busy and there is a lot of dust. Trucks blast their extremely loud horns in your face as they pass you. Yet another pet peeve to add to the list.

Around noon, feeling hungry for some lunch, we pass by an army check point. One of the soldiers comes out and says that he needs to check our passports. The base has all the clichés; sand bag walls, armoured vehicles, guard dogs, a full arsenal of Kalashnikovs and a tennis court which the soldier, who is actually the commander, claims to be the best at. He tells us he is worried about our safety because there are terrorists lurking. Personally, I think it's another case of boredom but we're not going to argue with him. The commander, who speaks very good English, is actually a really nice guy and a progressive muslim. He tells us that what ever religion we choose, we all meet at the same point and that nowhere in the Quran does it say that women should cover themselves. While we wait for our passports, the lower ranked soldiers serve us tea and lunch. What perfect timing! As we relax and eat, the commander explains the conflict between the Kurd separatists and the Turks. Basically, it's the old story: The Kurds want their own country and the Turks said "Just watch me".

Michèle comments: One last stop in the town of Özalp before finding a spot to camp for the night. Not just for food and water, but also to change money into rials before the border. This new Kapıköy-Razi border crossing was opened in April 2011. Before that, only passengers on a train could cross at that border. Since the road was nowhere near finished, we couldn't be sure that we would find services like a money exchange place at the border. Tommie wanted to exchange his remaining 100 Turkish lira, but we could only find 50-liras-worth of Iranian rials in that town. After cleaning out the Özalp exchange bureau, we left the swarms of curious kids behind and rode out of town. The landscape was quite barren. Not ideal for camping. But then we spied an appealing grove of trees at the next village. At first, Benoit was reluctant to ask if we could camp there. He had his mind around the idea of a quiet camp spot away from everyone. Already, some kids had noticed us approaching the village and were running closer to investigate. Sometimes, though, it feels like it has been predestined where we will sleep that night. It was close to sunset and the village garden and its grove of trees seemed like the only option. But soon any resignation turned to delight. The family whose house was nearby was so welcoming. They brought us tea, bread, cheese and yogurt and watched us as we set up our tents for the night. They showed us where the water point was and an outdoor toilet. Then, they waved goodnight and left us alone. The father of the family would come back every now and again to see if we needed anything and to chase away the neighbouring kids who were peering over the garden wall at us. Benoit loved the kid-chasing father and called him his hero. [About a week after we were in Van, Özalp and the village of Tepedam, we heard the terrible news of the earthquake hitting that area. At last report, there were at least 1000 dead. We worry for that family in Tepedam that were so kind to us. We hope that they are all okay.]

Well, thanks Turkey it's been fun. We'll see you in Iran.

All of our Turkey photos are here.

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...

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...

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...