Cycling South-West Turkey
The importance of flexibility was demonstrated after talking to a handful of Turkish people; I was unanimously told to drop my plans through the centre and cycle South-West Turkey besides the sea. So I did – turning my wheels south, and heading for the coast.
My voyage began in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city which stretches around on both sides of a bay like oversized pincers, making the sea, and the 26km of continuous promenade a real focal point. My one night stay gradually became four, as I fell in love with the extremely relaxed, yet purposeful pace of life, where there seemed to be no rush; boats would slowly glide through the bay, evening’s were just made for strolls beside the promenade where street-vendors would hawk their
wares, and fisherman would perch on the edge oblivious to everything going on around, paying a keen eye to the end of their hook. I have since discovered that Izmir holds a special place in the heart of many Turks, and the people living there are described as different. More friendly. More liberal. More relaxed.
Saying goodbye to the city, and my awesome couchsurfing host Halit was not easy, but as always, great things await just a little further down the road. I was a hop, skip and a jump (70km) from Izmir when I arrived at Ephesus, which was an incredible place to visit. I was lucky to stay at Adnan’s bicycle house – I have never met anyone with such a passion; his love of cycling, particularly around Turkey proved both infectious and invaluable!
I was also happy to share the night at Adnan’s with Hareki, a cyclist from Istanbul also cycling South-West Turkey heading along a similar road. For a few days, everyone I met had told me they’d just met a girl from Istanbul cycling just ahead of me. It seemed some times I had missed this mysterious phantom girl by minutes, but I never caught up with her… Until, by complete coincidence we had arranged the same host for two nights in a row, and managed to spend a great few days exploring and cycling together.
As I headed further south through Kuşadasi, Söke, Didim and Bodrum, I seemed to be getting passed
from one bicycle club to another. There were strong links between the clubs, who would arrange somewhere for me to stay, and invariably for members of the club to come and cycle with me. This proved embarassing at times when retired men were still putting me through my paces, and burning me on the uphills, something I thought would have stopped after 6,500km! I was extremely grateful for the company though, and often was shown roads, and sights I would have otherwise missed. The (impressive sounding) Ancient City of Miletus, and the Appollon Temple at Didim are two such examples.
As I hit the Aegan Sea, I began to encounter the tourist areas I had been expecting. These areas immediately felt strangely different to where I had been – at times, if I ignored the weather, it was
like returning to England. Prices were listed in pounds instead of Turkish Lira, and I was as likely to hear an Englishman eloquently explaining how drunk he was going to get tonight, as the harsh Turkish I had become accustomed to. It was novel and exciting to walk the busy streets at night and see the garish neon lights flashing, vying for my attention. In many ways this felt familiar, and I became more anonymous here. I could stand on the edge of the street as people walked by engrossed in their own lives and discussions. I was invisible.
Every time I left such a tourist area, from Didim, to Bodrum, to Fethiye, (an ‘English colony’ as the Turks
called it), I was amazed how abruptly everything changed. Cycle just a little out the way, and people were living difficult lives, far removed from the glitz and glamour just down the road. Hours were long, bent double nurturing their crops, or sitting by the roadside, cowering in the shade, patiently hoping someone will stop and buy some of their fresh wares. Everyone was required to help; elderly ladies squinting at me through sunken eyes paused from their labour to offer a toothless grin as I passed while young children waved shyly as I passed, some even daring to venture a ‘hello’. Many locals here seemed unused to seeing tourists and I was regularly called over for çay (teas) and gözleme (pancakes). I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the tourists saw this side of Turkey as they made their frantic shuttle from the airport to the beach resort and back a week later.
Check out part two to find out more about my adventures cycling South-West Turkey!