We were camped rather too close to the village, breaking the prime rule of ‘ stealth camping ‘, and now we had attracted attention. The shepherd walked slowly behind his sheep. This day the same as yesterday, the way it had always been. He caught my gaze, left the path and walked 200 metres to stand here, with hand held out. The handshake in Turkey is deeply significant. A welcome, but much deeper than that. Firm handshake over, his hand now patted his chest over his heart, and then gestured at the valley. The greeting could not have been more moving. He looks at you once and you know he understands.
On the quiet roads of rural Turkey, we have been made welcome beyond anything we have yet experienced. A hundred handshakes and more, a wave from fields, cars, trucks and cafes. If you had the merest hint of a notion to bring your bike to Turkey, you must come. There now, that is agreed.
One of the things that will take you by surprise is just how cool it can be here. Our minimal research had not included anything about temperature, and it may be that it is just unseasonably cool. Leaving Eskisehir, the forecast was for rain that day. Without the urgency to get up and out before the heat of the day, we had let things slip a little in this part of what is still Asia. It was 9.15 before we threw bronzed leg over custom made and recently dented top tube. Out into the traffic, and pedaling in the general direction of the 665 on the gps.
One big climb, and the road would join up with the 665. Which it did, but not before going through an army base, with rather bored, but heavily armed guards. There is an alarming amount of barbed wire around things in this country and even the supermarket security guard back in the town was armed. We drop back down the hill and go the long way round to pick up the road.
It plays with the 1,000m contour line for a few kilometres and then pushes up. Before you know it you are at 1056m and rain is falling. Big slowly falling drops at first, that try to hang in the air. Then it is heavy rain and the temperature has dropped to 14’c. We have made a solemn promise never to complain about the cold since our roasting in the far East. This feels cold to our heat acclimatized bodies, but in conclusion we consider it preferable to having your brains fried. It may be just a novelty.
We pass a flock of sheep. It is agriculture from a biblical time and requires great patience and stoicism. There is a big white brute of a dog, there for company I think more than anything technical that would warrant the description ‘ sheepdog ‘. We exchange waves and calls of greeting.
The small village of Seyitgazi sits under hills on three sides. On the hill behind is a castle complex and mosque. We leave the bikes propped up against the window of the cafe that had just served us an excellent early lunch, and start up the steps to the complex. We are joined by children. The girls in particular are keen to use their English. There is laughing and loud voices as we go through 1 to 10 in English with them.
More and more people turn up and we start to get the impression that this is a significant event. It is a call to prayer and a wish for rain. We are encouraged to join in, and the children make sure we are doing things the correct Muslim way. This is an agricultural valley and people have travelled from the surrounding communities to join in the prayer for rain. We are made to feel most welcome. Food and a drink is put in our hands as we make our way towards the steps to leave.
We are waved at from old men at cafe tables and gypsy families in bright traditional clothing and crow black hair.There is a bank of dark clouds ahead and we are riding right into it. Already, the temperature has dropped to 12’c and a headwind is picking up the first spots of cold rain. We are high up now on an exposed rolling road. The days when the wind blows here are frequent and the houses sit squat to the ground, offering a low profile, thick walls and the smallest of windows. Many look abandoned until you get close enough to hear voices and a television.
We get to the village of Barbakci, without getting soaked. There are donkeys, carts and mini vans and most importantly a cafe. If the pavement cafes of Paris or Vienna sit at the epoch of cafe culture, the premier league if you will, this is non league, but welcoming. More of a village hall, with somewhere to boil water. It is packed with local farmers, non able to get on with stuff because of the rain. There are big eyebrows, dominating dark faces. Each table has a small pile of earth that has fallen from heavy leather boots as it dried. The smell of sheep and damp woolen clothing fills the air along with the clicking of dominos being shuffled.
There should be the ruin of a caravanserai here, but we can not find it. What we do stumble across is a huge field enclosed by a stone wall. Inside are many hundreds of standing stones. It covers a large area and at the far side fades into what is now a modern cemetery. It is unsigned, unmentioned, and one of the most amazing things we have seen. Next to it is a similar field, but smaller. The call to prayer sounds and we move off to find a pitch for the night.
This goes badly. The soil looks dry enough, but it is clearly wet enough to cling to the tyres and block under the mudguards. Within a handful of metres the bikes are brought to a stop. Nothing for it but to remove the bags and wheels and clean things with a stick.
I get this done and go ahead up the road. I go to look for a tent pitch and again am stuck in glupe. It all happens so fast. I sit down and start to clean the wheels. In the trees in front of me the sound of sheep bleating, bells and a shepherd singing. It could all be so perfect if I did not spoil it and get stuck again. We eventually pull off onto some grass, and camp under a Juniper tree. Not a dog in sight, perfect.
Next morning we pass through two of the most remote villages I have ever seen. It looks like something from the northern isles of Scotland. More than that, it looks like something from the middle ages. It is like a archeological dig, without the need to dig. It even smells like the peat fires of Scotland as they are burning cattle dung cakes on smokey fires. There are strong handshakes from hands that may never know skin care. The bikes are time machines now, and I can not believe what is in front of us. I bet they are sick of mutton and lamb. I only had a sheep farm for 4 years and still find it hard to enjoy.
We come across the route of the Phrygian Way. A 500Km walking and mountain bike route across this remote areas of Turkey. There is a temple and city complex here from King Midas and we have it all to ourselves. It will soon be a world heritage site, but at the moment is rather unvisited compared with the well known archaeology of Turkey.
After our detour to see the Sehri, we are back on the 665. It has been a long day and again it is raining and the temperature down to 12’c. We find a shop and begin the pantomime of buying supplies for a wild camp. We share a field with cows and a woman whose age could be 40 or 100. She is dressed in traditional baggy clothing and pants that come tight at the ankles, it is National Geographic perfection. Her long days are spent walking up and down with the dozen cows and managing a sort of sprint when they look like they may be up to mischief. We exchange greetings and a dried fig. Such times are priceless.
It starts to thunder and then rain falls as we zip up the tent and turn in. What a day and what things we have seen. It keeps up a steady rain until we are woken at 4.50 by the call to prayer. It is answered by every dog for miles around. They join in with howls to the stormy sky. We have to ‘ Spanielate ‘ the tent for a second morning ( the vigorous shaking of something to remove water ). Clouds hang low and heavy with rain as we push up onto the road and away from the village of Kayihan.
Our first stop is a cafe devoted to all things ‘ Turkish Delight ‘, with a few sausages to bulk out the product range and a bit of bread. Just taking a deep breath is worth a half dozen calories. The air is sickly sweet and tastes of rose water. Even hungry touring cyclists will find it hard to eat more than three.
We need a shower. If you can smell yourself it is time to groom. We find a cheap hotel in the town of Afyon and set out to explore whilst our clothing drips dry in our room. Not expecting much, we wonder aimlessly. We are blown away by the old town when we stumble across it. Anywhere else it would be a major attraction and here it just sits in faded perfection.
There is also the second most important Sufi Dervish lodge in existence, worth a visit on its own. We go through what would have been a fortune worth of film in the old days of Kodak. It is in the process of being tarted up a bit. Most of the roads have been ripped up and are being cobbled again. It may take some time.
Monday morning 17’c, but mostly blue sky. We would be in optimistic spirits if we had not looked at the forecast for heavy rain later. We get waves and random handshakes as we make our way out to the road to Suhut. It becomes a long and unrelenting hill climb. Not unreasonable, at 10% max, but long and unrelenting. There is little more lonely, more singularly soul searching, than a hard long climb on a touring bike. There is none of the fun of a light race bike, none what so ever. It is a one way conversation predominantly on the topic of ‘why don’t I stop?’.
Over the summit, and then down with panoramic views of snow capped mountains. Is it worth the effort? We stop for fuel and are told the road ahead is flat ahead – not sure what to believe. We end up getting a Police escort into town and onto a cafe. The meal ends with a dark and tinglingly strong cup of coffee. I had noted that coffee here has the ability of prophecy. Upside down and then wait for your future to be revealed.
Out on the road and we are being chased along by a fierce and cold wind at the leading edge of a storm. There are bolts of lightning and the deep rich smell of clover. To our left another storm cell, and now the call to prayer from far behind us in the village. Ahead, there is a massive mountain, the snow still deep on even the lower slopes. We camp above the village of Karaadilli, where we are first discovered by the local children and then the passing farmers. It is 5.10 in the morning when I hear the first sheep being lead by us and up into the open pastures.
In the morning we ask a shepherd ‘how far is it to Dinar?’. He thinks for a moment ‘ 40Km ‘. Within 1Km of the village we pass a sign, Dinar 56Km. How can someone spend their whole life here and not know that?
We have good tarmac under our wheels and a rolling parkour and beautiful countryside. The peaks still hold onto snow and dark clouds are spilling rain into the high corries. The final 10Km into Dinar is along a dual carriage way and yet even here there are waves and greetings. We stop at the traffic lights at the outskirts of the town. A wave and an invitation to drink tea. It does not pay to be in a hurry on a cycle trip in Turkey.
The day ends with a bit of excitement at the barbers. Esther was not aware of the tradition to set fire to your ear hair here. ‘ What is it like? ‘, ” Well, like having your ears set alight briefly and a significant smell of burning “. It is impossible not to flinch, and hope it is not his first day at the job. Like many things here, it is to be recommended.