Facts are what people have instead of opinions. You could have looked up more facts about Turkey than you would possibly need. You would know then that it has more barbers and more bakery than could possibly make any economic sense. For both, we have seen three in a row, in the smallest of villages. Bakeries have been seen at the side of a dual carriage way, at least 10Km from anything. Facts are for quizzes, and getting jobs, and making sure you have the correct kidney removed. For opinions, you have to travel there. Facts will make sure that you have a good chance of getting to the moon, but only 14 people have ever had an opinion about it.
” Esther, can we have an opinion about Turkey yet? “. Insert the name of a different country as applicable, and we ask each other this question as we ride along. Does it take a particular number of days or distance to have a valid opinion. We are just about to find a ferry and head for Greece, having seen just a small percentage of Turkey. We have loved our time here. That is just an opinion and others, as they say, are available. But it must be better than a Google of facts. You will have to come here with your bike.
We are turning back on our route, so I know with certainty that all day will be slowly going uphill. The fields near Pamukkale are full of fruit trees and they need things done to them. The headskarfed women are out in great number, working and chatting to each other. A battered black Ford Transit is parked up in the fields, all the doors are open and the radio is turned up distortingly loud. Turkish music is playing. It is complex, closer to jazz than anything. There is almost no western music played here and yet there is no silly French style law that dictates that every third track must be French. Here it is local stuff, and often very good. But that is just an opinion.
We join the 320 near Saraykoy. It is a bigger road, a main trunk route with many lorries on it. There is a wide shoulder, and it is good cycling and will give us easier grades to make the hight. In the spirit of 1976, the first and then quickly the second and just about every truck that passes, blows us a fanfare of air horns. Some are close to half a symphony. Where the hell did they get them from?
There are wine groves on both sides, and they will be with us for 100Km or so in this fertile u shaped valley. Mountains rise at the edges, going from what is for us 44’c, to snow on the highest peaks. There is little wind or it is from our backs and hardly moving the air. Exotic smells are coming at us in intense bundles. It is like riding around in a very large and insanely hot Body Shop store – think hippy skin care products here, and not auto repair those in the USA. The motivation killer is knowing that the steepest part of the day is the last bit, when we turn off the 585 and go back up the road to Buldan.
Same good cheap hotel as before, even the same room. At 4.45 am the call to prayer, and the stray dogs have congregate below our window, keeping taxi drivers company into the early hours. They are on their own now, and join in. Howling for all they are worth with tails wagging. Bad, over cranked PA’s, echoes from the buildings and dog howls combine in a unholly din, it is amusing as a one-off.
As we set off, the morning is cool, for which we are very grateful. Back to the 585, and turn left to begin climbing again. Today, the whole family is out working in the fields. Old men stand at the side of the road in what could be their wedding clothes. In one hand is a rope that leads to a cow, in the other a loop of beads that is being turned over in the hand. This could be the landscape of Tuscany or France or some other wine growing land. All morning people wave to us from the fields. We climb and then drop like a stone, losing in a handful of kilometres all our hight gains from a day and a half of riding.
We ride into the town of Alasehir. Like most owns it plays a trick on us, looking small on map and gps, but stretching in unexpected directions. We think we are in the middle, but the middle is not the centre, and almost never is in Turkey. We take tea with a citizen of the USA and listen to his view of history. ” This is all the land of the Christian, the home of the seven churches and is o our Lords and the home of the true believer “. He has come to find brothers of the Lord and to point the way. Credit where credit is due, he has learned Turkish, and is providing for himself, his new Russian bride, and a three week old daughter with a shoe shine pitch. Nice guy, but why oh why do you have to stick your nose in.
We camp wild. The wind has been from our backs thank goodness, and is now getting even stronger as we try to pitch the tent. Brewing tea, and a man calls by on a tractor. An agriculturally strong handshake and we explain what we are doing. He makes a sinuous motion with his arm, and points to the ground around our tent. We learn from our Turkish to English dictionary the Turkish word for snake. I mime ‘ bear ‘ and we are pleased to learn there are none. He has the strongest arabic features I have yet seen. This country can go from pale skin to this around the same cafe table. I wonder how many can trace their line back to the bones in an archaeological dig on a dusty hill. The Romans were a mercenary force from a vast geographic area. Did his ancestors come here to fight, to farm or as merchants? He certainly looks at home here.
Before the heat builds and the dust gets blown around, there is a few hours of sharply clear horizon. It is smudged as the wind builds, and today it is a soding head wind. A celebration as we o through 7,000Km in Asia and move on to 34,000Km in total on our ride. Mostly, we have been lucky with the wind. Only in New Zealand did we have a day when it became impossible to ride. Wind is always has to be factored into the day along with temperature and gradient. By cyclists, the wind is called ‘ A Belgian Hill ‘. It can make a day memorable, becoming a legend. We did a 400 Km Audax in the borders of Scotland that is legendary for us. The weather forecast included the words ‘ wind strengthening, some structural damage may occur ‘. Mountains and hills fight fair and you know when they are done. They have books and guides written about them and cyclists travel to take holidays pitching their ability against the slope. No one travels to Scotland just to ride into a headwind. Wind has nothing romantic what so ever.
The road is straight. Two Storks pass overhead, completing a landscape where the architect may well have been Salvador Dali. He may have been thrown out of the surrealist movement, but he would have been welcome here. It is a mad landscape, and we have gone through a transition from vine to olive tree. You can now chew the dust if you open your mouth, and breathe too deeply. A minor left and we can pick up water from one of the many roadside wells and taps that Turkey has. This one has been here a very long time and the water tastes fantastic and is cool from deep rocks that could be kilometres away.
We are on the narrow road to Manisa. It is stunning enough to forgive its tendency to lumpyness and wandering. The village of Büyübelen, which looks only big enough to have one shop selling olives oil and bars of soap. Wrong again times a thousand. Just about everyone is having the afternoon off and comes to greet us at the council building. We had met some of them already at the well on the way into the village and now the invitation to tea is official. It would be a crime to be in any sort of a hurry in Turkey. We take tea and then are escorted to a restaurant for food. The council finances are going to have to wait for another day – the person who does them is our guide and interpreter. Such hospitality, no payment excepted and the village is just a small mark on our map. Two streets and little more.
We ride on a bit and then turn into the olive groves for wild camping. It is the first night that we pitch just the inner tent and a bright full moon spoils most of the star-gazing. It flickers, as olive branches are blown across it by a strong wind, bright as car headlights. It is a perfect camp, with water nearby and quiet. Having the wind pass over you takes some adjusting to, but is wonderful.
The road continues in the morning just as perfect. An unmarked village and we are invited for tea. We are starting to think the villages of Turkey are competing with each other to offer the warmest welcome. The road becomes the 45-03 and may even have been that from the start. To our left a mountain rises above the town of Manisa. It is big, very big and certainly big enough to hold its own white cap of cloud. We turn left onto a dual carriageway for the final 17Km. The 70Km we have just done is amongst the most perfect touring we have done. The outskirts of Manisa come up and we pick a quiet road shown on the gps. Still there are waves from cars and people on the street as we make our way into town. We find a cafe to sit and wait for our friend Ahmet to drive out to show us the way to his place.
Like every town in this area Manisa has history to spare. We take a trip into town to visit mosques and the museum. Artifacts spill out of the museum onto the dusty soil. It has more Roman, Greek and Hebrew things than it has space for. A strong welcoming handshake at the door and we are guided by the Iman on a tour of the mosque. Esther takes time to sketch and there is good food and glasses of tea.
I make notes as we travel, in the small book that sits in the handlebar bag. I have done this since we started, two and a half years ago. I type them up on the MacBook Air and put some order to them as they become this blog. I press PUBLISH. ” Top 5 blog again “, i tell Esther. There are over 150 of them and every one of them is ‘ top 5 ‘. Another country done, another place to have an opinion about. One strange fact however, there is absolutely no WD40 in Turkey – unless you know differently.