Cycling the Silk Road in Turkey
We have been cycling one of the ancient trade route from the 1200s, famously known as the Silk Road. This trade route runs straight through Central Anatolia, where towns are few and far between and the weather and terrain can be hot and harsh. We started in the port town of Cesme, and made our way east through Selcuk, where we started cycling the Silk Road in Turkey to Pamukkale, then continued further east to Konya, then to Goreme in Cappadocia. From there we plan on continuing on the Silk Road all the way to Erzurum in the east of Turkey.
The Silk Road diminished when traders discovered boat routes were quicker, however remnants of the ancient Silk Road can still be found along the way. Our most recent discovery was an old caravanserai in Sultanhani in the Central Anatolia. Traditional caravans (wagons and donkeys) are rarely seen anymore. BUT, the ancient route is still largely used by the modern trader – the truck!
This region is largely an agricultural region.
We have cycled passed, cherry and apricot orchards, wheat, sunflower, tea and opium fields (a quarter of the world’s legal opium comes from the region), olive groves and rice and sugar paddies (just to name a few). We have also passed a few refugee camps. This was a bit of a surprise, as we are still so far from the Syrian and Iraq borders. I presume we will only see more of these camps, the further east we go. (Update: this was in 2014 before the mass movement of refugees from Syria to Europe really began).
We have been in Turkey for a few weeks now.
So far the generosity of people has been overwhelming, and at times even uncomfortable. I’m certain that if more people could be as friendly and giving as some of the people I’ve met in Turkey, then the world would be a better place. A day doesn’t go by without several offers of tea or fruit, and the occasional offer of dinner, snacks, a bed, a shower (yes, we probably do smell), coffee and even laundry – in a washing machine (a luxury for us, as we end up having to hand wash the majority of the time). This along with many waves, smiles, “hellos.” And the occasional confused/ interested stare. We are definitely getting more attention cycling through Turkey, than cycling through Italy.
One thing I will take away from the last few weeks
If I ever see a cycle tourist in Australia, I will try and be as generous and helpful as some of the people that have helped me out on this trip. I will also not honk the horn a hundred times, scaring the shit out of the cyclist, just to say “hello”.
Despite all this, there have been a few incidences where I have been bluntly ignored, and all the questions have been directed at only Michael. The most common is, “what’s your name?”, directed to Michael, with no interest in what my name is. Whether this is because I speak no Turkish, and Michael speaks a little, or whether it’s because I’m a female, I cannot say for certain, but I have my suspicions. Either way, I think most independent women will find this quite insulting and frustrating, as do I. Luckily, this isn’t the norm, and in fact, Turkey is a largely liberal Islamic country. Though, with that being said, I wouldn’t suggest walking around the rural regions wearing a mini skirt and tight top.
Truck drivers, friend not foe!
The other biggest surprise for me are the truck drivers… oddly, I’m beginning to feel a sense of connection with them. When I first started cycling, I dreaded anything bigger than a car, whizzing passed me. If I heard a truck coming, I would brace myself by gripping the handlebars and holding on for dear life. Now, I happily wave or nod at the passing truck, as they pass waving or giving a friendly honk.
So, why do I feel a sense of connection, with these truck drivers? What can cyclists and truck drivers possibly have in common? Well, we’re both on the road for days on end, spending each night in a different place, most likely without showers or a proper beds. We both tend to use garages/ gas stations/ servos as rest spots or to escape the heat of the day, or to set up camp for the night. Daily we are interacting with people from all over different regions/ countries. And, finally, we both have similar schedules for being on the road – early morning cycle, rest during the day, and late afternoon back on the road. I guess we both also go very slowly up steep hills, and are dragging a bunch of crap behind us.
Entering a new world
Cycling the Silk Road in Turkey has so far been completely different to any other country we have cycled in during this trip. The roads tend to be crapper (a bit like Albania). The mini bus drivers are crazy, and keep you on your toes (also like the drivers in Albania). But, the most challenging difference is that the towns are so far apart. We sometimes go days without seeing a bakery or supermarket, and end up relying on market stalls or garage shops for food. Luckily, there are plenty of garages about, usually every 10-20km, and there we can fill up on water, as well as snacks. Days are long, and rest days are few. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – and we are going to come out of this as strong as an ox (especially our thighs).
Cycling the Silk Road in Turkey Statistics:
Days spent in Turkey: 17 days
Kilometers cycled in Turkey (so far): 1000km
Total kilometers: 3300km
Punctures: Me – 2, Michael – 8
Accommodation: 2 nights in a hostel, 1 night in a guesthouse, 2 nights in a cheap hotel, 1 night as a guest in the home of the gas station owner, 11 nights wild camping (mostly outside of garages).
Treats: Me – coconut chocolate bars, ice cream. Michael – still helva (gross). Both of us – any cold drink we can get our hands on (our fave is lemon and mint juice).
Record number of invitations for tea (cay) in one day: about 8 (yep, we really are that popular).