Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The final photos

Chai and fruit 

The battle of the Issus site today!


Filthy, smelling bad, but finished!!

The End of the Road

Finished! 1, 700 miles complete, and one bottle of turnip juice drunk in celebration (disgusting, but it meant this gift didn't go to waste!).
   Before that, we had had to deal with the horrendously warm and humid conditions around Tarsus on Saturday. During lunch we drunk 3 litres of water each, and still couldn't stop sweating. Very glad that this weather came so late in the trip and for such a short period of time! A short section along the motorway and we struck off down a small road, which passed through a village that looked quite big on my map. Not the case in real life- a tiny, run-down sort of place. Nowhere to eat either, so we had to continue down the road past flock after flock of sheep, down to the sea, past an industrial centre and then, when patience was wearing thin and the sun was almost setting, we found a place to eat. Kindly, the owner of the next door fish farm let us camp on his land. To our surprise, we saw another tent pitched there: it belonged to a German man in his fifties, who had walked there from Munich and was spending the next ten years walking around the world! And all this with no money (or very little). Admiring such a crazy trip - one that takes him through Syria next - we bought him dinner and talked more about both of our trips. Meanwhile, a Spanish artist had turned up and was eating nearby and we got chatting with him as well. My broken Spanish struggling to keep up with his fast-paced rant about why Catalonia should have its independence (he was from Barcelona) and about his art. It was a truly bizarre evening, but an enjoyable way to spend our last night of the cycling trip..
   The last day started with me taking us off-route to try to find the ancient town of Issus. We failed miserably, but luckily didn't get lost and found our way back to the main road, where we past the German man pushing his buggy full of possessions and with his dog trailing behind him. So close to our own finish line, his journey, which he is only a tenth of the way through, seemed impossibly long. Shortly afterwards, we were invited by some men to join them for chai and they filled a bag full of apricots for us. Turkish hospitality has been such a highlight on this trip!
      The end point of our trip was the site of the Battle of the Issus, fought in November 333 BC and resulting in an overwhelming victory for Alexander over Darius - with Alexander personally leading the decisive cavalry charge.The battle took place on the ancient river Pinarus, and there is still quite a lot of dispute as to which river this is. We rode over the Deli Cay (one of the contenders), but paused for a longer time on the Payas river, which seems quite likely to be the Pinarus, since it corresponds quite accurately to the width of the battle site which Alexander's surveyors gave; this was quite narrow because on the left is the sea and on the right some hills. Unfortunately, this river is now surrounded by many factories: the smog is unbearable and the place ghastly. Very challenging on the imagination! Slightly disappointed, we set off on our way to the next town from where we could catch a bus (not continuing another 18,000 miles as far as the Indus and then back to Babylon like Alexander, over challenges such as the Hindu Kush and the Makran desert!!); Iskenderun was the proper finish line and we arrived there on Sunday in the early afternoon. We are now recovering in Olympos, after a gruelling 13 hour bus ride here! Still hasn't really sunk in that we have finished..
   The four and half weeks cycling and our stops off along the way from Troy to Iskenderun have been an incredible experience. One that has been helped so much by the generosity of nearly everyone we have come across here in Turkey; made easier by the incredible places and sites we have visited along the way; and also the by wonderful food and chai we have had! That's not to mention how enjoyable cycling with Michael, Jordy and Maggie (the Aussie family) was and likewise our unexpected meetings with crazy travellers like the couple who were cycling to Japan and the around-the-world walker! We can now only laugh about how bad some of the roads were, and the lows of Didim and Ankara!! The lists of positives is too long to mention now!!
   A massive thank you to everyone who has followed our progress on the blog (sorry for the long-winded nature of it!) and for the incredibly generous donations we have received for the trip. Currently, we have raised 4,300 pounds, which is enough to sponsor two day students or one boarder through Mvumi (with a the remainder to be spent on books for the school - we will talk to Roderick, the Trust's Chairman about what is most needed). Thanks again!
  Best wishes to everyone. We get back to England in a couple of weeks time and look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible..
River Cyndus

Lift from a pick-up 

Second lunch!!

The ominous Taurus mountains

Camping in an orchard

Weird and wonderful Cappadocia

Hot air balloon trip

Friday, June 15, 2012

Down the Taurus mountains!

After one of our only relaxing rest days of the trip so far (most have been spent waiting around in bike shops for repairs!), we left Cappadocia and its bizarre landscape behind us. Getting out of Göreme was tricky, made harder by having Lewis' chain snappıng halfway up the hill out of town. When we arrived in Nevşehir, I stupidly led us down the wrong turn-off; a fıve mile detour followed. That's the first time, surprisingly, that we have taken the wrong road this trip! Whilst stopping off for supplies in a gas station on the correct road, another of Lewis' chain links came off and, with our lack of common sense, it took ten tımes as long to fıx as ıt should have done! The rest of the day, however, went very well. We practically had the roads to ourselves, and there weren't any hılls to deal wıth! We set up our tent off the maın road, hıdden ın somebody's orchard.
     Yesterday was tougher to begın wıth than antıcıpated. Peaceful roads once more led to a couple of difficult clımbs- the snow-capped Taurus mountaıns loomıng omınously ın the dıstance - with Lewıs brıngıng up double fıgures on the puncture front up the fırst hıll. We had a prolonged lunch break, as my stomach wasn't feelıng all that good, and then set off to fınd, unexpectedly, that the route ınto Pozantı was all downhıll. A bıg relıef! We decided to make the most of the day, and stopped off after receıvıng an ınvıtatıonto joın four men ın a patrol statıon for cay. The owner had actually driven past us that mornıng! We ended up being given a platter of fruıt to eat and then shared a plate of tomato, cheese and cucumber wıth the others. Such generosıty meant that we couldn't turn down the regıon's specıalıty: a drınk called şalgam- turnip juice. To be honest, we really struggled to keep the few sıps that we took down, it was that horrıble! We were gıven a free bottle of the stuff before we went on our way, and have resolved to drınk ıt at the fınısh lıne (Iskenderun)!
     The last leg of the day showed how hıt-and-mıss the roads are here; we had trucks soarıng past us on a two-laned road, wıth a motorway dırectly to our left and a raılway track to our rıght- together wıth a strong head wınd, ıt was quıte stressful! But, we managed to reach the 1,500 mıle mark- the last mılestone before the end of the trıp.
     Today, after spendıng yet more tıme ın a bıke shop, we were left wıth the decısıon of takıng the motorway or a smaller road to Tarsus; the owner of the petrol statıon had recommended the former, ınsıstıng that ıt was 10km uphıll followed by 50 down- we thought thıs must be an exaggeratıon. It ended up that the decısıon was made for us; for once, bıkes weren't allowed on the motorway. So, the longer scenıc route ıt was. A drınk's break cut up the 20km or so of clımbıng that we had expected, and then, suddenly, we started to descend, as we had been told we would. After lunch, the effortless cyclıng contınued, as we descended to sea level (had thought that thıs would be one of the harder days of the rıde!). The only dıffıculty we had to contend wıth was the heat. Unbearably hot. Our water became too hot to drınk after a couple of mınutes of rıdıng! We are now ın Tarsus, where Alexander reached once he passed through the Cılıcıan gates (a pass through the mountaıns), after scarıng off thosıng guardıng them wıth a nıght attack. Alexander then fell very ıll ın Tarsus and almost dıed after swımmıng ın the Cyndus rıver. We have just had dınner by the Berdan rıver (the modern name for the same rıver), where a sıgn gıvıng ıts hıstory declared that Alexander had dıed ın Syrıa as a result of swımmıng ın ıt; how dıfferent hıstory would be ıf that were true!
    We now only have two days of cyclıng left- very odd that ıt ıs nearly over. We should reach Issus and the sıte where the great battle was fought the day after next, and get to Iskenderun (The Turkısh for 'Alexandria'- Alexander created ıt to celebrate hıs vıctory over Darıus) that evenıng. The fınal update to follow once we arrıve there..

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Difficulties and the moonscape of Cappadocia

Yesterday was an eventful day. It started with me noticing that I had a flat tyre, and then other problems presented themselves: Lewis' pedal was practically falling off, and I had foolishly left the spanner in Istanbul, but we fortunately were assisted by some people in a petrol station. We started down a peaceful road towards Nevsehir, and stopped off for a lunch of dried figs, apricots and peanuts.
   Things went wrong after we decided to take a smaller road to our destination: Goreme. We were stopped, oddly, by a couple, only for us to sit in silence for ten minutes! The next thing we knew after setting off, the road suddenly ceased to be a road. Just a layer of stones and dirt. As we weren't sure how long it would go on for, we decided to push the bikes. The sun pounding down on us, clouds of dusts kicked up by passing trucks, the walk seemed endless. Things got worse though; we heard a loud pop, and found that Lewis' back tyre had split. Had to wait for a lift. Didn't seem that we would get anyway after an hour- the only vehicule that could help was a pick-up truck, and two had already passed by and refused to help us. Frustration mounting, third time lucky we managed to hitch a ride from another pick-up. So grateful! He dropped us in the nearest bike shop in Avanos (we only had 2km left to go after walking 8!) and we fixed the problem with the folding tyre that we were carrying. Dehydrated, we sat in the nearest cafe and I managed to spill half a bottle of coke on myself. Not our day! That said, it ended well with us reaching Goreme and Emre's Cave House, where we are currently staying.
We have been very impressed by the surrounding moon-like formations of turreted rocks. Alexander passed through here and appointed a governor on his route to Tarsus. Woke up at 4.30 this morning and took a hot-air balloon ride. Worth it! Today is our final rest day before the end of the trip- should be less than a week of cycling to go now!

Miles covered: 1400 approx

More photos to follow- my camera is out of battery!
Down and out!

Turkish hospitality

 We managed to reach Kirikkale by mid afternoon to find that the magnet that my cycle computer depends upon had fallen off. Slightly annoying, means that we have to rely on google maps from this point on to calculate how far we go each day!
    We succeeded in getting ten miles down the road, when we stopped to refill our bottles and were, unexpectedly, invited in for a drink by a farmer whose house was just above the road. Enjoyed a refreshingly sour ayran (Turkish yoghurt drink of milk,water and salt), and ate the green sour fruit that he offered to us from his trees. Conversation was surprisingly easy, given that neither of us speaks the language of the other! He then proudly showed us his cattle and land, and as we were just about to leave insisted on taking us to his neigbour's house for tea. Likewise, the neighbour, who was a policeman, was very interested in what we were doing and could not have been more friendly. Spent a long time pointing at words in my Turkish phrasebook and writing things down. Turned out that he also had a twin, who he rang up and he came around to see us to. Quite a bit of time had passed, and when they generously offered us a patch to camp on, we could not refuse. So, we put the tent up, and spent the remainder of the evening watching the Euros and a hilariously badly-acted Turkish sit-com with them, eating the nuts that they offered us. Went to bed in high spirits - the calm of our surrounding couldn't have been further removed from our experiences of Ankara - but were pretty hungry, since we hadn't really had a proper meal all day.
   We started off early the next morning, and immediately were offered in for cay at the nearest petrol station and were bought something to eat. We supplemented this in the next village with some more unhealthy pastries! We then had to turn down an offer to drink tea with the police by the road side; felt bad, but we wouldn't have got anywhere if we accepted every invitation! A while later, we managed to find the restaurant that was owned by the policeman's twin brother (the one whose garden we had slept in the night before). Excellent, cheap food. The waiters insisting on fixing another one of Lewis' punctures when they saw us taking the wheel off. Amusingly, it was a truckers' restaurant, and when we sat down we were immediately offered a 'page 3' type newspaper!
   Heading on, the road narrowed because of roadworks and our tyres slid over melting tarmac, the majority of the time uphill. Weren't really with it, so didn't mind too much! Before we arrived in Kirsehir for the night, we stopped and met another tourer: another solo cyclist in his sixties, this time from the U.S. Phillip was wearing spectacularly impractical clothing: swimming shorts, leather hiking boots, a cotton shirt etc. We ranted about the tiresome honking of trucks and some of the road conditions. And he recommended free camping and the advantages of the frozen section of BIM (a cheap supermarket). We were very impressed that he has managed to live off five pounds a day and has hasn't spent a night inside for two months!