Saturday, October 26, 2013

Turkish Delight!

Helping hands to pitch my tent

I had made a bet to myself (and to a few other friends) that I would try sleeping in a mosque and improve my wild camping skills.  With this in my mind, I knew that I had some interesting and entertaining stories coming in Turkey.

I crossed the border close to Feres, Greece, some how I managed ride on the toll road again for this crossing but the guards were so intrigued by a solo female cyclists they could have cared less which road I was using.  The terrain was flat, but without any mountains in sight, there was an incredible headwind and I felt like I wasn’t advancing. The wind was so brutal, my first day in the country I didn’t make it nearly as far as I intended. Due to my frustration, I wasn’t in the  mood to experiment with wild camping or mosques, and so I opted for the easy alternative, a hotel.  I got royal treatment at Hotel Ubek in Kesan.  They greeting me with “Mademoiselle”, took my bike and panniers from me the moment I rolled up, continually filled my cup with tea, and escorted me to some good local restaurants.  I had definitely made the right choice my first night in Turkey.

My second day in Turkey, I decided to head down south and cross over to the Asian side of the Marmara Sea. The first 70 kilometers were flat, but from then on, I had relentless wind and hills.  My mind was occupied by the upcoming logistics upon my arrival in Istanbul so I hadn’t given much thought to where I would sleep.  With 130 kilometers in my legs, I was ready to call it a day.  I didn’t realize I had just passed the last biggest town about 8 kilometers ago and since I was too lazy to turn back, I kept my hopes up that I would find a small development of houses or a mosque where I could put my tent.  You see, a friend gave me the advice to ask familes if I could pitch my tent in their yard.  I had thought of doing this, but not until Australia or New Zealand, as I could explain myself better in my native language.  For those of you who know me, when I am given a challenge, I react!  I was determined to improve my wild camping skills.  You might think I’m crazy about trying to sleep in mosques, but the research I’ve done says they have special rooms for guests.  However, they fail to mention if women can use these special rooms, so I’m curious to find out! My experience can’t be any worse than trying to sleep in a monastery!

I pulled off the road when I saw a market at the start of what seemed to be a small neighborhood of houses.  I needed to restock on water if I was going to be camping.  Some local boys had seen me ride by and they came running over shouting the typical, “Hello, what’s your name?” excited to practice their English.  After buying my water, I tested their English skills and asked them if there was a park to put my tent, using hand gestures along with my one-word sentences.  They couldn’t understand me, nor could the mother, girls, and grandmother family who also just arrived.  Finally one of them called a friend who spoke a few more words of English and he translated on the phone for me.  It turns out there was a park close by and they all walked me there.

The park, which was right next to a mosque, consisted of a few play structures and a gazebo.  From what I understood, they told me I would be safe with my tent here.  I trusted their advice, and so I asked them, using the hand gesture to the mouth, where I could find a restaurant.  This was a more difficult question, as it seemed it was a few kilometers down the road.  I think the grandmother could see the disappointment and despair in my eyes, and so she pointed at herself and repeated, “restaurant” several times.  The girls by her side were so excited at the thought of a tourist joining them for dinner, and believe me, I was one happy tourist! I was going to eat dinner and get an early night to bed camping outside in the fresh air.

I put the local boys to work and had them help me put up my tent.  They were fascinated and I was feeling pretty confident about my forwardness to ask locals for help camping!  I was getting the hang of camping in the wild, well, sort of—I had asked a family if I could pitch my tent in their local park, which was only 20m from their house!  The ladies called me over with a frantic hand gesture, again saying “restaurant”, and I knew it was time for dinner.  I wheeled my bike with me, I trusted the boys, but my bike always comes with me!

A house full of women
I took off my smelly bike sandals to enter their house and they gave me slippers.  We understood each other enough so that I could use a room to change my clothes and I sat down on their couch.  This is when the fun began. My Turkish as you can imagine, well, I could hardly remember how to say thank you, which I learned that same morning. Only 2 of the girls spoke English, and it was very limited as well.

It turns out there were 3 generations all together in this house from 4 years old to fifty-five: a grandma, mom (actually younger than me) and her two daughters, and a niece. The two neighbor girls from above got word of the “touristic on biciklet” and also came down with their mom to meet me.  A house full of women, what a gathering we had. Again, I felt like the special guest of honor in their house.  They were so curious to know about me they couldn’t stop asking questions about my trip, the bike, and my family.  Having my phone helped as I showed them a lot of pictures while I explained what I was doing with two to three word sentences. 

My translators

Their dinner table consisted of a short small table they wheeled over to the sofas in the living room where we were all gathered. The only people who actually ate were the grandmother and myself.  I don’t know what I ate exactly, but it was some sort of beef soup, stuffed grape leaves, a potato and pea stew, and pickled eggplant.  I probably could have eaten more but we were all so engaged in our conversation (if you can actually call it that).  There was a lot of shouting (what sounded like gibberish I’m sure to any outsider who would have heard us), hand gestures, and drawings.  I desperately wanted to pull out my video camera in the midst of it all, but sometimes it’s moments like these that can only be recorded in your mind. 

By the end of dinner, it had been decided by them that I wasn’t going to sleep outside in my tent---that would be unheard of!  In fact all the girls were fighting over which bed I was going to use.  Each of them volunteered their bed and in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Gosh,….. I’m disgusting! I’ve cycled 130 km in the dust, it has crusted on my sunscreen, and I smell.  Are you sure you want me to sleep in your bed?”   That goes to show you just how special they thought I was!

I probably should have spoken up or maybe just insisted that I sleep in my tent, because what I thought was going to be an “early-to-bed” night, ended up being a late night.  All the husbands of the ladies came home and I met and tried to talk with each of them.  I got a tour of their house and the neighbor’s house, we ate baklava and popcorn, watched a gathering at Mecca on TV, and had picture sessions galore!  At different points in the night they had all made calls to their friends to explain that there was a “touristic bicikleta” at their house.  I was enjoying myself and laughed a lot, but I was tired.  Towards the end of the night more yawns came out of my mouth than words and this is when the Grandma knew I needed to go to sleep.  Although they wanted me to stay for a few more days, I explained to them I had to get on the road early the next morning.  I said my good-byes to them and went upstairs to sleep at the neighbor’s house with her daughters.  I had an extra mattress and I felt like we were like sisters, sleeping together in the same room, one on the floor and the other in her bed.

The departure

I set my alarm for 9am.  That is late for me, but I didn’t want the other girls to have to get up too much earlier because I was sharing their room.  I never heard my alarm because at 8am the next morning, the other girls and mom came to wake us up.  They knew I was going to leave early and didn’t want to miss me.  I quickly changed, although, basically I slept in my cycling outfit except for my bike shorts and we waited together and talked while the moms prepared breakfast.  We ate on the floor, all gathered around a huge metal tray with a blanket underneath that served as our community “napkin”.  There was bread, butter, and jams, cheese, eggs, tomatoes and cucumber, olives, and tea! Again, it was another delicious meal.  I got my things ready again, (I had already taken the tent down about 3 hours after setting it up) loaded up my bike, gave everyone a hug, took some more pictures, and set off.

As I was riding off, I had to laugh.  Every day I set out on my bike and I never know where I’m going to sleep! It’s a crazy thought, yet I’m perfectly content, safe and sound, and with plenty of adventures and experiences to tell from all of the different places I roll up to each night.

No comments:

Post a Comment