Trip Diary – Turkey – Part 2: Konya to Georgia

Trip Diary – Turkey – Part 2: Konya to Georgia

After a few days with my wonderful host Murat and his friends, it was time for me to leave Konya and carry on east across Turkey. A look at the weather forecast just before I left showed central Turkey was set to be hot with temperatures above 40 degrees for the next few weeks. Knowing that my predicted route also involved a lot of hill climbs on poor roads, I left the city with some apprehension.

Çatalhöyük, a 9,000-year-old settlement in central Anatolia

Going back 9,000 years

I’d now been in Turkey for almost a month since I crossed over the border from Bulgaria and had been blown away by the hospitality, beauty, and the fantastic hidden gems, such as the one I was heading to now. Less than 50km southeast of Konya lies the archeological site of Çatalhöyük , a 9,000-year-old Neolithic settlement, considered one of the oldest in Turkey. I arrived too late to take one of the free tours around the site but after a night camped less than 100 meters away, I got the chance to explore the next morning.

The settlement is undergoing an active archeological dig, so it could mostly be viewed from walkways high above. Despite not being able to get up close, it’s still a fascinating place to walk around and see how life was all those centuries ago. Houses were roughly rectangular and closely built together with no separating streets. Instead, people moved around on roofs and accessed their homes down a wooden ladder via an opening in the ceiling. Surprisingly, they also buried their dead under the floor of the house – surely a sticking point when it came to selling!

The road through central Anatolia towards Cappadocia

Facing the heat

For the next three days, the temperature became almost unbearable as I made my way through a barren landscape of scrubland and old agricultural fields that clearly hadn’t been farmed for some time – the previous crop was now dried and shrivelled under the summer heat. Occasionally, I passed through a small settlement, sometimes nothing more than half a dozen mud homes. It amazes me how people can carve out an existence in a place like this. With no running water, no electricity, and little in the way of income opportunities, I can’t help but wonder how they survive. But survive they clearly did, the lines of brightly coloured clothes hung out to dry on lines stretched from one mud roof to another  – a sure sign these weren’t ghost towns.

Camp spots in central Anatolia were beautiful if a tad chilly

As would prove to be the case until I hit the Black Sea coast, the heat of the day would soon disappear once the sun set and evenings became cold. Occasionally, I’d lie in the tent watching as a storm rolled across the plains, with lightning illuminating the tent in quick bursts. Camping was never an issue: with so few people about, I could pitch the tent wherever I pleased.

The only real problem I encountered was the dogs. Any farms I passed would inevitably mean I’d bump into any number of large guard dogs, their collars nearly always adorned with large spikes to prevent attacks from other dogs. They came hurtling out of the gates as they heard the bike’s chain squeaking, barking madly in a cloud of dust as they fixed their eyes on me and began their charge. Remaining still was the best option, positioning the bike between me and them created the best guard against them snacking on my legs. Only when the farmer appeared, occasionally looking rather disappointed that I was still standing, would our standoff end. I never got used to it no matter how many times it happened.

The approach to Cappadocia

The land of fairy chimneys

After a final night camped on a small strip of grass on the forecourt of a petrol station, I had my next destination in sight, Cappadocia. I’d long since wanted to visit Cappadocia, a region of central Turkey famed for its underground cities and houses, churches and monasteries carved into the soft sandstone. Today, it’s a popular tourist destination and after the isolation and solitude of the last week, it was all the more appealing.

Petrol station camping

For four days I explored the various sites, allowing myself to be whisked along with the rest of the tourists from place to place. The highlight for me though came when most people were still asleep. Cappadocia is famed for its hot air balloons and every morning, just before dawn, dozens and dozens take flight carrying twelve or so passengers high above Cappadocia to watch the sun rise over the plains of central Anatolia. Most mornings I’d wake around 4am and walk an hour through the small town of Goreme to the viewpoint that sits high up on a hill just to the east of the town. From here the view is simply stunning as balloon after balloon, framed by the rising sun, fills the sky and drifts past almost close enough to touch. I stayed until the sun was well and truly up and the town awake before slowly meandering back down the hill and into Goreme for a very good but overpriced coffee.

Cappadocia’s famous balloon show

Sunset over Goreme, Cappadocia

It was in Cappadocia that I also met some more cyclists along with a handful of backpackers who had made the coach journey down from the Black Sea. Most evenings we’d meet up at one of the many coffee houses or pubs and pass away a considerable amount of the night sharing stories and talking of future plans. It felt good to be amongst people again but, as always, the time soon came to leave and on an astonishing hot morning, I found myself riding once again alone and on my way north towards the Black Sea.

Arriving at the Black Sea just ahead of a storm

Heading to the sea

It took me five more days to make the Black Sea coast, riding on a mixture of highways and sandy back roads. At times, the headwind made progress frustratingly slow and, at one point, I got completely lost after the sandy track I was on abruptly finished, only finding the next town and picking the road back up through sheer luck after cutting across huge swathes of farmland.

The landscape along the coast is very different from mainland Turkey; it’s far more fertile and to my joy, after the browns and yellows of inland Turkey, pleasingly green. The lower reaches of the Pontic Mountain Range that traces the coast, providing a stunning backdrop all the way to Georgia, are covered in tea plantations, as the wetter climate provides ideal growing conditions. After an exhilarating and fast descent into the city of Samsun, I caught my first glimpse of the inland sea and made my way to a cheap campsite located right on the water’s edge. This was where I met Micheal, a German cyclist who had followed the coast all the way from Istanbul and shared similar future plans as I did. However, in the morning, he’d gone before I was up.

The plan for the remainder of my time cycling through Turkey was to follow the coast until I reached Georgia. The road was mainly a large and fast dual carriageway that never strayed far from the water’s edge. From the first day after leaving Samsun, I found myself back amongst heavy traffic and forced to stick to the relative safety of the small hard shoulder as the erratic drivers sped past alarmingly close to my left shoulder. I soon began to miss the quiet, safe back roads of the last few weeks.

My last night camping in Turkey

A rock for a bed

Despite the areas between settlements being beautiful, the countless towns and cities that line the coast provided little incentive to stop and, with the exception of Trabzon, I cycled through all of them. Camping proved a little harder, the central barrier of the dual carriageway provided just enough of an obstacle to prevent me reaching any of the beaches. For my last two nights in Turkey, I slept out in the open, with the large rocks being the only half decent places I found away from civilisation. Rolling my sleeping bag out atop the flattest one I could find, I went to sleep both nights praying it wouldn’t rain. Thankfully, it didn’t.

I’m gonna miss ya

It’s been five days since leaving Samsun and as I write this, the Georgian border is almost within sight, a mere 15km away. By mid-morning tomorrow, I will have left Turkey and that thought alone makes me a little sad. I’ve cycled almost 2,500km from west to east over the last seven weeks through this country and fallen slightly more in love with it as each day passed. The hospitality of its people is second to none and despite all the warnings from people back home or from those I’d met through Europe, never once did I feel unwelcome or in any sort of danger, save maybe from the drivers or dogs. It really is a beautiful, friendly country and one I can’t wait to revisit.

This diary entry covers dates from the 16th August – 5th September, 2017

For more photos of my time in Turkey, head over to the gallery page of the website or click here

Edited by – Emer Garry

 

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