Cycling into Turkey was a brutal slap in the face. Nothing says welcome to a new country like barbed wire fences and 18yr old soldiers holding big, shiny automatic machine guns. Not to mention every one of my family and friends told me not to go. So here we were crossing the border on bikes, surrounded by trucks and soldiers, it's 40 degrees and I'm thinking in the back of my mind, "what's this gonna be like?"
I've got fond memories of my last trip to Turkey, and always rate it as one of my favourites. But last time we weren't on bikes. And if cycling Northern Greece was a dream, then the first few days cycling in Turkey was akin to stepping into hell, where you're thrown onto a 4 lane highway with local truck drivers playing a game of who can drive the closest and there's a 50km/h headwind howling so furiously that going uphill is near on impossible, and cycling downhill still feels like you're climbing mountains.
You know those moments where you start questioning your life choices? Well this was one of those, the point where I first started thinking - how the hell did I end up here?
Although it's as cliched as it sounds, sometimes you have to plumb the depths of life before you find nuggets of gold. The first speck came at the top of what I thought was a monstrous 5km climb, but in reality was just a 500m gentle slope, made worse by the winds of purgatory. Just at the point I was contemplating my retirement from cycle touring, an old fella waves us down and plies us full of the sweetest tasting melon to ever touch my lips. He must've seen the struggle on our faces.
Luck really landed on our side 4 days in. Absolutely shattered (a few tears may have been shed) we rolled down a little alley off the main highway, only to find ourselves on the white sands of the Sea of Marmara. The minute our bums touched the beach, we heard someone shout "Hey friend, how's it going? You want some beer?"
Well yes I do! That evening we were adopted by Suleyman, who shouted us beer, took us out to dinner and introduced us to the whole town.
In my effort not to ruin my already dodgy knees on this trip, I was attempting some yoga the next morning. So it's 8am and I'm trying to get all zen in my downward dog, when out of nowhere someone asks "Do you want breakfast and coffee?"
I'm never one to turn down coffee, so off we wandered with our new friend Burak, to arrive at his family home and find a feast of epic proportions. Imagine a table covered with eggs, cheese, bread, olives, dips, jams, tea, coffee and an assortment of Turkish delicacies I'd never before laid my eyes on. We were eating like royalty, with a family we'd never met before.
With a little English, a little Turkish and a lot of sign language, it didn't take long before we felt at home. So much so that the better half of our cycling team proceeded to take a morning nap on the families lounge. Looks like we weren't going anywhere.
There's something special in travelling by bikes that I've never experienced before. People seem to want to go out of there way to chat to us, offer us food, water, a bed and generally help in any way at all. Maybe they're curious about these crazy people who think they're riding to India. Maybe they're sorry for us, all dirty clothes and tired looking faces. But either way, they don't see us as dollar signs, like I've felt as a tourist before.
It was almost 48 hours before we left this little beach town. 2 nights and 3 days full of food and laughter. Hopefully we'll be able to repay their kindness one day in the future. So far, Turkey has been as good as we'd remembered!