Diary of a Foreigner Living in Turkey (Part 7)
15 December 1998

Mountain-top Ruins, Pastures, and Orchards:
A Bike Tour in Anatolia

Kurban BayramI (Feast of the Sacrifice), March 1998

Copyright © 1998 Pierre Flener. All rights reserved.
Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written permission.

Highlights: stupendous ancient sites, glorious mountain scenery, cycling heroics, genuine hospitality by Turkmen mountain people, detention by the Turkish army, other unexpected setbacks, ...

This is the story of a one-week-long trip in Anatolia (in the modern Republic of "Turkey"), much of it having been done by trekking bike. The protagonists are two university lecturers in science, both with a solid interest in history, archaeology, and simple life in nature. Virtually all the ancient 2,000 to 4,000-year-old sites we visited are unknown to the general public, because of their remoteness from the tourist trail or because of their inaccessibility to tour buses. Nevertheless, most are absolutely fabulous sites. I personally rank 3 of them among my top-10 sites in Anatolia, which is to say, because this entire region is an "archaeological orgy". As I wish to return to these places and enjoy them again in their pristine, bucolic, pastoral condition, as well as meet again the local YOrUk and Turkmen people with their unspoiled hospitality and friendliness, I have decided to encode the real names of the sites and villages, even if they are not on most maps anyway, so that only the most dedicated readers can trace them. I mainly wrote up this trip report so as to show that the "real Anatolia" still exists. So just sit back and enjoy the story for the sake of the story. I dedicate this report to the Anatolian people, those of yesterday and those of today, hoping that they will stay true to themselves tomorrow.

Pierre Flener
(and TuGrul HakioGlu)

Day 1: Ankyra - Floridos - Bathos

TuGrul and I hit the road a few hours before dawn, so as to avoid both the heat and the relentless waves of kamikaze drivers who are frantically dashing to the coastlines on this first day of the "kurban bayramI" (the Islamic feast of the sacrifice). The plan succeeds, as we arrive unscathed at the switchback road leading up to the ancient city of Floridos.

The mountain scenery is superb, the fresh air acts like balm on our city-damaged lungs, and the last snow on the pass even forces us to continue on foot towards the ruins. Wow, these ancients really knew how to situate their cities! How magnificent life must have been up here (if free-born!), amidst these glorious agora, baths, theater! We trudge through knee-deep snow among the splendid ruins, admiring the masonry and bemoaning that nowadays nobody seems to be able, or willing, to erect walls of similar quality in this country. The architecture textbook is here, thousands of years old, for everybody to study, and yet nobody reads it and everybody builds walls that will hold half a century at most...

After a nice lunch on traditional food in the village at the foot of the mountain, we continue our road to the next ancient kingdom, eventually climbing up another series of hairpin curves, towards the mountain-top city of Bathos, a perennial favourite of mine. Huddled on the pass between two craggy mountains, this eagles' nest must have been virtually impregnable, and it is one of Anatolia's answers to the Machu Picchu city of the Incas in the Peruvian Andes, though much older. The most impressive parts of these romantic ruins are the cemetery, whose stone sarcophagi have been sent tumbling down the slopes by numerous earthquakes, and the unspeakably beautifully located theater. Watching a play here must have been a stupefying experience, and should the performance have been lousy, the audience would have been well-rewarded for just gazing at the mountains or the myriad of stars above them...

After stocking up for dinner and breakfast in a nearby village, we pitch our tent in the forest at the foot of the mountain and have a last glance at the map so as to prepare a nice loop among the many possible ones.

Day 2: Bathos - Koryander

In the early morning, we inspect our bicycling gear and select what minimal equipment will actually go on the trip, hoping that our one-week-extrapolation of the weather will be correct. The remaining stuff goes into the car, which we entrust to a guardian at the Bathos site.

Time for km 1 on the bikes has thus come, so we swing onto our saddles and start the long ascent to the high plateaus of this ancient kingdom. The road to Phobos is wide, not too steep, and fortunately not too much used in these "bayram" days, so that we are quite comfortable about using it as an easy corridor towards more solitary mountain roads. The mechanics of our bicycles are spinning nicely, and the many loops made on short winter days around the beautiful campus of Middle East Technical University in Ankyra are paying off as we nearly effortlessly glide up this first pass.

Eventually, we pull into Phobos, the actual gateway to our intended loop, so this is a good opportunity to have lunch and get some information on road and weather conditions ahead. A hearty "pide" (a pizza-like dish) and "ayran" (a salty watered yogurt drink) later, the information received actually turns out totally correct (a rare event in this country, where good maps are hard to come by and where nobody wishes to disappoint travelers with adequate information on the difficulties ahead!) as we climb a succession of two further ramps and then swish down onto the high plateau of Pommos, famed for its extensive orchards.

The seemingly millions of fruit trees stand in full blossom, the surrounding snowcapped mountain scenery is breathtaking, and the crisp fresh air is a delight to inhale. The road goes over gently rolling terrain, and we enter Pommos "just in time" for one of my favourite mid-afternoon rituals in Anatolia, namely a trip to a "pastane" (pastry shop), for indulging in some sweet masterpiece of Turkish cuisine while sipping a black tea. Fortified by this treat, and with still enough light to continue, given our excellent performance so far, we decide to spend this night outdoors (rather than, as "planned", in some hotel) and we thus set out to actually reach Koryander for the night.

So we stock up for a picnic dinner and leave Pommos while the sun aims for the horizon. The road is rather flat, so we make good progress in the waning light, crossing the 100km mark for today, and eventually reaching the edge of the 1,200m high Pommos plateau, from where the road vertiginously drops off towards the sea. We swoop down the first dozen or so switchbacks and then turn off onto an almost unmarked dirtroad, which I happen to remember from an earlier trip here (by car). It leads to the ancient city of Koryander, at the foot of which we pitch our tent, in total darkness by now. Then comes dinner, on a romantically situated terrace overlooking the spectacular valley. I am happy to be back here, to this place I cherished so much on my former trip, and thus fall asleep with a smile...

Day 3: Koryander - Birkoy

Before breakfast, in the early morning hours, we commence our actual visit of Koryander, fully taking in now the spectacular beauty of the ruins and of the location itself. At the lower level of this sloped town, the leftovers of temples, a church, the baths, and various tombs are by themselves worth a visit, especially the huge bay windows of the baths, overlooking grand mountain scenery. But then we climb a long flight of stairs up the slope, to successively reach the agora, the theater, and the stadium, each of them being absolute worldclass, considering the location. The almost speechless TuGrul now understands why I always mentioned Koryander as one of the nicest sites in Anatolia! And we can even enjoy it alone, with a couple shepherds and their flocks providing the same acoustic background as there must have been some 2,500 years ago, when this city was still alive. We envy those who lived here back then, as well as those who currently dig out such marvels as the nearly intact little theater. There is not even a ticket booth here yet, and may it stay like this forever, because I would hate to see bored package tourists tramp through this glorious site, with their imbecilities echoing around, and the traditional lifestyle in the nearby village destroyed forever...

Eventually, hunger takes command, so we leave this fabulous place, first in search of breakfast, and then in quest of a grocery where to stock up on foods, because we will cross only very small villages during the next two days. At the grocery, not much beyond bread and dried raisins is available, but, after a few rounds of tea, sympathies for our cause warm up, and little boys are sent scurrying home to bring boiled eggs and milk to complement our reserves. Everybody is very, very friendly, and the grocer spends quite some time with us between customers, telling us what life is like up here. As a joke, TuGrul asks him whether they have any problems with extortionists, like small businessmen in the big cities do, and the answer is quite surprising: No, but Kurdish separatist PKK rebels are hiding in the mountains behind, a long way from their homes thus, and once came to the village to commission food in the winter, but now the villagers have their guns ready and will not yield so easily! Wow, this is a new development of the PKK problem, and we ignore yet than in a few days, we will face it again, though in a more active role...

Having taken directions for crossing the mountains, we set out, first up the most beautiful pass I have ever climbed by bike, through fresh-scented pine forests, past tumbling waterfalls, and eventually on to the summer pastures. The locals must be YOrUk or Turkmen (ex-)nomads, probably of Alevi creed, judging from the white cotton headscarves of the women and the way they look straight at us, rather than averting their eyes, like Sunni women tend to do in rural areas. The few passing cars honk cheerfully, and one driver even stops to talk with us, his kids' eyes almost popping out with curiosity.

There is a tiny village just off the pass, so we decide to pull into it for lunch, so that we do not have to draw on our food reserves when unnecessary. As expected, there is a tea house near the mosque, and all the menfolk are gathered in the shade outside. After being ceremoniously greeted by the village idiot, we settle down for tea, and of course have to tell our story first. When we ask whether it is possible for the grocer to bring us some yogurt and honey to complement our intended lunch, a young man scuttles off, but takes suspiciously long to return. Indeed, a quarter hour later, an elderly bearded gentleman waltzes to the tea house, carrying a huge silver tray with piles of oven-fresh bread, a huge bowl of yogurt, and what must have been half a liter of honey! "Afiyet olsun", he says, and, with an incredible warmth flooding my body, I sense that this is a treat! A bit later, the alleged grocer also materialises, with another half liter of homemade honey! There is of course no way we can eat our way through this mountain of high-energy food, not even after this great climb, but we do our best. The excess honey is poured into a plastic bottle organised from the grocery, and everything is indeed offered to us free-of-charge, with the greatest nobility and hospitality! I will never forget the friendliness of rural Anatolians, and it has been consistently praised since Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo traveled through these lands some 750 years ago.

In the afternoon, we swish down the other side of the pass, with my rear derailleur and cassette starting to make strange noises, leaving me quite uncomfortable at these high speeds. Eventually, in the rolling plain leading out to the sea (which we shall however never try to reach), it all gradually worsens, and my left knee starts developing acute pain on top of that. Although in splendid alpine scenery, my morale dwindles, as it dawns on me that my bike and myself will not finish this tour together...

At the next village, where we will turn onto another secondary road, back into the mountains again, so that we do not have to enter Sodom or Gomorra on the coast, we try to find tools to fix my bike, but to no avail. Even the legendary Turkish mechanical ingenuity is defeated on this problem. A phone call to Bulent, our genius bike mechanic in Ankyra, establishes that there is no risk, except that much of my energy will be lost on the friction of the parts rather than spent on forward motion. Oh well...

We start the 40+ kilometer climb with the objective of getting to as much altitude as possible before sunset, so that we have a chance of reaching Cesmeye the next day. We climb and climb and climb, looking for a pasture to camp on, always thinking that there will be one just around the next curve, but no... I cannot keep pace with TuGrul and trundle into some village around kilometer 28 some fifteen minutes after him, in total darkness. He is already set up like a pasha at the terrace of some tea house, with all the menfolk gathered around to sound him out on our story.

So I join the discussion. After many rounds of tea, it becomes colder, so we huddle around the oven inside. A bit later, a young man brings a tray with soup, "biber dolmasI" (stuffed green pepper), and delicious homemade "baklava", to complement our meager dinner! The older men gradually withdraw home, except for a slanted-eyed old YOrUk, who tells us younger men many stories about his nomadic past, the hardships he suffered, etc. The owner of the tea house says we are welcome to sleep in it, hence there is no need to look for a place to pitch our tent. Eventually we signal our fatigue, so the youths walk home, kicking a football, and the old man totters away as well.

Day 4: Birkoy - Cesmeye

Over breakfast, I tell TuGrul that I decided, for orthopedic and mechanic reasons, to give up on biking the rest of the loop. Looking at the map, we decide how far I will still accompany him, but that I will then cycle to Guzelkoy, where I can supposedly catch a "dolmus" (collective taxi) to Pommos, where I should be able to connect to Sodom on the coast, jumping off near Bathos, so as to double back by car, such that we can synchronise in the evening at the ruins of Cesmeye. An ambitious plan for a country where the unexpected has to be expected...

So we bid our farewells to our hosts and cycle up the remaining 10 km or so to the highest pass of the trip, and then swish down to meet a somewhat larger small road, with TuGrul then heading one way and me the other. After twice the amount of kilometers I was told I pull into Guzelkoy. This being the main day of the "bayram", this magnificently located village is still quite empty this early, but the announced once-daily "dolmus" to Pommos nevertheless shows up.

I entrust my bike and luggage to the owner of a teahouse and board the "dolmus". I am the only passenger for most of the distance, and fear having to pay a "bayram" fare for what effectively is a taxi ride. But the driver is real friendly throughout the ride and charges me the regular fare, which is very low. Even after five years in Anatolia, I am still unable to know in advance whether people are genuinely friendly or just ogling my wallet (it is the former in the vast majority of cases), but since I have not been taken in for a long while, I am just on my guard.

In Pommos, I catch the next "dolmus" to the coast, passing Phobos again and asking to be dropped off near Bathos. After a short chat with the guardian of the site, I jump into the car so as to backtrack to Guzelkoy to pick up the bike. I prudently fuel up in Pommos first. After packing my bike into the car, I have a relaxing tea, before trying to catch up with TuGrul by nightfall in Cesmeye.

But then somebody comes to tell me that I should have a look at my car. And, oh horror, it is literally pissing gas, through a gaping hole in the hose leading out of the reservoir! By then, the whole village is back from the "bayram" service at the mosque, all dressed in their finest gear. Nevertheless, this poor "yabanci" (foreigner) is now stranded in their village, with no garage open anywhere and everything closed for another three days... So the in "Western" countries inconceivable thing happens: half a dozen men hook their best jackets onto nails and lift (!) the car so as to rest it on big bricks (as I am too slow in getting the jack out), and one of them actually slides, in his white shirt, under the car to inspect the damage!!! I simply cannot imagine any men in my country coming out of church on Christmas and getting their hands dirty to help repair the car of a stranded Turkish traveler! The hardware dealer scurries in with some plastic hose (originally intended for bathroom purposes), but it turns out to be of inadequate diameter.

Then a young man materialises out of the blue, with a fitting hose, and tools to mount it! For some reasons, he prefers to do this at his workshop at the quite isolated end of the village, so we drive there, alone. A quarter hour and a tea later, the car is fixed, but a friend of the so far friendly mechanic drives up, and blocks my car...

And disaster strikes again, on this rollercoaster of emotions: since it is a "bayram" and since I am not "your regular foreign tourist" (because I speak some Turkish and know the local customs), he will "only" charge me ... So I mentally prepare for a hard bargaining session, with no other witnesses around. Indeed, the quoted price is, labour and parts included, about ten times higher than what it would cost in the "sanayi sitesi" (industrial zone) of Ankyra, that is about twelve to fifteen times higher than what he should charge me out here. Of course, he does deserve a reward for having done this on a "bayram", but not thaaat much! He pretends having fetched the hose by taxi from Pommos, but he would have hardly had the time to do so, and he had not asked me whether he should do so or not. After three hours of driving a hard bargain, rescue comes in the form of an elder, white-bearded gentleman asking us what the hectic discussion is all about. I grasp the opportunity and tell him the main argument I had already repeated so much to the youngsters: "bahshish" (a gift) is fine, but they should not behave like their money-hungry brethren at the coastal Sodom & Gomorra and exploit every opportunity at short-term wealth without looking at the disastrous long-term effects the ensuing bad publicity will trigger, and, on top of that, theirs is a quite un-Turkish hospitality... The "amca" (uncle) takes my side and berates the young men, so I press my current bid into their hands and they drive off with angry eyes (but still a handsome profit). At the tea house where it all started, everybody is gone, so I cannot even thank the chivalrous men who initially helped.

Oh well... As the night falls, I head to the intersection where I had separated from TuGrul some ten hours earlier, and then I reconstruct his itinerary. His road was long, and in bad shape, and I do, as agreed, the grocery shopping, even chipping in some cold beers. But at the Cesmeye site, where I drive up the dirt road in total darkness (I had already been there once, so I knew my way) and camp near the exquisite theater, there is no trace of TuGrul "abi" (elder brother), and no response either when I shout his name into the darkness. At the turnoff from the asphalted road onto the dirt road, I had actually asked the menfolk whether they had seen a "giant" on a bike, but they had not observed such an extraordinary event. So I cook dinner alone (having now the full camping equipment from the car), and "have to" drink both beers...

Day 5: Cesmeye

When I make the breakfast tea, TuGrul cycles up: he had spent the night on a bench at the last gas station, we both having missed each other by a few meters in the darkness...

Over breakfast, we decide to chip in a free day here, because of the grueling mileage done so far. So we leisurely visit the romantic ruins, whose unique feature I will not describe, for fear of giving its name away (too easily). Other than the mentioned theater, there are actually not too many intact leftovers here, but the bucolic setting amongst deep green vegetation gives the tumbling stones a fabulous atmosphere.

For a late lunch, we drive (now that we have the car) to nearby Digger. This town mainly lives on its tobacco production, and should thus be thriving in a country where almost everybody smokes. But the owner of the "lokanta" (small restaurant) tells us a quite different story, which confirms the poor condition of everything. Indeed, the tobacco producers are forced to sell their production to the government, which pays a lousy price, and, even worse, which only pays them the promised amount a year later, which is pure robbery in a country with over 100% inflation per year...

We then visit the grandparents of a colleague, just to say hello and wish them a nice "bayram" on her behalf. Over a round of tea, the old man, who used to be an "imam", asks for our origins, so we tell him that we are from istanbul and "LUksemburg" (Luxembourg), respectively. A bit later, when his wife pops in, he tells her that one of the young guests is from islamborg (sic)... This delicious hearing mistake turns out to be a nice icebreaker for some friendly conversation.

Before dusk, we return to our tent at the ruins, and prepare some relaxing "ada cayI" (sage tea) before dinner. A shepherd and his son and daughter pass by on their way home from the pasture, and stop for some "bayram" wishes. Eventually, he starts insisting that we join them at their home, for dinner and sleeping. This proves once again the legendary hospitality of Anatolians and that family life is more important here than solitary camping out there in the wilderness. We "haggle" him down to "just" dinner, insisting that we are well-equipped and will not freeze at night. Dinner turns out to be delightful, with just the menfolk of the household, and many anecdotes and complaints are told.

The father complains that this year he could not sell any sheep at the traditional market place for this year's "bayram" (millions of sheep and goats are then sacrificed, in honour of Abraham's sacrifice of a sheep instead of his son), so that he lost a lot of necessary income. The reason is that some (mafia?) people brought shepherds over the Taurus mountains from Ikonyum, and that these undersold the local shepherds, leaving them with nothing... Goodness me, first the tobacco producers and now the shepherds! When will this country stop colonising itself? No wonder the income distribution is so pathetic, when all the hardworking people at the bottom of the economic pyramid are being consistently, if not officially, swindled out of their deserved earnings.

Then the eldest son raises the PKK issue, having spent his military service in Tunceli, one of the bloodiest provinces for this insurgency. He seems quite traumatised by the combat experience, and accuses army and government alike of totally mishandling the crisis. The solution of course lies in education, he says. But who is going to start this, at a moment where opinions are firmly entrenched -- on both sides -- through brainwashing, where sentiments flare high? (Note: This conversation took place before the late 1998 crisis between "Turkey" and Italy over the PKK leader. Also, these lines have been written before and independently of that crisis.)

Eventually, we take our leave and return to our tent.

Day 6: Cesmeye - Inkayeri

Over breakfast, I achieve immortality in TuGrul's eyes, as, in my search for edibles and in my legendary food combinations when I am hungry, I pour liquid honey into my tuna-fish sandwich...

As TuGrul takes an early start, by bike, to climb up into the mountains again, on the road looping back to Phobos, I leisurely fold our belongings into the car and then head to Digger again, for a shave. After I nod on the (low) quoted price, the "berber" sets to work, not without serving me tea after tea. He is very friendly, and asks me to stay for a chat afterwards, so that he can show me his photos, sent by former tourist customers when he had a barber shop in Gomorra. He also has photos from his army time, and it turns out that he is quite a "bozkurt" (gray wolf, a right-wing "Turkish"-supremacy extremist group), though he does not wish me bad, so I need not worry about his wielding a blade near my throat. On the contrary, after I paid, he sheepishly hands back 20% of what I gave, saying that he had overcharged me initially! Oh please, keep it, for the "bayram" and for the teas.

Next, I slowly follow TuGrul's itinerary, swerving first off to the right to visit the beautiful ancient ruins of Slot, and then to the left to have a hearty traditional lunch in some village "lokanta". Eventually, a bit beyond the high pass, and again on a high plateau, I find TuGrul "abi" at a roadside "lokanta", devouring a "menemen" (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and green peppers).

We then set out to visit the hilltop ancient city of Inkayeri, first taking instructions on how to reach it, because only a hard-to-find shepherd trail leads to it through the thick, impenetrable bushes. With the help of a shepherd, we first reach the nearly intact city walls, made of stupendous masonry, not unlike the fabled Inca walls of Cuzco and Sacsahuaman in the Peruvian Andes, except that they are much older and that the comparison should thus be made the other way round. Just like the Inca walls, they have survived numerous earthquakes, just because of their closely fitted multi-angled stones laid out in an irregular locking pattern, all "regular" Roman walls (and Spanish ones in Peru) having long crumbled. The vista from here is stupendous, with snowcapped mountains in the background. Scrambling on top of the wall, we reach the city center, to find exquisite remains of an agora, streets, arches, a theater, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of looting also goes on here, judging from the freshly piled earth a round deep holes. At the same time, one of our (foreign) colleagues is desperately waiting for the excavation permit from the ministry, which official digging would put an end to the looting. Oh well, just another case of the country messing itself up... As we loiter around the magnificent ruins, I instinctively classify them also among my top-10 in Anatolia.

After a cool beer at a roadside open-air "lokanta", we drive around to find a convenient spot to camp at. And, if you did not know it, "yulaf ezmesi" (oats) with milk and yogurt makes for an excellent dinner!

Day 7: Inkayeri - Kanada

At 7am, a military jeep screeches to a halt in front of our tent, in which we are waking up anyway. Through the mosquito net in the entrance we see an officer -- without uniform, but with a drawn handgun, mind you! -- storm our tent, perfunctorily covered by two gendarmes with drawn machine-guns. He orders us out in a quite rude way, not without banging his foot against the tent poles. Had we been real PKK terrorists, which turns out to be the charge against us, he would have had no chance with this totally incompetent attack, as we would have blown his face away before he could say the first word -- and we would not have pitched the tent in such a conspicuous place, which is visible miles away, even from the main road.

As a "Westerner", I am instilled with a healthy dose of disrespect for uniforms. But TuGrul has seen the Turkish army in even less gallant military coups and thus switches into compliant mood, not without chastising the officer for his rudeness and asking whether it is an offense to camp around during a "bayram" and to visit ancient sites on mountain-tops, asking him to hunt for real terrorists rather than disturbing peaceful university lecturers, reminding him that as a citizen of the Turkish Republic it is his right to travel around it.

The officer is so angry that he commits blunder after blunder, never telling us what the real charge is, never establishing his official identity, etc. But generations of frightened Turks have kowtowed to the Turkish army, so why should he respect any code of civility? While he rummages through our possessions, and gets increasingly frustrated, because there are no hand-grenades and no drugs, and hence, poof!, no decoration for hunting down two dangerous terrorists (on bikes), we find out that somebody reported our behaviour as suspicious -- no wonder when you cycle half-naked, for your own pleasure, on bikes more expensive than scooters (so that one has to be really stupid to buy them in the first place), with heavy luggage, up and down these steep mountain roads, and visit cut stones lying around in wall-and-theatre-like formations -- and that he just spent the entire night looking for us, especially that his informant had reported us as being on the neighboring mountain...

His behaviour is heavily "bozkurt" (like apparently so many in army and police ranks nowadays), and I really enjoy telling him that I do not have my passport with me, because I know this will drive him irate (like his brethren policemen in Ankyra). When it does indeed, I tell him that I do not need to carry it with me, because I am a resident of the Turkish Republic, so that my residence permit will be sufficient.

Anyway, by now it dawns on him that our story is most likely true, but he needs a way out without losing face. So he orders us to pack up everything, including, oh shame on him!, the moist tent that was just drying in the first sunbeams, so that we can get to the gendarmerie for verification of our purported identities. Had we both been foreigners, I would have invited them to wait for a tea from our stove, while the tent is drying, but something on TuGrul's face tells me not to tempt the devil.

Once everything is stowed in the car, he orders us to follow their jeep to the main road. There, not being in uniform, he uses the gendarmes' presence to stop a bus and get a lift back to his barracks, and that is the last we see of him. The gendarmes now order us to follow them back on a side road to Octo, the nearest village, where we will be detained in the "karakol" (police station) until our innocence is established. Why can't they use the radio on the jeep for that?!

Anyway, once at the "karakol", where early morning life slowly swings into motion, in a manner not exactly consistent with military discipline, things turn decidedly friendly. Being sure of our innocence, I was never really frightened, especially that they did not shoot first, and I actually start enjoying the experience, not even considering it an unwelcome distraction from our plans. Of course, the vast majority of "karakol" "guests" are not as lucky as we are, because the embarrassed gendarmes, who apparently immediately recognised our innocuousness, start serving us tea and "bayram" chocolates, and offering us eau de cologne for refreshing our faces and hands. An hour later or so, the radio announces that we are indeed "temiz" (clean). So it is time to leave our new friends and head back to the roadside "lokanta" where TuGrul left his bike the day before, for a big and much-needed breakfast.

TuGrul then sets out by bike, to Octo again, from where he will cross a high mountain pass to get to Pommos, the new end of our route. Shortly after, I follow by car, pass him, and drive all the way up to the pass to set up lunch there. There is still snow on the pass, and I select a nice rock with a steep drop-off, shaded by a pine tree, as my lookout, reading berth, and lunch spot. Sooner than expected, TuGrul steams up through the snow, as he is in magnificent shape by now.

We enjoy lunch up here, and then TuGrul swoops like an eagle down the switchbacks in gorgeous alpine scenery to the plateau of Pommos. There we mount his bike on the car as well, and have another "baklava" at the "pastane" that we patronised 5 days earlier.

Eventually, we drive homewards again, past Bathos and Floridos, to Spartacus, where we have "pide" and "mercimek corbasI" (lentil soup) for dinner. On a detour then, we pull into Kanada national park, to camp out for the night. The access road is straight, and flat, or only seemingly so, as all of a sudden, a piece of metal rail pokes out of the asphalt, on a small bridge. I see it too late, partly out of driving fatigue, and we get two (!) flat tires and deformed rims on it... Cool, so we will camp out here in the fields instead, and see how we can solve this problem tomorrow.

Day 8: Kanada - Antikya - Ankyra

In Anatolia, solutions always pop up in the form of friendly passersby. At dawn, as we stand at the roadside with one set of our busted rims & tires, the first car stops to pick us up, and was heading to the nearest garage anyway, for a short repair. Of course, the driver knows about the metal beam on the bridge, and slows down there! Once all the repairs done, the same friendly farmer takes us back a bit later, and we get the car moving again, using the spare set. Of course, we first peek into the national park itself, quickly deciding to return there one day, as it is stunningly beautiful.

We eventually head back to that same garage again, to get the other set repaired. By then, it is time for an early lunch, after a stroll around the lovely peninsula of ancient Krockos, on the same-named lake. This lake looks amazingly like Titicaca lake in Bolivia and Peru.

On backroads, in order to avoid the returning kamikaze drivers from the coasts, we reach Antikya, our last historical stopover, which was enthusiastically recommended by an adorable colleague, who was born nearby. This site has only recently received the attention it deserves, and it is still only known to experts. What has already been excavated is stupendous indeed, and we understand the archeologists' claim that this site has the potential of Ephesus (Efes) and Aphrodisias (the "richest" sites so far in Anatolia). Also, apparently many items are being smuggled out, to be found again on London antique markets...

Eventually, it is time to drive home, and teach again the next day. We exploit our cycling-acquired expertise of the backroads as we reach the distant outskirts of Ankyra. Indeed, the converging roads, many under current repair, and the inevitable accidents, have put all the impatient kamikaze drivers into a nice gridlock, some 90km before that metropolis, and they are now venting their frustration on each other by making the gridlock even worse.

Fortunately, we do not have to deal (much) with them, and we are full of fond memories of this eventful journey.


Unfortunately, this return trip also established that Ankyra has grown too fast, including the number of people who can afford cars and private apartments, which effectively finishes off that city as a livable space, as traffic jams, pollution, roads destroyed by overloaded trucks of construction companies, mushrooming construction sites, etc., will from now on be the order of the day.

It was time to leave this city thus, or to hole up in one of its suburban neighbourhoods, but how to do that when you need space and nature for daily recreational purposes? My eventual answer to this dilemma, and this for many other reasons, was not only to leave Ankyra, but also to leave my beloved Anatolia. This should give me the necessary perspective to look at "Turkey" from the outside for a while, to see how she deals with some of the problems mentioned in these lines.

I also married Esra, my beloved true-Anatolian sweetheart. We of course miss Anatolia and the Anatolians a lot, but we will be back, as we are permanently infatuated by them!

I have a huge backlog of unreported trips, untold anecdotes, and unanalysed features of Anatolian society. But I will close this diary here, and instead focus my efforts on writing a coherent book, from scratch. See the homepage of this diary for more on this project.

I want to thank you, dear reader, for staying with me all the way through to these finishing lines of this diary.