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Cappadocia. Is there a landscape like this anywhere else on the planet? I doubt it.
I spent a few days based here at the all too comfortable Paradise Pension. Had the name lured me in? Yes. De-luxe rooms...lounging areas... and roof terrace restaurant. Leave that tent rolled up, my boy, and enjoy the company of fellow travelers. I did just that.
I spent the hours of daylight walking around the surrounding area - open mouthed. Photogenic? With a capital P. Especially 'Love Valley' with it's Phallic rock formations. See it at sunrise. I didn't. It was on one of these hikes that the weather deteriorated and, looking for shelter, I stumbled across a museum. The UFO museum. The UFO museum? Yes.
Dug into the hillside this place is a 'must see'. Crammed with pretty convincing newspaper reports about sightings and abductions in central Turkey. Fascinating reading albeit it a little claustrophobic. Especially when the lights cut out and you're left with the neon glow of alien figures around you.
'Is a power cut! No problem' assured the curator. I breathed a sigh of relief but suggested that he built it in everyday - it added to the experience.
Cappadocia. 'The end of the backpacker circuit' stated the Lonely Planet. 'Only real men beyond this point' I thought, slightly nervously as I headed eastwards. Darkness had already fallen at the town where I'd hoped to find some accommodation, close to the Syrian border.. Nothing there. It was clear that 'wild camping' was my only option. 'Avoid being seen when you turn off the road to camp,' I'd read. The road was busy..the countryside alight with fires - cut throats and wild dogs everywhere, no doubt...What the hell was I going to do...?
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I turned off the road and came to a small settlement. By some low buildings nearby sat a small group of men around a fire. As I pulled up and removed my helmet dogs barked. They turned their heads. 'Merhaba...' I said ' Hello'.. and walked over theatrically asking if I could pitch my tent here.
The group of outlaws turned out to be a peaceful family group sipping tea and they invited me to join them. They spoke no English but with my words of Turkish - 'hello', 'thank you', and 'What time is the next train to Istanbul', we chatted into the night like old friends.
The following morning after breakfast on their terrace they would accept no payment, so I did a caricature of the head of the family. They laughed. He wasn't so sure. I made a sharp exit.
This simple experience had boosted my confidence. An anxiety had left my body. I would always find a safe place to sleep. I felt calmer. It boded well for the rest of my journey East.
Onwards across the wide and dusty plains of SE Turkey. I loved this feeling of space and isolation - impossible to find anywhere in the UK. The terrain was changing - an altogether more Middle Eastern feel.
'Kurdestan. You are in Kurdestan,' the roadside cafe owner assured me. The heavy set men, who'd invited me to join them, nodded. I was not about to disagree. At cafes I always pulled out the map upon which I was marking my route. Highly recommended. People were always fascinated and keen to point out the best routes and towns to avoid of which there were many in Kurdestan due to their ongoing battles with the Turkish military.
The journey east was regularly interrupted by Military Checkpoints. I found them civil and always curious. I normally repacked my papers and accelerated 'respectfully' away but at one such check point I saw the young recruits looking longingly at my bike. I put on my helmet, gave them the thumbs up. They grinned and returned the gesture and, for once, I took off down the road, red lining it through every gear... 'Good Luck to you! I cried through gritted teeth, appreciating my 'freedom' as never before.
Thoughts of the approaching Iranian border brought a sobering nervousness back to me. Relationships between Britain and Iran were tense and so was I. The 'Road to Kathmandu' computer game was about to go up another level.....
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