ASIA. I'd finally made it. I rolled off the ferry at Bandirma, found the main road heading south and did just that.
Hot and dusty. Just what you'd expect the Dusty Highway to be. Barren land for mile after mile. Maybe I should have taken my time and gone along the coast road. It's just that I'd had an idea I could be celebrating my birthday on Rhodes with my sister and her family. Looking over the map on a Petrol station forecourt I realised that if I got beyond Izmir that night, got a very early start I could just make the 9.00am ferry from Marmaris to Rhodes. HA! I could be enjoying my first glass of Ouzo by lunchtime! I apologised to the Turkish Tourist Board and got my head down....
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The sun was already low as I rode around Izmir and, as darkness fell, I pulled off the highway at Tombali which looked promising for an overnight stop. Nope. Turned out later to translate as ‘Never had an hotel – never will have.’
'Avoid riding in the dark at all costs'. I’d read somewhere. Hmmm. Too late. I rode cautiously west along the old road to Selcuk expecting to ride into the back of an unlit truck or be pulled off the bike by packs of marauding dogs. Or riding into the back of an unlit dog for that matter. Nothing happened and I managed to find myself a room. Over a dinner of stuffed peppers and rice in a cobbled square I read that that the Rhodes ferry sailed every day except Sunday. Tomorrow was Sunday. Whatever. The Lonely Planet had been wrong before.
5.00a.m. Still dark. Still cold. I retraced my steps to the highway and accelerated up the slip road as the sun broke the horizon. A beautiful, unforgettable moment - and double points because it was my birthday.
8.00a.m. 50kms to go. Three hours of breathtaking scenery and I was going to make it. I plunged into the outskirts of sleeping Marmaris. I raced through the town desperate for 'Ferry' signs. Nothing. The sea front. Left or right?? Right...no just a marina. Back. 8.45. Go! Go! GO! YES. The ticket office. Still closed but I'd experienced that before. They'll wait till the ferry is right here, mooring up...
Any biker who's raced for a ferry will know the sensation of a fizzing brain. Mine fizzed.
'Are you for ferry?' I looked up, shading my eyes. The voice came from the first floor. A man in his dressing gown.
'Yes!' I said, pulling out my paper work, relieved.
'Tuesday. Car ferry is once a week - on Tuesday.
I leaned forward resting my head on the dials.
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Over tea he went through the options.
A.Wait in Marmaris till Tuesday or B. Head back up the coast to Bodrum, take the ferry to Kos then on to Rhodes. Later in the trip I would have been more relaxed with this choice and would have simply found a campsite and fallen asleep lounging around until the Tuesday ferry turned up. But these were still early days and the gritty biker in me opted to get back out on the road.
Later that day in Bodrum, sipping a cocktail in a beach bar – alone and feeling sorry for myself, I’d rung my girlfriend Celia, and we’d made plans to meet up the following week in Fethiye, southern Turkey. My spirits lifted.
I argued my way out of Turkey and into Greece (insurance documents that weren’t green) and finally rode down off the ferry into the heat of Rhodes port. This felt so good. I’d flown to Rhodes a few times with my wife Julie – great cheap package holidays - but there was something about riding all the way here….
An hour later I pulled up outside the portals of Hotel Bacchus and was tugged from my bike by a manic nephew and niece.
‘Uncle Simon! Uncle SIMON! You’ve got to come and see the pool!...our room!…the beach!…everything!
I was surreptitiously fitted out with an ‘All inclusive’ wrist band and was led, at speed, to the restaurant and bar.
I ate, drank and was merry till the early hours in an atmosphere that made me think of a land locked cross-channel ferry. Sunburned Brits shouted at waiters ‘More drinks,mate!’. The same sunburned Brits shouted at their kids who raced around with wide Cola-charged eyes. The kids shouted at each other.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?’ I asked, naively, pointing at my watch.
‘Nah! We’re on HOLIDAAAAY!’.
I spent the following day being pulled in all directions by fizzy drink-fuelled kids, buried alive and forced to ride an inflatable banana, while their parents lounged on sunbeds, chatting and drinking ‘inclusive' beer.
Stuffed with an ‘inclusive’ dinner, we made our way to one of the bars. By midnight I was ‘getting on well with Christine, an attractive woman from Cheltenham, when she was suddenly pulled from her bar stool by her three tired young children. I thought back to Devonshire holidays when I’d been allowed to join my parents in the evening for a milk shake – if I was lucky. ‘Seen not heard’. That’s what I say.
‘Uncle Simon, your dancing is really sad, ’ quipped Saffron, my niece. Time for bed.
‘Uncle Simon? UNCLE SIMON! Are you awake yet? When are you going, cos we want to go to the beach?’
I’d fallen asleep fully clothed and somehow got my tongue stuck to the floor – or that’s what it felt like. An hour later, I peeled the last small boy off the loaded bike, kissed the girls, shook mens’ hands manfully and set off. Heather and co were leaving the following day so I’d decide to find myself a shady beach-side campsite for a few days before getting back on the trail.
‘There are no campsites on Rhodes, sir’ said the pretty girl at the Lindos tourist information.
I must have stood there open-mouthed because she repeated it again as if to say ‘We no longer want your kind on our island’.
Right. Got the message. Back to the bloody port and run the gauntlet back to Bodrum because ‘The car ferry to Marmaris is…’
‘Only once a week’, I butted in. ’I know. Kos then Bodrum it is then.’
Tickets bought. Ferry boarded. Rhodes faded into the twylight as we steamed east again.
Traveling in China for two weeks but hope the rough sketch of part of No.9 below will whet your appetite for further tales of....'The Road to Kathmandu'!
The whole story in colour...soon.
Gumbet. Didn't sound inviting but Gumbet had a campsite. On the beach. It also had a main street full of signs advertising Fish and Chips, Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Satellite Football. I'd talked my way back into Turkey at Bodrum (Green card wasn't green enough, remember?) and ridden along the coast looking for a campsite, ideally close to the beach. Well, the beach was only a beer can's throw away so I unpacked my tent. Enough traveling for one day..an early night perhaps.
I climbed into my sleeping bag hoping to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves on the shingle beach.I would have been if it hadn't been howled out by campsite dogs...who were barking at the guitar playing backpackers...who were trying to be heard above the thumping bass from the nearby 'Club Gumbet'.
'...I can't get no sleep...' sang Faithless. Appropriate. The bass faded at around 4.00a.m. Peace at last. The call to prayer began at 4.30a.m....
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Click on MORE below for tales of drunken debauchery,wine, women and chillies...
I escaped British occupied Gumbet and made my way round to Fethiye - another beautiful harbour in a sweeping bay. Rode (guiltily) past the dusty campsite on the outskirts of town and settled for the Irem Pension. Fine room - lovely terrace overlooking the harbour. Patted the LP smugly and settled down with a tea.
Monday 12th...A lazy beach day followed and a casual text to my girlfriend Celia - name changed to protect the innocent - revealed I'd got my 24hr clock calculations wrong (again) and she was flying into Dalaman airport that night at 0100hrs - NOT Tuesday as I had casually calculated. Tuesday at 1.00 in the morning - see what I mean?
Jumped on the last bus out of Fethiye planning to linger in the local restaurants of Dalaman until midnight then take a cab to the airport. Nice idea. Except the buses stop on the outskirts of town where there's a shabby bus depot with a poorly stocked vending machine... Plan B. Take taxi to airport where I could pick up an English paper, peruse the Duty free and maybe even get a decent coffee......
There was LESS at Dalaman 'Arrivals' than the bus station. There was also a 2 hr delay so I was at the airport with the prospect of overpriced Nescafe and a 6 HOUR wait. Another ' Head on the dials' situation. One lives and learns.
We spent a wonderfully relaxing week together which, if filmed in soft focus, would have been a perfect promotional video of all southern Turkey has to offer - beaches, boat trips, cafes and excellent fish restaurants. Perfect. Barring one incident.
The scene. 'Our' restaurant. Fish had been selected and cooked, wine served and the evening seemed set until Celia started crying.
' I'm not sure why I'm here...where's our relationship going?' she sobbed, sipping her wine. The waiter looked sternly at me.
' Well,' I began,' I think it's like this..' At that moment I took a mouthful of food and bit into a chilli the likes of which I have never experienced in my life. My tongue burst into flames..my ears steamed.. my eyes ran...unbelievable oral pain! So we were then both sat there, red eyes, tears running down our faces...God knows what was going through the waiter's mind.
The next day we kissed and said Goodbye. Celia went West and I went East.
The coast road to Antalya was stunning and beaches called me at every turn. But at Antalya I headed inland up a sweeping 'alpine' road and made it to Egirdir, a village built on a spit of land out into a beautiful lake. I was tempted to stay for a few days but the 'gritty biker' in me made the decision to press on the following day.
Roads out here are so deceptive. I was often lulled into a relaxed state on smooth roads. The road which skirted the lake was one such silky smooth road - Bliss - but I knew it wouldn't last and, sure enough, that telltale 'men at work' sign was soon in my sights. Tarmac ended and the rough road began which turned into several inches of gravel. Tricky, but not impossible. I turned the corner and my heart sank... fresh tarmac - as far as the eye could see.
This stuff is just poured on the road - full width - for mile after mile. It was like riding on wet, black mud. Luckily I survived long enough to ride into the DEEP SAND section... What joy.
The terrain really opened out over the following two days. This 'space' was new to me. Shimmering horizons...deserted highways. Stuff of the movies. It felt liberating. Cappadocia was different again. An alien landscape.....as I was to find out.
What? Still in Turkey. Fear not dear reader - reports from the 'Axis of Evil' soon. Want to get the latest update? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and get on the mailing list.
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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Click on MORE below to find out what happened to your 'Gritty Biker'....
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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