The first morning after a successful stealth camp in Turkey we are awakened by hundreds of bells in many tones, with deep sounds, far away yet coming closer. Seems we are discovered by a shepherd, more so by his dog. Although the shepherd appears too shy to make contact, one of his dogs is confident. The dog turns out to be more of a tag-along-shepherd-dog than anything else. We let him join our sumptuous breakfast and leave him behind lounging in the cut wheat field.
Kurds, Roma and gypsy’s
Finally chai. Turkish chai. Sugar comes in paper wrappings nowadays, or at least in this region. Previous year in Kurdistan sugar was offered in a bowl, where every hand could touch it. That’s fine for me. Less fine are the things I hear about Kurds being said by a woman who invites us at her food-truck.
‘Kurds are bad. They give us Turks a bad name with their terrorism abroad! Turks are good because they don’t do Ramadan. For Turks no Ramadan, but beer and raki.’
I have to bite my tongue. Kurds not good? Kurds are living in the regions I love to travel, people one of my favorite to be amongst with. How can she say this? I decide not to let my opinion known as it would not be beneficial for the moment.
She goes on when she sees a horse-cart approaching, her dog start barking to the people motivating the horse. ‘They are gypsy’s, my dog don’t like them. They steal everything. When you don’t look, they steal it. Rom are bad.’ Again, I don’t agree. I am actually dumbstruck by such harsh hateful words. It’s plain discrimination.
That is not all because also the Arabs get their share. I find it easier now to keep quiet. It is not so much about what I like, more what this friendly woman thinks. Because she is friendly. She is airing her thoughts: ‘Arabs are bad, always war. Thankfully the Turkish army is strong and will stop the fight in Syria.’
After hearing her opinion and a few chai we cycle on. The Turkish roads outfitted with a broad shoulder makes it easy to cycle in a relaxed way. Just when we are trying to find a place to camp, a car cut us off in a gentle manner. The driver parks the car partly on the shoulder, and partly on the busy road. He is a cyclist himself and stops every time he sees a cyclist like us. His eyes glide over our frames and they light up: ‘I have a Santos too, I bought it at de Vakantiefietser in Istanbul, by Eric.’ My eyes watch his T-shirt where a bicycle is depicted. While he starts to be involved in an animated conversation about what topic to choose for his thesis, I watch the traffic so we will not be smashed by a car crashing into his.
We cycle on a busy road, the D100, parallel to the O-3 highway, towards Istanbul. I am elated about being in Turkey once again, meanwhile noticing the bottles of shampoo being sold at every gas station. I am a little surprised to have made it so far, all the way from the Netherlands, meanwhile seeing chickens being sold at a gas station. With the wind almost always in our back I observe men scratching their crotches again, something only to be seen from Turkey on. Another, much nicer notice is the music being played, finally we are done with European crap and sickening American love songs. Now it is Turkish malign, but at least we don’t understand the lyrics.
So the music has changed, the agricultural scene not. We are still pedaling in a sad natural environment. A nature killed by humans. Africa, after all, is not that bad. It is going to be bad but is not yet. I don’t even stop to make photo’s anymore, as it is not worth it, as I see it at that moment.
Pulpy and Cappy
Another great novelty, something I never found out before, is the free chai being offered at every gas station. We drink a few carton cups filled with chai and a cooled drink from a can. It’s getting warm with temperatures reaching above 40 degrees in full sunlight. Cappy is the new name for Pulpy, being sold in East Europe, a fruity drink.
We cycle East towards Edirne, coming from a border crossing near Demirköy. Edirne is a cultural, refreshing shock! It is absolutely Turkish. Turkey in full swing! Yet the absurdity of dressing and showing yourself off is gone. Of course, I see the occasionally fashionista with a revealed midriff, a stone washed jeans reaching the bellybutton and a highly fluorescent top that leaves the belly exposed. Her blond bleached hair is bobbing under the swag she produces. She is lean and beautiful. The women in traditional Turkish long overcoat and tightly secured headdresses look at her with disdain. Gone are the men showing their naked belly’s. Gone are the skeletons of women too.
Yet, me cycling in tight clothes is a no go on the roads where truck drivers find this highly interesting. I knew this was to come. Turkey for a woman on her own, as I did a year and a half ago, is tough. It is hard to grasp when in a city the women are very stylish dressed with tops where shapes of breasts show off, where legs may be seen and where the female shapes are not concealed but emphasized. I change the tight bright orange for a wide black T-shirt and add the high viz vest, just to make me as unattractive as can be. It helps.
‘No problem, park outside’
Cycling on it becomes slowly more difficult to find spots to camp. We soon are embraced on both sides by cities fading into residential area’s, becoming factories. Remarkable many textile factories. People working here are brought and retrieved in a company minibus. The D100 road is clogged with traffic, the rutting along it deep. Dogs start to run towards us and I hit one right on the nose with a stone. I feel invincible. But I am aware that once a dog is really after me, I do nothing good by stopping, picking a stone and hitting him.
We are more or less forced to stay at hotels, where they always tell us to leave the bicycles at the parking lot, like the cars. Funny, because when I was cycling on my own it seemed I was cared for much better, although I hardly slept in hotels and if I did it was a bare minimal hotel where it’s customers often came up with something weird. Mostly I knocked on people’s doors to sleep the night. Now we are staying in different kind of hotels where the hotel staff seem to think of our bicycles as children toys. ‘Just leave them out’ is not an option for us. The bicycle is our child, our home, all we have. ‘Would they like to leave their baby outside while they sleep in a room?’ I ask myself.
Entering Çorlu we do a bit illogical, taking a less direct road we end up at the outskirt of the city. We pass an obvious Roma village. There’s an open sewer, bony cats adhere around the stinking container, which is overflowing and dripping with dirt. Horse drawn carts come and go, some loaded with what is trash for most of us. People sit outside their dwelling. Horses stand to rest where a little stone wall surrounds them. The houses in the village are a mismatch of stones, colors, building materials and styles. Honestly, we are back in India! And what does my lover do? He jerks his steering wheel right into it, he is going to cycle through their territory. Obviously, this road leads to nowhere, so it is all the more clear we are going to enter for fun.
‘Take me to Germany’
I find that a bit interfering their lives, being curious maybe, cycling into their domain. But I am curious. I wildly am. So I go after my lover but decide to stop at the first group of people. They are as curious as I am. And soon we all laugh when the other foreigner on his bicycle comes back with an elderly lady perched on the back, gripping his middle tightly. Her smile has a few teeth left and she giggles: ‘Take me to Germany.’ Soon I finally am surrounded by sheer, pure beauty and click away one photo after another. The children go wild, as they always do and the very young mothers are trying hard to compose their selves in their new mommy role. Elderly women are outrageous, middle-aged women reserved hilarious. And the men, they stand-off and watch the scene, standing proud next to their horse.
When we leave we are waved goodbye by a large group of beautiful, lively people. Leaving me behind with thoughts such as ‘why do only Roma people live under such poor conditions?,’ ‘why are those people not eligible for the concrete tower apartments?’, ‘how will they move away from these shanty towns when they are looked down upon?’ and ‘but many Roma folks are greatly successful’, ‘why seems the Roma population to have such a big gap between their own ancestry? It seems either a shanty town or a big mansion’. All these thoughts while cycling on the busy D100 again towards a hotel. A hotel where I feel disconnected with the country I am in.
Cycling through the suburbs of Istanbul we see this separation again. Cycling through neglected parks where hundreds of people are frying kebab and boiling chai, leaves the beachfront in a complete different setting. There where the beach is actually used as such, it is still a tremendous difference in experiencing beach life. Women are dressed for dipping into the Marmaris but not virtual naked. Guys are exuberantly fishing, jumping and enjoying. Whole families sit together on a beach loaded with dirt. Yet, the Roma (or are it generally the poor people) have their own stretch which suddenly changes into a setting for the more affluent. Yet, the barbecuing and frying and boiling continues. Turkish people are all about family, sharing and enjoying.
When we stop along a busy road, a man and woman pass the road too. The father has two tiny babies on his arm while he screams angrily at the woman. The woman doesn’t seem to be affected by his outburst and keeps a nonchalant expression. Her other children are flocking around them. Passing us the children look at us strange, almost wild and angry. But then the father comes along and us reacting on the tiny twins makes him happy and forgetting the outburst he was in. He keeps yelling at us ‘salam aleikum!’ He leaves me thinking again ‘are the Roma always busy trying to make money or seeking an income, do they actually enjoy swimming, a visit to the park or strolling around for fun?’
Reaching Istanbul we are elated, suddenly we realized we have cycled all the way to Istabul. Funny, because we had not really a plan. We more or less started with a wind direction, discovering Europe.
I decide for another surprise visit back home.
We cycled to and from Istanbul at the end of July until the beginning of September (2015). And due to a broken laptop I could not post earlier : (