Day 261 – Hospitality and Ruins

Open Arms and Warm Beds

 

Leaving Ayvalik after New Year’s, we ease back into cycling. In our first week back, we cycle from Ayvalik to Denizli, we pitch the tent one and a half times.

Our first night from Ayvalik, we’re hosted by Fatma and Kartal, in their village home between Ayvalik and Izmir. Cycling into the village, Fatma sees us from her car and shouts to us, “Ashley! Quintee! Come!” Throughout our travels in Turkey, Quentin’s name will remain unpronounceable for locals, with the same fumbling mistakes as someone from the West trying to pronounce Galip or Ruya. Ashley will be called Aisha more than once.

Kartal and Fatma welcome us to their home. A bright blue house at the bottom of a hill, the library filled with a variety of Turkish and foreign literature, the winter garden overflowing with rich flavors. Kartal instructs us to pick beets, lettuce, carrots, green onions and plenty of herbs. Hours of eating and an immodest amount of Turkish raki later, we snuggle into bed. In the morning we share coffee and cake, preparing to get an early start. As we swig down the last drops of coffee, a voice from the kitchen shouts, “What do you like in your omelettes?” So begins another feast, a breakfast spread fit for a sultan.

We don’t eat again until dinner, in Izmir. The hosting network in Turkey is immense – it includes Warmshowers, Couchsurfing, Bicycle Rail and a huge Turkish Facebook group with more than 10,000 members ready to host. This doesn’t include the many people who see a foreigner on the street and invite them home on the spot. Sema and her partner only had a few hours notice that they’d be hosting us, but we’re quickly made to feel at home. Over stuffed grape leaves and soup we talk about Sema’s Fancy Woman on a Bike movement. In the morning she flits into our bedroom to drop off breakfast before she rushes to teach her students about world geography.

Roman Ruins and Goodbye to the Sea

The ruined city of Ephesus is a few kilometers outside of Selcuk. We visited on a whim. The ruins still standing mostly come from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The birth and early years of this city are happier than its fall. The city has a long history of honoring the goddess Artemis and until 100BC men and women held equal roles in civic life. Once the Christians arrived, this equilibrium was quickly ruined, because, men.

Leaving around sunset, we decide to climb the small mountain that gives Selcuk it’s coastal climate. In Izmir we said goodbye to the Mediterranean Sea that we’ve stayed close to for so long. One year of on and off liaisons with this sea, this climate, this culture, and now, one more climb it’s done. We reach the top and decide we want to camp tonight. After being hosted the past few nights, we want just to eat a small supper and sleep early. A kilometer or so off the main road, we push our bikes up past some olive groves and into a pine forest. There is no sign that we’ll be interrupted, by humans at least. Wild boar have overturned much of the forest floor, but we know they won’t dare venture near when they smell our scent.

 

White Pools of Ice

The highway to Denizli wears quickly on our patience. There is space enough on the edge of the road to ride safely. Trucks seem to be perfectly spaced out that there is one passing by every ten seconds. It’s just as we have spit the dust out from one truck that we hear a second one approach. It is impossible to have a conversation, or even hear ourselves think. We abandon ship, and opt for the backroads. It’s a much slower route, with more climbing and a lot of dirt roads, but we’re not here to cross Turkey as fast as possible, we’re here to discover Turkey. The dirt roads bring us late one night to Esenköy. We haven’t found a campsite yet that we like, and so as darkness falls, we arrive at a small pide (Turkish pizza) shop. A stone oven is blazing and since it’s already dark, we order two pizzas. The women behind the counter don’t speak a word of English, but a boisterous man enters who speaks German. With his help, we are able to ask if we can sleep in the yard behind the shop. The women are thrilled to offer it us, but after some debate, they decide that no, we shouldn’t sleep there. Instead, we’re instructed to set our tent up in the stock room connected to the restaurant, where there is a wood stove and access to the restaurant’s bathroom. They lock us inside for the night and in the morning we have the first taste of their daily soup – today it’s lentil, mixed with carrot, onion and peppers. Leaving, we’re smothered with hugs, kisses and made to promise we’ll come back one day.

In Denizli, we rest, our minds and legs tired from the first leg of the trip. We tell our host that we’d like to visit Pamukkale, and without a second thought, he loads us up in his car to drive us out there. This site is one of the natural wonders we just couldn’t skip in Turkey. The white rock is formed by calcium deposited from the thermal springs all over the mountainside. Visitors are required to walk barefoot over the rock to avoid discoloration — let us assure you, this is a very exfoliating experience. Winter is the slow season. There is less water and the thermals run a bit dry. Some of the pools were frozen over. The calmness of the ruined city of Hierapolis lingers above Pamukkale. Here is an ancient spa town, long adored by Byzantine elite to come bath, sit in on democratic discussions and the occasional gladiator battle in the coliseum.

 

If the first leg of Turkey is any indicator, we will be well received in this country, rich in history and hospitality.