A warm Turkish Winter

Leaving Ankara I was prepared to a month of cold and snow. The very first day it didn’t disappoint, it snowed and the following morning I woke up in Bala to this

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(I didn’t camp, but been helped to find a sheltered place by these kind people who seemed to have a lot of fun while bringing me and my bike around
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).
It didn’t last long though, I soon went down the snow line, and didn’t see any snow for some day, meaning that Cappadocia was not under snow, but quite warm and sunny. I’ve always been around 1000 m of altitude, so immediately after sunset temperature would drop, also going below zero during the night.

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The unexpected lack of snow convinced me to exit Cappadocia via a smaller, but more mountainous  road, which, apart from being almost car-free and plenty of small villages (and in the garden of the mosque of one of such villages I camped one night), offered some great landscape, from snowy mountains to a huge desertic valley which, long time ago, used to be a lake.

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I apologize if I speak way too much about the weather, but not only it largely influences the decisions about the route (I would have liked to ride up to the top of Nemrut Dagi and to camp there, but I’ve been informed that the top of it is currently under some meter of snow), it is also one of the first things people I meet on the road warn me about. And Pinarbasi was a place I received really a lot of warnings about, the general agreement was that I would have found a lot of snow. And I arrived there completely exahusted, not because of the snow, but because of the wind and of the continuous ups and down, arriving to reach 1600 m of altitude; I even took a room for the night in order to rest properly. But then luckly I met Erdal, a guy who owned a small kebab shop and lived in England for six years; he was more than happy about having me wandering around his shop with the loaded bike outside attracting, as usual, a lot of curious people. A proper bed and a warm shower didn’t help a lot, I was still tired, what really helped was the huge breakfast Erdal prepared for me, inviting some friends of him as well; I was then ready to leave, quite relaxed at the idea of having a big descent in front of me as my map showed a pass only 900 m high. What really awaited me were 100 kilometer of nothing and a lot of mountains: few hours later I was going up, battling a ferocious wind that, apart from slowing me down, was also throwing in the air the snow that started to appear on the side of the road. And when I stopped, asking myself when  the descent would start and thinking about going back to a tiny village I saw few kilometer before, Turkish people came to my rescue again, this time it was a guy driving a snowplough, who stopped and told me there was an house 3 kilometer after where he was staying and I was welcome to spend the night there. Arriving to this house in the middle of nowhere I found 8 workers staying there, whose job was to keep the road clean from the snow. I also found a detailed map who showed what it might have been obvious to anyone with a minimal common sense left: the pass was actually at 1900 m of altitude, not 900! The rest of the day was spent ‘talking’ in my broken turkish with the guys living there and satisfying our respective curiosity about each other life (they spend one week in that house, where there is also a chef who cooks for everyone, and one week in their real home. And in summer only one person is left to control the house, all the other move somewhere else to build roads that will have to be cleaned during winter).

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By that time, Malatya, were a proper break was awaiting me, was only three days of riding away. This was plenty of time to meet some Turkish who spoke a perfect German having worked there for a long time (one of them told me that he met a group of young German cyclists last summer and asked me if bike touring in Turkey was part of some university program, something you have to do to obtain your degree), to have another big climb, with a 1000 m altitude difference and to completely cover my bike in mud in a pathetical attempt to wild camp. This last episode saw me going back to a village with no more than 500 people and asking to put my tent there and I was given an abandoned house where to spend the night. Between all the people that, as usual, gathered around me as I entered the village and discussed what was an appropriate place for my tent, came out a young guy, speaking a perfect English, something completely unexpected; he soon explained he was not from there, but from Bodrum, a popular touristic destination in South Turkey (and this explained the perfect English), and was spending the night inside the truck he was driving since he had a mechanical problem and didn’t make it home before night: I was not the only one stuck in this village! We were having dinner together in a lokanta, the only place who served some food (and there I discovered menemen), when a kind local came to bring me another dinner. Before sleep we were offered some raki on the back of the lokanta as they were not allowed to sell any alcohol; two rich dinners and raki were more than enough to make me feel better after the big climb and the little ‘mud incident’ while wild camping.
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Another place I received a lot of warnings about is the area around lake Van: the high altitude (1600 + m) combined with the presence of Kurdish people make this region a real nightmare for most of the Turks; they say ‘terror… PKK’ and theatrically fear and tremble,adding that after Elazig I should get a flight back to Italy, as if the (safe) world would end in Elazig. On the next weeks I’ll ride along Van lake, but not before a small detour to visit Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city in the world, Mardin and Hasankeyf, a tiny village on the Tigris river.

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2 thoughts on “A warm Turkish Winter

  1. Gli incontri con tanta gente, diversa accogliente, solidale, ci fanno pensare che un mondo migliore sia possibile. Ma ci vuole tutta la fatica che tu stai sperimentando sul tuo corpo per scoprirlo. Non bastano i talk shaw della nostra tv, e le impennate di un Grillo. Go on, Francesco, ti siamo vicini.
    Tommaso

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