The hidden track

March 25th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Izzettinkoyu, Mediterranean Coast, Turkey

Mustafa shook his head when we asked of a dirt track that may take us through the mountains from Oludeniz to Golbent, missing a busy piece of highway. Sinan also shook his head, tutted and said, “Wa’allah hey, I don’t know.” We showed our map to a few locals in town, but each time people said that the route we wanted to take was impassable – and probably the Likia Way, an ancient walking track, which links up all the historical sites from the Lycian times.

It was lucky then, that when leaving Oludeniz, Dan said he wanted to stop to touch the sea one last time. As he ran back from the turquoise waters, a man on an old moped pulled up and said, “Hi, my name’s Hector. Do you want to go paragliding today?” We were probably some of the only tourists he’d seen all winter. We shook our heads and told him that we were planning to leave Oludeniz that minute.

Then, in one last ditch attempt for the track we’d yearned for but almost given up on, Dan pointed at our map, and asked Hector if he knew anything about it. “I have a friend who lives in village up there,” he said, “he told me a new track was made in the summer. Hang on a moment.” The mobile phone came out of his pocket, and Hector made a call. To our delight, the tracks existence confirmed, as was the passability of it as far as Golbent. “But don’t take my word for it… I’m not sure how it will be for bicycle. Here’s my number incase you get into trouble.

The road stretched ahead and we pedalled with joy and anticipation. Granny gear employed at all times, heart pumping in the roof of my mouth. The first 10 kilometres were paved…

Hector had drawn us a rough map to show the route. When the road turned off to the left towards a village called Kirme, which nestles in the bosom of Baba Dag, the highest mountain of the region, I shuddered. The road had disappeared, and in it’s place was a steep, broken track, full of rocks and totally unrideable. Dark storm clouds had also gathered above Baba Dag’s snowy peaks and the air felt ominous.

We paused at the side of the road, looking at each other, doubting that this was the way Hector had really meant us to go. Just at the moment, we heard a car slowly and cautiously make its way down the track towards us and we confirmed with them that this indeed was the route up and over the mountain.

With hesitance, we got off our bikes and began to push, huffing and puffing under the weight of our heavily loaded bikes. When I slipped and fell on the loose rocks beneath my feet, I began to cry. I felt so different from when I had cycled across the world before, I was so soft now, had so much less need for adrenaline, or pushing myself to the edge. I thought I couldn’t go on, and in that moment just wanted a ‘simple’, ‘easy’ life, a ‘safe’ life, a ‘normal’ life.

Dan steadied me, and together we sat on the side of the track and talked about the alternatives. How we could always go back, and how it would be to take the challenge and overcome the difficulties.

And there it was – a flash of energy and inspiration – that something in me that wouldn’t give in. I didn’t want to turn back and take the highway. I wanted to discover that hidden track, and so did Dan.

the road just gets steeper and rockier

We trudged for 2 hours, barely able to ride. By 4 o’clock, we’d reached Kirme, a small village of only about 20 houses, that was self-sufficient through lack of road access until recent times.

The sky was becoming increasingly moody and rumbles of thunder could be heard. We thought we should probably camp before attempting to cross the pass. But Ayse, a local woman, saw us and, with a puzzled face, asked us what we were doing and where we were going. It wasn’t a good time to go on, we could stay with her, no problem.

What a relief to be sitting by a wood-stove, with the bread in the oven and the soup in the pot. That night, all the inquisitive neighbours came by, with their knitting and their husbands, to see who the foreigners were. The room was filled with 12 people and more kept knocking at the door! Even the imam and his wife dropped in.

resting in Kirme with our new friends

The next morning we left early, to try and pass the zig-zagging road ahead. The storm had passed and the day was clear once again.

and rockier... and steeper...

Lots of pushing again, but this time, my mind was in a different place. It was in a place where my heart met it and breathing went in time. It was a place where, when my breath was short, the view filled up my lungs and kept me moving.

We climbed and pushed and pulled at the bikes for 4 hours.

Winding ever slowly up and up and up, Kirme disappearing below.

We had no provisions, except for Coco pops and milk, which we enjoyed in the sun as we neared the summit.

Each time we looked down, we were amazed at the road we’d traversed… the hidden track…

And at the summit, the track turned from the warmth and blue of the sea and we were amongst the snowy peaks.

Ride on and follow those hidden tracks!

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Hos Geldiniz

March 25th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Mediterranean Coast, Turkey

“Hos Geldiniz!” is one of the most common phrases we’ve heard as we’ve cycled along the Mediterranean Coast. It means “Welcome!”, and here are the people who really welcomed us into their world.


Krista first met Mustafa in India 10 years ago, again in Pakistan where they tried to get visas for Afghanistan together, and then she was a guest at his place when she came through Turkey. I can’t believe all these years have passed! We spent a great day with Mustafa, catching up on the old days and visiting his self-built house in the mountains, which overlooks the azure sea and Rhodes.

Family and friends at Kirme village, below Baba Mountain

After a long day slogging uphill on ever winding zig-zagged tracks, we were generously invited in to stay with Ayse and Aliriza. That evening, the inquisitive population of the village visited the house, to see who the ‘yabanci’ (strangers) were. At one point, Ayse got stressed because there were not enought tea glasses to go round!

Breakfast with Gullu and her family in Izzentinkoy

After some days in the mountains, we had a sharp descent. Enjoying the downhill speed, we overtook a motorbike, carrying Hassan and Gullu, who waved and smiled. Later, as we stopped to look at some wild flowers, the couple passed us – and more waves and smiles ensued. When we reached their house, they flagged us down and they invited us for the night. Like Ayse and Aliriza, they grow their own food and we were treated to fresh milk, olives, soup, cheese, meat and potatoes. Warmed by the wood-fired stove and their generous company, we made pidgin conversation and laughed alot.

Gulay, always with a big smile

We asked Gulay if there was a place that we could put our tent for the night. But instead, she took us to meet her German husband Kuno and insisted that we slept at her family home. The generous hospitality didn’t end there as the next day, we were invited to stay at their appartment at the beach in Finike, a stark contrast to the simple village life the night before.

Kuno draws directions to reach his house in Finike

Kuno draws us directions to get to their place at the beach. We felt very refreshed by their company and the relaxing time we spent with them.

Blue lagoon

March 11th, 2009

Posted by Dan
Oludeniz, Mediterranean coast, Turkey

waking up to the blue lagoon

Beginning with a swim, we slipped from our sleeping bags and into the cold water of the blue lagoon. Fresh and invigorating but icy cold, I found it difficult to get straight in. 5 months of hot showers in Istanbul has softened me, and I found it hard to keep my breath.

After we had breakfast, Sinan brought over tea and sat with us for a while. His English is as good as my Turkish, so with Krista’s better Turkish, we spoke in Turkish – asking him about the road ahead. We spotted a small track that hugs the coast and the side of the mountain, that we wanted to follow. Unfortunately, he had no idea if it was rideable, or where it ended. We also asked him what he does in his 5 month holiday, when the tourists have gone home. His friend the day before called him Robinson Crusoe, as he lives in the old stone cottage that is joined to the facilities and outdoor kitchens that serve the tourists who use this place as a private beach in the summer. He told us that he spends his time fishing in the lagoon, and sometimes he is called to do odd jobs and a bit of driving. We watched him fishing, simply spinning a baited line around his head and then letting the reel of line off spool 15 metres out. Somehow though, we wondered whether he maybe felt trapped and bored, with no-one around and just doing the same things day in and day out. He asked us if we were happy with our lives.

Today I met one of the characters from Krista’s past life – when she cycled from Australia to Egypt. His name is Mustafa, and they first met in India in ’97 and then again in Pakistan, where they tried to get visas for Afghanistan together. Then she stayed with him when she reached Turkey, and with only $60 left in her pocket, he scored her a job on a yacht for the summer season. Now, 10 years has passed (Mustafa thought that only 3 or 4 years had gone by!).

He took us to a remote village, where he has built a house with olive and lemon tree gardens. It looks down to the sea and is surrounded by high cliffs where goats graze and a stream carves through that rocks supplying the area with fresh spring water.

Mustafa is the most experienced and qualified yachtsman in Turkey. At the moment he maintains and skippers a $US 20 million motor yacht, employed by a rich Italian who seems to have little interest in sailing. He is paid to have the boat ready to go, but the owner never comes! So Mustafa is pleased to spend the time building his place.

We walked back to the car at sunset, the first time I’ve seen the sunset over the horizon in 5 months. Friendly villagers, using polite and religious expressions, greeted us and gave us tea, while Mustafa met with a friend to discuss building works.

Back in deserted Oludeniz, we were taken for dinner in the oldest pide place here. Krista and Mustafa remembered old times. It feels very different here – genuine and hospitable.

riding out

Ode to Istanbul

February 15th, 2009

over istanbul

After our winter hibernation, we’ve just posted some Istanbul photos.
Click here to view.

Material World

February 13th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Istanbul, Turkey

Photo: Dan and I crossing the border into Turkey in October 2008

As you know, we chose the ‘slow road’, which meant a meandering summer bike ride through Europe, a rest stop in Istanbul for autumn and winter 2008, and the ‘road to Lhasa’ continuing in spring 2009.

So for 5 months, we’ve been living in Istanbul, amongst a population of 20 million other souls, all breathing and striving together, shoulder to shoulder. It hasn’t been easy – with the traffic more crazy than Cairo, the mayhem more than I’ve known before (perhaps I’m just less tolerant these days), and the wheelings and dealings enough to exhaust even the most energetic.

We both found work teaching English, exercising our knowledge of our native tongue and transmitting this to ever eager students… and slowly, surely, with a sprinkle of snow for Christmas, the winter has passed. Spring is here. Our cycling is about to recommence.

But not without hours of preparation. The most tiring has been trundling off to the various embassies: Azeri, Turkmen, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Chinese… It was easy enough to procure visas for Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (just answer questions on a form about “your material status”), but the others have proved to be more of a headache.

We’ve reluctantly surrendered to the fact that we won’t be able to get our Chinese visa here in Istanbul, and will reapply in Tashkent (Uzbekistan),,, then again in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) if that’s unsuccessful. And as for Turkmenistan, well, we may not be able to go through there at all as their visa requirements are so strict. We should:
1. have a letter of invitation (at the cost of $40 – $60 USD each)
2. hire a guide for the duration of the trip (at the cost of $120 USD each per day)
3. specify each place you will stay each night
4. give specific entry and exit dates
5. not stray from your planned itinery
So we’re considering a detour through Kazakstan instead…

Bike maintenance has taken up alot of time too, as both our freewheels broke – this is unheard of with new bikes,,, and we’ve been liasing with bike shops back in the UK to sort this out. My least favourite task has been purchasing yet more equipment (water filter, a pair of 17 inch hub spanners, a Brooks saddle, some new panniers, new tyres,,,)

Tell you what, we can’t wait to hit the road again.

Sat in the shadow

February 5th, 2009

Posted by Dan
Istanbul, Turkey

Sat in the shadow of the British consulate I realise that I have recently climbed out of my own shadow – the first real bout of homesickness. Seeking the ominous experience of a global coffee chain – a place I can sit for an hour or two without being encouraged by way of pestering to either move on or buy another cup of 40 pence tea Turkish tea. And so use their wireless internet for an hour or three!

When we cycle we are usually focused and charged with adrenalin, excitement or amusement at the turn of every corner, seeing what we didn’t expect (or what we did) and I am usually presented with something to think about whether it pleases me or not. There is something to take up the space and thoughts during the times that I have felt a longing to be amongst the familiar, comfortable or with friends and family. Lacking the chance to ride my bike, to cycle the energy and thoughts around my body, to generally exercise has lead me to feel intense frustration for a great deal of the four months we’ve spent in Istanbul.

Finally, we have become comfortable in a small studio flat, learned how to do our English teaching jobs and realised that we have indeed got a very easy life. That one reason for being here is to wait for our families to visit, and that that lack of exercise and frustration is a small sacrifice to pay in order to see the people we love. Additionally, that while we wait out the next month, which we so offered to the sky above to bring the winter to an end and return us a warm spring temperature to cycle on with, we have made a lot of friends who bring us warmth, inspiration, fun and energy.

Content again, I watch the street while enduring the insipid and globally non-offensive music that this coffee chain plays. The men scrub the street outside their shops, pouring steaming hot water and bleach onto the pavement, scrubbing ferociously the water and mess into the drain, which more than likely runs directly into the nearby Marmara Sea!

And I wonder, as I see the Union Jack flag high above the consulate – hanging limp and still against the crisp blue sky, just how life is at home?

Friday prayer

November 21st, 2008

Posted by Dan

Istanbul, Turkey

The sound fills and echoes through the derelict building next door. Tumbling around its empty walls before bursting from the hole where a window once opened, as if pumped from a bigger speaker than that of the minaret it first came from.

The song of the mosque pulses over the rooftops. The voices collide as they take flight. The call to prayer multiplies tenfold, even one hundredfold, as every mosque in Istanbul calls worshipers to Friday prayer.

Long live ‘friend bicycle’

November 1st, 2008

Posted by Krista

Burgazada, Turkey

leaving Kadikoy, Istanbul, to go to Burgazada

Catching the ferry from Istanbul to Burgazada

Happy birthday to meeee, happy birthday to meeee, happy birthday dear Krista, happy birthday to meeee!

My birthday treat was a great escape from Istanbul – the city that has stifled us for a month, the city that we both love and hate, are excited by but frustrated with.

So, on the 1st November, we took a boat ride across the Bosporous, to Kadikôy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. From there, we boarded another ferry, which chugged by sunset to one of the five small islands that rise steeply out of the Marmara Sea.

By the time we arrived at Burgazada, one of the smaller islands, it was late, and in the black, we watched the slither moon sink over the sea. It was going to be a difficult task to find a camping spot in the dark, but our friend Gokhan had told us about a secluded beach where we could safely put up our tent.

Following his slightly sketchy directions, we pedalled out of the ferry port, excited to be in the quiet and tranquility of the island. Cars are not allowed on any of these five islands, so people get around either on foot or with horse and carriage. The only sounds that evening were the clopping of the horses’ hooves and the sound of the wind and waves. Oh, what joy!

We set up camp, following the routine we know so well. When we climbed into our sleeping bags and lay on our backs, we remembered the travelling life again – and how good it can be.

The next day was camp cooking, swimming in the sea in autumnal November sun, yoga stretches and reading. Then a pack-up and a bike ride back to the port. I kept looking over my shoulder to check for traffic – which of course never arrived!

Bridging the gap

October 27th, 2008

Posted by Krista

Istanbul, Turkey

Photo: Istanbul: Crossing the bridge between Asia and Europe on a cold, wet day

The Bosphorus strait separates the two halves of Istanbul, placing one half of the city within Europe, the other half in Asia. Spanning this channel of water is the Bogaziçi Köprüsü – the bridge that connects the two continents.

Our great new friends, Bryan and Gizem, who cycled from Holland to Kazakstan and now live in Istanbul, told us that this bridge is usually closed to pedestrians and cyclists. However, just once a year, the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon takes place and on this day, all cars are banned.

What an opportunity to cross the bridge on foot and walk from one continent to the other!

Bryan, Dan and I caught a ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul. In the pouring rain, with the roads like rivers and the plastic bag covered marathon runners far ahead of us, we traversed the long bridge, celebrating the marathon’s aims of friendship and peace.

If only it were so easy to bridge the gap that divides… the gap between countries and continents, between governments and people, rich and poor, between people of different tribes and cultures,,, the gap within our minds.

Can we not all walk across the bridge together and realise the fact that we are after all, living on this earth as part of the same great human family?

Latest photos

October 6th, 2008

Our Bulgarian photos are now online! Click here to view