Leaving Göreme was, in many ways, hard and I was in a somewhat melancholic mood as we cycled away from the magical land of balloons and fairy chimneys....and world's noisiest call to prayer!! As we are almost constantly on the move from one place to another it doesn't enable us to develop the comfortable sense of belonging, that the familiarity of 'home life' provides (in the form of friends, family, job, house etc.). Perhaps it is for this reason that I have gained great joy from spending time with some other touring cyclists along the route through Anatolia which has provided a degree of regularity that, on some subconscious level, I apparently craved! However, as our cycling friends continued their journeys eastwards from Cappadocia, Ashley and I began the return journey to Istanbul. It was a strange and unexpected feeling and took most of the day to shake off.
As expected, the cycling was full of long ascents and descents, but the prevailing winds weren't too oppressive and we were able to cover good distances across the golden-brown landscapes without over exerting ourselves! We were now taking a route that was off the regular tourist trail and with it came an increasing number of strange looks from locals coupled with a greater eagerness to appear hospitable. One morning, after emerging from our camping spot in amongst some trees beside a car park, we were invited to join a couple for an impromptu breakfast. Despite having just filled our bellies with bread and chocolate spread, we readily accepted the kind offer and feasted on flat bread with cheese, fresh watermelon and apples! Verbal communication wasn't easy but we managed to express our feelings of gratitude and they were simply pleased to have been able to help two strangers on their journey. No matter how fleeting these encounters are in the grand scheme on the trip...we retain vivid and fond memories of every person who has shown kindness towards us throughout our journey.
Personally, I gain most pleasure from simply being on the bike and immersing myself in the physical challenge while absorbing the visual treats that constantly impress. However, the most heartwarming and memorable moments are saved for those unexpected occasions when a complete stranger welcomes us into their world for few delightful moments! In Sivrisehir I had popped into BIM to buy some provisions and on returning to the street, I found Dorothy and Clara being guarded by a burly pet store owner. "Your friend is in the bank" he said. OK, I thought...perhaps Ash wanted to withdraw some money..."He is having çay...you must join him" the man continued. So, I duly entered the bank and saw Ash sat at a desk with the bank clerk enjoying a cup of coffee whilst genuine customers sat waiting to be served....I went over and joined them both (a little sheepishly) and we chatted about football (it can be very confusing when asked which team I support (Torquay) as people think I am saying Turkey...so for the remainder of the trip I am a becoming a Liverpool fan...it just makes things easier! If you are English, there is an assumption that you live in London and support Man Utd....but there are boundaries beyond which I refuse to tread!). It must sound a bit repetitive but people have been so incredibly kind to us....even the manager of a BIM in Haymana asked us if there was anything that we'd like from his store for free!!
As forewarned by Lonely Planet, Anatolia is subjected to some spectacular electrical storms in June. Mornings are clear and bright, clouds build throughout the afternoon and heavy rain and storms arrive by mid to late afternoon. One night we were caught in the direct path of a storm and I can assure you that, whilst lying under a thin piece of canvas as loud booms and bright flashes surrounded us, we were acutely aware of the power of Mother Nature...and our mortality!!
As we headed towards Inegöl, the mountains (and storms) were left behind and the landscape was once more dominated by olive groves, peach trees and tractors. I'm not convinced that the organic movement has really taken off here, pesticides are used flagrantly (even on the ornamental trees lining the streets!) and Ashley and I have been inadvertently sprayed twice...well I suppose it will help to keep the bugs and mosquitos away!
And so we now find ourselves back in Istanbul. A city which, if you follow the BBC, has been under siege for the best part of two weeks! What started as a peaceful protest against plans to redevelop one of the few remaining green spaces in the city has escalated into a nationwide show of unity against the heavy handed way in which the police dealt with the protestors and an increasing feeling of animosity towards their prime minister (Erdogan) whose conservative, Islamist views appear to be pissing off a lot of people in what is a secular state. The protests are confined to a tiny part of the city and, had we not been told about them by friends in the UK (and subsequently read about them on the BBC), would be blissfully unaware of any of it having taken place at all.
Mum and Dad came out to visit and we spent two wonderful days exploring the city together. It was a great excuse to eat more baklava, cruise the Bosphorus and visit many of the other popular tourist sights (of which I don't think I could ever tire!). When it came to saying goodbye, tears were shed and loving sentiments were shared through lingering embraces, as the words we wanted to share struggled to escape from behind quivering lips. Goodbyes are never easy!
So, thoughts now return to the cycle trip and today we made our fourth (frustrating) visit to the Tajikistan embassy! What should have been a straightforward visa application process has proved to be very lengthy! It all boils down to us needing a signature on our GBAO permit (for the Pamir Highway) and the only person with the authority to provide it being out of the office (despite assurances to the contrary!) whenever we turn up! Whilst these little inconveniences are a bit irksome (today we were sat on the pavement outside the embassy until 1.30pm waiting for our pre-arranged 10.30am appointment) there is nothing that we can do about it, except keep smiling and embrace the experience of post-soviet bureaucracy! Now that we are sat in the comfort of our hotel room, cup of tea in hand, we can delight in the fact that we have our Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (with GBAO permit for the Pamir Highway) visas in our passports and look forward to spending the next 6 weeks exploring Central Asia!
Love and hugs. X