Friends: David and I have been following one of the oldest trade routes in the world since leaving Konya two days ago across the grassy steppes of Anatolia--the Uzun Yol (Long Road) or Silk Road. It has been transformed into a four-lane wide divided highway wıth a nice shoulder most of the way. Much of what little traffic that passes us acknowledges us with a horn toot, more than I have ever experienced other than in India, where it is a law to toot one's horn when passing another, whether it be a car or tractor or bicyclist or pedestrian. That was true cacophony, making these Turkish horn toots much more tolerable than they might otherwise be.
Though the terrain has been mostly devoid of trees, recently planted trees line long stretches of the road, struggling to take hold in the inhospitable terrain and cold winters and hot summers. The relatively flat, wide open scenery has been a pleasant contrast to the mostly up and down terrain of our first four hundred miles. With seven mountain ranges, Turkey is 69% mountainous. Still, there has been a fair amount of agriculture. Sugar beets are a huge crop. We passed one monstrous factory converting the beets into sugar with tons of the recently harvested beets piled around it and dozens of trucks lined up to deposit more.
A few of the old way-stations, known as karavanseries, dot the way. They were magnificent castle-like fortresses, two stories high, constructed of stone with just a single entrance, offering the caravans a safe haven. They were built twenty to twenty-five miles apart. Most are long gone. The few that remain vary from piles of rubble to some that are tourist attractions restored as much as possible to their original state.
We camped just half a mile from the karavansary six miles east of the large city of Aksaray last night. With our new style of riding until just before dark, making it less likely that a farmer or shepherd or outlaw might stumble upon us as he heads home for the night, we were rewarded with one of our better campsites of the trip in a quarry protected from the wind and the noise of traffic. Though it lessened the wind chill we experienced the previous nıght, we woke up wıth frost on our tents for the first time. The upper third of a towerıng volcano in the distance was covered in snow, quite a beautiful sight.
Though we try not to dwell upon it, the subject of our robbery still comes up from time to time, partially because David has yet to write about it for his column in Telluride's daily newspaper, "The Planet." He wants to get all the facts right. He didn't remember shouting out, "Ow, that hurts," the first words I heard after I was startled awake by my bike being hurled into my tent, as he was being hit in the head by a mallet.
He didn't realize that I emerged from my tent to see what was going on before having the shotgun thrust in my face, as he never escaped his. When I heard one of the bandits shouting "Money, money," I fled back into my tent to rummage some money from my wallet so İ'd have some ready to give. Unfortunately, one of the guys caught me getting the money out and took the whole wallet, while David got away with only having to give up a couple of bills totaling about twenty-fıve dollars. They got ten times that from me.
The worst of having my wallet taken was losing some personal papers including addresses and phone numbers and a photo of dear departed Crissy straddling her bicycle overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala from a bike trip of ours ın 1980. The photo was worthy of a magazine cover between her beaming smile and spectacular scenery with the lake below and a volcano in the background. She had done some modeling and if she had wished to stick with it this could have been exhibit A in her portfolio.
David and İ try not to speculate on what we might have done differently, though David did say, "İ would have liked to have grabbed that guy who was hitting me by the ears and introduced my knee to his groin." The Swiss bicycling couple had a two foot long stick strapped to the back of Martin's bike that they picked up in Bulgaria to beat off dogs, though they hadn't needed it in Turkey. İf İ had had such a thing in my tent, or my Kryptonite lock, it would have been tempting to whack the guy without the gun, but such retaliation would have been curtains for the both of us.
As we entered Göreme late this afternoon, we encountered a Polish couple on bikes just leaving. They've been ın Turkey for three weeks and have been wild camping most nights without incident, further emphasizing our bad luck and easing our qualms. They recommended a camp ground as well as some hikes through the outlandish scenery of fairy chimneys and spires and beehive thrusts of stone, some with caves that people live in and some that have been turned into hotels. It is a World Heritage Site that attracts thousands of tourists. There are quite a few businesses offering balloon trips and even a Club Med. The scenery is a surreal cross between the Badlands and Arches National Park that Gaudi might have had a hand in designing. We stopped a dozen times on our descent into Göreme for photos. We'll spend the better part of tomorrow exploring.
Earlier in the day we ventured into one of the thirty or so underground cities in this region, also a boggling experience. We were lucky to come upon one of the more distant ones from the tourist hub of Göreme and had it all to ourselves. They were all constructed centuries ago for the locals as refuge from passing marauders. They could live in them for months if necessary.
It ıs a relief to have discovered the alternate "i" on the Turkish keyboard so I can now access my email account and post these dispatches on my own, though it will be a little while before I have trained my right little finger to go to the appropriate "i." At least the keyboard is only one letter different and not five or six like the French keyboard.
The Turkish alphabet actually has six additional letters. The other five are the letters g, u, o, s and c with a squiggle above or below. They are all off to the side of the keyboard, as is the letter i. Oddly enough the Turkish i without the dot on top is in the position of the the normal i. If it had only been off to the side as well, I would have been spared my difficulties, or if I had more closely examined the keyboard.