Friday, October 29, 2010

Konya, Turkey

Friends: Two days after our robbery David says he is still discovering bumps on his head from the mallet that one of the robbers pounded him with after bashing in his tent. My ribs, too, remain tender from the kick to the chest I took as I was crouchıng in my tent, and my shirt still bares the muddy imprint of the thief's boot, as I haven't had a chance to wash it in the rainy weather, but neither of our injuries have slowed us. They are just reminders of something we'd just as soon forget.

We were able to repair David's broken tent pole wıth the sleeve that REI provides wıth their tents and also some tape provided by the Swiss couple we met the morning of the robbery. We ended up camping with the Swiss, though we didn't immediately begin riding together. We played tag for several hours along the road, as we continued at our own pace after first meeting, stopping at different places and catching up with one another, hesitant to team up. It wasn't until our fourth encounter in mid-afternoon that we realized the cycling gods were working their damnedest to bring us together. They must have been getting mighty frustrated that we refused to respond, and then have to go to the effort to unite us again and again.

Our first encounter after our initial meeting along the road came at a water spout where David and I stopped to thoroughly clean the mud off our bikes and to refill our water bottles. One of the biggest surprises of Turkey is the frequent springs with water freely flowing out of a pipe that is perfectly drinkable. We have yet to use our water filters. I would have been leery to drink from them if David hadn't assured me that he knew from past visits to Turkey that they were fine. I would have eventually realized it after noticing locals occasionally filling up bottles at them.

When the Swiss joined us at the water spout they too needed water. They mentioned that Katrina's front hub seemed to be a little loose. They were first-time touring cyclists and were concerned about their bikes holding up. They were regularly checking them to see if anything might be amiss. They were very sharp to notice the slight looseness in the hub, but didn't have the experience to know it wasn't something to be too concerned about. Nor did they have the tools or mechanical skills to do anything about it. I said it would only be a concern if it got worse, but that I might have the tools to tighten it.

My lone cone wrench was the right size allowing me to tighten it. It was the second time on the trip that I had a tool or part to attend to another's mechanical need. The first was for a truly dire emergency--a seat post clamp for Davıd's bike. He forgot to pack his. It would have been quite an ordeal biking twenty miles into Athens from the airport on a bike with the seat way too low trying to find a bike shop with this not so common part. It was a veritable miracle that I had packed such a thing and that it was the right size for David's bike.

David wasn't overly upset about his oversight. He said he once forgot to pack his pedals on one trip. Another time he forgot his wheels. He says he relies on "dumb luck" to guide and rescue him. I'm just the opposite, plotting and planning and bringing spare parts and tools for a variety of eventualities. David has greater language skills than I do and is more gregarious with the locals, so we're making a good team. He keeps his humor about everything, accompanying many of his comments with a slight snicker. It is no wonder the lone book he brought was by the humorist/travel writer Bill Bryson.

It was nice to have a second encounter with the Swiss couple to ask them a few things we'd wished we'd asked at our first meeting, but we weren't prepared to commit to one another just yet and say "let's bike together." David and I were still cleaning our bikes, when Martin and Katrina were done with their business, so they set out before us. We caught up to them an hour later at a small grocery store in the next town. We chatted some more, but once again we were all too bashful to say let's make it a foursome, not trusting that our cycling speeds would be compatible.

We lingered at the town to use the Internet, but caught up to them several hours later, spotting them alongside a lake bathing. We didn't wish to intrude upon them, but stopped a couple miles further on a hill overlooking the spectacular Egirdir Lake, the most popular of the several lakes in Turkey's lake district. I commented that it brought to mind Bolivia's high altitude Lake Titicaca with the mountains on its opposite shore and minimal vegegation surrounding it on this high plateau. David said he was about to say the same thing, but since he hadn't actually seen it and I had, he was hesitant to say so, fearing that I might contradict him.

While we ate and reveled in the majesty of the scenery, the Swiss couple joined us once again. At this point we decided to see how compatible our cycling speeds were. Martin tore off at a fast clip of 17 miles per hour while the three of us formed a draft line behind him. It was considerably faster than David and I had been riding and I was soon working up a sweat. I was desperate to shed a layer, but didn't wish to say "uncle" to his pace. He slackened a bit and we were able to ride side by side and chat.

A while later we came upon another natural spring and stopped to fill our bottles. David and I dıd a little bathing as well. Martin asked if he and Katrina could camp with us. We were delighted to have their company. We figured if we didn't find a secluded enough campsite we could form a circle with our four bicycles as the homesteaders did in the west wıth their wagons to fend off the Indians. But we found a well isolated spot a mile down a dirt road and then up on a hill, allowing us to camp with a sense of relative security.

We each prepared our own dinners then ate together in the dark. I couldn't refuse the left-over pasta from Martin and Katrina's three liter pot. Though they were a generation younger than David and I, they were quite accomplished travelers having spent four months in India backpacking and quite a few other prolonged adventures. It was a wonderful evening.

We knew we weren't going to continue on together the next morning as our routes would soon be diverging and we had different departure schedules. David and I ordinarily break camp at first light by seven, while their preference is to have a leisurely breakfast hitting the road around nine. David and I were a bit delayed as we awoke to a light drizzle. We waited for it to abate before setting out, but not before David was able to coax a cup of coffee from them, saving us from having to find one down the road. Coffee is not as universal as tea in Turkey and can be a challenge to find, though not as hard as beer.

The rain returned a couple hours later and continued the rest of the day. It was a cold rain, making for a rather miserable day. Our one bonus was missıng a detour sign to Konya and ending up on a recently paved road blocked to traffic other than a few interlopers who knew the road was passable. It saved us at least 15 miles and allowed us to reach Konya before noon today so we could have ample time to visit the tomb of Mevlana, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet who is known as the Shakespeare of Islam.

His tomb is at a former monastery of his followers. Islamic monks are known as dervishes. Mevlana's sect whirled, spinning around until they reached a state of religious ecstasy. The dervishes were banned in 1925 by Ataturk, Turkey's first president after World War One, revered as the father of modern Turkey.  He transformed Turkey from a medieval Islamic state into a secular European style Republic. The dervishes continued underground, resurfacing in the 1950's when the religious restrictions were relaxed, also allowing the five times a day call to prayers to be recited in Arabic once again rather than Turkish. They only give performances here in Konya once a year during a week-long festival, though there are places in Istanbul where they perform on a regular basis for tourists, somewhat demeaning the purpose of their whirling. Their performance is an intense ritual, as they whirl around in four ten minute intervals.

Their former complex here in Konya is the premier Muslim pilgrimage site in Turkey. It was mobbed this afternoon, mostly by Turks, interspersed with a handful of Westerners. One room had a dozen or more mannequins in dervish garb. They were all bearded and wearing towering hats. We had to wear coverings over our shoes to enter another larger buılding with several rooms containing the tombs of Mevlana and his father along with an array of art work and musical instruments and quite a few books.

We had more rain today. The forecast calls for rain for the next week, though the man at the tourist office said maybe not, as "Only Allah knows." Both our sleeping bags are damp and so are much of our clothes. We may have to resort to a hotel to dry our gear if this persists. Hopefully not, as David warns me he is a loud snorer. We have only pitched our tents close enough once so far for me to have heard.

I have yet to figure out how to access my email account here in Turkey as my password has the letter "i" in it and the "ı" on the Turkish keyboard is different from the standard "i" without a dot above it. It has also prevented me from accessing my blog, what with the "i" in "cyclist." Luckily I have a backup email account wıth a non "i" password that I have been sending these out on. I am relying once again on Robert to post these to the blog. It is much appreciated.

Later, George

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