Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Uluborlu,Turkey

Friends: I've been jarred awake when a wind has blown my bike over near my tent as I've slept, but never before have I had my bike crash into my tent with such force as this morning an hour before sunrise. It instantly awoke me from a deep sleep. I knew instantly that it couldn't have been the wind, but that David and I had intruders, and someone had turned my bike into a wake-up alarm, hurling it into my tent.

The attack wasn't a complete surprise, as a couple of guys had discovered us just as we were setting up our tents the evening before as a storm blew in. They warned us that this wasn't such a safe place to camp and invited us to come to their home out of sight over the next rise. We declined their offer, not wishing to race the coming storm and also counting on the storm to limit the possibility of anyone else being out and happening upon us, though these two guys had made a determined effort to find us, either seeing our tracks up the dirt road we had taken or perhaps spotting us from a distance before we had disappeared among the bushy terrain.

We had pushed our bikes up a steep dirt road and across a field to reach our campsite, evidently not being as discreet as we should have. It wasn't a campsite I would have chosen, but David was determined to camp high above the road for a good view and to be above what he called "the fetid smells of the valley." Not only were we exposed for too prolonged a spell pushing our bikes up the dirt road, but it was better than an hour before the six pm sunset, making it easier to be spotted in the light, especially with people still out and about.

The two guys who discovered us as we were setting up our camp had come up the road on a motorbike and then rushed about trying to find us.  I could see them below us through the bushy terrain. I didn't like their sense of urgency at all, but after speaking with them, neither of us felt concerned that they were a threat or that we were at risk of being discovered by anyone else.  In all of our wild camping experiences all over the world we have camped in many iffy spots but have always been protected by that sense of grace that envolopes the touring cyclist.

In my groggy morning state I at first thought that our intruders had accidentally stumbled upon us and were just overly forthright in awakening us with the bicycle thrown at my tent. When I emerged from my tent to see what was going on, I heard one fiercely shouting "MONEY, MONEY," at David, the only words of English he seemed to know. My pulse quickened and I quickly ducked back into my tent to hide the bulk of my money. David tried talking to them, but to no avail. Then I heard a gunshot. I quickly opened my tent door to see what was going on, hopıng Davıd hadn't been the target of the shot.

When I did I had the barrel of a shot gun thrust into my face. My first thought was "this is it," but I was only inflicted with the demand of "MONEY, MONEY," myself. I hurriedly thrust a wad of bills from my wallet out the tent door. I had already removed the credit cards from my wallet. When the thief saw the wallet he stuck out his hand for it. I tried to remove the hundred dollars I had hidden, but he gave me a hard kick in the chest and then reached in again. I dıd not hesitate handıng it to him.

While this was going on I heard a second gun shot, as Davıd resisted the other assailant. David had gıven him a couple of bills but was beıng harassed for more. The guy was hitting David over the head with a mallet of some sort and bashing in his tent. I heard him say, "Ouch, that hurts." The guy dealing with me saw how much he had gotten, which was evidently enough, and called off his partner and they fled in the dark.

David's tent poles were slightly bent and one broken, but otherwise our gear didn't appear to have suffered any other damage, though I later discovered a bent tent pole myself. My chest was sore from where I had been kicked and hurt a bit when I breathed in deeply, but I didn't seem to have broken any ribs. We hardly said a word as we packed up in the pitch dark with the aid of our headlamps.

Our thoughts have been on Frank Lentz, an American cyclist who disappeared in eastern Turkey in 1894 on an around the world bicycle tour and is the subject of a recent book, "Lost Cyclist," by David Herlihy. We thought we might venture to the town where Lentz was last seen over a century ago. David commented that this further bonds us wıth Lentz. He also remembered that Dervla Murphy, the Irish cyclist who wrote the book "Full Tilt" about cycling from Europe to the Himalayas in 1962 had also been robbed in Turkey. David added that this was a first for him, then added, "But you're stıll one up on me," referring to my robbery at knife-point along the road in South Africa two years ago.

It had rained hard during the night, turning the dirt road back to the highway into an unrideable muddy quagmire. When we reached the paved road just as the sky was lighting up, it took us several minutes to scrape clean the mud that caked our tires and clogged our brakes. We were still in a state of semi-shock from our robbery, but our thoughts were mostly on how lucky we were that we had only lost a couple hundred dollars and suffered only minimal damage to our gear and just a few bruises to our selves.

They could have swooped in with machetes and hacked our tents to shreds or taken the machetes to us and done us in. They could have stolen our bikes or grabbed any of our bags. They could have demanded our cameras and watches. We were fortunate, too, that they waited until shortly before daybreak, allowing us a full night's sleep. If they had come in the middle of the night, we couldn't have stuck around after being robbed and would have had to get going then and there.

A couple hours later we saw a pair of touring cyclists up ahead along the road preparing to begin their day, the first we had seen. We anticipated that the first we'd see would be German. Their Ortlieb panniers seemed to confirm it. David cycled up to them and spoke German. They understood, but they were Swiss.

They'd been on the road for two months, wild-campıng most of the time too, as they had just done. They'd had no problems. Their only complaint was a bad flat tire day the day before with four. They hadn't encountered any other touring cyclists until they reached Turkey two weeks ago. They'd met a Norwegian traveling on his own and a French guy and a German guy traveling together. It was heartening news that the perils of Turkey couldn't be too pervasive to have scared off cyclists. We'd like to assume that our assault was an aberration, though we will be much more careful when camping in the future.

We had been rather brash in this choice. Even though the campsite was isolated from view, we were exposed to eyes way too long in reaching it and stopped to camp more than an hour before dark, a little too early, greatly increasing the likelihood of people still being out and being able to spot us.

It was unsettling enough of an experience that David said that if he were on his own he might be tempted to just head back to Rhodes, his favorite Greek island, where he has spent several winters painting portraits and landscapes for the tourists and where he intends to spend a couple of months after we end our travels together, but we are not to be deterred just yet.

I had the same dilemma after being assaulted in South Africa two years ago. I survived a further month-and-a-half, though with diminished enjoyment, as I was continually on guard, prepared to hightail it home if I had been attacked again. It will take awhile for us to shake this off. We will now be traveling under a dark cloud of suspicion and wariness, despite the many warm and hospitable encounters that have predominated these travels.

Later, George

3 comments:

Stuart said...

Wow! I'm so glad nothing more serious happened to you. What did you decide to do about going to the police?

george christensen said...

We didn't bother with the police. The robbers had scarfs wapped around their faces and would have been impossible to identify. If they had tuly gotten sometinng valuable from us, we could have enlisted their help to go to the home of the two guys who initally accosted us, as they no doubt spread the word about our presence or could well have been the perpetrators. They told us they lived nearby when they invited us to stay with them.

Julie Hochstadter said...

Arg! Please be careful. Terry had mentioned some "issues" you had had, I'm just getting around to hearing about your trip. Let me know if you need anything.... Julie