Friday, November 5, 2010

Malayta. Turkey

Frıends: We had such isolated camping spots in the sparsely settled high steppe terrain between Kayseri and Malatya the past two nights we were distant enough from any town or village that for the first time in our two weeks in Turkey we weren't awoken half an hour before daybreak by the cry of the müzzein calling the Muslims to prayer.

Both camps sites were near the summit of long climbs peaking out near 6,000 feet. Not only were these high campsites quiet, they were warmer and drier than those of late, as the colder air and moisture settles in the canyons and culverts and valleys. We still experience sub-freezing temperatures, but at least our tents weren't so thickly coated with frost when we awoke in the morning. When there is so much frost, it is impossible to shake it all off, forcing us to unroll them later in the day to rid ourselves of whatever frost remains and dry them out. The frost adds so much bulk to my rain fly I'm unable to fit it into its stuff sack with the rest of the tent.

Last night's campsite was just short of the summit of a 13-mile, 2,600 foot climb through a construction zone. The Turks are ever improvıng and widenıng their roads. We found an abandoned construction road to turn off of just before dark, the latest we have ridden so far. It didn't rank among our more picturesque of campsites, but it was most welcome. The summit was a long time in coming.

Much of our riding has been on recently widened four-lane highways built more in anticipation of traffic, rather than because of heavy traffic. David commented that he has never rıdden on four-lane roads with so little traffic. I would have said the same if I hadn't biked through China last fall. The Chinese were even more obsessed with improving their road system, building interstate/autobahn highways right along side perfectly fine highways with not much traffic.

These past few days have been optimal cycling with clear skies, no wind, the temperature warming to near 60, enabling us to shed our tights and a sweater or two by early afternoon, and vistas that go on and on and that are ever evolving as we descend into a canyon and climb back out. There's not much vegetation, thinning out the number of sheep herders, who can sometimes block the road.

The scarcity of traffic has also limited the amount of litter along the road. I have happily been scavenging cigarette packs here, not for the coupons, as I used to be able to do ın the US before the Congress forbade the coupons earlier this year thinking they encouraged smoking, but for the variety of grisly, graphic, often gruesome, photos on the packs trying to scare people from smoking.

There are photos of people laying in hospital beds with tubes coming out of their bodies, even one  of a baby. There are photos of badly damaged organs. Some packages have an eerie photo of hands reaching out to each other. There is one of a mother pushıng an empty baby carriage and another of a couple sitting up in bed turned away from each other, implying smoking causes male impotence.

Each is accompanied by a different message, unlike the standard warning on American packs stating, "The surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health." We have yet to fınd someone who can translate the assorted Turkish warnings. Based on the disturbing photos, it is unlikely it is as benign as that on American packs. The police offıcer who led us to this Internet cafe spoke a little English, but not enough to offer a translation beyond "cigarettes are bad.".

Cigarette companies do not seem to have their choice of what photos to use, as the photos are not unique to a brand, which includes Marlboro, Winston, Camel and Parliament. My collection will make a fascinating collage. Nor have we encountered a shop owner selling the packs who speaks English. I'd be curious to know if people request packs by the image on them, choosing the least offensive.

I am ever on the alert scanning the roadside for a photo I haven't seen. The pickings were slim the last two days. We did have our biggest scavenging score though yesterday--a silk shawl that must have blown off some woman's head. It was just what I needed to drape over my head when I crawl into my sleeping bag for the night.  It makes a nice alternative to wearing a wool cap or pulling my sleeping bag up over my head. It is easier to regulate my body temperature with the scarf.

Every night is a challenge to take the appropriate measures to stay warm. Since a large amount of heat escapes through the head, sometimes I would like to release some heat rather than retaining too much. If I'm too warm, I uncover my head a bit. If too cold, cover it some more. The silk scarf allows for easier micro adjustments.

The lack of traffic and wide road and shoulder have enabled us to ride side-by-side whenever we wish and converse virtually uninterrupted, not even deterred by vehicles roaring past. Its nice at times though to drop back a bit and have our thoughts to ourselves, then spurt ahead or drift back when we have something to share.

Yesterday, David regaled me wıth tales of some of his sea-kayakıng adventures. The first was a four-month journey from Duluth on Lake Superıor to his parent's home in New Jersey, portaging just twice the entire way, though negotiating sixty or more locks. He said maybe two or three people a decade make the trip.

He's had several other four-month kayak trips, as well as one of seven months in Alaska. The Alaska trip was the only time he has eaten fish while kayakıng and that was just by accident when a salmon jumped out of the water into his kayak. It was a bit risky to cook it, as it could attract bears, but David has had plenty of experience with bears living in the woods of Colorado.

Today's revelation was the tale of the travel experience that altered his life and sent it on its present trajectory--a road trip to Mexico as an 11-year old ın 1964 with a pastor friend and his wife. David's older brother declined the offer of the trip. Though David has returned to Mexico several times since on his bicycle, he hasn't traveled as deeply into the country as on that trip.

Mexico for a period was my favored winter stomping grounds. I have biked the length of its Pacific coast down Baja and all the way to Guatemala, as well as its Gulf coast from New Orleans to Vera Cruz and then over to Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido. I wintered in Puerto Escondido half a dozen times with Crissy and used it as a bicycling base with several professional Canadian cyclists. Not only did we make an annual ride to Oaxaca over the Sierra Madres, we took turns winning an annual 50-mile bike race featured in a nearby town's annual week-long fiesta celebrating its patron saint.

David asked when was the last time I had crossed into Mexico on my bıke. It's been a while--January of 1990 from Guatemala on a motorized canoe with my bike after flying into Belize and biking to the astounding ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. From there I biked to Palenque and then Puerto Escondido. I've returned a few times since, but always by plane wıth my bike, the last to scatter Crissy's ashes on our favorite beach in Puerto Escondido five years ago.

And on and on the stories go, taking our minds off the many long climbs we've had. We're presently in a valley that will take us to the Euphrates River tonight. For the past 25 miles since we descended to this valley we've been passıng apple and cherry orchards. I've been drinking a liter of cherry juice a day, one of the culinary treats that keep me going. We've been eatıng half a pound of black olives a day, buying them either out of a bucket or in a vacuum sealed plastic pack. I keep a bag in my front right pannier and reach down for a couple at a tıme, spraying the roadside with their pits. They provide great energy.

We're also eatıng a pound of yogurt a day. Yogurt is a large part of the Turkısh diet, often accompanying a meal as a side dish, whether ordered or not. Some restaurants serve French fries with yogurt rather than ketchup or mayonnaise. The 500 gram (one-pound) container is often the smallest size available. It comes in containers of a gallon or more as well. When I exhaust the peanut butter I brought along in a day or two, it's not likely I'll be able to replace it. Another spreadable, tahini, will then become a large part of my diet.

Later, George


Yonder Vittles said...

are you encountering any dates or figs? any honey-soaked flaky pastries? nuts? what varieties of grains do you see grown in the countryside? good to hear that you are eating well george.

george christensen said...

I've been craving dates. Only once did Davıd mention a date siting in a store, not knowing I was eager for some. They kept me going ın Morocco. Now that we're in a warmer valley with lots of irrigation from the multiple dmas on the Euphrates, we may have a better chance to find some. There have been roadside sellers of raisins, but I have yet to deplete the suppply I brought from Chicago, thanks to one of our runs.

Stuart said...

This is turning out to be a fantastic trip! I think Turkey is famous for dried figs. They are packaged in a round donut-shaped ring of flattened figs. Delicious!

zekeriya said...

Hey George,
I just send you an e-mail with the full collection pictures of the cigarette packs and their English translation. I am a cyclist too and an English teacher. I wish you a safe ride.
P.S. I am very sorry about the incident you had. I reccomend you to camp at gas stations. They were very safe (always light and a watchman around) when we were cycling around Turkey.