Monday, December 6, 2010

Dalaman, Turkey

Friends: An intermittent drizzle along with a few cloud bursts, my first significant rain in more than a month, had me scouting for an early campsite.  I was hoping for a good thick pine forest that would provide shelter from the rain and a carpet of pine needles that would provide insulation from the mud.

The night before I'd had a dream campsite in such a setting, so isolated from human habitation my only concerns were being happened upon by a bear or wolf or boar, not that I'd seen any evidence of them, just that I knew they were part of Turkey's wildlife.

I was presently riding through an agricultural belt just inland from the coast flanked by mountains all round. At any time the road could turn upward and forested. An hour earlier I had encountered a young long-haired German cyclist heading the opposite direction repairing a flat tire. He'd been asking permission to camp behind gas stations, just as Zekeriya does when he's touring, and mentioned one thirty miles up the road he'd camped at the night before if need be.

He'd also been taking advantage of and and gave me the email address of someone two days away in Muğla that was part of an ardent cycling community and that he had stayed with. He'd spent three days in Mugla taking cycling trips in the vicinity. He had couches lined up the next two nights, but was going to be hard-pressed to reach the one in Kas that night, delayed by the rain and his flat and more hilly terrain than he expected.  He complained too of knee problems that had been limiting his speed.  Its nice to have planned accommodations, but it does comprise one's independence. This was his second tour, the first in 2004, a ride through Scandinavia. He'd been eager for another, but had kept putting it off. He was making up for it with this one. He'd been on the road for two months and had four to go.

My hoped-for forest arrived an hour before dark. I couldn't immediately take advantage of it as there was a car parked near where I would have slipped in, a likely mushroom forager. I'd seen a few returning to their cars with their haul.  And there had been stands along the road selling mushrooms the past two days. There was another car half a mile later and another. At last I came to a turn-off that had been the previous road, slowly being taken over by weeds, that didn't have anyone parked nearby.

The forest wasn't as thick as I would have liked, but ıt wasn't muddy and it seemed to be deserted, but just after I set up my tent and crawled in I heard some voices in the distance. It was two men bent over plucking fungi. I didn't know if they had seen me, but consoled myself that mushroom hunters weren't likely to be the thieving type. About ten minutes later I heard a voice outside my tent, a middle-aged man wearing a thick pea green coat with the look of a forest ranger. He was quite emphatic that I shouldn't camp there, waving his arms like an umpire signaling a runner safe at home plate and using the word "bandits."

There was just half an hour of light left, but I was almost relieved that I was being forced to relocate, so I wouldn't have to be concerned about someone returning with a gun demanding money as happened in my fırst week in Turkey. With it closer to dark and the mushroom hunters abandoning the forest I figured I could go a mile down the road and slip in. Unfortunately, the forest gave out and I had to pass through a town. It was nearly dark when I came upon a patch of trees that I could disappear into, though it was close to the road and would force me to use my less-illuminating and more concentrated hand-held flashlight rather than brighter and handier headlamp.

But it wasn't like being in eastern Turkey or the highlands where there seemed to me more of an outlaw element. Along the coast is much more Westernized. Many service station rest rooms have toilet paper and sit down toilets along with the squat variety. The horn tooting is negligible and there hasn't been a demand for money from a kid or a stone thrown in days.

The one thing I do miss from the east though is the flat bread, much chewier and calorie-laden than the standard white bread that now predominates. My daily doner kebab comes in a bun rather than wrapped in flat bread. Another difference in this region is the abundance of mini-dumpsters along the road. There is still plenty of roadside litter, but at least there is an attempt to encourage people to be responsible with their trash.

I've also been delighted to see English newspapers with regularity among the many Turkish newspapers on the four-sided display racks out in front of stores. That good news though as been tempered by the discovery that the last time I used an ATM to change money in Adana I was given nearly a one-to-one exchange rate, utter extortion, almost 50% more than the official rate, which I had been charged the other two times I had changed money at ATMs. A newspaper now costs me a dollar fifty, rather than a dollar. Never before have I suffered such an outrageous ATM exchange rate--not in Uganda or Vietnam or China or Bolivia or Venezuela. It was a robbery almost as bad as the armed robbery.

When I reach Muğla, a little over fıfty miles away, I will have completed a 2,500 mile loop of the lower half of Turkey. David and I passed by Muğla our second day in Turkey. I will continue along the coast and reach Istanbul in a week or so and then continue on to Athens. Yesterday's German cyclist warned me that Greece was very very expensive compared to Turkey. At least I have some euros, so I won't have to worry about a thieving ATM for awhile.

Later, George

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