- Jamie Shannon
Heading east along the Black Sea. There's always a cup of çay around the corner
It’s a very strange feeling you know – this cycle touring. I liken it almost to finishing a good book. Once I have completed a section of the trip and taken a break, It’s very difficult to begin the next section, or book as it were.
So it was that after almost ten days enjoying all that Istanbul has to offer with Maria, I was reluctant to begin again. Perhaps there was a touch of nervousness at my impending charade of having to again tackle exiting this vast city to the east, but even when disregarding that, I was still reluctant to begin the next ‘chapter’.
Thus I did what any sane man would do in this situation – I booked a night in Istanbul loudest hostel which afforded me a grand total of about three hours sleep. It wasn't exactly the best way to begin a journey into unknown territory.
With my bicycle serviced, food bought and a million other things accomplished, I left on a ferry across the Bosporus and arrived on a different continent a half hour later. I had made it to Asia.
Leaving Istanbul was a lot less difficult and mentally challenging than entering it. I simply followed the signs for the various suburbs that led out to the black sea coast. Even though the innumerable hills made this hard work, I left the city in rather good spirits.
After a couple of hours I began my journey along the D20 north east to the coastal town of Sile, and although it was a six lane highway, the traffic was light enough and my shoulder wide enough to allow me to sit back and enjoy the ride.
About 50 km’s from Istanbul, I heard my rear tyre blow up with a loud bang. At first I thought it was simply a blown up inner tube but after I had screeched to a stop at the bottom, I realised that something had actually sliced through the wall of my tyre.
My tyres were still in pretty good condition and I knew I had about 5000 km’s left in them and so I decided on my way out of Istanbul that I would simply pick up a spare in Trabzon or Georgia. This was a decision I was now ruing! Always carry a spare tyre Jamie!
My options were limited: Take a bus back to Istanbul where I could get it fixed quite easily but then who would let me on a bus with ten bags and a bicycle or try to find a shop here. As luck would have it, I had broken down near a small town a couple of km’s off the highway. I doubted there would be a bicycle shop and even if there was, it was a Sunday and in which case, would probably be closed.
In the end, there was of course no bicycle shop but two men could see the dilemma I was in and instructed me to put my bicycle on the back of their truck which the three of us duly did. I didn’t know what they intended though.
They actually drove me five minutes away to a small house by the side of the road where another guy came out. They stood there talking for a few minutes and inspecting my tyre after which we all heaved the bike off the truck and onto the pavement. I gathered at this point that this guy was the local bike mechanic and would come to realise that he was a little wizard when it came to fixing problems.
I sat there for two hours almost. His grandmother kept shouting things at me whilst the mechanic kept laughing. It was a strange situation. I was also given this delicious bread with meat, tomatoes with melted cheese on it and it was absolutely divine.
More people came including a girl whom spoke English and was able to translate. It turns out the older people were worried about me and wanted me to go back home.
Before I left, I insisted on giving the young guy some money for the tyre and his work and, although at first he wouldn't accept, I just insisted and insisted until he eventually accepted. He really did save my day.
A little later, with myself not being tied to a super strict timescale anymore, I found a beautiful place to camp. I could now relax a little and not have to go flat out form dawn until dusk.
Sile was a small town where auto repair shops and gas stations stood side by side. About a kilometre down the main street, I found a small dilapidated bike shop where two men sat outside drinking coffee.
Upon pulling over and no sooner had I asked about whether or not they had a spare tyre, I was offered a seat and a cup of coffee. We talked back and forth in that broken way one does when you don’t speak a common tongue but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
I was given a tyre that, if I’m honest, didn’t instil much confidence in me at all as it looked almost plastic. I accepted it though as it was obviously better than a tyre with a huge tear in the rubber. From Sile, I had decided to take a 'short cut’ along the coastal road instead of continuing inland on the highway and, although indeed shorter, it was the kind of climbing that make your knees feel like jelly and your head spin.
Along the coast, I was immediately introduced to some stunning mountainous scenery. It was a huge bonus and almost made up for the fact that the steep hills continued throughout the remainder of the day.
After 70 km’s or so, I found a great open piece of land to camp on, overlooking a ridge where I got some superb views over the surrounding landscape.
The following morning, I continued towards the town of Kandira twenty km’s away whilst having my first real dog chases of Turkey thus far. I picked up another stick for some insurance too.
Kandira was a nice little town. It had a real bustling market type atmosphere with hundreds of little shops selling every product under the sun. There weren’t any large supermarkets to be found and so my shopping was done in about four different shops.
The last product proved difficult to procure as I wanted rolling tobacco and papers but every single shop seemed to sell only cigarettes. When I had presented my papers for them to inspect, they would give me directions through town to another shop yet upon reaching this I would find only cigarettes. They would then give me another set of directions which I would try to follow only for me to find cigarettes again. By the fourth shop, I decided that perhaps It wasn't to be and so left empty handed.
More and more hills followed as I made my way towards the coast again. Back-braking work it was but I finally found myself in a little seaside town by mid afternoon where another problem arose.
There was a coastal road - a main highway actually – that ran from Cebeci east to Karasu but I simply could not find the entrance to it. Upon heading back into town, I pulled over and asked a a group of teenagers if they knew where the road was but none of them had any idea. Note to self – ask directions only to people aged seventeen and over.
Whilst I was receiving several shrugs of the shoulders, I felt a painful slap of my shoulder, exactly where it was sunburnt and turned around to find a man beckoning me to come over into his office.
I followed him inside and sat down behind his desk where I was offered tea and introduced to his wife and daughter. I then spent a good hour with them telling them about my trip and about how much I was enjoying Turkey. He was so pleased about this and even pulled out an instrument which resembled a guitar and started to thrash out some music. He was really good.
Before I left, he had written down the names of some small towns I needed to head to in order to get to Kandira 55 km’s away and even gave me a business card with the name and address of his Kandira office where I would be able to get a room for the night.
I thus set out again and eventually found a road leading to a small town called Babili. I was certain that this was the road I was supposed to take as it did indeed follow the coast but after a few km’s, it turned inland and I began to cycle west. This was exactly the opposite way to where I needed to go, and with the Black Sea now on my right, I began to panic a little and decided to stop at a house to ask for directions.
They assured me that I needed to continue west and I got the impression that eventually there would be a neat hairpin that would put me right back on track. The only thing I found however, were signs directing me back to the small town of Cebeci where I had come from. There was another road but this led south. How could it be? I hadn’t missed a turning earlier at the coast for sure.
I stood there dumbfounded, sweating great big acidic tears of sweat when a car sped past and screeched to a halt. It backed up, and just as it was about to take the road south, I beckoned it over and asked for directions to Kandira. With this he asked me to follow him down the road whereupon he pointed in the direction I needed to go.
Navigation was continuing to prove a particular problem for me - My maps just weren't sufficient
The problem was that my map was so woefully inadequate in this respect that I had to stop every twenty minutes to ask in which direction I needed to head. In doing so, it would lead me to spend the next half an hour chatting over tea and food. It is a simple fact that one cannot simply ask for directions in this part of the world without first being offered a seat and tea. Not that I was complaining of course. I would also be served up some quite yummy food too; bowls of potato and vegetable soup, yogurt, mixed salads, cake amongst much else. It was delicious.
And so this continued for the next couple of hours until in the distance I finally saw a blue sign with the magical town of Karasu written on it. I was over the moon to say the least. There were a couple of houses dotted on my right but to my left was nothing but open sea and sand dunes stretching out into the distance over miles upon miles of flat land. I really did feel like a new man.
Having had such a difficult day, I wanted to find the perfect spot to camp on the beach. With no one around whatsoever, I knew this would easily be achieved and so at once I turned onto a small pathway leading to the sea. There is just something quite romantic and captivating about camping on the beach with the noise of the sea being the only sound around. I do love it.
I would later learn that the road along the coast had in fact been removed, dug up actually. Well, paper maps just aren’t always up to date in this respect.
I spent the following morning cycling alongside the beach towards Karasu. It was simply wonderful, being devoid of traffic and noise and litter actually. That’s the one terrible thing about Turkey in my mind, the litter. Everywhere you go litter spoils the view. I have been stood at traffic lights where people just drop plastic bottles out of their car. For some reason it actually infuriates me. I just don’t see the reason for it.
My only company really were the many cows that seemed to walk up and down the road nonchalantly. I would use my bell to get them out of the way but they would simply turn their heads and stare at me. They really are the most idiotic of animals.
I cycled along the coast until I exited a village and was faced with a hill that made me weak at the knees. I won’t even try to begin to put into words how difficult the next five or ten km’s were because words fail me.
As for myself, I do get little treats along the way when I stop. One man came out and handed me five succulent pears before which a woman walked over and handed me a fistful of grapes. This, you don’t get in Europe.
At the top of the climb, the mountainous landscape was breath-taking and it was beautiful to just stand there and take it in before of course flying back down.
Luckily for me, some km’s after Akcakoca, the road continued along the flat coast in the form of a four lane highway. In Turkey this really isn’t a problem as there is always over a metre wide hard shoulder to cycle on which is quite different from most other countries.
I continued along the coast until I reached Eregli where I took the rather silly decision to come off the main highway that now began to thread it’s way inland and instead continue on a much smaller road along the coast. At first, it looked like it followed a valley but in reality, It turned into a nightmare of impossibly steep switchbacks that wound their way through small fishing villages.
Now as hard as these kind of roads are, at least in Turkey, you have the saving grace of the people you meet; people whom insist on you sitting down with them in order to share one or four cups of tea and people whom walk out of their houses just to hand you a bunch of grapes or a huge watermelon. I’m rapidly losing count of the numerous small acts of generosity I receive on a daily basis. It’s quite incredible really and something which is making my time in Turkey hugely enjoyable.
The next day, I spent the entire morning – about four hours in all – cycling, pushing and sweating up hill after hill after hill. It was unbelievably difficult work. People looked at me in a way that probably said, “what is this crazy guy doing?” It wasn’t that I wanted to do this of course, merely that I had taken the ‘wrong’ road’.
More cay was offered and more welcome shouts and beeps from passers by encouraged me further on though.
I made my way towards Zonguldak and yet I still had more tough times ahead of me. Turkey is a hard country to cycle through at least along the Black coast anyway. The constantly undulating road means you spend the entire day sweating repulsively and finding out eight hours later that you have only cycled 50 km’s. It makes the day mentally challenging too.
Zonguldak was a heave of activity as I passed though. I visited a bazaar whilst a couple of men whom were drinking tea looked after my bike. It’s quite incredible really how safe I feel even when in a large town– quite different to when I’m in a European one anyway.
Eventually I came to the city of Bartin where I stocked up on some more food at the local market. It’s now beginning to dawn on me that I’m no longer in Europe. I’m now eating an almost exclusively vegetarian diet consisting of rice, tomatoes, eggplant, chill's and very strange looking red peppers. My porridge has unfortunately disappeared too.
I filled up on petrol when I left the city and a few km’s later, upon seeing a man herding some cattle, asked if he knew of a place to camp with which he pointed up hill towards the town of Amasra. I think he thought I was actually looking for a campsite. I guess I have not perfected my hand signals just yet then.
I left him and found a place quite hidden but directly across from a mosque. The loud speaker woke me with quite a start at 11 or and would have again in the morning If I was a late sleeper.
I’m sat in a hotel right now in a town called Cide and will leave quite soon.
Apologies for any spelling errors amongst other things but I have neither the time nor patience to correct them.