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  • Jamie Shannon

Still the Black Sea. Being gifted my own Galatasaray shirt and a free haircut - Turkish style

From Inebolu, I still had a fair way to go until Sinop was reached and with it, the start of a much more forgiving road. I was on my way by seven and was greeted with a beautiful stretch of road that was, most importantly flat. This is a joy to behold, particularly at half seven in the morning.

I sat on a bench overlooking the beach and had breakfast, just taking in the views and the serene atmosphere whilst a few people were out and about walking along the promenade.

After another torturous climb up and around the coast, I flew back down the other side into a long slither of land where a pretty little seaside town stood. I bought some yummy warm bread from a baker and after this, decided to try for another go at finding some tobacco.

I walked into a shop and was told that, although they didn’t sell it (now there's a surprise), they knew of someone whom did! That was unexpected. I was instructed with hand gestures to follow a postman on his motorbike which I did and, five minutes later, was surprised to find myself standing outside a small shop next door to the bakers I had visited earlier.

The lady inside had two huge plastic boxes of the stuff and in the end I bought about 400 grams of the stuff which cost me a whopping 10 Lira. That’s just £3! Now that’s a price I can live with.

As I entered one town that day, there were packs of strays wandering around the centre, seven at a time, and would halt the traffic at every possibility. That made me laugh. There are in fact quite a few of them along the road outside of the towns, sniffing amongst the rubbish that people tip there but luckily they never seem too interested in me.

Yet more Turkish amazing hospitality thrown my way

The clouds had been hanging over me all day and as it really started to pour down. I quickly got off the road, and seeing no bus stops, pulled into a driveway where I saw a family above through the window. I indicted that I just wanted to get some shelter under the porch until the rain died down which they of course said was fine.

That’s really all I wanted but thirty seconds later, I was being escorted upstairs where I was introduced to everyone that were sitting down around the huge table. There must have been twenty people all happy and enjoying the reunion. Here I was, sweaty and dirty interrupting their festivities. They said it was no problem and that I should just sit down and relax

I spent the next hour being treated to çay upon çay upon çay whilst tucking into some delicious food. To top it off, they were all in fact from Germany and were just visiting their parents whom still lived in Turkey. I was thus able to converse in English for the first time in quite a while which was a real pleasure.

I was able to get information about Turkey and to ask all sorts of questions that I wanted answers to. I couldn’t thank them enough you know.

I continued on my way a little later once the rain had stopped and climbed ever so gradually for the next couple of hours or so until I had finally reached the top. I was so high up amidst the mountains that I could see the huge sweeping valley below and the road twisting its way back down.

I found just the perfect spot to camp later by a riverbank under the shade of some tree’s which allowed me to lie down without the sun beaming down ferociously. It was a really nice spot.

I again followed the beautiful coastline the following day but alas it was not to be flat. Short and steep uphill’s preceded crushingly short downhill sections and I was now simply ready for it to end. At midday, I was literally pleading with something above to end this mad stretch of road but it just continued for what seemed like an eternity.

After another torturous day on the bike in sweltering heat, I finally reached a spot about 15 km’s west from Sinop where the road straightened out and wound its way through thick and beautiful forest. I couldn't quite believe it. After all the straining, panting, sweating and helpless cries, I had finally reached Sinop, 300 km’s after beginning this long and arduous journey form Amasra. It was possibly one of the most difficult stretches of road I have ever tackled indicated by the fact that what would normally take me three day’s took me six. It was a huge milestone.

After Sinop, I carried on and eventually pulled off the road and walked up a small track to where a house stood. To cut a long story short, I asked to camp, they said yes, çay and lots of food followed whilst I erected my tent which gathered curious looks from the children of the family. I bloody love Turkey you know.

I didn’t make it too far the next day but for very good reasons.

Firstly, when I woke up, I realised my MP3 player had died. This was a real problem for me as I just love having my music. Thinking it might just have frozen I stopped at the first gas station I saw and hooked it up to their power outlet but it was no use. It was completely dead

With yet more çay consumed, I headed off up and down some long and sweeping hills around the coast until I decided to pull off the highway into a small town called Gerze where I could hopefully do some shopping and perhaps use the internet and figure out what the problem was with the player.

How on earth can the Turkish people be this hospitable? Leaves me speechless

After walking around for what seemed like an eternity, looking for an internet café, I decided I would simply ask in a kebab house and to my surprise was told that they did have internet. I decided at this point that I needed a treat after the last few days and so ordered the nicest and most filling kebap they had.

Now, obviously I was the only non-Turkish person present and so lots of questions followed which in turn were followed by lots of selfies and a vigorous use of google translate. In the end, one of the guys whom worked there invited me to sleep at his house that night as his guest. The only issue was that he didn’t finish work until 8 that evening and it was not even midday now. I thus had eight hours to kill in a small seaside town.

I tried to pay for my meal and drink but of course they were having none of it. I was a guest in their country and that was that.

I thus spent the day walking around and generally relaxing by the sea. After sitting in a bar by the beach for couple of hours, I made my way outside of town in order to make some food out of the ever watchful eye of the locals.

A little later, a Turkish couple wandered over as they had seen my bicycle propped up against the barrier. Turns out that, having cycled all the way from Istanbul, they had found out a mere one days ride from the Georgian border that the president – following the coup attempt - had closed the borders to all Turkish residents for the following three months. They were now making their way back to Istanbul, albeit following a different route. I couldn’t help but feel for them. What sodden luck.

I went back to the kebab house at eight and was greeted with a very warm Turkish welcome from everyone – I mean they actually seemed genuinely pleased to see me. I was told that the uncle of the guy whom had invited me to stay would take me back and so, fifteen minutes later and with yet another free kebab in hand, we walked the short distance to their apartment building where I was treated to a shower and my clothes were treated to a washing machine.

The other guys returned a couple of hours later and we thus spent the evening enjoying some beers and music over google translate. It was it very enjoyable night and I was mightily pleased to have stayed. They even gave me a Galatasaray football shirt as a gift and I vowed to send them a photo of me on top of the tallest mountain Ill cross in Tajikistan wearing it.

From Gerze, the road was mercifully flat with the constant hairpin bends having been replaced by huge sea defences. A four lane highway and tunnels which, although made for a monotonous ride, certainly made the whole day far easier than any day previously. I was thanking my lucky stars.

I rode on and on, until I eventually reached the city of Samsun, 120km’s east and at which point, I became a little stuck with regards to negotiating my way out of city of 600 000 people. I had no Idea just how big the city was thus rode into it thinking I could make my way out before it grew dark. In the end, and with the light fading, I cycled off the main highway and asked at an office by the roadside if it was possible to camp by the side of their building. Once gain I received an emphatic yes from all the employees there and yes, more cay, olives, bread and cheese followed.

The generosity of the Turkish people is really beginning to overwhelm me. It just seems that, the further east I go and the more conservative or economically poorer a country becomes, the more generous they are.

Being gifted a haircut as well as a nostril and ear trim by the local barber

This kind of generosity was to become even more impressive the following day when, having negotiated my way through six lanes of dangerous traffic out of Samsun, I was waved down by man outside a tea house by the side of the road. Initially I was just going to ignore him as I again wanted to put in another huge day on the bike in order to make up for all the 50, 60 and 70 km’s day’s I had been doing previously. I quickly decided against this plan of action when I realised that I should continue to say yes to people. I men this is why I’m here right?

It was a very surreal experience but one which started off in the usual fashion of two glasses of chay being offered. I must have been surrounded by fifteen people at one point with the man whom had waved me down constantly saying ‘my name is Mustafa alakmi bonzo’ or some other crazy name whilst pointing to a particular person. From the roar of laughter that went up, I immediately got the impression that he was just making fun of the various people.

After a half hour or so, he started making hand signals indicating that he wanted to cut my hair to which I replied it was really not needed. With him not taking no for an answer, I found myself walking twenty metres down the street, chay in hand, and being ushered into his barbers shop where I was asked to take a seat.

He proceeded to give me the full works thus I left later having had what felt like a full makeover. He cut my hair, shaved my beard, gave me a face mask, cut the hair from my nostrils and burnt the hair from my ears. When it was done and at about the time when you usually inspect the back of your head with a mirror, a cigarette was thrust into my mouth.

It was an altogether crazy experience and kind of just goes to show that the word ‘yes’ is usually the right one to go with.

Having cycled another five km’s, I stopped at a gas station to sit down on the benches and shade they provide to eat my lunch. I was joined by two men, one of which spoke passable English and whom bought me a coke and an ice cold bottle of water whilst we chatted.

The generosity stuns me, knocks me down and also makes me feel a little depressed about how we treat visitors’ to our own countries sometimes. I guess it’s just that, as you are a guest in their country, they just want to show you the best of their country and to make sure you want for nothing. It is an honour and a privilege and, I'll miss Turkey when I leave in a few days. It has left an undeniably amazing impression on my soul

More strange things were to happen today, Indeed it would turn out to be one of the strangest but most enjoyable days of the trip thus far.

I was sat down outside a shop on a sofa enjoyable a midday ice cream quite content with life reading my book. I was alone and had chosen this shop for the simple fact that there was no one around and thus could catch up on some reading. It only took ten minutes though until a young guy who spoke a little English came over and started chatting which, in all fairness, I didn’t mind as he gave me some good information about the road ahead.

Five minutes later however, two cyclists ,whom had obviously seen my bike, pulled over and introduced themselves as Will and Chloe, filmmakers from London. They had caught a ferry to Spain before cycling to Barcelona and catching another ferry to Italy where they had cycled a few months before moving onto the Balkans and now Turkey. Now if you thought I was crazy then you should see them as they are doing it on a tandem bicycle! It’s a real sight I must say.

We discussed our plans and it turned out we were all cycling in the same direction and so we decided that we would continue on together. This is whom I find myself cycling with now.

It’s been quite wonderful and a real pleasure to be cycling with someone else instead of on my own for a change. To be able to enjoy and share the small things like cooking of an evening, meeting the locals and camping has been an experience completely different to the last few months. It’s fantastic.

No longer is everyone staring at me as I pass them. They seem to be more interested in these two nutters cycling around on a tandem. I’m enjoying it immensely.

To cap it off of course, they naturally speak impeccable English and this is something that is, well, just invaluable after so many months on the road broken of very sporadic instances of ‘normal conversation’.

We’re now 300 km’s from the Georgian border and although my stove has just broken, I’m in high spirits, enjoying the trip immensely and looking forward to the remainder of this wonderful country.

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