Monday, 6 January 2014

a happy new year

We make good progress on our first day cycling in Turkey.  We haven't been on such a big road for ages, but there is little traffic and we have plenty of space on the hard shoulder.  The day is grey and not so warm, but perfect for cycling.  Our road takes us through olive groves and fallow fields, around headlands and into a large bay with our first surprise.  What looks like a village on our map is in fact a very large town - sprawling right acoss to the other side.  Hmm.  We were hoping for a wild camp around here.  After crossing the bay the light is fading so we start looking for somewhere to camp.  Along the inland side of the road is strip development - short roads to houses ending in olive groves.  We check out a couple that have been ploughed and are either too bumpy or too muddy, before finding one that is fine.  If we pitch the tent in the right place we can't be seen from the main road or from the houses overlooking on one side. Phew.

picnic spot
The next day we pass through a few villages built up along the highway, all bland concrete blocks, a bit scruffy, it remind us of China.  Everything looks like it was built in a hurry.  It probably was.  We stop at a roadside tap for water and a man selling oranges insists we take some for free.  And then we begin to climb away from the the coast, slowly contouring up the hillside. The wide new road shrinks to the narrow old one, and sometimes its a problem on the tight bends with trucks heading in both directions.  We climb through pine trees and onto a rolling plateau, finally pulling up at about 4pm by a farm track leading into some fields.  Gayle goes off to explore and finds the perfect spot up above the main road in an unused field.  Most of the fields have been ploughed which makes for lousy camping, so this is a real find.  The field has hedgerows and as the sun sets we muse how we could be in England.  From somewhere far off wafts the sound of the muezzin's call to prayer.

just like home
In Çanakkale we find Özgür's house easily.  It is in the city centre, right by the port, down a little lane in amongst all the shops, cafe's and bars and it is 'compact and bijoux' - completely overshadowed by the surrounding buildings.  Inside it's toasty warm.  Özgür invites us to lock our bikes to his under the window and bring our bags inside.  There are moments like these when I pause a moment and think "Are you sure?" Will they still be there in an hour?? We are introduced to Cengiz, an old friend from home. Soon we are tucking into some of Cengiz's tasty cooking.  Another friend, Selin, calls in and soon we are walking through the town, along the seafront in a brisk wind that finally turns us around and back to one of the more popular cafes where there are gas heaters to keep the punters warm.  Looking around, every table is taken.  There are family groups playing cards, men playing 'okey' (which looks like a cross between dominoes and mah jong), and lots of glasses of tea. Later on we go to a a bar where a friend is singing in a band.  It's a bizarre night out - the rock band start with a strange song about haricot beans but then unravel to heavy metal and old rock 'n' roll covers.

Özgür is a school counsellor at a local high school and we soon learn that he is the most active Couch Surfing host here.  But perhaps not for long.  He'd like to move to Istanbul where there's more happening.  Cengiz is starting to look for a new job, having quit as a mechanical engineer a year ago to travel around Turkey.  The next day he takes us over the water to look at the old war defences guarding the Dardanelle Straits.  He seemed quiet when we first arrived but now he can't stop talking! These two friends taught themselves to play the bağlama - a traditional Turkish stringed instrument with seven strings - and play and sing with Selin for us.  It's a wonderful sound - many of the old songs have quite sad melodies.   
Cengiz, Özgür and Selin make music

We are invited by Özgür to stay another day longer and to share in the new year celebrations with them. We are very happy to spend a little more time with them - to hear them talk about their lives, their hopes for the future.  I guess New Year has this effect.  Another John from England joins us for the night - he also wanted to couch surf with Özgür but we had written sooner.  The town is busy and the all-important beer run is made to the offie before the 10pm sales curfew - a recent new law restricting the sale of alcohol.  But nowhere is rowdy and we only see one fella the worse for drink.  In the open square by the port a band plays on a stage and fireworks are set off.  We are treated once again to Cengiz and Özgür duetting with guitar and bağlama before finally hitting the sack, very very happy.

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