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On the road . March 2007 . Turkey

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go back typical day at Mavi Guesthouse, Istanbul
Mavi Guesthouse
[website] Istanbul, 20-03-07
No cycling days yet
So, we've decided to leave our hide-out in Istanbul this coming Friday. After almost 7 weeks in Mavi Guesthouse, the bus will take us to Selçuk and we'll start peddling from there. A little bit quieter on the roads than here in Istanbul and better for Son to exercise and get her ankle back into shape.

Jimmy's Place, Selçuk, 24-03-07
Still, no cycling days yet
After a twelve hour bus ride we arrive in Selçuk this morning and stumbled to Jimmy's Place / Artemis Guesthouse for a well earned sleep. This will be our residence for the next few days and we'll try to get on our bikes again after a long rest from them. Son definitely needs the practice; her ankle is not anywhere near 100%.

An Internet Cafe, Fethiye, 04-04-07
Mixed feelings
It's been a month since I last wrote anything. Mainly because I haven't been in much of a mood for writing and my fractured ankle was playing heavily on my mind. I have been first and foremost, frustrated at not being able to freely move around with a lump of plaster attached to my foot, but also annoyed that our trip has been postponed for so long; scared that I wouldn't be able to ride my bike for months; and after being on the move for the last seven months and seeing so many different things each day, it was incredibly difficult being stuck in the one place for such a long period of time.

We are however, really glad that we spent this time at Mavi Guesthouse. Despite the inconveniences during their renovations, a hot water system that has a mind of its own and the rather ramshackle appearance of the place, they can definitely blow their own trumpet when it comes to friendliness, helpfulness, travel knowledge, honesty, easy going attitude and a laugh a minute atmosphere. All very important qualities for any traveller and what we are already so dearly missing. Especially when we get to Selçuk.

The bus journey from Istanbul to Selçuk is hell on both our legs; mine because of the obvious and Ali's because they are pretty long. But we manage to hobble out of the bus around 9am, after 12 hours of travel. Wheeling my loaded bike was really difficult and I don't feel too confident about doing any riding today. Luckily we have booked the hotel, it is just around the corner so we don't have to contend with the touts lying in wait for fuzzy-headed travellers like us, disembarking at the bus station. We are totally beat from the lack of sleep and spend most of the morning and early afternoon nestled in bed, enjoying the fact we can stretch our legs to infinity.

Close to dinner time we make our way downstairs, looking forward to choosing from the menu we read over breakfast, only to find the hotel restaurant in almost darkness. Somewhat disappointed, we sit in the lounge area and get chatting to a couple of Australians. They head on out for dinner and we stay behind and ask the owner for his recommendation. He doesn't give us any. We venture out and discover a fabulous little restaurant by ourselves that serves the best vegetarian food we've had yet. Family run and with mum in the kitchen, dad at the fire grill and son waiting on the three inside tables, Ejder Restaurant, opposite the PTT Post, has been visited by many. There's several guest books filled with famous and not so famous signatures to prove it. Anyway, it was delightful food and if you are in Selçuk, you should really try their homemade wares.

Gut feeling
Slowly but surely, we are learning to go with gut instinct no matter what it involves. Unfortunately, we don't pay attention to our initial feelings when we walk into Jimmy's Place. It is our own fault really that we remain there until the totally uncalled for altercation with management on our third day. Sometimes the inconvenience of carting everything up and down numerous flights of stairs and finding another place seems more of a hassle than putting up with a few irritations But when the atmosphere at Jimmy's Place becomes really horrible, we move to Paris Hotel, just around the corner. For seventy-five percent of the price, we get a fantastic breakfast but most importantly, very lovely owners.

Yes Jimmy, No Jimmy, Three bags full Jimmy.

Upon arrival at Jimmy’s Place, we are greeted by staff other than Jimmy. We ask after him, since we have already had contact via phone and email. He sounded unbelievably pleasant, on the ball and we really wanted to thank him for keeping two small parcels for us. According to the staff at reception, Jimmy is tired, so he is sleeping. The room we had booked is not quite ready and we are offered to eat breakfast in the meantime. I peruse the restaurant menu and apart from the incredibly overpriced wine list, the rest is very tempting, especially for vegetarians. So except for feeling totally beat from the lack of sleep, things are starting off quite perfectly. As soon as we have finished eating, Ali climbs the marble staircase, I use the lift, and we spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon nestled in bed, enjoying being able to stretch our legs to infinity after the cramped bus journey.

Close to dinner time, we make our way downstairs, famished and looking forward to choosing from the menu we drooled over at breakfast. To our dismay, the hotel restaurant is cold, dark and very much closed. We sit in the lounge area and get chatting to a couple of Australians. They head on out for dinner and we stay behind and ask the owner for his recommendation. His answer is that he is unable to help us because he believes everyone should make their own decision where to eat. Though, he does highly recommend his own restaurant when it's open, especially for vegetarian food and because it is the cleanest in town.

Further to this information, we learn that the hotel has been renovated completely by himself, since he took over and each year he pumps $US 55,000 into it. His plans are to eventually turn it into a boutique hotel. We ask if we can order a beer. Regrettably, there aren't any stocked in the fridge, but we get permission from the owner to buy our drinks from the corner mini-market. I say "permission" because A4 printouts are plastered over the entrance doors and inside walls with the message: Food or drink brought in from outside may not be consumed here nor anywhere in the hotel. Kindly observe as refusal may offend.

While waiting for Ali to find a couple of coldies, two Asian guests wander in with some recently purchased wine. Without even seeing the labels, because the bottles are snuggled into little hessian bags, the owner sarcastically remarks to them: "yes, good quality, very good wine". The guests, totally oblivious to his snide words, nod shyly, say thanks and disappear upstairs. The owner pouts at me and gives the thumbs down behind their backs and proceeds with a full commentary on how absolutely stupid most travellers are.

According to this wine buff, travellers always buy the cheap stuff that is only fit for pouring down the drain. I feel rather taken aback. Aren't I one of those travellers and a guest just like those two? I'll be the first to admit, I also buy the cheapest wine; only because wine in Turkey is unbelievably expensive.

So, here we are in a budget hotel, mould growing on the bathroom tiles, water-sodden door and electrical points falling out of the wall and I'm being recommended by the owner to spend between 15 and 35 lire per bottle of wine. I am also kindly reminded that the hotel where we are staying sells excellent quality bottles for just 20 lire. One of these particularly excellent bottles by the way, sells in the local supermarket down the road for just 8.95 lire. And to put everything into proper perspective, our hotel room here costs 40 lire with buffet breakfast for two persons.

Ali finally arrives back with the beers and a a bit more banter is flung around. We learn that our new host has travelled everywhere in Australia and is very familiar with Mavi Guesthouse in Istanbul. According to him though, it is a filthy hovel and the owners are arrogant and not true Istanbulians. In his own words “they give Istanbul a bad name”. I try to rebut, because our experiences with the staff there had been completely the opposite, but it hits deaf ears. Turning the conversation around, I enquire as to where he would recommend travellers to stay in Istanbul. Of the backpackers places, he prefers Istanbul Hostel, but I'm then informed that he doesn’t stay in anything else but boutique hotels. I'm glad when the beers are finished and we can venture into town. We find a great little home-run restaurant and mention over dinner about our mixed feelings towards the owner’s discreetness.

The next morning, Ali is standing next to the so-called “Travel Desk” and overhears a German guest asking about train times. The owner point blank replies: "go to the train station and find out". While this is happening, I’m standing next to the elevator, I read yet another of the militant signage in this place. This one reads: "No DIY laundry. Drying clothing in rooms is forbidden". Damn, that plan goes down the drain hole, but I'm not too fussed, because there is something bigger on the agenda today. We’ll take our first bike trip, however meagre, for the first time in over seven weeks. It was a difficult 15 km the first day and my ankle swelled considerably. Back at the hotel, with the help of a rather grumpy staff-member, Ali finds a lump of ice at a local kebab shop. Unfortunately, we have to let it melt completely as there are no freezers available in the hotel to put the ice in. According to the owner, the reason is because it is winter time.

On the third day, we return to Jimmy's Place after a triumphant day of walking. The owner and a few locals are gathered round the television as per usual, eyes glued to the horse racing. We sit out the front and comment further on the non-existent atmosphere at Jimmy's Place but dismiss the negative thoughts because I’m really excited. My ankle feels as if it is on the mend and we talk about an uphill venture for tomorrow and then the possibility of leaving the following day.

I'm in the mood for writing, so Ali grabs the computer from upstairs. After cleaning one of the tables on the terrace outside with a paper napkin from the restaurant, we sit down. The day is warm enough to have added a bit of colour to our faces, but in the shade of the hotel verandah it is a but too cool for comfort. We move inside and are figuring out where we should sit. Before we are even seated, the owner remarks out of the blue that we need to add up all our wireless internet hours over the last three days and pay him for them.

At first I think it’s a joke, but the irritation in his voice soon changes that. Ali then very nicely says that he was unaware we needed to pay for this service and that it is not written anywhere, not did anyone inform him of this. Besides it is an unsecured wireless connection. The owner is adamant that it is not a free service and clearly states that everyone staying at Jimmy's place must pay for use of the wifi.

This is where I step in. I know this is a total lie. I ask where it is stated that wireless internet costs something here. I also mention that if he wishes to have such a service, then why has he not put a a security lock on the connection. Besides, how the dickens do we know what we used over the last three days? I also add, that all over the world, you can log into an unsecured wifi points. They are outside tourist bureaus, universities and even supermarkets. At this point he almost blows up and runs quite childishly over to his computer and turns off the connection. He sits smugly back down and says: “Use MY internet now then!” and subsequently adds “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

I put the two books back into my bag that I am hoping to swap through his book exchange. A cupboard full of books, behind wooden doors with chain and padlock securing it. A message lets you know that you can only swap a book with one that is of similar size and condition. I retreat to my room, saying how sad his attitude is for someone in the tourism and hospitality industry. Ali gives him 5 lire which he throws back and says:" I don't want your f- - -in' money." He snatched it up in the end though.

The next day, just to confirm that the owner had lied to us, I ask guests with wireless internet connections on their laptops, if they had in any way paid for the service. The answer from all of them was of course "No"

day one on the bike after fracturing ankle SelcukJust like starting over
The day after arriving in Selçuk we decide to take the first bike ride in seven weeks. With clear blue skies and warm, warm sun, the day is stunning. My first attempts, much to the amusement of the old men in the cafe on the corner are not. I nearly fall of my bike trying to start off. They probably stopped laughing though when they saw me limp to the side of the road and strap it with another bandage. My ankle is still really sore and as I get up to walk over to Ali, pains shoot up my leg, the tears just fall from my eyes and all I can manage is: "I just can't."

I'm not crying just because of the pain, but because I am really frightened that this injury is going to hamper me indefinitely and with plans of cycling around the world, that is somewhat fatal. Ali is very patient on the outside but probably just as turbulent deep down as me. He just keeps asking, "what do you want to do?" The answer to that is obvious. I want to get on my bike and fly out of here. I want to feel the wind in my hair, against my face, smell the outdoors and cycle through the countryside so that I can take everything in. I want that bike touring freedom back again. And with that thought in mind, I get on my bike, grimace hard with each revolution and I pedal. I manage a tentative lap around the car park. It is a promising start and I bet Ali is as relieved as I am. We find a long, straight and flat service road along the highway leading to Pamucak and we cycle to and fro until we reach 15 kilometres. I won't tell you how long it takes.

The training process
Day one was 15 kilometres on the flat, home again, ice the ankle, strap it and rest it. It is swollen quite a bit from the exercise and the two Ozzie guys we met last night, who are avid basketballers, get me onto Voltaren an anti-inflammatory cream. It does the trick with reducing the swelling, though it is still really difficult to walk. Funnily enough, bike riding seems a lot easier; that is if I don't have to stop and start and I'm not going up hill, which pretty well means I not quite ready for touring yet.

Day two and the ankle is feeling a lot better. I rested it the entire evening prior and kept it high, though all this lying about is making my mind restless. But it must have paid off, since I manage 25 kilometres on the bike today; all the way to the beach at Pamucak and back. On the way home we drop into the Artemis Temple and are severely hassled by sellers of everything from cheap copies of artifacts to supposedly very old coins. These, according to one salesman, are 100 years old. Rumor has it, that these sneaky con-men force feed their coins to sheep, who then pass them out their rear end, which apparently gives them an age-old appearance. Although this is commonly known, it still manages to suck in the occasional unaware tourist.

Back at the hotel, we meet up with a New Zealand-Canadian couple - John and Linda - who have been on the road for 4 years. As you can imagine, they have an abundance of tips and recommendations that we mentally note down. It's fun exchanging stories and generally having a chat with another world-nomadic couple. They were in the midst of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka and stayed behind to help with the aftermath: heartwarming stuff. They intend to continue their life on the road, so maybe we'll meet up again some time. We are quickly discovering that the world is not such a big place. As we travel south, people have already heard about us from other travellers. Having had a cast on your leg in a busy guesthouse in Istanbul tends to get noticed, not to mention the attention, travelling on a bicycle generates.

A stay in Selçuk can't go by without a visit to Ephesus. So on day three, we take a taxi for 10 lire to the south entrance and walk our way down through another ancient site. We have been quite spoiled with all we saw in Greece, but Ephesus is definitely worth a visit, especially the two tiered Library of Celsus, for which it is most famous. Back at the hotel, I feel quite triumphant too with my movement and ankle achievement. We figure we are just one day away from really taking off again on our tour.

Day four is the real test. We cycle to Kuşadasi (40 km; 387m) and it is a challenging climb both in and out of town. I can handle anything up to 5% inclines no problem, but when it gets steeper, it is too much of a strain on the ankle. Even so, I am feeling confident enough to leave Selçuk the following day. We make the decision to just go as far as we can and camp wild somewhere. If all goes well, we may reach a campsite along the way near Pinarçik.

Camping at Pinarçik in Turkey in thewild flowers Internet cafe, Fethiye, Turkey, 04-04-07
I just can't wait to get on the road again

Selçuk to Muğla
(3-ish cycle days; 1 rest day; 55km bus trip; 126 km; 1224 alti meters)
Selçuk to Sarikemer (78km; 702m)
Sarikemer to Pinarçik (10km; 83m)
Pinarçik to Muğla (38km; 439m + 55km bus trip over 750m pass)

Harder than I thought
Leaving Selçuk is great. We start the day with a really satisfying breakfast at Paris Hotel and after packing the bikes, follow the road out of town; the same one we have cycled up and down for the last few days. We know about the hill before Kuşadasi, but we don't know that this is only the beginning of many a climb. The pattern seems to be a small stretch of flat or low gradient road, followed by a steep 2 to 3 kilometre climb and then a drop of equal proportions. It goes on like this for 30 kilometres or so and I am really struggling with the uphills.

it seems I can cope all right with 1½ to 2 kilometres up, but anymore than that and I find myself having to push the bike, which is also pretty strenuous for my ankle. Our map suggests a long straight stretch will follow and we hope to camp somewhere along the side of the road. There is no chance of that though, as we discover the area to be swampy barren cotton fields. The flat stretch is not so problematic, especially if my foot doesn't deviate from the forward rotation movement. Stopping and starting still causes the most pain. Unfortunately, the flatness is abruptly interrupted with a massive hill.

We have to take it and at the top we find a great camp spot in an abandoned house project near Sarikemer (78km;702m) The last climb though has had its toll on me and I can hardly walk afterwards. Ali does all the unpacking and setting up, while we are closely observed by a couple of herders on top of the hill. One of them takes great pleasure in waving frantically to us at intervals.

Can't resist
Next morning, we are visited by a couple of farmers in their tractor. Handshakes are exchanged and after having a bit of a nosey around, they see no threat and continue on their way. We do that too, but not for long. Yesterday's trip was too much and after a few hills, the campsite we knew about near Pinarcik (10km; 83m) pops up after only 40 minutes riding. We can't resist to stop and just take it easy by the lake, enjoying the beautiful weather, excellent food and rural atmosphere. The icy cold lake water is great for my ankle, though the tiny leeches are not so much of a relief.

Have to bus it
The ankle swelling has decreased overnight somewhat and we move on the next day. The weather, on the other hand, is worse and we have to continually dodge rain and hail storms. We are also beginning to realise that when they build a road over a hill in Turkey, then no gradient proves a problem for roadworkers. It does for me and the average daily climbs of 4% are difficult. The 2 to 3 kilometre stretches are more often than not between 6 and 8 % for practically the whole climb.

Today we get as far as Milas (38km; 439m) and Ali believes it is better to catch a bus to Muğla about 55 kilometres further on and up to a 750 metre pass. It costs us 20 lire (about 11 euros) for us and the two bikes. I am disappointed that we can't do this section by bike as it is stunning landscape and there are great wild camping opportunities as well. In my condition though, it is better to take it easy than to push it.

We arrive in Muğla pretty late, only to find that every hotel in town is completely booked out. There is a large examination the next day and every student in the region has flocked to this provincial capital. We are taken in by a family, who own a cafe-fish restaurant just opposite the Tuncer Hotel, where we had intended to stay. Gökhan, his wife Nasibe and their son Oğuzhan make us feel incredibly welcome and we spend a great evening with some animated locals in their cafe. Ali enjoys a few too many rakis [Turkish Ouzo like spirit] with Gökhan and getting on the bikes the next day is absolutely out of the question. After a traditional Turkish breakfast cooked by Nasibe in their restaurant kitchen, Ai livens up a bit and we wander around the town with its historic Ottoman quarters.

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