– The adventures of a solo round the world cyclist –

Day 934 (Turkey Day 13)

I’ve beaten Captain Kenny by a long mile: it’s 6.30pm and I’m ready for bed, teeth brushed and stomach full of rice and vegetables. I’m camped out in the open, completely visible from the main road on one side and a village on the other. I feel isolated and ‘hidden’ enough though, as it would be hard for anyone to discern who I am and what I’m doing. This is because I am in the middle of farmland surrounded on all sides by at least a kilometre of stubbly, yellow, dry grass. I thought some people working in some fields about 700m away might come for a stickybeak, but I have been left alone. It is not as cold as last night, but still pretty cool.

As I was packing up camp in the morning I received several visitors, one human and the rest beautiful big dogs. The human was a police officer who had spied the tent as he drove by. He was friendly and didn’t seem worried by my presence. The ride was nice, but made challenging by a strong headwind. It was a direct westerly and I’m concerned that it is a prevailing wind that I will have to battle every day as I cross Turkey. When I stopped to film a ride past, a friendly man stopped and gifted me with a fresh bread roll, three mini tubs of jam ad a paper cup full of olives. These became lunch number one. Lunch number two was my usual tomato and cucumber sandwich with a piece of fruit.

Traffic

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 91.52km
Average cycling speed 16.1kph
Total distance ridden 24,839km
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Day 933 (Turkey Day 12)

After an amazing time living in Van, I am now on the move again. Having stayed in Van longer than expected, I feel extra pressure to move across Turkey at a decent pace. I won’t necessarily act on this pressure too much though, as I value my day-to-day experiences too much. That is, should I feel the need to stop anywhere because I love it, I won’t hesitate. Even though it would be nice to reach France (my current planned end point) by January, I’m not going to sacrifice nice experiences along the way just to say I’ve made it. The ride today was very pleasant. The sun just managed to keep me warm enough as I followed the edge of Lake Van westwards. The scenery was pretty spectacular, especially with the trees being painted in bright autumn colours. I stopped riding at 3.30pm and decided to call it a day. If I am to maintain steady progress across Turkey, I have to push myself to 80% each day so that I don’t overdo things and need extra rest. I have made camp next to a dry stream that is lined with large trees. I placed my tent strategically, so it is blocked as much as possible from the main road and a smaller road running from the main road to a small village nestled in nearby hills. I haven’t paid much attention to when the sun sets lately, so I thought I had a bit more time up my sleeve than I did. After setting up my tent, I progressed my travel grant proposal. It was at 5.15pm that I stepped back and realised it was pretty much night time. Consequently, I ate dinner and did my dishes in the dark. All the while I froze. I am mostly warm now I am tucked away in my tent and sleeping bag, but my feet are still stinging a bit with cold. I need to adapt though; things won’t be getting any warmer.

Leaving

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 85.08km
Average cycling speed 18.9kph
Total distance ridden 24,748km

 

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Day 932 (Turkey Day 11)

Today is my last day in Van. I spent it hanging out a bit more with the great friends I have made. On the way to a book fair, Yusuf had to stop into a government office to sort something out with a water bill. I was looking forward to the book fair, until I remembered I was in Turkey and very few books would be English. I came away empty-handed. We then ventured into the city where we met up with Ozge and went bowling before having a drink at a juice bar. While Ozge went home, Yusuf and I joined Furkan and Velat at the mall. They ‘made’ me approach a movie ticket vendor to ask about movie times, getting a kick out of seeing her face when she realised I was a foreigner speaking English. Going along with it seemed easier than protesting the silly idea. After dinner at Hungry Jack’s, I farewelled Furkan and Velat and headed home with Yusuf, stopping off at a supermarket to buy some last minute groceries for tomorrow’s return to the saddle.

Van city

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 931 (Turkey Day 10)

With recent days filled with social activity, I gave myself a day off today and just relaxed at home, doing very little besides reading and resting. In lieu of a more comprehensive diary entry, here is a few things I have learned in Van:

  • Military service in Turkey is compulsory and the length of time required is six months for university students/graduates, or 15 months otherwise
  • University students receive 400l per month (AU$105) from the government as a loan, but the university course is free
  • Haircuts cost 15-20l (AU$5)
  • Relationships among the young are generally not very public and sex is uncommon before you’re married
  • Most unmarried people live with their parents and even when in their twenties basically need permission to be out at night
  • Eastern Turkey is far more traditional than western Turkey
  • There are a lot of Kurdish people in eastern Turkey and thus many people here speak both Kurdish and Turkey (neither one particularly well according to them!)

Housemate Yusuf

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 930 (Turkey Day 9)

I was pretty tired after such a late night last night, so I slept in and hung around home most of the day, working a little on a travel grant proposal. I also had a long overdue chat with my parents. Continuing with yesterday’s theme of being treated to local fare, I joined Yusuf and his friends in the evening in town where we enjoyed paca soup and kunefe dessert.

Yesterday at breakfast

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 929 (Turkey Day 8)

Having failed on Sunday, Yusuf and I had success at posting a bunch of my stuff to Australia. It was almost enough to fill a small pannier bag and it weighed several kilograms, so I’m very glad to be rid of it. Temporarily at least. It is stuff that is important to me. We walked from the post office to Bak Hele Bak, a place well known for its breakfast. Van’s breakfasts are apparently generally famous, but those served here particularly so. We were joined by Sib, Ozge and Sozanne. The feast didn’t disappoint: breads, cheeses, eggs, meat, halva, jam…a ginormous gastronomic delight.

While Yusuf went to university, I returned home where I worked on organising photos and videos, and generally resting, until evening, when Yusuf and two friends arrived. Food was on all of our minds so we headed out and got some lahmacun to take home, along with cool drink and snacks. We stayed up until 2am chatting. Again, I relished spending time with locals learning as much as I could about Turkish life and culture.

Feast

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 928 (Turkey Day 7)

The university of Van is like a village, spread over a wide area and consisting of housing, teaching buildings, shops and cafes. Getting into the university requires passing a security check in the form of a man who boards the bus on which you’re travelling and checks that you are carrying a student card. Yusuf gave me his student card and with the man giving it just a cursory glance, I passed the test without having to utter a word. Yusuf simply told the guy that he was going to the university’s hospital, suggesting he is just a member of the public who has a medical issue.

I joined in all three classes that Yusuf had: English Application, English Literature, and English Speaking. Rather than the impersonal lectures that I associate with university learning, these classes reminded me of high school. Each one was carried out in a small room that would fit up to 30 students. Rather than being a fly on the wall, I was forced to be an active member of each class, with each teacher taking joy in addressing the only native speaker of English in the room.

In between classes, I was able to join students in the cafeteria for lunch. Each student scanned themselves in with their ID card and helped themselves to a white tray. I’m not sure what the deal was with me getting in, but I got in without any problems and got my own tray. The cafeteria abides by a ‘you get what you’re given’ rule, so as I carried my tray along a counter, its various depressions were filled with the day’s offerings. These included rice, soup, salad, bread roll, bottle of yoghurt drink and a bottle of water.

After lunch I was treated to a visit to the university ‘cat house’, where individuals of the famous Van Cat are held for breeding and studying. Inside the building, I donned plastic shoe coverings before stepping inside an enclosure holding about fifteen kittens. Outside, I got to see the two enclosures holding adults, the sexes being separated.

All the while I got to know a bunch of very cool people. Introductions began when I first arrived at the university and sat down for a cup of tea in a mini-café at the bottom of the building in which the three classes were held. There I met a whole bunch of Yusuf’s school friends. As the day went I met more and more people, all of whom were keen to find out who I was and what I was doing there.

After university, I joined Yusuf for a burger and chips in the city centre before heading home with a bunch of uni friends. It was the first time Yusuf has had friends over at his house, the night being a special occasion because I was there. We stayed up late chatting about all kinds of things and playing a rudimentary game of table tennis on a tiny desk.

Heterochromia

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 927 (Turkey Day 6)

I met Yusuf outside the hostel around 10am and together we walked through the city to a place where Yusuf bargained a price to catch a minibus to his home, the issue being the fact that I had my loaded bicycle with me. I had tried to convince Yusuf yesterday that he should just tell me his address and I would ride there, but he insisted on meeting me in the city and going home together. We managed to squeeze my stuff into the back of a minibus, which took us on an hour’s ride out of the main city of Van and into the surrounding countryside. Yusuf lives on his own unit in an apartment building that is one of many identical buildings dotted on the hills around Van. The neighbourhoods in the area are fairly bland and repeated. The apartment buildings are exactly the same design and colour (various shades of brown), as are the schools and mosques. The surrounding land is dry, brown and void of trees or shrubs. But still, the place seems beautiful, mostly because it is situated above low-lying Van, and provides a spectacular view over the city and lake. It is nice to be out of the city and seeing the place from a new perspective. I don’t like being stuck in cities too long, better appreciating a more open, natural place from which a city can be visited, rather than the other way around (needing to escape a city into a natural area).

After a couple of hours at home, we caught a bus back into town, with the aim of visiting the post office so I could send a package home. Neither of us thought about the fact that it was Sunday and that the post office would be closed. Nevertheless, we had a fun time in the city hanging out. After walking around and having lunch in Van’s largest mall (why do people always want to show off their shopping centres?), we visited an underground games arcade where we hired a table tennis table for a while. I was worried Yusuf would be much better than me (as he plays it regularly and I haven’t played in years), but I managed to put up a strong fight and win a series of matches 4-1. One guy from a pair playing on another table invited me to a competition, first to 25. He was really good, but somehow I pulled off some incredible flukes and managed to beat him too. From the arcade we travelled to a fruit juice bar where we enjoyed some delicious banana smoothies. After a bit more walking we headed home. I let myself into the apartment while Yusuf visited his sister, who lives in an identical building around the corner. He brought home a chocolate cake that his sister made for me. As we devoured half of it and drank tea, we chatted about various aspects of life.

View from my new home

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 926 (Turkey Day 5)

I didn’t leave the hostel once today. The day was much the same as yesterday, complete with another amazing lunch courtesy of the hostel. This time it consisted of fresh bread, salad and some very delicious home-made ‘things’ that I can’t remember the name of. It was a rice-based mixture stuffed inside an outer layer of an onion or wrapped in what might have been cabbage leaves. Kind of like dolmades. I was told they are a traditional Kurdish food. I made more friends today when university mates of the two guys working here came around. These poor students are desperate to have native speakers to talk to, but so far I have been the only one at the hostel while I’ve been here. I was invited to stay at the home of one of the guys and I will move in tomorrow. This is good for me as it will save me money, and it is good for the guy as, being a student of English, he will a unique chance to practise the language. Having come from Iran, it’s easy to compare Turkish people with Iranians. So far I have found them to be just as friendly, but more reserved. Whereas Iranians will completely open up to you without any effort on your part, Turkish people seem more likely to wait for you to make a move or show interest first.

Husrev Pasa Mosque

Accommodation $ Backpacker hostel
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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Day 925 (Turkey Day 4)

I made friends with a couple of guys who work at the hostel when they invited me to join them for lunch. There was a group of old guys enjoying a feast in the corner (possibly related to the owners of the place) and I think they might have over catered. Thus, I was able to enjoy the famous Van fish for the first time. In addition to a large tray of freshly barbecued, whole fish, we had fresh bread, spring onions, flat leaf parsley and normal onion. I created round after round of mini kebabs until only one fish was left. I was too full by then to be able to finish it off. The two guys, Furkan and Velat, are studying English at the local university and work at the hostel part time so they can practise the language with guests. If I stay until Monday then I will join them at the university and have a look around. I continued to hang out with them after lunch, learning how to play backgammon over tea. Turkey (or at least this part) serves its tea in distinctively shaped glasses: they narrow in the middle. After completing my ‘work’ for the day (more diary entries and Instagram prep) I ventured out of the hostel quickly to get some groceries, buying a bagful of vegetables for 4l (AU$1.40), as well as some pasta and sauce.

Lake Van

Accommodation $ Backpacker hostel
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 24,662
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