Week nine - Life on the plateau

 Surf crashes against the catamaran car ferry as I cruise across the toe of the Maramara Sea. It's 7.45 and the day is warming already. I peer south through the glass at the faint but growing shape in the distance that is Asia. I am touching the void, the old world approaches.

The platitude is that life is about the journey, not the destination certainly applies to cycle touring. I have found that reaching a long dreamt destination is almost always underwhelming, it really is about the journey. The only fanfare that accompanied my arrival in Asia was the laughter of the car deck attendant when I told him where I was cycling to.

So the arrival was underwhelming. The days that followed have felt almost overwhelming, in every way.

The landscape here is like unlike anything I have seen before. Yalova sits on the feet of the Mysia mountain range. My legs screamed as the steep, arid climbs punished me for their lack of use over the last week.

I had done my research, however, and knew that the Mysia’s were a small price to pay for reaching Turkey’s central plateau, the flatter territory which stretches around Turkeys waist.

The plateau it is vast and I ride east through dust. Wide views stretch many kilometres across empty plains. The further I go the drier and hotter the days become. Green perishes, to be replaced by one hundred shades of brown. The washed red of terracotta roofs cluster around minarets and the clusters are scattered across the moonscape at random. The only vibrance which survives is the vast sky, clearest blue in the day time and melting into orange and purple at night.

As a Londoner of 20 years, the landscape is a sensory shock. I am absorbed and engulfed by its vastness.

I also feel as if I have been absorbed, and occasionally engulfed by its people. The curiosity and generosity of Turkish people is formidable.

Unless I am cycling or sleeping, there is barely a moment when I am alone. All of my evenings have been spent in the company of locals, most of whom don't speak English. In any town to pause stationary for a moment is to invite an invite, for a bed, for a meal, most often for Turkish ├žay (tea). It takes only a few seconds at a tea house for the local children to swarm, all simultaneously babbling questions in Turkish and sitting, enraptured, to watch me eat lunch.

The hospitality here means that I have had an intense introduction to life here. I have grown accustomed to Turkish food and the Turkish way of eating. A large cloth is placed on the floor, on top of which a low circular table. Diners sit around the table on the floor, the cloth draped over their legs. You use a fork and sometimes a spoon but no plate. Food is transferred directly from a range of dishes to your mouth, or via a piece of bread, the backbone of all Turkish meals. Meat is plentiful, fruit and vegetables are not.

I spent the last two nights in the tiny village of Ilica with Mousa and his extended family of ten.

Yesterday I experienced a ‘day in the life of a Turkish farmer. In the morning we rounded up the sheep for milking (in reality Isa, Mousa’s son, ran round gathering the sheep and I was on gate duty, stopping the captured from escaping). Afterwards we loaded what felt like one hundred tonnes of grain into a lorry. One end of along hoover pipe is inserted into the center of the pile and the other end protrudes over the container. Using a petrol can as a shovel, my job was to ensure grain end of the pipe remained submerged. My half day as a farmer was far more exhausting than any one of my days cycling. I have a newfound respect for people who lead this life.

My only sadness here is witnessing the lack of respect for the land. The abundance of single use plastics is frightening, far beyond anything I have seen before. What's more, the majority of the waste doesn't make it to landfill. instead it is tossed at the roadside, scattering itself across the landscape in the wind. Such little respect is a strange paradox considering this agricultural land is the lifeblood for so many.

It is impossible to feel lonely here. Every encounter begins and ends with a wide smile. The people here have already given me an experience full of richness and generosity. My money is never accepted, so I try to return the favour by giving people a flavour of my life, telling them about my family and my home, and showing them the photos I carry with me. It is little to leave in return and I leave every encounter wishing I could give more.