Day 1 – half day 45.5km
We really liked staying with Kadir and his housemates. It was really interesting talking to them about the current situation here in Turkey with Erdegon’s illiberal agenda. Kadir is Kurdish so it was good to get his perspective on the PKK and Kurdish history.
He joined us for our first 10km out of Mersin the next afternoon. The city is actually a really big place with hundreds of new apartment blocks constructed in neat lines along the coast line. They go on for miles… and we were caught on the busy dual carriageway meaning we didn’t catch our first sight of the sea for some time. The road was completely flat so we easily completed 40km in a couple of hours before starting to scout out a potential camping spot. It was still very built up here and after reaching our first bit of beach our hopes of a sea side sleep were soon dashed when we spotted a group of guys with motorbikes drinking and wrestling each other on the sand.
So instead we turned off the road and headed north through a big orchard and polytunnel complex. After cycling through a sleepy village we reached a road stretching through an impressive gorge. As in other parts of Europe at this time of year it gets dark here really early but just as the sun was setting we spotted a riverside grove of lemon trees reached via a rickety bridge, a perfect hidden sanctuary, and we pitched the tent and cooked up dinner in the semi-darkness.
The moon was incredibly bright that night and at about 10:45 I stirred initially thinking it was the light that had woken me. Suddenly I heard a kind of loud snorting near the tent. A VERY large something was making its way towards us, padding its way forwards. Trying not to panic I shook Paddy awake and by the light of the super moon we lay facing each other, wide eyed and listening, as the beast drew ever closer. It circled the tent and then headed down towards the river where it went out of earshot.
‘What do you recon it is?’ I whispered to Paddy. It sounds like a pig, or maybe a really big dog…’ After a long pause where we both strain to listen again, Paddy answers. ‘It could be a pig… or maybe it’s a bear…’ At once, an image of us fighting off a large, fierce grizzly with our inflatable mattresses and Swiss Army penknife flash through my mind… ‘I’d better put in my contact lenses’ I say defiantly.
It’s difficult to be completely rational when there is only a thin piece of canvas between you and a potential attack from an unidentified animal but we did our best, and we spent the next few minutes formulating ‘operation intimidation’ for if it came back and approached the tent. We knew it had been close and it hadn’t been too bothered about us but our biggest fear was that it would detect the food bag… We heard it again roaming through the trees but it didn’t get close and we finally concluded that it wasn’t too bothered about us. We both managed to get back to sleep.
Nonetheless, we woke up early and packed down quickly the next morning and decided it would be best to have breakfast on a beach somewhere instead. We had lived to cycle another day!
After speaking to some locals on the beach we get told it was probably a wild boar. Feeling initially relieved I google ‘Anatolia, Turkish Wild Boar’ and get this image.
Not a hog you might exactly call piglet in any case…
Day 2: 88.9km
Our second day saw us see much more of the coast as the string of apartment blocks gave way to more beaches and coastline. The Eastern Mediterranean with Cyprus’ mountains just visible through the ocean haze. Lovely!
Farming is big here and fruit is in abundance in this part of Turkey so we spend our breaks picking fresh oranges, lemons and pomegranates from trees. There are also loads of muzler (local banana) trees which means they are really cheap to buy. After the morning clouds were swept away it became pretty warm, although a nice off shore wind kept things a decent temperature. We cycled through a few more towns and passed our first Roman ruins and reached the island Byzantian fortress of Kizkalesi castle.
We stopped for a couple of hours at the caves of heaven and hell – two impressive sink holes which both have great mythological relevance. The 200m mammoth ‘heaven’ cave is incredible and visitors are able to walk right down into it. At its mouth is a lovely old 5th century Byzantine chapel ruin. Locals believe the underground river connects to the hellish river Styx.
After lunch the wind really picked up and was blowing in our faces the whole time. We were heading to Ovacik where the house of another warm showers host, Bayram is. By the time we reached the town it was blowing a proper gale and we were being blown all over the place. The storm was so bad that the whole of Bayram’s neighbourhood had no power when, very wind swept, we finally arrived.
Day 3 – 62.1km
The storm blew itself out overnight and we enjoyed a cloudless, 28 degree blue sky the next day. The flat coast road turned away inland for a while and we had a couple of hard 300m climbs. They are in the process of widening the road to form a dual carriage way which I guess will eventually span the whole coast line although the road works didn’t really affect us too much and the road wasn’t too busy. Paddy is very happy to be spending so much time on the coast and I’ve caught him on more than one occasion staring at the sea, a contented smile spreading across his face.
That night we camped right on the beach under a grove of olive trees and fell asleep to the waves gently crashing onto the shore. The wind picked up again but we were very sheltered under the trees.
Day 4 – 64.14km
We woke at 6:30am with the call to prayer blasting from a nearby minaret. Another clear sunny day and we stop at the ancient city of Anamurium for lunch. It’s an amazing complex first dating back to the Phoenician period in 400BC although most of the ruins are from the Roman and Byzantine period. It’s a sprawling site which reaches all the way down to a pebbly beach. Interestingly it’s the southern most point of Asia Minor. We would be heading Northwards from now on…
Much of the amphitheatre, bath houses, basilica, city walls, and long aqueduct are still standing so we spent a good couple of hours walking about the site.
We had a long very steep climb at the end of the day which we managed to complete before dropping back down to sea level and into a beautiful little bay. A group of fishermen were sorting their gear out on the beach and one of them offered up his tent and little campsite set up which meant we didn’t need to bother erecting our tent and bed. This would mean a speedy pack-down the next morning, a good thing as we knew we had two big 500m climbs the next day.
Day 5 – 93.5km
So began our big day of climbing but we managed to set off at 8am and despite stopping to chat to Martin, another cycle tourer from Canada who was heading the other way, we managed to complete the first climb by 10:30am. There were a few stiff parts of the climb and our chain continues to jump so there were a few sections in which we had to get off and push for a bit. Although we were climbing, the sea remained on our lefthand side all day and we had great views across the Mediterranean. Another super hot day.
A steady down hill section helped us rack up the miles in the afternoon and we took the smaller coastal detour for a while before meeting back up with the highway. We completed the last 15km to Turkey’s longest beach and here we treated ourselves to our first Turkish restaurant meal and enjoyed an overdue (albeit pricey) beer as we watched the sun set over the sea. We managed to find a hidden spot for the tent just a few metres from this beachside restaurant meaning we could sneakily access their shower and wifi the next morning. After a stint of reading the international news in bed I ran down to the shore and plunged into the sea. It helped to wash away most of the Trump madness…
Day 6 – 51.1k
With only 153km over two days left to complete and no substantial climbs we had a couple of easy days ahead before reaching Aksu where we would be staying on a horse farm for a week. However nice it is to be clinging to the coast we both feel sad that we haven’t had a chance to cycle through some other parts of Turkey. Clinging to the south coast means we’re spending a lot of time cycling through resort towns, marvelling at some of the big hotel complexes with their Taj Mahal style towers and luxury beachside bars. The convenience of having access to beach showers and supermarkets means camping day after day is easy and we’re eating a much more varied diet; things like muesli with fresh milk which is a real luxury for us!!
After a while though the restaurants, bars, tattoo parlours and shops all start to look the same and although its low season and there are lots of secluded spots between the towns and plenty of ancient sites along the way we both feel a little sad that we won’t be cycling through some of the more remoter areas of the country.
Day 7 – 103km
The last day saw us stop at Side which is a nice resort strip popular with German tourists and also home to a large Helenistic and Roman ruin complex. We spent a nice couple of hours cycling along the beach front and visiting the old amphitheatre, temples and city walls.
It was slightly further to our Workaway host than we had originally thought so we ended up doing 103km on the bike that day. Here we will stay for five days helping out on the farm and in the house in exchange for free board in their cottage in the grounds.