Through Turkey; Istanbul-Mardin

‘Back on track!’

‘What will this day bring me?’

These are my mantras of freedom I say out loud every morning when I start pedalling. Let’s go!

Escaping endless city of Istanbul, along the coastline full of big cargo ships, only the second day I could feel the peaceful greenery again. The colors started to change dramatically.

Usually the dogs are sleeping harmlessly beside the road but on the last mountain descend to Ankara they woke up! On every serpentine I had to fight my way through the gang of wildly barking creatures. Welcome to the capital, they were saying. Or maybe something else … This was the most exhausting week of the journey so far for me, as I got a painful skin infection, my sleeping mat was punctured and at one moment there were hundreds of ants in my tent, falling from the ceiling to my face. It tickles …

Tour-cycling is about managing challenges all the time; being vulnerable is an important part of the experience and things can turn around suddenly. What is going to happen next?

While healing my wounds in Ankara I met Didier, a French musician and poet, who decided to go around the world by bicycle at the age of 59. He revealed me some of his analogue secrets: a wooden stick to lean bike on and scare the dogs with or a plastic botle he fills with air to produce a loud honking.

On a rainy day I visited Iranian embassy and successfully collected my visa! While waiting for it I was drinking tea and talking to German family, parents and two kids, who had sold their house and went for a long-term journey a year ago.

I remember reading an adventurous book as a child. The story started with two exhausted men walking the endless salt lake somewhere in the Middle East. It could be Tuz Gölü, Turkey.

The thick layer of pinkish salt invited me for an unusual ride!

Cycling through the vast countryside and villages, I asked for lunch at the caravanserai, a historical building where merchants and travellers on the silk route once could rest. At that moment a wedding procession entered the yard and they invited me to join them for lunch. I can’t imagine having 36 cousins, as my young guide Mert Ozgunn told me he had. Soon I was introduced to most of them. It was the last day of celebration and after meal everybody was saying goodbye. We headed to the river, where my friend could lit his forbidden cigarette.

There are days in life when nothing happens. And days when everything happens. In the evening I was leaving another village when a man on a motorbike started to speak German with me. He introduced himself as der Bürgermeister, a major of the village. Sitting behind his table piled with papers, bills, books and a calculator in the big empty town hall I ate dürüm with beans his wife prepared for my dinner. First time in my life I thought drilling German for years in highschool actually had a purpose.

Finally I reached Avanos, a sleepy town taken from the Western movie, and stopped to change my second flat tyre a bullet of a cowboy had probably made. Can you find one on the photo bellow?

Past the camels I entered into the mythical landscape.

Every valley had a different color and shape of rock formations. There were hidden chapels carved in stone, with unusual red frescos. Inhabitants used balloons to go around. Welcome to the planet Cappadocia!

In the narrow tunnels of Kaymakli underground city that reaches 10 levels down I had the strongest feeling ever we humans are just a sort of ants. I was sitting in the complete darkness in the side tunnel and contemplating about this fact.

Winding roads led me up to the mountains, where I reached the highest altitude at 1970 m on the pass surrounded by 3000 m peaks. I could hear the true silence there.

After setting my tent up at the small lake one evening I was surprised by the herd of a few hundred goats approaching me. Will they eat my tent?

Moments of curiosity and gesture communication were followed by shepherds inviting me for dinner and breakfast to their big tent close by. We were sitting around a cloth on the floor with eleven family members passing me more and more food and çay at the end.

When they ask me what I like most about Turkey, my answer is short and simple: people!

One of the first Turkish words I learnt was deprem, an earthquake. It has been only 7 months since the catastrophic events last winter.

In Kahramanmaraş I took photo of a man standing in front of his destroyed home. He is living in a container now. I heard so many sad and tragic stories, cycled through the whole neighborhoods changed into dust, but people here were opening their homes and hearts to me.

Family from Mezere village invited me to overnight at their home. We had a lovely dinner and at midnight they prepared cloth on the floor again for an evening snack. They asked me to show them photos of my family. I was curious to observe how the roles of women and men differ. We communicated mostly with the help of the youngest daughter studying literature. They rolled out matresses and I layed down to sleep in the same room with other men.

Even on the petrol station I was welcomed as a guest. I could choose a drink and snack for free and men running family business (brothers, uncle and grandfather) joined me with juice and cakes. They saved my day after I struggled with the third flat tyre, realising my last reserve tyre (patched in Kosovo) had another puncture!

When I entered the bakery in Siverek, I was invited to join the table and eat with hands from the same big plate with the extended family. I spent there few hours, juggling among the shelves of bread and writing diary too.

Yellow landscape was burning in flames of a sunset. Surface of the wide river reflected in golden shine. In the air an evening prayer was calling. I reached Euphrates and Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation!

When I was cooking dinner on my camping stove high above the river with a headlamp on, I caught a movement in the grass. It was a scorpion. From that point on I was checking my shoes regularly in the mornings, as a hunter adviced me while I was looking through his binokulars to spot a wildboar a few days before.

If I had to choose a totem for my bicycle, besides the little globe I already have, it would deffinitelly be a scorpion! – Inspired by Göbeklitepe temple and Scorpio Rising, experimental film by Kenneth Anger.

Dating 12.000 years back, supposedly the oldest temple on the planet was built on the hill above Şanlıurfa. It consists of misterious T-shaped pillars (humans, phalluses?) forming circles. Reliefs of animals and human body parts are engraved in stone. Researchers believe neolithic tribes were gathering here. The theories about transitions to first human settlements were turned upside down after only 5 % of the temple area has been excavated. There are similar temples on the hills around, Karahantepe was discovered just recently and is believed to be even older. Truely, I found the very beginning of the nomad in me.

Staring towards Syria on the horizon I realised there are many things we are not supposed to understand.

Diyarbakır (or Amed in Kurdish), with two million inhabitants the Kurdish capital, has gray stone walls surrounding the old town. Tigris river flows in the valley. Everybody was speaking to me when I was strolling around the narrow lanes with my bike and for the first time I had a feeling I should become invisible. Just for a while.

I visited the city to join Flying Carpet, circus and music festival, organized by Sirkhane team from Mardin. In the evening I entered the 15th century hammam. International musicians were jamming, then circus artists took the stage and at the end we were dancing halay in the half circle holding eachother’s pinkies. I made friends with members of Sirkhane’s circus heroes group, young performers and mostly refugees from Syria. I love their energy and laughter, and can’t wait to do trainings together.

In the night we had a lot of fun with my host Mazlum and his friends. Living room was shrouded in smoke, we were drinking tea, singing by the guitar and learning to juggle. Around 2 a.m. they started to play traditional Kurdish Dengbêj music by Şakiro, which totally moved me.

In Park 75, amidst the block neighborhood, I watched Olive tree, a big-scale and touching social circus performance by Sirkhane and international artists, bringing joy to the suburbs and container cities in the area.

Elif, a lovely woman and one of the circus heroes, said to me: ‘You’re magic.’ I moved in one day to Mardin, 95 km away, and she couldn’t believe it.

Now I wander around the brown cobblestone streets with my new friends. Endless Mesopotamian plain spreads in front of us and I haven’t seen a cloud for a long time.

Ljubljana-Mardin in numbers:

  • 3377 km
  • 32462 m altitude
  • 192 h in the saddle
  • 64 days on the road
  • 23 days of 0 km
  • 1970 m max altitude
  • 17,58 km/h average speed
  • 66,08 km/h max speed
  • 45 °C max temperature
  • 3 flat tyres
  • 1 scorpion