2005 -- Biking and Exploring Turkey
Mediterranean Coast

July 24--Coasting on the Coast

Any hope that ocean breezes might lower the temperatures is quickly dashed as we get off the bus the next morning in the city of Antalya.  The Mediterranean coast is just a few degrees cooler, but the humidity is sky high, so it feels much hotter.  I think we are finally wearing down in the heat.  We are definetly wearing down in our aspirations of what we plan to see and do during our last ten days.  We make repeated jokes about "coasting," a term we coined cycling out of the Amazon Basin one day when we were so exhausted we could not even pedal on the downhill sections, but just coasted along at walking speed.

Riding 10 kilometers from the bus station to the old part of town is so hot and muggy that I cover our map with sweat each time I touch it.  By the time we reach downtown the map has numerous soggy holes and rips along the fold lines.  We certainly are not going any further today.  The quality of our sleep on the night bus (the only bus available) was less than ideal. We check into a wonderful little hotel, with air-conditioning, and spend much of the day napping and reading in our room.  In the evening we treat ourselves to a Turkish bath in a 700-year-old bathouse.  We get a vigourous scrub massage with a rough loufa, a soap-bubble massage under mounds of bubbles, and lie on marble benches occassionally throwing bowls of hot and cold water on ourselves practicing keyif, the Turkish art of quiet relaxation.  In other words, "coasting."

July 25--Gravel and Sweat

Despite sleeping till 9 am, we eat and have the bikes packed by 10. The only thing motivating us is our Lonely Planet guidebook's statement that the coastal road from Anatalya to Fethiye is the best cycling in all of Turkey.

But biking out of Anatalya the sky is filled with a summertime haze, we can hardly see the wall of mountains that rise up from the coast around us. The road is a four-lane highway, with tons of traffic roaring past. Since we are on the inside lane we see nothing of the scenery, which is blocked by concrete barriers. Even worse, the road has been freshly graveled. The packers didn't pack the gravel on the shoulder, which is three inches deep and impossible to ride. We are forced to cycle out in the traffic lane. Plus, the gravel is shiny white and incredibly bright, reflecting heat and light into our faces like a giant mirror. All I see is a cascade of sweat in my eyes.

We suffer along for a few hours until we reach a smaller side road. Our map shows it runs right along the coast but we cycle for another couple of hours and only glimpse the ocean twice. A never-ending chain of hotels has locked all public access, along with the views. We give it another 20 kilometers, when the road doesn’t change we put our bikes on a bus.

On the bus, we monitor the road construction as the highway leaves the coast and climbs into the haze-covered mountains. We see nothing to entice us to get off the bus until we arrive in the town of Kas.

July 26—Kas

Kas is a quaint little town in a beautiful setting between two lovely bays. Fortunately there are no sandy beaches nearby, so it is not a big international destination. The town is filled with Turkish tourists—late July is the beginning of their summer holiday season.

We visit an old roman amphitheater facing the sea. As I climb the stairs Tass goofs around on the stage making photos of two women selling hand-made scarves. The amphitheater has perfect acoustics, even at the top I can hear them talking and giggling. The older woman is chewing bubble gum and Tass has convinced here to pose while blowing a bubble. Their laughter fills the amphitheater. We visit a few rock-carved Lycian tombs (yet another ancient civilization, Turkey overflows with history) and head for the ocean.

Since there is no beach, just large limestone boulders along this section of coastline, restaurants and bars have built little cement patios on the rocks for sunbathing, complete with umbrellas and chaise lounges. We pick a perfect little perch just above the water line with a great view of the bay and the Greek Island of Kastellorizo just a few miles off shore. We relax the rest of the day.

July 27—More Coasting

Amazing how once we stop the true level of fatigue begins to show itself. We wake up more exhausted than ever. No way we are going anywhere today. We head for our little patio perch next to the ocean for more coasting.

July 28—A Bittersweet Ride

About 11 pm last night my minor stomach turmoil of the last two days turned into a major bout of diarrhea. I spend most of the night in the bathroom. Fortunately by 6 am little is left in my bowels, so we pack up. We have been assured the road west of Kas has great scenery and has not been graveled.

The southwestern coastline of Turkey is filled with rugged mountains of fractured and crumbling limestone that plunge steeply and abruptly into the Mediterranean. The road twists and turns around each ridge and gully as it hugs the coastline, the turquoise water never out of our sight. This is exactly the type of road we had hoped to ride.

Occasionally we pass small, hidden stretches of beach. At an exceptionally beautiful beach we stop and gaze down at the sunbathers. “Its almost a crime to ride by and not stop” I say to Tass. It looks idyllic but after our last two days at the beach we want to get some miles in. A policeman is parked near us beside the road. Tass points to his vehicle and whispers conspiratorially, “I wonder if he will arrest us when we ride past.”

Bittersweet riding…this may be our last full day of cycling. Too quickly the road leaves the coast and climbs into the mountains. The temperature (104 +) and humidity are sky high, we are in our lowest gears, sweat dripping in our eyes. “I’m going to make a resolution,” Tass announces thoughtfully. “For the rest of the summer I’m not going to drink any more hot water unless its in coffee.” Our water bottles have heated to unbearable temperatures, again. Gagging instead of thirst quenching. Tass starts singing BB King style, “ The Thrill Is Gone.”

We drop out of the mountains into a large valley, and a massive road construction project. It is mid afternoon, scorching hot, and we have had a great day. We have also had enough. At a bus stop the driver and helper watch in awe as I quickly take all four wheels off the bikes and stuff them in an improbable compartment. At Fethiye I go to 11 hotels before we find one we like, a trip record.

July 29—Resting Is Exhausting

According to our new schedule this is a rest day. Our plan is to bike to a famous beach nearby to relax. Our guidebook says it is eight km away over a steep hill. We figure without our luggage we should climb quickly and spend most of our day relaxing under a beach umbrella.

As we leave our hotel we find out the beach is 15 km away. We are already in our cycling clothes so we go anyway. Big mistake. The road goes straight up, at least a 20% grade. Even without our luggage we strain to keep up our momentum. There is no wind. The heat is suffocating. We stop repeatedly under the shade of trees to watch cars and scooters struggling to climb the hill. Each scooter only has one person. Now Tass remembers reading that rental scooters are not allowed to have passengers on this road because the extra weight burns out the clutch. No sooner does she say this and two scooters, each with two people, come laboring slowly up the hill, and run out of momentum right in front of us, engines overheating and clutches smoking and stinking. A car also pulls over near us, overheating, as does another just up the hill above us.

We can’t bail out and take a bus because no bus could stop and load us up on this hill. We consider riding back into town, dumping the bikes, and coming back on a bus. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A REST DAY!! But surely we must be near the top. We go for the summit, and vow to catch a ride back over the hill to town at the end of the day.

On the twisting descent we battle our brakes to keep our speed and momentum down. At the bottom, the little town of Belcekiz is surrounded by steep and lush, forested hills. We stop at a market, guzzle giant cold yogurt drinks to cool down and settle our stomachs, and then wobble to the famous Oludeniz beach. We cower a few hours under the umbrellas, not wanting any more sun. Even the reflective heat off the sand is too much. The beach is more crowded than fun and the wind is out of our sails. We catch a lift to the top of the hill, ride down the other side, and scurry back to our quiet, air-conditioned hotel room.

July 30 — Bus With No Tears

The last big item on our Turkey agenda is the ancient roman ruins of Ephesus on the western Aegean coast, a six-hour bus ride away. Large sections of the road are under construction; the remainder needs works badly as the shoulders are non-existent and the edges rough and ragged with potholes. No tears lost that we didn’t have time to bike it.

Lots of construction everywhere we have traveled in Turkey, new apartment complexes, large homes being built, businesses expanding, the Turkish economy is booming. In Selcuk we check into the first pension we stop at, All Blacks, named after a New Zealand rugby team and filled with their soccer pictures and memorabilia.

July 31 — Roman Ruins of Ephesus

The area around Ephesus has been a place of pilgrimage since 800 BC. In 356 BC the famous Temple of Cybele/Artimis was destroyed by a madman, only because he wanted his name to be remember through history--so I am not mentioning it. The Ephesians were rebuilding the temple when Alexander the Great came through. He thought the new design so impressive he offered to pay for the construction if the temple would be dedicated to him. The Ephesians tactfully declined and when finished the new Temple of Artimis became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

During Roman times the city was the capital of Asia Minor with a population of 250,000 people. Tradition says that St. John came here with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who lived here until she was taken into the sky by angels. St. Paul lived here from 55-58 AD, and his Letter to the Ephesians became a part of the Bible. St. John returned again in 95 AD after being banished from the island of Patmos. The Greeks claim St. John wrote his gospel and the book of Revelation while on Patmos, the Turks claim he wrote both while he was in Ephesus. In the 6th century AD Emperor Justinian choose Ephesus as the spot to build an enormous basilica in honor of St. John. Despite this history, Ephesus went into decline when the harbor began to silt up and commerce was crippled. The city was relocated along the coast but never regained its former glory.

Today Ephesus is considered the best-preserved Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. We arrive early and make a beeline to the famous Library, to make photos before the huge crowds arrive, then wander leisurely through the rest of the ruins. It is especially interesting to think of St. Paul, St John and Mary all living here, shopping and interacting with the local population.

August 1—On the Bus Again

All of the sudden our trip is coming to an end. Our main goal now is to return to Athens. We spend most of the day on a bus heading back south to Marmaris. The town of 20,000 people fills with 120,000 tourists each day during the summer. It is a major party destination. With each hour of the evening the streets become more crowded. Tourists wearing swimsuits walk beside others in cocktail dresses and high heels heading for the thriving club scene. This place is like Fort Lauderdale, Cancun and Vegas all mixed together.

August 2—Start the Ferries

We catch the morning ferry to the Greek island of Rhodes, which is just off the Turkish coast. By the time we get through customs it is almost noon. We ride into town to see the famous walls and fort built in medieval times by the Knights of St. John, and explore just enough to know we would love to come back some day. Then we join literally 3,000 people at a city beach and relax a few hours before riding back to the port to take a night ferry to Athens. We sleep in the lounge, moving every few hours from the stuffed chairs to the floor and back again, depending on which is more uncomfortable, our necks from the chair, or our hips from the hard floor.

August 3— Blessed and Fortunate

In Pireaus we take the short metro ride back to downtown Athens, and begin packing our bikes into the boxes we left at the Hostel. We also repack all our luggage for the flight, and even manage to take a quick nap. Then it is off to make one last quick shopping tour, one last supper at a sidewalk café, one last toast of Greek wine poured from a clay carafe.

We can’t quite believe the trip is over. In our hotel room Tass flips through her little notebook of photographs she has made, and each reference she reads brings back a flood of memories: the pyramids at Giza; patterns on sand dunes at El Qasr; Fatima, a Bedouin woman we met in Petra; wild camping on the Peloponnese coast; cycling through the mountains in Crete; the blue-domed churches on Santorini; the spice market in Istanbul.

Each time we finish a trip there is always just a little amazement, looking back, that everything actually happened. We feel incredibly blessed and fortunate, perhaps a little in awe that, once again, we have safely completed a major journey. We are either the luckiest people in the world, or the world is much safer, and the people much friendlier, than portrayed by the news media.

August 4— Amsterdam – Thoughts On Terrorism – The Odds -- Home

At 12:15 am our alarm goes off and we head for the airport. Goodbye Greece.

We have a five-hour layover in Amsterdam, so we take the high-speed train into town. Outside the train station we can’t believe the parking area devoted to bicycles, at least 5,000 bikes on three different levels. Everywhere we walk the streets are filled with cyclists. How strange, after being the only cyclists in so many places, now we are finally somewhere where bicycles are common, and we are on foot.

We walk along the canals, Tass makes photos and I think about our trip--about all the people we met and all the friends we made, how kindly we were treated everywhere, and all of the goodwill that was bestowed on us.

A few days ago a bomb went off in Sharm el-sheikh, Egypt. The town is on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The bomb exploded in the same market where we stopped for breakfast two months earlier on May 30. I think of the people at the café who joked and laughed with us, wondering if they were injured or killed. Most of the dead were Egyptian. Throughout the area many people will suffer economically from the disaster. Terrorism can cripple the tourist industry for years.

A couple of smaller bombs also went off while we were in Turkey, in the eastern part of the country, two thousand miles from where we were. And one bomb went off on the western coast at a tourist resort; I think it killed two or three people.

Many people are amazed that we don’t worry more about such incidents. Honestly, I can say I hardly ever think about it. Such isolated events are so statistically unlikely that it never occurs to me to worry about being a terrorist victim. Just because such events are over-reported by the news media does not make it an actual danger, only a perceived danger. I would guess, statistically, the chance of us being in a terrorist incident would be less than being attacked by a shark while diving in the Red Sea, or being struck by lightning. A real danger, with much higher odds would be the victim of an accident on the highway, and thankfully we have avoided that.

After writing the last few sentences Tass and I start talking about odds. So we go to the internet and here is what we find:

Odds of being on plane with a drunken pilot: 117 to 1
Odds of fatally slipping in bath or shower: 2,232 to 1
Odds of injury from mowing the lawn: 3,623 to 1
Chance of dying from a car accident: 1 in 18,585
Chance of dying in an airplane accident: 1 in 354,319
Chance of dying from choking on food: 1 in 370,035
Odds of being struck by lightning: 576,000 to 1
Chance of dying in a terrorist attack while visiting a foreign country: 1 in 650,000
Chance of dying from being bitten by a dog: 1 in 700,000

So…when worrying…put terrorism behind lightning strikes and just before DYING from a dog bite (when was the last time you worried about that?)

From Amsterdam we fly to Minneapolis, have a five-hour layover, and then into Rapid City. We are home. More than anything we feel humbled to have experienced such a journey, to be given such a window into peoples lives, and return with so many wonderful memories. Maybe we are the luckiest people in the world after all.

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