Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cycling In Turkey

Tiggy would approve, and she was definitely in tow in Turkey. At least in absentia.

No, I don't mean the turkey on your table on Thanksgiving: I mean the place.

The choice was a sleepy village on the South Aegean coast, Yalikavak. It's a quiet tourist town up the jagged coastline from its more popular cousin to the south, Bodrum.

What you get as well are some beautiful beaches, gorgeous dark blue water, and unique Turkish culture. Blend that with some dusty dirt roads leading into the many hillsides, and a real mountain biker can be content for days.

Nevertheless Yalikavak is not a destination spot for cyclists: riding on the main roads could be considered quite dangerous by many standards. Said one Irish ex-pat Michael who moved here with his wife and two children a few years ago, “They’d sooner kill you than kill a cow.”

Perhaps between September and the beginning of May there are less British, Irish and Turkish tourists, so the roads may be safer, and the weather cooler.

Si if you come in middle May you can enjoy the cooler weather as well as the warmer weather in the last week of May, and get a sense of how the town comes alive during the tourist season. You can also use Yalikavak as a jumping off point for cycling to many of the little towns along the coastline, and each one has a multitude of roads to get lost on up in the hills.

The challenge lies in navigating the many hills of clumped rock and vegetation jutting out irregularly into the Aegean. Snaking up around and through them are small dirt and gravel roads leading down to gemlike beaches, untouched mostly by humanity, garbage or commerce.

Finding a bike is also a challenge. Bringing one may not be worth the cost in airline fees. The 12 hour flight from the U.S. to Istanbul with Delta, or broken in two 6-hour flights with Air France through Paris, charges for extra bag transportation range from $100 to $150 for the extra baggage.

Air France allows two bags at 50 lbs each, so if your bike falls into that category, you could be lucky. But expect to pay for the oversized box on the puddle jumper from Istanbul to Bodrum, the closest airport.

For Europeans it is much easier to come to Bodrum, a three to four hour flight, which might help explain why there are so many British expats here, and conversely why there are so few Americans. There are also many Irish, French, Dutch, and German ex pats and vacationers, their sun-pink, fleshy bodies and dyed blonde hair blending with the dark-haired, mostly slim, Turkish population.

On the whole, cycling in the area can provide either a nice distraction between dips in the gorgeously clean blue water, sailing, traveling to other islands in Greece a stone’s throw away, or they can provide some nifty steep climbs for training. For that matter, I made it my goal to use the water and roads for some challenging triathlon training.

You will need a passable mountain bike for the steep, graveled sections. If you don’t bring one, and since there are none to rent in Yalikavak, you might as well buy one for between 159 Turkish Lira, and 350 Turkish lira, which comes out to between $132 and $292.

The cheaper version (all of them made of steel) does not have shocks on either wheel, and on a descent down one of the pitted gravel roads I felt like I really needed at least a front wheel shock.

The highest end model I saw in a small shop in town was heavy steel but had Shimano parts and priced at 350 YTL, down from the original offering price of 375 YTL.

One steel model sporting Suntour components priced at 229 YTL, about $191, in the local Yalikavak market which is less than two way price of bringing a bike to the area by plane (if you are charged for extra baggage). If you are smart you could convince a local to lend you their bike and either pay them for it, or in exchange fix their bike.

You can also rent a bike in nearby town of Turketreis for 15 YTL a day--about $12.50. But you'll have to go there by bus and pick it up and redeliver it at the end of your trip--a kind of unhappy compromise if you are in a rush at the end of your trip. I also don't recommend Turketreis as a resting point, since it is expensive and has a lot more cars.

So I opted to borrow a bike from a friend, and it needed a bit of work. A friend drove me and the bike to a local shop where they checked the brakes, changed the seat height, oiled and adjusted parts, and changed the pedals to my mountain bike pedals all for 5 YTL--about $4.

On my very first ride out of Yalikavak, I did not see a single tourist or ex pat riding a bike, though I did see a few Turkish men and one woman, riding for transportation.

I rode to the end of Yalikvak, to what seemed like the end of the earth. After a steep ascent on thick gravel--my wheels could not even turn on it--I came over a peak to see one of the most beautiful scenes ever: two pieces of land jutting out into a deep blue sea, and only one sailboat parked inside one of the bays .
I chose to ride late in the day--around 6 pm, and the sun had not set yet. So brilliantly it shone across the sparkling water! I descended to find a deserted beach, and a flock of goats who were hiding from the sun under the bushes. Cut into the rocks along the way was an old grave site.

Later I met the goatherd, a man in his 60's or 70's who offered me water from his well, and berries from the tree. I was saved, since I had forgotten to pack water or food!

Then I took the ascent back up and to my left up to the peak of the highest hill--you could hardly call them mountains, they are more like volcano deposits--and made it to the top with little incident. A butterfly flew into my picture, seeking immortality.

Here I could smell the earth, the wild sage, and the flowers, in a heated tisane on the hill.

The entire trip was about 1.5 hours, and perhaps no more than 20 kilometers, but its beauty will linger in my memory forever.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

this looks just incredible. Have you any plans to go sailing? I hear it's spectacular.

have fun and be safe!