Covering 1500 km and with a vocabulary of just 100 words, travel writer Thomas Bauer rode his recumbent trike along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, gathering over 50 invitations to tea along the way.
Contributed by Thomas Bauer
“Are you really going to Turkey – or just to Aldi?”
Reactions were mixed when I announced my intention to tour the Mediterranean coast of Turkey by recumbent trike. There were warnings aplenty: I would be run over by a truck and left for dead on the road, I’d be torn to shreds by dogs, I’d be blown up by the PKK, shot by Syrians, and I’d spend my days looking for my stolen recumbent in the local bazaars.
Nonetheless, there I was in the garden of a hotel in ĺzmir, admiring my steed for the trip: a low and lean TRIcon recumbent trike from Czech company AZUB.
It’s barely knee high, but a full 2.5 metres long, its eager shape almost a physical manifestation of my compulsion to keep moving.
My legs propelled it without undue effort into the traffic. Every few minutes a car would overtake, and every time the rider would honk the horn, wind their window down and take a photo. Before long, a VW camper pulled up ahead of me on the side of the road and the driver’s door swung open. “Allahu akbar!”, he called as he jumped to the ground. “God is great.” For five years, he told me in American-accented English, he had travelled all around the world on cruise liners, yet he had never seen anything like my vehicle. A few moments later he came out with a sentence which from then on would sum up my trip. He pointed at the mountains that ranged ahead of me in a great arc to the south. “Behind those mountains”, he began, and I thought I saw a hint of satisfaction playing on his lips as he continued, “there are more mountains.” And that is exactly how it was.
I asked a traffic policeman
If you’ve ever had the chance to ride a recumbent trike, you’ll know that they’re like go-carts at a fair, only even more comfortable: I loll on my mesh seat and headwinds barely affect me. The neck rest keeps my head vertical. It’s an age-appropriate way to cycle for this well-worn travel writer!
After another day’s ride in the mountains I asked a traffic policeman in Söke for directions to the town’s cheapest hotel. He’d show me the way to the second-cheapest, he said, the cheapest would not be acceptable to a German. The second-cheapest hotel in Söke is called the ‘Palace of Ephesus’ and it appeared to have been built about the same time as the old city – with little investment since. Nonetheless, I felt immediately at home. Who needs windows when it’s warm outside? And who needs a TV when I can watch the goings-on in the room below mine thanks to a huge hole in the floor?
Instead of liveried serving staff scurrying around the lobby, a single grey-haired old man was sitting on the steps. As I started unloading and locking the bike to the railings, he spoke up. “Believe me, there’s no need to lock your bike. Why would anyone steal it? To ride around in this heat? No, my friend, only crazy Germans do that!”
“May Allah give you wings!”
The coastal stretch around Antalya was changed forever in the nineties, thanks to the millions of investments from the World Bank. Where once there were mature village communities, now there are thousands of bargain holidaymakers in giant hotel complexes which seem to have landed in the landscape from space. At the heart of this craziness is the city itself. Mopeds swarmed like wasps in the city centre, car drivers beeped me impatiently and pedestrians wandered randomly across the road. It was the same in the rest of the ‘A-team’: in Alanya, Anamur and Adana alike, my emergency stop was practiced to perfection.
Yet another youth buzzed past on a motorbike. ‘Facebook, Facebook!’, he shouted frenetically, waving his mobile phone at me. Apparently I’d become something of a celebrity on social media in Turkey. To escape the clamour I diverted to Ovacık Bay, a dot on the map with just a single hotel open, and that is where I met Mustafa. He’d designed cars in the USA before building up a logistics company in Hamburg. Now he was enjoying the twilight of his life, basking in the sunlight, contentedly stroking his stately belly. We talked late into the night over a wonderful meal. The next day, as I set off, Mustafa called after me “May Allah give you wings!” Nothing could go wrong after that.
Well, almost nothing. There was one last challenge for me to overcome – perhaps the greatest of all.
“3.5 kg, effendi. Your parcel is 3.5 kg too heavy.”
The postal worker would not budge. So I ripped my carefully prepared package open and pulled out the bike’s rear wheel, pedals and one pannier. In the postal worker’s cousin’s friend’s shop I packed these last pieces into a second box, and trotted back to Antakya’s post office.
“Where should I send these parcels to, effendi?”
“To the Czech Republic.”
“There is no such country. Is the Czech Republic perhaps part of Germany?”
Paper and pen to the rescue. “So this is Europe… here is Hungary. Northwest of that is Poland. And in between them is…”
Mark Twain famously said
The penny had dropped, and with some sadness I bade my bike farewell as it was carried to the back of the post office, hoping it would arrive safely home, inşallah. Once again, all was well.
And I must add: every day I felt myself carried along on a wonderful wave of hospitality. I was offered fruit, tea and encouragement with genuine consideration and concern and I knew, that if I ever needed it, I could always count on the Turkish eagerness to help. The ‘prophets of doom’ had been proven wrong. Travel, as Mark Twain famously said, is fatal to prejudice.
Thomas Bauer’s book Möge Allah dir Flügel verleihen – Per Liegerad durch die Türkei (‘May Allah give you wings – through Turkey on a recumbent’) is published (in German only) by Drachenmond Verlag. For more details see: www.literaturnest.de