Over the past few years as I was reading numerous accounts of cyclists as they traversed the globe, I had been told that the hospitality you will experience in the Muslim world would be something you have to experience to believe. It is so easy and intellectually dishonest to label an entire group of people because of the acts of a few. Many in the West fear the Islamic world because of images that are selectively edited on television to support a particular opinion but cherry picking what to believe or not based on 30 second sound bites is not only unfair, it leads to a distorted view of the world and to a continuous cycle of fear and avoidance. Based on my limited time in Turkey, I would say that the seemingly exaggerated claims of hospitality were in fact, understated.
The ferry from Istanbul to Biga was uneventful which is always nice when travelling. When I met with Justin and Emma last week they told me of a tip they had heard from other cyclists. Apparently, you can often stay for free with your tent at gas stations throughout Turkey. I decided to give it a try when I arrived in Biga as it was only mid-afternoon when I stepped off the ferry. I cycled out of town, found a gas station, and asked if I could put up my tent around the back and was told I was more than welcome. The problem with camping at this time of year however is that it is dark by 5:30 and with no town around and the gas station closed, I had nothing to do but read, for 5 hours. I prefer to camp but in winter think I will reserve that for times I have no choice as I much prefer to be near people and towns at night after a day of cycling on my own. There are hostels or pensions where you can often stay with families and other forms of accommodation that will allow me to talk with people during the evenings, something that is very important when you travel alone.
I was back on my bike for a full day of cycling on Saturday and it felt good to be on the road again and I quickly got back to my familiar slow rhythm. The weather was perfect with sunshine, a comfortable 20C and no wind. It felt quite warm on some of the climbs so I would imagine the heat is pretty intense in the summer. The area has some agriculture (olive trees) here but is dry and the soil quite rocky in most places. The roads were questionable considering I was on a national highway and will be taking a lot of side-roads as I meander down the coast. It's a good thing I have changed from a (26 x 1.75") tire to a (26 x 2.0") as the roads are chipped and not smoothly paved and often have potholes. I have to remember to keep my eyes on the road.
Other than the rough road conditions, the most tiring part of the day was the constant waving at vehicles going in both directions. I lost count of how many people waved, honked their horns, gave thumbs up or yelled encouragement as I biked up the hills. Farmers in fields, construction workers, and young people in towns all invariably smiled and waved as I rode through. In one case, a group of 4 men were off the side of the road in a field and looked as if they weren't quite sure what to make of someone on a bike. I waved and yelled hello in Turkish and they responded by taking off their hats, yelling and screaming and literally jumping up and down to return the greeting. I heard the yelling continue until I was out of hearing distance.
I entered a gas station at about 11:00 am to fill up my fuel bottle. I approached a man that was standing by a propane tank and asked if I could fill my bottle and his not too surprising response was "that is not possible." As it turns out he meant that I could not put propane in my bottle as the nozzle would not fit but when I pointed to the gas he just smiled and gently said, "Please sit down" (I never did get my gas). I wasn't sure what he meant but when he pointed to a set of chairs nearby, I just got off my bike and obediently sat. A few minutes later, his wife came out with a tray of tea. We spent the next 15 minutes engaging in a conversation of broken English and sign language and before I left, he introduced me to his daughter and suggested I take her to Canada because "Turkish women are the best and will treat you very well." I politely declined by saying there is only 1 seat on my bike. They seemed to understand as the men started laughing and good naturedly slapping me on the back.
As I rolled into Biga after a very easy 70kms, I noticed a little restaurant that was attached to a Mosque and decided to get another cup of tea before looking for a place to spend the night. I went into the café and ordered and when the young waiter delivered it I asked him if there was a pension in Biga. Within minutes 4 men were around my table sketching out directions, ordering me more tea and trying to engage in conversation. A young lady in a headscarf and the daughter of the café owner were sitting at the next table and joined in with everyone peppering me with questions on where I came from, where I was going and if I like Turkey. I pulled out my map and outlined my trip, showed them my bike and some of the gear. The men of course asked how much my bike cost, how much my trip costs (I don't answer questions about money so just shook my head) and the women asked if I was married and if I get lonely. Once again, the owner tried to solve a few of my "problems" by suggesting I take his daughter home to Canada to start a family. The daughter is not in this picture, I hope she wasn't out back packing her suitcase.