Samsun and beyond
I had a great time relaxing in Samsun but after a few days there I needed to get back on the road and zoom along the Black Sea coast. I had spent nearly 2 months in Turkey and much as I would have loved to spend 2 more I needed to concentrate on getting closer to the Pamirs, Tajikistan, before winter sets in.
Its so difficult for me to think of winter when still in such heat … and the Black sea coast was hot and humid. The landscape felt almost jungle like, tropical in comparison to the area in Central Turkey I had seen … but again it was so great to be back by the sea.
After getting another puncture just outside Samsun and stopping off at a truck weighing station to get myself and Tilly weighed ( me 60kg, Tilly and bags 50kg = 110kg) – much to their amusement – I am cycling long, flat roads with wide hard shoulders, tree covered mountains to my right and trees and palms separating me from the Black Sea on my left.
I also pass by worker camps. Evidently people are out in the surrounding fields and living in tents to be close to the work. I saw this on a number of occasions in Turkey and then further on in other countries. Not having met anyone who lives in these camps I would be wrong to comment on how good, bad or indifferent they are … but I would doubt that that anyone employing these people will provide much in the way of support to make their homes comfortable places to live.
I follow a camping sign in the evening and am stopped part way and taken to the holidays homes of 2 Turkish couples who live in Germany and who suggest I camp in their garden … so I spend the evening and morning chatting to them in German and to their amusement some Turkish!
The route from Samsun is all main road, going through Carsamba, Terme and then onto Unye and Fatsa and so I just put my head down and power up! I love the feeling of speed on a good road surface, mainly flat … its a different type of joyous!!
In Fatsa I stop briefly to look at the boats and marvel at the coastline. From the road as a round a point or crest a ‘hill’ I see these massive coastal towns/cities which hug the mountains and roll down to the sea … they are quite a thing to see and look mainly modern, with enormous blocks of flats, seaward facing .. a bit like a massive Torquay or … Rio De Janeiro!!!
Along the Black Sea coast there are a number of tunnels …. I’m not a big fan of tunnels with traffic … without, just for bikes would be awesome!! The trucks pound through these at great speed and on more than one occasion I’m sure I felt angels wings brushing past me, thankfully either looking after or ignoring me!! Either works for me!!!!
After Fatsa I hug the coastline, climbing some great hills with lovely windy roads, searching for a sunset or sunrise camp spot … but as its such a great ride I keep going, at one point meeting a Turkish cycle tourer going the other way, until I reach the lovely Pershembe.
The lovely Pershembe
On reaching Pershembe at night I am struck by what a relaxed, atmosphere it has so I find a local cafe which has a children’s park just next to it and plan to camp in there over night!! It all feels really safe and so I go to the cafe for tea and toast well pleased with my decision …. and meet Ficrosa and her sister in law. They ask what I am doing and immediately invite me to stay … Ficrosa’s husband speaks English and is summoned by phone, arriving some minutes later by which time we are all laughing in the cafe and I’m totally in love with the town and more importantly Ficrosa. She and Aydin are retired, in their late 60s at a guess and yet have the fun and enthusiasm of any youngling!!! Before too long I am pushing Tilly back along Pershembe’s boulevard to one of the wedding salon’s I had heard music from earlier …. the Black Sea is famous for its wedding salons and someone in Aydin’s family runs this one. We go in, drink tea, people watch, listen to the music and inevitably for me I am up dancing with an insistent Ficrosa in a very short space of time …. my idea of a heaven … and so my plan to move along the Black Sea quite quickly are completely scuppered … in the best possible way.
After more tea and dancing Ficrosa and Aydin take me back to their house and we sit on their porch drinking tea and chatting about my cycling. Aydin gets his violin out and he plays some traditional tunes whilst she sings … its so beautiful I want to cry … I’m just so lucky and feeling pretty overwhelmed by these amazing people. At the end of the music there is a chorus of applause from the neighbouring house.
This may sound strange but one of the most touching things to have happened to me so far on this trip was to be shown where the shower was, my clothes taken for washing and for me to be given a new pair of yellow pants, some clean painting clothes of Aydin’s and a pair of pink slippers … even now the yellow pants are one of my prized possessions and make me smile every time!!! Such love and generosity there was in that giving.
Over the next couple of days in Pershembe I visit the local bazaar, collecting food for the day, help Ficrosa make dolmas and go to a totally amazing breakfast party – see the photos for that one!!!! Another treasured memory is that of the 3 of us dancing in their front room to music from the radio … words don’t do it justice … we all totally rocked!!
Leaving Pershembe was incredibly hard after being introduced to so many people by Ficrosa … she is an absolute magnet for people … amazing boundless energy and I enjoyed the time with her and Aydin so much.
But on the 4th morning I headed off again along the Black Sea coast … after tears and lots of hugs … Aydin asked to cycle with me up to the next town and so we went along together and had some tea before he left for home and I carried on through Ordu to end up camping on the sea front amongst the hazelnuts at Giresun!
The following day there is more coastal cycling, coastal towns, coastal views before stopping for food just outside Trabzon and meeting Furkan, who seeing my initial hesitation when he immediately offers me a place to stay, tells me about his work (SEN teacher), girlfriend, job, previous experience hosting cycle tourers and offeres his Couchsurfing details for further reference!!! I sent a FB post about his warmth and generosity at the time and reiterate now …. how amazing to be in a new place and spontaneously offered somewhere to stay, shower, washing and breakfast in the morning before going on my way …. the people I meet are amazing!!
Rize, Ayder and Çay
After leaving Furkan I head into Trabzon and visit the Hagia Sophia, a church and mosque on separate sides. Its a beautiful building dating back to the 13 century and recently restored and has both internal frescos and external stone carving depicting Adam, Eve and the tree of knowledge.
As I cycle along I see one of the few political posters I have seen anywhere in Turkey, of President Erdogan. I’m surprised to see this here on the Black Sea because the people there appear so much more focused on their freedom of speech and free behaviour .. the women on the Black Sea appear very much more in charge of their own affairs than anywhere (other then Istanbul) in the rest of Turkey so I am surprised by this show of solidarity with a very conservative, religiously based president.
Looking up into the mountains I am made aware that there is tea growing … I had no idea that Turkey grew tea!!! Well it does, lots of it and so having been told by others that Ayder is a must see place to go I pass through Rize (a town of blue and green and tea artwork everywhere) pausing for the night in the 24hr hospital cafe, only to be offered a bed by a woman who is an inpatient and not entirely well yet (venflon still in arm) but wants me to feel welcome!!!
I spend a day cycling from Rize to Ayder, getting a lift for the last 10km from the young national park entrance guards and then a local who they commandeer to take me the last 5 km. Its cold and misty and wet by the time i reach Ayder and I’m disappointed not to see the mountains but after some conversation am given a spot behind the kitchen of a lodge complex and then fed!! Does anyone else get the feeling I ricochet from tent to food and back!! Conversation around the fire in the evening turns to me being generally mad for doing this and why am I not married with children … favourite topics of conversation throughout Turkey and ones which I have developed my own form of positive answers in Turkish, usually accompanied by gestures to indicate this is amazing and I’m very happy to be meeting such lovely people!!
In the morning the mists have cleared and its a beautiful day!! So I go exploring before heading back down the mountain to the Black Sea road and ultimately Georgia. I ask about the howling in the night and am told there are packs of jackals … its incredible to listening to them ‘singing’ in a tent, on the mountains, at the back of a cabin!! The 40km downhill is so great and I swish through the turns happily, looking about at the rocks, rivers and hills full of tea … life is good!!
Once back on the Black Sea road I decide to continue and cross the border (thanks Dylan!) into Georgia at night, after stopping in Hopa for soup and to fix my last puncture from Turkey – a wire puncture darn it!!
Its fun to be cycling down queues of trucks, through tunnels, to the crossing check points and as I pass through quickly (1 hour) and find myself in Georgia with no hostel, hotel or idea of where I am staying I realise that I feel totally relaxed about this and that somewhere in Turkey I have lost a lot of my anxiety and am aware that I can totally handle any situation … well cycle touring there is often no choice – either I handle it or it goes pear shaped – but you know what I mean!!! So not without sadness I’m in a new country again complete with new language and new alphabet!!