Turkey Part 1
Batumi to Ardesen
The storm over the Black Sea refused to leave. It lingered there like thick grey glue smeared across the sky. After sheltering from some fierce wind and torrential rain the day before, we decided that today we had to face it. It was time for Turkey! Donning our wet-weather gear, we cycled our final few kilometres of Georgia and made our way to the border.
The border showed a divide of faith, where we left a Christian cross and religious blessing on the Georgian side and were met with the Islamic moons, minarets and mosques on the Turkish side. It was like you had to choose your team.
After around 70km, it was getting pretty dark and a helpful local in the city of Ardesen pointed us to a hotel; he was particularly keen to talk politics, but as it was pretty obvious we were soaked and getting cold, he bid us farewell. We were soon warm and dry to try our first (of many) delicious kofta kebab.
Ardesen to Trabzon
With a clear blue sky, we were able to enjoy our first proper day of cycling in Turkey, and scooted merrily along the coast.
There were hundreds of waterfalls cascading from the steep mountains, one reason why the Black Sea isn’t very salty, due to the huge amount of freshwater that feeds it.
Trabzon to a beach near Kesap
It was a pleasant ride, lovely to be by the sea and with sunshine all around. The big Soviet tower blocks were a bit ugly, so we kept our focus on the glistening water and found a camp spot on a beach.
The beach had a couple of wooden shacks with their doors locked and windows covered over; things on the coast had closed for the winter. Great for us, it was all ours and we found a secluded spot hidden between the shacks, even with a windbreak for shelter. We enjoyed a coffee and relaxed for a while until, out of the blue, a strange man turned up. He didn’t have a car, so we were a little perplexed as to where he had come from. We tried to communicate in sign language about pedalling, where from and where to. It was a bit of a charades game of guess-what-the-other-is-saying; it was amusing at first but after about an hour, we wondered how long this guy would stay. It was dusk soon and, if he hadn’t have been here, we would probably be pitching the tent around now and getting our bags and bikes sorted.
We weren’t sure whether to let on whether we were staying here. He symbolised a tent symbol and we hesitated and then nodded, yes, camping. He seemed fine with it, and eventually we picked out the word ‘no’ and then ‘problem’ but realised he was saying ‘no problem’ when he repeated this and ‘dost’ several times. (We later learned that ‘dost’ was friend.)
He seemed kind, concerned at us being cold, and ended up giving us 2 loaves of bread. A little reluctantly, we decided to pitch the tent with him there; at least, if there was a problem, he could tell us there and then and we would have enough time to cycle somewhere else before darkness set in. As we were setting up our sleeping nest, he made a fire in front of our tent to cook up a bag of small fish he had with him, locally known as ‘hamsi’.
As is quite common in most parts of the world, he didn’t have any concern regarding what he burned in this fire and soon polystyrene, rope, and all other sorts of plastic were piled on top of the flames. The smell was hideous and the smoke was choking. Each time Will stealthily removed it, a few minutes later it would all be piled back on. Despite his kind behaviour, enthusiasm ‘talking’ with us, and clearly relishing the company, I felt unsure. There was an anxiety there ever since he arrived out of the blue. Perhaps it was the suffocating poisonous cloud of smoke that now enveloped our tent, but for me, the atmosphere wasn’t particularly relaxed.
He ripped off the heads of the fish and gutted them with his thumb, before placing them in a saucepan (where he got this from, who knows?) and cooked them over the fire. Turns out, the fish were very tasty. He stayed another hour or so, and we pretty much mimed the same things over and over again. He did leave, eventually, but that’s not the end of this story…
We will never know why these strange men in Asia are so keen to have conversations and wait around for ages when clearly there isn’t much going on or any language understood. We’d reached a ceiling of communication through actions and repeating sounds. There comes a time when the amount you can mime that you are cycling through their country and back to England becomes like a broken record.
It was all friendly though, he kept hugging me and shook my hand when he finally left, before giving me two more loaves. Bread and fish eh, the last supper…
It was really dark now and after about an hour or so in the tent, just me and Linds, all was quiet and then we noticed a figure walk past us on the beach. Initially, he seemed not to notice us, and then we saw him look over in our direction, hesitate and continue walking. We watched, silently. Shortly after, I could then see a silhouette hiding behind the edge of the hut, peering at us. We stayed silent, watching him. It was too dark for him to see us, but he could clearly see the outline of our tent; we could only see his outline in the shadow of the moonlight. This strange figure then swiftly walked back along the beach, and all of a sudden was spying on us from the other side. Slightly perturbed at his unusual activity, I shone my head torch directly at him and said hello, breaking the silence. As I climbed out of the tent to confront him, he disappeared into the night.
That, in itself, was a bit freaky. A sneaky figure spying on us. I walked along the beach to see if I could spot him but it seemed he had scarpered.
Back in the tent, about another hour passed; we were both feeling really tired but too alert, listening out for noises; then, I heard a shuffle outside of the tent. I looked out and squatting just outside was the same man from earlier who had given us the bread. This time, he had brought something else.
“Why have you got that?” I asked, trying not to sound alarmed. “What is it Will?” Linds asked, knowing it was bad with dread in her voice. He had brought with him a pump-action 12-bore shotgun.
The level of being a tad freaked out started to rise.
I thought the best thing was to sit next to him and talk. He wasn’t threatening but I spent the next few hours going over the same mimes as earlier, all the while keeping an eye on him – what the fuck he was doing now with a shotgun?!
He showed me some Turkish songs on his phone, and he asked for me to play him some English songs. I chose The Beatles to try and lighten things up a bit.
About 6 hours had passed since the first encounter with this man, and now here I was – instead of day dreaming about being an action hero, I was wondering what abilities I actually have in real-life to act like Chuck Norris and fight a man with a big fuck off gun with my bare hands. I quickly realised the only similarity was the beard.
Lindsay was still in the tent and recalled her experience at this point: scared beyond belief for the both of us, feeling overwhelmingly vulnerable, with adrenaline-fuelled tension where every sound, every movement could be something bad; running through scenarios of what on earth was going on outside, not knowing what to do, or how to be ready to brace for something terrible to happen.
It’s a strange thing to be sitting next to a strange man, who decided to creep up on us with a shotgun, all the while thinking how the fuck am I going to deal with this. Why had he returned and how long was he planning on staying? Lindsay was in the tent, not sleeping and terrified that if she heard a gun shot, it would have been aimed at me.
I kept imagining myself being in a gun fight, but with no gun.
After a few hours, he received a call on his phone and gestured a driving sign. He got up, hugged me, shook my hand and with his gun disappeared into the night. Without him knowing, I followed him, keeping to the shadows and seeing where he went. He’d gone to the main highway and vanished. I saw two lights of a car pull away into the darkness.
Safe to say, however, neither of us slept that night.
Beach to Fatsa
Well, we didn’t need to wake from any form of slumber, we hadn’t slept at all. With puffy eyes, we packed up quickly in an almighty daze. I stayed pretty quiet, letting my brain try to decipher what had happened; I needed to wait until we were cycling, moving far, far away from this place before I could talk about it. I didn’t want to be here any longer.
Though we had a head wind, we had to be grateful that we weren’t shot in the face – swings and roundabouts, really.
We came to conclude that our mystery man posed no harm, but was actually rather fond of Will and wanted some company before catching a lift back into town. In an unknown country, our secluded romantic beach spot had turned into a vulnerable isolation, where the language barrier led to misinterpretation or rather an inability to understand someone’s intentions. The other man peeping at us was probably just curious, but started the freaky ball rolling. Bottom line is that we are fine, absolutely alive.
Posted by Lindsay