The great people of Turkey continued to treat me in a wonderful way in the South, just like in the North. But on the way from Ankara to the south and the border of Syria, what will always stay in my memory is the beautiful region of Cappadocia. I did a small detour to see this part, thanks to the tip of good friend Moulshri from Delhi (India). She sent me an e-mail some time ago and said you’ve gotta see this place – ‘it supposedly is truly magic’. I can only agree. I visited two valleys in the southern part of the region, and skipped the touristic center in the north, but I can’t imagine much more magic than those two valleys. Between high, steep walls of rock: a river and green lands for cultivation. On those rock faces, thousands of rock-hewn shelters and hundreds of churches. Some people still living in caves, although of course with electricity and what-what. Could it be more picturesque?

I’m now in Latakia, northwestern Syria, where I’m taking rest for a few days after having got some bad intestinal infection. I’ll continue my way south towards Damascus soon, and from there also have seen enough of Syria to give you my view of the country. Until then, take care!

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Camp by the customs office just at the border post. Unfortunately, people turn out to use the nearby parking spot for trading the cheap Syrian petrol, filling it between the tanks to cars of Turkish owners. A lot of fuel is spilled on the ground, and then vaporized into fumes that fills my tent at night. A dizzy sleep, to say the least.

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Long day, up and down a high mountain pass. Late evening camp at petrol station.

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Just when I’m packed and ready to leave, Mesut comes by from his plantation shelter a kilometer west of ‘mine’ and invites me to eat breakfast with him. Omelette, bread, tomatoes and black olives. Coffee. Some pomegranates for the road.

In village Cardaik outside city Osmaniye, I stay with Ibrahim – cousin of Hospitalityclub contact Erdal and partly a Swedish resident. The house in which he stays together with a friend lies high up on a slope, with a beautiful view across the surrounding olive trees, the valley below and the blue mountains in the distance. Silence.

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Leaving at noon, I find a restaurant in the industrial eastern outskirts that serves a wonderful Adana kebab. The town’s kebab is famous for how the meat is minced by hand, with knife.

Come night time, I meet farmer Mesut who invites me to sleep in a shelter by the entrance gate of a nearby lemon tree farm, himself staying in yet another one a kilometer away.

The small one-bed, one-table shelter is built of branches and dark green plastic sheets. Outside a wooden bench, shadowed by a roof of eucalyptus branches with dried leaves, and behind the house the grid of lemon trees. Across the road a cotton field.

The five dogs that guard the plantation keep me awake for a while, barking at every car, truck or motorcycle that passes by on the street outside.

Street kids sleeping sheltered from the rain neath the tracks of a railroad bridge, shouting at me as I passed by on the road below. Looking up, I could barely just see their eyes white shine through the darkness.

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After a beautiful breakfast with mechanic Kudret, the table lit by a just rising sun, I continue my way south. The road winds down through valleys where small, green vine yards lie scattered randomly on else stony slopes.

I meet my Hospitalityclub host Mesut in central Adana, and he escorts me to his house in the outskirts of town. Come evening, he invites me to cheer the local football team. Although it is the country’s fourth largest city, the team hasn’t been in the highest league for more than a decade – this year no different. We are happy anyway to see a 2-1 win against supposedly superior Diyarbakir.

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Continuing south from Pozantı, I climb the last hills of the Bolkar Mountains. From a 1,200 or so meter pass nearby Tekir, it’s again downhill towards the Mediterranean coast.

I get an early stay by noon at some workers’ house along the road. They invite me for lunch – potato and tomato soup with raw onions dipped in salt – and when asking for a place to camp they invite me to use a spare bed inside.

Tea throughout the afternoon – only one or two of the six or so workers are fasting.

Pine tree forests ever since I left Pozantı.

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I leave Akif and his wonderful family after three great days. After having climbed the highest pass so far – 1,600 meters – the road winds down along a river for the rest of the day. The road is continuously lined by petrol stations and roadside restaurants – the heavy traffic making it feel unusually unsafe to camp at any of those. Instead I visit the local police in Pozantı, who allow me to put my tent just outside their gates. Slow evening chatting about; lots of tea.

I try to invite for something of what I’ve got – olives and grapes – but it’s useless. The Turks will impossibly accept anything that a guest brings. Instead, they usually interpret it as if saying that there isn’t enough food on the table. Soon, one of the policemen comes with a pomegranate for me, and more tea of course. I hope that they at least understand my thought, even if their pride and tradition hinders them from accepting it.

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When I wake up, the trailer wheel is again flat. I find another puncture and fix it, but the wheel keeps deflating during the day so I have to pump it every two hours or so. With thirteen patches on the tube, I really need to find a new one now.

Then a couple of hours later, when reaching a petrol station, I find by back wheel flat, too. I discover that the same thorns that punctured the trailer have found their way to both the front and the back wheel. When I start to pull them out of the front wheel, which too goes pssst. And after examining the tyre more closely, I decide to change everything with the spare tyre that was intended for halfway – the current ones are full of thorns, some which are impossible to remove without using a knife to cut the tyre.

I reach Niĝde in the late afternoon, where I get to stay for two restful nights with Hospitalityclub host Mehmet. I can hopefully find some new spare tubes for the trailer, too.

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Passing through Derinkuyu where an underground city is the main attraction, I quickly decide not to continue further north to the touristic centre of Cappadocia – Nevsehir, Göreme etc. – but to continue east to another valley similar to the at Belisırma. Derinkuyu is already too touristic for me – children asking for ‘money’ (the only English word they knew – who taught them?) – and locals being more concerned of selling their produce than to make me interested in visiting the underground city.

I reach Soğanlı late in the evening after another thirty or so kilometers from Derinkuyu. Another beautiful, green valley, with some even more beautiful rock-hewn churches than the I saw in Ihlara Valley (although I only visited 1% of them so there ought to be even greater ones around there, too).

Unfortunately I also get my very first puncture upon reaching. I have evidently pedaled through some terribly thorny bush, because I find no less than twelve punctures on the trailer wheel. Took the best part of the evening to fix. Then food and sleep. Camp outside restaurant.

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Entering southwestern Cappadocia and the Ihlara Valley, consisting of the three villages Selime, Belisırma and Ihlara from west to east, is truly as magical as promised. The small, quiet villages set below rocks filled with carved-out churches (more than 100) and houses – it’s difficult to describe. I ride down the seemingly new road to Belisırma in the late afternoon, and stay at a quiet camping site. An American, two Germans and four Polish are there, too. The seemingly evergreen valley floor with the lively, clear river running through it like a snake. The high mountain walls on each side, with dark holes of rock-hewn churches and houses.

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Again stay at petrol station along the road, this time owned by a Mehmet who speaks good German (mine much worse than his yet at least a little bit useful).

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Leave Helena (Samuel departed for Istanbul yesterday) after four wonderful nights’ stay. Giving meetings, a lot of Internet surfing and complete rest. No eyes over my shoulder when I sat in-front of the computer; no questioning of why I didn’t take the chance to venture out and discover the city. Just pure rest!

Soon feel remorse over not having taken any photo of them together, or at least of Helena this morning. It’s not the first time that I forget that.

Stay at petrol station along the road.

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Stockholm-Beijing 2008/09, Turkey

Ankara, Turkey

From the bustle n hustle of Istanbul followed two weeks of cycling through the green north of Turkey. The Black Sea coast was really surprisingly unexploited – maybe thanks to a somewhat less clear and less warm water than the of the Mediterranean Sea.

From Izmit, I soon detoured one of the roads to the coast, and each day gave wonderful meetings. First one night in village Limandere with one of its three muhtari (mayors). An evening spent at one of the central chai saloons (tea saloon) together with more elder men – cigarettes and tea by turns – and soon an invitation to harvest hazel nuts one day’s cycling east. In Acmabasi, same-aged Erdem – also fluent in English – welcomes me. After tea, nuts, fruits and his mothers homemade “Turkish delights” (sweets) on a carpet at the front yard, followed packaging of his neighbors hazel nuts in 80-kilo sacks. A pleasant calm and an instant feeling of being one with the family. Beautiful hillsides covered by the green hazelnut trees.

Two days later, I meet Ahmet along a minor coast road. 70 years old and active cyclist – this day from his summer house in Eregli – he guides me the whole day along even smaller, even more coast-near roads, that wind through small villages and beautiful green. We part at five pm – another near tearful goodbye – as Ahmet bikes back to Eregli and I continue east.

The two sites that I wanted to visit along this rote – famous island-town Amasra and well-kept old town Safranbolu – both end up being disappointing though. Hotels and restaurants with tourist prices meet the visitor, and Safranbolu is still the only town so far in which I’ve seen street children. I think that says a lot.

Instead, it was the meetings along the road that gave the most and made the effort worth. Camping with the gendarmerie in Ovacuma and three nights with a wonderful family in Karabük.

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By four pm, I meet friends of friends Samuel and Helena outside Sheraton Hotel in suburb Kavaklidere. We walk over to their house – classic punk two-story thing with a small garden on the back – in plush suburb Kavaklidere. Helena works at the Swedish Embassy, and so apart from sleeping a little bit longer than usual in the mornings thanks to her hosting, I’m invited to join her and Samuel for some interesting dinners with both Swedish and local friends and associates of her and Samuel. Thanks a bunch! :)

I also pay the Saudi embassy a visit – just to try my luck if they like cyclists – but am referred to their border with Jordan or the UAE for a visa (which sounds unlikely a place to retrieve such a famously difficult a visa).

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