From catamarans to hot air balloons

From catamarans to hot air balloons

‘pologies for the delay. This post has been written for weeks, nay months, but we’ve had technical difficulties getting the photos from our camera… And we both know you people only look at the pictures anyway…

In space this post covers about 1500km of pedalling, in time about 3 weeks, and in seasons all 4. The plan was to roll along the coast from Dalyan to Antalya and then head inland to the region of Cappadocia, and infact for once we mostly stuck to the plan, although there were a few unexpected stops along the way.

With the changes in scenery : from coast, to river gorges, to mountains, to plains, also came changes to the price of çay, to the road surface, to the number of trucks we shared the road with and the openess of the people we met along the way. In the smaller towns and villages, and more remote mountain regions we were (generally) greeted with waves, curiosity and invitations for çay whereas along the busier coastline, although people were still kind, we became just another pair tourists with lira in our pockets.

As we rolled down to the coast, we bumped into the first cycle tourists that we had met since the lovely Timothee, Julie and Lupo, who we met when we were house sitting in Bulgaria. But Fabien and Ludmilla weren’t on any old bike, they were riding a handbuilt, bamboo, recumbent, tandem bicycle. Aka the bicycle requiring the most adjectives possible in order to describe it. We exchanged tales of where we had come from, where we were going and where we had over- wintered and learnt that despite the fact we were currently cycling in opposite directions, we were infact heading for the same general destination.

Little did we know it, but they were just the first of several long distance cyclists that we would meet over the next few weeks. It was as though it was spring and we had all come out of hibernation.

We had some apprehension about our upcoming coastal stretch. The sea is always amazing, but lots of other people also think so too, which often results in busy roads and super touristy towns. We crossed our fingers that we would we still be able to find a quiet path and headed towards Dalyan.

Along the coast we experienced the spring quickly turn to summer, pale skin was exposed to the sunshine for the first time in months and the factor 50 was out in full force. The benefits of wearing longer sleeves, not having to wear suncream but becoming sweatier, were weighed up against wearing a tshirt and finishing the day covered in a sticky dusty layer of suncream and yet still being sunburnt. The long sleeves won.

One evening, while scoping out a camping spot close to Patara beach, famed for sea turtles laying their eggs, we met cyclist #2 : Stefan of @stefbikestobeijing… He is called Stefan and is er.. cycling to Beijing. We were heading the same way, like really the same way, until Kyrgyzstan atleast (plus or minus a few detours). We decided to become a team for a few days and cycle together until Antalya. In reality though, we only managed to cycle together for half a day…

After the requisite exchange of bicycle geekery, our trio pedalled off. There was one critical difference between our cycling styles : Stefan did not eat lunch, whereas we schedule our day around meal times. We eased him in gently, introducing Stefan to the concept of second breakfast and then convincing him of the benefits of eating lunch (whilst he wondered how we ever got anywhere).

As we sat down to munch in Kas, the @thewindexperience guys started chatting to us. In between mouthfuls of cheese and tomato sandwiches, we exchange tales of our travels and by the end of our picnic we had been invited to stay and sail round the coast with them for a few days. An offer we could hardly refuse, especially when there was a hill waiting to be climbed up out of Kas!

There was an in-depth debate about logistics : How would we get three fully loaded touring boats to their boat on a tiny rib? How long would we stay? What do you feed a vegetarian coeliac? Solutions to all were found and a comical ferrying of all our bikes and bags (likely to weigh 150kg in total) and ourselves (some kg more) began. Thankfully no bikes were lost overboard.

Their home wasn’t just any old boat. It was a four berth catamaran that felt more like a floating apartment than a sea-faring vessel!

To give some background: two years ago, with their son Gabe, Court and Rafa quit their jobs, sold their house and bought a catamaran to travel the world in, all without any sailing experience!! Quite bold, I think you’d agree?! They are a beautiful family, amazingly kind and relaxed people and provided us with an once in a life time experience we will never forget!

Our time together was truly idyllic and the perfect rest for weary cyclists. Although we had enjoyed gazing at the turquoise seas from our roadside view points, it was awesome to be able to enjoy the coastline from a different perspective. The mornings were filled with swims and canoe outings, followed by afternoons relaxing in the hammock or calmly sailing round the coastline. Thanks to Rafa being the most amazing chef, our diet was also briefly but significantly diversified from the usual rice and lentils!

Stefan had people to meet further along the road, so he left the catamaran before us whilst we had one more day with the guys to explore Kekova island and eat some tasty falafel.

After tearing ourselves away from a life at sea and saying our farewells, we headed towards Olympos. We pushed our bikes through the remains of the ancient city, which was slowly being taken over by the vegetation. Having visited Hierapolis and Kaunos too, this further confirmed that these ancient civilizations really knew how to choose a good location to settle. The scenery was stunning, and Pedro’s climbing fingers were itching yet again.

Following a short obstacle course – pushing the bikes through sand and over a few bridges of questionable stability, we hiked up to Chimaera making the most of the natural gas flaming out the rocks to grill a pre-dinner halloumi snack. Too bad the path was too steep to haul our bikes up, or else we’d have camped up there and saved the ethanol!

We’d had our fill of cycling into big cites recently and so decided to catch a ferry from Kemer to avoid pedalling with the trucks along a national route into Antalya.

We woke early to get up the hill of not insignificant steepness and cover the remaining 40km to catch the boat at 10h. Even though we weren’t 100% sure we would be allowed to take our bikes.

Luckily it was all aok and an hour later we found ourselves right in the centre of Antalya, not a highway in sight. We were pleasantly surprised by the calm and chilled out vibe of the city (or atleast the small section we visited), and so went in search of a park to soak up the atmosphere and people watch.

We hunted down a park with an awesome view of the sea and mountains, and set to planning our next steps. After our coastal extravaganza, we didn’t really have any points on our map until we reached the region of Cappadocia. As we sat down staring at our maps in Antalya, out of the blue a lady from a neighbouring picnic bench brought us some çay and homemade doughnuts. Then just as we were supping our tea some other picnic neighbors plyed us with strawberries and fresh almonds, although they did have to educate us as to how to eat the almonds.
Did we really look that hungry?

We chose a route that would take us through a canyon and then up and over a mountain pass before heading into the central Anatolian plains. Although we had enjoyed the coast we were looking forward to pedalling through some emptier landscapes. And so we happily returned to the mountains, greeted with icy clear rivers and cosy villages, we slowly climbed up to 1800m and back into winter with snow towering above our heads.

We dashed along the flatter plains enjoying the blossoming trees all over again, having first appreciated their flowers in the lower climes of Bulgaria. We were surprised again and again by the amazing hospitality of the Turkish people – from the spontaneous gathering for tea and snacks in a bike mechanics workshop, to trays of cay on street corners and a very memorable invitation to a family lunch when we were found by two curious school girls on their way home.

After all this excitement, one evening we found ourselves camping in the set of a Star Wars film, below the magnificent Selime Cathedral. We woke up the next day like excited children and went off to explore the cathedral and the so called fairy chimneys. Within the soft rock the Hittites had carved civilisations leaving behind a maze of caves and tunnels and windows to enjoy the views.

A cathedral might seem like a strange thing to find in a majority Islamic country, but the Hittites transformed the region into a haven for Christians escaping from the dominance of the Roman Empire.

The Selime Cathedral was just the beginning of our adventures in the Cappadocia region. We pushed the limits of our bikes capabilities and went for a little off-road adventure down the Ihlara valley.

We reckon it was 1/3 hike and 2/3 bike (and a little bit of bicycle rock climbing) … And only one very perplexed Spanish walking group wondering why two touring bikes were perched precariously on some rocks

Despite the forecast, the thunder and lightening held off until we were in our tent, and we got to enjoy the caves in the crazy cliffs and the churches with their beautiful, but sadly heavily graffitied, frescoes.

Next stop was Goreme and we were in a wonderland of caves, fairy chimneys and crazy rock formations. A big kid’s natural playground to explore. Cappadocia is famed for the hundreds of balloons which launch from there each morning, so we camped with a view towards where the sun would rise in (the phallically inspired) Love Valley and went to sleep…

Before the sun rose we woke to a low hum. Moving outside of our tent in our sleeping bags slowly, slowly,
one by one they lifted into the air, flames bursting here and there. Soon the sky was full of balloons, all across the valley before us.

It was truly an incredible sight, and one that will take a long time for us to forget. As the sun rose their array of colours and patterns revealed themselves, and as they sailed towards us, people greeted us “good morning” from their floating baskets.

As if we hadn’t had a good enough morning already, a hot air balloon that landed just behind us gifted us a bottle of sparkling wine!! Winner!

The next morning, sadly the wind was too strong for the balloons to launch. But we took advantage of the bad weather and made camp in an abandoned cave before heading off towards Kayseri and the north east the next day.

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