The Challenge of Saying "No"

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Middle East » Turkey » Central Anatolia » Guzelyurt
July 26th 2006
Published: August 1st 2006
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Well after having psyched myself up I am happy to report that I made it over the two passes and into Konya without succumbing to the 6 lifts that were offered enroute and arriving with a little bit of energy to boot. I am very proud of my resistance of the easier option I have to say and it also highlighted that the reality is not necessarily as bad as the (my) mind makes it out to be. It really is more of a challenge overcoming the little games the mind plays...

Prior to Konya though I met up with Betul from the previous evening and her young cousin, Turkan. We spent a lovely day going in search of food for me (we ended up having a pizza which was not as nice as a pide would have been but hey, what can you do) and going on what they termed a "yacht", but what I would call more a boat, and toured Beysihir Lake. This was quite an experience. We got grounded several times but I think this is to be expected when you have a 10 year old boy steering (what is it with the Turkish insistence anyway at having young boys do everything from serving in restaurants/petrol stations to cleaning (badly) to steering overloaded boats through shallow waters???). There was no need to panic as the bottom could easily be seen and if worse came to worse we could probably have walked back to shore. All in all a lovely day and a very memorable experience.

Back to Konyam, home of the whirling dervishes. I stayed the night there in a rather grotty pension but did have the privilige of having a TV. Apart from the lure of internet cafes I also have a penchant for television. I watched a very interesting program called "Oryiental Star" which is based on the same formula as "Pop Stars" or "Idol" but involved women belly dancing. Wow! I want to learn how to belly dance! It is amazing what these women can do with their arms and their torsos and I thought the ones who performed in bare feet looked way more exotic than the ones moving around in high heels. And, the ones that had a bit of meat on them looked much more like the real deal than the girls with washboard stomachs and long, flowing blonde hair. The judging was by two women and, as always with these programs, there were tears involved. I love reality TV.

The guide book said it was 108km of dull, flat driving to Sultanhani from Konya. Well, that may be the case when going at 100km/hour but I can confirm that this road wasn't exactly dull, nor flat, but, if the wind was coming from the wrong direction it sure was frustrating. No shelter, those blasted thorns and no where to lean the bike. I was very grateful to come across a petrol station after about 40km just to go for a pee. I think the station attendants, Ismail and Yunus, were also very grateful to have the monotony of their day broken. What followed was an act of chirades which involved lots of hand movements indicating that Yunus should marry me and come to Australia. Um, no. I have a husband. Look, I have a ring. And look, this is a picture of him (bless you Jacques - you've been coming in handy). This didn't really stop Yunus showering me with a little too much attention however, the mention of my age did. Both boys were only 21 and when Yunus found out I was 38 (!!) and old enough to be his mother he knew the chase was over. Can't blame the boy for trying...

Sultanhani was like an oasis in the middle of the desert. The old kervansaray is one of the largest in Turkey and the Selcuk architecture the well preserved. Although the buildings have been substantially restored it was built around 1229. It was nice exploring it with only a handful of tourists in more to the point, during the cooler hours of the day. As with most tourist attractions these also attract youths/children who are only too happy to get their photo taken and give you a "tour" of the place. Some ask for money at the end. This lot didn't, which is good because they would have been barking up the wrong tree. All good things must come to an end and it did when a busload of tourists arrived. Time for me to go.

Next day I was Guzelyurt bound. Why Guzelyurt, a little dot on the map of Turkey? A village in fact of only about 3,000? Well, it was the closest to the main road that would lead me to Goreme. Plus it boasted about 55 abandoned monasteries and churches and it was a good base for me to explore the Ilhara Valley which is set as the Rough Guide says in "a fertile gorge cut by a deep green river between red cliffs" and is as "beautiful a place as you could conceive". Of course I had to go.

So, from Sultanhani I set forth. An easy ride to Aksaray, followed by a very tiring, unrelenting hilly ride towards Guzelyurt. The scenery however was supurb and did make up for the effort involved with beautiful Mt Hasan dominating and rising majestically above the valley at over 3,000m. Until I hit a wall both mental and physical. It was getting late in the day and the shadows getting longer. Not even a chocolate bar and can of coke seemed to give me the energy I really needed to make the 5km (uphill ofcourse) to make it to Guzelyurt but I had to get there. A woman I had met in Bergama, Sandie from New Zealand, had said she would meet me there and so I had an obligation to turn up. Onward I pushed.

I saw a sign for a church pointing to the right. Being a little delusional I thought it a good idea to go and look at this church (instead of continuing on as I really should have). So, I leaned my bike against the cliff and started walking. I then heard the unmistakable sound of a bus and I don't know what possessed me (lack of motivation to walk maybe??) to start waving my hand for the bus to slow down. It did (yay!) and without me even having to ask if I could freeload the tour guide offered to take me on board. I hastily moved my bike to a small house just near the roadside under the instructions of the guide and jumped on board. A couple of general questions later and my answers were followed up by an announcement made by the guide over the microphone that I was Australian and cycling in Turkey alone. There was a round of applause from the French speaking Swiss tour group followed by lots of oooohs and aaaaahs. I certainly hadn't expected this.

When we came to the church out came the raki - not for me thanks I don't drink (!!) - followed by the most beautiful singing conducted in the old, abandoned Greek church. The acoustics were tremendous and haunting choral hymns perfectly suited to the surrounds. The sun was just beginning to set when we made our way back. Thankfully they also offered to put my bike on the bus and saved me a stupendously steep uphill. Bless the Swiss and Leisure Travel.

I ended up in a beautiful pension, Halil's Family Pension, run by a mother and daughter, Fatma and Hafize. What a wonderful way to end a very exhausting day - feeling safe and deliciously tired and made very, very welcome.

The plan in the morning was to visit the Ilhara Valley. After a wonderful, filling breakfast Hafize drove me to the beginning of the walk. I spent a wonderful day making my way slowly to Selime, further along the Ilhara valley, stopping to explore the many rock carved churches that dotted the countryside (and were quite badly signposted), dipping my feet into the cool waters of the river when they got tired, being witness to families picnicking along the banks and shepherds resting under the trees weary after a day of hand shearing sheep. All in all a beautiful, beautiful day. Still, I had to make it back to Guzelyurt which was still 17km away. Hmmm. All good things do come to an end and I was looking at being in the same position as the previous day, coming from the same direction back to Guzelyurt. Surely I could not run out of steam two days in a row? Surely I could.

I flagged down a dolmus only to find out that it was going to Aksaray. I tried to flag down a car and the family obviously could not understand what I wanted. They do say third time lucky and so I was. Squished into the backseat of a car, mum and dad in front, and me in the back with the three kids, we made our way to the junction nearest Guzelyurt. Well, at least that saved me 12km of walking. It was now just 5km to go. And, luckily I got another lift with a truck driver, this time four of us squished in to the front seat of the truck. Ofcourse we had to backtrack to get petrol as we had run out (how do these things happen?) but I made it "home".

And, what a wonderful surprise to see Sandie when I got to the pension. Weary as I was all of a sudden I was full of beans. It's amazing what a lift people and places can give you. Off we trotted to the Hotel Kaballa to celebrate our reunion with an Efes beer whilst listening to the wonderful voices of the Swiss tour group (who were still in Guzelyurt and staying at that hotel). All this while the sun was setting. Can life get any better?

The following morning we were up to watch the sunrise which was a little disappointing. It probably would have helped if we had been looking in the right direction but hey... Following this, we did a quick tour of the city centre, looked into people's houses and basically watched as the village started coming to life before heading back to the pension for breakfast.

A young Greek couple on their honeymoon were also at breakfast and later on we had a wonderful time (and a lot of laughs) putting on the headscarves, Turkish style. Both Sandie and I do not have heads for scarves and our "look" had me in stitches (and still does when I think about it) for a very long time. Fatma and in particular Maria and Hafize looked absolutely stunning with their gorgeous skins, beautifully plucked eyebrows and lovely shaped faces. Sandie and I looked ridiculous.

Guzelyurt is a wonderful little village. Not many tourists go there but they do go, although we only came across another one in the town itself. What did it offer? Well, it had a carpet shop where Sandie was coerced into seriously contemplating lugging a 7kg rug around with her (we jointly talked her out of it). I had my haircut for 3 lira (about 3 dollars) there which um, could have been better but really, what did I expect for 3 lira and from a hairdresser whose hair is covered with a headscarf? We walked around the village and could not go very far without having a trail of children either guiding us or singing out behind us. We were called in to a house given fresh, oven baked bread and above all, we were staying in a wonderful home where we actually felt at home. Guzelyurt its location, its sites and above all its people all culminated in a wonderful, memorable experience and one that I will cherish as a highlight of my trip thus far. Very sorry to say goodbye to this little village but the following morning, up early, goodbye I had to say.


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