My first Arrest

When the police men waved me over from the other side of the street I expected the usual small talk. Whenever a police saw me, he’d demand me to stop (no matter the downhill I was enjoyng) simply to get to talk to me. “Where are you from? Where are you going?” He’d curiously ask as he’d let out a “wow, brave girl!” But this time was different. The police men weren’t stopping me to make small talk.

They were arresting me.

Two little shepherds: “I solemnly swear I am up to no good…”

“Are you really from Sweden?” The man asked me as he had heard me telling the ticket sales man so. I nodded to confirm and his face shone up in gratitude. “I am from Syria. Your people help my people so much. I thank you on the behalf of my people.” I honestly didn’t know what to reply to this, and exhausted and starving from the day’s 160 km ride I think I just replied: “Err… no problem.” (Really?Ugh, yes…)

Karim, Zafar and their two year old daughter Aisha. Karim was an engineer and Zafar had a PHD in Arabic (and was pregnant with their second daughter!)

Karim was eager to help me as a return favor for Sweden accepting so many Syrian refugees. The ticket sales men however, were eager to get as much money out of me as possible for my ticket to Ankara. Not only did Karim help me negotiate a reasonable price for me and the bike, he also invited me to meet his wife and little daughter before the night bus was to depart. I had a really nice time that evening, discussing the politics and economy of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden in one moment only to admire little two year old Aisha’s dance moves in the next.

At midnight, my night bus from Sivas took off. I had finally received the authorization code needed to apply for my Iranian visa and the letter of invitation needed to apply for my Uzbek visa which meant I was ready to go to Ankara to get started with my visa business for real. I chose to take the bus rather than bike there since going to Ankara meant I would have to backtrack (Sivas is about 500 km east of Ankara). After about two weeks in Ankara (yep that’s how much time it took to collect my visas) I took another night bus back to Sivas and continued my tour.

Ankara – one day it rained so intensely the streets got flooded…

Ankara is Turkey’s capital but it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey. My general impression was that if you mentioned Ankara to a Turk (or a tourist) he or she would be quick to compare it to Istanbul and how much better Istanbul was.

I had a fox at camp one evening!

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Neither did I like Ankara particularly much in the beginning. I was in too much stress with the visas to do any touristic stuff and every day looked pretty much the same. I woke up early, went to Guvenpark (the central station for buses) to catch the bus to whatever embassy was on the list that day, went back, prepared the paper work for my next embassy stop, and repeated the process. I will tell you more details about the processes of obtaining the visas later in my visa section (whenever I get time for that…)

Trying on the hijab for the first time of my life and then proudly posing with my Iranian visa. Now when I am in Iran, I wear the hijab every day

When going to the Uzbek embassy I didn’t actually go by bus. Instead I hitched a ride with a police man. He put his machine gun aside, gave me a walkie talkie and we were off. It was quite an experience: He smoked a cigarette and chatted on facebook whilst driving and all sorts of other things!

I spent so much time frustratingly thinking to myself: “I just got to leave Ankara soon, I’m getting CRAZY here!” Only to end up feeling sad about it in the end. You see, I stayed long enough in Ankara to get my favorite street food places, my favorite breakfast bakeries, and my favorite bench in the park where I would sit sketching every day. An old man would frequently come by to check out the progress of my drawings and I felt so at peace, once again sinking into deep trance forgetting about everything else as the pencil danced upon the sheet of paper. I also found a bicycle shop owned by an awesome woman who toured herself and whom I had a nice chat with, and what’s more… I found myself a second home in Ankara.

Kevser owns her own bike shop in central Ankara. She is such a cool person and has taken on countless high mountain passes of Turkey on tough mtb roads. “Turkish parents are very protective. I try to tell them: Please let your daughters do things. Let them explore the world!” She had the sweetest father, too, and I was given both tea and food in the shop.

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I had met the father of the family, Ugur, at the metro station already a few days earlier since I needed help to find my way. Fascinated by my trip, he had given me the address to his house since he wanted me to meet his family. I didn’t manage to find his block however, and had given up the thought of finding it when… I ran into him again!

I stayed two nights in¬†the house of Ugur and his wife Arife and their three adorable little kids. Both Ugur and Arife are highly educated and in one night I learnt more about Turkey’s history and culture than I had done altogether in the past four weeks spent in the country. I also discovered that I love date plums which was a main dish for Prophet Muhammad and learnt a few other interesting things about Islam, as well as having lots of fun with the kids!

They were the most wonderful and welcoming family really, and made delicious food! ūüėČ

When I once again was on the saddle riding my way from Sivas the grade of difficulty leveled up a little bit. Day after day I was confronted with rain and thunderstorms; One storm so extreme the wind took a fully grown tree to the ground right on the spot where I was planning to pitch my tent (it was the only groove around). It looked so unreal to see such a large object being taken to the ground with roots and all by an invisible force. And all at the same time, the thunder bolt kept lighting up the sky with terrifyingly loud booming.

Fortunately I was lucky enough to find an abandoned barn in which I spent the night to be safe from falling trees. The bricked roof was supported by hollow metal pipes and as the wind flew in them it sounded like the barn was haunted by ghost howls.

To the left: My cozy home a stormy night. To the right: A rodent actually made this huge hole in the floor fabric of my tent one night! Its little head popped up from the hole as I was investigating it and then disappeared quickly again… never expected that to happen! (Fixed with thread and needle)

Nevertheless did I have a really cozy, dry night and woke up to beams of sunshine finding their way inside from one of the window openings. I took the opportunity to dry my soaking wet clothes a little and then I took off.

But the sun didn’t stand by my side for long and soon I was once again freezing and all soaked, telling myself to just push a little further. As I thought things couldn’t get worse, I was all of a sudden arrested by the police.

“You cannot seriously arrest me for ‘stealing flowers'”? I asked the police men once again as I was taken to the police station.

I wish I could tell you I was arrested for something cool, such as stealing cows with a lasso or something.

But no. For the first time of my life I got arrested, and the accusation just had to be as silly as “someone called and said you stole flowers from their garden.” (Ok so I later found out “flowers” was just another word for drugs, but still… I had biked in the mountains all day, and not passed a single garden!)

Funny thing is, all at the same time as the police man told me I had to follow to¬† the police station to sort out this “crime”, he shook my hand, asked; “Do you mind if I call you Eva? Your name is so difficult for me. You’re biking to China? You are a courageous girl!” Which made the whole situation so confusing, and I kept asking myself; Is this just a prank? Are the police men pranking me?

Once at the police station I was told to leave my bike outside of the gates. I refused.

“No.” I said and stopped at the entrance. “I am not leaving my bike outside. This bike is going to take me to China and if it gets stolen I got nothing. You will have to let me bring it inside.” The police men looked at each other, made a phone call, and let me bring my bicycle inside.

I was taken to the police officer and had my passport taken away from me, and then they searched my equipment for “stolen flowers”. They didn’t find a single trace of flowers – neither the normal kind or the drug kind – and hence concluded I wasn’t no flower thief after all.

My body shivering from cold, I was given hot Çay to warm up. My passport was given back to me and I was no longer arrested but free to go. They however offered to drive me to a municipality in which I could sleep for free, and I accepted. On the way there the police man who had arrested me made a quick visit to the supermarket and bought me a bag full of snacks to bring to my room.

Sleeping in a municipality

The next morning he picked me up in the police car again, since I had left my bicycle inside the police station to keep it safe. Not surprisingly the morning started off with a heavy rain, and rather than taking off directly I spent a few hours at the police station chatting with him, the police officer, and the rest of the staff whilst drinking more √áay. After having finished off the standard questions about my trip; “Why are you doing this? Why alone? What does your mother say? Does your father provide you with money? Are you not scared?” we entered the subject of religion instead. I think we were both equally fascinated by each other’s lives.

“So what religion do you have? Do you still believe in the Viking Gods in Sweden?” I found it so funny that they used to watch the series Vikings at the police station, and I answered him:

“No. My people are Godless, we come from the north, and we live in the woods. We are Wildlings!” Not disappointedly, he watched Game of Thrones too and got the reference. Nevertheless were the police men puzzled by the lack of religion present in the majority of Swedish people’s lives, and curiously kept asking questions; “You never pray? Never go to church? Your parents don’t tell you about heaven and hell when raising you up, Eva?” By now I was responding to him calling me Eva every single time.

I had a really enjoyable time chatting with the police staff and would not have minded to stay longer – but it was time to take on those last mountain passes before the Black Sea coast.

I had entered the police station as a person arrested for holding drugs, and I left it as a friend of the Turkish police with two interests in common: Vikings and Game of Thrones.

The black sea coast – the rest of my stay in Georgia wouldn’t be quite as sunny and holiday-looking as the right picture…

A few days later, the mountain passes were done and I had reached the Black Sea coast, which would take me to my next country: Georgia. But I will tell you more about this little Caucasian nation later (and boy do I got a lot to tell about it!)

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Cheers!

 

 

 

A Turkish love story; Part III: Redemption

There I was once again a few days later, a 20 year old girl from Sweden trying to stand up against these five big armed Turkish men.

“I don’t care! I’m going into the woods, you CAN’T stop me!”

You kidding me girl? Sure they could stop you. And they would…

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I was really frustrated by then, that I just never seemed to get to decide anything for myself. There was always someone else doing it for me and I wanted to scream and bite and kick and stamp and explode. People wouldn’t just warn me, they would literally forbid me from leaving the bigger roads. The main reason given was always “wolves, dangerous!” or just generally “wild animals”.

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As for this time, I wanted to set camp in a little forest next to a village. Just as I thought I had found a good enough¬†spot, I was confronted by a shepherd. Oh those damn shepherds being everywhere and anywhere, I cursed to myself. He didn’t speak English but I could tell still that he obviously wasn’t going to let me stay there. No, he kept grabbing my arms pointing towards the village I had just left.

“No, I’m going this way”, I insisted. And he insisted the opposite just as much. Since we couldn’t understand each other very well, I decided to call my Turkish friend Mert, and let him do the talking for me.

“He says it’s dangerous to camp in the forest because of wild animals. He wants you to go back to the village, there’s a park there watched by guards all night were you could camp in.”

                                           The park entrance to which the shepherd took me

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There was no way the shepherd would let me go, and thus¬†I followed him back to the village and the park. But the manager wouldn’t let me sleep in the park. Instead I¬†was¬†directed to the city I had passed a few hours earlier, “in which you can find a hotel”.

I got furious. There was no way I was going back to¬†Eskisehir, and instead I tried to sneak off to the forest again. Mission failed – the guards all armed with guns in their holsters¬†came after me immediately. Fine, I thought to myself, if I can’t go to the forest, I won’t go the opposite direction to the city either. I will simply refuse to move. And I did; I stayed there right on spot putting on my grumpiest, most disappointed face possible. And… The guards gave into my nearly bursting into tears-eyes (wow, I’ll try that more often!) pointing¬†at a perfect spot of grass right outside of the park; “Ok you can sleep there. We’ll guard you the whole night.”

                                      My camp right next to the park

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They did, and I slept safely.

Not only was finding camp troublesome, my motivation was also sinking as I kept riding the big roads; each day was the same as the one before. I rode simply to make a distance; not to gain any new experiences, not to enjoy the views, not to play on bumpy, fun terrain. Was this what I had been working so hard for? To simply make the days pass by as fast and pain free as possible?

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No, it was not. So what to do when you are not satisfied with how things are? You make a change, obviously. And that’s what I did; I had a close look at the map and picked out some small dirt roads going through more remote areas rather than continuing on the asphalted roads. No man is going to stop me now, I thought. And no one even tried to.

The only ones bothering me were in fact the sheep dogs. I’m not sure if it were their spiked metal head-collars or their huge size that made them more frightening than the Romanian sheep dogs. Like seriously dog, who do you like more: Slayer¬†or Mayhem?

A sheep dog spotted from the distance – unfortunately it’s hard to see the collar in this photo

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Most often their shepherd was nearby and unlike the Romanian shepherds, these actually had somewhat control over their dogs. They told the dogs to stay off from me and normally they would listen (although not immediately). Once there was no shepherd to be seen however, as the five huge dogs had come running after me from the opposite mountain side (!)

As they surrounded me with growls coming deep from their throats like a pack of wolves surrounding pray I realized these were no “back-to-your-sheep”-dogs. It simply was not in my power to tell them what to do, and I judged it better to keep my mouth shut. Instead I remained on my spot and kept yawning to show the dogs that I was not afraid.

No doubt, the sheep dogs’ pups are¬†adorable! Not yet wearing the metalhead collars, not yet growling at me. Just being… pups.

Four of them would eventually tire off and run back to their shepherd, but the fifth – the most aggressive one – wasn’t as easily fooled. At last, after a mental battle¬†between the two of us¬†– I got rid of him too. By that time I had yawned so much I just couldn’t stop – I kept yawning all day feeling so tired!

Despite the various encounters with the sheep dogs and despite my low average speed up the mountain¬†I couldn’t enjoy myself more. I am slow, so what? I got the time! I shouted out to the hilly, desert-like surroundings¬†as I enjoyed another pause in the beaming sun. The seemingly endless road went up and down the barren mountainscapes¬†and I had it all to myself, no single vehicle in sight.¬†Every now and then one of those¬†colourful little lizards would cross my path and I even saw a turtle sunbathing next to the roadside.¬†This is what I have been working for. Turkey, I might just take you back! Yep – that’s how pleased I was with my choice. My love for this country was already on the rise again..

You do know by now that even though I have seen hundreds I still get thrilled by the sight of a deer, and when seeing cockroaches in Bursa I jumped by excitement, too. Just imagine then how over the moon I was when I saw this cutie – my first live, wild turtle!!

                                     A wild flamingo and a wild turtle in the same day РI felt lucky!!

In the afternoon I stopped in one of the few villages around to fill my bottles and buy some food before setting camp. The woman working in the minimarket immediately invited me in for Çay, and before I knew it the whole village had gathered to see me. Some just to say hi, others to stay and chat for hours.

My tent ended up being pitched in the woman’s and her husband’s backyard, although I didn’t end up in the tent… No, I ended up on a bed inside.¬†Despite the fact that Nazli and I didn’t speak the same language, we talked all evening. I found out she had two children – one daughter and one son – both studying at the university in Ankara. As we ate dinner on the floor of the common room (like many here do) she pointed at the various dishes and I repeated after her: “Pilav” Rice, “Patates”¬†potatoes,¬†“Su”¬†water,¬†“zeytin”¬†olive.. ¬†

The food was cooked on a gas-stove and showering meant pouring a bucket of hot water over yourself. In the morning, one of the sheep was slaughtered in the backyard. It sure put some perspective on my own life

Every now and then the language lesson was interrupted by a glance at the tv in the corner of the room. There were two main news: Football and terrorism. There’s no doubt¬†that ¬†IS¬†has gained¬†greater establishment in Turkey the past year; The bomb threats are particularly present in Ankara and Istanbul, but even when I was in Bursa a woman detonated herself just one km away from where I was at the moment. It however was just a small bomb – I didn’t even find out about it until afterwards – and luckily it killed noone but her. Needless to say though, many Turks¬†are on the tense, waiting for¬†things to get worse…

Just as I was going to leave the next morning¬†a few more women came to see me again. You leaving? No way, it’s time for Turkish coffee!¬†They also happily suggested that they could take turns hosting me in their homes. I surely¬†was deeply touched by these women’s hospitality, but I had to kindly say no since I wanted to keep moving forward. Still though I let¬†them take me on a tour through the village and one of them proudly showed me her garden flourishing with¬†countless fruit trees from which I could pick as much as I wanted.

To the left: The classical Turkish tea pot; the bottom one is filled with hot water and the top one with tea. You then pour them together in a glass, and voila Рyou got Çay! To the right: The classical coffee pottery

Two nights later I ended up sleeping indoors again, on the floor of a monitory room inside of a restaurant. It had been raining heavily that afternoon and thus I had taken shelter at a gas station; immediately being invited to drink √áay with the worker in his¬†office. Later on the manager knocked on the door, shook my hand and showed me to the restaurant where he served me free food and of course… more √áay.

                     Sleeping on the floor in a room connected to the restaurant

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“Seriously how many cups of √áay do you drink in a day!?” I asked him, startled.

“Maybe 20…”

“Really? You gotta have some sort of √áay super power!” I think I had closer to 15 cups that day – that’s how far my super powers stretched before I felt as if I were to explode.

Ugur, the manager to the left, and Yunus, the office worker to the  right Рboth from Kurdistan. In July Ugur will visit Stockholm and I trust all of you fellow Swedes to take as good care of him as he did of me

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The manager was from Kurdistan, and just like Asis – the pizzeria owner I met back in Sweden – he told me: “Kurdistan always been crushed, in the middle of everything. But we like our freedom.” And he smiled – in fact he smiled all the time. You see, Ugur¬†was that kind of person who seemed to love everything and everybody, and he had been to Sweden specifically several¬†times to visit his relatives.

“I love Sweden!” He said smiling even wider, “Swedish people are so nice, I love Stockholm.” I even got to speak Swedish that night, as he made calls to¬†various relatives and Kurdish friends all over my country¬†and handed me the phone. They all told me¬†the same thing:

“Just call me if you are ever in trouble, ok? We can help, we want to help! And please come visit us when you are back, we want to get to know more Swedes!”

Two members from the friendly staff of the restaurant, one from Afghanistan, one from Kyrgyzstan – the whole staff was like one big, multicultural family and I loved it

Every now and then¬†the attention was once again on the tv; more terrorism news. Ugur showed me photos from his hometown, Mardin. He showed me photos he had taken himself of beautiful architecture; of mosques and of churches. “Christians and Muslims here like each other, want to live in peace. But too many radicals”, and he then showed me photos of ruins; of houses shattered to pieces by bombs and missiles. The news also showed a fight from the senate which made me literally stare at the screen with big eyes¬†and my mouth opened. I had never seen anything like it – just youtube it if you haven’t watched it already. “They don’t want us in the senate, that’s why”, Ugur laughingly explained.

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Good day duck family! Enjoying the lovely weather today, aren’t we?

The next night¬†there were – just like most times in Turkey – no trees around and I hence thought I’d¬†ask another restaurant by the roadside for permission to camp on their ground. The answer was a straight no, and I was just about to leave when the manager of the restaurant grabbed my bike and brought it inside, and directed me to a table next. He then had me served the best kebab I have ever eaten and showed me to a room in which I could sleep on the floor. I didn’t end up sleeping on the floor however – the manager changed his mind and wouldn’t let me anymore.

Grilled kebab and chicken and then a dessert (I have forgotten the name) – I was served this without paying anything twice, both the first evening and the next day

Instead I spent the night in a real bed in his home, chatting all evening with him and his wife and 16 year old daughter as we snacked on lokum and various fruits and berries.

There I was once again a few days later, a 20 year old girl from Sweden enjoying myself to the fullest in Turkey. I was munching on sweet-tasting strawberries on a beach next to a beautiful salt lake. Its surface reflected¬†the sky above clearer than any HD-screen¬†and it was all still until… a thunder bolt struck.¬†The past days had indeed been rainy and the obscure storm clouds were once agan heavily lumbering onto the ground, but I couldn’t really care less.

                                                    For life was pretty damn amazing still.

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A Turkish love story; Part II: Crushed Crush

Just as I thought I had finally gotten myself out of trouble, I was pulled over by a car. And out of the car stepped three men, all armed with machine guns. They remained silent as they approached me, and I asked myself: What the hell is going on? Are they on my side or not? Please be nice guys, please please please…

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If you had asked me these first days: “How’s Turkey?” I would have cheerfully replied: “I love Turkey!” But as the days passed I would just more and more bitterly reply: “Turkey is full of men.”

Turkey is full of men grabbing my arms on the street shamelessly asking for sex. Turkey is full of men knocking on my hotel door at night asking to sleep with me. Turkey is full of men stopping me on the road asking to go out with me – and not just once but twice and thrice, simply not giving up. If I got tired of it? You could say…

In addition to that, wild camping was not an easy task. Not even going on dirt roads to avoid the E90 was easy – as soon as I did people would stop me and ask me what the heck I was doing there and tell me to go back to the main road – and even block the path for me!

        Something nice: I finally reached (Marmara) sea for the first time of my trip!

Second night turned out to be more difficult than the first one. I spotted a grove next to an abandoned house and decided to give it a shot. It turned out not to be abandoned however, as two men parked their vehicle right next to it and started carrying boxes into it. When I tried to ask for permission to camp there, they ignored me and as I kept trying to catch their attention they shoved me off – obviously not wanting me there getting involved in whatever business they were doing. On my second attempt my path on the dirt road was blocked by another man telling me not to be there and on my third one I was ambushed by stray dogs.

I entered a city next and just gave up, thinking I’d just look for a hotel – but they all seemed very expensive. Then a car stopped and a man talked to me throughout the window – he barely spoke any English but it turned out he and his maybe ten year old son in the passenger seat were going to a hotel and could take me there too. I accepted, and as soon as the bike was lifted into the trunk we headed off. The standards weren’t that high, but still the hotel Murat and his son Mustafa took me to was perfect since it was really cheap and the staff incredibly friendly. Success! (Oh and I didn’t cheat when hitching that ride, since I didn’t actually make any distance forward but simply stayed¬†within the city!)

                                                      The view from one of my better camps

A few nights later I found myself in the same situation again, trial and error and… failure. I was going on another dirt road looking for camp when a man and his two sons about my age stopped me. Asking for permission to camp was pointless – it wasn’t that they wouldn’t let me since it was their land, it was that it according to them wasn’t safe enough.¬†Don’t follow this road, it’s dangerous.¬†They told me and all I could do was pretending to go back to the main road once again… when in fact I kept looking for camp spots along that road. I found another grove of woods that would keep me hidden from the road – but not from the farm next to it however and the signs clearly said “no entrance allowed” so I thought I’d better ask the farmer for permission. A few minutes later I found myself joining one heck of a mud party with the frogs…

At last, my only obstacle before reaching the farm was stepping through grass as high as my shoulders and piles of empty beer and booze cans. Only to find that there was no one there – and I had a hard time believing anybody lived there at all, since there didn’t seem to be any furniture inside the buildings. In fact there only seemed to be one thing inside as I glanced through the window when knocking on the door…¬†a gun. Well what can I say… a gun, loads of booze and a girl camping on forbidden area just didn’t seem like the best combination. Hence I¬†decided to leave and re-join the party with the frogs again. My hopes about the third grove of trees were quickly eliminated too, as it was already occupied by maybe twenty men, women and children walking and climbing around piles of trash.¬†Needless to say, I didn’t pitch my tent there, either.

And I had no more tries before entering another city. What to do when your phone is dead, the dark has fallen and you’re alone in a city you’ve never been to before? You ask for help, of course. And that’s what I did – I stopped the first man I spotted on the street. He quickly made a call and handed me over his phone and in the other end of it someone spoke to me: “Hello, what can I help you with?” I’ve gotten really used to it by now – that people call someone that speaks English and then hand me their phone. Sometimes, as in this case, I really do need help, and some other times I have to tell the person in the other end: “Err… I actually don’t really need any help but, thank you!”

I told the guy – who apparently was the man’s son – that I was looking for the cheapest hotel in the city. His father guided me there, and insisted on pushing my bike for me. In every uphill however, he had to stop to breath heavily and I feared he was going to have a heart attack or something.

“No.”¬†I had to tell him strictly,¬†“thank you but I can push my bike myself.”¬†And I had to constantly repeat it to him since he kept trying to take the bike from me. As we crossed what seemed to be the main square a guy greeted me before disappearing into the crowd – his son, I assumed. The mud was dripping from my limbs and from the rims of my bike as we entered the reception, and the receptionist looked at me as if he wanted to ask: “Girl what have you been up to!?” I was too tired to explain, but happy however that he would let me and my bike in without protests.

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I was so tired when I got to the hotel I probably spent more than an hour on the floor before actually taking a shower…

When I woke up the next morning the room was teeming with bugs. They were crawling all over my body and zapping through the air and I tried to shove them off with my hands. It turned out I was just hallucinating and I shoved them off with my mind as I entered the bathroom to look myself in the mirror.

“Is every day going to be like this?” I asked my reflection. Oh, it was going to get worse…

Later on I entered a minimarket to buy breakfast and snacks for the day’s ride, and before I knew it the same guy that had greeted me last night handed me a warm loaf of freshly baked bread. I stood there with my arms stretched out and my mouth half open about to say “thank you” when he was already gone, without a word.

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It happened once in Bulgaria already – but that man had annoyed me rather than scared me, and after a couple of hours I had managed to get rid of him when hiding at a gas station. This one was different.

Turkey is full of men. And more dangerous than those straightforwardly asking for sex, there are men denying their intentions.

At first I thought he was a nature lover, as he’d sit down next to the river in the woods with his motorbike parked next to him. It wasn’t until later, I realized what he was actually doing.¬†He was stalking me.¬†Like a ghost of the mind, his actions were not obvious to anybody but me. Only he was real, too real. He usually kept a distance to me – either going a bit behind, or ahead. But imagine – I was biking uphill all day not averaging more than 8-10 km/h and he kept the same low speed on his motorbike! Well, he was patient – I give him that. He obviously knew the area as he continuously disappeared into the woods only to appear again later on, seemingly out of nowhere.

I felt so frustrated about it – for once when I was riding next to the woods and would find camp easily I couldn’t set camp for I had a man following me. I had to get rid of him, that was for sure. But how? There was no village or even a gas station at the road and every time I hopped off my bike and walked straight up to him to confront him he just denied what he was doing, putting on that creepy smile of his… and then as I hopped onto my bike again he did the same. Telling him face to face to “Fuck off, go to hell and stay away from me”, just didn’t help. I could stop a car and tell them I was being stalked – but that only meant he would hide in the woods until the car drove off again. I could call the police… but would they think I was wasting their time?

I realized I’d rather have a thousand men asking to sleep with me than this man. Those men didn’t scare me, but this one did. He made me feel helpless, like a rabbit in its hole with the wolf lingering outside only that I was a girl on my bike with a man lingering around waiting for me to seek camp… DSC_0564

And then we were both standing on the ground, no longer riding. There was nobody else to be seen, and he walked up close to me. Bite kick beat I thought to myself as every single muscle in my body tensed. Just as things began to feel threatening for real, a car passed. And then another one, and then another one. And I took the opportunity to pick up my phone.

“That’s it”, I said with the most confident voice I could muster, “I’m calling the police.”¬†I didn’t even know the number to the police.¬†I pretended to enter the emergency number, and then I pretended to talk to someone in the other end. It actually seemed to work. The man rushed onto his motorbike and rode forth… but then he came back for me.¬†Fuck, it didn’t work!?¬†But he didn’t stop for me. Instead he increased his speed, passed me and disappeared around the corner.¬†Is that it? Is he gone for real? Or is he just hiding again?

It seemed I had no option but getting on my bike again. Before I knew it however, I was pulled over by a car. I thought it was another one “of those men” and I was just about to shout to him to fuck off when I realized that… maybe it’s not so clever to tell a man with a machine gun to fuck off. And there wasn’t just one – but three men with machine guns stepping out of the car.¬†Well fuck, what now?

They wore uniforms, but not the standard police uniforms and that made me nervous. I could not tell who they were, whose side they were on. At last I judged it safe to open my mouth and break the silence.

“Is there any problem?” They barely spoke English, but they asked me where the man on the motorbike went, and then they escorted me¬†to make sure I wasn’t being followed anymore.

There I was, a Swedish girl riding my bicycle in Turkey, being guarded by three armed men from behind driving their vehicle. And I still had no idea who they were.

I made sure to hide really well in the woods that night, and pushed my bike across flooded dirt roads as well as tumbling down steep hills with briers completely off-road. I pushed until the woods were pitch black and still being a bit alarmed I kept seeing figures in the dark, although I knew there was nobody there. When pitching the tent I let my head torch stay unlit, and it wasn’t until I entered it I realized how many thorns were penetrated through my skin on my feet, legs and arms. I pulled as many as I could out and then I wrapped the sleeping bag tightly around me and closed my eyes. The forest was too silent. There was no deer barking, no owl hooting.

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And then the silence broke by the sound I didn’t want to hear. An alarmingly loud crack from branches¬†breaking.¬†And then another one. And then footsteps.

My heart beat like crazy and once again every single muscle in my body tensed as I laid completely still holding my breath.¬†Calm down,¬†I tried telling myself,¬†you are hidden. Nobody knows you’re here. It’s an animal, not a human. Animal animal animal.

I laid still like that for what felt like eternity, until I finally judged it safe to let myself fall asleep as the noise was long gone. It must just have been an animal after all, for I was not disturbed that night.

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The next morning I found out it had been Jandarma escorting me – the Turkish military Police – as I met them again, although different men this time. The elder one of them shook my hand with a steady handshake as he said: “Nice bike. You crazy girl! Have an amazing journey, see you!” And then he shook my hand once more before they took off.

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They sure were nice guys Jandarma, but the question remains who called them. Who had seen us and called the police for me? Maybe a man, maybe a woman. I guess I’ll never find out.

But to whoever did, I am grateful.

Despite people continuously helping me however, I couldn’t help but feeling like my love for Turkey had cooled…

There I was once again a few days later, a 20 year old girl from Sweden trying to stand up against these five big¬†armed Turkish men…

“I don’t care, ok!? I’m going into the woods, you CAN’T stop me!” You kidding me girl? Sure they could stop you. And they would…

And that’s the end of part II,

Cheers!

 

A Turkish love story Part I: Love at first sight

Crossing borders to Turkey didn’t only mean entering a new country; It meant entering the country that would take me to a whole new continent. It meant entering the metropolis where two worlds collide; Where West meets East.

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Needless to say, my excitement was just about to overload. And I fell, I fell so hard…

But first I had to cross borders to another country; Bulgaria. Although I wasn’t actually planning to cross borders since I was going to take the 15 minutes ferry ride across the Danube river separating it from Romania. The area on the map looking a lot greener on the Bulgarian side of the Danube, I really wanted to catch the last ferry of the day, departing at 8.30 pm. But I was struggling against time, and rather than my normal “oh oh baby snake, oh oh deer deer!!”-thoughts I had to go all racer snob and tell myself: “Cadence cadence! Push push push!” and ignore the beautiful sunset putting the fields in a reddish shimmer behind me.

AAAHH COME BACK SPIDER!! DON’T RUN FROM ME, I LOVE YOU PLEASE LOVE ME BACK!! “For fucks sake, stop harassing me girl!! I got a spgider girlfriend already, K? I am not interested!” And that’s how it goes every time I try to catch a spider with my hands for a few photos…

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As I kept telling myself to go faster, I got distracted by a white van slowing down next to me. When I saw the faces through the window I knew who they were: The men who had given me sweets at the gas station earlier, being all curious and impressed by the trip I was making. They were holding up sweets again  and I tried yelling to them through the glass;

“No thank you! Ferry, gotta get to the ferry!”

They obviously didn’t hear, and stopped the vehicle right in front of me so that I had to hop off my bike. In the next moment they were pouring sweets all over me as they asked: “Water, do you need water?!” and pointed at two big bottles in the front seat.

“No no! I got water, thank you. I need to… catch the last ferry… to Bulgaria!” I gasped between my breaths as I shoved the candy down my handlebar bag. The two bottles in the frame’s bottle holders were full since I hadn’t given myself time to make even the shortest water break the past hours. “Please, let me go now… ferry, ferry!” I kept repeating, still trying to catch my breath. They waved me off with more enjoy-your-trip-wishes and then the ride was on again.

As I reached the streets of Zimnicea my heart broke into a million pieces. Two pups on the road, nearly newborns. One of them was lying lifeless in a pool of blood, and the other one was trying to wake it up with little whimpers. And then another car. Run pup, run! Luckily, the pup ran – leaving her sibling behind to be crushed by a monstrous vehicle once more. The sight of road kills brings tears to my eyes every time, and the number has been devastatingly high ever since I got to Romania – not being any lower in Turkey.

I made it to the dock right on time, on the minute to be exact. But there was no ferry to be seen. It turned out I had missed the turning a few km earlier, and I was told to leave by a uniformed guard since I had apparently entered a forbidden area. There was no way I was going to get in time for the ferry now, so I disappointedly gave up. Which meant I had to find camp in the dark right in the middle of the city. And there is one major problem with seeking yourself to the bushed areas of a city in a country like Romania.

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I knew I had done it even before I heard them. In an attempt to get away from the crowded areas into the bush, I had entered stray dog territory. Their barks penetrated the woods and a few seconds later they came running at me. I made myself ready, shielding myself with the bike as I told them to fuck off, jokingly thinking to myself that “soon it’s going to be men and not dogs that I tell to fuck off”. Little did I know how right I was. The dogs did as they were told and fucked off, retreating into the woods again (if men were so easy). In case they’d come back however, I picked up two sticks from the ground – arming myself with one in each hand. I stated to myself that I had two options; I could stay in the stray dog territory or I could stay closer to the road. Usually I’d pick the woods, but for this time I picked the road. Not wanting to attract any attention from passing drivers though, I let my head torch stay in the pannier and pitched the tent in the dark.

I woke up to the sound of a rooster the next morning, intensely cock-a-doodle-dooing for two hours straight (seriously that’s what the English say?). As I finally decided to exit my tent and brush my teeth, I found that my camp was right next to a farm, with the rooster just around the corner! The farmer came by and greeted me.

“Bulgaria?” He asked without seeming mad about me camping on his lands.

“Da da, Bulgaria, ferry boat”, I replied, and then continued; “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize I was camping on your land!” The farmer didn’t seem to understand a word of my apologize but simply pointed at the bucket he was holding. It was filled with snails and I could tell from his body gestures and pleased smile that unlike Swedes that would pick snails simply to get them out of their garden he was going to eat them. A lot of people in the Romanian countryside seemed to do so.

The Danube river separating Romania and Bulgaria from each other, once on the Bulgarian side I replaced my brake pads for the first time. Already in Czech Republic the mechanic had told me to replace them since “it will be dangerous to keep biking with them”

It turned out the ferry wasn’t very punctual after all and it took off one hour later than scheduled that morning. In the meantime I was trying to make conversation with three truck drivers who were boarding the ferry too, of whom two were going to Tehran and one to Ashgabat. The one going to Turkmenistan was the only one who knew a few words of English (the others kept babbling on in Turkish with me).

“Iran bad” he said, “but Turkmenistan, fine. Liberal.” Sure it might be but they won’t give me more than a five days’ visa, I wanted to tell him but that was too much for his English.

My days in Bulgaria were pretty plain and eventless, and the nature too. The road was frustratingly boring going into straight slopes up and down that made me feel like I wasn’t making any distance at all. It sure isn’t a justified image of Bulgaria though, since I by own choice took the straightforward, fast path rather than the beautiful one going across the mountains. The simple explanation is that I was eager to leave Europe, to finally get to explore more exotic places. I was told by a woman once that it was not safe to wild camp and I heard gun shots from my tent the same night, but I assumed it was hunters and fell asleep thinking that “hopefully they won’t mistake me for a deer”.

I didn’t even spend three full days in Bulgaria, before crossing borders to my greatest waypoint so far; The country that would be my portal to Asia.

I had not ever in my life been outside of Europe before, so you could imagine I was excited. The border crossing itself wasn’t too complicated. Sure it meant various passport controls and also a quick scan of my panniers but I had honestly expected it to take more time, to be more painful. One of the border guards asked why on earth I was making this trip alone, and the one reply I could think of was: Why not? I have repeated it so many times by now. Tell me, why not?

And then I was in. I was as far away from home as I had ever been before and I loved it.

Finally got my first stamp when crossing borders to Turkey!

“I love Turkey!” I told Nina not for the first time as we sat down on the wooden chairs in the timbered bar looking like it could have been imported right from the Swedish Fj√§llen, with people’s “I was here”-scribbles carved into the furniture and walls.¬†Nina was a French girl and despite only being one year older than me I felt like a child next to her. She had spent one year in Turkey (Izmir) doing her Erasmus already, so nothing was really new to her anymore. As for me however, it was like rebirthing again… Like getting to explore the world for the first time all over and just about anything would fascinate me.

“Nina are you sure we don’t need to pay for these snacks they serve us!? Really, they always serve free snacks in bars?? And they… THEY REFILL THE BOWLS AS SOON AS WE EMPTY THEM!? Wow, I’m totally gonna bring this tradition home to Swedish bars!!” Even the mechanism for opening the beer bottle was new to me, and would almost make me fall over my chair. The busy streets crowded with bazaars and street food I had never seen before fascinated me too and the five times a day call to prayers from the minarets of the mosques were spellbinding. I had only heard them once before; At night-time when drinking beer with a Serb in the city of Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina.

Nina had traveled quite a lot and would mainly get around by hitch-hiking and using couch-surfing. Most interestingly for me she had together with a female friend traveled across Iran.

“We always felt safe in Iran”, she told me, “Our biggest problem was people being too nice to us, they would never let us be. And since my friend isn’t that social… I had to do all the talking!” she continued with a laugh. “It was mind-blowing really. People would invite us to their homes and then call their relatives who spoke English, and then the relatives would cross the whole country simply to come talk to us… how weird is that?!”

I asked Nina what her parents thought of her travels and hitch-hiking. “They have learnt to accept it I guess” –¬†just like mine,¬†I thought¬†¬†“At first they’d never ever let me go to Iran. But then when I stayed in Turkey, they got used to the thought. And when I told my mom I’m probably doing my internship in Ankara next year…” She laughed again, “She just replied: ‘Oh you’re going to move to Ankara with all the suicide bombings? Very well then. Have fun!'”

I also asked her what her dream destination would be. After all, her reply wasn’t very surprising to me – I could tell she had fallen in love with the Middle East: “Syria and Iraq. But this is not the time I guess.” I hope there will be a time for Nina to go to Syria and Iraq – that she will get to witness the great historical treasures dwelling there and that she will tell us all about it.

We diverged paths the next morning as she was catching the bus to Istanbul and I was riding my bike to Gelibolu. Before I left however, I had to say goodbye to a restaurant owner in whose restaurant I ate the night before I met Nina. He hadn’t let me pay for the food I’d had; the rice, the bean soup, the dessert and the beers were all on him after he heard about my trip. We had chatted all evening and he truly gave me the warmest welcome I could have ever received on my first night in Turkey.

The typical shot-looking glass that the Cay is served in…. and finally I found out who were occupying those giant nests I saw everywhere!

When leaving Edirne I was convinced that the rest of my stay would be just as amazing as these first few days. And sure thing, I was invited in for Cay (Turkish tea) by a lovely couple already in the first village I passed through… I almost didn’t think they’d let me leave! They didn’t speak a single word of English but they would both look up words in their old dictionaries as the glasses with cay were refilled and then refilled again. When they found out I was only 20 years old, they pointed at me exclaiming: “Baby! You are baby!” … and then they put a spoon of Turkish, homemade yoghurt in my mouth, just like that. I protested wildly; “What the… I aint no baby… ok?!” Another spoon in my mouth. Oddly enough, throughout my first weeks in Turkey people would either call me a baby or ask to sleep with me. Does that make any sense to you?!

The couple gave me a flower and I strapped it onto my bike with the flag… sadly I lost both later on ūüė¶ (And¬†as you could see my handlebar tape was in a terrible condition back then)

As I were to set camp that evening I realized Turkey didn’t really offer that many good accommodation opportunities for a cyclist but I got lucky and found a meadow hidden from the road by wild growing bushes and with a beautiful “balcony view” of the fields and hills below; The dark was dotted with little lagoons of lights from the villages and the calls from the mosques were echoing throughout the valley as I went to sleep, once again thinking that I loved Turkey.

Little did I know what my next days would be like.

Just as I thought I had finally gotten myself out of trouble, I was pulled over by a car. And out of the car stepped three men, all armed with machine guns. They remained silent as they approached me, and I asked myself: What the hell is going on? Are they on my side or not? Please be nice guys, please please please…

And that was the end of part I.

Cheers!