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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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,