The Dedegol Mountains, Isparta, Turkey. This year's challenge?

30th January to 6th February 2008
8th Cycling Week Kemer to Anamur

Big mountains

Days 63 and 64 Wednesday and Thursday 30th and 31st January Kemer to Antalya

The strong winds of yesterday continued to blow with renewed strength during the night. We decided to stay in Kemer rather than do battle with the wind.

We did not see the town at its best but we didn't like it very much. It is the first time we have stayed somewhere which deals with mass tourism. From the difficulty of getting çay in Turkish cups to being pestered by touts real Turkey is a long way below the surface. It may not exist here at all.

It was not until we cycled out of town towards the north east that we realised why it is the way it is. First we came across some rather large hotels which had awarded themselves five stars. Then when we had passed out of the town boundary we began to come across the elderly confused. Just like sea gulls round a rubbish tip these can be found near large hotels along the coast in winter.

The route plan was to keep off the main road as much as possible. This involved spending most of the morning riding through several resort areas where hotels line the roads. Some had amazing if bizarre architectural features. We think the architects must have been to Las Vegas. The most unusual was the Queen Elizabeth which looked just like a beached cruise ship complete with funnel and bridge. The whole "bow section" was made of mirrors reflecting the ripples on the ornamental pool around it, giving the impression that the concrete ship was at sea.

Our return to the main road soon involved the navigation of two tunnels. On the good side they were built in 1974 and therefore bikes were not banned. On the bad side they were narrow and it is best not to trust Turkish drivers to steer round cyclists. We went through as quickly as we could and came out safely.

One final foray into a village provided a rather odd experience and involved a retrace back to the road. We tried twice to get through. On the first occasion the road existed but went through an army camp. On the second the road had been there but had been demolished.

While trying to find our way through we found a convenient if unusual place for lunch. Next door to the army camp and beside the beach was a small estate of bungalows among the pine trees. Every single one had had the windows, doors and all fittings removed leaving just a concrete shell. It had been done so thoroughly that we gave the army the credit but we will never know why. We occupied the patio of the one nearest the sea for lunch.

After lunch we were in the suburban sprawl of Antalya. It was also still quite windy. It felt very seedy and though we have known worse it is the kind of place one would prefer not to have a puncture.

As we neared the city centre things gradually looked more affluent and hotels began to appear. Encouraged by the stoker the management deviated from the route and followed a road through Atatürk Park. It finally came out the other side and got us into the city centre. The only hassle was the enormous number of vicious speed humps through the park.

By a combination of luck and intuitive navigation we found the Sabah Pension in the old town.

 Toe in the water

Days 65 and 66 Friday and Saturday 1st and 2nd February Antalya to Serik

Antalya old town is rather special. It is built in a semi circle around the Roman port. Many of the houses are Byzantine but there are also ruins and other features dating from much earlier periods. It also has a spectacular backdrop of snow capped mountains surrounding the bay. There can be few more beautiful places to build an ugly city.

We spent the day exploring the old town. The Roman port was, according to one person to whom we spoke, a beach until 20 years ago. It is now a pleasant harbour full of trip boats. The Turks to their shame put masts on these and claim they sail. Either they have invented the first sailing boats to work without sails or they are being untruthful. We declined the many touts who tried to persuade us on board.

Unfortunately it was during the day that we realised that the device we use to do emails and post the diary to the web was not working properly. We tried everything but the dial up communications seem to have failed. It is still working with wifi and though it will limit what emails we can send we should be able to keep this blog updated.

We seldom mention accommodation. For travellers like us it is a place to lay one's head which we will find hard to remember in a few days. The Sabah Pension is however exceptionally good, comfortable and well run. The home cooked dinners were excellent as was the buffet breakfast. It is the best place we have stayed and cost about a third the price of some accommodation in Turkey which was not half as good.

Pedalling out of Antalya eastwards the management had devised a route along the coast to miss main roads. We followed it for an hour or so. It was mainly through hotel land and the outer suburbs were not as seedy as those to the west of the town.

Rather foolishly as it turned out the management deviated from his planned route. We continued along the coast rather than turning inland. It took us past more large bizarre hotels. We suppose it is not surprising that the elderly are confused when they live in a hotel with one end shaped like Concorde. At the other the tail fin is mounted over the gate house which resembles the rear gunners position on a Lancaster bomber.

Once we left the hotels behind it was pleasant cycling in the sunshine on the flat roads. Unfortunately we needed to be going north east and the road was heading north west. There were no turn offs and we eventually came back to the planned route. We had done a rather nice 10km detour.

The final part of today's ride was on the busy main coast road. It was not ideal but it had a smooth safe wide hard shoulder. We soon turned off into Serik but could not find a hotel in the town centre. We enquired of passers by and were offered a room in a house for free. Being cowards who need their sleep we declined as nicely as we could. We were then directed to the main road where we checked in to the first place we found.

Day 67 Sunday 3rd February Serik to a beach east of Manavgat

When we don't like a place we tend to leave a bit earlier. It is not intentional and it just happened this morning. We also don't go out of our way to say goodbye which politeness requires in Turkey.

We had to continue on the main road for quite a way. It was not that busy, perhaps because being Muslims the Turks manage a three day weekend. It was also pleasantly sunny with hardly any wind.

We took the first opportunity to turn off onto the country lanes. These passed through a very rural area before coming into the resort area of Side via the back way.

The contrasts are amazing. The lanes are full of potholes and meander around the fields. The first habitation we came across was a group of buildings made from what we would call willow wands. It contained a small flock of sheep in with chickens and people. After passing the local rubbish heap we came across the apartment blocks presumably occupied by those working in the hotels.

Here in the outskirts families are together outside eating and cooking. There is the odd market and people are walking about. The road is noticeably better and there are local dolmus buses waiting for passengers.

We then came across rather small hotels and eventually the full scale resort hotels. The roads are now wide smooth dual carriageways. But to slow the traffic and annoy tandem riders they have speed humps.

Just before we reached the centre of Side we went back to the main coast road. We decided it was too early to stop and so we needed to do a few kms to find the next batch of hotels.

Finding a lunch stop was proving difficult. We eventually stopped at one of the many petrol stations. These are huge places set back from the road, most also have a café and small shop. There are obviously far too many for the number of customers and the staff mainly just sit around.

We chose one without a café and, being very unusual customers, provoked much attention from the staff who offered us chi. This was nice because the management was very reluctant to light the trangia near petrol storage. Even he is not that stupid. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of a truck driver who happily filled his tank with one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other.

As the afternoon wore on we began to get a bit desperate looking for accommodation. Every hotel we saw was shut and other places had no heating. In desperation we tried a closed looking five star resort hotel beside the beach. It proved to be open and provided us with a very comfortable stay. The staff even apologised because we were the only guests.

It was nice watching the sun going down over the sea. Perhaps we have become the elderly disorientated.

Bananas got us though a long ride

Day 68 Monday 4th February a beach east of Manavgat to Alanya east

It may only be Turkish self awarded five star comfort but we could get used to it.

The ride into Alanya is fairly easy and on the main road. It was interesting to see a cycle team complete with support van training on this road. It was a bit busy for our liking but as always it is interesting to see the holiday hotels. We find it hard to believe they will be successful. Most of the beaches are average or worse. The hotels are built alongside a dual carriageway main road which must roar in summer.

Alanya itself is a pleasant place. The town is inland of a high peninsular with a castle on top. We enjoyed our lunch in the sun beside the harbour but declined to cycle 3km up the zig zag road to visit the castle.

In summer there is a ferry service from this town to Cyprus. We had hoped it might operate in February but we confirmed it did not. On the good side we think we established that there are a couple of hotels where we are going tomorrow.

Public bogs, often appropriately named here, are not free. The going rate is about 30 kurus. The stoker naturally objects to this charge which particularly affects women. Being in need she went in and found that the flush did not work. To add insult to injury a trio of small boys, who would have been better off at school, tried to charge her 50 kurus. She refused to pay and stood her ground which caused something of a scene, especially as she said in Turkish to them that the toilet was yok. We now think this means it was not there which was not of course strictly speaking true.

The toilet team are not used to being confronted. The majority of their customers are the well behaved but timid German elderly disorientated. The other amusing thing is that in this society Turks defer to the man. The management has for most of his life lived and worked in a female dominated environment and has a long standing policy of not interfering in the affairs of women. He was however very happy to cycle away from these people once the stoker had climbed onto the tandem.

A short ride out of town and it was not a coincidence that we booked into another hotel run by the same chain we stayed with last night.

Day 69 Tuesday 5th February Alanya east to Gazipasa

It was really nice after a few kms to lose the beach hotels and the traffic that goes with them. We felt that we were back in real Turkey.

The mediocre beaches gave way to lovely cliffs and the mountains closed in. Goodness knows why the Germans want beaches when they could have rock pools and crystal clear blue sea.

The agriculture here is banana plantations. We bought some bananas for lunch from one of the many roadside sellers and paid a tiny amount after we convinced him that we wanted two bananas not two kilograms. They seldom deal with tourists and therefore it does not occur to them to charge us extra. The plantations themselves look far less healthy than those we saw in the Canaries last year and are also on a much smaller scale.

As we went on we came across an ancient castle on a headland. The stone of the wall was the same colour as the cliffs and it would have been easy to miss it. Once we had stopped we realised as we looked and walked further that we had found the ruins of a large village and maybe even a town complete with a port. There was no one else there and it was absolutely silent except for the occasional vehicle.

We reached Gazipasa just before lunch. It was too early to stop but we could not go on unless we could find accommodation a couple of hours down the road. We asked around with no success so decided to have lunch and think about it.

We found a seat not far from a children's play area. We waved to the occasional person but it was not until we had almost finished that they found the courage to come and talk to us. The children here all learn English and always ask "what is your name?". We always say "my name is Ken" or ''my name is Anne, what is your name?" After telling us their name the cleverer ones then remember the next question which is "how old are you?"........

We left giving them our Google Earth route sheets for today. A few more enquires persuaded us to stay here in the workers' hotel. With much friendly passing of the phrase book back and forward we were given a nice clean small room with lots of extra blankets and an electric fire.

Day 70 Wednesday 6th February Gazipasa to Anamur

Today's ride was one of the most beautiful of the whole tour. The main road is never quite on the coast but soars from sea level to over 450 metres. The views over the sea and the rocky coast are magnificent. The road zig zags inland as much as 5km. Dotted among the verdant pine forests and green meadows is the occasional dwelling and sometimes a small village. Between us and the sea on the undercliff are many banana plantations. It is very lovely.

This ride is also in theory way beyond our capabilities. For a very hilly ride, which it is, it is about twice as far as we like to go in a day. This is because it is so rural that there is nowhere to stay on the way. We nevertheless decided jointly to give it a go.

We made an early start after a quick breakfast in our room. We needed our dark glasses as at this time of day the sun is low in the east and we started with a steady climb in that direction. The plan was to stop fairly often and to have lots of snacks of high energy food.

Our first halt was in a garage after about an hour and a half. Most garages here have tables outside and some are the village meeting place. They nearly all serve chi. So we had ours with the locals with some cake and bought more for the road. It was a good thing we did as we did not see another roadside shop for eight hours.

As we went on we stopped several more times at the ramshackle premises along the road. They make a tiny amount of money by offering chi to travellers like us. One also had toasties. They are rather like pizzas but unfortunately we had to take out some tinned sausage he had included. On each occasion the chi seller comes and sits with the customer. We are most likely the only person other than family they see all day.

Our other main sustenance during the ride were the tiny bananas sold by the traders just as strawberries are in the UK. Once our cakes had run out these kept us going.

The road here is very quiet and much of the time the silence can be really enjoyed. It is however a trade route and used by heavy lorries. They are nearly all very old and overloaded and cannot be balked on the hills. They descend very slowly using engine braking and smelling of overheated brake linings. It must have been like this in the UK in the 1950s.

Eventually after about eight hours on the road it got dark. Thankfully, though we didn't know it, we were on our last climb. It is very important to have a little energy in reserve for bends which zig zag right. The road often gains height here at an alarming angle and the camber makes it difficult to get off. Our reserves were running low.

As we wound our way down the last long descent we were very grateful for our excellent B and M Sturmey powered LED front light. It was also reassuring to see the house lights twinkling in the valley but a good deal of concentration was still required. Even on dipped the overloaded lorries dazzle and many vehicles have faulty or almost non existent lights.

It was bizarre, as we came round the last bend we came to a dozen at least blocks of high rises built into the hillside. They were almost finished though it is hard to see who will occupy them.

Another 5 or so kms and we were pulling into a comfortable beach hotel. We have decided that much as we enjoyed the ride and the satisfaction of having done it we cannot manage another long day like this.

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