2017, the Netherlands and Turkey were in political conflict. No idea if things got orchestrated here and there since both countries were heading for elections but the fact remains there were tensions. Aside from that the Turkish government was / is fighting Kurds in the eastern part of the country.
People were telling me I should skip Turkey and cycle around it. It would be too dangerous for me. I didn’t care too much, it was actually an extra motivation to prove different, to show that ‘normal’ people are cool. After cycling for the refugee project in Lesvos, my instincts even told me that Turkey would be amazing. I trust my instincts.
As I cycled my first day on Turkish soil – 170 km in 40 degrees heat – there was a family in Izmir waiting for me. This was an initiative from the Turkish community in the Netherlands. It was late in the evening but they had waited for me and had prepared a big family dinner. Turns out this was an extraordinairy family. They were sincerely nice to me and I felt such trust and felt relaxed being with them – no social masks to wear.
They said they would help me cycle through Turkey. They even had a route for me to follow. Although I make my own decisions I decided to let it all happen. Out of trust. By the way, Letting go was one of my main goals before starting this journey. Hence, I let it go and started following the signs. Their signs.
This beautiful family made me feel at home, fed me and they showed me their country. For several days there was this incredible hospitality but I had to move on. When I left they threw water at me. “Be like water on this journey.” And so I did.
Though there’s power in goodbye’s I am not too good with them. But before I left this family there was this little detail, they had created a WhatsApp group (“Help Mark through Turkey”). And believe it or not, this group got bigger and bigger by the day as more Turkish people got connected. Sometimes I would have over a hundred messages at the end of a cycling day. Word also spread through Facebook and cycling clubs and I received more and more invitations from the Turkish people. Sometimes they were actually waiting to receive me and on one occasion a family rescheduled their holiday to take me in their house. They had the best of food and warmest of welcomes to give. It truly was overwhelming. I didn’t sleep a single night in my tent and realised I was living a small fairytale.
The Dutch guy cycling through Turkey also got the attention from media and local mayors. I got invited, got surprised with an incredible balloon flight over Cappadocia, and for some days to rest at an all inclusive all you can eat four star hotel. I wonder if they knew they were dealing with a cyclist – eating like a bear.
Media also got involved. There were over a dozen news items from media ranging from on- and off line articles and videos. I had no idea what some articles were saying and started wondering if it had anything to do with the Dutch – Turkish relations.
As I got invited at two mayors, one started asking questions about the political situation between our countries. I told him it’s not about politics or power but about the people I meet along the way. The people of Turkey who treat me so well and who give soul to this country. He apologized. I accepted, received his gift and shook his hand while we were in a wax museum pose for a newspaper article. Would my last remark be in the article? I don’t know.
I cycled too fast through Turkey. I realized it in an earlier stage but it really got to me as I was heading for Iran. It went so fast that my mind had difficulty processing the data upload of all the things that had happened cycling through this mighty land. I had no other choice since there was a Dutch guy waiting for me at the border to cycle with me through Iran.
From all the attention, the gifts, the fancy hotels, the restaurants, that what remained – and still remains – are the smiles and Turkish hospitality. That and their food. I still miss being welcomed with fresh fruits as I arrived at yet another Turkish family after a hot day of cycling. A Turkish man told me once that it’s Turkish duty, that it’s in their social cultural DNA. I don’t know when but I promised I’ll be back some day. To show my gratitude to the Turkish people, and yes also to have another taste of their hospitality.