Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
The woman on the other end of the phone answered. I had no idea who she was, not even her name, only that she spoke English and would direct us towards a place to camp for the night. Our Warm Showers host in Edirne, Turkey gave this woman’s information, told us to call once we arrived at the Migros grocery store in Keşan, and she would provide directions.
“Go to the Garden of Eden, everyone knows this park, just ask if you can’t find it. Head to the center where there’s a cafe and there will be a man waiting for you. You can camp in the park.”
We made our way to the park, where a uniformed security guard met us at the entrance gate. He spoke no English. He led us to the back of the park, where he indicated we could camp anywhere in the grass. He showed us the bathrooms and frequently checked in on our to ensure our comfort.
This was just the beginning of our introduction to Turkish hospitality.
The previous nights, we experienced yet another dose of Turkish generosity.
Engin, our Warm Showers in Edirne not only opened his home to us, but also allowed Dave access to his bike shop tools so he could work on our bikes, and served as our local post office after a stolen credit card and failed air mattress. Prior to our departure, he lined up two nights of hosts to ensure we had somewhere comfortable to sleep.
Bike troubles leaving Edirne meant leaving at 4:00PM, and with dusk approaching quickly and 60km to cover, we had to pedal fast. As we rode under the last gasps of twilight, still 10km outside of the town, we saw the headlight of a cyclist coming from the opposite direction.
Our host, Fatih, had come to find us in the darkening skies to escort us to his friend’s home, where we could stay overnight with Sora. Fatih, his wife Berrak, and our host Yücel then took us out to dinner, paid the bill, and then treated us to breakfast the following morning.
When Dave forgot a pair of pants behind, Yücel and Fatih got in the car and found us pedaling along the side of the highway to hand deliver them.
Over the course of our six weeks in Turkey, we encountered motorbike escorts to guide us around train tracks, when our GPS maps led us astray.
While avoiding massive hills leaving Izmir, a coastal city on the Agean Sea, we found ourselves facing a set of steep stairs down which we carried our loaded bikes. With Sora attached around my waist, I managed the trailer while Dave hauled his bike. One step to go, and my back seized, I dropped the trailer, and crumpled down, unable to move.
A couple who lived in front of the staircase saw what happened and ran immediately to my aid. The husband served us çay (Turkish tea, pronounced like chai) while his wife rubbed arnica on my aching back. After tending to my injury, they stayed with us until I felt well enough to ride, some 20 minutes later, but not before sending me off with a pack of pain medication for the road.
In the city of Söke, a destination we had not intended to visit, we stayed with yet another Warm Showers host, Ayhan, who convinced us to visit him for the evening. After agreeing to allow Sora inside his home – the Muslim religion generally views dogs as dirty and should not be allowed inside the home – we headed his direction, though it was a bit of a detour from our planned route.
Unable to find his local bike shop, Ayhan hopped on his bike, found us, and escorted us to the store. There, we were greeted by his friends and the shop owners, who of course offered çay, posed for many photos with Sora, and helped us with some minor bike repairs. Afterward, Ayhan whipped up a vegan meal and showed us photos from his own bicycle tours in Turkey.
The following day, Ayhan led us out of the city and onto some back roads that eventually led to Priene, an ancient Greek city, where he accompanied us to the ruins. Before sending us on our way, he phoned a friend to inquire about camping near our destination for the evening, ensuring we had safe place to sleep that night.
Throughout our journey, we encountered numerous generosities ranging from simple cups of çay to homestays to hosts making exceptions to allow us to bring Sora inside their homes.
Meanwhile, friends and family back home continually asked whether we felt safe in Turkey, and reminded us to be careful.
Yes, an Ankara train station bombing that killed 102 people and left 400 injured, blasted the day after our arrival.
Yes, Turkey shares a border with Syria and has been the first stop on the Syrian refugee path. And Yes, a Russian fighter jet was recently shot down for violating Turkey’s airspace along the Syrian border.
Yes, Turkey has oppressed the minority Kurdish population for the better part of a century. And Yes, this oppression is part of the larger middle east war zone, including the Syrian civil war and ISIS.
However, these attacks do not target tourists or the general public, but rather are calculated moves by the AKP party-led government to maintain control and manage dissidents.
It would seem pertinent that one should ask a similar question in regard to safety to us as US Citizens or to anyone traveling to the US, given the epidemic of gun-related violence in the country.
We do not feel unsafe living in the US, despite the fact that the Roseburg, OR shooting in October occurred within our own state. I was dropped off for college in Boston just days before the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center departed from Logan Airport. While studying abroad in Madrid, I lived two train stops away from the bombing that killed around 200 people at the Atocha Train Station in 2004.
I have never felt unsafe in my travels, the same as I have never felt unsafe at home. I’ve traveled to countries like Colombia and Mexico, deemed as unsafe by the US government, only to emerge from the experience a more educated and less fearful individual.
The only dangers we encountered in Turkey included the possibility of losing one’s hearing on account of the insanely loud truck bull horns that blared constantly, tire and/or paw puncture due to the ridiculous amount of glass lining the roads, and avoiding getting hit by cars while crossing the street.
The media try their best to instill fear in our heads by making us believe the stories that they choose to tell repeatedly. I choose to learn the true story on my own – through journalistic books, travel, and most importantly, by asking questions.