Old Islamic Proverb: ‘He is not a believer who eats his fill while his neighbour remains hungry’
 
For most of the last week we've been in the sunshine, crossing the rolling grassy steppe of Central Turkey on blissfully quiet country roads. We also recently passed the 4000km mark! All in all, perfect cycling, apart from the steep highland roads which frequently go above 1300 metres. A few days ago, we passed a dishevelleled looking shepherd on one of these roads who inexplicably said 'G'day mate' in a thick Australian accent. I burst out laughing, thinking that a passing Aussie must have taught him to do this, but it turned out that he'd spent 10 years sheep farming in Australia and had now returned to his village. We'd had so many interactions with locals that had consisted only of tea and miming, and it was great to be able to communicate properly for a change. I told him how amazed I was at the kind heartedness and generosity of his people, and he quoted the above proverb to me. I realised that unlike the Christian equivalent of 'love thy neighbour' back in the UK, the idea of sharing and helping people is a strong guiding principle in everyday life here.
 
Luckily for us, 98% of Turkish people are Muslim, and their definition of neighbour seems to extend to 'random English cyclist', so over the last week, we've been fed, watered, put up for the night, and generally met with the most incredible hospitality wherever we've gone. And not just in sleepy villages where you may expect that kind of traditional courtesy, but in hotels, petrol stations and elsewhere. It's been overwhelming in fact, although sometimes it can get a bit much, like I was flagged down by a roadside fruit seller who insisted on giving me a giant melon to take on my way. This is obviously not the most appropriate gift for a long distance cyclist but I still had to squeeze it into a pannier and say thankyou.
 
Melons aside, the only real complaint over the last week has been the dog situation. It's not good. In fact, Emily was almost mauled the other day. In the rural higlands that we've been cycling in, there's a lot of sheep farming and consequently, a lot of sheep dogs. The breed of choice is the infamous Kangal - Turkey's national dog - which locals sometimes fit with a horrific medieval looking spiked metal collar. It's actually hard to convey in words how scary these dogs can be when they're angry. Unlike our shaggy Brıtısh sheep dogs, Kangals - as wikipedia puts it - are 'not herding dogs, but rather flock guardians'. They're also so vicious that they can apparently be trained as 'specialised wolf killers' and their 'overwhelming size and strength' has made them popular illegal fighting-dogs. They've even been exported to Namibia to protect livestock from cheetahs!
 
With this in mınd, you can imagine that it can be a bit unnerving cycling through a countryside, choc-a-bloc wıth free ranging Kangals, fiercly protecting their flocks. One afternoon, we had just passed a particularly disturbed (and blood stained) Kangal and were very keen not to wild camp. There were no villages nearby but just before it got dark we spotted a farm and the owners were happy to let us put our tent up across the field from their farm house. As we set up the tent, a man came over from the farm wıth some lamb stew and bread. As he gave us the food, he was trying to tell us somethıng about dogs...there was a lot of animated miming that didn't make much sense and I decıded that he was probably sayıng 'don't worry about my dog, I've tied him up so he won't bother you'. I smiled and said 'ok, thankyou' in Turkish and he smiled back wandered off. I had got it badly wrong though. In retrospect I would now guess that he was actually trying to say, 'my brother wıll be back any mınute wıth our sheep and then there'll be seven utterly vicious Kangals on the loose outsıde the farmhouse. Don't whatever you do come over without warning or they'll go nuts'. Unaware of the mortal danger we were in, we ate the stew ın our tent as ıt got dark and Emıly pottered off in the direction of the farmhouse to return the stew pot. All I heard from inside the tent was furious barking, followed by Emıly screaming, followed by men shoutıng and more barking. I feared the worse but the men had got to Emily just in time. Emily descrıbed it as the most terrıfying experience of her life. All seven dogs (wıth the spiked metal collars) had suddenly surrounded her in the dark and were growling and leapıng up at her. Immediately though, three men had burst out of the farmhouse with big sticks and beaten back. They had to ferret Emily away into the house until the dogs calmed down and the farmers were all quite shaken up, as if Emily had had a lucky escape. She was duly returned, unharmed, and I was chastised for letting her walk over alone into the pack of dogs. It was difficult to sleep with the dogs prowling around the tent, and when nature called at about 4am, we were almost too terrified to leave the tent. In the morning one of the men came over - armed again with a big stick - to escort us over to the house for breakfast. We both cowered nervously behind him until we were snuck past the dogs and into the house.

After this, we made sure not to camp anywhere where we may come across dogs. In one village there happened to be an English speaker who used to run a kebab shop ın Kent so he arranged for us to sleep in the local school for the night. The vıllage 'boss' (as he was referred to) bought us as many teas as we could drınk from the tea house, and the village kids piled ın to our room to help us make our beds. This is definitely better than camping in open country.


Right now we're in Capadoccia, one of Turkey's main tourist attractions, which is an area of valleys filled with surreal other-worldly volcanic rock formations and cave dwellings. It's beautiful, but having been off the beaten track for a week, paying tourist prices again is really irritating me and I'm eager to get back on the road. Especially because all that now lies between us and the warm waters of the Mediterranean are the Taurus Mountains. The high peaks have been looming up on the horizon for a few days now and tomorrow we'll finally be heading over the top, as it were, to begin the final push through the mountains and down to the Syrian border. With a bit of luck we won't have to camp up there, but if we do, at least we'll be able to dream of cruising down into 25°C temperatures when we're wrapped up in hats and gloves in our sleeping bags.