Goodbye Turkey, it’s time to spend the winter in Cyprus

When we last left the group, our cyclist friends had split into smaller groups. Piero was the first one to arrive in the town of Mersin, only to realize that the promised shelter was actually a house of cards. Falling apart.

 

Camping out in Turkey

Camping out in Turkey

Mersin

“We were the first to arrive in Mersin, and we immediately called the number of the guy who had offered us hospitality. He started talking very vaguely from the first moment. Anyway we managed to get an appointment, so we could see things more clearly. When the guy saw that there were just four of us he exclaimed: “Thank goodness. My parents are at home, they didn’t leave and now I cannot accommodate everyone. ”

Our world fell on top of us. We were quite tired, among other things. He led us to his house. We had to leave the bikes in the yard and already this kind of scared us. We entered the apartment, and were met by the stare of an old-fashioned Muslim-style father, and a mother who was evidently very embarrassed. We took a shower, more or less. We could not wash our clothes. We felt completely out of place. We slept in the living room and the next day the guy told us that we had to get out of the house. We left after breakfast and tried to get some news of the others. We spent a few days waiting for them to arrive in this vast, new city,  a city built round its harbor.”

“We did shows, and after the first one we were invited to perform in a rather ambiguous club. There we just played some music, no one seemed to want to help us, and in the meantime night was falling. I don’t remember where we slept that night, but I remember the two consecutive rainy days when we had to sleep under bridges. That’s when I really had a taste of a bum’s life. Everything was very dirty. The city chock full of kids sniffing glue from paper bags. They looked like zombies moving in herds, with these bags. Totally harmless, because of the drug. They were rather annoying, but unable to steal from us. A truly sad scene, which we tried to downplay by teasing them.”

A show in Turkey

A show in Turkey

“The others took forever to arrive, but at least the rain was over. We slept for a night or two in a bar under construction, on the waterfront. Nice, finally. Then we get an email from the other group, they were 30 km from us, in the cottage of a family that had adopted them as part of their own family. They just couldn’t leave, that’s how good they were. And we were sleeping under bridges…”.

On the way to Famagusta

On the way to Famagusta

On the way to Famagusta

“Finally, we were reunited with the rest of the group. And we tried to figure out how to get to Cyprus, where we had been told that winter is not so cold. “Why not,” we said. We left the same day and we arrived in Famagusta. The island of Cyprus went through a deathly war 40 years ago, when the Greeks were attacked by the Turks. We often spoke about it while on the island. We had to leave Scuccia, the stray dog who had traveled with the circus since Bosnia, in quarantine, and that broke our hearts. We did a first show there, then we got on our bikes in the warm weather and enjoyed a nice swim in the sea after the cold we had suffered in Cappadocia a week earlier. “

Cycling through Cappadocia, fleeing from the cold

“The Turkish people are very hospitable of course, but also quite effusive, so sometimes we felt we needed to stay away from populated areas just to get a bit of peace, be able to practice a bit of juggling, or just to work out. Otherwise, we were always being observed, it wasn’t easy. From Ankara onwards there was also a TV station that followed our trip, so we were often expected in a village square, sometimes even with the chairs all arranged! It was very nice. We soon entered into a sort of routine: In the morning we cycled for about 60/80/90 km, then in the afternoon we did the show, and before night it was necessary to find a place to sleep and then have dinner, keep your diary, do some stretching or whatever in front of a fire or in some house. The roads in general were quite challenging, Turkish traffic is not easy. But having said that, the streets are not packed with cars, and many areas are quite deserted.”

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A break in Eskiseir

“I remember this new city, just like Pescara (Piero’s city of origin), a place with no history… I don’t remember how we ended up there, but it was terrible, with lots of kids who circled around us handling our things. It was quite stressful. We sheltered in a small house which was being built outside of town, and some of us went back and forth from the town with two “regular” bikes (the others were Tall Bikes) to carry out daily activities. We didn’t think it was appropriate to make any shows. You could smell a sort of negative euphoria in that place. But that was an isolated case, and in general I have fond memories of those five months in Turkey. After a while I started understanding quite well what I was told, and I picked up a little Turkish too. ‘

Cappadocia

One of the variables to consider when traveling and being so exposed to the elements is the arrival of winter and the cold. So the group soon had to find suitable accommodation to weather the approaching winter months.” We found accommodation for the winter in Mersin, a city on the Mediterranean shores, right at the tip of the tourist area in the south. Some guy whom we had met offered to accommodate us in his family apartment.” To reach Mersin the group had to cross Cappadocia, where, for a few days, they even had to shelter in a cave.

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“Sleeping in Cappadocia was beautiful, but in general it was not easy. Those days were a sort of retreat, to train and try out new things. We did shows in a neighboring village, full of European, Americans, Chinese, and Japanese tourists… But we soon started to feel the cold. “M4031M-4205
“We had to flee with snow pursuing us, looking for a train to take us as far away as possible. One day we covered 80 Km almost all downhill. We pedaled fast, the threatening snow right behind us. One of us got a flat tire and that forced us to stop and we ended up with snow falling on our heads, without being in the least prepared for it. It was hard. ”

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“We finally got to the town from which we could take a train. It had a tiny little station where we started to cook with a camping stove. Then a railroad worker approached and we asked him about the train, because there was only one way to arrive to Mersin, with a mountain pass at 1400 meters in altitude. But he told us there were no trains, and he also warned us that the next day we would have to move out of the station. The next day, divided into groups of two to four people, self-sufficient and able to do shows, we hitchhiked. My group was picked up in an empty truck and the driver, who was mad and drove like a madman, was actually directed to Mersin. He drank a lot and also offered us lunch. “

The journey begins: from Italy to Turkey to meet the Cyclown Circus

Having introduced the general itinerary of the trip and revived the spirit which animated it, let’s now rewind and go back to when the decision to embark on such a trip was actually made. A path full of questions, with happy and less happy moments, which, when seen as a whole, reveals a life-changing experience, one that alters the very perception of all that surrounds you once you get back home.

Eastbound

a typical Turkish landscape

a typical Turkish landscape

The departure date was set for a day in June 2005.”It took something like 6 months of preparation – says Piero – in order to figure out what to bring along, and to tie up the loose ends of what I was doing at the time. Six months to leave behind nine years in Rome. I made a bike (as we said a Tall Bike) tailored to my needs, and also made one for Rocio and Simone, the two people who were leaving Italy with me.We headed south to south-east, our first destination Brindisi.The idea was to reach Salento, to meet some friends and do a couple of shows there. “This turned out to be a sort of rehearsal of what was to come in the months and years to follow, a kind of daily routine. “We did the first 30-40 kilometers by train, to get out of the city, then we cycled along via Appia towards Naples. From Naples we reached Salerno, then we crossed the Apennines, which was hard, and we headed for Bari. We spent the first three months doing shows in Salento, and cycling around to visit friends. We did some juggling and various performances, and we camped outside the towns and villages, outdoors among the olive groves, without any particular problems.” Then Piero and Rocio headed towards Brindisi, where they would meet Simone. In September, we were off to Turkey, destination Izmir, formerly known as Smyrna.

Towards Istanbul

heavy traffic

heavy traffic

“We knew some of our friends were already in Turkey, and were waiting for us in Istanbul.”They were the Cyclown Circus (http://www.cyclown.org/), a group of itinerant circus performers on two wheels from all over the world, who arrived in Istanbul travelling from Bulgaria. “From Izmir to Istanbul we took both train and bike routes, without encountering great difficulties, even when loading the bikes on trains. A total of 4 or 5 traveling days. We slept in the countryside and the goal was to reach the group as soon as possible. It was late September when we met, and we slept as guests in a small house, a total of 14 people.”

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Turkish hospitality for Piero and the Cyclown Circus

“We spent many days doing shows in Istanbul, along with the Cyclown Circus who were moslty musicians. Initially mixing our juggling art and their music wasn’t easy. In addition my English was very poor, and that was something of a problem. The theft I mentioned when discussing the safety issues of such a trip happened in the house where this group of 14 people was staying. During the night we had some intruders who used sleeping spray on us all. They then stole whatever they thought was of value. Gone were the handbags, which contained all documents, some phones (I did not possess one) and that was pretty much it. We were forced to redo our documents, and in some way we really were starting from scratch. Deep down I was kind of intrigued by this whole thing. Unfortunately, today I can no longer find that passport. ”

After the Istanbul interlude the group moved towards Ankara, and there – as pointed out by Piero – ” the real journey began”. The formula of the storyteller stopping, giving a show, asking for hospitality and food, started taking shape.