Committed to a Route and Met the Mayor by Accident
Updated: Apr 13
Around this point in central Turkey is where the mountains begin to get really serious. I was keen to avoid the really steep mountain areas, but still wanted to take in some interesting parts of the country.
After analyzing the map I noticed the cities of Sivas, Erzincan and Erzurum lay in valleys amongst the high mountains, so I decided to stick to these valleys as much as possible. I’m sure I missed some really cool mountain villages, but these regional city centres have their own interesting tales to. As geography would indicate, those cities have long formed crucial parts of trade routes, namely, the Silk Road. Which has been a big fascination of mine.
After settling on a route through Central Turkey, I also noticed a lake that would be a suitable distance to camp by for the night.
Roads like these, I love.
Salt Lake Wild Camp
Often if I find an interesting feature on the map I’ll investigate using satellite images. This can save a lot of hassle and time wasted detouring to get there. On this day I found Tuzla Gölü, a salt lake and a natural protected area due to its significance for migrating birds.
Not that I expected to get any bird watching done, I just thought it might be a nice natural feature to camp beside. I was even treated to a little lightening show in the evening.
Treated to some lightening over the salt lake
I’d started to come across some cool rainy Autumn weather which seemed to be affecting my drive a little bit. To add to my poor mindset, I had my back wheel slip out from under me after a rain shower on a greasy, wet road. I wasn’t quick enough to get my foot off the pedal and landed on the road — bang on my left knee.
I had a minor tantrum and yelled some impolite language, so I was pretty thankful there was no one around and no passing cars. My mindset just wasn’t in the right place, and I was really close to a town so I stopped for chai and cake at a local coffee shop. I sat with my thoughts for a bit and let the sugar sink in. It just wasn’t my day, I didn’t want to push my bruised knee too much more, so I decided to call it an early day.
Big Day to Sivas
I was about due for another city stop to resupply, shower, and do laundry. I had pin pointed Sivas – a major city along the way. However, this would mean cycling over 100 km in one day. As a general rule, I always tried to keep my cycling days at a more comfortable distance. On or over the 100 km mark was stretching it for me — but, I really didn’t feel like breaking it into two days.
Considering that the terrain was reasonably favourable, and I would then have a couple of days off in Sivas. It was possible. It’s mostly downhill coming into the city after a full day of riding, so that makes it easier when you’re tired.
Sivas is certainly not on the tourist trail, in fact, I wasn’t even sure if there was anything worth seeing or doing while I was there. I had laundry to do, supplies to buy, and I badly needed fresh brake pads on my bike, but otherwise I planned to just stroll around.
Sivas did surprise me however. Once a bustling part of the silk road, the city still has a really interesting old district and some beautiful madrasas (religious schools). One in particular the Blue Madrasa, now a museum and café, and a really popular meeting place with locals.
I Met the Mayor of Hafik
After Sivas I carried on my way towards Erzincan. I noticed many lakes around and thought it might be nice to find a suitable one to camp by for the night. I spotted a lake on the map just outside Hafik, that I thought might be reasonable and made a bee line right for it.
When I arrived at said lake it was clear the surrounding area had been developed substantially by the local municipality. The lake shore had dozens on picnic shelters all full of locals BBQing and enjoying their afternoon. I was still hopeful I could camp there (also too lazy to find somewhere else). Typically, once dark falls any locals BBQing will leave to return home and then you’re left with places like this all to yourself. So, I was banking on that.
As I cycled into the lakeside park a group called me over to join their BBQ. They shared their food with me and we chatted about my bike trip so far. After some time, I began to feel guilty that I was planning to covertly camp there that night. So, I casually asked them if they thought it would be ok for me to camp there for the night. Big mistake.
There was some conversation backwards and forwards in Turkish amongst the group, until finally one man says “we will ask the mayor”. I thought for sure he was joking or it was some kind of translation error.
Unnecessary Drama to Find a Campsite
Next thing a fancy car pulls up and a man in a suit jumps out. Literally, the mayor of little ol’ Hafik had taken it upon himself to help me find somewhere to camp. I was beyond mortified. It was just so excessive and completely unnecessary. The mayor explained that ‘kids’ from town would come to the park at night and drink alcohol. I wasn’t sure how serious the risk really was, but it seemed fair enough to find somewhere else. But now they wouldn’t let me leave without personally vetting my camping spot.
There was a suggestion to cycle back to town to find a hotel, which I knew wouldn’t have been expensive, but I really just wanted to sleep in my tent. I put my foot down and insisted on camping, somewhere. The mayor then suggested we go to the restaurant by the lakeside.
I had camped at restaurants before — it wasn’t my ideal overnight, but it could work. So, we went to investigate. However, the idea was quickly shut down when the restaurant manager said they have guard dogs at night and “they would eat me”. I wasn’t arguing at that.
However, the mayor wouldn’t take no for answer. It was simply agreed that they would leave the dogs tied up that night.
While it all started as one big unnecessary kerfuffle, in the end it was a pretty sweet spot for the night. I was even awoken in the morning by the restaurant caretaker with a delivery of chai.
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