top of page

Chapter 21: Finding Footing

For the record, I here use Turkey and Türkiye interchangeably. The official name of the state is Republic of Türkiye, but both versions are still widely used.

Cizre to Mardin, Türkiye. May 2-3.

Going into Türkiye, I wasn't quite sure how to go about crossing the country. There were a multitude of routes to take, all of which had impressive scenery and historical sites along the way, none of which seemed easy or straightforward. The shortest path would lead through the capital Ankara and skip most highlights. Throughout central Turkey there are mountainous regions with attractions such as mount Nemrut and Cappadocia. By far though, most recommendations lead to the coast of Antalya. If there has to be one, that seems to be the place to go in Turkey, touristic, but well worth it from all I had heard. Even the locals in Cizre said it was the best for visitors, despite it being well outside Kurdish areas. The idea of cycling along the coast and cooling off in the sea on a hot day was also very attractive. But even after settling on passing Antalya it would be a long way there, and on the morning of leaving Cizre I still didn't know whether to take the more straight route to the south, or go to Midyat and from there to Mardin. In the last minute I chose the latter.

This indecisiveness would continue throughout eastern Turkey over the coming week. Should I take the canyon south after Midyat to Nusaybin, as Fatma recommended? From Mardin, should I head for Şanlıurfa or Diyarbakir, and if the latter, was I to go to Mount Nemrut? But where after that? It was easy to see the end goal, but harder to identify the small steps to get there. Especially, to choose which "musts" to skip. This was one reason I expected Türkiye to be particularly challenging: the overwhelming size and the abundance of options. Why is that a problem, one might ask. Options are a good thing, right?

One of my major challenges in adult life has been to decide clearly and above all to stick to my decisions. This journey is in part about cultivating that clarity in myself and if clarity is the vision, clutter and confusion are the biggest obstacles. For the first time since I started cycling, I felt my directedness shake. I have not viewed this as a failure. It was simply a testament that my capacity of clarity was being tested, which is precisely the kind of challenge I need to overcome.

The two days of riding from Cizre, first to Midyat then to Mardin, set the tone for what to expect in Türkiye in terms of landscape. I came from Iraqi Kurdistan that is topographically intense, yet without mountains of extreme heights. Nature and people are mixed in the canyons and valleys between the peaks, and on the road you never have one view for long before you turn around a bend or go up a hill to see something new. I imagine that driving in that terrain can be slow, especially if you're a tourist that get stopped at all checkpoints, but it was a dream to cycle through. On the Turkish side, things were much different.

Everything in southeastern Turkey (all I can speak of at this point) is spaced out over large distances. Cities are typically 100 km apart or more with the points of higher significance often requiring several days of cycling in my pace. There are mountains but they are far between, and the terrain is to be described as slopey. While occasionally stunning, the riding in Turkey became more monotone but still tiresome, with few surprises along the way. In this land, the destinations would be the goals, not the journey - at least not for cyclists.

The good news are that the destinations are truly special, especially for someone like me who has a weak spot for oriental architecture and atmosphere. I had a spectacular morning in old town Midyat between the classic cafés and guesthouses. The sand coloured facades mixed with the distinct colours of the climbing vines and their flowers make for surroundings that feel epic and intimate at the same time. Here, while otherwise a repulsive nuisance, the pigeons are a crucial addition to the soundscape with their purring and flapping from the walls and the rooftops. I can think of few places better to bring a date for a romantic coffee or glass of whine.

I have been glad to experience that the atmosphere in settlements in Turkey feels distinctively, well... Turkish. It is difficult to be inclusive when the words are inherently excluding, and by Turkish I don't mean non-kurdish or non-arab. Turkey is both literally and figuratively the bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and I somehow love that I can feel that. Sometimes it's the best of two worlds, sometimes it's not quite any of them, sometimes it's uniquely its own... but at no point does it feel generic by global standards. The official language too has a separate family in the Turkic language stem that sounds and looks much different from the neighbours on either side of the Bosphorus Strait. But while it is so, it is the blend of things that truly makes the Turkish feeling for me.


bottom of page