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Chapter 35: Birthday Boy


Köyceğiz to İzmir, June 4 to 9


My 30th anniversary, and the next few days that followed, were ironically some of the least eventful of the trip. From Kaş to Urla I cycled 6 days in a row, the longest streak thus far. On my birthday on June 4th I was spontaneously invited for a wholesome second breakfast in the charming little town of Ula (different from forementioned Urla). Couple Biroll and Figen was visiting from their village and local Cemil joined us as well. On the hot days I really have to value and use the time before the temperatures get up toward 35°C and more, but I don't want to miss meaningful meetings, either. I managed to strike a balance by staying half an hour, enough to make a connection but not enough to ruin my plan of the day. A nail to the back tire eventually did, but that's beside the point.


The stays in Yatagan and Aydin were largely forgettable. The latter seemed a nice enough city, but at 41 degrees after cycling from 6am to noon, there was not much motivation for exploration. Calls with family and friends were nice shake ups in what quickly became a solitary routine around navigating heat, making progress, writing, resting and repeating. Celebrations would have to wait.


On June 6th I visited one of the top tourist attractions in all of Türkiye - the ancient city of Efes, or Ephesus. That status is in part due to its actual historical significance, in part thanks to the scale and the awe or what has been preserved and restored, and in part because somebody needs to be on the poster. For the ancient heritage of Turkey, that somebody is the Library of Ephesus, impossible to capture without posing foreigners in the frame. Still, the ancient sites are often quite open, and even in one as popular as Efes it is possible to get a little sense of exploration away from the hordes.


There was also a new addition, the "Efes Experience", a digital show through several rooms of projections, sound effects and narration. It was undeniably a bit cringe, like the title "Experience" often suggests, but I have to admit it was right down my alley, creating an epic atmosphere of imagination to fill the void left by the long gone Temple of Artemis. Considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, the temple has unfortunately no remains to speak of save ruins of its foundation, The statue that was removed from the temple before it burned down is visible in the city museum.


Some weeks prior, back in Silifke, I had briefly met with the parents of a good friend back home. The friend, Elif, spent her youth in Urla, a suburb to Izmir, before she moved to Sweden for work as an adult. Now I got to stay in their house, in her old room, on my own as everybody were working abroad or on holiday in the Turkish countryside. Seeing the teenage room of a friend not present felt like the crime movies when they visit the parents of a missing person. Luckily, it was not so, and via the magic of the ether we both laughed over the tube of Kalles Kaviar in the fridge, likely long expired, as a little representation of the new life the daughter lives way up in the north.



In chapter 33 I mentioned meeting with Hüseyin. Now, in İzmir, it was time to follow up on the leads for bike upgrades. Despite it being Sunday, I had arranged with the contact to meet at his shop. His name, too, was Hüseyin, and it turned out to be a small, private, specialised business for precisely my kind of need. He could only provide the rack - bags would need to be bought elsewhere. I imagined going to Decathlon or a similar warehouse, but again I was referred to local little enterprise, a family business in the other side of town. By 9pm I was cycling back to my hostel with a front mounted rack and bags for it, all matching the black and red colour palette of the old gear. The search that had taken two months across two countries was finally over and, hopefully, so was my constant problems of my back wheel, at least the worst of them.


While the result was the goal, it was satisfying that it had come about through small enthusiasts rather than large chains, neither of them searchable in Google Maps and with their online presence in Turkish only. I felt that I could congratulate myself on approaching Hüseyin in the first place and then tracking down the leads - I had earned this.


That evening was spent with Mehmet, a local in the city. He was about to leave on a trip of his own to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Those might seem like odd choices to you, but Kyrgyzstan in particular seem to me to be all the rage these days among travel junkies as I have met numerous people of late heading there or talking excitedly about their past visit. Central Asia does intrigue me in many aspects, and I'm curious to follow Mehmet's journey.


I realised that this was my first proper social engagement in over five days. There had been short encounters here and there, but none that had occupied time or attention enough to leave any lasting impact. As 30 year anniversaries go, this was probably among the loneliest you'd find. But at least then, a few days late, I had gotten myself a birthday present, a bit of company and a beer for a toast. That had to account for something.



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