Turkey

Chapter Nineteen: Cotton Castle

After eating my terrible meal on the Bodrum balcony I fleshed out the plan to visit Pamukkale in more detail, using Google maps and my awful navfree software to plan the route. The most direct way there, following the coast before running through colossal basins and into the mountains, was only 160ish miles away but was ‘predicted journey timed’ at 4 and a half hours… The quick math told me that was an average speed of 40mph. Sounds like bullshit.
In due course, it looked like Google maps was winning the forecast stakes. The roads out of Bodrum were fast and I narrowly skittered through police radar traps until I hit the country, when I bimbled through towns and villages, slowing to 50 then 30km/h each time. Ample time to see random cows eating roadside shrubbish, horses pulling along happy men standing on carts and more than my fair share of mosque and spires. Once through I’d zap back up to the national speed limit of 120km/h and hold it as long as possible to make up lost ground. Roads were generally OK in the basin, although made of some pretty coarse gravel just cemented to the floor..

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Leaving the valley floor on good roads

In towns they deteriorated into corrugated pieces of shit, chewed up by trucks and hacked at by freeze/thaws. Going into the mountains snow chains had left 2ft teethmarks in the tarmac that switched between too smooth and wide, steep, loose and deep gravel diverting around kilometre stretches of roadworks.

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After hours of unpredictable surfaces I was thankfully pulled down the mountains and through Denizli on good tarmac. The city was bright and sweltering in the 3pm sun, the only stop was to quickly check my map and get frustrated when, for the millionth time, my location was sign posted less than 50m down the road. Premature as usual, Tom… But for all the frustration, when the freaky white mass of the cotton castle, Pamukkale, blows up in front of you, you can’t help but smile broadly and wonder ‘what the fuck is this?’.

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Considering the forested mountains and wide yellow basins surrounding it, Pamukkale is an interesting ingredient to throw into the mix.

I pulled up underneath the flowing white mass next to a well used little drz 400 with a foreign number plate, hoping to spot the owner later for a chat. Kickstand down, helmet off and a cheeky little face of Asian origin pokes out from around the front of a car to my right. Meet Takahiro, Japanese international motorcycle traveller. We take a Turkish tea or two, sitting under cafe awnings at the foot of Pamukkale, switching stories and talking travel plans. Taka has been going for over 2 years, having never motorcycled before. Taking his test and his savings he flew to San Francisco and bought a bike and headed all the way south before airfreighting to Barcelona for the ride back to Japan. It was inspiring stuff, pitching my own adventure into the little league of motorcycle adventures, at the mercy of limited finances. He assured me time was on my side, shocking me with the revelation that he, young faced Taka, was actually 40 years old and had been working for Hitachi for 10 years prior to this trip! On hearing my financial situation Taka then opened up the world of couchsurfing for me – something I’d been weary of starting before now because my travel itinerary was nonexistent and I’d feel uncomfortable asking people to host me on very short notice. After some discussion he agreed to email a couple in Konya, to the east and en-route to Cappadocia, to see if they’d host me the next night. After an obnoxiously loud but seemingly harmless 50-something and typical round-bellied English biker-bloke broke into our conversation, I left Taka to head up the white stuff while me and Titus (I know, that’s his real name!) hunted down a swimming pool to dampen the heat of the day.

Long story short we didn’t bother swimming as half the pools were out and my idea to re-find the free camping sign I’d passed on the way in failed, leaving me 25 Lera lighter and camped next to Titus, 25 metres down the road from the cafe we were sat in earlier. We both went to scope out the entrance booths for Pamukkale and upon finding out that most of the ticket fee admissions were shut and there were no discounts on price we deliberated. Titus wanted the museums and thermal pools so went back to the campsite. I was coming round to the idea of checking out the view, formations and waiting till sunset, thereby not having to longer in Pamukkale for another day tomorrow, so I went up.

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Pamukkale is the perfect place to spot/hunt the not-so-elusive coach day-tripper. Here you see them swanning around in their natural environment

On hitting the travertine flowstone you’re ordered to go barefoot and paddle through the inch or so deep water and past deep pools of increasing warmth and size, all lined in the bottom by soft white putty. Not that long later and you reach the rocky heights where you can re-flip-flop and buy overpriced beverages if you so choose. Taka shouted down to me so I joined him to wait for the sunset, which when it arrived was something pretty special.

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Interesting rock pools calm in the evening air. UNTIL I THREW SOME ROCKS IN THEMZ
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The last blinks of sunlight reflecting off 'natural' (through probably man-assisted) infinity pools overlooking the valley.

Getting down to the valley and back to the cafe we drank more chai, ate nuts and biscuits and chatted. The couchsurfing hosts had replied positively and got in touch with me over Facebook. I now had a free place to rest my head, lightening the load on my fuel-intensive finances a little. To show my appreciation I gave him one of my butane/propane cooking gas tanks as I hadn’t even camped that much and wanted to lighten the load anyway. With the emergence of a drunk and shouty Titus from the backstreets, I managed to wish Taka luck (it’s a long way to Japan…) and wave him off before enduring an hours worth of chin wagging about the good old SAS days and the dynamics between his lover and his wife from my progressively unsteadier company. See ya later Taka, good luck on the road.

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