Gokceada – Tour de Gerk

Full set of Gokceada photos are here

We applied for our India visas in Istanbul and found ourselves with five days to kill before we had to return to Istanbul to collect them.  Not wanting to go too far without our passports we opted to take a look at Turkey’s largest island, Gokceada (pronounced – we think – as ger-chee-ah-da.  There are many unusual characters in Turkish script which I’m not bothering to use in this blog.  I’ll give a pronunciation guide where needed so that you can chant along).  Most of the islands off the coast of Turkey belong to Greece (it’s a long story), but the description of Gokceada intrigued us enough to make the trip.

We got the bus to Eceabat (pronounced with a soft ‘c’ that sounds more like a ‘j’.  It’s definitely not pronounced as ‘itchy-butt’) but I’ll cover this town in more detail when I describe our Anzac jaunt which was based from the same town.  We jumped on a ferry and headed across the water, the Gallipoli peninsular at our back as the jagged island of Gokceada loomed into view.  Little did we know what lay in wait for us.

We were visiting in early spring which meant warm days but freezing nights.  Tourists are not common on Gokceada before summer starts so we had a uniquely local experience.  Luckily there were a few hotels open in the largest town on the island.  Our first choice of hotel had the most uncomfortable beds of our trip so far, with hard springs poking out from every angle.  We covered it with a blanket and made do.  The heating didn’t come on until later in the evening so we huddled down after dinner.  The price tag of $25 was the only thing warming my heart.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Gokceada is a small, rocky, hilly, windswept island covered in olive groves and cypress trees, goats, sheep, the military and a scattering of villages.  The locals are lovely and the scenery is starkly beautiful with sparkling blue water, grey-green foliage and impressive hills.  We were warmly greeted everywhere and had great home cooking at the restaurants.  Our only bad experience was lunch on the first day when we visited the even smaller town on the coast called Kalekoy where we were the only diners. The owner sat us at a table outside in the sun and offered the local catch of the day, plonking a basket of fresh bread and salad down and making us feel right at home. We had a very enjoyable fish lunch with two cats looking wistfully on.  But we had to remind ourselves when the bill arrived to always check on the price if there is no menu.  The two fish cost us almost double other expensive meals we’ve had in Turkey, but to put that in context it was about $50 so we can’t grumble too much.  The small town had a large breakwater, lighthouse, a lonely empty resort facing a rocky beach and a military base.

The new shoes I had bought in Dubai were aggravating my heels, causing me to hobble around after lunch as we explored the ruin hiding on the cliffs above town.  There was no-one else there and it felt lovely to be buffeted by the wind in such a remote location above the sparkling Aegean sea.  There are ruins lying all over the place in Turkey, so much so that they often don’t get any special attention.  This ruined castle was in an amazing location but hidden behind small hotels and houses so that we struggled to find a way to reach it, which only added to its allure.

At dinner back in town it felt like we were the most exciting thing to happen in town since winter had ended.  A German/Turkish man talked to us for a while about his work prospects and travelling, then two young local girls came in and wanted to practice their English.  Unfortunately their English didn’t seem all that much better than our Turkish and after a very stilted conversation they blushed and shuffled off.  Dinner was a beautiful chicken doner in a big slab of bread washed down with Ayran, the salty yoghurt drink that the Turks love so much.  Back at the hotel we survived the night and moved in the morning to a marginally more expensive but much more comfortable hotel, which was lucky as we had quite a day ahead of us.

Sarah started her bread jihad in Turkey.  With every meal in Turkey you get a basket of usually excellent and fresh bread to nibble on.  It doesn’t matter what you order, you get about a loaf of bread to go with it, morning, lunch and evening.  As everyone knows, men compulsively eat whatever is put in front of them and Sarah began to be justifiably concerned that I would become part loaf.  My bread intake was curtailed to just two meals a day.  So on this morning in Gokceada we swore off the bread for a change and ended up missing breakfast in our change of hotels.  Instead we just had a banana and an orange and went looking for a bike to rent and cycle around the place, bypassing the restrictive nature of my sore heel.

We found a guy willing to lend us some bikes in exchange for money.  We paid the equivalent of $5 to rent two bikes for the whole day.  That price matched the quality of the bikes.  We had a sore ass from the terrible seats within minutes and changing gears was always an adventure.  No matter, we ploughed on with an adventurous spirit into the heart of the island to a semi-deserted Greek village called Tepekoy.  When the locals told us that Gokceada was hilly they weren’t kidding.  We slogged the bikes up a long hill before espying the village we were trying to reach perched halfway up a significant mountain.  We had our rain jackets on to keep out the drizzle and wind as we half cycled, half walked up the hill.  The village was atmospheric.  Abandoned houses nestled against more modern constructions but there was no-one around but a few sheep.  We saw one or two cars parked in their driveways, one woman who popped out her door and back in again, and a construction crew of four men was in the main square.  This place really closed down in the off season.  There were no food vendors or shops so we were forced to lunch on the eight dried apricots that happened to be in our bag.  We ate them out the front of the cemetery.  There was not a soul around.

More sensible travellers would have called it a day after expending a lot of energy over the previous few hours without much food, no supplies remaining and inclement weather closing in.  Not us.  We had planned to cycle to the coast and dammit, that’s what we were going to do.  Getting back down from the village was a much simpler proposition with the aid of gravity but the bigger trials lay ahead.  The road to the coast was even hillier than the route we had just taken.  We started walking up most of the hills, along the switchbacks and past the rocky hills.  Goats and sheep scrambled along their little paths as the occasional rain drop fell.  The scenery had a rugged beauty made all the more stunning in its remoteness.  We got on a downhill slope and had the entire road to roll down until we reached the bleak sea with just a lonely military outpost for company.  The sentry seemed to look suspiciously at us as we cycled passed.  What other reason could we have for being there other than being spies?  He must have been warm in his pillbox because he didn’t come out to bother us as we cycled up the hill along the coast.  Despite the grey weather the hills popped with colour as the wildflowers sprang into life.  The red poppies which are so famous from Gallipoli are found everywhere in Turkey and are unnaturally beautiful in their brightness.

By judging the distance on the pathetic Lonely Planet map it looked like we had about 12 kilometres to ride along the coast then another 10km inland back to our hotel.  Sounds easy enough but it was a constant up and down along the coast.  Our bums had long since broken the pain barrier, Sarah had stuffed her scarf in her trousers to try to buffer the slate-like seat, but the lack of food was starting to catch up with us.  To add pain to misery Sarah’s back started playing up.  She lay on the road to ease it momentarily and then we struggled on.

By the road markers giving the distance I figured out that it was actually more like 16km to the empty and barren holiday resort on the coast which marked the point at which we would turn inland.  Gokceada’s best beach didn’t look like much by Australian standards, but maybe judging it in the summer with a full stomach would lead to a more impartial review.  The route inland from the coast was barbaric, basically one hugely steep and long hill which by this stage we were lucky to be able to walk up, the bikes acting like anchors.  The clouds came lower, the rain increased, as did the traffic.  Despite everyone being friendly and hospitable no-one offered us a lift.  At this point Sarah wanted to strap a sheep to her saddle for warmth and comfort.  I was hoping to lassoo a couple for a helter skelter ride back to town.  Sarah fantasised about catching a goat and sucking the milk straight from its udder, she was so hungry and thirsty.  It didn’t come to that, although it would have offered some interesting photos.  We staggered around the last few corners then coasted downhill into town, limbs tingling with pins and needles from fatigue, hands freezing in the advancing evening air.  When we reached the first grocery store we wolfed down chocolate and chips then hit our favourite restaurant for some life sustaining home cooking.  My mouth stung from the sour cherry juice which is probably some kind of sign of early malnourishment or my body consuming itself for energy.  We wearily climbed up the stairs to our warm and comfortable hotel room where we gratefully slipped into slumber.

The next morning we simply spent sitting in the sun before catching the local minibus (dolmus) to the ferry and moving on to Cannakkale across the Dardanelles in a different ferry, all efficiently linked together in typical Turkish style.

Full set of Gokceada photos are here

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