A Close Encounter With The Turkish Military Police, The Jandarma
8th June 2016, 1 am,
Some fields outside the Turkish city of Izmir... Vehicle lights shine directly at my tent, no problem, there's a road nearby its just a vehicle passing by. The lights don't dim. Voices. More lights. Some words are shouted through the walls of my tent in Turkish. I unzip the canvas, the only barrier between me and whoever was outside. I poke my head out and my first sight is several sub machine guns.
5 hours earlier.
I was working my way up the east coast of Turkey and enjoying every minute of it. It was early evening and I began to think about where I was going to sleep. I was close to Izmir, Turkey's third largest city, so I needed to find somewhere to camp sooner rather than later. I spotted some fields a little way off the main road and ducked off to see whether there was a suitable space out there. There were a few houses around, but I found a relatively sheltered spot and set up my tent. My stove was bubbling away with the standard cycle tourists pasta based fare when a figure appeared bearing gifts! A large flat bread and some grilled chicken to bolster my meal, very welcome. My Turkish was improving, but far from good enough to ask if it was ok for me to camp. I motioned towards my tent and used the words "çadır" (tent) and "tamam" (OK). The response was beyond my level, however seemed positive, so I put a podcast on (Tony Adams, Desert Island Discs) and tucked into my suddenly grandiose meal. Soon it was bedtime and after a couple of chapters of my book I was soon asleep, weary after another long day in the saddle.
I poke my head out and my first sight is several sub machine guns. All I hear is Turkish, I have no idea what's being said, I can only focus on the guns! At some point they clearly worked out that I wasn't Turkish, possibly I said something, possibly they were not having much luck getting answers to their questions, possibly the ginger hair and porcelain skin tipped them off. Someone spoke English and still the questions came, only in a form I could answer this time. Where was I from? Where was I going? Could they see my passport? It was clear the country was on edge after ongoing attacks were shattering Istanbul and Ankara. Major tourist spots now featured roadblocks, with vehicles searched for car bombs and weapons. I noticed while being questioned that one officer stood well back with his weapon trained on my tent, their unease was clear. They eventually decided I was just some smelly cycle tourist trying to get some sleep and gave me the ok' returned my passport and left me to it. The rest of my nights sleep, it's safe to say, was pretty fitful. I spent a lot of time wondering how they found me, I could be seen from the road and perhaps the reflective tabs on my tent caught their eyes. There were at least 6 of them and two vehicles which seemed like a lot to stumble upon me while on patrol on a very small back road. The other scenario was that a local had spotted me and reported a strange man camping near their house, guess I'll never know!
In the morning, the chap who bought me the chicken and the bread the night before appeared once more with some warm çay to have with my breakfast. He clearly seemed ok with my presence and his generosity echoed that which I had seen during much of my stay in their incredible country. I love it in Turkey, the sights, the smells and the food all add to the unique east meets west atmosphere. It makes me sad that a lot of the news that we read from that part of the world is of conflict and terror. Visit and you will quickly learn that the vast majority of Turks are immensely proud people, keen to share their culture and almost anything else they can offer with visitors
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