Day 24: Rest and recovery day in Erzincan (0km and 0m of climbing).

Well we did lots of nothing today, recovering well from dodgy stomachs and plotting the rest of the trip. We were tempted to cycle out to some waterfalls 18km out of town but resisted the temptation. So I can report that a new tyre was purchased for my bike, the MSR stove was cleaned, we went for a walk around this clean,modern city and bought 2 muffins and a mobile phone case (gold – but only 15TL) and a good deal of reading was done.
In a week’s time we will be in Georgia and so it’s possibly time for some reflections on Turkey. Having been here 3 weeks we have only scratched the surface (of course) but it has been fascinating. These are unscientific impressions – but I hope they both reflect and respect the country we are visiting.
Perhaps the most obvious trait we have seen is the self confidence and friendliness of the people. Our few words of Turkish are always inadequate but are warmly welcomed. Using Google translate is hit and miss but has caused much hilarity. However there is no concept here of an invited guest. We are guests in their country and almost everyone has approached us on the basis that, as welcome visitors, they will help and ensure we have a good impression of their area. There is the occasional element of “you are fine here but the bandits are in the next valley” but rarely so. Most of the time we have met nothing but kindness and a real desire to practice English (which is seen as an internationally acknowledged second language).  
But there is no doubt that we are not in Western Europe. We have been repeatedly woken up for calls to prayer to a God we do not believe to exist – but the deep seated belief of a majority of Turks in Islam is ingrained in the culture. Being part of communal prayers is part of being a member of the community.
This is a country where social events rarely if ever include alcohol. It is not unlawful but is rarely seen. Tea is the predominant social drink, not Efes Pilsen (although this is a particularly fine larger in my view). There are no drunks on the streets and the country functions as a social organisation (and Turks are very sociable) perfectly well in a largely alcohol free manner.
In the West of Turkey we saw lots of evidence of obesity – as in Greece. Women in the fields were often massively overweight and it was tragic to see so many fat children. It is clearly a serious and growing problem. But there is far, far less obvious obesity as we moved East. I do not pretend to understand the reasons for this.
We also expected Eastern Turkey to be poorer than Western Turkey, but there is little if any evidence to support that supposition. Erzincan, where we are today, is a bright, modern city with shops full of appliances and adverts for an iPhone 6. It has a ski resort close by and a vast university. I have not seen a single woman in a burka on the streets, and women of all ages with headscarfs walk side by side with those without – probably a 50/50 split. There are also lots of men pushing prams (without or without spouses) but it is perfectly acceptable for a man to take children out on his own.
However it is also clear that there is political unrest just below the surface. Turkey has taken in 2 million refugees and has a President who was elected to a largely apolitical office and is now moving to become an executive president. The tensions between the secular state and the (former) Islamist president are clear. Keeping good relations with the West and with Russia is seen as important, with the latter needing some urgent repair work.
Human rights concerns, and in particular the rights of Kurds, are a massive issue although the present government is seen by many as having a “divide and rule” approach, with an increasingly Islamist slant to its politics. There is, however, a strong desire to join the EU and, as a result, a vital need to show effective action in tackling both corruption and human rights abuses. It is a paradox that Turkey is trying so hard to get into the EU just as some in the UK are pulling in the opposite direction. Perhaps it is easier to see the value of EU standards from here than it is from London.
Tomorrow we have a 1000m climb to begin with so we’ll get an early night and hope to be refreshed in the morning.

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