Wild camping is rather simple. You find a space away from people. You hide yourself in the woods. You don’t trespass nor damage private property. You get out of the city. Ideally, you find your spot quickly enough, and in a place with no light, no distraction, and no fanfare. After a full day of cycling, all you want to do is go straight to bed.
While cycle touring, I sleep in a tent. At day’s end, if near civilization and lacking the motivation to cook for myself, I’ll take dinner in a café, and then look for a place to camp. At the start of my Istanbul to Bishkek tour, I was not very good at finding camping space. For whatever reason, I had this romantic yet illogical idea that I’d be able to pitch my tent in cities. There would be a mosque with a fenced garden, snugly protected from the surrounding madness, full of flowers and flat, green, soft grass, and the wonderfully open and always smiling family of four that lived inside would happily allow me to pitch my tent in this garden, while carting me trays of tea, biscuits, and chicken cutlets all the while. The fantasy also stipulated that I would encounter such a situation with minimal effort. Of course, this was rarely the case, and, given that experience is the best teacher, it took me quite a while before I learned my lesson.
However, while city-camping is not the best idea, it didn’t always turn out so bad. Especially in Turkey.
Two weeks into my tour, I arrived in a town named Charçamba, amidst a sinking golden sun. I passed a bike shop, and was quickly brought inside. They love seeing cycle tourists! The tea and sandwiches followed accordingly. We exchanged photos, and with the help of charades and Google Translate, I communicated that I was in need of camping space. Of course, I imagined they would have some sort of gated back patio filled with lush grass, and lined with refrigerators (multiple) of ice-cold beer. Instead, they sent me off with two teens also in the shop, who would take me to a “great spot to camp.”
The town was gorgeous. Like most Turkish cities, it pierced the skies with mosque minarets. Charçamba had an outdoorsy flavor as well, with many cyclists, runners, playgrounds, and parks. The two teens brought me down to the main park – beautifully manicured green grass, close to a water source, and away from the crowded streets – and told me I could pitch. Unfortunately, there was a problem: there were hundreds of people also in the park, kicking footballs, running around, and generally occupying the space. I should have seen this coming.
Next to the park was a large sports complex, with a fenced garden adjacent. We approached, asked, and were quickly obliged. “Sure, you’re welcome to camp here,” motioned the man. This would be perfect. Looking back, now as a mildly seasoned wild-camper, I would call this an opportune find.
I began to unroll my tent, when another man came outside. This one spoke English.
“You don’t have to camp out here,” he raced. “Instead, I’d love to invite you inside. I’d like to give you a free room, dinner, beer, wifi, access to the pool, sauna, Turkish bath, and – and – a private masseuse for the evening. We treat our guests well here in Turkey. Interested?”
Of course I was.
Hours later, I found myself in the Turkish bath, with my private Turkish masseuse. The room was ornate: lined with marble green water spouts, outfitted with six full-size bath tubs, and saturated with steam. There were plastic buckets stacked in a corner, which were filled with cold water to complement the hot water from the spout.
The masseuse, however – a 50-year-old grizzly bear of a man – was not quite as lovely.
I was laid down on the bath steps, wearing just boxers. The man took a massive sponge, soaked with soapy water, and wringed out a large bubbled cloud onto my back. The massage began. I was less than comfortable, and giggling the whole time. It lasted about fifteen minutes, and was not my favorite. I quickly exited, hopped in the sauna, swam in the pool, used the internet, had some food, and then retired to my room.
In all, a memorable experience. Thanks as always, Turkey. And, finally, lesson learned: camping in cities doesn’t always turn out so bad. Depending on how you’d handle that massage.