Monday, July 27, 2015

Unexpected North-East Turkey

Planning a route through unknown territory can bring some surprises. Some good, some bad. We've been on roads which, according to the maps, were supposed to be narrow winding roads while in reality turned out to be dual lane highways. We've also been on routes which turned out to be absolute beauties... like the one we found through north-eastern Turkey, just below the Black Sea. The route we found was nothing short of stunning, despite the weather not being in our favour in the beginning.. but even that changed!

The route from Cappadocia north is nothing to write home about. What didn't help was Cappadocia being such a beautiful place... as the last couple of days we had obviously been spoiled with one beautiful view after another. On the way north we had expected to find desert-like landscapes but instead found ourselves in a farming region which was quite a bit greener than that. Obviously there had been quite a bit of rain lately, we had received quite a bit of it ourselves too, but looking at the planted crop it was obvious that the area received more rainfall than we had been led to believe.

Further north-east we rode into the mountain region of Turkey. The landscape became beautiful and the ride far more interesting. Campgrounds are nowhere to be found here. Free camping was no longer an option but a necessity. For all sorts of reasons it took quite a bit of time before we found a spot, but when we did it was a good one! Sheltered from the wind and elevated enough to be free from flooding problems in case the threatening rain turned out the be a downpour. In the end it didn't rain at all... but we still had a good spot. The nearby river provided us with water, no neighbours to worry about and absolute silence!

Waking early the next day, to make the most of a beautiful day, we left for what was to be our 'unknown' route. Shortly after we left, still on the local narrow lanes, one of the farmers looked totally surprised at us. He was raking hay, his trusty little motorbike parked at the entrance of the field. 'Where did they came from?' was written all over his face. Maybe from one of his own fields! Not to worry, we left no trace and took everything we brought in, away with us too. We bought a couple of groceries at the nearest supermarket, which was about the size of an average living room, and found an old bench to have breakfast on.

The brothers who operated the supermarket looked somewhat surprised, clearly not used to tourists. We enjoyed the day, saw how local farmers start their tractor without a battery by simply rolling it downhill and dump the clutch, and had magical views as the village was perched on to of a mountain. For some unknown reason all tractors here had a carpet over their bonnet, no idea why and we hadn't noticed it anywhere else in Turkey. 

The next part of our journey through Turkey was pretty much unknown. We knew practically nothing of the road ahead. We didn't even know if it was a dirt road or not as the various maps contradicted each other and Google Earth only showed it as a vague white-ish line. It turned out to be  beauty! We couldn't believe the area we were in. It was stunning! Just look at the photos and imagine this being in 3D and 360° around you. 

The road was badly damaged in places but it didn't matter, the views alone were worth it. Traffic was minimal, basically only local, and people friendly. They waved at us, gave us thumbs up and all. The road wound it's way to the top of the hills, giving beautiful views and as we had god weather too we could enjoy it to the full. Early in the afternoon we took a narrow dirt road to a field. Mike wasn't feeling all that well and we thus decided to call it a day. A couple of hours later the farmer came by, had a quick look at us and left again. He obviously wasn't worried. Except a local whoop-whoop-whoop bird it was quiet too.

The next day we continued our route through north-eastern Turkey, almost ran out of fuel when the listed fuel stop turned out to be diesel and LPG only(!) but found one just in time as we were almost running on fumes. While filling up a local looked at our route and was pointing in another direction than we were going. We thought he meant that we were not on the route our map showed, which was true as Mike had drawn the line in the wrong spot. It didn't matter, as long as the GPS had the correct route. With the benefit of hindsight, we think he tried to tell us not to take that route at all... and for good reason!

The Turkish who live in the mountains are so different from the ones on the coast. Here they are enthusiastic, open and friendly. The faces are 'worn' but kind. Everything they own is run down and worn out because of lack of money. Houses are simple and often partly fallen apart, clothes are old and worn, motorcycles (if they have one) are utilitarian and kept going on an impossible budget. Yet the people just seem enjoy life to the full. 'If only we could speak the language', I thought, 'the stories they could tell, the wisdom they would share...' 

We took the turn-off to the D915 and found ourselves on an old narrow winding road through a farming area. We found small fields lined with trees, as they once used to be everywhere else in the world. Traditional farming, where most of the work is still down by hand, is still practised here. We stopped at one of the many water-points along the road for smoko and enjoyed the landscape we were in. We felt transported back in time. Hay was raked by hand, collected by hand and loaded into old carts by hand. Not a machine in sight. No noisy diesel tractors on full bore as is unfortunately the case in the most of the western world these days, but since and harmony. Even on a sunny day like this, the women wear traditional all covering clothes... and to make matters worse for them (or even warmer) the colours are dark. Strangely enough men don't wear any traditional clothes. 

The friendliness of the people astounded us. After all we must look like real aliens to them... motorcycle clothing is not even remotely similar to what they wear. The ones that do ride a motorcycle do so because they can't afford a car, so there is no money for special clothing. Even helmets are a rarity. Yet despite the differences they came up to us especially just to say hello (plus a whole lot of other things we didn't understand a word of). We had a strange conversation with one of them, he in Turkish, we in English. Neither of us understood what the other one was saying but it didn't seem to matter.

Further up the road became gravel and started to climb into the mountains. It was, again, a stunning landscape. Very different to the one we had just been in but beautiful too. As we were taking a couple of photos, we met up with a cyclist from Holland. He had packed his job in 7 years ago with the intention to go cycling for a year... 7 Years later, having racked up an astonishing 200,000 km! we met him in the mountains in Turkey. When we asked him where he had been, we were surprised even more: he had hardly left Europe! Mind you he had seen just abut everything there is to see in Europe and even went to places like Norway and Sweden in winter(!)... on a pushbike(!) We talked for a while about routes, as luck would have it he had been in Georgia recently and was going back there again so we had plenty of notes to compare.

We continued to climb. The road became steeper and steeper, until we reached a sort of plateau. It was hard work on a motorcycle, I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like on a pushbike... The plateau was mostly covered in fog and pretty cold. Up until that point the landscape had been mostly tree-less mountains, rocks and pretty barren. Around the corner, a corner which was the start of our descend, everything changed.

The road narrowed, became steep and the vegetation lush and green. We descended into this narrow gorge which looked like the images we had seen from the Bolivia Death Road... Impossible hairpins on gravel, rocks, mud and the likes. Of course no safety barrier, incredibly steep drop offs and of course it was wet and slippery. We couldn't believe where we were. Unbelievably beautiful, very dangerous, but beautiful! The further we went into the gorge the harder the road became. The Bonneville was struggling, seriously struggling. I hit the ground a couple of times, was so close to the wall my panniers almost touched the rocks and heard an alarming clanging and banging inside my panniers. Mike had a much easier time on the XT here, but we enjoyed it both very much! 

That changed about halfway, when we ran into roadworks... from then on it became a slippery mud track with craters in it. All up my bike, with me on it, weights 420 kg. Ride that on wet, mud covered, slippery, narrow, rock strewn tracks like this, with hairpin after hairpin and it feels like you're trying to wrestle the Titanic down this track. Simply put, it is so heavy it doesn't steer anymore and I felt only vaguely in control (if at all). In the video you probably see me (I haven't seen the video at the time of writing) balancing Moto GP style with my leg. It was the only way to change course at times, simply turning the handlebars just didn't do it anymore. Having said that, Mike on the off-road oriented XT, had problems too. Especially in the muddy sections. It was hard going but what an amazing ride! 

Doing it the hard way... he's been traveling on his pushbike for
7 years and has covered 200,000 km...
The day ended on a campground in a national park, the only campground. Entry to the national park has to be paid for separately and depends on whether you have a car, a minibus, a bus... and there is no rate for a motorcycle...! Free entry because we ride a bike, how good is that! The campground itself is one to mark in your GPS under the heading 'To avoid!' It's called ... and a dump. The grass is higher than the tent, and I'm seriously not exaggerating here. There are no showers, the toilets are disgusting etc etc. The only thing going for it was the wifi. The campground is called Kalegon and is in the Ayder National Park. The national park itself is quite nice. Even the road to is well worth doing as it takes you through a steep gorge. Unfortunately we had very grey weather, and later on rain was expected too, so we didn't hang around or take any photos as they would't do the place any justice.

On the way out we stopped at a small village, found a bakery with a bench outside and thus bought a loaf of bread and started making our breakfast... it was then that we realised it was still Ramadan...! So we packed everything up and out of respect decided to go out of the village and eat our breakfast there. We were rewarded for our thoughts with an even better spot!