Entered Turkey, 28th July 2000.
Exchange Rate: 1USD=650,000 TL (Turkish Lira)
Fuel: 1 Litre Unleaded(95) = 600,000TL
Camping: If you can find any, don’t bother, because the hotels are cheaper.
Pension: 3-4,000,000TL, but expect about 7,000,000 in Istanbul.
Road conditions: OK, but even new roads are very uneven, with some confusing exits and entrances to highways.
Speed limits: Motorways 110, Open Roads 90kph, Towns 50kph.
Border crossings from the west: No problem. Get the visa at the border, US$20 for most nationalities.
Toll roads: There are toll roads around Istanbul and Izmir, but you don’t have to take them.
Food & Drink: 50cl coke 400,000TL , 50cl beer in a bar 750,000TL, 450,000TL from a shop. Main meal Kebab (meat on a skewer, salad, and bread) 2,000,000TL or less, snack kebab (meat, lettuce, tomato on bread) 250,000-750,000TL.
My first experience with Turkey was hidden costs. I had Island hopped from Greece to Turkey, which is quite inexpensive, until the last short leg, Rhodes to Marmaris. It cost US$105 to go 47km, about double what it costs to go from Venice to Patras, about 1000km. Then, on the ferry, they hit you with an extra US$13 port tax. ‘Visas’ are available at the port, but it is not really a visa at all, just another tax, as they don’t even register your name or passport number, they just put a sticker in your passport. It costs US$20 for Australians and most other nationalities, but some pay as little as US$5.
Turkey is a fabulous country. Some of the best Greek, East Roman (Byzantine) and Turk ruins to be seen anywhere. Your choice of well set up tourist areas, or go somewhere virtually untainted by the effects of tourism. Great beaches on the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Seas. Good road infrastructure. Petrol is available at very close intervals, and most accept credit cards. ATM’s are very easy to find. Costs are reasonable, but Turkey is no longer a cheap destination, particularly in tourist areas where you will often pay double the ‘local’ rate for food, drink and accommodation. Some English is spoken in tourist areas, but few have a very good command of the language. In non-tourist areas, you will be lucky to find anyone who speaks more than a few phrases such as ‘where are you from?’ and ‘what is your name?’, so you have to revert to charades to get your message across.
The people are genuinely friendly, and particularly in the non-tourist areas, are very hospitable. Tourist areas are full of touts selling mainly carpets, but nowhere near as bad as Morocco where the situation is out of control in some places, except that in Morocco, they are selling accommodation, food, guiding services, as well as carpets. In Tangier, I couldn’t walk 10 paces without having to fend off a tout, and it got so tiring and frustrating that I very nearly got back on the ferry to Spain. Fortunately the rest of Morocco is much better, and I would say that it is one of my favourite destinations now. My advice to anyone going to Morocco by ferry is to enter via the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, rather than Tangier.
The favourite pastime for men is to sit around and talk while drinking cai (tea, but pronounced chai). It is a strong black tea, and they put in plenty of sugar. In the east, they put a sugar cube in their teeth, and drink through it. Talk about a dentist’s nightmare, or dream whichever way you look at it.
Despite being a Muslim country, most of the people dress very western, and the girls dress in as daring a way as anywhere I have seen. Of course there are still some who dress more traditionally/formally. Many of the people look like they could be from anywhere in world. Blondes, brunettes, blue eyes, small straight noses, fair skinned. Then there are the obvious Turks. Dark skinned, black hair, dark eyes, a nose that juts out, then drops almost vertically, (and for the men) heavy facial hair, and the ability to grow the meanest moustaches I have ever seen.
Turkey also has it’s dark side. The army is ever present, but much more noticeable in the east where they are having problems with the Kurds. The Turkish government is being accused of human rights abuses against the Kurds. I must have been stopped 20 times for passport checks, but I think a lot of the time, they just wanted to have a look at the bike. Back in 1915, the then Government (a different regime to the current government, which has been going since 1923), ordered the annihilation of the entire Armenian population in Turkey. Over 1 million men, women and children died. The current government still denies that this genocide ever took place, but there is overwhelming evidence that it did happen.
I entered Turkey at Marmaris on the Mediterranean coast. I didn’t even bother to go into the city, because it has a reputation of being a concrete tourist city, and I headed straight for Fethiye. Fethiye has a beautiful coastline, roman ruins and tombs carved into the limestone hills. Probably the main attraction for tourists is the proximity of 9 islands. I only stayed a night, so I wandered the streets. The town is right on the waterfront, and it is the waterfront where all the action is. I would say there are about 2km of boats, backed up to the walkway. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say there were hundreds of tourist boats to take people to the islands and nearby coast. I have never seen so many in one place before in my life. I didn’t take any photos because the Canon is hopeless at night shots, flash or no flash. There is plenty of nightlife available, but I didn’t get involved. If I were to come to Turkey on a relaxation holiday, I would definitely put Fethiye on my list of places to visit.
346. Roman tombs carved into the hills at Pinara, near Fethiye.
Amphitheatre, Letoon, south of Fethiye. What is remarkable about this amphitheatre is that most of it is carved from the limestone hill, I.E. there are no joins. Each end is built up from blocks like most other structures, and those sections have crumbled.
Typical coastal views on the road down from Fethiye.
From Fethiye, I rode down the coast to Olympus. The ride was fun with barely a straight section of road, and the views inspiring. I had no idea Turkey was such a beautiful country. The coast is quite rugged, with frequent small inlets, each with their own little bit of beach, and of course, most had people enjoying the fabulous weather. I was looking out for a place called the blue cave, similar to the blue grotto on the Isle of Capri, but I missed it. The geology of this coast is very similar to that from the Aegean side of Italy, through to Greece, and that is all limestone. Limestone is the reason so much of the Mediterranean is crystal clear, and belies the fact that it is actually one of the most polluted oceans. Much of the rest of Turkey is made up of volcanic rock, such as granite and basalt, and it is here that you can see the use of these materials in ancient ruins, along with limestone. Volcanic rock is much harder than limestone, and therefore harder to carve, so limestone was still the most common building material. If you look at the granite Egyptian Obelisks in Egypt, London, Paris and Istanbul that are 3500+ years old, you can see that they are still in perfect condition, whereas anything built from calcium minerals such as limestone, marble, alabaster, gypsum, etc, have suffered badly from the effects of the weather. Even rain water dissolves these rocks, and modern pollution is speeding up their decay.
359. Kadir’s Tree-house at Olympos. Olympos in general has a poor reputation for hygiene, theft, and sexual assault, though it seemed OK to me at the time. Later in Cappadocia, I met a group who had come from Olympos, and all were sick with the blurts and squirts from both ends. My dose was to come later. Olympus is the site of ancient ruins, but there just isn’t anything really worth seeing. It is just some rocks laying in the grass, but it is a very popular tourist destination. I can’t figure out why, except that there are ‘tree houses’ for accommodation, which is an interesting twist, and a beach. I enjoyed my stay at Kadir’s tree-house. I met a Slovenian couple there, I really enjoyed their company, and some intelligent conversation. I have met a lot of Slovenians in my travels. I don’t know if it a fluke, or a lot of them travel in this area of the world, but there is only about 2 million Slovenians. There is also a disproportionate number of Australians and Canadians travelling, considering our small populations. After a one-night stay in Olympos, I headed for Antalya, then inland to Pamukkale. I faced a head wind all the way going north, and it really made riding quite unpleasant. The wind kept trying to rip my helmet off, and blow my jacket up, and generally made it hard work to do just 100kph. It was also hot, 40+ in places, but not as bad as in the east later on, where I endured temperatures of 48 degrees, and it was a dry heat. Dehydration is a real threat in these conditions, since you are not very aware of how much you are sweating. I forced myself to drink as much as I could tolerate, and I was still dehydrated at the end of the day.
363. Pamukkale, spectacular calcium pools. People were once allowed to swim in these pools, but not any more. The horrible tourist town below has grown from the tourist trade, and has taken most of the water needed to feed these pools. The water comes from a natural spring, but it is now controlled by gates, and is turned off at night. I didn’t stay here, and I would recommend this as just a pass-through sight.
370. Not far from Pamukkale, but a 38km detour from the main road is one of the best preserved roman ruins at Aphrodisias. Impressive collection of stone sarcophagi, theatre, pavilions and this ceremonial arch.
372. More Roman ruins, this time, the famous Ephesians’ ruins. Ephesus was the Roman capital of Asia-Minor, and once had a population of 250,000 which was huge in it’s day. It is also famous for being the subject of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the new testament. St Paul was charged with inciting dissent with his speeches, but the council dismissed the charges, as there was a freedom of speech policy. Civilisation went backwards for the next 1500 years, and he would have been charged with heresy by the same religion he was preaching in later times.
An 8000 seat theatre. Concerts are still held here every year with famous artists such as Pavarotti and Tom Jones. Three Japanese got on the stage and did an impromptu rendition of their national anthem. We all gave them a standing ovation for their efforts.
Next stop, Canukkale. This is the setting off point for tours of the Dardanelle’s, or Gallipolli, which has special significance to Australians and New Zealanders. World War I was started basically by a greedy land grab of the Balkans, an area that has been a trouble spot for centuries, and still is to this day in Yugoslavia. When England got involved, both New Zealand and Australia promised to support the mother country ‘to the last man, to the last shilling’, even though we both had our independence by then. It is hard to understand this sentiment as a modern Australian, since history has shown that England was more a parasite than a benevolent mother to her former colonies. Anyhow, Australians and New Zealanders formed a joint force called the ANZACs. (Australia and New Zealand Army Corp).
The war against Turkey was aimed at knocking the Turks out of the war, and opening up supply lines to the Russians. A young Winston Churchill was the minister of war at the time, and he and his advisors made the first of many very serious mistakes. They thought the navy could just sail up the Dardanelle’s (a narrow strip of water only a few hundred metres wide, and about 80km long) up to Istanbul, and open fire on the Capital. Most of the houses at the time were timber, and Istanbul would have been destroyed. I suppose we should all be thankful he failed, because Istanbul is truly one of the world’s great cities. The British underestimated the Turks, and after 6 ships were sunk, they aborted the attack. An infantry invasion was planned next, and again they made very serious mistakes. Intelligence had missed an entire Turk battalion. The one man in the British army who knew the most about the Turkish defence’s was excluded from the planning. The place picked to land was extremely steep, and offered little protection. This is where the ANZAC’s got involved. We joined the British, Indian and French in the attack. What was supposed to be a 3 day battle turned into a 9 month stalemate where over 1 million men died, and eventually, they pulled out, in a remarkable manoeuvre where not one man was lost, and the Turks were totally unaware of our withdrawal.
At Gallipoli, something called the ‘ANZAC spirit’ was created. It was the comradeship between the men, taken to a new level, where they refused to ever let their ‘mates’ down. Even when they were injured, and could have got out of that hell-on-earth, they just wanted to get back to the trenches to help their mates. Just why Gallipoli is so significant, I don’t know, because ANZAC’s suffered even greater losses, under arguably worse conditions in the Somme battles. Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders make the pilgrimage every year to Gallipoli, and hundreds of thousands go to ANZAC day memorials all around Australia every year on the 25th of April (the date of the landing at the Dardanelle’s).
379. The main ANZAC war memorial at Gallipoli, Lone Pine Sanctuary. The pine tree here was grown from a seed of the original tree at the battleground.
Many British officers at the time attained their position through the class structure, not through any natural ability. The command was often bad, particularly on the British side, but also on the ANZAC side. Many of the missions were simply suicide. The men knew it, but few failed to climb out of the trench and support his mate. This battle probably would have continued indefinitely except that an Australian news reporter by the name of Keith Murdock, came and saw what was going on. He wrote about the fiasco in a British newspaper, and all hell broke loose. Murdock made several pointed criticisms of the commanding officer, General Hamilton, and the general’s only defence was that Murdoch ‘was not a gentleman’. The evacuation was planned within days of the report. Murdoch later went on to become the greatest newspaper tycoon in Australia, and father Rupert Murdoch, one of, if not the biggest media moguls in the world today.
The bay where the ANZAC’s landed was known us as ANZAC Cove. The Turkish government changed the official name to ANZAC Kova as a mark of respect, and Ataturk placed a monument in the cove that reads:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives….you are lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets, to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours….You the mothers that sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
It is impossible to talk about Turkey without talking about Ataturk. Ataturk (as he called himself) was named simply Mustafa at birth. They had no family name back then. He was the first leader of the Turkish republic which he created in 1923. At school, his math’s teacher gave him the name Kemal (perfectionist), so he became known as Mustafa Kemal. He joined the army, and became a general (pasha) by the end of W.W.I. He was a blue eyed blonde, hardly the picture a typical Turk, but that is the reality here. The Ottoman empire at times included the Balkans, Austria, and the Middle East. At the time of W.W.I, Turkey was under the control of the so called ‘Young Turks’ who had kicked the Sultans out of power. They sided with the Germans, presumably because they were offered some of the Balkan territory, which Turkey borders with. Ataturk was 100% against Turkey going to war, but he was a professional soldier, and he did his job. It was Ataturk who commanded the Turkish forces at the Dardanelle’s, though he was under the command of a German general. Ataturk figured out the enemies strategy, and went against his commanding officers orders in a move that ensured the failure of the enemy assault. Without his foresight and impudence, the Allied attack may well have succeeded.
Of course, Turkey lost the war because of it’s association with Germany, and much of Turkey came under Greek control. Shortly after the end of W.W.I, Ataturk assembled what was left of the Turkish army, and moved to push the Greeks out of Turkey. Again, the Turks were underestimated, and the Greeks were soundly defeated, though not before killing and destroying everything in their path. With the Greeks out, Ataturk created the Turkish Republic, and restructured the country to be much more European. He separated the church and state. He changed from Arabic to Latin script. He created equality for women (remember this is a Muslim country), and now the country is thoroughly modern, and in some respects, more advanced than Greece. If you think I am impressed by Ataturk, you are right. He would have to be one of the outstanding politicians of the 20th century. He is still revered in Turkey. Virtually every house, hotel, business and government building has pictures and statues of him. His huge Mausoleum in Ankara took 14 years to build, and has a huge full time ceremonial guard.
Enough on that subject. Now on to one place I have longed to get to. Istanbul! Where Europe meets Asia. A place of incredible history and sights to match any, anywhere in the world. The home of the 6th century Byzantine Aya Sofya, the 6 minaret Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the Golden Horn, the Bosperous, belly dancers, together with virtually any western cultural experience you want.
Istanbul (Constantinople) was Christian until 1453 when it was finally taken Mehmet the Conqueror. Constantinople had resisted invaders since its creation in 324AD by Emperor Constantine. The actual site has had many villages on it since about 1000BC. The Roman emperor Constantine built city walls to protect it, and later, they put a chain right across the Golden Horn (an inlet of water), to stop ships from coming up and firing upon them. Mehmet sailed up to the chain at night, dismantled the boats, and re-assembled them on the other side. He had the biggest cannons the world had ever seen, but after months of bombardment had failed to breach the walls. They finally succeeded when a careless Byzantine left a city gate open.
389. The Hippodrome. (Where chariot races were held). The almost perfect granite Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius in the foreground, a rough stone obelisk in the background (once clad in bronze, but that was stripped by the crusaders), and in between, but hard to see is a bronze spiral column that once had snakes heads. They are now missing.
All the following photos are from my old camera that I had sent over read why later on this page). You’ll notice a different numbering system. I had returned to Istanbul to see the sights with a Canadian friend. The quality of the images is much better, though you won’t notice it on this web site because these pictures are heavily compressed to around 4% of their original size.
The Aya Sofya. A 6th century Byzantine church converted to a mosque. It was a Christian Church for almost 1000 years, a Mosque for 500, and a museum for the last 50. This massive building has had to endure earthquakes, pillaging crusaders, and a change of religion. It is a true symbol of Istanbul.
0030. The Blue Mosque, directly opposite the Aya Sofya. Built in 1619, probably to match the majesty of the Aya Sofia. It is the only mosque in the world with six minarets. While he was off on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Sultan of the time ordered his architects to build gold minarets. The architects thought he meant six minarets, because gold would have bankrupted the project and in their language, gold and six sound almost the same. There was only one another mosque with six minarets at the time, the most holy of all mosques in Mecca. This caused an uproar, so to appease everyone, the sultan sent his architects to Mecca to build a seventh minaret.
395. The Black Sea at a tiny place called Kefken. I had rolled up to look at the view, when all these people came out to greet me. It was late, and they insisted I stay with them. We drank and communicated through very broken English until late, then I rolled out my swag (bed) on their veranda.
394. My wonderful hosts In Kefken. The one on the right used to race motocross in Germany.
From Kefken, I attempted to ride along the coast, but the road is actually several km behind the coast because of sand dunes. I didn’t expect to see sand dunes here, but I suppose there is no reason why there shouldn’t be. I had planned to ride much further along the coast, but since the scenery wasn’t brilliant, I cut straight back down for Ankara. I had 3 visas to get here. Iran, Pakistan and India. I was going to get my Indian visa in Dublin, but since I will be passing through India twice, I was hoping to get one multiple entry visa, and I had to time it so the 6 month validity falls within my itinerary. In the two months between enquiring in Dublin, and applying here, they have changed their rules, and only issue 3 month visas compared to the old 6 month one. I decided to delay getting the Indian visa until I get to Islamabad, Pakistan. The Pakistan visa was easy. Same day and about US$25. The Iranian visa would take 7 days, which I expected. Both the Iranian and Pakistan embassies require letters from your consulate saying exactly the same as what is on your passport, as well as your religion and profession. They don’t want journalists in their country, so if you are, just tell your consulate you are a rocket scientist. The embassies will put what ever you like on there, so I don’t see what the purpose is other than to make it a hassle to get into their country. These letters cost me US$20 each, and they have to be obtained from the same city as where you apply for the visa, so if your country doesn’t have a consulate here, you simply can’t get a visa. While I was at the Pakistan embassy, I met a (another) Slovenian who had ridden a bicycle from Slovenia to here, and was on his way to Australia, by himself! That makes my trip look a bit feeble by comparison.
Ankara apparently does have some sights worth seeing, but I got out of there as soon as I could. There are virtually no motorcycles there and I know why. The drivers are the most aggressive and dangerous I have ever seen. They work by the rule of might is right. I have never felt so unsafe on a bike before in my life. On my way out, I looked for a panel beater to fix my pannier. My bike had fallen off the centre stand again because of the soft soil back in Kefken, and the inside of one pannier was deformed. They fixed it up, gave me tea, and helped me clean the bike, but when I attempted to pay, they refused. I tried to insist, but they wouldn’t have it. Ankara does have some redeeming qualities after all.
Glad to have Ankara in my rear view mirrors, I was off for Cappadocia. This not a city, but a region of fairy-tale landscapes, and was in fact the backdrop to many scenes in Star Wars I. The region was created by volcanic ash from three volcanoes. This ash (called Tufa) settled, and eroded over thousands of years to leave some of the most incredible looking landscapes you will ever see anywhere on this planet. I’ll let the photos describe themselves.
450/460. Pretty amazing natural formations!
454. Exploring some of the caves dug out of the tufu. These passages were intentionally small so that if the enemy came after them, they could bop them off one by one as they came through.
439. A typical sunset at Zelve, near Goreme.
404. At Goreme, out the front of Flintstones nightclub. From the front….Jo (Australia), Buffy and Trisha (Canada), with an unknown local. Jo conned him into taking her for a ride, but he frightened some sense into her by tearing off at warp speed with no lights. The other two girls declined the offer of a ride after Jo’s experience. I warned her to be careful, because too many times with guys, I’ve seen bravado get in the way of commonsense. Hi Buffy and Trisha. I hope you all survived your holiday.
405. Pretty scenery. The hills are nice too. I stayed a few nights in Goreme, and this is where my first real troubles of the trip began. Apart from self-inflicted pain from Flintstones nightclub, two nights in a row (some people never learn), I had an insect fly into my eye as I was walking around. Usually not a problem, but this one managed to scratch my eye. If you have every had it before, you will know how painful and annoying that can be. It took a full week to recover from, and riding with one bung eye is not good. My nose went out in sympathy with the eye, and I had the sneezes, again not good when riding, as they always seem to come at the most inappropriate moments. Here I picked up the dreaded intestinal bug that had claimed so many others. I usually have a ‘cast iron gut’, but as I write this, some 10 days later, I still have the tail end of the bug. Also, here is where the photos stop for a while. I had my digital camera stolen in Tatvan, in the far east of Turkey (Kurdish territory), which included photos from Cappadocia, my night with a true Turkish family, and Nemrut Dagi. More on that latter.
I took a 16 hour bus trip from Tatvan back to Ankara to pick up my Iranian passport, only to be told to come back in another 7 days because they hadn’t heard back from Tehran yet. I’d almost guarantee that this is just a ‘stuff-me-around’ tactic, and from what I have heard, they don’t even refer to Tehran at all. Some travellers have reported getting visas in 4 hours from Ezerum, in the North East of Turkey, so they can’t have been referred back to Tehran. I sent for my other digital camera back in Australia. UPS delayed the pickup by one day because they said it was a holiday in my state of Queensland (it wasn’t), meaning I lost a day, and also a weekend as a consequence. The camera arrived in Istanbul on a Saturday, so I rang them about getting it. They said there was a problem, and they would call me first thing Monday morning. I was stuck in the hotel waiting for the call until 2 PM, despite calling them at least 5 times, each time with the promise that the customs department will call me back soon. They wouldn’t put me through directly, and I hadn’t even had breakfast. I was told it was going to cost me AUD$500 for customs taxes. I spat the dummy big time. Not only did I lose a AUD$1800 camera here, they want to tax me to bring my own camera in as a replacement! I eventually got it down to AUD$240 after going to the cargo terminal and negotiating, and waiting, and waiting. That took all of another day, so I spent 2 days in Istanbul, basically wasting time, just trying to get my camera off UPS, an get going again. All in all, I would have to say UPS’s performance was pretty pathetic. They say bad things come in threes. I’m up to at least 5 so I’m feeling a little pi..ed off right now, but the worst is yet to come.
Anyhow, back to Goreme. This is a great little village, and probably the best place to stay in Cappadocia. It is very small and easy to get around, but it is unashamedly a tourist town. I stayed in a pension called Panoramic, which I can recommend. The rooms are all carved from the tufa, and are really cool no matter how hot it is outside, and dark, which is great for hangover sufferers. With a name like Panoramic, you would expect it to have great views, which it does. On the day I left. I was up at 6am, and got some photos of hot air balloons passing through the valley at virtually my eye height. The lighting was perfect, and they were great shots. They were lost with the camera. The night before, a group of us went to a Turkish experience night. We all had a great time, and I got some great shots of some of our group including Andrew, a South African showing the belly dancer how it should done….lost too. Sorry Andrew.
I did a 250km tour around Cappadocia, and visited the valley of the pigeons (where they carved holes in the walls for the pigeons, so they could collect their droppings for fertiliser), the valley of the mummies, Derinkuyo (underground city), Zelve, and a caravansary (a ‘motel’ for the silk road travellers, to rest and feed the men and the camels). Of all of these, Derinkuyo was the most interesting. This is just one of several underground cities in the area. They were built to protect the local Christians whenever Arab invaders came. Usually they would have a few days warning that invaders were coming, so they would all move underground, often for months at a time. They took all their live stock too. This particular city had 36 levels. All the underground cities were connected by tunnels, up to 40km away. They all had sophisticated ventilation shafts, and were able to cook down there with the enemy above, totally oblivious to their whereabouts. The tufa is very porous, and absorbed all of the smoke and smells. Interestingly, they used Tandoori ovens from India. Each city had it’s underground well, hospital, church, prison, school, stables etc.
Next destination, Nemrut Dagi #1. There are two mountains with the same name, but I don’t know why. I didn’t make my destination that night, as I tried to take a short cut over a dirt road. it was shorter, but it was really slow going. Often 1st and 2nd gears for over 100km. It was a fantastic ride, and I would do it again tomorrow if I had the chance. It took me through some of the most beautiful country, and tiny villages that the average tourist would never get to see. The road was carved into the side of a mountain, and often I was at altitudes of 2000m. Again, not the place to make mistakes, because the outside edge of the road dropped hundreds of metres very sharply. None the less, I was really getting into a rhythm, and making good time, considering the conditions. I went through one small village that looked really interesting. It was here that I thought I would like to stay in one of these villages a night, and get a true ‘Turkish experience’. I felt a little insecure though, and I passed on through. They all returned my waves, so they were friendly enough.
There was a lot of live stock on the roads, and I had to be careful not to spook any of them because they weren’t used to the traffic like the rest of Turkey. They were a lot like the cattle in Australia which do spook very easily. They usually decide it is safer to be on the other side of the road at the last minute. In most of Turkey, the cattle just stand there, and the vehicles make their way around. In my bus from Tatvan back to Ankara, the bus went through a herd of cattle at about 80kph. If you do that in Australia, you will almost certainly have 1000 pounds of hamburger meat in your face. The faces of the children who were tending the animals said it all as I rode past. It read ‘what is that?, and ‘why are you here?’. I must have looked a sight with a full face helmet, goggles, jacket, gloves, etc in a country where no one even wears a helmet.
I started to get a bit concerned at about 5 o’clock. It was only 18km away by GPS, but I wasn’t making any ground, and I didn’t know which road to take. I pulled into a side-road, which turned out to be a dead-end, and a farmer came over, and beckoned me to park my bike. I did so, and asked for directions to Nemrut Dagi. He pointed to it. I could actually see it, but he insisted I join his family for dinner and stay the night. This was all by hand gestures. He didn’t know a word of English, and nor did any of his family of two young girls and his wife. The very first thing he did was give me a 1.5 Litre jug, and signalled that I go wash myself. I signalled back, what, just face and hands, and he signalled back, all over. That was a first for me. I stripped off behind a tree, and managed to wash myself with only 1.5 litres of water, no soap of course. Then I was served some apricots and they broke the seeds open to get the nut inside. I never knew you could eat them. They are the same shape and similar flavour as an almond, but have the texture of coconut. Then the older girl and mother started making flat bread that they rolled out with a 20mm diameter dowel, then threw on a convex oven plate, about 700mm diameter. Father put his bee suit on and pulled a tray from a hive. The main meal was the flat bread with home made butter (very light in colour, and very salty), honey, olives, plums and apricots, then Turkish tea (cay). The family sat around talking until well after dark, and they had no electricity. When they were ready for bed, they lit a hurricane lamp, so they could organise the beds. Their house was nothing but a 4x3m shed. This about as basic and as real as it gets. I can now say I have had a true Turkish experience. Again, I took some fabulous shots of the family and their hut, the ladies making the flat bread, and the spectacular views they had over the valley below. I had nothing to offer them for their hospitality, so I told them that I would send them copies of the photographs. I was going to frame them and send them back, but all these photos were lost too. The loss of these photos really upsets me, they are irreplaceable. The loss of the camera I can handle.
In the morning, I was given the directions I needed. There were dirt roads going everywhere, but none of then signed. I had to make educated guesses all the time, and the GPS helped a lot too, just knowing exactly where my destination was. Incredibly, I had 18km to go by the GPS, but I had to travel 95km to get there. That should give you an idea about how twisty the road was. Along the way, a local hitched a ride. I took him about 10km back to his village, and I kept up the same pace I had been going for the last two days. When I dropped him off, he had a grin from ear to ear. I’m not sure if that was because he had fun, or he was just thankful to still be alive!
I finally made Nemrut Dagi #1 at about 11am. This is a mountain, and on the highest peak, the king of the time built a memorial with huge limestone sculptures of the heads of Roman, Greek and Egyptian gods, and the kings of the surrounding principalities. This was all designed to protect his piece of turf from being invaded. I don’t know if it worked.
I didn’t stay at Nemrut Dagi long, and headed for Van, about 700km away. I only made Tatvan, about 135km short of Van. The ride was probably the hottest in my life. The heat was exhausting, and dry. My thermometer was registering 48 degrees, but occasional gusts were even hotter. The bike performed flawlessly. I can usually stay on the bike all day long, but I forced myself to stop regularly to drink and cool down. This area is a known hot spot, yet it is covered by snow in the winter. Real extremes.
This area could not be visited by tourists only 5 years ago. It is regarded as safe for now, so I decided to visit while I could. This area is Kurdish, and some were fighting for independence. I think most are happy now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if trouble brews again, because of the trouble in northern Iraq (Hariem), and western Iran. I thought the Kurds were a minority group, but they outnumber Australians. Within minutes of arriving, I had my digital camera stolen. I had gone to a hotel and parked the bike right outside the reception. I had the camera in my tank bag, but I had taken the panniers up first. I was away from the bike for only a few minutes, and the camera was gone. I think it was children. They weren’t there when I took my panniers up, but there were a few around when I came back down. None of them had it, but someone must have seen who took it. They are extremely poor people here. The sight if this big colourful bike attracts children and adults from everywhere. Almost everywhere I go, I get mobbed by people. When I found the camera gone, I had that terrible sinking feeling. The photos gone. How am I going to get my replacement camera? How long will it take? Will I be able to claim insurance? I cannot tell you how many hoops I had to jump through over the loss of this camera.
I went straight to the police. None could speak more than a few words English. I managed to communicate that my camera was stolen. They came to the scene of the crime, and asked a few questions, then left. I then spoke to the chief of police, he spoke a few words of English. I asked him for a stolen report for insurance, but he said that if I find the thief, he will give me a stolen report (ridiculous but true). Apparently, the Turkish will not issue stolen reports, so beware if you lose anything in Turkey. He told me to wait at the hotel, and he would be there at about 11pm. I waited until 12:30pm, no show! The next day, a retired Egyptian doctor staying at the same hotel offered to act as an interpreter. A Turkish lady was one of his 9 or so (he couldn’t remember exactly) ex-wives. The chief was there fortunately, but was quite sick with a flu. The doctor massaged his sinuses, and they jabbered on for ages about what I don’t know, but I walked away with my stolen report.
My other camera was at my brother’s house in Australia. He and his family had just left for Europe two days before. Another brother was able to track it down fortunately, and I have already written about my hassles with UPS. I would say the whole experience cost me 4 full days of organising, waiting, negotiating, pleading, arguing, phoning, etc, not to mention losing the photos, not having a camera for about 12 days, and a cost of about AUD$400, excluding the cost of living for those 4 days.
Next, back to Ankara by bus (about 1000km) to pick up my Iranian visa. As I mentioned above, it was not ready, so went back to Istanbul to meet my Canadian friend, and wait for my replacement camera. I’ve already covered Istanbul, but after 8 days there, I finally had my camera, and I bussed back to Ankara (420km), and this time the visa was ready. I then flew to the closest airport, and caught a bus the last 100km back to Tatvan. It was then that I realised that after I found my camera stolen, and was at the police station, they had then taken an elastic net and a stainless steel cable I had to secure my jacket and camping gear. After finding the camera gone, I forgot about putting them away. Neither was worth much money, but where am I going to buy there here, or anywhere for that matter now that I am in the east. I was fuming by this stage. I really wanted to get out of this place fast. I had to stay the night, then first thing in the morning, I took off for Nemrut Dagi#2.
Nemrut Dagi#2. An extinct volcano. I had seen pictures of this place before, and it was one the most beautiful landscape pictures I had ever seen. The picture I saw was obviously taken in spring, because all the grass was green, flowers were everywhere, and the peaks were covered in snow. This is summer, and you can see it’s not so spectacular, but it is a lot better than the photo indicates. There are two lakes here. The cold lake at the back, and the warm lake in the front. The temperatures are too extreme to swim in either.
0007. Between Tatvan and Van, far eastern Turkey.
My map showed three border crossings, so while in Tatvan, I asked at the tourist board about the border crossing I planned to use. He said no problems, but when I got there, I found it was only a train crossing, and manned by the army. The guards made it clear that I couldn’t pass through, but when I tried to leave, they told me I had to stay. I was wondering what was going on, but after about 10 minutes, the camp commander came out, just to say hello, and saw me on my way after getting me to chant along with him about his favourite soccer team. I was not very happy about this situation because it was dusk, and I hate riding at night. I was headed back for Van, to stay there the night. It was only 100km, but I pulled into a small town, and asked if there was any hotels or camping, to which the answer was no. I was not the only one with the impression that this border crossing was open. A German biker had tried it the day before I was told. It was a good two lane road, so I pressed on at a steady pace of 90-100km/h, then an oncoming truck had his four headlights on high beam, presumably because he thought I was on high beam. (I can’t adjust my headlights down low enough because of all the weight on the back, I am always getting ‘flashed’ by oncoming cars, another reason why I don’t like to travel at night). I flashed him a few times to show that I was on low beam, but he just left his on high. As soon as he passed, still a little blinded by the lights, I was heading for the middle of a herd of 100 or so sheep, all running flat out towards me in a panic. I was only metres away, but I managed to do a counter-steering lane change around the herd, but one sheep was running flat-out for me. I turned, trying to evade him, and I thought I had made it, but I forgot about the panniers. My right pannier got him, and it kicked the back of the bike up in the air by maybe 500mm, and sideways. When it came down crossed up, it spat me off in what I reckon would have been a very spectacular sight. I would say there was about one second between me seeing the sheep, and actually coming off.
I was pretty impressed that I pulled off the counter-steering lane change, because it is a very difficult manoeuvre that goes against all your natural instincts. Counter-steering is the technique or turning left to go right. I use it all the time for cornering, but to use it in an emergency is a different story. If you are a rider, and you have never tried it, next time you come into a corner, instead of using your weight, try pushing the bars gently against the left to go right, and vice-versa. It makes cornering much easier, faster, and safer. Lane change uses the same theory, but involves a savage yanking on the bars. In a remarkably short distance, you can be 3m or so to the left or right of, and parallel to your oringinal track. I wouldn’t have believed it possible until I was shown it by an experienced road-racer.
One of the reasons ‘highsides’ can be so painful is that the bike actually flicks you off, and you end up going faster than the bike was. Often, part of this flick sends you skyward, and you are almost totally out of control. Most times when I come off, I have had some control over how I land, but this time, I didn’t know which way was up. As with all my crashes, everything was happening in slow motion. It always amazes me how slow time seems when confronted with a life threatening situation. I have never yet panicked, but I have felt really weak as an after-effect of a big dose of adrenaline. Anyhow, I was sliding down the road, again in disbelief, and at one stage I was on my back. I was thinking at the time that this is great. After all the drama involved in getting my camera, it is in my backpack getting crushed right now. As soon as I stopped, I ran over to the bike after taking some time to actually find it. It was off the road down a small embankment. I picked it up, and put it on the stand. It was a very dark night, no moon, and I couldn’t see a thing. I could tell that the bars were bent, but that is all I could tell. I fished my torch out of the tank bag, and started looking around. The panniers were both virtually destroyed (the right from the sheep, and the left from the road), and the top box was gone. The left front indicator lens was smashed, the route reader was bent down over the instruments, there were gouges on the left hand guard, my remaining mirror was gone, and the windscreen was scratched. I found the top box about 50m away, and put it back on, but some of the mounts were damaged. As well, the low beam bulb blew from the impact of the crash. The camera actually survived, probably because I had it between two 1.5 Litre water bottles.
It was about then that the Kurds that owned the sheep turned up. This was about 5 minutes later, so they obviously weren’t tending to their sheep, which should not have been on the road at that time of night. The first thing I saw was a rifle muzzle centimetres from my face with this guy screaming at me. He snatched the torch from my hand, broke it in two, and threw it on the ground. After another few minutes I surrounded by about 20 Kurds, all yelling and carrying on. What they were concerned about was the death of the sheep. These are very valuable animals to poor people, but I wasn’t about to take responsibility. Here I was lamenting the condition of my bike and my body, and these people wanting a piece of my already damaged hide for the death of the sheep. I made hand signs that the truck blinded me, but I’m not sure they understood. While they babbled amongst each other, and the guy with the gun kept it trained on me, I repacked everything, and sat on the bike, hoping for an opportunity to get out. If it wasn’t for the rifle, I would have made a run for it. I was sure I was going to have to pay to get out of this, but they all jabbered amongst themselves, and after about twenty minutes, they let me go.
Relieved to be out of that situation, I made for Van, high beam all the way, then to a petrol station where I had filled up before, because they had good lighting, and I could check things out more thoroughly. There were no major surprises, except how badly damaged the right pannier was from grinding on the road, and the fact that my leathers pants were torn to shreds. The owner sat me down, gave me a Pepsi and we feasted on a watermelon, all free. He said there was a hotel and pensions behind the station, but I rode around for about an hour, through a maze of streets, and I never saw anything other than residential areas. I didn’t want to stay in the heart of the city because of security worries with the bike, so I headed for the lakes edge, figuring there would have to be something there, but there is nothing. Obviously, tourism is not real big here! I then tried the main road heading up to Dogubayazit, but nothing. Finally, sore, exhausted, and frustrated, I had to go to the city. I soon found a hotel there, and I had a chance to check out my injuries. Both elbows were skinned, but not too bad. Both knees were also skinned, but both were swelling up, and my left one in particular is quite painful. I had skin off right hand, and my neck muscles were sore no doubt from the natural response of holding my head up off the road when I landed. My helmet didn’t touch the road in either of my crashes. I had a shower in unbelievably cold water, then applied iodine solution to all the grazes, and by 1.30am I was finally in bed, with my bike parked outside the reception. All night, there was the sound of water falling from the roof of this 3 story hotel to the pavement below, then At 4:45am, the call to prayer screeched out, someone started playing Turkish music loudly at about 5am, but it was peaceful again by 6am. I couldn’t get back to sleep again though. I laid in bed for ages, and with the pain in my knees, I really didn’t want to get out. Finally I did get out at about 8, and went looking for a panel beater to fix the panniers. Just getting on the bike was difficult, and getting my knees to bend enough to put them on the foot pegs was even more so.
I found one, and they started on the job straight away. I was outside sorting out the low beam problem, and straightening the bars. I could hear banging going on, and when I went inside, I saw that he had put a apprentice on the job. He was an absolute butcher, and apart from doing a very poor job, he managed to stuff up some of the mounting hardware that has fine before. Once again, they refused to accept payment, so I can’t complain about lack of hospitality anywhere in Turkey. Structurally, they will carry the load, but they are visually terrible, and aren’t waterproof any more. They will be ready for the trash can at the completion of this trip. What this has confirmed to me is that aluminium panniers are the only way to go. If I had plastic or composite panniers, they would have been smashed to bits. Soft baggage is not feasible because of security problems, not to mention that my electronic equipment would have been damaged by now.
I am in Van as I write this. I have decided to stay an extra day for my knees to recover, as I am having trouble bending my left knee enough to get it on the foot peg. I have my bike locked away in a storekeepers room, so it is safe, and I have a good, cheap room. This is all I plan to write for now, but I am going to write a page on the driving habits of the Turkish later. They really are bad, dangerous and inconsiderate. Somehow, I suspect there is worse to come.
That’s all on Turkey for now. Iran next.