Göreme (TK) – Turkgozu (TK) / 5056 km / 2.46 Million Turns
Being over a month in Turkey, you do pick up some (basic) phrases to communicate in the local language: hot, cold, food, sleep, tent, bicycle… Fortunately, one loan word in the Turkish language is a very easy one and used in wide range of situations: Problem. This can indicate you pointing at your bicycle being parked somewhere, the tent put up somewhere or any other issue you come across. The natural response of all Turkish people however is that there are no problems, certainly not with camping, cycling, food or tourists, a solution is always at hand! A frequently used Turkish motto is therefore: Problem? Problem yok! (Yok meaning no/not)
After Cappadocia we continued cycling from the city of Elâzığ in the direction of the Georgian border. Elâzığ has historically been a region from which many people migrated to Germany and Holland to work for a couple of years. We did not know this, until many people (all men) stopped us in the street, most still speaking quite good Dutch, saying they lived in Holland (actually, they all seemed to have lived in The Hague) for some years and how they felt about their time in Holland. We even saw some Dutch cars driving of people visiting relatives, some 4000 km away! Meet-ups would often be accompanied by a phone call to a Turkish relative still in the Netherlands, and we would have random chit-chats on the phone with Dutch-Turkish people wishing us the best of luck and in typical Dutch directness wondered how on earth we ended up in this random city in Eastern Turkey.
The east of the country is quite different again from the other places we have been. Even more hilly, less developed in terms of tourist infrastructure and in most places culturally more conservative. Fasting for Ramadan was a lot more strict here, so getting food in daytime became a bit harder, but as a tourist, they are generally still quite lenient about you eating while they are not. At one place where we were invited to stay for the night, Sabine was friendly directed to the kitchen and asked to do help with preparing the food, but Tom, as the guest of honour, should be sitting next to the fire and have conversation with the man of the house. Apart from the cultural conservatism, there is also more political tension in the region, due to the mix of Turkish and Kurdish people here. Police checkpoints were frequent; they would stop us, ask us what we are doing here and where we were going, as there were ‘bad people’ around (both parties would call the other one ‘bad people’). Without going into detail in the political situation, we were welcomed by both Kurdish and Turkish people alike in the region.
One of the reasons to go via Elâzığ was that we were invited by Zeko we met in Istanbul to meet his family in a nearby village (also see our Instagram post). Upon arriving, exhausted from all the climbing that day, we were greeted by one of his relatives who took us even further into the mountains. There, we were invited into the house of Hasan Ali (Zeko’s uncle), who was spending his retirement in a beautifully set valley, together with his wife, cows, chickens, and most importantly, his bees. We initially intended to stay only one night but extended this with another since it was such a great place.
Although staying only for two days, we got served and amount of food good for a week. Kebab, unlimited breakfast with honey, eggs and bread, lunch, afternoon snacks, dinner, dessert, and then more Kebab as sort of late-night snack. The last day we even got served two breakfasts due to a slight miscommunication between us, our host and the neighbour, who also prepared a meal for us. We had a great time here, and although the language barrier was sometimes hard, it was one of the warmest stays we had on this trip. Continuing the trip, we both felt a little flat the day we left. Although we extended our stay with a day, contact with people is still quite fast and fleeting, which is of course inherent to the trip we do but difficult nonetheless. At some places, you wish to stay a week or more…
Back on the road, we had to cross a high altitude plateau to reach the city of Erzurum. Compared to Elâzığ, Ramadan was even more strict here, with literary no-one on the street at sunset (because everyone was eating). No breakfast was served at the hotel, or actually it was, but that would be a special Ramadan breakfast and start at 1:30 AM (food vs sleep, what is more essential?). We did get invited, but thanked politely. The city was beautifully set in a valley and is known to be the coldest city of Turkey. Skiing is big here and temperatures drop to -30 C in winter. We were here in the second half of May, and all around snow patches could still be seen, although melting at a high rate. From Erzurum, we continued north to Artvin, which meant we descended from 2200 m back to 200 m altitude, and then all the way up again to 2500 m to reach the Georgian border. Again, a beautiful but hard ride through a canyon.
The final frontier before we entered Georgia was this last mountain range. As you might have read in one of our latest Instagram posts this was worth a blog of itself. We decided to take a shortcut, but naturally, this ‘short’-cut was not so short after all and meant pushing the bikes for the first time in the trip (even pushing one bike with the two of us at some point). Fortunately though, we made it and rode our last few kilometres to the Turkish-Georgian border almost six weeks later as when we entered Turkey from Bulgaria.
Turkey, what a blast! Both of us had not really any idea of what the country would be like, except for some superficial snapshots, mostly based on what you hear and see in the news. What a surprise it was to cycle along snow-capped volcanoes, through large and spectacular river canyons and over Swiss-like alpine meadows. In the end, it is the people who make this country such a reward to cycle through. In our fast moving society in Holland we can definitely learn a lot from the endless Turkish hospitality!
When we were faced with problems, there were always people who made sure the problem would soon be ‘Problem Yok’. What if you are doing groceries at the only local market in the area, but they don’t sell any vegetables? Problem Yok! The neighbour of the shop owner gave us a package with some of his tomatoes and onions (and even a little bit of salt) so we at least could make a nice pasta sauce. What if you’re looking for a place to put up you tent in a city but can’t find a good spot? (Note: someone recommended the graveyard, but that would be last resort only). Problem Yok! A Dutch speaking taxi driver drives past and says we can stay at his place for the night instead. Running low on water, but no water tap or shop around? Problem yok! Someone next to the road would wave us for cay (tea). Don’t be surprised to all of a sudden being stopped by a car and handed out fresh strawberries or cookies! These small highlights of the day are the main reason of why we cycle. We couldn’t have wished for a better time here.
Talk to you soon,
Tom & Sabine