For previous blog entries of our ride through NZ, Australia, South East Asia, China and Central Asia, click on the little arrows beside the dates in the Blog Archive below and use the scroll down menu.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Turkey - Dogubayzit to Edirne


Route: Dogubayzit - Erzurum - Erzincan - Amasya - Istanbul

Distance cycled: Margo - 23,000 kms Ben: 24,600 kms

24 hours after leaving Dogubayzit in the East of Turkey, the bus arrived in Istanbul. It had been a long, uncomfortable journey without much sleep. I washed my face in cold water then set about reassembling my dismantled bike. I then set off on my bike through Istanbul bound for my next Couch Surf host's house. The distance across the city was huge and after almost 20 kms I arrived at the port of Kabatas. I was headed for Buyukada, the biggest of the Prince's islands which sit in the middle of the Bosphorus. The bus had crossed the Bosphorus bridge so I was now back in Europe. It wasn't how I'd imagined coming back home but I was here nonetheless. The 1 hour boat ride to Buyuk Ada was wonderful and very cheap, offering great views of both the European and Anatolian(Asian) side of the city. Arriving on the island I discovered that cars were forbidden. Amazing. The main form of transport on the small island was bicycle or horse and cart. The island was also teeming with very friendly cats.

Tugba arrived to greet me and I was introduced to her 8 cats. We spent the first few days sharing nice food and swimming in the sea every day. 2 days later though I borrowed a ruck sack and headed back into Istanbul for the weekend as I had two very special people to meet. Craig and Russell just happened to be in Istanbul at the same time as me. Smashing. After 5 minutes together we all agreed it didn't feel like 2 years since we'd seen each other. Craig treated me to one of Istanbul's famous fish sandwiches down at the Bosphorus then we headed to Gulhane park for a beer. Then it was off to Taksim, the main area for entertainment and nightlife to check into our hostel. Craig used the remainder of his 2 week old bag of Bulgarian wine to make a rather sophisticated cocktail called Calamacho(red wine and coke). That boy has class and no mistake.That first night we ended up at a reggae night with two of Craig's Turkish pals and rolled into bed after 4am. Our culinary highlight was the cheap and cheerful cafe round the corner from the hostel where we could buy a bowl of lentil soup with as much free bread as you could eat for only 1 lira. Their pita pockets were also very nice so much so that Russell managed 4 in one day. As we watched the sun go down over the bosphorus with a few beers I realised how nice it felt to be with real friends, people who know you instead of people you just met 2 days ago in a hostel. As Craig told me all about how him and Russell had been up for 50 hours dancing in a cave by themselves in Cappadocia a few days ago, I was happy to see he hadn't changed a bit. I said goodbye to them the following morning and made my way back to fantasy cat island. Istanbul was amazing really: hectic, colourful and bursting with life and culture. It was nice to go back to peace and quiet though.

Don't know what they're protesting about but down with that sort of thing anyway

Russell models some politically incorrect biscuits

Turkish dancing

Ice cream trickery in Istanbul............................................................................

After another couple of days together, Tugba asked me if I'd like to stay at the house for 5 days to look after the cats while she went on holiday. Well you didn't have to ask me twice. It was perfect as I still had another couple of weeks to kill before Ben arrived and I loved being at the house and on the island. Me and the pussy cats had a great time together and I enjoyed having a house to myself for a few days. Also the island was a great place for rest and recuperation. The only time I left the island was to go to a Couch surfing members night out in the city. It was a good do but I missed the last boat and had to wander round the city till 6am. Tugba came back from her holiday and I left the following day. I was sad to leave and would miss her and the cats. Tugba, you're the best and I can't thankyou enough for everything. Come and see us in Scotland, you can even bring the cats.

I took the boat to Kadikoy and was met by the lovely Lutfiye, my second Istanbul CS house. She lived in a nice area on the Asian side. Back at the house I met her husband Ogun who lived in Germany until he was 14 and now translates books from German to Turkish for a living. These two were really great, such a cool, happy and interesting couple. Ogun took me to Kilyos at the Black Sea on his motorbike to go swimming for the day. It was my first proper ride on the back of a bike and I absolutely loved it. I also managed to get them hooked on our favourite comedy show “Peep Show”. I could tell they had a warped sense of humour like us and so would probably appreciate it.

At the Black Sea with Ogun

Lutfiye enjoying a shiatsu
Meanwhile, Ben and Kevin had been slogging his guts out over the seemingly never-ending hills which span the entire length of Turkey. For those of you who didn't read the last blog or hear my news, an MRI scan in Tehran reveled I had multi-level vertebral disc bulging and reverse scoliosis of the cervical spine and so was forced to take a rest of the bike. What for me had been a 24 hour bus ride was 15 days of hard cycling for Ben. The timing of his Turkey trip couldn't have been better as he was able to meet up with Kevin who had hosted us on Couch Surfing in Lijiang, China. Ben only rode for 3 days by himself before he was reunited with Kevin in Erzurum. The two of them then flew across the rest of Turkey together averaging over 100 kms a day. Here, Ben at last get's a chance to put his own tuppenceworth into the blog.

Cycle tourists

Shoe shiners

Margo got on the bus. Very sad sight to see my beloved wife leave although I was truly excited about what was waiting for me: my speed, knowing where everything is and finding it in its correct place eg. notepad and pen. I was on my own. Sort of on my own. The Couch Surfer I bumped into in Dogubayzit was up for a party. After not drinking alcohol for over a month, so was I. That night we polished off 3 bottles of aniseed 40% booze. Dancing and talking bollocks was had by all. The next day, not feeling too bad I set off to find a tailwind would push me 120 km. Nice weather and a flat open road. Some pleasant children shouted "Hello, hello", I replied 'Hello" then they said "money, money" and started throwing stones. I turned around and they scarpered. I had a great sandwich for lunch which got me 90 kms. The road got bumpy and I was tired so I camped in a field behind some haybales. The sky opened up and a massive thunder storm let rip. The next day I set off my rear tyre was soft(puncture). Changed tubes and carried on. A mountain pass was approaching so I started to climb. I stopped for lunch and the thunder and lightning came. I made a quick shelter with my bike amd the tarp and had a snooze. The thunder seemed to clear up and the wind had changed in my favour so I started to climb again. The thunder came back and more children were walking in the road. "Money, money" they screamed and tried to snatch my bum bag. "Esher"(f**k off) I shouted and hit the kids arm. They looked shocked and I carried on climbing. The wind had changed and it was pissing down. I was low on water and decided to camp 7km before a small town. I caught rain water and made spaghetti a la chicken stock, a full pan to myself then fell asleep. Then Margo phoned grumpy, tired me. The next day I made a coffee and a farmer boy(rough as) approached me with a stick and a massive dog.I smiled and he went away. I thought I should do one and get out of there before him and his mates came back to harrass me. I quickly pulled the tent down and there he was again with his dog. He stood quietly and his dog was calm so I put my things away as he watched. When I was ready I gave him 3 dates but first ate one to show him it's not poison. I said thanks and friend then set off to the city of Erzurum where I'd meet Kevin. I stopped to get supplies from a small market and was offered tea. Yes please. 4 or 5 guys sat and punched my arm when they thought it was their turn to speak to me. I drunk my tea, took photos(facebook, facebook) then left. I dried my clothes and had lunch at a garage then thrashed it down the motorway. Near Erzurum there was yet another big pass(2000 metres ish) and my friend Mr Lightning came back . It halestoned massive chunks of ice but I carried on up the hill. The weather calmed and I arrived cold and wet in Erzurum. I stopped at a garage and waited for Kevin's call. No call and half an hours light left. What to do? The owner of the garage spoke good English(even though he said I spoke bad English?)  So I asked him about a cheap hotel. "There's beds for $25"  F**k that, I'm skint. I told him I would camp back out of town. He recommended a place to camp in town centre. Well first time for everything. Kevin would ring in the morning and we'd do some biking.
Learning Turkish whilst cycling

First of many baguettes


After the overwhelming kindness of Iran, Ben was somewhat disappointed to spend his first few days in Eastern Turkey being pelted by stones. Some of the Kurdish kids were very badly behaved indeed and Ben wondered what he had done to deserve such a welcome. The ride was mountainous with stunning scenery however which was something to be cheerful about. The unexpected hostility was short lived thankfully and by the time Ben reached the town of Erzurum, the stone throwing kids seemed a million miles away. Eastern Turkey seemed a pretty rough and poverty-stricken place nonetheless. Ben was disturbed by the fact that women were nowhere to be seen. Most of them seemed to be locked up indoors somewhere and the few that he did spot, ran a mile on his arrival. To Ben, the women seemed repressed, overweight and deeply unhappy. This was a far cry of course from the well-educated, outgoing women we had met in Iran. The men  in this male dominated society whistled at him as he rode past as though trying to summon the attention of a dog and seemed to spend all of their time smoking and drinking tea. Ben wasn't too impressed sadly.

Drying gear off after another downpour

Hiding from the rain

After spending last Christmas with Kevin in Southern China, Ben and him were once again reunited as Kevin happened to be entering Turkey from Georgia at the same time as Ben. This gave them both some much needed companionship on the 1600 km ride across Turkey. Kevin had had a tough time, having had his passport, bank card and $600 stolen just a few days ago and was in a really bad frame of mind when he met up with Ben. The two of them met at the fountain in Erzurum where a friendly man helped Ben fix his bike. It was from this point onwards as he headed Westwards that he began to see a much better side of Turkey. The man at the fountain spoiled them with cheese, tomatoes and of course, being Turkey, copious amounts of chai. The two of them rode only another 20 kms where they set up camp in some abandoned houses and spent their first night together undisturbed. 

Friendly mechanic who helped Ben

Kevin arrives in Erzurum

As they rode across Turkey the hills were constant and the wind constantly changing. Ben introduced Kevin to the art of drafting and holding on to the back of slow-moving lorries.On a big pass, they would pull into a layby as a lorry approached to prepare themselves for the lunge towards it. Sometimes poor Kevin would miss the lift and would have to slowly wind his way up the huge pass as Ben disappeared into the distance making the most of his free lift. The roads weren't always great and some were truly appalling. They bathed in rivers and feasted on fruit and vegetables from roadside allotments. They had very little money so pinching a few veggies seemed forgivable. The free fruit was magnificent however and they ate like kings every day from the bulging apricot, apple and plum trees by the side of the road. During their 15 day trip they pretty much lived off baguettes during the day and Kevin being a chef cooked delicious food most nights for them both.

A good campsite is worth a little extra effort


On the road

Friendly locals

Halfway point

They unsuccessfully tried their hand at fishing one night. On the same night yet another thunder storm came and the river they were camped beside almost tripled in size. In Turkey, it was easy to get clean drinking water just about everywhere which saved them a lot of money. As they traversed across Turkey they noticed that women were still nowhere to be seen. Very disturbing. They had to question what sort of society keeps it's women hidden indoors all the time. They still came across some naughty kids who pestered them for money but things had definetely improved since Eastern Turkey. The pretty town of Amasya was a highlight for them both. As well as being incredibly scenic, a nice man also gave them free peanut butter and cheese after they bought 6 eggs. After eating a full tub of ice cream to themselves they set off again.

Cats on a hot tin roof

Another free tea stop

Ben and Kevin get signed up for a local Turkish football team and given a free strip and a room for the night



Free shot on the go carts


Free fruit was plentiful

Kevin's sunglasses broke so Ben made him these

They spent a fun night camping in a petrol station with some super generous bikers riding to Mongolia who spoiled them rotten. The weather was wild. At the top of hills it would be raining and foggy and at the bottom, warm and sunny. 150 kms from Istanbul the traffic started to get really busy. On their second last night they camped in a city allotment where friendly locals brought them bread and fruit. They had cycled almost 1600 kms on the same road, the E80 all the way from Eastern Turkey so it seemed ridiculous that only 1 km from the Bosphorus bridge the police told them they couldn't continue and had to walk back. Walking against the busy, oncoming traffic was of course more dangerous than continuing on by bike but the copper wasn't having it.

Nearly there

Camping with their new biker pals in a petrol station

Ben and Kevin had became so close in these last 15 days, sharing an unforgettable experience together. Cycling touring with someone is certainly a good way to get to know them. I was happy for them both that they had met up with each other, it was meant to be. Also, as you can see by the photos the Turkish people turned out to be very friendly after all.


Ben helps a stranded motorist change his tyre

Add caption

Kevin makes a new friend

Meanwhile I was still at Ogun and Lutfiye's and Ogun decided it would be great to surprise Ben and Kevin by meeting them out on the highway as they headed into town. It didn't work out quite as well as we'd hoped due to a series of mis-timings and wrong turns but in the end I saw two familiar silhouettes coming towards me and at last got to hold up my sign.

After lunch at Ogun's, Ben, Kevin and I got on our bikes and made our way to another Couch Surf host's in another part of the city. It had been really hard for me to find a CS host who would take all 3 of us and the bikes but in the end, Franklin Orosco was kind enough to put us up. Franklin, an american ex-pat, living and working in Istanbul, was an absolute angel. As soon as we arrived, he showed us into our beautiful room and introduced us to his cat Scoobie. He then disappeared into the kitchen appearing shortly afterwards with some danish pastries he'd made himself. We spent 3 days getting to know this wonderful man who had many interesting and inspiring stories from his life to share with us. He was the perfect host in every sense of the word and whatsmore we enjoyed his company too. Franklin enjoyed telling me about his trip on a Calmac Ferry to the Western Isles. I truly hope he'll come again to Scotland and let us return the hospitality.

Ogun and Lutfiye



The Blue Mosque

Franklin's house was far from the main attractions of Istanbul so after a couple of days the boys still hadn't seen the real city. We jumped on the bus and then spent the day walking around visiting the Blue Mosque, doing yoga in Gulhane park and enjoying some beer with the funky young locals around the Galata Tower. It was a good day but Ben's legs were hurting and he needed a rest. Istanbul really is amazing and Kevin loved the amazing and unique atmosphere the city had to offer. Walking in the streets of Istanbul overloads the senses with new sights, sounds and smells. It had been so good to see Kevin again and I felt this time like I knew him much better than I did in China. The 3 of us had such a great time together and we didn't want him to go.We all left Franklin's together and went for a goodbye baguette in Gulhane park. As we said our farewells we took one last photo of him as he set off westwards to Greece and then Italy where he would be working in the autumn. He has promised to visit us in Scotland next summer though so it won't be to long till we're back together.So it was just the two of us again.


Iranian cycle tourist

 I was determined to try and cycle and felt hopeful as we headed out of Istanbul. It was really hard for me because Ben kept talking about how great it was to cycle with Kevin and how fast they'd gone and how much progress they'd made in a short time. I knew that the next part of his ride with me wouldn't be like this. Due to the sciatica in my left leg I generally had to stop every 30 minutes to walk about for 5 minutes to get the feeling back into my leg. I knew this would slow down our progress a lot. Whatsmore, I just couldn't and didn't even think it wise to try to do big days like I did before. 50 – 70 kms a day seemed reasonable for someone with my condition, half of what we used to do. I believed that in the future with the right physical therapy and some rest I would return to being the great cyclist that I was. It was still hard for me though and the whole thing frustrated and saddened me.

The Bosphorus bridge
It was a late start for us so after 40 kms it was already nightfall. That first night we camped in the worst place of the whole trip(and that's really saying something). In a rather built-up area we went behind some kind of community centre right next to a busy road. Some very kind roadside flower sellers made us some tea and dinner and then pointed to some wasteground a few metres away. They packed up and we got the tent up. All night long dogs barked around the tent and the noise from cars and passers-by kept me up most of the night. We were in full view of anyone who came round the back of the building but we hoped that being so late, no-one would. In the middle of the night, a lone man walked around the now deserted streets banging a drum. This is a Ramadan tradition but some communities ban it due to the late night disturbance. I hadn't slept a wink at this point and awoke the next morning feeling rough.

Swiss cyclists heading to Istanbul

Huub from Holland

However, the lovely flower sellers were back and they called us over for tea and breakfast. This was especially kind of them as, due to it being Ramadan, they themselves were not allowed to eat until nightfall. That day I managed 70 kms which I was happy enough with. As we rested in a bus stop, a man came over with a huge plate of watermelon for us. We camped in a picnic area that night where many cars came and went. I began to think we may have camped in a Turkish dogging hot-spot. We spent the night undisturbed though. The scenery on this road was very nice indeed: rolling hills and endless fields of sunflowers. Some of the sunflowers had started to die. It was a poignant sight to see all those heads start to tilt down towards the earth and lose their colour. Ben commented though that it was a dignified death for them though as there seemed to be a unity between them. They were dying but dying together. The few living ones that remained however had to watch their friends die around them and knew it was their turn soon.As we camped in a picnic area at the end of day 2, I felt quite happy with my 62 km day. It was a far cry from the 180 kms day in Kazakhstan but not bad considering. Next morning, my mood was low. I couldn't deny the fact that I was kidding myself that I was okay. I wanted to be on top form so badly but simply wasn't. I packed up nonetheless and carried on cycling towards the Bulgarian border. By the end of that day my leg was killing me and as I struggled to the top of what should have been an easy climb I shouted in frustration and disappointment, "Okay, game over. Happy?" to no-one in particular. I then burst into tears and consoled myself with a hug from Ben and a packet of biscuits and bottle of pop from the next shop.

These nice men bought us lunch

The Turkish people on this leg of the journey gave the Iranians a run for their money for kindness and hospitality. An offer of a cup of tea was never far away and every day someone offered us lunch or dinner. It was the middle of Ramadan at this point and as we sat outside a mosque in the town of Vize, a Turkish man speaking to me in fluent German offered us two melons despite the fact that he would not be partaking of the fine fruit himself. I was truly seeing the best of Turkey, a side you would never have the pleasure of seeing as a tourist in Istanbul.

Endless supply of free tea
We stopped at 50 kms and for the first time since leaving Istanbul found a fantastic campsite in a lovely setting. We lit a fire and enjoyed the brief company of a group of goats and their two shepherds for a short time before turning in for the night. The following day a ferocious headwind made me feel like the world was indeed a very bleak place as I cycled along cursing my leg, the weather and a hundred other unrelated things.

Having a bad day
More friendly folk who fed us

Excuse me pal, your shirt's on fire

Despite their bad reputation amongst cyclists, we found Turkish dogs to be very friendly beasties


It was dark when we arrived in the town of Edirne near the Bulgarian border and we had trouble finding a place to camp. There was not a soul in sight at the mosque and all the parks were far too busy to make for a sensible campsite. In the end we camped in the forecourt of a 24 hour petrol station where the super friendly staff brought us sausage and tomato sandwiches and of course....... tea.  The following morning we said our goodbyes and cycled back to town to change the last of our lira. Ahmet, a friendly English speaking Turk called us over for tea in a cafe. He spoke fluent English and told us he was a doctor at the local hospital. I soon realised that we had probably met Ahmet for a reason. Although it was not his specialist branch of medicine, he knew a lot about neurology and vertebral discs. He told me in no uncertain terms that continuing cycling even after my break was risky and asked me what meant more to me, finishing this bike ride or having a healthy, happy future with a working body.  I decided there and then that I would cycle to our next Couch Surfers in Haskovo, Bulgaria then get off the bike.

Camping in a garage forecourt


So what happened next? Well read the Bulgaria/Serbia blog which I hope to publish in a few days to find out.