Sunday 29 August 2010

We stayed some days near Sınop at a campsite run by a guy called Orhan. Mardı Campıng. It was on the cleanest beach we had seen in Turkey. Orhan was a forward thinker on the rubbish front, a rare man in Turkey. The campsite was almost empty, only a nice Dutch couple,Doreen an Walter, in a motorhome and an Italian couple who were archaeological conservators working in central Turkey.We were to meet them by chence some days later.
It was a hard place to leave but after stretching a one days rest into four days we finally packed up and hit the road oncemore.
We were following same coast that Jason dıd wıth his Argonauts. At one place was a statue of an Amazon woman, tastefully dressed in Greek style garb, Bow in hand. We stopped at 'Jasons cape' where he rested up on his return journey. There is a church there erected in the 19th C by some local Greek residents.
The plan was to go to Trabzon but after being told of a much better route to Erzerum by several people we decided to take the advice and avoid the city. No great loss apparently. and the road was great, winding its way gently up a river valley, through gorges and tunnels and hazelnut hills. A steeper section took us higher where the trees dissapeared and we crossed a 2400m pass with a ski station. The 1000m drop down the other side shaved a bit off our brake blocks and we entered a different land. Wild Mountainous high plataux leading gently up to Erzerum. The wind blows East to West here strongly almost every day.
In Erzerum we obtained our Iranian visas inside a day which was great. This high city is a bit rough round the edges but has some pleasant parts. We were not too sad to leave though and camped the next night behind a petrol station before a town called Horasan as it was hard to hide the tent and the people were becoming more unfriendly by the mile. We somehow did not feel to safe here. The station manager was from a different part of the country and was keen to leave this cold hard plain where winter temperatures can drop to -40. He spoke good English and had studied ecenomics but sadly had to leave for Erzerum. Anja had her bum grabbed by a 16 year old kid from the cafe and we were left in the dark at was now a truckstop with 7 or 8 unsavioury characters milling about. A bad night where I slept fitfully with my hand on the knife.
The Station manager had warned us that the next 200 kms to Dogabuyazit was a dangerous stretch of road, PKK teritory and if we were going to ride it we must not stop. 'Do not camp out in the hills under any cicumstances and reach the next town before dark' he said.
We have since Austria always been warned that the next country is dangerous and take this with a pinch of salt but this guy was so specific, marking dangerous and safe Zones on the map that we believed him.
After a fearful but uneventful night we set off into the hills. Somehow we were both scared but I think with me at least it not really a fear of this road. More nasty stale adrenalin hanging around in my body from the unpleasantness and inactivity of the night before.
After a couple of hours though I was feeling better, it was an ımpressıve road with grass roofed villages surrounded by haystacks and cow dung briquets drying for fuel. Cows and sheep roamed the plains tended by stick wielding herdsmen. There was little traffic, maınly trucks and occasionally an armoured car or tank transporter would roll by. Reasuring.
We were beginning to enjoy ourselves at last and a genuine smile appeared on Anjas face even as she winched her bike towards yet another high pass.
Shortly before the top of a particularly steep pass with was a small village, Güneykarma, I remember the name,a man and a boy walked towards us toting sticks. 'Do not stop whatever' I said to Anja as the boy leveled his stick like a gun and the man stood infront to block our way. At first he made photo taking motions which changed quickly to demands for money. We trod on the pedals and cranked the speed up to 7kms, it was painfully steep here, but the pair dropped in beside us and kept pace with an easy jog. We had 35kgs of pack to haul, the boy just a stick and the man length of steel pipe, now raised in the air. Great.
Anja went ahead and after some minuits of saying no to the demands,(I am not adversed to giving to the poor but this behaviour I considered rude, besides we were not going to be bullied). I told the guy to back off and began to get cross. After no positive response to this tactic I was thinking things might be serious, the top of the pass was coming up and the guy might take into his head to actually hit me with his brandished pipe. As I was thinking it might be best to stop and try to take the pipe off him and was working out how to do this he decided to try and run to catch up Anja. I grabbed his arm, pulled him back and shouted no once more. I don't really think this did the trıck but he gave up eventually and we crested breathlessly over the pass. Fresh adrenaline was pumping now and I though the incident comical. Anja did not and when 100yds on three youths wielding more sticks ran over a field and onto the road waving thier weapons to stop us, she put on such a pace as I have never seen and swerved round them with style. I paid these guys little attention as I was captivated by my wonderful and brave girlfriend taking all these antics in here stride. Two more kids threatening to throw stones didnt even turn her head.
Anja had wanted to get a bus over this stretch after we heard it was dodgy. This was a good Idea but I felt the fears were largely ungrounded and if we chickened out onthe first tough stretch we would never make it to Sydey. Turns out I should have listened.
We rolled into Agri at 2.30, after 100kms of the hardes kms I have ever ridden and I conceded to getting a bus the last 86 to Doganbuyazit shortly before the Iranian border.
From a bus window we could appreciate the beauty of this landscape without the feeling of vulnerability and smallness in this vast and wild country. The snow capped, cloud draped mass of mount Ararat suddenly appeared and would dominate the landscape now for miles.
We had met just before Agri a Swiss motorcyclist, Philip, and he was waiting for us with cold beers at the campsite in Dogabuyazit. What a welcome sight. He cooked us a great rissotto and we could laugh over our terrible day. Philip had ridden the same road on the same day and thought everybody wonderful and had not heard it was dangerous.
I wonder if we had not been told that if things would have been different. Did we draw the trouble to us or are things just different on a bicycle. Stıll, a day where you are chased by men wıth stıcks, are hıt on the head by a stone flung from a trucks wheel, and nıpped on the calf by a dog ıs not what I call a good one.
All part of the adventure I suppose.

We are back ın good spırıts and ready for Iran, Anja just bought a scarf and me a new ınnertube. She looks more appealıng.

Just before we left the blacksea coast we met an Irısh/Englısh cyclıng couple we had met months and thousands of kms ago ın Germany. They had taken a totally dıfferent route and only crossed ours for a few kms. What are the odds?. They were lookıng alot wılder than when we last saw them. Probably so were we. As we headed ınto the mountaıns the next day a car hooted and pulled over. It was Hakım, a guy we had made frıends wıth a few days before on the coast. some tea was ın order even though ıts ramazan, we were as pleased to see hım as he us. Its nıce meetıng people you know ın the mıdle of nowhere.

Wıll add more to thıs sectıon when I have more tıme.

Monday 16 August 2010

5 tage am strand

alle machen urlaub.
wir machen auch urlaub. nach über 750 schweißtreibenden kilometern von istanbul nach sinop entlang der schwarzmeerküste finden wir ein kleines stückchen paradis am strand und hier bauen wir unser zelt auf und 5 tage auch nicht mehr ab. marti camping heißt der platz und da momentan ramadan ist, gibt es fast niemanden auf dem zeltpltz. so geben wir uns dem süßen nichtstun hin, wabern im wasser herum wie die quallen, oder lassen uns auf der am strarnd allein gelassenen, aber noch funktionstüchtigen luftmatratze über die seichten wellen treiben, beobachten streunende hunde, hüpfende gepunktete frösche, an der wand sitzende grasgrüne frösche, beschäftigte mistkäfer, grasende kühe, kleine und große wasservögel und springende delphine. ein traum. lesen und ein paar kleine ausbesserungsarbeiten an diesem und jenem ausrüstungsgegenstand ist das höchstmaß an beschäftigung.
die hinter uns liegende strecke hat uns (besonders mir) doch recht viel abverlangt. mehr als 50 km am tag waren kaum zu schaffen. ein ewiges rauf und runter, steile anstiege, (anja schiebt) dazu die wohlbekannte "klettverschlußstraße", 35 grad, extrem hohe luftfeuchtigkeit, hitzepickel, wunder hintern... etc. aber die küste ist nicht nur atemraubend anstrengend sondern auch atemberaubend schön. blaues meer und extrem grüne berge sind schon eine geniale kombination. schöne übernachtungsplätze waren auch immer zu finden. meistens dirket am strand. wildes campen scheint niemanden zu stören, im gegenteil. wenn wir uns häuslich niedergelassen haben, kommt meistens jemand vorbei mit haselnüssen, obst oder irgendetwas anderem. so kam es, dass wir zeiweise bestimmt mehr als ein kilogramm haselnüsse im gepäck hatten. wir hatten immer ein bißchen angst vor weiteren haselnußschenkungen. es ist grad erntezeit und die berge sind voll davon. ein mühsames geschäft bei diesen geographischen verhälthissen
nachdem wir gerade einen schönen salat und börek zu mittag gegessen haben, fühle ich mich ganz schläfrig und werde jetzt ein kleines nickerchen im schatten der rauschenden kiefern halten. denn morgen ruft wieder die straße. schluß mit der faulenzerei. doch bis dahin sind es noch ein paar stunden.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Piknik Alani and the Hazelnut Coast

Istanbul to Amasra

Don't come this way on a bicycle unless you really like cycling, are not afraid of hills and are very tough in both body and spirit. Or your just a bit dumb like me.
I thought I met the first criterium but have been challenged. Anja, well, she comes from tough East German stock. Some evenings as I was fading away and ready to sleep in the nearest ditch she could keep going up and over another mountain to find a beach on which to make a decent camp.
A few days out from te big city, in a town called Acakoca we took a rest and repair day. I replaced all the spokes on my backwheel with new ones bought in Istanbul. New chain and middle sprocket for my bike also. An incapatibility between new and old sprockets was rectified with a rusty borrowed file but I was busy all day and didn't get to relax and enjoy the beautiful shaded and terraced campsite with big blue views of the sea.
On the second evening a dirty and tired Daniel pulled in and pitched camp next to us. A German motorcyclist on a new BMW Enduro whith whom, as it often turns out, Anja had mutual aquaintences. Going the other way along the coast to us, he had found the coming 300km to Sinop difficult and that with 800cc's Deutsch Teknik under his saddle. This did not bode well for the road ahead. He willingly joined us for our special chicken dinner cooked up on the campstove. A lone traveller happier in company.
The first day after leaving the shady calm of the hostel brought us through wooded steep hills dotted with 'Piknik Yeri' or 'Piknik Alani' where, it seems, weekend folk from the city bring food and pay a not so paultry sum for a picknick table in the shade. As with the beaches here, people dont search for that secluded spot so there are many places with almost nobody and a few places where they all hang out. One of these picknick spots that had fallen into disuse made a perfect campsite, the owner glad to have us and a precedent for our new overnighting technique which we call 'Inviting ourselves to stay'
I have always been a little shy of asking if we can pitch the tent on someones land. Being a follower of the hiding unseen in the trees school or 'crawling into the bushes' as Anja puts it. I go unwillingly cap in hand to ask for a patch of ground for the night but when exhausted, with the sun tiring of its hard days work and an unreckoned town on a mountainside ahead, asking comes easier. One night before Kozlu and Zonguldak in just such a situation we commited to riding steeply down to a cove knowing we had no choice but to stay somewhere there. What we found was what we didn't want. A small beach packed with revellers and rough looking types from the city, closely watched by Policemen patrolling the litterstrewn, sewage smelling carpark come promenade. Our hearts sank and our lips trembled a little as we knew this was an unpleasant and probably dangerous place to pitch a tent.
There lay one possibility; over a hump backed footbridge crossing a still green stream lay a small shady Piknik Alani with a cow meadow behind. Over I went to ask and was greeted in Turkish by a burly type with freindly eyes and a firm 'no' to my question. I posed it another way hoping he had not fully understood me, he put the negative answer another way hoping this time it was clear. We stood like Little John and Robin Hood, both being polite but niether giving ground. His meadow was our only chance of a nights sleep and for some perfectly good reason which I couldn't understand it was closed to us. After a third attempt at asking using what I call the hand jive, I had to retreat to the nightmare side of the bridge where Anja was surrounded by teenage boys and talking to one in German. The nice young lad asked the police for us and they said it was possible to camp here but they would not recommend it, at night there were many drunks and they retreated to the clifftop police station.
A touch on my elbow and a pretty, pregnant young woman asked me in sparse English what I wanted. Behind her stood the burly guy from the bridge, her Uncle who had brought her to translate. We were on bicycles? Were passing through? Wanted to stay only one night and not for the week? of course we could stay. The problem was that they had no toilets. The bikes were brought over and we were accepted into the large extended family of shotputters (the pregnant niece) and wrestlers, three generations of. They were building a small resteraunt and terraces from stone so I stripped of my shirt and swung a pickaxe with the boys.
The meadow was a heaven of calm. We were brought stuffed peppers to supliment our dinner and were invited to breakfast thenext morning.
It seems with Turkish hospitality, even if you invite yourself, you get well looked after. We were too tired and hungry to feel any guilt over our imposition.


Tea has become an important part of our lives and being invited to sit and drink it a twice our thrice daily occurence. Mostly we take up the invitation which can turn out interesting. In Catalzeytin we were invited by the baker to drink tea in the shade of the fountain in thesmall town square. We sat with the shopkeepers who dissapeared for periodically as customers entered their various emporiums. The hardwear man from the shop that sold everything. The barber, the travel agent and the old guy who spoke a little french through toothless lips.
In one of these coastal towns we were hailed and beckoned into a shady cafe by a man with a dirty shirt and his nephew who had been to England. I was thinking that the shirt had a somehow familiar sort of grime when it came out that we were sitting with the local blacksmith. He was as exited as me that we shared a profession and we crossed the road for a look round his workshop which could easily have been one of my own. As I turned down the invitation to stay a few days and help finish the current railings project an Austin-Leyland tractor pulled up with an interesting adaption on the back. The German speaking Entrepreneur had extended the linkbox, installed benches each side and a parasol for shade. He was making these with the help of the blacksmith and selling them as the future vehicle for Black sea beach safaris.


Amrasa to Sinop

From Istanbul we had seen maybe a dozen flattish miles but from Amasra the real switchback road begins. 250 km of twisting, bucking serpent connecting communities 30 years before only reachable by boat.
Our whole day here on this stretch is an experience of stickiness. The humidity is so high that even at 30 degrees water condenses on shiny surfaces. From 5pm on everything is damp. As the sweat runs down our arms our hands stick to the handlebars, our bikes stick to the molten road and our eyes are glued to the horizon searching for telltale signs of hilltop. It makes no odds when we reach a summit for we steeply plunge and in minuits are only a couple of kms further on, trying once more to stretch the sinewey tentacles of gravity as it pulls backwards on our packs and our souls.
The thick tar and stone nougat on our tyres we crack off in the early light only to have a new, gloopy candycoat by nine. They say this is a hot summer. I need no convincing.
Where the forrest is hacked back hazelnuts are grown. They are carried on the backs of donkeys and old men. They are given to us in kilo's by grandma's and by handfulls from the pockets of young men. They lie drying by the roadside. It is harvest time and the sound of shells snapping between teeth followed by the patter of discarded shards falling on hard earth is as solid a part of this landscape as the nutbushes themselves, running down a steep valley to the sea. As pine trees with a bluedeep sail-less backdrop or fishingboats hiding their colourful flanks behind tumbling harbour walls as they wait for the cold water and the fish to return. As solid as the high wooded hills with rocky crags sheltering Jackal and boar and minarets who's wailing is hearkened not only by the faithful but echoed by dogs around the valleys as it strikes a wild unforgotten chord in their ears and their instincts.
In a well kept town named Doganyurt we camped on some grass by the harbour and were welcomed by the town. An old man bought us tea and introduced us to his wife. Sefa, the young koafür came to talk then opened up his shop to give me a shave. His friend with MS, confined to a wheelchair shook his head at the call to prayer. A sceptic I suspected, with a sense of humour. A man out for a walk with his wife introduced himself as the local police and asked if we were having any trouble with the boys.
' Not at all ' I replied 'and whats with the pink poloshirt uniform, is Turkey going for the softly softly approach to law enforcement' He laughed and said 'here is my uniform'showing us the concealed pistol in his belt.
'El Commissar!!'
said our sceptical freind saluting. This earnt a jovial slap with a cap on the head from the constabulary and we all turned to watch Sefa's father driving the approaching fire engine as it did double duty as public park watering can.This was a town from a 1950's American film where everybody knows everyone, where not much happens but where everything that is important in life goes on.

We were sad to leave this town and our new freinds as we crawled next morning up the toffeenut road and into the woods oncemore. Infact, we were caught out again for a place to stay the next night for the road turned inland as the sun went off to do its work downunder.
In mountains so steep and prickly it is not easy to find a flat patch to pitch a tent. We turned down a track and at the first bend found the best place on offer. Its funny how a scruffy, uninviting spot reveals its beauty when the tent is up, the fire is lit and food upon the way. Cliffs towered above Jakals howled to the distant Imams calls and we were happy. As long as no-one drove by.
As it seems they always do in Asia, someone turned up. Two guys in a Renault 12 (these funktional family cars are the most common to be seen on Turkish roads. In Romania the same cars were called Dacia's. Renault must have pinched the design, a good one and sold it to the Turks. Typical sneaky French trick).
What in England would often be a 'Get off my land' situation was, as we now expected, a 'what can I give you' one. The men had come to check the pump at the bottom of the lane which sent sptingwater to somewhere up above. In the pumphouse to which I was invited was water, a pump, a tin of grease and some paper napkins. I left with a wad of useful serviettes and some of the finest springwater we had tasted in a while and we drink it everyday. Grease I already had.
Fine is a culture that brings springwater to the side of the road for the drythroated traveller to sup. We are lucky on this coast as thereare many of these springs , often with a cistern and a tap, a picknick table and some shade. We meet many people at these waterholes, willing to chat and offer us hazelnuts. The water the people and the beauty of this sticky black steep sea coast are as refreshing as each other and will remain in our memories I am sure. Will remain long after those of hardship, heat and saddle-sores have faded into the misty hinterground of our minds like distant mountains into the heathaze of an August noon.

Hostel Istanbul

We sit at the thre tables on the street outside one of the reputedly oldest backpacker hostels in Istanbul. I noticed some award on the wall with 1982 mentioned so it must have been here in '95 when in the same neighbourhood I shared a dank concrete room with a rat for a week. Maybe I couldn't find it. Maybe I couldn't afford it.
There are maybe eight or ten of us this evening. Sipping beers and chewing the fat. Next to me sit two young guys from Peckham. They are between school and university and are happy to talk about old haunts from my London years. I am surprised to learn how things have changed. Deptford has apparently had a wine-bar for sometime now and the mountain bike dudes are all now riding fixed wheel (no gears) bikes with super narrow handlebars. Though when I repeated my long retired anecdote about cycling through Peckham and having a gun pulled on me in a road rage incident they proudly said the old manor was still the same.
On the other side of me Brian the Aussie finished skypeing his mates back home and said in that endearing, lacadasical antipodean way that he had seen enough of the 'old stuff' and was just going to sit here a day or two and watch the people go by. Fair dinkum I thought and would gladly have joined him had I actually seen much of the Old stuff on offer. 'I got a lot of respect for you guys' he said, 'doing this by bike. Don't you ever get homesick? I met one guy' he continued 'who was walking round the world and reckoned it would take him seven years. I asked him why the hell he would do a thing like that and he thought about the answer for ages, as if no-one had ever aked him the question before and then he said 'I thought it might be interesting''.
Maybe the time the guy took was to weigh Brian up and think of an answer he might possibly understand.
In the corner were two Amarican students talking about beer and college fees. Next to them a young Polish couple who were hitch-hiking and the only ones who seemed to be on a budget. There was a quietly spoken young Canadian who let us all tell our tales of adventure off the tourist trail before admitting he had been to Afghanistan, thought it was poor and dirtyand a little scary and that anyone of us wanting to go there right now was a fool. Why had he been there? He was in the Army. He had seen no action, luckily, had been sent home after breaking his leg on the way to the gym, and was in Turkey with the goal of 'unpredjudicing'himself against Islam. Nice chap.
There was an Amarican racing cyclist healing from an accident, an Italian cycle enthusiast and Lee.
Lee was our favourite and we spent a day with him eating fish sandwiches and visiting the moders art museum. He had 'had enough of the Ottomans'. A 57 year old Daniel Day Lewis lookalike, bit of an old hippy type from Hawaii via Arizona or Vice Versa. Leehad worked for an aid agency in Etheopia in the '80s, had been all over the place and was now looking into going to the 'Other Iraq' as he called it. The northern part where the Kurds live is apparently almost an independent country, is very American friendly, is beautiful and developing fast. I read the guidebook Iraq section and found the 'Hamilton Road' section most interesting.
Hamilton was a New Zealand engineer and was commisioned by the British, I think in the '30s to build a road through this mountainous region linking the mediterainian coast to Tehran. It is apparently one of the most impressive roads in the world as it winds its way through massive mountain gorges andhe was Knighted for the achievement. It could be an alternative route for us into Iran though I imagine it would not be too easy a bike ride.

I quite enjoy dipping now and again into the backpacker world and find the crowd openminded and interesting and devoid of the social rules of say the British 'Traveller' club. But as the talk came round to who was heading off where and how I was glad we would be pedalling off slowly and camping in the woods oncemore. I found everyone too willing to hop on a plane if it were cheap enough. Some peoples trips involved an immense amount of flying. I liken it to leaving litter on a jetsom strewn beach; just a little more crap makes hardly any difference. Does it? Even with buses and trains the whole game seems to me a bit passive. Nobody going anywhere without burning oil and always a passenger, getting off at recommended points along the way.
Of course I have travelled this way myself and probably will again but I always felt a little frustrated. I remember alot of waiting, alot of sitting and alot of finally arriving in places I didn't really want to be. Luckily some years ago, I became a devotee of the righteous path of the pedal, a relatively new splinter group diverging from the ancient religion of pack and hiking boot. In the corner of my mind I still keep a little shrine to this older, purer cult and offer now and again my shoulder and calf muscles as sacrifice.
Kirsty asked me a few months back if I thought it might be the case that travellers see what they see and tourists see what they came to see? I might ad to this that explorers see what no-one else has seen and cycle tramps see what no-one else would want to.
So. Istanbul.
We visited the Blue mosque, the Grand Bazaar (both self descriptive) and the Modern art museum (also). We took a boat trip up the Golden Horn and walked through the cemetery to a high point overlooking the city. Where else other than in human cities can one find swarms of so many creatures? Are there 16 million ants in a nest or bees in a hive or bats in a cave or Wilderbeast when they migrate? Were there really so many pidgeons as they say in the American praries of old? Locusts. There must be that many locusts when they decide to have a get together. Though I doubt each one knows its mum and dad, Aunt and Uncle or little sister. That it goes to school, waits for a bus, reads books or cries when it looses a girlfriend. Everyone of us , though grouped together is uniquely alone with our thoughts and problems.
I become always a little afraid when confronted with large cities and looking down on Istanbul I tried to understand why. Our dominance over the planet is here so clear it unnerves me for sure but the fear? Perhaps it comes from the foriegn and unknown writhing mass of humans, but more, I think from the immense and unknowable mass of Individuality.