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.