July 2018 - Worldtrip Update
This is a story about how to fall into a shit pit and get pulled out again, how to climb mountains with a dual-speed bike, how to survive on the highway, and how to get your hands on hard liquor at 10am.
From the caves of Cappadocia we rode through dry, wide landscapes to the next big city Kayseri.
For a while now, Yves was cycling with an untrue back wheel, it was time to fix it. As so often, we found help on warmshowers. Our angel not only accompanied us to a local bike shop Zirve Bisiklet, who’s owner adjusted the wheel, indexed the gears and serviced our brakes for no cost. He also provided us with a place to sleep, through the many active intercity WhatsApp groups Turkish people use to communicate.
So we met Barış, a mechanical engineering student, anti-capitalist, and singer, with the dream to travel to South America. He invited us to stay in the empty home of his family, and because we liked it so much, we decided to spend 2 nights.
We ate together and communicated mostly with the help of Google Translate. Accompanied of his guitar and lute Barış sang and played ancient Turkish songs for us.
Barış plays an important role in our journey, he connected us to Linda and Tim a few weeks later. They had recently founded a very active and helpful WhatsApp group whose members are currently cycling a similar route through Central Asia.
What wouldn’t one do to get invited for dinner? After Kaiseri we rode to Şarkışla and during lunch time we did the usual: Groceries, eating, relaxing. When the daily heatwave passes, the afternoon stage starts, ending with search for fresh water and a suitable campsite. As we cycled through a little village, we discovered a water source on grassland and kindly asked the farmer to let it run. We thanked him and asked him if he would allow us to camp on the meadow, the answer was naturally “yes”. So we cycled across, Yves first. What a pity that we realised too late, that the entire family was now standing behind us and collectively shouting “Stoooooop”. It already happened. Yves was stuck with his entire front wheel, both legs, and arms in a manure pit… Everybody came running, but only one of the farmer’s sons had the courage to pull helpless Yves out of the shit. What followed was a full body shower with the garden hose, and because we provided an unforgettable show, we were invited for dinner.
Before food was served, we setup our tent with all the grand-children, all very curious and amazed. The extended family then gathered around the richly set table. There was çiğ köfte, and not the one we usually get from fast foods, but the fresh laborious hand made çiğ köfte. For those who do not know: çiğ köfte are balls of uncooked fine bulgur, tomato paste, onions and many spices. The fast food variant is vegetarian, the original version is mixed with a bit of raw ground beef. The family served the original recipe, and even Yves liked it very much. In addition there was homemade Ayran and divine butter directly from the barn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and salads from the garden, and of course çay. In the morning there was a similarly extensive breakfast. Thank you, Yves, for getting us all that ;).
We continued our journey on highways to Gemerek and Sivas, where we discovered the best backer of Turkey! Salty and sweet pastries are lovingly made by hand and sold in a shop next to a popular and really cool student bar.
We camp at lakes and chat with many locals. Many people come too close to us, wanting to take photos with us, and offering their nicely meant help. This is very stressful, we start to feel like aliens. We probably haven’t gotten used to it, now we know that the selfie phenomenon will take on even greater proportions during our journey!
The anticipation of the more liberal region of the Black Sea is rising, but first there is still the mountain range to cross, that separates the inland from the coast. An exhausting stage, hot - so hot that the tar liquefied on the streets and stucked to everything, and mountainous terrain, very mountainous, we climbed with 2200m our highest pass to that point.
Great campsites often reward us on such routes. One of them was paradise: A place with fresh running water, lots of shade, a table with benches, a fire pit, and great views - a dream for cyclists. Thanks to all the people who build and maintain such places! Similarly great are strawberry milkshakes in the student town Şebinkarahisar, artificial strawberry flavor is the same everywhere and sometimes this is all one needs, no surprises.
Then fate strikes us a bit too hard… On a detour that we have to put up with to buy water and food, Yves’s gear cable snaps, and of course this is one of the spares we are not carrying. The consequence of this: Yves now has to get along with 2 gears and the mountain has not even started properly.
The highest of the mountains is still to overcome, luckily Yves and I are in a very good mood that day and are mentally prepared for the effort. This way, despite the headwinds, we manage to quickly cycle up the barren, and yet beautiful mountain. On the way we meet numerous herds of cows, sheep and shepherd dogs. Downhill we are surprised. The back of the mountain has a completely different climate and it gets green, wooded, it blooms - the atmosphere changes. There are a few accumulations of houses, and promptly we are again invited by a German-Turk from Hamburg in front of a small mosque for coffee. We meet other tourists who drive up the mountain with their luxurious cars to impress their girlfriend, wife or family with waterfalls and mountains.
The climate changed abruptly, from dry and windy it became wet and rainy. We had reached the black sea.
This is the beginning of a whole new section of our Turkish experience. We drove to Giresun and after fixing Mimos endless punctures we decided, very tired, to book a hotel for the night. At the hotel, unfortunately a rather uncooperative and in my opinion hungover hotel owner was waiting for us. Our bikes were a big problem to him and his “shiny clean“ hotel. There was no way our bikes could stay inside. After some discussion, we met the nice man from the otopark (car park) next door, he took our bikes, for free, at night in his little gatehouse. Typical for Turkey - problem and solution are often so close to each other.
In the evening we rewarded ourselves with mantı (traditional filled mini-noodle bags) and veggie burgers from the hipster restaurant.
We continued on the Black Sea highway. Straight, quick, flat. For camping one needs to get creative between highway and sea. On beaches, on breakwaters, fishing docks. We often got wet. Once we got drenched. We camped on a huge massive concrete block on the shore and in the early morning there was such a heavy storm that we got scared and packed everything in pouring rain. Mimos tires were flat again, so we had to push the bikes and shelter ourselves at the next gas station. We spent a few hours there, made contact with the owner, built up the tent and let everything dry. And so we can still say: We ♥ gas stations, because there is a roof, coke and popsicles.
This coastal highway, which led us very quickly to Georgia, is actually a shame. There are hardly any possibilities to cross it on foot or by bike and therefore really few clean beaches, trucks chase along it, and one tunnel follows another, it is is quite dangerous for cyclists. In the larger cities such as Trabzon and Rize, traffic also increases significantly.
And yet we met travelers again and again. Sven a German motorcyclists who had a lot to report about Central Asia and the Pamir Mountains. And a Swiss cyclist on the road in nothing but tight, neon-colored hot pants, who repaired Mimos now really unstable tires once again.
In search of Wi-Fi we met a young man who invited us to tea and told us about a criminal case against him. He is currently being charged by the “state” for participating in the Gülen movement and participating in the attempted overthrow of the current president of Turkey and protests against him. The biggest and most painful consequence for him is the loss of his right to travel.
Another encounter that we enjoyed very much was with a 17-year-old girl at a çiğ köfte snack bar, who at first asked us very shyly and later in great detail and intelligently in good English about our cycling trip.
The region we passed through had dedicated its entire agriculture to hazelnuts and tea, and naturally we got gifted half a kilo of tea from her mother who watched us from a distance.
The shoreline was not very pretty, but sometimes useful. We put in a beach day, washed and relaxed. The break was necessary, Yves felt creeping symptoms of a tennis elbow, which we fortunately prevented.
And finally we reached the Georgian border! The border crossing was smooth, we were able to get past all cars, trucks and waiting people, and not a single piece of luggage got scanned.
Now the car chaos really started. Roads got worse and cars stinkier. Our first destination was Batumi, a paradise for tourists from Russia, entertainment addicts and shopaholics - there is no longer any dress code and you can freely enjoy the beach feeling. It felt so weird, we had to leave quickly. After our first night in Georgia we went to a small cafe for breakfast. We received a warm welcome and with the help of a Ukrainian cyclist we explained our order to the waiter in Russian. Now all languages we knew wouldn’t help us anymore. Especially tricky, we could not read anything. Cyrillic Russian was hard to decipher and the Georgian script is beautiful, but more like Elvish than anything we know. Then came our order and three glasses of Chacha (home-made schnapps). Hello Georgia.
Then on to Poti, a port city that suffered heavily under the 2008 war against the Russians. Traces of it were still clearly visible. Here we prepared for a trip to the Caucasus, with the help of a very helpful resident we got stove fuel and went shopping on a very lively and rich bazari: fruit, vegetables and bread. We were really looking forward to the mountains, but we were looking even more forward to meet Mimo’s brother, Kerim, and his girlfriend Diana in Tbilisi - “normal people finally!”
From Khorok in the Pamir Mountains on the Afghan border, Mimouna.