Ancient Roman culture in abundance, this photo from Nemrut National Park, Turkey.
Caucasus and the route.
Visas available at the borders. From 15$ and up (Americans pay 45$. "for the earthquake"- the answer Jeff got when asking why Americans had to pay so much more...).
Price level: moderate to expensive.
Traffic & Roads: a lot on the main roads, but there are always small roads with almost no traffic.
In the beginning I was a bit regretful when arriving in Turkey. Syria had been so relaxing and trouble free. It was not the Turkey I knew. The areas I had been cycling in before had been very nice, but in the area I arrived, the population was plagued by the "parrot syndrome". Every single human being was compelled to shout "hello". If you answered, the person/persons started to laugh their heads off in a "oh-look-it-answers" sort of way. If you didn't answer the greeting, it was reapeated ad nauseum 'til you were out of reach. Very, very tiring after hundreds of repetitions a day.
|Kurds on a field, just started the spring work.
Utterly sick of the quite square minded (I'll leave at that, boring stories anyway) mentality of the population in this part of the country, I went to Nemrut Dagi. A national park I had heard a lot of good things about.
|View from the camp spot in Nemrut Dagi National Park.|
|The by oldest bridge I cycled on. About 1800 years old!|
|Some information about the bridge, pretty impressive that it is still there.|
Saw some old Roman statues and took off for Erzurum. All of a sudden I felt an oppressive atmosphere. No people around. Checkpoints all over the place. The military scrutinized my passport every 10 km. Had difficulties to get through sometimes and the people in the checkpoints talked about a war ahead. Didn't so much attention to it and continued with the impression, that "they must be exaggerating". They were not.
Was once again stopped in a checkpoint. The military was very serious and I was basically arrested and brought into an office. A guy with lots of brass on the uniform started to interrogate me. What was I doing there? Why? How long have you been in the area? bla bla.
He explained that there was a full scale war going on on the way to Erzurum and that I couldn't continue. Bullshit, I said, it's fine, there's no war ahead. He looked at me for a second and brought me outside and walked me up a small hill. Listen, he said. First I heard nothing, but after a minute or two I heard heavy fire not very far away. He looked at me in a "I-told-you" way. Was given a huge meal, recommended another route and put on a bus back. Tried out that route, same thing happened again, put on a minibus back towards Diyarbakir. Tried once again, but no luck.
Gave up and thought, i may as well pick up the visas in Ankara and meet Jeff there instead of in Erzurum. On a bus towards Ankara and in a way I was pleased about the decision, had spent days and days going nowhere in a place which I didn't particularly liked and there were a war going on. The Turkish had their hands full with the Hezbollah who had taken over the place of the PKK after Ozcalan's arrest.
It proved to be a lucky move to go to Ankara. Got in contact with Alkim, a acquaintance of Jeff and I had a great time and got a friend for life. It was great in other ways as well, Ankara is probably THE place to go when it comes to visas for central Asia and the Caucasus. Picked up 8 visas in five days.
Had been bothered by too much weight and started to go wild with scissors, pliers and a knife. Cut off kilos of unnecessary weight. Jeff arrived and did the same. It's nice to be a bit fanatic and insane sometimes...
|Some of the stuff that's not necessary for any lightweight cyclist...|
Bus to Erzurum and I was back almost in the place I had left ten days earlier. Started to cycle towards the Georgian border. Beautiful and the people was much more friendly and after the experiences in the "deep south-east" I found it great to realize it was just down there Turkey could be a bit taxing.
|An old castle.|
Had small argument with Jeff and went on my own for the not-really-official border crossing at Cildir. Stopped by military and sent back. Could've sneaked over the border, but decided not to - what was the point, when there was an official border just 50 km away?
|The first pass with snow and the wonderful sign that every cyclist in the world loves - 22km downhill!|
Jeff was waiting for me at the border and after a basketball session with the immigration officials and some truck drivers it was time to enter The Caucasus.
Visa: Available in embassies, very fast, the visa is in the passport before you handed over the 30$, for a 2 week permit to stay.
Price level: Cheap. The exception is accommodation, from 5$ and up, possible to find cheaper home stays.
Traffic & Roads: Very different from place to place. Loads of potholes in places. Traffic heavy close to Tbilisi and watch out for drunk drivers...
Arrival in Georgia...Every single person in the immigration was drunk. Ranging from tipsy and loud to flat out gone drunk. Had troubles getting through without paying a "schtraff" - the word you will hear a bit here and there all over the old Soviet Union territory. Schtraff, can be anything from a bribe to a fine and the word is usually spat out with a lot of force - like a whiplash or long, guttural with an ominous undercurrent...ssschtraaafff...After some smaller arguments (at one point we thought it would get physical) we got through.
|First break in Georgia...a pretty primitive gas
The reason why I called this tour The Murphy Tour...It actually started before the journey...so much bad luck along the way. Jeff and Alessandra had a really bad time and after some time they couldn't blame it on anything else but Murphy.
Read more about that and Jeff's relation with Murphy.
|Here was one of the first major unexplainable things: Jeff's whole bottom bracket cassette started to fall out of the frame!|
It was a border in many ways. The roads all of a sudden changed from good asphalt to very rough fucked up cobblestone or asphalt with loads of potholes, sometimes dirt tracks. Turkey all of a sudden seemed to be a rich and very developed country.
Shocked by the amount of drunk people, staggering all over the place. Almost crashed a couple of times, due to drunks trying to stop us or grab our bikes.
It's a small world! One of the most cliché things you can say, but it is. Was about to take a photo of an old castle ruin, tried out the focus on the road and a pair of legs in shorts came into view. It was the legs of Phil McCormack - the cyclist I traveled with in Pakistan back in -96. He was there to visit his brother and there we met in a small village in Georgia...thinking about the odds...
|The people in Georgia love to drink, their wine (the best in the world, they say) and to invite other people for a drink. Here is the family that almost dragged us in for drinks...at 0900 in the morning...|
Check out Phil's new project! Cycling England to South Africa!
Long sessions of Hail Georgia! - placing hands over their hearts, looking at the sky with tear-filled eyes, uttering long praises for Georgia and clenching and unclenching the fist showing how their hearts were pumping for mother Georgia!
Old Soviet era buildings along the road. Tried to find one single window pane that wasn't smashed - fund one after an hour and a half. Beautiful small towns with cozy parks. The roads framed with old trees, kiosks along the road where you could by bread, some snacks and yoghurt. Old castle ruins all over the place. It was an aura of ancient history that met us and I could almost imagine the gone times with knights on horsebacks storming over the green meadows.
|Cycling on the meadows of Georgia.|
Got a wonderful reception in Tbilisi. Met so much friendly people and it was difficult to avoid over the top eating sessions and "the-trying-to-give-the-guest-as-many-gifts-as-possible" equivalents. A beautiful city with loads of things to see!
|Two riders from different times: Phil and a Georgian hero from hundreds of years back.|
|Flea market in Tbilisi. Everything for sale, here loads of different medals from the Soviet era.|
Jeff once again had problems with his American passport. Long story made short: He couldn't get a Turkmen visa and the Iranians didn't want to give him one within a reasonable time. We had to split up again. I didn't like the idea of going through a couple of countries on my own, but couldn't follow Jeff to Uzbekistan anyway. It is easy for Americans to get visas, but for Swedes it's difficult. Decided to go for Azerbaijan on my own and sort out the Uzbek visa problem in Tehran.
Visa: Easy, but takes a couple of days and some bullshit red tape (invitations and/or letter of recommendation). Costs about 30-50$.
Costs: Cheap. Don't know about hotels, camped all the time.
Traffic & Roads: Ok road condition, little traffic.
Left Tbilisi and passed the border to Azerbaijan without any problems. I felt I was in a rush, not sure why, maybe because I was alone again and the visa was about to finish in a couple of days. The lush and green surroundings changed almost directly after the border. A sun scorched, dry and dusty landscape met me. Also the hills were gone and on the flat roads the progress was fast.
Didn't knew much about the country. Had heard Baku was a cool place, but it was far off in the east and I decided to go for the big swamps in the south. An ornithologist had once told me the bird life there was almost unrivalled and I felt it could me nice with a change.
Long, long days on the flatlands of Azerbaijan. Stopped only for food and water at the small villages along the road. The people were extremely friendly and most of the time I didn't had to pay for the food, even the cops (which I had heard so many bad stories about) stopped me and gave me bread, water and candy. A very limited choice of things to buy in the small kiosks or on the tables along the road - usually just some candies, bread, soft drinks and....vodka.
One of the things I will always remember from the place was the sound of people playing cards. Everywhere you heard the sound of cards forcefully thrown at the tables.
|The only photo from Azerbaijan, me and a MIG fighter...The fighter plane was in a roundabout in the middle of nowhere.|
Met some young guys on horses and we decided to swap horse against MTB for some hours. Great to ride on the huge grassy steps on a wild, young and playful horse. The guy who borrowed my bike loved it as well and we had a long evening eating, trying to communicate and warming ourselves around a little campfire.
Came in to the big swamps. Loads of birds for sure. I was a bit angry at myself not knowing more about all the beautiful birds who were all around me. Can't say much about what species I saw, but there were a lot of huge birds of prey...
In the end of another long day (was at 190km) I finally saw some hills in the distance and I decided to go off-road to reach the foothills of them. Very bad roads took me to a landscape that almost reminded me of Indonesia. Very lush all of a sudden and small cone shaped mountains were all over the place. Beautiful!
It was really a short visit in Azerbaijan. I was almost surprised when I realized I was at the Iranian border after only three out of Tbilisi - 621km in 3 days.
Continue to the next part of the journey!
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