Thursday, 27 September 2012

sick hitching

My usually strong and greedy stomach betrayed me in Erzurum. Was it the delicious takeout Mantı, or the melon? Or or or. A violent and sustained purging petered into bilious, uncertain days. I was thankful for a bed and running water, feebly grateful for my hosts' kind nursing. Sickness waned and cabinfever set in. On the third night I took my bike, skittish without its impedimentia, for an unsteady ride around the town beneath a bluegray darkness. In the centre I met two French bicycles also touring indefinitely and also becalmed in Erzurum for the Iran papers. We snatched a chat from the evening traffic and the excitement fostered there for the perils and potentials of winter's road sufficed to break my torpor. I went alone to one of these dimlit, furtive little alkol shops to test my guts and celebrate. It is apparently verboten to drink beer in view so I perched behind the warm fridge for cheery, linguistically stunted exchanges with the proprietors and each of their customers, skulking or drunken blasé. Several bought me further bottles and I was there a while, full of myself.

Two days later we hitched two lorries South to Dıyabakir, the first vehicle stopping each time. Here we have the usual arrangement; a friend's friend's boyfriend has surrendered his flat entire. I'm no longer overwhelmed by this. We were knocked awake prompt yesterday morning, another distal friend had taken the day off work to meet and entertain us with a city tour. First stop his junior school workplace for breakfast. We were besieged in his office, mobbed in the corridors and playground. If I was obvious amongst Greeks I am a superstar amongst Kurdish children. It feels a liberal kind of place here, if not quite a multikulti there is a sense of accepted otherness. Save heresay I was ignorant of Kurds; in person I like them very much. We toured thick, almost unbroken basalt city walls with a view of the Tigris and its legendarily fertile gardens, heard Amharic singing in an ancient Syrian Orthodox chapel and excited yet more children in the old town backstreets. I haven't my appetite back yet and felt dizzily weak by afternoon. I'm assured there is far more to see today but I'm already hankering a bit for my bike, garaged back in Erzurum. It's been a week already but there's little if anything I can do to hasten consulatory process; I pester my Iranian travel agent on Gmail chat and fret instead about what to put in my Tbilisi-bound Fedex box of winter supplies. The almost hot-to-touch puffer jacket from Max, Kris and Neko's wooly hat..? Generous friends, what about Seb's SteriPen? I'm inclined to think so after the recent episode.

Friday, 21 September 2012


We camped at a breath clouding 2.2km altitude 20 miles West of Erzincan to enjoy a 30 minute descent after breakfast. The road tracked a narrow gorge which eased into valley before flattening to a broad plain. Many a murder of crows cawed and banked around our bikes as we hurtled into the morning city sprawl. We lingered in cafes until evening; almost made camp out of town before speeding ten miles back for the forgotten phone. I enjoyed racing in the night-time traffic and eventually the full-darkness camping out on that plain. In the morning there were huge dogs feasting on cow spines on grass that could almost have been golf-course trim. The road on to Erzurum was beautiful, winding beneath great rocky promontories that bleed tons of scree and shingle to both supply and confound the ambitious and neglected looking infrastructure projects around the mountains. I made my fifth thousand mile just at the top of another high pass; it took almost 20 minutes. The next six down the other side to Aşkale took less than ten minutes, so it goes. Today in Erzurum marks my fifth month from home. I feel milestones literal and of a vaguer sort. I'm staying here with a wonderful family. Twice to dinner, the cinema for 3D zombies, icecreams, successful sleeping bag shopping (comfortable to minus 4 and alive in minus 20 all for 800 grams - forget the cost), castle tours and traditional çay/nargile houses; I was only allowed to pay the sleeping bag. I'll stay a few days, maybe ditch the bike to hitch a little South while I wait on that visa code. This morning an 8mm thorn came out of my foot where it'd burrowed and swollen for ten days invisible, as I suspected, to ultrasound... The eldest son is about to come home bearing a surprise - hopes we're hungry.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

high and windy days

For all its quality and expense my tent beats like a drum in high wind. I left easy sleep behind in the cave. Compounding matters, espresso ground coffee beans are unheard of in Turkish supermarkets - I subsist on joyless bandit coffee. In Urgüp I last-minute camped in a building site when a CouchSurfing host stood me up, dashing hopes of the first domestic amenities since İstanbul. In Kayseri I brought untold hilarity to the tailoring quarter whilst finding a patch and a patcher for the seat of my disgraceful cycling shorts. In a Sivas hospital I laughed, grimaced and paid through a farce of x-rays and ultrasound - unable to make myself understood that it was only a splinter gone too deep for my tweezers and wanting only for a steady hand and scalpel. It is a funny set of indignities one submits to in travel. Frustrations of exhaustion, embarrasment, and petty discomfort. Of being the stupid one without recourse to language, the ever obvious one who has no privacy. The under-washed and over-paying. The incorrect and ignorant, the un-understood. The demanding. The blessed and spoilt one bereft his familiar luxuries. Do you sell muesli? Laugh and smile. Or beer..? No problem, no problem. Do you have wi-fi? Yes hello my name is. Forget breakfast cereals and proper coffee, Europe is ever further and I know less and less. Why did you come here? Oh it's just on my way. But on your way to where? Oh I don't know. But what's your job? Ah shit - I quit it. It was a nice one, though.

The nights are cold now. I bundle up layers inside my sleeping bag, sweat in the middle and chill outside. It is hot enough still by day to stop the afternoon. Under a tree or petrol station awning. Often when we stop the inquisitors are indefagitable; never have I had to answer so many questions on the nature of my relationship to somebody. Yes we ride together, no we sleep seperately. No we're not married, nor do we rub index fingers whatever that means. In small towns and villages I'm routinely quizzed by men of all ages who tilt their heads conspirationally and persist gesturing, apparently desperate for some salacious detail of the European sexual condition. The honest answer that Laura and I are aquaintances become riding companions becoming friends doesn't seem to cut it. For me it is a minor, sometimes comic exasperation. For Laura the wrong answers beget disregard or outright disdain. We tried siblings, family, to little avail so I am grudingly reconciling myself to a pretence of matrimony apparently necessary amongst people so unimaginatively gendered. It can be draining and lately if the energy to be English or German, brother, sister, husband or wife feels lacking we just ride fast and wave instead. And that's a shame because of course there are far more instances of the genuine welcome than the seedy inquisition. The four gentlemen who flagged us down this morning for glasses of their own Ayran were so perfectly good natured that I seriously considered deleting all  of the above. The shepherd who welcomed our tents two nights ago in Gemerek was as gentle as the lambs he introduced us to.

We're a day's ride from Erzincan and starting to see Iranian trucks on the road. This morning was the first two thousand metre pass - there'll be lots more from here on. I've seen scores of camera-shy eagles the last three days. I like the chilly evenings; last night a camp fire of dung.

Erciyes Dağı near Kayseri



toy police - surprisingly convincing

approaching Erzincan

Saturday, 8 September 2012


After eleven days on the road a wetwipe wash doesn't much scratch the surface. Zebra stripes of sweat-trickled dirt. Yesterday I added pannier-broken eggs and tar splatter from an ill-advised, wet asphalt detour to my grime layers, so that I could roll past the coaches into Kapadokya's touristville - Göreme- with the swagger of the truly filthy. I slept in a haycave (think rock-hewn barn) nextdoor(?) to Sam from America who has made his own little cave almost home. Before today's epic ablutions I found my own cave, scooped out several carrier bags of dust and replaced them with hay to make a world heritage, rupestral sancturary. I understand my cave was a monastic cell about sixteen hundred years ago. You get woken up at 0530 by the hot air ballons firing up or, if you don't, the exclamations in Korean from the baskets scudding past the cave mouth will do it. Unesco say The eroded plateau of the Göreme valley is a spectacular example of the effects of differential erosion of the volcanic tuff sediments by wind and water. Typical features are pillars, columns, towers, obelisks and needles that reach heights of 40 m...  Within these rock formations people have excavated a network of caves which served as refuges, residences, storage and places of worship. Usual touristic degradation excepting, it seems a magical place. Having not really stopped since Istanbul I expect we'll stay a few days, resting up and keeping as clean as you can in a cave.

To get here we rode two days alongside an enormous salt lake which seemed to suck all the moisture from the air and the body. I mistook my resultant sorethroat for the threat of manflu, a happy excuse to shell out for an extortionate bottle of scotch. Then 48 hours of hot-toddies and those rare, euphoric hangovers full of vigour and resolution. Glad of the flat, we made fast progress around the lake towards the imposing Mount Hasan, and fairly raced over the hills from Aksary to Nevşehir before a final, tarry push to Göreme. I stopped just out of town to pressure wash my bike and wondered why I hadn't done it before - almost as satisfying as my own walnut-tree hung, showerbag wash today. Tonight we'll have Sam and his girlfriend over for a cave-warming meal so I'm in the village buying vegetables, stove benzine and candles.

Scotch bottle

Scotch face

Hasan Dagi

camping above Aksary, below Hasan

dawn today

new place

Monday, 3 September 2012


Turkish internet cafes are not easy places to write in. Additional to the music and cigarette smoke - the general bustle and constantly proffered glasses of tea - I attract a gang of boys who prefer to cluster me than attend to their Worlds of Warcraft. They especially enjoy laughing at my photos. I am in Haymana, a little town a little South of Ankara famous for its hot spring hammams which I will give a go this afternoon. I shant go to the capital tomorrow, instead South to Capadoccia. I'm not sure what they have there but by all accounts it is must-see stuff. Yesterday afternoon I got round to filling out my Iranian visa form, online via an agent. I hear tell of Englishmen being refused in less than one minute in person at the consulates. Whether an agent's 49 dollars will help I'm not sure but feel I should try before resigning myself to the alternative of a Central Asian Winter. In Iran there would at least be the possibility of bearing South to stay within a positive celsius.

But meanwhile I'm delighting in a Turkish cooling. There is more than a promise of Autumn in the air, especially at night when it's jumper weather out on the steppe. Soon I'lll need to replace the heavy sleeping bag I jettisoned in Germany. It's been a good week cycling since İstanbul. Leaving the coast for a drawn out climb to the Anatolian plateau, then three days on a straight, undulant highway. There were many instances of the famous Turk welcome- hoşgeldınız, best were joining a honking wedding convoy out of Eskişehir, each carload waving madly and passing snacks from their windows, truck-cab cappucinos and a roadside roast-chicken-on-greasy-bulgur invitation. I was surprised to enjoy the long, straight highway so much. Yesterday we left it for a much nicer, harder road that curled through swirling hills and endless golden wheatfields. It's all harvested now so you can camp most anywhere. Last night was perfect on a big hill with a twenty mile twilit panorama. Good evenings. Good breakfasts.