Oh Ive been a very bad daily blogger! Very very bad. Here is the low down on our final leg in Turkey and saying goodbye to this amazing country. For me this means saying goodbye for at a full5 years for overstaying my visa. Read more about how I become one of THOSE dodgy Africans below.
10 July 2012
We were all set to leave Malatya and the lovely home of Ercan when we discovered that his new couch surfers, serendipitously had been set from the Universe to school us a little. Sarajoy has a crowd funding platform of her own and Ammon has experience with toilet projects. The boys have said alot about how amazing it was to brainstorm with them over breakfast and how they pushed us to realise we could do so much more. High Five Universe!
We left late and did about 50kms. It was getting dark when I mentioned to the boys that I would like a hot meal. We stopped at a shop instead to buy some bread but got invited to join in on a braai by the shop owners.
It was already dark with a beautiful starry sky when a truck stopped and three young guys got out to chat to us. They were on their way back to Elazig and offered us some chai from their jug. They set off and we started cycling again. About an hour later we were looking for a spot to camp and, having few options available, decided to sleep next to the road. As we were setting up camp our trucker friend, Ikram, found us again armed with honey melons and, oddly, a red velvet cushion with the words ‘Seni Seviyorum’ or I Love You printed on them. This was a little gift for me. I needed a pillow ever since my globetrotter travel pillow exploded in the first week of the tour, and lets face it everyone needs a little love. So I was very pleased.
He took our number and insisted we meet him in Elazig and invited us to his garden and swimming pool. We got a call shortly after we fell asleep just to make sure we were doing okay.
I fell asleep on my comfy pillow staring at the beautiful night sky and for the first time truly saw the milkway. I mean most city slickers think we have seen the milk way as a higher incidence of stars in the centre of the sky, but with no light pollution I really saw how the stars were so dense it appears as a cloudy smear across the sky. Space is always depicted as something ‘out there’ and something we are disconnected from but looking at such a night sky its then that you truly get the perspective that you are staring out from your place in a spiral galaxy and feel part of it.
11 July 2012
We woke up really early and packed up. We turned the corner and were surprised to see that we were only 200 metres from a gas station! Ikram could have said something! We stopped and had a chai. We cycled on for a bit and then stopped at another gas station and I had a shower. We were chilling when some young kid came over and invited us to lunch at his petrol station, much fancier looking, across the road. The boys accepted the offer while I was in the shower and when I got out we were ushered in an almost rude commanding manner to the gas station by the self appointed “Buyuk Chef” or Big Boss. We were shoved into a fancy looking airconditioned office with big leather seats.
All I can say is that I have never met a more annoying young character. By and large Turks are chilled out but some of the younger guys can be too energetic and talkative and just a bit too much. We struggled in vain to escape the buyuk chef who was now insisting Johann do a photo shoot of his home and being generally obnoxious. Never shy to be the rude one I just cycled off and the boys took the chance to follow.
Due to being held captive by crazy buyuk chef we were later on the road than intended and Ikram started worrying about where we were. He eventually drove and found me about 20kms from Elazig and brought us cola and just had to make sure we were all ad idem about meeting in Elazig. When we got into town we stopped outside a home store and messaged him to fetch us. He had repeatedly offered to load our bikes in his truck the night before which we of course declined but since we had reached town we acquiesced and found ourselves being driven towards his garden for lunch.
We arrived at the gated garden and he fiddled with keys briefly before picking up a pole and busting the lock open! We were surprised but thought that there must be some legitimate explanation. Maybe he forgot his keys inside? Once inside his friend, another young guy, emerged and we were in a pleasant garden with fruit trees and hammocks and a swimming pool and elevated deck! The boys stripped down and jumped in while I, not sure about the cultural norms, hung out on the deck. Lunch was delivered to the door (so this much be his place right?) and we tucked in.
Just as we were slipping into post lunch nap mode Ikram got a phone call and started getting worried and suddenly announced that his brother called and he had to leave. He also said he wasnt sure if he would be back. So we were left with his friend, a hairdresser by trade. A few minutes later his friend got a call from Ikram and apologised to us but said we had to leave very quickly. And so, quite suddenly and in the most polite of manners, we were kicked out. Ikrams friend locked the door from the inside then jumped over the fence and lead us to the road to Bingol on this truck filled with tires.
Were we just accessories to a breaking and entering? What just happened? Its just another one of the weird and wonderful experiences of the trip. We headed off in direction Bingol while being spammed with ‘Im sorry’ and ‘I love you, Johann’ messages from Ikram!
We stopped for chai somewhere outside the city and we were served by an old man who smiled far too confidently and frequently for someone with such bad teeth who told us, without even a hint of shame, that he had been in prison in Germany for three years for selling heroine. We would hear this story at least three more times, told with the same easy going attitude. He was a salesman at a car dealership and announced that now he only sells cars, which sent the whole dealership into a fit of giggles. Nice to know people get a second chance.
We kept going and passed the beautiful Ataturk dam as it started getting dark. We were invited to eat some home made pastries at a petrol station with a view of the lake and we decided to ask whether we could stay there for the night. The attendants agreed and were really friendly at first. We even had wifi access and were happily working away when suddenly the petrol attendant said that his boss was coming and we could no longer stay. Well this certainly was the day for the velvet dismissal!
We were told by a pickup truck driving 10 year old we could stay a kilometre down the road at his shop. It turned out to be a fruit stall with some outside seating and couches. They agreed to let us stay and it turned out to be quite pleasant!
12 July 2012
We woke up at the fruit stall and headed in the direction of Bingol. We stopped for lunch and being a little sleepy we took a nap in the town park gathering a little attention from the locals.
In the evening we we passed a police station and got stopped by the cops. They called us to the gate and handed up three bottles of ice cold water. They said friends had told them about us in Elazig and warned them to keep an eye out for us. They also apologised for not being able to invite us in for chai because of the cameras. What a small and amazing token!
13 July 2012
We arrived in Bingol, a pretty pleasant city, and met someone who had previously hosted a cyclist from Germany at a government guest house. He suggested we might be hosted there. It was still early in the day but Thomas needed to have a skype meeting with his business partner and we decided to make a stop. We went to the government guest house and were treated nice enough but told there was no space. So we headed into the city centre and were stopped at a chai shop. I recharged my phone at a vodafone store and had my picture taken with the employees who had never met anyone from South Africa. I apologise in advance for creating the impression that we are a nation of stinky chronically unattractive individuals.
We were invited to drink Chai and had a simple dinner of bread and tomatos provided by the son of the chai shop owner.
The invitations of places to stay were overflowing at this point but we needed a netcafe. So up the road we went with our new friends in toe. A few hours later they tired of waiting around watching us type and by the time we got out we had nowhere to stay again. A borek shop worker suggested we try the schools that were now on holiday. I found one with an open gate and after surveying the premises thoroughly we set up our sleep area on the basketball courts.
I needed to pee and felt uncomfortable with peeing in the corner of a playground so walked across the road to the hospital without properly informing the boys where I was going. I did my business then went to buy a snack at the shop next door. I was forced to sit down and drink not one but three coffees totally undoing the purpose of the hospital trip and was made to speak to the owners daughter, who spoke English, so that her Dad could ask me questions. When he found out I was a lawyer he called his son in law who arrived and talked to me some more. Awkwardly he asked me whether I was muslim and then what a hindu was. Its hard to explain anything esoteric with limited Turkish so he called his daughter and then started making signs of horns on his head. Eventually I realised he meant cow and I said yes we dont eat cows but later realised he must have been told we worship them!
Altogether it was a really pleasant interchange and chance to chat to people outside of the security of the group. The old man and his son in law were really kind and wanted to drop me off at my hotel but I insisted I walk not wanting them to know we were sleeping in the school. I left the shop (after having tried to leave at least 3 times) 2 hours later and walking towards the school I saw someone emerge and it took me a few seconds to realise it was Erik. They had wondered where I had gotten to and he had sweetly come to look for me. So typical of the boys personalities. Erik will come see what stupidity I have gotten myself into, even if Johann is worried when he is tired he will take the ‘well if she wants to wonder off in the middle of the night and get kidnapped then fine’ and Thomas the pragmatic “Maush probably went for the bathroom and shes a big girl’.
The owners son in law stepped out and saw me talking to Erik and after a car passed we had disappeared into the school yard. I think he was worried about me disappearing with a strange man and later came looking around the school yard. We were sufficiently hidden from view for him to make a proper search without seeing us. I do feel bad for causing such nice people concern!
14 July 2012
Up nice and early we cycled to the borek shop for breakfast and then headed towards Mus, just over 100kms away. I had sent out couch requests to surfers in Mus and had a response from one who said he wasnt in town but would put us in touch with a youth group who might help us. I started smsing Davut from the youth group and he agreed that they would host us. So we pushed hard with some hills and then a low downhill towards Mus.
We were passing through a small village and a small road side shop when we were stopped and invited to have some chai and lunch with some locals. They lived in a near by village on a gravel road off the main road. They loaded my bike in the back of a bakkie and insisted I jump into a car with them and the boys followed on their bikes.
We arrived at the family home of a Zaza family, another ethnic minority group. Everyone was coming home for the holidays from all over Turkey to their ancestral village and the family members ranged from teachers and business men to tractor drivers from as far off as Gazientep and Trabzon. We were seated under a huge walnut tree in the family yard and served water straight from a mountain spring. Lunch was mysteriously and quickly spirited onto the front porch by the invisible female members of the family. I was the only woman at the gathering barring a venerable old dame who was the Mum and Aunt of the men who had invited us over. She was really entertaining asking in Zaza about each our families and parents in turn and chuckling away at jokes between the family members.
Other villagers came to see the new arrivals including the local Imam and an islamic missionary with dark eyeliner who took a particular shining to Johann but refused to shake my hand. He was later described by one of the younger guys as crazy. What a delightful experience just absorbing the many layers of village life. The gathering made me miss my own family and how we congregate at my aunts house in Durban over the holidays and share news and trade banter.
Then lunch was served. It was, without a doubt, the best meal I have had in Turkey. Theres a picture below. I am deeply saddened that none of us remembers what the delicious, creamy, lasagne like dish was called. Yum.
After lunch we headed onwards to Mus. It was still quite a push and we arrived after dark at a gas station on the outskirts where we were given chai by two chechnians (very friendly chaps) and a Kurdish wedding was in full swing behind us. There were to be at least 4 more weddings during our two days in Mus. These are noisy boisterous events including conveys of cars with conservatively dressed women hanging out of the windows and hollering and waving coloured clothes in a very unconservative manner!
We headed into the city centre to meet Davut. We then encountered our only stone throwing children and they seemed like street kids so I would definitely say that children throwing stones doesnt seem to be the norm. Its a good thing that they didnt hit me because as tired as I was I would have turned around cycled after them and given them a good old fashioned South African Hiding!
We also noticed the markedly increased military presence now that we were solidly in the Kurdish area. We were passed several times by armed tankers and saw the military stop and question very average looking youngsters.
Once in the city centre I was reminded a little of singapores “food courts’ with all the outdoor eating spots. We were received by several members of the youth group and walked another 2 kms up the road to the youth centre. Its a delightful office (unfortunately for people with heavily laden bikes on the top floor) with a roof terrace. We settled in for the night and had a day of work planned the next day to try and get to the goals we had set for ourselves post Sarajoy and Ammon. We were going to get really serious about reaching our funding goals.
15 and 16 July 2012
We got up and headed down the street to another youth organisation. We spent two full days attached to our computers and lobbying hard to get tickets for the premier sold and our goals closer to being met before heading on to Van and Iran. Davut and team where endless help and provided everything we needed. How blessed are we to always encounter the people we need to meet?! Davut being all of 18 years old and just finishing school is quite a connected and grounded person and he even organised a press conference for us. As we were leaving the city we were bombarded by journalists from the local papers. He then sent us all the links. A huge thank you to Davut!
17 - July 2012
Having been given an amazing send off from Mus we headed in the direction of Van and the Iranian border. We didnt get very far as we left quite late and ended up in the town of Guroymak just as the sun was setting. We stopped to by some groceries since we would probably be wild camping and soon found ourselves mobbed by curious children.
We decided to head a little out of town and were climbing a hill in the dark soon. We decided to find a place to camp and the usual debate with varying opinions ensued. Eventually somewhere near to the top of the hill we camped on an elevated plain next to the road and hoped we would not get seen. We were soon fast asleep. Although I am a light sleeper I was super comfy and didnt hear anyone approaching until we had a flash light shining in our faces and a very concerned and excited local shouting “Tehlikeli! Tehlikeli! Dikkat! Dikkat! Terrorist!” at us. Apparently it seems he was afraid the Kurdish separatists would get us. The boys were concerned and decided we should move. My South African spidey sense wasnt tingling and I was all for staying put and going back to sleep. We decided to head back towards the town and find somewhere to stay.
Yet again as soon as we are comfortable and think that the night is at an end we find ourselves on another adventure. We cycled down and were called towards a group of guys having chai near the road side. They invited us to sit down and said that they worked for the police pound and the vehicles stored there were usually impounded from smugglers of cigarettes from Iraq and Syria and heroine from Afghanistan!
They suggested we head to the police station and ask if we can camp in their compound. So we loaded two boys on our bikes and headed down to the police station. The cops were not so welcoming and set us back with them. So after a few hours of brain storming and chai drinking at about 3am we slept in the car workshop next door. sigh.
18 July 2012
We were woken earlier than promised by Lucky Luke, as I call him from the resemblance below given a chai and sent on our way with very little sleep.
We cycled back up the hill in slight windy conditions. We actually didnt have that far to go before reaching Tatvan, the city on the lake where you get the ferry to Van and means literally a taste of Van. We got there in good time but had to rush a little because we were worried about missing the ferry which leaves 3 times a day but no one seems to know exactly when. Getting to the harbour we found the reason is that they simply wait until there are enough passengers or freight. The ferry takes train freight as well. As it turns out that we and a Canadian family were the only passengers and had the whole ferry to ourselves.
Before boarding we waited at the dock and ate sandwiches when suddenly we heard an explosion in the hills (wow this sentence sounds straight from a Hardy Boys novel). We had a seen helicopters circling for a while and the locals explained that it was a skirmish between the army and the separatists. So it seems the advice to take the ferry to Van and not cycle the hills was sound advice. Everyone we have met say the separatists don’t target tourists but you also dont want to get caught in the cross fire!
Soon we were on our way through the beautiful mountain fringed waters of lake Van. I have no pictures though as I slept through most of the four hours of the ferry ride. Here is one I managed to get:
We did chat some to John and his family. He and his wife both teach and have taken their kids out of school for a few months to travel and really experience life. What an awesome take on life. Usually people feel they have to stop travelling when they have kids. They also kindly donated to the cause, thank you!
Getting off the boat in Van we found a rather pleasant city although clearly still recovering from the October 2011 earth quake. We found a internet cafe and got our hosts details and called him.
We spent the next few days, longer than anticipated, at the home of Oner Mete.
20 – 22 July 2012
Oner is a wonderfully warm character who took time out to show us the town and take the boys to the hamam and buy us some traditional scarfs and basically just open his home up to us as he would to family. We used the time to recover from a little tummy bug and to get lots of work done as well as have our open skype session. It was with heavy homebody hearts that we said goodbye to him and headed towards Iran in the month of Ramadan.
23 July 2012
We left Van being lead out of town by Oner in his car. We passed really beautiful hilly, green scenery. I feel so lucky to have seen these remote parts of the world. We reached the town of Saray that evening and decided to stay there instead of pressing on the last 23kms to Kapikoy at night as camping near the border is never a good idea. The boys met some teachers on the road who suggested we stay at the teachers accomodation. We arrived to a cold welcome and had to convince the guy in charge to let us stay. We made the mistake of agreeing, and to a high price at that, without having checked out the rooms. The bathroom had a huge hole in the floor with what seemed to be open sewage and the rooms were nasty as well. Not a great goodbye to otherwise lovely Turkey. At least they had good wifi. We got up bright and early to take on the border.
24 July 2012
Arriving at the border I was told by a very polite official that for overstaying I would need to be banned for 5 years or pay a 300 USD fine. We waited 2 hours while he tried everything possible to avoid banning me and even got the fee reduced to 140USD. I had an amazing time in Turkey and saw more of it than most people ever will so I decided I was okay with the 5 year ban. He was so apologetic saying if it was up to him I could stay forever and that he knew I meant no harm but that was the way it as with African passports. I promised if he gets married in the next 5 years and invites me I would pay the fine and apply for a visa.
All the while we waited we drank tea and ate dates in the staff room. What a fitting way to end our amazing time in Turkey.
So Gule gule (goodbye in Turkish which literally translated means keep smiling).
We will try to keep smiling without you!
ps: The east truly has the best cig kofte!