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TURKISH DELIGHT

June 18th, 2016 in Erzurum

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Turkey, Turkey, Turkey…by the time we leave the country in a couple of days we will have been here for six weeks. It is easily the longest time we have spent in a single country. Before this, the longest we'd spent in a country on this trip was little over a week.

And Turkey has been filled of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. Our route has taken us along the Black Sea Coast and across mountains, winding up and down on roads that been everything between a gravel road occupied with cows and a smooth tarmac road occupied by trucks and cars. We decided to follow the coast with dreams of lazy days full of sun and beaches but it would seem reality had other plans. But more on that later… 

Turkey has, even more so than the countries leading up to it, welcomed us with open arms. Nowhere before, have we been so constantly and thoroughly insisted to stop for tea or just for a small chat (even though we don't speak the same language). People have waved us down to offer food and fruit or just to ask if there is something we need with the implications that it can be basically anything. We can honestly say that if we had stopped every time someone asked us to, we would probably only cycled half the distance we've travelled so far. It's weird being noticed so much and that people seem to take such joy in welcoming and helping us… And let's not forget the ever present chai. It's hard to even start a conversation with a turk before you find yourself with a glass of tea in your hand. After every meal, after buying something in a store, when we camp at gas stations or just offered by strangers we bike past. Everywhere you turn, there is chai! 
This idea that you can camp at gas stations is something we've taken more and more advantage of as we crossed the country. It means we almost never have problem finding a place to stay for the night as long as we do not mind it being a bit noisy. And we do not really have any problems sleeping through a little bit of noise after a full day in the saddle! That said, we aren't sure if anyone would deny us, asking the same thing, in any of the previous countries. 
However, the turks are not without their dark sides. We've found that the environment seem to mean little or nothing to a lot of people here. To often, we've seen cars simply stop by the side of the road, open the door and toss out a bag of trash. And by the sheer number of trash bags, it would seem that the more remote (and beautiful) the location is, the more it's considered a public dumping ground. We've found this quite appalling and unfortunately it really spoils some of the beautiful places we've cycled through. 
camping on beach with trash

However, the turks are not without their dark sides. We've found that the environment seem to mean little or nothing to a lot of people here. To often, we've seen cars simply stop by the side of the road, open the door and toss out a bag of trash. And by the sheer number of trash bags, it would seem that the more remote (and beautiful) the location is, the more it's considered a public dumping ground. We've found this quite appalling and unfortunately it really spoils some of the beautiful places we've cycled through. 

Another subject that has been hard to avoid is the turks view on is gender equality. In many of the small villages we ride through the old men seem to just sit, drink chai and gamble while the old women we see are either taking care of children, herd cattle, buying food or are working the fields. And more often than not when we enter a town or village we only see men which makes us wonder where all the women are… 

In Trabzon we enjoyed a dinner with some Turkish students who quite strongly said they didn't like this way men only drank tea so hopefully this is about to change as the younger population don't look at it so positively. Robin, who often does the cooking, have also been told that “men do not cook”.

Speaking of food. We really liked the Turkish cuisine when we first got here. Döner, kebab, pide and köfte are all nice dishes…but not for every meal! We've been in the same country so long now that it's becoming really hard to mix it up for lunch and dinner. In Sinop we ended up eating thrice at a place just because the had western food (read burgers). 

So what are we saying? Even if the people have been in many ways amazing, the fact is that we are unfortunately starting to.. well… feel a bit tired of Turkey. It's not that we haven't enjoyed it, but more that we're looking forward to a change. It's not you Turkey, it's me….and I think that we should see other people. But let us recap how we got here…

When we last wrote, we were just about to leave Istanbul and we can say that riding out of Istanbul was nothing less than crazy! Initially we were planning on taking a ferry further north (close to where we took a ferry in to Istanbul) but unfortunately that ferry only departed twice a day; once in the morning and once in the evening. Being impatient, instead of waiting to the evening ferry, we decided to cycle out of the city. And boy did come to regret that decision! The traffic was so bad that at one point we had to stop and backtrack, not because we were going the wrong way, but because we just didn't feel safe enough. Winding our way through cars, buses and trucks we made it out of the city just in time for the sun to set. 

Once we could no longer see Istanbul in our rear-view mirror we pointed our bicycles in the direction of Şile and the Black Sea which we would follow in the weeks to come. As we started to take on the Turkish topography it felt like the week we spent in Istanbul had eroded the muscles we had built up so far. We hadn't experienced anything similar in Europe and for the first couple of days it was absolutely killing us! But it didn't take long before we just got use to it. And here we met our first bicycle tourers that for the first time was headed in the same direction as us (three Germans and one Iranian). 

This is also around when our good luck started to run out… Robin got our first flat one morning driving over a thornbush twig and later the same day he got our second hitting some broken glass. Not wanting to miss out on a hat-trick, Robin then collected his third flat the day after. But flat tires was nothing compared to what was to come… 

One Sunday afternoon, when we were slowly winding our way up a hill just in the outskirts of Cide, Ida's gears started to act up and the chain kept on trying to jump of. As we were trying to figure out what the hell was going on, the back derailleur suddenly broke into two pieces. And let me tell you, that is not a part on your bike you want to brake. So after a bit of swearing that would make Captain Haddock proud, we phoned up the bicycle store in Istanbul that we were already going to order new tires from and told them what happened. Unfortunately the store couldn't send the spare parts until Wednesday which meant that they wouldn't reach us until Friday, five days later. But we had no other option, so we placed our order, put on our best hipster-faces and started to alter Ida's bicycle into a fixie bicycle. This way we could still keep going even if the bicycle would be stuck in one gear. 

The next day we learnt that our MacGyver-fix wasn't as clever as we first thought… When we altered the cycle to single speed we had chosen a gear in the middle on the back cassette as that gear meant that Ida could easily bike up most of the hills and still have some power left when the road was relatively flat. What we hadn't realised was that without the back derailleur the chain was continuously trying to jump to an easier (larger) gear. Accidentally forcing the shortened chain onto the bigger gear soon resulted in a broken cassette too. So we added a new cassette to the list of things the bicycle store had to send us and changed Ida's bike again so that she now only could ride in the easiest gear… Happy days! 

This was followed by four days and 250 km with a bicycle that could only reach a speed of about 6-7 km/h if we weren't going downhill. It wasn't that bad as long as we were either going uphill or downhill. But as soon as it was flat it felt like we were going nowhere. Normally on flat stretches we have an average speed of 20 km/h so you can imagine the frustration!

After two days Ida also had the good fortune of getting a stomach bug. Everything was really going our way! 

It might sound like we were just miserable (and at times we were) but when we finally got to Sinop, where our spare parts was shipped, we were quite proud of ourselves. Partly because we hadn't killed each other but also because these slow days turned out to be (under the circumstances) quite alright with nice weather, beautiful scenery and a swim in the sea.

After Sinop, the route along the Black Sea turned really dull as we exchanged our small winding road for a big motorway with tunnels going straight through the mountains. But after four days of 6-7 km/h we were happy to cover some distance on wide, fast and easy roads. 

Saying goodbye to the sea with one last dip, we turned inland before Íyidere towards Erzurum to sort out our Iranian visas. The road winded up in the outskirts of the Kaçkar mountains giving us beautiful scenery at the cost of constant uphill. We didn't reach the first mountain pass at 2640 m until late the next day. 

We got into Erzurum early so that we would have two full days to get our visas if things didn't go smoothly. But with the help of Yasin (a warm showers host) we had our visas sorted before lunch. With plenty of time before we were to cross the Iranian border and only roughly 300 km there we could relax for a couple of days. 

So Turkey, this is the end of the line for us. As our wandering eyes are looking at Iran with hopes of adventures it's time for us to go our separate ways. 

Hope we can still be friends. 

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