Archive for March, 2009

Border shenanigans

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Sarpi – border of Turkey and Georgia

We exited Turkey in a rush, with our second three-month visa just about to expire. The pace that we set along the last section of the Black Sea coast was one that we had not done before – and it was exhilarating. And although days were long, they were not so difficult, with a flat, wide and smooth road. And although this coastline is reputedly rainy most of the year round, our days were crowned with cold winds, blue skies, sunshine and wide, open views of the snow-peaked Kaçkar mountains.

But would I be let through the border at Sarpi? As the Georgian official studied my passport, he shook his head and threw my document down with a firm shake of his head. “Problem?” I asked innocently, making use (not for the first time) of that invaluable and universal word. “Problem”, he confirmed, tapping the keys on his mobile to summon the big boss.

After that, our common language was Turkish, and both parties “çatpat” (speaking like the sound of a stuttering gun). After some pidgin Turkish, a few gestures and dictionary searches, we discovered the reason for their consternation. My Turkish visa, inked with entry and exit stamps, was in my old passport, which had expired whilst I was in Istanbul. My new passport didn’t contain any Turkish visa, and because of this, I was not allowed into Georgia.

Danny looked dismayed, but I was confident of the affable nature of the Turkish people. Grabbing back both new and expired passports, I scrambled back over the border to Turkey – past the long line of smoke-spewing Turkish TIR trucks, past the moustachioed, cigarette-smoking men leaning lazily out of their windows, past the hordes of Georgian women dressed all in black, who were dragging huge plastic sacks of Turkish textiles and tacky household goods over the border to sell back home, and past three sets of border police, answering their questions as to why I had returned.

And then I waited patiently in the long, bustling line to see the Turkish border guard who had given me the exit stamp. Would he please put an exit stamp in my new passport too?

He scratched his head, looked confused, turned to his colleague, muttering, “I don’t understand what our sister here is saying.” But after another mobile conversation, a visit from the big boss and a thorough look at both passports, the big boss gave the go-ahead and my new passport was duly inked with my date of exit!

Georgia here we come!

The hidden track

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Izzettinkoyu, Mediterranean Coast, Turkey

Mustafa shook his head when we asked of a dirt track that may take us through the mountains from Oludeniz to Golbent, missing a busy piece of highway. Sinan also shook his head, tutted and said, “Wa’allah hey, I don’t know.” We showed our map to a few locals in town, but each time people said that the route we wanted to take was impassable – and probably the Likia Way, an ancient walking track, which links up all the historical sites from the Lycian times.

It was lucky then, that when leaving Oludeniz, Dan said he wanted to stop to touch the sea one last time. As he ran back from the turquoise waters, a man on an old moped pulled up and said, “Hi, my name’s Hector. Do you want to go paragliding today?” We were probably some of the only tourists he’d seen all winter. We shook our heads and told him that we were planning to leave Oludeniz that minute.

Then, in one last ditch attempt for the track we’d yearned for but almost given up on, Dan pointed at our map, and asked Hector if he knew anything about it. “I have a friend who lives in village up there,” he said, “he told me a new track was made in the summer. Hang on a moment.” The mobile phone came out of his pocket, and Hector made a call. To our delight, the tracks existence confirmed, as was the passability of it as far as Golbent. “But don’t take my word for it… I’m not sure how it will be for bicycle. Here’s my number incase you get into trouble.

The road stretched ahead and we pedalled with joy and anticipation. Granny gear employed at all times, heart pumping in the roof of my mouth. The first 10 kilometres were paved…

Hector had drawn us a rough map to show the route. When the road turned off to the left towards a village called Kirme, which nestles in the bosom of Baba Dag, the highest mountain of the region, I shuddered. The road had disappeared, and in it’s place was a steep, broken track, full of rocks and totally unrideable. Dark storm clouds had also gathered above Baba Dag’s snowy peaks and the air felt ominous.

We paused at the side of the road, looking at each other, doubting that this was the way Hector had really meant us to go. Just at the moment, we heard a car slowly and cautiously make its way down the track towards us and we confirmed with them that this indeed was the route up and over the mountain.

With hesitance, we got off our bikes and began to push, huffing and puffing under the weight of our heavily loaded bikes. When I slipped and fell on the loose rocks beneath my feet, I began to cry. I felt so different from when I had cycled across the world before, I was so soft now, had so much less need for adrenaline, or pushing myself to the edge. I thought I couldn’t go on, and in that moment just wanted a ‘simple’, ‘easy’ life, a ‘safe’ life, a ‘normal’ life.

Dan steadied me, and together we sat on the side of the track and talked about the alternatives. How we could always go back, and how it would be to take the challenge and overcome the difficulties.

And there it was – a flash of energy and inspiration – that something in me that wouldn’t give in. I didn’t want to turn back and take the highway. I wanted to discover that hidden track, and so did Dan.

the road just gets steeper and rockier

We trudged for 2 hours, barely able to ride. By 4 o’clock, we’d reached Kirme, a small village of only about 20 houses, that was self-sufficient through lack of road access until recent times.

The sky was becoming increasingly moody and rumbles of thunder could be heard. We thought we should probably camp before attempting to cross the pass. But Ayse, a local woman, saw us and, with a puzzled face, asked us what we were doing and where we were going. It wasn’t a good time to go on, we could stay with her, no problem.

What a relief to be sitting by a wood-stove, with the bread in the oven and the soup in the pot. That night, all the inquisitive neighbours came by, with their knitting and their husbands, to see who the foreigners were. The room was filled with 12 people and more kept knocking at the door! Even the imam and his wife dropped in.

resting in Kirme with our new friends

The next morning we left early, to try and pass the zig-zagging road ahead. The storm had passed and the day was clear once again.

and rockier... and steeper...

Lots of pushing again, but this time, my mind was in a different place. It was in a place where my heart met it and breathing went in time. It was a place where, when my breath was short, the view filled up my lungs and kept me moving.

We climbed and pushed and pulled at the bikes for 4 hours.

Winding ever slowly up and up and up, Kirme disappearing below.

We had no provisions, except for Coco pops and milk, which we enjoyed in the sun as we neared the summit.

Each time we looked down, we were amazed at the road we’d traversed… the hidden track…

And at the summit, the track turned from the warmth and blue of the sea and we were amongst the snowy peaks.

Ride on and follow those hidden tracks!

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Hos Geldiniz

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Mediterranean Coast, Turkey

“Hos Geldiniz!” is one of the most common phrases we’ve heard as we’ve cycled along the Mediterranean Coast. It means “Welcome!”, and here are the people who really welcomed us into their world.


Krista first met Mustafa in India 10 years ago, again in Pakistan where they tried to get visas for Afghanistan together, and then she was a guest at his place when she came through Turkey. I can’t believe all these years have passed! We spent a great day with Mustafa, catching up on the old days and visiting his self-built house in the mountains, which overlooks the azure sea and Rhodes.

Family and friends at Kirme village, below Baba Mountain

After a long day slogging uphill on ever winding zig-zagged tracks, we were generously invited in to stay with Ayse and Aliriza. That evening, the inquisitive population of the village visited the house, to see who the ‘yabanci’ (strangers) were. At one point, Ayse got stressed because there were not enought tea glasses to go round!

Breakfast with Gullu and her family in Izzentinkoy

After some days in the mountains, we had a sharp descent. Enjoying the downhill speed, we overtook a motorbike, carrying Hassan and Gullu, who waved and smiled. Later, as we stopped to look at some wild flowers, the couple passed us – and more waves and smiles ensued. When we reached their house, they flagged us down and they invited us for the night. Like Ayse and Aliriza, they grow their own food and we were treated to fresh milk, olives, soup, cheese, meat and potatoes. Warmed by the wood-fired stove and their generous company, we made pidgin conversation and laughed alot.

Gulay, always with a big smile

We asked Gulay if there was a place that we could put our tent for the night. But instead, she took us to meet her German husband Kuno and insisted that we slept at her family home. The generous hospitality didn’t end there as the next day, we were invited to stay at their appartment at the beach in Finike, a stark contrast to the simple village life the night before.

Kuno draws directions to reach his house in Finike

Kuno draws us directions to get to their place at the beach. We felt very refreshed by their company and the relaxing time we spent with them.

Blue lagoon

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Posted by Dan
Oludeniz, Mediterranean coast, Turkey

waking up to the blue lagoon

Beginning with a swim, we slipped from our sleeping bags and into the cold water of the blue lagoon. Fresh and invigorating but icy cold, I found it difficult to get straight in. 5 months of hot showers in Istanbul has softened me, and I found it hard to keep my breath.

After we had breakfast, Sinan brought over tea and sat with us for a while. His English is as good as my Turkish, so with Krista’s better Turkish, we spoke in Turkish – asking him about the road ahead. We spotted a small track that hugs the coast and the side of the mountain, that we wanted to follow. Unfortunately, he had no idea if it was rideable, or where it ended. We also asked him what he does in his 5 month holiday, when the tourists have gone home. His friend the day before called him Robinson Crusoe, as he lives in the old stone cottage that is joined to the facilities and outdoor kitchens that serve the tourists who use this place as a private beach in the summer. He told us that he spends his time fishing in the lagoon, and sometimes he is called to do odd jobs and a bit of driving. We watched him fishing, simply spinning a baited line around his head and then letting the reel of line off spool 15 metres out. Somehow though, we wondered whether he maybe felt trapped and bored, with no-one around and just doing the same things day in and day out. He asked us if we were happy with our lives.

Today I met one of the characters from Krista’s past life – when she cycled from Australia to Egypt. His name is Mustafa, and they first met in India in ’97 and then again in Pakistan, where they tried to get visas for Afghanistan together. Then she stayed with him when she reached Turkey, and with only $60 left in her pocket, he scored her a job on a yacht for the summer season. Now, 10 years has passed (Mustafa thought that only 3 or 4 years had gone by!).

He took us to a remote village, where he has built a house with olive and lemon tree gardens. It looks down to the sea and is surrounded by high cliffs where goats graze and a stream carves through that rocks supplying the area with fresh spring water.

Mustafa is the most experienced and qualified yachtsman in Turkey. At the moment he maintains and skippers a $US 20 million motor yacht, employed by a rich Italian who seems to have little interest in sailing. He is paid to have the boat ready to go, but the owner never comes! So Mustafa is pleased to spend the time building his place.

We walked back to the car at sunset, the first time I’ve seen the sunset over the horizon in 5 months. Friendly villagers, using polite and religious expressions, greeted us and gave us tea, while Mustafa met with a friend to discuss building works.

Back in deserted Oludeniz, we were taken for dinner in the oldest pide place here. Krista and Mustafa remembered old times. It feels very different here – genuine and hospitable.

riding out