BATMAN OR BUST! TEAM DAVE ARE STILL HEADING ACROSS TURKEY
NOT A BATMOBILE IN SIGHT
Here is the fourth nailbiting instalment of Dave and crew's motorcycle trip - they are travelling through Turkey at the moment - this episode finds them dipping their toes in the Tigris among other interesting things...If you missed the last part of the tale follow the link here to catch up
Burping the bike
In the morning we found ourselves in the underground car park filling up the coolant on Chip's bike and “burping” it. This involves getting the front of the bike up significantly higher than the rear and leaning it from one side to the other to enable any trapped air to find it’s way out. A fun task I can assure you. Once completed Chip was dispatched around the busy town square to warm the monster up to see if the issues were resolved. He emerged from the dark cavernous garage into the brightness and heat of 30 odd degrees in shorts and t-shirt and joined in the traffic chaos of central Diyarbakir. He returned 15 minutes later, the bike was fine but he had been chastised by some young student girls who were worried about man of his age riding without proper riding gear. Suitably humbled the bike was parked and we hit the streets on foot to see the sites.
Diyarbakir is one of the biggest cities in south eastern Turkey with a population of over a million and a half. An awful lot of those folk own small motorbikes and a good number put sidecars on them, they are our kinda people. There are makes of bikes we had not seen before. One popular bike used for the sidecars seemed to be modelled on the old Suzuki GT 500 two stroke twin.
Much of the inner city is still surrounded by the ancient city wall and large parts of it are accessible, although the local authority Health & Safety Department have obviously not got any links with their counterparts in the UK.
Whilst wandering along the wall we had the only experience of attempted thieving in the whole of our trip. A young lad thought it might be a good idea to pick Chip's pocket. Silly boy. He ran away very quickly with loud threats ringing in his ears. Back down on the streets we stopped in what used to be a camel station and is now a hotel/restaurant for a cup of tea or two. The perfect place to keep cool in the mid-day heat. Mad dogs and Englishmen etc. The place reminded us of an amazing film called Grass; A Nation's Battle for Life seen at The Adventure Travel Film Festival a few years previously. A silent documentary from 1925 about a Persian tribe that had to move the entire community over raging torrents and snow covered mountains to get their herds to new pastureland. Check it out.
Toes in the Tigris
Having seen all we wanted, we searched for something cool and refreshing. Not too easy in this part of the world but with a little help from a local we found a bar and planned the next stage of the trip. By now we were well into the south east and the plan to seek out the sun had worked, having left the clouds and rain behind us. Consulting a guide book we decided to head south for a day towards the border with Syria. We had no intention to go into Syria but we would at least be able to get close to the desert and visit another interesting town of Mardin.
However before leaving Diyarbakir it was essential that we spent some time at the river on whose banks the city was built. It is the legendary Tigris, and there we were with our toes in it!
Due south to the ancient town of Mardin. Although it is only about 70 miles south it felt a fair bit hotter as we got closer. The town sits on a hillside looking over the desert. An attractive place with a citadel at the top. Sadly it is not accessible as the military use it to keep an eye on what is going on across the nearby border.
Pulling up in the attractive narrow main street outside a teashop we immediately became the centre of attention. For five or ten minutes we answered questions and were then left alone to enjoy our tea.
Across the road was another camel station come restaurant that did some lovely grub, a little up market by our standards but we felt we were worth it. Before leaving town we bought some locally produced soap that is a guaranteed cure for any number of ailments. The shop was in a wonderful basement/cave full of exotic odours. Now we might smell a little better. One more look across the desert to the Syrian border about 20 miles away, then turned northeast on some lovely small roads and headed for Hasankeyf.
We arrived early evening and found the cheap motel advertised in the guidebook. When I say cheap I mean cracks-in-the-wall cheap, everything-rattling-when-lorry-goes-over-bridge-we-were sleeping-next-to cheap. But the guy running it was friendly enough!
The bridge I mentioned spanned the Tigris and the ruined city was well worth the noisy accommodation. A couple of hundred yards up stream was the ruins of a much older version that had been knocked down by the Mongols, this was to become a common story when reading and hearing about the region.
Cave dwellers and Gallic disdain
The dramatic citadel looks down over the river and has been lived in for hundreds of years, only being vacated in the 1970s. A few of the cave homes are still being used as farms and look lived-in with double glazed windows. We wandered around the town ending up down by the river A French family were camped up with their smart camper van. They were travelling round over the summer with their two young children, having taken them out of school (don’t tell Nicky Morgan) and giving them lessons. We offered to do some English classes but the Gallic look of disdain from children so young made it clear that it would never happen.
The whole area around Hasankeyf has been the cause of international controversy as the government had proposed to construct a huge dam that would flood a vast area, including the city of Hasankeyf. There has been much protest and between the outcry and the recession some international backers have withdrawn, so hopefully that is the end of the plan.
Our landlord recommended his brothers/cousins/uncle restaurant above the river. We ordered fish and listened to the cacophony that came from a thousand bullfrogs. Milky and I suffered for several days following the meal, not enough to stop us doing stuff but I stuck to bread and cooked food for a few days. The next morning we were back in the same place for breakfast watching some cattle wandering across the bridge holding up traffic. Once they had got over they promptly turned back and held up the traffic again. Wonderfully amusing.
Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na... Batman
The obvious route from Hasankeyf was to continue north to Batman, (honestly, look it up.) But we’d had enough of main roads and after consulting map and GPS we decided to track west along small roads and trails to find a bridge across the Tigris. There was a valley with a small road leading to a village and a trail going over the hills to more small roads and eventually the bridge. It was never gonna be that easy.
We went up the lovely valley to the village on the map but the trail didn’t exist or if it did it was a goat trail, certainly not appropriate for a loaded 950. OK, re-plan, turn back, follow some other small roads on to a larger road and hey ho it will lead to the bridge.
We found the larger road, it was big, newly surfaced and heading west for about 20 miles, whoo hoo. About half a mile before the river there was a military camp and the tarmac abruptly disappeared to be replaced by a dirt road, normally my favourite surface but in this instance it did not bode well. Indeed all that remained of the bridge was a few supports poking forlornly out of the river. Having stopped outside someone's house we were immediately invited on to their balcony for tea.
We were informed that the bridge had gone a long time ago but as to why remained a mystery. We looked across at the houses and road on the other side where we wanted to be. I intimated that we might be able to ford the Tigris as it didn’t look too deep. Our hosts were dead set against that idea. Instead they suggested that we go further south where a new dam was under construction and we could cross there.
More looking at map & GPS and we decided to take our new best friend's advice and head for the dam via a town called Dargecit. Saying our goodbyes we said we would wave to them from the opposite side of the river. The next route was over some lovely hills on a number of unmade roads.
Dargecit is not a pretty town by any means and we were happy to pass through. On the other side of town we found the road leading to the dam, it was even bigger and newer than the last one. This time it was an army roadblock that stopped us just before crossing the dam. The soldiers were very friendly and curious but no way would they let us proceed. Why? Because 10 miles up the road there might be terrorists waiting in the hills. We were willing to take a chance but the men with the guns said “NO”. Were we down hearted? Yes we bloody well were. We speculated that if we had approached from the other direction there would be a roadblock and the same thing would be said. Still we had no choice but to head back to Hasankeyf and on through Batman. At least we could say we had been there.
Back up the big, shiny new road we went and as we got near Dargecit the need for fuel became apparent, also some very, very dark clouds were heading our way. The town didn’t look any better on the second visit, in fact the place warranted it’s own water cannon outside a well fortified police station. Before we reached the petrol station the sky emptied itself in a dramatic fashion. Everyone, including us ran for cover under whatever shelter was available. The thunder, lightening and torrential rail lasted about 20 minutes leaving rivers in the roads. As it stopped curious locals emerged to watch the three foreign fools wrestle with waterproofs and set off in search of the fuel station. We soon found it and then the sun, that had us taking off the things we had just put on. By the time we went back through Hasankeyf we’d done over 200kms to get back where we had started from. I have to say that some of the roads had been brilliant but we still wanted to make some progress so we pushed on past Batman, stopping for the obligatory photos, then on to Siirt. Relieved, the three weary travellers found somewhere to lay their tired old bones so that the next day they could repeat it all over again.
Our plan for the new day was to track north across the mountains to Lake Van. By now we are well into eastern Turkey and an area that used to be full of Armenian people. However a little over 100 years ago the Young Turks took control of eastern Turkey and a short while later started a policy of exterminating Armenians that were living in the region. It is estimated that about one and a half million Armenians were killed, many more leaving their homeland. Unsurprisingly relations have not been good. Borders are still closed.
As was now familiar the road towards Peravi was being upgraded which meant the surface disappeared and gravel was substituted, this certainly makes the going more interesting! On the hill above Peravi amidst all the dozers and diggers we filled up with fuel and were invited for tea. The view across the valley was impressive with all the civil engineering going on and in the distance a trail heading north up into the mountains. Weaving through the bulldozers we got on to the track we had spotted from the garage. We soon left the works behind and found ourselves on a fantastic trail going up and down the sides of the valley. After an hour or so we stopped in a remote village to check our position. Within seconds we were surrounded by male inhabitants, young and old. Clearly another tea stop was on the cards. Sitting with everyone, telling our story it occurs to me that here in this small village that is connected to the world by a stony track, talking and laughing with people who mostly do not travel further than the nearest market town, we are so fortunate and privileged to be here. After a while a voice rang out from the nearby minaret and most of the men shook our hands and left to answer the call to prayer. We said our goodbyes to the remaining boys and young men and continued along the trail into the higher mountains.
Further along the track the surface became looser and rougher with some steep climbs. Three young guys appeared from nowhere and we stopped to talk. They were very concerned that we should not go on as there had been a landslide along the track. We tried to look at the map with them but as we were beginning to realise maps are not something that people here are not used to. We did not want to go back as it was a damned long way. One of the guys suggested I ride up to have a look at the damaged trail. A few corners on I found the problem with boulders making the route fairly difficult. Thinking that if I could get past on my LC4 by myself then the three of us should be able to manhandle the 950’s through. And so it was with just one dodgy section with the rear wheel needing not to step off the trail. Parked up, I had to walk back to get the other two before we took the two bigguns past.
Elated we carried on our way only to find another blockage with a large landslide across the path. Not too technical but it took a while to get the three bikes over the steep pile of fresh fallen hillside. Of course there was more as we continued a long the trail and they became more difficult. It meant taking luggage off bikes as they needed manhandling over piles of dirt and rock. We were well puffed by the time we got past the final obstacle. It wasn’t too far after that the trail returned to being passable then becoming semi surfaced and then tarmac.
Back on the blackstuff
It had been a tough dramatic trail but our day was not over quite yet and although we were back on the black stuff there was a very high mountain pass to go over. So high there was snow and the need for extra layers, not to mention the gravel on bend after bend after bend. I coasted down the other side and on the way down went past a couple of camps where nomadic Kurdish people kept herds of sheep and goats. We waved to each other as I glided down the road. Then a military Saracen came up the road and I almost had a heart attack when the driver sounded the very loud siren in welcome as we passed each other. By and by the mountain became hills and eventually lush grass covered meadows as we approached the southern edge of the vast Lake Van. Cruising along the lake's shore we spotted a hotel with an XT660 parked outside with German plate, obviously it was the right place for the night. We went in having first dispatched Chip off in search of some bottles of well earned beer.
The owner of the XT was Dirk, a young (compared to us) German travelling a similar route to ourselves but on his own. A couple of beers later we all became firm friends and decided we would ride together for a few days as the next item on our agenda was the volcano of Nemrut Dagi (a different one) where we intended to camp the next day.
That's all for this chapter folks - we'll leave you looking forward to the volcano next time. Thanks very much to Dave for this inspiring tale, proving that there's still a whole world out there to see and two wheels are the perfect way to see it.
If you have been to any of the places mentioned let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
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