THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
DAVE AND FRIENDS TRAVEL BACK THROUGH TURKEY
Here we go, the last exciting instalment of Dave and crew trail the world (well part of it anyway) - if you are unfortunate enough to have missed their previous instalments then you are in for a treat click here for previous tales of derring do. Meanwhile here is the story for today and after reading the whole marvellous epic you will want to get your bike out and head for the hills...over to Dave...
The relief was palpable as we were waved across the border between Georgia and Turkey and Chip's entry/exit situation disappeared behind us. Oo er Mrs!
I’m certain an observer would have been able to discern our collective euphoria as we rode west into Turkey with the Black Sea on our right and the tea covered mountains on the left. After much discussion with the Turkish authorities and anxious anticipation, Chip's passport and more significantly, bike paperwork had been stamped and there should now be no administrative hold ups till we reach the western Turkish border. By then we would be on our way home in the van so not such a concern.
Above the clouds
Over lunch we made a plan. The hills beckoned and we intended to follow a route that Milky had downloaded and saved on his clever phone. We carried on along the coast past Rize then turned left towards the Pontic Mountains and the clouds. Having followed the main road south up a valley for a number of miles we obeyed the direction of the phone and took to a tiny, winding road that led us through small villages and into the clouds. As the trees and houses stopped so did the road surface and visibility. We crawled along in what became a right “pea souper”. Although we were on a dirt track it was a route that was definitely going somewhere which was reinforced by the cars and vans that periodically appeared coming the other way.
It is a strange experience when you know you are high up on a mountainside but all you can see is a few yards in any direction. And of course as well as the odd vehicle coming the other way there were plenty of animals wandering aimlessly in the fog. Our progress was very slow and there were many junctions that we went past so we were completely unsure what direction we were heading in. All of our focus was on what could be seen a few yards ahead and concentration was intense. Whilst not being fun it was a challenge that I kinda enjoyed in a weird sort of way. It didn’t matter where we were going coz we would end up somewhere and it really wasn’t too important where that was.
On several occasions at the junctions there were signs for Sultanmurat that we appeared to be following. After creeping along in second gear for what seemed like forever, up and down hillsides that we couldn’t see, the clouds parted to bright sunlight offering a vista of green pastures with people having picnics. In the centre of the scene was a large mosque, a short row of shops and a hotel. This must be Sultanmurat. We had to stop to take stock of this intriguing sight. We walked through along the “High St”, the shops sold supplies for the local farmers who were there in great numbers along with the picnickers. We bought ourselves cow bells, each one had a different tone. It would help if we got separated in the fog. The rather grand hotel had a teahouse attached so we had a cuppa before moving on as the clouds encompassed the oasis once more.
Crawling through the fog
It was back to crawling in second with the occasional breaks in the fog when the wind blew a gap. At one point a village came into view on a hillside several hundred yards away, bathed in sunlight for a minute before the next bank of cloud rolled off the hilltop making the village totally invisible. Eventually we reached the southern end of the mountains and the clouds cleared giving an amazing panorama of mountain tops in one direction and the long trail down and across the vast valley. We had popped out of the fog and mountains more or less sort of in the directionish that we wanted to be. Of course had precise navigation been important no doubt we would have got well and truly lost but as it was, we descended south into the sun-filled valley.
Go West young men!
We travelled west through some wonderful scenery, hills and gorges, lakes and the odd forest. By late afternoon we looked at the map to find a town to stop for the night and picked out Sivas, it looked big enough to have a hotel and once we rode around it twice, we found it. We also found the town drunk, a rare beast in rural Turkey, friendly and as boring as any drunk anywhere in the world. The best part was that he wanted to talk to Chip more than me or Milky. Amazing, it was like the homing instincts that cats seem to have with me. I can’t stand them but when I go into someone's house the bloody cat always comes over to jump on my lap. Not that our new mate wanted to jump on Chip's lap but of the three of us he managed to choose the least tolerant of the itinerant drinkers. And what was more fantastic was that after we had got ourselves showered and changed we found a place to eat and within 10 minutes he had found us again. Laugh?? However he was mostly harmless and seemed content once we let him lead us to the shop that sold bottles of Effes.
The next morning the town was buzzing. It was market day and the place was heaving. There were stalls and people everywhere. You could buy anything from tools to tractors and it was clear that people had come into town from far and wide. Folk were greeting each other with huge grins and hugs, as if they had not seen each other for a long time. Of course despite the crowds our new best friend found us pretty quickly but we confused him by splitting up and going in two directions. This was not done out of pure malice but I wanted to find a bank whilst the other two felt the need for a shave in a barbers.
Now at this point I wonder if you can imagine a market town in rural Turkey? The road is fairly dusty and most of the people are subsistence farmers, shops sell fairly basic supplies of food and provisions. Not rough but basic. Aldi not M&S. Then you walk into a bank and everything is chrome and marble and air con. The same people queuing to pay in or take out and always an armed guard. The one in the bank I went in was about 17.
To see the bank teller you need to take a numbered ticket but to get a ticket you need to put your bank card in the ticket machine. So I sat on a chair and waited for a couple of minutes. The 17 year old with a uniform and sidearm soon took notice and went into an inner office. A young smartly dressed man followed him out and approached. He spoke a little English and introduced himself as Rohim, we soon established that I wanted to change money. Together we filled out the appropriate paperwork whilst the other people went about their banking business. My paperwork and passport were taken away. I was then asked if I wanted coffee and someone was dispatched to brew up a fresh pot. Meanwhile the young manager excused himself and left the bank. He returned five minutes later, organised the presentation of the coffee then proceeded to hand out nougat fancies that he had just bought to everyone in the bank and gave me the remainder as a present. He then phoned his sister who spoke better English than he did so we could have a conversation. Whilst all this was going on I was given my currency. The sister told me about a nearby waterfall that we might visit and then handed me back to the young manager so he could give directions.
I couldn’t help but imagine being in Lewisham High Street as a foreign visitor changing up some cash.
The Kindness of Strangers
Having experienced the Kindness of Strangers I went off to find the others in the barbers, we shared the nougat with the other customers and were given numerous differing routes and distances to find the waterfalls.
Despite the variety of routes we found the scenic waterfalls had a pleasant lunch there and then continued northwest through wonderful scenery till we reach the Black Sea once more. Tonight's destination is Persembe a pleasant resort town which boasts among other things some very noisy bullfrogs.
The seaside is all very well but we feel the pull of the mountains, so after following the coast road for a while the next morning the bikes are pointed south once more into them thar hills. Maps and GPS have a difference of opinion so we go with instinct and ask a minibus driver who agrees with us and we enter a maze of dirt tracks over the mountains, great fun but after a while we were not quite so confident. The next minibus driver, coming up an implausible trail, confirmed our doubts and bade us to follow him. When our paths were to separate he gave us a list of villages that we could show people on the way.
On the road for how long before we stumble across a much better way of getting directions from local people? Most can read OK but don’t use maps.
Valley Deep, Mountain High
The great ride over the trails continue for another few hours before once again we head down to the wide, hot valley. We stop in the nearest town to fill up with fuel and get some welcome food. At the petrol station we were soon surrounded by young guys, keen to take their selfies with the bikes and us. Rather bizarrely this was happening right next to an armoured personnel carrier and a fully armed soldier who took no notice of us or the young guys, who in turn took no notice of him. We were back in Kurdish territory.
Down the road a few hundred meters we bought some supplies from a supermarket, when we started to load the bits n bobs into our bags a young man came out from the baker shop next to where we were parked. We assumed it was someone else wanting a picture but we were wrong he was bringing us a punnet of deep fried dough balls steeped in honey as a gift, for no other reason than we were strangers passing through their town. How lovely is that?
It had become very hot and windy with storm clouds gathering all around. Time to get a shift on and we found a motel near Osmancik where we were able to enjoy our dinner on the terrace watching the lightening and rain crashing down.
Next day was to be a reverse of the one before carrying on westerly along the valley, fortunately without the storms. There were rice fields all around for mile after mile till we turned right towards the hills. No trails today but plenty of road works to orientate. We saw a touring cyclist heading up what turned out to be a massive hill that had at least 15 miles of roadworks with horrendous surface. Rather her than me.
We tacked our way across the hill back once more towards the Black Sea. We came to the industrial town of Zonguldak. The very same town was featured on Turkish TV weeks ago when we were in Istanbul. There were serious floods that convinced us to head southeast. We watched images of a farmer swimming down a flooded road saving his cow. When we arrived it was in bright sunshine with no sign of the devastating rains from the previous month. The next town west along the coast is Eregli where we stopped for what was to be our last night before heading back through Istanbul and on to Chip's beloved Transit.
A lovely fish dinner some beers and a couple of glasses of Raki made up our last meal before getting off the bikes.
Good fun, then back to the madness...
We had one more blast before getting to Istanbul but we were not the only ones. It was a Sunday and there were a good number of bikes out from the capital city. A couple of guys latched on to us, one on a GS 800 the other test riding an 1190 KTM. When we stopped to chat they offered to show us an interesting route for a while before our roads separated. Good fun.
Then it was back to the madness that is Istanbul, after crossing the impressive Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge we made the decision to go straight through to Corlu where the van was awaiting our return.
That was it, the ride was over
That was it, the ride was over. One last bit of fun and games leaving Turkey at the border we had originally entered by. We were more than ready for the questions about the van and bikes. There was a particularly helpful young lady who persisted where her male colleagues had baulked. When all was sorted and the jokes and pleasantries exchanged she said to Chip in an earnest manner,
“You may never bring this bike back to Turkey again, ever!”
...And I don’t think he will...
A word to the wise...what did & didn’t work.
Using the van and trailer to take the bikes to Turkey was great. All those motorway miles that are boring could be spent chatting and listening to dodgy radio stations. Also three bikes probably use more fuel than a diesel transit.
However it proved to be a real headache as Chip was “importing” two vehicles and the system could not deal with it.
The answer would have been to leave the van in Bulgaria close to the Turkish border.
The bikes had been great, I had been unsure about my 640 but it had proved to be just about perfect for the trip.
We all used soft luggage. Chip had some old panniers, Milky and I bought some Oxford 30 ltr pannier/backpacks. They were about 60 quid a pair in a clearance sale. As backpacks they were rubbish and a fiddle to get on and off but once on they were good. The waterproof liners nearly were.
The three of us bought Aldi 44ltr Waterproof Duffel Bags for under a tenner each, they are brilliant.
I took too much stuff, too many clothes, too much camping gear that we used for two nights. Could have camped more but it was easier to find cheap hotels with showers of varying quality. Tyres – we used Heidenau K60 Scouts on the rear. The ones on the 950s were a little different to mine. I had no complaints but I think the big bikes had to be extra careful on slippery roads. On the front we used Metzler Karoo 3s, no complaints. (See first instalment).
Our route was initially determined by the weather and then made up from looking at maps and guidebooks. I would have wanted to do more tracks and trails but given that we were keen to see Georgia and Armenia, big road miles were necessary. The scenery changed constantly and dramatically. We only had a few driving incidents and I would anticipate many, many more if covering a similar mileage in the UK.
Would I go back? At the drop of a hat.
I would do a different trip in that I would choose a few places to base myself and go exploring each area, i.e. on tracks n trails.
The only problem is there are other places I need to see on the way……..Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania…….
Thanks so much to Dave and his friends for this great story of a motorcycle adventure, interesting roads and trails. great people and great fun, a thoroughly enjoyable story.
If you have done anything similar we'd love to hear about it let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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