Trabzon - Erzurum ... 21/08-24/08
Our visa is waiting for us in Erzurum, we decide to speed up a little and take the bus. We cover in 5h what would have taken us 5 days by bicycle. The first part is beautiful, very green, just like the Alps. Small chalets are scattered on green meadows where cows are grazing ... this bucolic vision is soon replaced by arid landscapes. Even if we regret not cycling the beautiful downhill, this road would have been difficult. No patrol station, a city only every 30km, not easy for water.
We take the luxury of looking an hour to find a hotel (thank you, Ben!). Finally, it is the first we looked at which is the cheapest. We have a bit of time since we expect Bruno only on Saturday. We walk around town and then have dinner and check internet. We pass the door of the hotel, a man is running down the stairs ... No, it's not ... but yes, it´s Bruno! After riding 120km (he is crazy!), he realized he wouldn´t be on time in Erzurum to meet us and he finished hitch-hiking! We are amazed and happy! We haven´t seen him since a year and a half ago in Paris at the Cyclo-camping fair. It's great to be together here! The plan is to cycle together until the Iranian border. Then Bruno will go and climb Mount Ararat and will join us later in Iran.
The next day, we are up early and go to the Iranian consulate. We must be dreaming, "Ben, pinch me". On the sidewalk, there are 3 cyclists including 2 recumbents! It is Cédric and Alice, and Dimitri. Bruno met Cédric and Alice at a traffic light in Serbia. He had left them on the Black Sea but they took the bus to join us and speed up the processing of their Iranian visa. A happy chap is the hotel owner, 6 cyclists!
Erzurum has more inhabitants than Trabzon (400,000 inhabitants against 350,000), but downtown is smaller. We feel like being in a small town. Our hotel is on the main street, Cumhuriyet Caddesi. It is a large shopping street with several lokantas (canteens), pastry shops (Ben has to keep Sylvie on a tight leash!) and tea houses. There are also several banks and the 6 of us walk up and down the street to compare exchange rates. We need to get enough money to go to Iran since we cannot withdraw any cash in Iran or Turkmenistan.
We were warned that Erzurum, like Konya and Kayseri in central Turkey, is a conservative city. Indeed ... We were used to women wearing the headscarf and the cloak, as they were already a majority on the road 100 and the Black Sea. But here it goes further, we see many women all in black with only their eyes visible. We had already seen this in London but here we discover a stricter version, some women walk in the street completely wrapped in a brown blanket, covering even their head! We wonder how they can see. We remain perplexed. We feel quite saddened and shocked even more since men are dressed like in Europe, in short sleeves!
We also note a change in people’s attitude. So far, the Turks approached us but their attitude remained quite distant. Here, the physical distance is shrinking, people come closer to us, often touching the bicycles and the tone of their voice can be more aggresive... It feels a little bit like in India but as there are not so many people, it´s less stressful... Let’s hope the tension does not increase as we move East.
Our tribulations for the Iranian visa are coming to an end: we leave early to get to the consulate before 08:30, but we had forgotten that the Iranians do not work on Fridays! Nonetheless, the guard at the entrance invites us for a drink in his bungalow. The poor guy has to stay there for 12 hours in a row and he has no one to keep him company. We have a very interesting conversation with him, his english is excellent, as a matter of fact he studies English and Arabic at University to get a better position, perhaps at Interpol.
The next day we are more fortunate. After filling out 2 duplicate forms with our pictures (hoping that Sylvie is sufficiently covered on her picture) and having paid 120 euros exactly, we are told to return at 4pm... Aaaah, we finally see the end of the tunnel! In the meantime we go and have tea with Julie and Geoff, 2 Australians from Sydney with whom we sympathized. They are returning to Sydney after 5 years in London and are taking a 3 months break to cross Asia. They follow the same route as us, just a bit faster!
We spend the rest of the afternoon visiting the city and its shopping streets. Each street has its specialty: tailors, cobblers... and jewellers. As we are travelling East, more and more people ask us if we are married. We always answer yes, as we have been together longer than many young married couples and also to avoid more questions. But a ring would make things more credible and maybe the question wouldn’t be raised so often. We find 2 lovely rings made of silver (at least it looks like it). The owner gives us his card and wants us to send pictures from our wedding!
We go back to get our visas with Julie and Geoff and start a victory dance outside the consulate... We celebrate properly with a beer and some cherry juice in Julie and Geoff’s hotel. Let’s hope we meet again in Iran despite of our speed difference. Anyway we will try and see them when we get to Australia!
As a strong storm rises, we wonder if we will be able to leave tomorrow. We are now 6 to ride together, and decisions are taken during a pow-wow :o)