Erzurum - Dogubeyazit ... 24/08-31/08
On the day of departure, Alice does not feel very well and decides to go to the hospital ... It does not take long for her to come back, self-medication will certainly work better given the state of the hospital!
We leave at noon, a real pack: Dimitri and Bruno in the front and then the recumbents... More than one person turns its head when we pass them! We are all delighted to ride in such a big group.
At first, we are a little messy, but after the break, we make a proper line: Dimitri, the toughest one, is in front, then comes Sylvie, Alice and Cédric. Finally comes Ben and Bruno, who whips Ben when he falls behind. We all cycle 15-30cm from each other’s rear wheel to use the tunnel effect. We don´t carry the same weight and we are probably the most loaded ones (I guess we like our confort :o)). There are also large differences in physical conditions. Bruno is an Iron Man, he runs in extreme triathlons. Dimitri has also a very good condition. Alice, Cédric and us are less athletic and are travelling on recumbents, much slower when going uphill!
We see many stalls on the road that sell huge cabbages. We couldn´t take one on our bicycles even if we wanted. A storm is approaching and we decide to stop in a petrol station until it passes. But it lasts so long that we decide to sleep here. There is an abandoned restaurant, ideal for us! It is so big that the 6 of us and all our gears including the bikes can fit in the room. For sure there is no safety problem! After an early tea, we prepare the meal, red lentils for everyone. We all have a stove and a couple of pans, there is nearly to much stuff for 6. People are quick to notice us and a queue of visitors begins. It's a bit stressful but at least nobody touches our gear. A teacher from a nearby city keeps coming and asking questions. Either he is really bored, or he wants to show off and show others that he speaks English. Finally we close the door and everybody understands that we want to sleep.
A few words on the toilets... We sometimes say that a world guide of best toilets would be very useful. But here, it would be quite difficult to choose. No flush, just a pitcher that we fill with water and then empty in the turkish toilet. Most travellers would say: ‘So what! it’s the same all over Asia’. But it seems that the bucket flushing technique is optional and most people suffer from optical diseases that prevent them to aim at the hole! No need to show you the result, we wouldn’t want you to get sick in front of your computer, especially at work :o).
The next day, the sky is cloudy but the storm no longer threatens. We stop in a small town for the toilets for those of us who are sick. As usual, the small and sensitive stomach of Ben can’t handle it while Sylvie’s one is fine. It is in those small villages or cities that we realise we have entered a different world. Not a single woman in sight, just men and children shouting everywhere.
The road is flat and roll between desertic areas, sometimes pastures. We have lunch at Horasan. We get a lot of harassment from the kids. 6 cyclists including 4 recumbents is the attraction of the month, if not of the year. We understand but would prefer to go unnoticed. Instead, we are surrounded by a dozen of screaming kids which alert the adults. There is always someone who wants to practice their English, but we are a bit fed up of playing the guinea pigs: 'Whatisyourname? Whereareyoufrom?'. When we ask in return, half of them does not understand us ...
We want to have a quick lunch and leave. But with 6 people, a simple decision such as where to have lunch takes some time ... it’s 3pm when we leave the city!
The landscape becomes much more beautiful. We are riding between red, gray, brown gorges along a river. I agree with Ben, it is the most beautiful road we have seen in Turkey! Wild, arid and colorful cliffs. We fill up with water at a fountain on the roadside and find a camp site at the foot of a cliff. With 4 tents we feel reassured, the PKK won’t come! We are in the risk zone and thought of taking the bus. But with 6 people it is less risky... they would need a big truck to pick us all! Being a group is also nice in the evening to talk. It is less easy during the day because everyone has a different pace. But it's worth it!
The next day, the gorges widen. It still runs along the river but it is more cultivated. No more hazelnuts like on the Black Sea but large meadows that farmers reap by hand, with a big scythe, like at the beginning of the century in Europe! We have barely done 10km that Cédric gets a puncture... 1-hour break at a patrol station, a godsend for passers-by. Around noon, we find an ideal place for camping. It is a little early, but we stop anyway. Thick green grass between poplars, a river, it is irresistible for cyclists who have not taken a shower for 3 days. We wash under a small bridge, out of sight. And Ben finds that the water is not so cold after all! After a bit of laundry cleaning everyone gets out the stoves and we have lunch. We only leave at 3pm! And Cédric gets a new puncture ... another one-hour break. We want to reach Kagizman to restock on food but there is still 40km and it is 5pm. The road starts climbing. Dimitri goes in front to create a tunnel and help the recumbents while Bruno stays at the back, pushing Sylvie in the climbs. I go from 15km/h to 30km/h!
We arrive at night in Kagizman. We have dinner and then spot an orchard. Ben and Dimitri get the consent of the owner and, 1/4h later, 4 tents are setup in her garden. But she had not quite measured the extent of her commitment and after a few minutes, she comes to us' Polis yok, PKK, problem, problem ...'. We understand there is no police here and she probably fears for her safety if she welcomes foreigners. It is pitch dark, we dismantle everything and we setup camp a few hundred metres further, next to the mosque. Someone tells the imam who kindly lit the beacon of the minaret so that we can put the tents easily ... if we wanted to go unnoticed and avoid being kidnapped, it is a success!
Bruno leaves very early at 5 am. Everyone hears the click-click-click when he dismantles his tent, but none of us is brave enough to get up and say goodbye.
We leave at 7:30 after a breakfast under the apple trees. We stop for drinking and stretching after 10km, at a gas station. This is when we notice the tank, the small hut topped by sandbags and the soldiers in arm... We are a bit shocked but after a few jokes we quickly relax. The soldiers control our passports and take our names. We assume it´s in case of disappearance so they know where we were. We pass a second checkpoint in the day but already we feel blasé...
The road carries on along the river. Sometimes it is arid mountains of red and white earth; sometimes green meadows mowed by hand by the farmers. The road is a succession of minor climbs and descents. Dimitri is faster to climb but is soon overtaken by the recumbents when we go downhill. They swap with Cédric, a regular bicycle is really faster uphill. Each of them quickly get back on his bike, it is more comfortable!
After a small break, we re-join the team. But who are they talking to on the roadside? It’s Celine and Mathias, a Swiss couple walking from switzerland to China! They left 15 months ago, bought 2 donkeys on the way and adopted a dog. They expect to arrive in China in three years! We are all stunned by the difference of time-scale. For us, this is the second time we meet people who travel by foot. We are intrigued, and wonder in what state of mind you should have when you do only 30 km per day ... There is food for thought on the idea of speed itself: by car, train, plane, always faster but what do we gain? And what does slowness teaches us?
1km of road full of pot holes and dust but luckily it does not last. We arrive in Tozluca exhausted by the heat... Water! Food! Money! Several children are running and touching the bicycles making us nearly fall on the ground. They form packs like flies when you stop and they do not even respect the adults when they tell them to leave us alone (In the rest of Turkey they always respect the adults). We had already noticed the change in people’s attitude and it’s getting worse.
Only Dimitri’s code has been forwarded to the Iranian consulate, Alice and Cedric one is still missing. Dimitri takes the bus to Erzurum and the four of us decide to keep going to Igdir. With a strong tailwind, the last 40km are swallowed in 1h30, what a pleasure to ride a recumbent in such conditions. We arrive in Igdir and find a nice hotel for 25 euros (a bit expensive but hey...). The first criteria for selecting an hotel is its ability to keep the bikes safe. If it is in the street or in an open garage it’s a no. In that hotel the bikes spend the night in a locked basement where the employees sleep.
Our credit card works but not Alice and Cedric’s one. Fortunately, they can pay the hotel by card and we refund them by cash so that they can buy their bus ticket to Erzurum. A strom breaks outside and we see Igdir in a strange atmosphere.
Alice and Cedric leave early, their bus leaves at 6h30. We are a bit more lazy and leave at 7:30 am! The sun is already very high, and the day promises to be even hotter than yesterday. We start with 3L of water each. There are only 50km to Dogubeyazit but the first 25km are uphill with a change in altitude of more than 800m... This is a new challenge for us, after the climb of Bolu.
The climb starts nearly straight after we exit the city and we reach the first military checkpoint after 1 hour uphill at 5km/h... We had plenty of time to see the bungalow, the tank and the servivemen grow as we approached the checkpoint! While they scrutinise our passports we drink and stretch. Barely have we started to cycle again, that 3 dogs start chasing us. Unable to speed up enough to lose them, Sylvie stops while Ben shouts: "But what are you doing ???". She has decided to try the Iron man technique (thank you Bruno!): She faces the dog shouting and picks up a big rock that she throws at them. The result is spectacular: the 3 monsters run away their tail between their legs. Meanwhile, Ben is laughing his head off. We will remember that technique,it's more fun.
100m further, we hear small and high pitched yaps from the other side of the road. 3 young puppies, probably belonging to one of the dogs chasing us, are trying to practice. The attitude, the barking, it's all there, except the size! This time we stop but to take a picture, they are so cute.
The road goes up quite steeply, we even hear the trucks struggling… we are not the only ones after all. Mount Ararat is there on our right side and its view is reconforting. It’s the first 5000m mountain that we see and we are quite impressed, especially since we can imagine Bruno climbing it. Sylvie is already thinking of climbing it one day or maybe even the Kilimanjaro.
We take a few pictures and climb at the top of the pass at 1700m.
People live in houses with walls made of stone and mud. On the side we can see piles of dry dung higher than a man used for heating during winter ... The pass is the crossing point between the 2 valleys as Benoit told us, we're now in the second valley... there is only a dry lake. In the distance we can see another village but there is no way there is a shop there. We are praying that the next 25km are not going up with the same incline because we only have one litre of water left each. We quickly run out of water with such slopes and heat. But we are very lucky, and in the village we find a little paradise: a small cellar under the rocks and as fresh as a fridge, it’s unbelievable. And inside, loads of drinks! We picnic at a small table beside the door ... what a dream, a breeze of fresh air and Mount Ararat in the background.
As we are about to leave a Turkish car stops. It is Denis and Gisele, 2 Belgians from Waterloo who are going around Turkey. In fact, they are passionate about Turkey, they’ve come here for the last 15 years and even bought a house in Uchisar, Cappadocia, a few years ago. They travel a lot, in different parts of the country. We spend a very pleasant time chatting with them.
The rest of the road is very easy, and once again we benefit from a strong tailwind. We will end up setting up a small sail like Olivier! A horde of kids welcomes us in Dogubeyazit ... We cannot wait for school to start! We end up at hotel Isfahan, where Bruno stayed the night before his ascension. Mustafa, the owner of the trekking agency reassures us that Bruno feels better and that he saw a doctor before going. Apart from Dimitri and Sylvie, everyone was sick during the last few days.
We make some final purchase before entering Iran: a long sleeve shirt covering the bottom for Sylvie and a long sleeve shirt for Ben. Dimitri, Alice and Cedric have their visa and join us in Dogubayazit, we are just missing Bruno.