- Istanbul to Georgia
- 19 May 2016 – 18 June 2016
- 2,451 km
- Longest stint without a proper shower – 8 days 😷😷😷
- Highest mountain pass – Cam Gecidi – 2,470m elevation
- Times shot at – once near Eskikale 🚴🔫
- Most days rain in a row -15
After spending 2 weeks in Istanbul sorting out visas for Central Asia and checking out the sights Istanbul has to offer I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike! Istanbul is an amazing city that has lots to offer for a tourist but it’s so big, so busy and so chaotic and it’s not an ideal city to be active in and that’s kinda my thing…so I really couldn’t wait to get back on the road and see the rest of Turkey! The day I left Istanbul was a public holiday and the streets were packed with people celebrating the commemoration of Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic) who is loved by the Turkish people…I even began to love him after just a few days in Turkey (anyone that gives women equal civil and political rights gets a thumbs up from me). Unfortunately the current or perceived increase in threats from extreme Islamic groups meant that the place was swarming with armed police and military. The fear in Turkey from the threat of terrorism is very apparent…there is daily incidents on the news, all over the country, especially near the Syrian and Iraqi border…but these don’t seem to be given the same exposure by the British media as comparative attacks in Europe.
From Istanbul I got the ferry across the Bosphorus and continued my way towards Bursa…where I met up with my Australian friend again. The Turkish hospitality continued where it left off as I was brought food from a family on a near by table as I stopped for lunch. The people in Turkey are very kind and it’s quite sad to be unable to imagine the same level of kindness emulated in the UK…especially to a ‘Turk’…to be honest in my 2 weeks cycling through the UK I came across the first and only denial of water on the whole trip! It took three days to ride along the main highway to Ankara amongst the entourage of melodic car horns and a heavy storm one morning meant that I lost my Aussie pal (he didn’t die…I think he just took shelter somewhere because he’s scared of water) and I continued on to Ankara solo again.
Following a day off the bike getting some admin in order I set off again heading East towards Kapadokya. After around an hour or so of cycling I became aware of someone following me🚴🚗…to be honest I am used to this now…it has annoyingly became part and parcel of solo female touring and it’s pretty frustrating and while arguably worse in Turkey (for me) than anywhere else (up to that point 🙄) it has been consistent throughout the trip and also synonymous with other female cyclists I have met along the way. So yeah this douche bag was following me on a random Tuesday for three-four god damn hours! It’s the same gig for each weirdo that thinks they’ll have a bit go at stalking a foreign cyclist…they pull in to the side of the road try to get my attention (I ignore or scowl) and then hop back in the car slowly drive along side me, pull in again in front of me…usually repeating the process two or three times before they get fed up and fuck off! But the BMW was not up for leaving…normally im not too phased by it…it’s annoying but I dont feel threatened…but this guy was paying way to much attetion to me…not letting me out of his sight, continuoisly pulling in…waiting at all exit junctions incase I took the exit and constantly getting out of his car and just staring at me as I passed by. After about an hour of this I’d had enough and pulled into a petrol station thinking I’d lose him, but nope…he needed gas obviously 🖕 I marched over to him asking what he wanted and why he was following me and told him to leave me alone…he acted dumb as if he didnt get what I was talking about…I mean obviously he was just having a slow drive out…taking plenty of breaks along the way…what’s my problem…I’m so uptight 😡 anyways he hung around the petrol station pretending to be busy until finally leaving…I waited another 15 minutes before I set off thinking he would be well gone by now…nope…he was smugly waiting round the corner to continue the saga for another couple of hours. By now I was getting really paranoid and other cars had began to do the same thing and follow me…one van even stopped and tried to block my way…whether it was all coincidence or not I don’t know but my imagination was going crazy as I ridiculously started to convince myself I was the target of some sort of terrorist kidnapping! Eventually I started to get worried…at what point was he going to leave me alone? Was he going to follow me all day? What did he actually want? So I pulled off the exit into a town and went to a restaurant to get some help (the guy was still circling the restaurant in his car) I called the police gave the car registration details and by the time I had left the restaurant the guy had gone…I changed my route and never saw him again…all very strange! I didn’t enjoy the rest of the day cycling…it really freaked me out but I was really mad at myself for letting myself be affected by it and the next day I met up with my Aussie pal again and still feel a bit of a wimp for not facing up to it and continuing solo for the next few days!
It took three days to reach Kapadokya from Ankara and we took the main highway as there was too many crazy dogs on the smaller roads ready to eat me or give me rabies…which by the way I never knew meant certain death! We finally arrived at Kapadokya…the number one tourist attraction in Turkey which is pretty paradoxical in that it is probably the best and worst place I saw in Turkey. The landscape was amazing…it’s like something plucked from a fairytale. There is a network of hundreds of homes, caves and tunnels which helped to hide persecuted Christinity hundreds of years ago (at that time it was illegal). The spoiler is the bus loads of tourists pouring out over the “highlights” of the park, the fact that the place has been turned into a money making machine with opportunities to ‘consume’ at every turn and the fake camels dotted all over the place…I mean Turkey doesn’t even have a desert…I think someone just thinks that toursits love camels…n that seems to be true as I watched many tourists taking turns to ride the camel on a miserable 400 metre loop of the car park!
After a day exploring the national park we began to head north east towards the Black Sea coast…the most popular destination for cycle tourists in Turkey…and it began to rain…and it didn’t stop for 15 days! Cycling in the rain doesn’t phase me…I don’t really care about getting wet but you can’t get dry…plus it’s the effect it has on all your equipment…my bike was making all sorts of noises! The cycling was difficult because of the weather but there was many mountain passes on the way over 2,000 metres elevation and I really loved it and began to get excited for what Central Asia would have in store for me! Although one of these days I really felt miserable and missed home for the first time so far…and had an evening to really nail down that feeling. It had rained all day and my mood felt pretty low so we decided to take shelter and sleep the night in an old abandoned warehouse. I had to clear up rodent shit for a place for me to sleep, which didn’t bother me too much…but then I went for my daily bottle shower…somehow without realising I stood in human shit, got it all up the back of my leg and all over my towel…I had nothing really to clean it with properly and felt so grim about the whole thing that I couldn’t even eat my tea and spent the rest of the night wondering what the hell I was doing n wishing I was back home in England…where I’ve never stood in human shit!
I soon got over my pathetic moment of self pity and the next day after ending up face down on the banking at the side of the road after a near crash at 70km per hour downhill…life reminded me that I’ve got it pretty good as we were put up for the night by a Turkish family including a comfy bed and amazing food! Only one of them spoke English but we still managed to have many laughs together and the women followed me around like lost puppies, watching my every move and making sure I was comfortable and in need of nothing!
We finally reached the coast after a week of stupidly steep, never ending hills with amazing scenery that make every minute of climbing worth it! Endless hospitality, food, cay and even offers of places to stay became part of the daily routine and I relished the chance to learn the language…previously embarrassed of attempting language with locals I now grasped every opportunity and I was soon able to communicate on a very basic level in Turkish…go on! The camping wasn’t easy on the coast as you have the sea (obviously) on one side and many populated areas on the other side…one night we snuck in a shell of new build of flats (there are half finished new build flats all over Turkey) to be woken at 5am by the owners…ooooppppsssss ✌️
After cycling the coast for a couple of days it was time to head inland again towards Erzerum to collect my Iranian visa and I was pretty nervous about it! To cut a long story short the Iranian government do not issue visas to British independent travellers (you need a guide which costs $200 per day) but I had a contact who could get me the visa (illegally) without a guide. I’d paid $180 to this person without any guarantee of 1. getting the visa and 2. Getting through the border even if I did get the visa…so I was pretty anxious!
As we headed inland towards Artvin the climbs and the rain began again and something strange also happened…Im still not exactly sure but I think someone tried to shoot me…ok I’m probably being a drama queen but…as we were getting water from a well opposite a house on the other side of a river with the only access being a zip line I noticed a man sitting on the balcony watching us very closely. Mike also noticed this and set off again leaving me behind getting water (chivalry is definitely dead when it comes to cycle touring 😂…every human for themselves)…I had an uneasy feeling about the staring man so hurried up collecting my water and set off again! As I got just passed level with the house I heard 4 very loud gunshots coming from the house…I looked over the river and the man was ducked down behind the balcony wall with a shotgun peering over the top with smoke coming from the end 🚴🌪🔫 I couldn’t believe it…had someone actually just tried to shoot me? After my heartbeat had finally returned to normal and I’d pedalled like fuck to get out of sight I surmised that most likely the guy was just being a dick, trying to scare me by either firing blanks or shooting up in the air…but still it’s not what you want…snipered whilst on a bike ride!
We cycled on towards Ardahan and the weather got worse as we gained altitude. On our way up the last and highest pass at just under 2,000 metres a storm set in and the sleet, wind and cold made the cycling extremely uncomfortable and we came across an old abandoned hut to take shelter in and ended up stuck in there for 2 days as the storm worsened! It was freezing in the hut as the windows were smashed and there wasn’t much protection from the cold and it was a pretty miserable couple of days waiting for the weather to clear and running out of food and water!The weather finally cleared enough to leave the hut and make it up and over the pass…it was still freezing and there was sleet on the ground but I was grateful to get out of there and looking forward to losing some elevation on the other side of the pass and gaining some increase in Celsius! The Turkish hospitality remains even at over 2,000 metres elevation in miserable weather in the most depressing small village of wooden huts I’ve ever seen as I was offered inside for food and cay by local villagers but declined as I just wanted to be the hell outta there!On the other side of the pass was Ardahan and we totally lucked out finding a host, Kaan, here! He was amazingly kind and let us stay in his living room for 5 days and also during Ramadan, whips is not an easy time for Muslims as they fast from 2am until sunset! He is one of the kindest people I have ever met…cooking us food and taking us to restaurants even though he could not eat himself! The Muslim hospitality really is amazing and is something I will never forget and hopefully be able to learn from! We left our bikes in Ardahan and caught a bus to Erzerum to pick up our Iranian visas…I was so happy to finally get the visa after almost 6 weeks of waiting, beuracracy and not to mention $430… The most expensive visa by far…but I was totally excited to be able to visit Iran…a country a few months ago I wouldn’t of even considered going to!
After 5 days off the bike it was time to head towards Georgia and leave Turkey behind…as much as I loved the country and am grateful for the hospitality and kindness shown by the people I was really ready to leave as some of the more frustrating sides of Turkish culture began to grind me down and I felt a little relieved as we approached the Border of Georgia…goodby Turkey ✌️