NB – This post was uploaded from Iran where our photo hosting services are blocked: photos will be added later…
On arriving back at Mocamp, Dan found not only Ed, but also some other friendly British arrivals – a Bristolian couple in a camper van who were understandably very concerned at the size and robustness of Ed’s tiny tent. Dan’s jest was that if he’d known Ed only had his sleeping bag with him, he’d have picked up a tent for him in Istanbul… The Bristolian couple’s response was a little more helpful, emerging from their camper van with a filled hot water bottle in an attempt to help Ed survive the night.
The following morning, a cold watery dawn revealed that Ed had indeed survived another night against the odds in his tiny tent. The damp windy weather had however brought some problems to the bijou Biggs residence. The Nemo Mio achieves it’s incredible 1-and-a-bit kilogram weight and tiny pack-size partly by using an inflatable rib to support the front and not providing a pole to support the back of the tent. The instructions helpfully suggest the hardy camper “find a stick” and insert it into the loops to support the back. In carefully maintained campsites, sticks are harder to find than they are when hiking through a forest. With nothing to prop up the back of the tent, each gust of wind flapped the fabric and pumped more fog into the tent to collect all over the sleeping Edward. The ultralight tent would have to gain a stick at the first available opportunity…
Wednesday brought with it another gift from our Bristolian friends (two miniatures of Ouzo from their stay in Greece a few days before) and also two tasks to be done – get to the Turkmenistan consulate in Istanbul to apply for Turkmen transit visas, and also to meet up with a contact in Istanbul – a friend of Ed’s other half, by the name of Hakan.
Despite the cold, damp weather, Dan’s DRZ started much better with the new plug fitted, which was good news. If it’d not responded to that kind of wooing, Dan was pretty much out of ideas – as a professional geek, his wooing skills have generally only ever extended as far as changing the odd spark plug or perhaps putting up a shelf, and if the DRZ wanted a shelf, it was out of luck. Plasplugs have not yet produced a fixing to allow the mounting of shelves to rip-stop nylon tent fabric.
The Turkmenistan consulate had been located by address with the GPS maps, so navigating to it was no problem. The fact that it was closed on Wednesdays, however, was more of an issue. Our intrepid duo photographed the sign on the gate to enlist the help of Hakan to translate it later that day – it would be worth knowing what days the place was due to be open before perhaps wasting another trip across the city.
Dan’s Turkcell phone was pressed into service to contact Hakan, and arrangements made to meet up. To the astonishment of Dan and Ed, the very generous Hakan was able to provide an entire flat, complete with WiFi for the exclusive use of our grubby travellers. With luggage removed from the bikes and carried upstairs, the hunt was on for secure parking for the bikes. Hakan was keen for them to be parked out of sight in an underground car park – a sensible precaution in any modern city. However, the nearby carparks either did not offer overnight parking, or wanted a large fee for the few days the bikes would be there. As there was a 24 hour manned security hut for a neighbouring office block, the travellers ultimately opted to lock the bikes up outside the flat, where they were in clear view of the security hut. Then, it was time to head over to Hakan’s house a couple of miles away to spend the evening with him and his partner Esbie.
Thursday saw the second attempt at the Turkmenistan transit visa. The man at the consular desk initially seemed helpful and spoke excellent English. He explained that the process took 10 days, as all applications were processed in Ashgabat before the visas were then issued from the various consulates. However, it should be possible to start the application process here in Istanbul, and then collect the visas in Tehran in a couple of week’s time. Our man provided the required forms, and gave instructions for what else was required – two photocopies each of passport photo pages, and another two each of the Uzbek visas to provide proof that we would be allowed out of Turkmenistan on the other side and not require to spend longer in the country. With these obtained from a stationers a 15 minute walk away, the application process could begin. Helpfully, there was even an application form filled out in English as an example to be copied and adapted. Our dutiful duo diligently copied the example onto their fresh forms, and expectantly took them to the desk. The man at the desk was not impressed. It was not sufficient to use the names of the nearest cities to specify the entry and exit points (as on the example form), the names of the exact border villages had to be used. With a frustratingly childish “if you don’t know I shan’t tell you” approach, the man was suddenly not seeming so helpful. There was no map available for reference. There was no help forthcoming on where to find a map, either. Faced with a place-name information embargo, Ed broke out his trusty Blackberry, and braving the roaming data charges fired up google maps. The data connection was a little slow and clunky, but after 15 minutes or so, the border villages had been named and the forms accepted. Just in the nick of time, too – the consular section was due to close for the day at 12 noon and it was now quarter-to.
That afternoon and the next few days in Istanbul passed quickly – the travellers taking the time to catch up on their respective journeys so far, make plans for the next few days and weeks and gorge themselves on information downloaded freely from the internet. Both bikers had opted to bring only 12-Volt chargers (as bike power is available whenever the bike is moving) but no mains charger. That’s all well and good until you spend a day or two somewhere, by which time the netbook batteries are exhausted. With the aid of a mains-powered netbook charger picked up in an electronics superstore in the basement of the Istanbul Sapphire tower across the street from the flat, by Friday evening this site had been updated with events up until the guys had met back up. It was hoped to be able to get in contact with a motorcycle club in Istanbul to meet some Turkish motorcycle travellers on Saturday – unfortunately forum upgrade problems over at the very useful Horizons Unlimited site made contact unexpectedly problematic.
On Sunday, the bikes were re-laden with bags of belongings and pointed in the direction of the picturesque region of Cappadocia. The GPS maps produced from Open Street Map data showed a campsite at Bayindir Dam, near Ankara, so that was selected as the day’s target. Naturally, with the need to carry luggage downstairs from a flat, and return keys and so on, the day’s ride started a little later than it might if the riders were camped next to the bikes. No worries however – it would be a relatively short day to Ankara, and another to Goreme in Cappadocia to follow. Getting out of Istanbul was the initial frustration – forgetting about the toll-free D-100, Dan and Ed allowed their GPS units to lead them to the motorway – this was a problem as Dan’s KGS card was now out of credit, and it was not at all obvious to the traveller how to add more. Plus, rumour had it that the system had a minimum re-charge far in excess of what would be required for our team to exit the country. Sure enough, the very first toll booth refused to allow Dan through. Not being one to give up easily, Dan moved forward to the barrier, allowing Ed forward to activate the system with his card – the barrier lifted and the two bikes went through together. Illegal, certainly, but it prevented what would have been a horn symphony from the cars behind had Dan chosen to hold them all up and three-point-turn it to look for a means to add credit to his card. At an exit signed to the D-100, the bikes left, and using the same technique as before negotiated the barriers to the toll-free dual carriageway. Now it would be plain sailing, surely.
With the afternoon traffic of Ankara successfully negotiated, two small bikes emerged from the other side looking for the campsite. Some helpful local kids suggested it was up a steep washed-out dirt track up the side of the hill, so the bikes were duly pointed up the track to investigate. On arriving at a mobile phone mast at the tip of the hill, there was no campsite to be seen. A group of locals picnic-ing nearby suggested the campsite was on the other side of the main road, near the reservoir, which made more sense. Heading back down the hill and across the main road revealed a large area with locals barbecuing fish presumably caught in the reservoir, but no campsite.
6pm. Decision time. Rough-camp here with hundreds of locals around, head into Ankara and try and find a cheap hotel, or carry on towards the ultimate goal of Goreme, hoping to find somewhere to stay along the way. The decision was made to head on towards Cappadocia, with eyes peeled for accommodation options at the roadside.
By nine pm, no accommodation options had been sighted, and it was still some 60 miles to Goreme. As it was now pretty dark, accommodation-spotting was only going to get harder as the evening progressed, particularly for Ed with a dark-visor fitted and a fender-bag containing a spare inner tube obscuring part of his headlamp. After a few wrong turns and other distractions, our exhausted bikers finally arrived at Panorama Camping in Goreme at 10.30pm. It had been a very long day, and as the sun had by then been down for some hours, the campers would just have to take the name of the place on trust, and wait for the morning to admire whatever view there may be.
On Monday 15 May, two sleepy campers awoke to a bizarre sound. It sounded like frequent short bursts from an enormous camping stove – perhaps a particularly powerful caravan heater struggling to fire up in the morning. Sleeping in late to recover from the previous day, Dan finally emerged from his tent to admire the view at about 9am – and what a view. The place really did live up to it’s name, with a spectacular view across the valley with stunning rock formations all around. The area is famous for these and the houses carved into the soft rock over centuries of human occupation of the area. Evidence of these houses are everywhere to be seen even at a distance, with regular rectangular caves in the rock clearly the work of human hands. The plan for the day was mostly to explore Goreme – walking through the various valleys and admiring the many extraordinary views. A Czech biker also staying at Panorama had explained that there was a map of Turkey freely available from tourist information offices, which showed campsites and would certainly aid route-planning. With this added to the task of picking up some food supplies, the bikers left their bikes at the campsite and strolled into town to explore. The map was located in the office of a man selling hot-air ballon rides – suddenly the morning’s mysterious noise made sense – it had been the sound of balloons flying overhead.
Scrambling amongst the rock-formations and eroded carved houses was fascinating. It was possible to freely explore amongst the rocks and Dan and Ed met a Brooklyn New-Yorker called Jimmy and joined him to spend all afternoon doing just that before returning to camp to find a stick to prop up the back of Ed’s tent and try and take photos and video of the sun setting over the valley.
The following morning, the budding cameramen were once again trying to exploit unusual lighting, with the campers up at dawn to make the most of the dawn light. Whilst the dawn itself was predictable with sunrise at half past five as expected, the surprise was the sheer number of hot-air balloons that were appearing in the valley below – easily sixty or so. With flights costing 100-150 Euros per person, and each balloon carrying 15 or so tourists, this was clearly big business for Goreme, and made a truly spectacular sight.
With balloon photography finished for the morning, it was time to fire up the bikes and go exploring a little further afield, visiting the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, and Pigeon Valley. The Valley of the Fairy Chimneys provides the famous views of conical rock formations with “hats” of harder rock from a higher strata that have protected the soft rock below from the weather, hence forming the tall cones of rock below. Pigeon Valley provided more lovely views of both natural and man-made rock-formations, complete with a lot of pigeons.
The valleys were followed by a rather more functional trip to Nevsehir in search of engine oil for Ed’s bike, which was due for a change. With the valleys photographed, a Total station in Nevsehir offered the good quality Total Quartz 7000 car oil that Dan and Ed had used throughout francophone West Africa on their previous trip. Dan’s bike was due a change in another 500 or so miles, and with the good stuff on offer here, the extra couple of litres would only have to be carried for a couple of days, so enough oil for both bikes was bought and lashed to Ed’s steed. With the aid of a number of empty plastic water bottles, Ed’s oil change went very smoothly with not a single drop spilt, and with the tools packed back up, a relaxing evening followed.
By Wednesday 18 May, it was time to leave Cappadocia behind, and start heading towards the Iranian border. The target for the day was the Nemrut National Park, which according the the map from the tourist board did have a campsite. The maps produced from Open Street Map and loaded into the GPS units also included a location for an unnamed campsite in the area, so it seemed a safe bet. Shortly after leaving Goreme behind, a familiar and unwelcome problem appeared in the form of ear-plug discomfort for Ed. Both riders wear earplugs to protect their hearing from the wind noise generated by their helmetted heads passing through the air at high speed. Dan is fortunate not to suffer from problems with ear plugs, but Ed, like many other bikers does suffer from sometimes extreme discomfort when wearing earplugs. Today was one of those days, and Ed was forced to stop and adjust earplugs every fifteen minutes in an attempt to get comfortable.
Whilst stopped at a junction, a truck pulled up alongside. This is not unusual in Turkey, with all drivers doing everything they can at any given time to get ahead of the vehicle in front. This time however, the goal appeared to be somewhat different – the driver leaning over and waving a sandwich at the two foreign motorcyclists – an offer of an early lunch was not what the riders had been expecting! Based on this evidence, Dan decided that this was going to be a good day, earplug issues or otherwise.
The scenery certainly seemed to agree, with the road winding alongside a river across a flower-strewn grassy plain towards the snow capped 3500m-high volcano that had been visible from Goreme.
Dan’s tent poles however had not read the script. Most of Dan’s tent is tucked away safely in the right hand front pannier, but the poles are kept strapped alongside the roll bags on the rear rack. Care was taken every morning to pass both straps through the draw-string of the bag to prevent it moving far if the straps came loose, but clearly today Dan had been a bit careless and missed one of the straps, and not done them up tight enough either. A worried Ed watched from behind as the bag swung around perilously close to Dan’s rear wheel. Ed indicated to pull over and honked his horn, but with front indicators hidden behind the aftermarket screen and Yamaha having opted to provide the horn from a Casio watch, Dan was oblivious to his warnings. After only a few swings, the inevitable happened. The doomed bag caught on the rear tyre, the contents pole-vaulting into the air as the bag was shredded. Ed had no time to avoid running over one of the poles but stopped as quickly as he could to gather them up. Up front, Dan had felt a thud through the bike and could see what looked like a shower of orange sparks in his mirors, so immediately slowed as he tried to work out what had happened. It was only after he stopped and dismounted and saw the tattered top of his pole bag flapping in the breeze. Thoughts of trying to obtain replacement poles were racing through his mind as he walked back up the road to where Ed was gathering them up. A quick visual inspection revealed minimal damage to the poles themselves – it turned out today was still a good day after all. That said, repairing the bag would be a challenge for a proficient seamstress – never mind a fat-fingered overlander with minimal needlework experience. With poles put back into the remains of the bag and strapped firmly back on, a shocked Dan remounted and continued the ride towards Nemrut.
The road alternated between good tarmac, bad tarmac and gravel. In places it was not at all clear whether the road was being built or destroyed. The scenery was always beautiful, though sadly the road provided nowhere safe to stop and take a picture.
As the riders entered the Nemrut National Park, the hazy weather was concealing most of the scenery and the light was starting to fade. It was a shame as the fissured, craggy orange rocks provide a stunning backdrop to the twisting road through the park. This place was certainly beautiful.
To the great relief of the weary travellers, the campsite promised by Open Street Map did indeed exist – with a friendly proprietor offering camping for a reasonable price and an evening meal if it was wanted. With tents up, it was a bit late for a meal, but a cold Efes beer would work just fine. A very friendly and chatty middle-aged Dutch couple arrived and wandered over to say hello. He was a retired biology professor and had discovered (and named) a large number of species of snails. One of the local varieties to this area was in fact discovered by, and named after him. More beer flowed as travel tales were exchanged with our new Dutch friends. The proprietor was able to provide some information on the area of Nemrut, (who our Dutch friend pointed out was Nimrod, as in Elgar’s Enigma Variations) and as the conversation meandered, was very surprised that Dan was a fan of Jacqueline du Pré. The information from the proprietor consisted of an informative leaflet and a next-to-useless map with no roads or paths marked, just pictures of interesting things dotted around the area. It seems to be Turkish tourism policy not to freely provide information that could otherwise be provided by fee-charging tour guides. Sadly, behind schedule as they were, our bikers were unable to take the time to hike up the mountain to see the ancient statues. That would have to wait for a return trip to Turkey.
Opting instead to take the ferry across the reservoir and head towards Van and the Iranian border, Ed and Dan packed up and left the campsite behind and by 8.45 were waiting on the dockside. The timetable was a little difficult to understand, but it looked as though there would be a boat at 9.30. A couple of cups of tea came and went, and 9.30 am came and went, too. By 10 am the boat had arrived and it was clear that the scheduled time was in fact 10.30…
With a motley selection of trucks, buses and cars loaded alongside the British bikes a few lira changed hands and the boat set off across the water at nearly 10 miles per hour. The road from the other side would take the riders past the unlikely-named town of Batman (we kid you not) and onwards towards the city of Van, a mere 140 miles or so from the Iranian border. The Czech biker at Goreme had mentioned that there were at least two campsites at Van, one in the city and one outside. The riders started looking on the approach to the city and spotted Guney Camping just outside Edremit. Deciding it didn’t look that enticing, they opted to continue. Another, more dilapidated campsite appeared on the other side of the road, but there was still some way to go to Van, so maybe a better option was still to come. Van did not provide any obvious camping options but a local cabbie provided directions. These were followed and the bikes arrived at the entrance one of the city’s parks. Given the police presence at the gates, the bikers thought better of pitching up here, and headed the 15 miles or so back to Edremit and Guney, where a price of 10 lira each was agreed. What was not expected by the campers was the lack of showers hot cold or otherwise, and neither the campers or the proprietors expected the power cut that removed one of the few other facilities – that of lighting. After a picnic in the dark, Dan and Ed opted not to try and change Dan’s oil that night – it could wait for another day.
On Friday 20 May, it was time to head for the hills. Edremit down by the lake would be left behind in favour of the Iranian border. By the lake the weather was dry and bright – a big improvement over the previous damp evening, but up in the mountains the scenery was mostly hidden in haze, until quite close to the border. Here, the increased military presence and lack of safe places to stop again made photography impossible. The 140 miles or so of road to the border alternated between good tarmac, bad tarmac and gravel – the bikes were going to arrive in Iran absolutely filthy.
Dan and Ed had heard of travellers having problems with scams at the busy Dogubayazit (also known as “Dogbiscuit”) border so were instead heading for the quieter Esendere, further south, approximately 40 miles from the border with Iraq. The process on the Turkish side was a little complicated, but the staff were friendly and helpful, and there was a young lad in a smart suit jacket who mostly knew what needed to be done (though he missed one step and added another…) and only asked in vain for money after the boys and their bikes were stamped out of the country. At this point the pair were free to cross to Iran, with the usual slight feeling of trepidation when crossing any border – it’s natural to get comfortable in a place after a few days, and so natural to feel a little nervous about leaving it behind for the next place on the list…