Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Category — cycling without borders

Day 87 (Turkey): Diyarbakir - Kozluk

daily distance: 135km
total distance: 5738km
riding time: 8h

I got up early to beat the heat, or at least gave it a shot. I was on the bike before 7am and it seems that I had failed miserably. It was already brutally warm when I crossed the Tigris valley to make my way to the other side.

It was supposed to be flat … Well, it turned out that the whole day was more like 1823m in altitude. It was massive. I got my first 80km in before 1am and took a long break in an internet cafe in Silvan. Until then, it was nothing but a constant up and down affair …

Once out of there I just enjoyed the ride in the no longer sweltering afternoon sun (well, it was still over 30C in the shade). But the area was simply beautiful and despite not really wanting to be out for that long, I eventually arrived in Kozluk. People ask me why I am riding later than 6pm – my answer is that for me those hours are some of the best of the day. The colors are vibrant, temperatures are much better and traffic is not as heavy most of the time.

Kozluk is a strange place and the first where I felt unwelcome. That goes for the part of town which lies at the highway. Given the distance and that it was close to nightfall, I opted for a hotel or would have to find a place pronto. Some people said no, there was no hotel. Others said there was. Turns out it was a teacher’s hotel again and it involved a 200m climb to the higher part of Kozluk - which greeted me much more warmly than the lower one. I was accompanied by a guy on a motorcycle who led the way in the now dark town, set things up in the teacher’s hotel (sort of at least) and showed me the essentials - a little supermarket, a restaurant and an internet cafe as I needed to coordinate things for the visa application that’s ahead.

The teacher’s hotel also had a TV which broadcast the Turkey - Croatia match. I was dead tired after the long day, but I was going to sleep in the TV room, so I watched the match with three teachers, whose emotional rollercoaster was massive. After the nail biter that was the penalty shootout I was curious to see whether there would be a lot of cars on the street. Not so many, maybe 3 or 4 made the rounds honking. This confirmed what people had said over dinner to me - that most were actually rooting for Croatia to win.

June 20, 2008   No Comments

Day 86 (Turkey): rest day in Diyarbakir

It was a late start and a slow day. Just as it should be on a day off. I was briefly toying with the idea of taking a bus to Sanliurfa, but then decided against it - sleeping in and just having a day off seemed like a good idea.

So I wandered around town only to find out that I must have left my USB stick in an internet cafe the night before. It does seem that the heat is turning my brain to mush. Forgot my wallet in a gas station toilet and then my USB stick in an internet cafe. I did recover it at the end of the day though - again being very lucky.

Here are a few observations about this area. Whomever I talked to so far - they all were adamant that this is not really Turkey, but all referred to this area as Kurdistan. The fact that the Turkish team made the quarter finals of the Euro 2008 is not really anything people get excited about as they really don’t seem to feel any allegiance to Turkey. People I meet are all enthralled with Abdullah Öcalan (former head of the PKK - depending on your point of view a terrorist organization or an organization fighting for the freedom of the Kurdish people; I am careful in my choice of words here as I have no intention to take sides) for one thing and appalled by the fact that he is in held in prison in and by Turkey (this goes to show that many people look at this as a foreign entity almost). One quick example: “How do you like Turkey?” The obvious answer - so as not to offend anyone - is that it is a good place and that I was treated very kindly. Which is true. This is met by: “No, Turkey is no good. You are in Kurdistan and it is very nice.” You eventually get used to these kinds of things.

There is a slight change of plan for the trip - I will not be heading to Georgia and Azerbaijan after all. The infection that I was suffering from in February and March and the delay I had in getting the spare parts to Ankara makes it necessary to take the short cut to Iran, meaning that I will be heading over the border from Turkey into Iran.

June 19, 2008   1 Comment

Day 84 (Turkey): Narince - outside of Demirli (three strikes, no one out)

today’s distance: 100km
total distance: 5555km
riding time: 6-7h

Early morning it is in the countryside … and I was up a bit earlier than usual. That didn’t mean a really early starting time though. After finding Aslam in the bakery across the street and after having breakfast, I finally headed out after fending of an offer to work in the fields. I think I wouldn’t have been a good farmhand anyway.

Aslan had predicted no climbs … yay. How wrong he was. The day was one of those with the highest altitudinal changes of the entire tour, more than 1400m was what my bike computer told me at the end of the day. It started right after town too. Undulating countryside - it was great visually. But there was a sense of considerable poverty when you take a closer look at the houses.

Once I got to the ferryboat, there was a lot of bruhaha about who would get on and who wouldn’t. The Japanese tour group bus which I had seen taking a wrong turn up Mount Nemrut seemed to be safe, but everyone else seemed to up for grabs. My bike didn’t seem to be an issue and only one car was ultimately left for the next crossing.

The other side greeted me with a major uphill, about 7-8km on the serious side and the remainder until Siverek a sometimes flattish and sometimes undulating ride.

A stop here and there yielded these pictures …

The afternoon was a bit dreary … don’t get me wrong. The countryside was beautiful - in hindsight. Once I got away from Siverek (which felt like a massive furnace), it was all uphill from there. Add to this a very strong and unrelenting sidewind and a lot of traffic (meaning that it was hard to find a rhythm) and you get the picture. On top of that though came some - let’s say - unfriendliness. Already in the morning I had a stone thrown at me by a kid in a village. Not something to make me happy. His mother just stood there watching the scene and didn’t intervene at all. Which made me even more angry I must admit. What is wrong there? In the afternoon, I had a bottle thrown at me out of a van while passing me and hitting me in the back and was also doused with water by a passenger in a truck. Not sure whether the latter was meant as a friendly gesture, but it didn’t feel good. The bottle incident sort of left me speechless and I couldn’t react fast enough to read the license plate.

Towards the end of the day I was simply looking for a place to crash. There was no shelter in sight, just wide open expanse with a lot of noisy traffic. I pulled up at a gas station where two young guys were working. They were adamant that I not go into the village not far away and said to pitch my tent behind the gas station. My hunch is that it has something to do with the minaret missing in that village.

June 17, 2008   No Comments

Day 83 (Turkey): Kahta - Narince (”Every human being has a free mind”)

today’s distance: 54km
total distance: 5455km
riding time: 4h

I woke up feeling not so great … not sure what had happened. But I knew that it would be a rather short day. I set out and instead of taking the shortcut to Narince and thus the turnoff to the top of Mount Nemrut, I ended up slogging up the valley I would have crossed and took the long way around. It was tough and I should have known it, but it was very much worth it. I headed in and was taken by how little traffic there was, but also by how steep the road descended only to climb again soon thereafter. That would be the story of the day. In the background you can see the terrain over which I climbed out of the valley again in the early afternoon. Steepish …

I passed an old bridge on my right before turning aroun on the other side of the valley.

It was rough, but I eventually got to Narince, where I stopped in the right place it seems. My question whether I could leave my bike around the store for the time it would take me to get to the top of Mt. Nemrut (I had decided not to spend the night further on up) was met with a yes and quickly things were organized for me to get up quick. Aslan and his family own a store and a restaurant where he offered I should spend the night if I wanted … but first it was up to the top.

After I was dropped off, I hitched another couple of rides, the last one with an Austrian couple going all the way to the top. I was going to ride it up. Not that day and not any day with a loaded bike. It’s really steep though the surface is much better than I thought it would be.

I met Christoph and Agnes again on one of the lookout places for these statues as we both rounded the mountain on different routes. I kept wondering who in their right mind would tell people to heap a lot of material on top of a mountain and then have some statues built there. It just struck me as a strange idea. Agnes also said that the top of the mountain must have been 25m higher in the past, but too many people trampling on the stones have brought it down quite a bit. The views though are trule spectacular and the figure give you an eerie feeling … but see for yourself.

There are lots more pictures of this amazing place on the flickr ( site.

The way down took a bit longer than the uphill, but I got back before sunset - but too late to really go anywhere from Narince. Aslam made sure that I was staying at his place and among other things we got into a discussion over religion. He wanted my take on things and I told him that I am not overly religious - and with the help of a ubiquitous translation program that seems to be on every Turkish computer we managed to have a pretty thorough discussion (and which also produced the title line for this blog entry). What struck me was his “proof” he showed me as to the existence of God - which could have come straight out of a Christian fundamentalist store. He popped in a DVD which had footage that could have come out of promo DVDs for these groups and was clearly inspired from such movies. It then turned to Islamic religion and more Koran sequences which I couldn’t understand, but the professionalism of the movie was quite amazing. Just as I was thinking about food - and for some reason the awesome soup I had in Italy came to mind - we went for it. Funnily enough, we had a stew-type meal, rather reminiscent of that same soup I had been thinking about. Good stuff. So was the whole day … it started out a bit on the rough side, but turned to be amazing.

Some things have clearly changed over the last few days … especially the dresses that people wear. The first place that this really struck me was Adiyaman where I saw a good deal of women walking with a lot more cover despite the sweltering heat as well as the men who wear different-style pants (hard to describe, but I will post a picture in the near future). What has remained the same though is the hospitality that I have received.

June 16, 2008   No Comments

Day 82 (Turkey): Koluk - Kahta

today’s distance: 108km
total distance: 5401km
riding time: 6h

Souli must have been up way before I was - but my body needed the rest and so I let it take whatever it needed. After a good 9 hours of sleep I got up at 7 am and we did breakfast - fried potatoes, homemade cheese and bread and as always olives and tomatoes. When I took off, lots of kids gathered around us and waved me off. The road continued up the valley and then very steeply dropped off into a little plain, sourrounded by high mountains.

At the turnoff to Adiyaman I briefly stopped at a gas station and the warden made clear: “I know where you spent last night.” News travel fast around here it seems. I looked at him kind of puzzled. He said that I had stayed at Koluk and pointed at his chin, indicating that I stayed with someone with a beard. I laughed and couldn’t believe that five villages later, this was still something that people told each other.

The ride towards Adiyaman was … hilly. A short uphill was followed by a long downhill which I found thrilling only to see the road climbing steeply on the other side of the river. Ufff …. and that was the story for the next 3 hours.

The surroundings were amazing and I was enjoying the very small number of cars that passed me on the backroad I had taken. It was great. It was also hot though and I went through a lot of water in a short period of time. When I finally reached the pass I could see the Ataturk Lake (man-made) in the distance, far below me (and barely visible in this picture).

This long downhill was interrupted by a number of climbs that were quite challenging, but I eventually got to Adiyaman. On the way down I could feel wave after wave of heat coming at me. I dropped a lot of altitude and it was getting seriously hot now.

Once out of Adiyaman (after a longer break to wait out a bit of the heat during which I talked to Rob from over instant messenger; it was his birthday a few days before - if you have some time, head over to his extremely interesting blog as he is skating across China at the moment), the terrain became undulating and when I was finally in Kahta, I was done for the day. The city is dusty and not interesting, but I really needed to just lie down and not do anything for a while. This I did and soon enough I was good again.

June 15, 2008   No Comments