October 03, 2009 GMT
Leaving Europe

Finally... after a long and bizarre list of mishaps, annoyances and other temporary roadblocks that I am tempted to, but will not go through in detail, I am ready to leave Athens and start the real trip.

Staying in Athens for this long was as difficult as I expected, but through hardship come many opportunities for unique experiences. The support of friends is always valuable; receiving it is almost shocking in simplicity and power.

This is Christos and Eleni who took me in when I needed a home away from home.

It's all a bit weird really. I feel a lot has been left undone. It rained this morning. The boat awaits. Must... go... pack.

I'll see you again in Turkey. Till then.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 06:31 AM GMT
October 07, 2009 GMT
On the road, finally!

Blimey! It's so good to be on the road... After the first freaky 48 hours or so, during which I was thinking "ohmygodohmygodohmygooooooooooooooooooooood what am I dooooooooooooooooooooiiing", I am officially relaxing and enjoying this. A lot.

Being overtaken by a camel (okay, I was in no big rush) was the drop that overflowed the glass, in a very positive way. After that I started being more conscious of all the peculiarities of Turkey and the first few days of this trip. The friendliness of the people, the openness, how everyone I meet introduces themselves, asks me about the bike, the trip, myself, smiles a lot, offers all sorts of food which seems to magically come out of nowhere...

I had the most random non-conversations (language barrier, dammit - when will Esperanto fix humanity?) on a roadside tea-shack with a cyclist who was on the road for 4 days, with a guy working in Germany, at that time in Bodrum on vacation with his family, with people who showed up while I was filling it up with petrol, with a bunch of headscarfed ladies who were selling delicious watermellons on the roadside (luckily small enough to fit in the top case)...

Everywhere I stop, be it a mountain fresh water fountain or a roadside seller, I get offered chai, fruit, whatever is on the table/bag at that time, and sometimes I try to offer back my modest foodstuff (to Ping-Yi's certain distress, I am ticking along just fine with bread, cheese, fruit, rice, pasta and tuna for the time being) to no avail...

Very happy for all choices concerning the bike's preparation so far - I've had to do a bit off-roading and, well, yes, it's not exactly a motocross beast but the tyres and suspension get the job done quite safely.

Got my first traffic ticket too today - quite pricey at around EUR50. I was doing 88km/h on an (apparently) 77km/h seaside super-straight, super-level, super-deserted highway. I pleaded a little bit but they were giving tickets left and right to anyone who dared travel at a reasonable speed, so I coughed up and left. Interesting detail at that point is that I was slightly short on Turkish Liras and another driver who had also been stopped (and fined) told the cops he would cover the difference. That would not have happened in any of the countries I've lived...

The south coast of Turkey is so far quite splendid. Beautiful coasts, beaches, the ever inviting sea and a nice temperature around 30C (well, nice when you're not on the bike anyway). Hitting the water at 7am is not like me, but I did it and it was very good fun. Might go for a night swim tonight if I miss Chimaira (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Chimaera) and find the beach instead. Who knows. While I was relaxing in the water the other day I realised I hadn't been in the sea for a good 2 years! Yikes!

Alright, gotta go grab dinner and get ready for some serious trekking. Uploading photos to flickr takes so long as to be impractical, I will have to figure out something else...

Till soon!

Almost forgot - some pictures:

Daring gravity in the ancient city of Ephesus:


Not being amused by the heat wave, again Ephesus:


The camel that tipped my mood:


As I am on a budget here, I only go to modest, off-the-beaten-track beaches:


The sea:


I censored the quite preposterous underwater pics.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 04:04 PM GMT
October 10, 2009 GMT
Before the break

Hello hello. Not too much to report (after all it's been only a couple of days since the last blog post), but it'll be at least one full week before I have the chance to blog again, so I thought I'd make the best of these last hours of sweet anticipation in Ankara to send you some pictures.

So after leaving the south coast of Turkey a little after Antalya, I crossed the mountains towards Konya. Immediately the temperature dropped significantly - initially it was a welcome change, after the altitude hit 1800m I started thinking about stopping to wear something warmer, as I headed north things certainly didn't get much warmer... to the point of reaching Sultanhani (a few km east of Konya) and telling the guy I wanted to camp and him saying "are you sure? It's cold at night!". I couldn't be bothered to relay the feeling of smartassiness my (by my usual standards) exotic equipment gave me, so I just nodded to the effect of "You don't know who you're talking to..." (feel free to applaud or throw yoghurt).

Anyway it was fine, it went as low as 6C at night and with a -5C sleeping bag and other stuff I can afford to act cool.

After walking around the village and asking people for a 2L bottle made of tin or aluminium (for petrol) and exceeding myself each time with the charades/pantomime which produced plenty of plastic bottles, but none of the desired material, I visited Sultanhani's famous karavanserai. What is it famous for, I hear you ask? Well, wikipedia has the answer I'm sure, I wouldn't know. I just took pictures of the light as it came in the huge domed area through high and thin windows, and then got out of there quick when a group of Italian tourists started getting smart with climbing on top of a ruined tower. I mean, it was only 10-15m high, but the sight of 60 year-olds with very evident arthritis issues who could barely WALK straight, climbing that thing and then walking about the ruins at the top, with no protective rail or nothing, freaked me out. I got out of there to miss the police investigation.

Then the fun part came. I had heard something about Tuz Golu (I'm killing the accents, but you get the idea), a salt lake on the way to Ankara from where I was. I'm a sucker for natural beauty, less so for culture/art, so the lake was a must. I wasn't dissappointed. It was one of the most beautiful sights these eyes have seen. Getting there of course involved some Turkish friendliness, as I got to the end of the road where there was a checkpoint and a bar blocking the road. As I parked the bike in the shade of a truck (the sun was scortching hot) the truck driver jumped out, gestured to the checkpoint, said a few words in English, and summoned the guard who opened the gate while his commanding officer (or dad, who knows) was cracking jokes about the Suzukis going kaputt and that I should have a BMW and I was gesturing back that this Suzuki will survive WWIII and all the BMWs of this world can kiss my ass. Imagine all that with him talking in Turkish and me in Greek/English/German. A masterpiece, but we both got a good laugh out of it.

The lake.

What can I say. 7km of unpaved road goes around a small part of it, where salt excavation takes place. Mountains of salt wait to be transported for commercial use. I'm impressed they even let me in, since this is a live production/collection site, but it's so vast that corners of this rectangular shape formed by the dirt road on the salt lake are completely still and quiet.

I think I've rambled on enough and the pictures are almost done uploading:

The tree-houses at Olympos mountain where I stayed one night. Cold, noisy (first the music and then the bloody chicken and other poultry) but good fun.

Treehouses at Olympos mountain

The entrance to the big karavanserai at Sultanhani.

Sultanhani karavanserai entrance

Exploring a little bit off the roads to Tuz Golu - errr... I guess this is the wrong way.


Tuz Golu 1


Tuz Golu 2

Tuz Golu

Carried this magnificent Basmati rice all the way from London, but forgot the salt. ARGH!


Tuz Golu 3


Tuz Golu 4 - the mine workers' canteen


On the mountains North of Tuz Golu, towards Ankara. I had some time to spare, so I thought I'd do it in style. The result was more than 100km of unsurfaced road, which was slightly unnerving to begin with, but I got into rhythm soon.


This is how I want to remember the steppe between Konya and Ankara:


Right. More to come in roughly 10 days - arrivederci for now!

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 03:42 PM GMT
October 18, 2009 GMT
Mistakes, tourists and kindness in Cappadocia

What a week. Back in Ankara, after seeing the good doctor off (sniff) and suffering my first (partial) data loss due to a crashed Internet cafe PC. But let's try to put things in order.

This week was meant to be spent with Ping-Yi doing some classic tourism in Cappadocia and not moving about too much as she's not stocked up on protective equipment for the bike through the years like I have, and we didn't want to take any chances.

So we spent five days in Goreme, the center of Cappadocia's tourist attractions (the ill-translated "fairy chimneys") doing some sightseeing.


My calorie intake this week has increased dramatically, both in quantity and quality. We had a number of elaborate breakfasts/lunches/dinners on the bike, with more food than I would ever prepare in my flat's kitchen!


We visited underground cities and also did some serious walking, like the Ihlara valley which was a good walk for 5-6 hours in a beautiful gorge.


Dramatic rock structures:


The gorge is full of cave houses, carved in the rock. Very impressive.


Oh yeah. That day I made a mistake. I didn't lock the panniers, and as a result one of the lids (that has started coming loose for some time now) opened and flew off in transit. We didn't realise what happened until I had a routine look (being paranoid I always glance around the bike while riding to make sure everything is still there). Luckily, the lid was less than 10km back and nothing from my personal belongings had flown off with it. Unluckily, the lid had been ran over by a couple of trucks and was in a sorry state:


So I just held it in place with a couple of bungee cords, wished for the best and carried on.


Luckily it hasn't rained from that day, as I'm only now going to take the time to fix this - with sunny weather a mashed pannier lid is not enough reason to steal time from the good doctor.

So after wasting away for five days in Goreme (2 in a pansiyon and 3 in a camp site, camping was far superior as we had the whole place to ourselves) we grudgedly packed aaaaall of our stuff and moved to a campsite next to Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittites.

The strongest memory of that day would not be seeing the ancient remains, but meeting a guy who instantly became our best friend when he realised that Ping-Yi and his girlfriend were born in the same city! Oh my oh my, we got a ride with the taxi, a personal tour of the nicest parts of the ancient site, while the site attendant was waiting for us to lock up and go home, then got taken to the village square for chai (tea), were shown pictures (both touristy and personal), did some tech support on the guy's laptop, got tips on other things to do and see... overall, the royal treatment! Very nice indeed.

Which brings us to today, on our way to Ankara, we stopped at a petrol station to fill up and were immediately approached by the owner, offered chai (yum!) and had a short but succinct chat about where we were from, what did we do, how did we meet etc. It's fascinating how much you can share with a few words of common language. But Esperanto is still high on my to-do-when-I-become-a-deity list. Anyway. So much friendliness and hospitality from complete strangers is just breathtaking. I see the little children turn around and wave at us as we drive through villages, kids and adults pushing their faces against the car windows as they turn as much as they can to look at us on the road, I hear truck drivers honk the horn and see farmers at the end of a weary day still take the energy to tip their hats at us, and I wonder why? They don't know us, probably will never see us again. What is it about travelling on a motorcycle that gets people of all ages fired up?

I don't know the definitive answer, but dammit, I'm really enjoying getting all this love! :-)

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 03:16 PM GMT
October 21, 2009 GMT
Entering Eastern Anatolia

(warning: long and not particlarly exciting blog entry)

Spending an obscene amount of money to buy chain lubricant of questionable quality is not something I usually do. But buying two canisters? AND a chain cleaner? AND having an almost orgasmic experience doing so?

Such are the follies of fear of the unknown and the tricks of the mind. After leaving Ankara without buying chain lube or engine oil, angry with myself because I allowed my squashed pannier lid to be "fixed" to death by the Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde of exhaust pipes in Ankara...

Ankara exhaust workshop trying to fix pannier lid

... I kept thinking that my next opportunity for proper bike supplies would be Tehran. I had been checking all petrol stations I stopped for chain lube and none of them stocked it. So when I asked at a petrol station in Gaziantep for motorcycle chain lube and got the dude to draw a treasure hunt diagram on the back of my notebook and followed the instructions and actually got to the world-renown M1 Merkezi, I thought "a-ha!". On a corner of the vast supermarket that was on a corner of the vast mall, I found the dodgiest possible "chain wax" - I would normally not touch the thing with a pole, but my chain lube ran out last night and all day long I had visions of my spanking new chain disintegrating somewhere unpleasant, following the demise of my panniers, and surely to be followed by the utter destruction of the rest of my equipment. You shouldn't be in a candy shop when you're hungry, and respectively, you shouldn't be buying crap "chain wax" when fearing you're run out. But I was, and I did.

M1 Merkezi

So after leaving Goreme yesterday I got a bit lost after Mustafapasa...


... in the mountains of Cappadocia - you know, initially thinking "I am alone now, I am an explorer, I am the Grand Navigator, I shall not get lost", but quickly turning to "mighty GPS, don't fail me now!". I mean it's all well and good finding yourself fighting to keep the 300kg beast upright in slopy sandy tracks FOR ABOUT 10'' before one starts wondering "you fool, what are you getting yourself into now?"

So anyway after getting away with it with just shaky hands and no spills, I took the mountain roads SE and followed the itinerary as shown here: http://tinyurl.com/ylfx3fy

Somewhere along the road the bloody road improvements got to me (again), this time with a huge truck that was shooting down the mountain at at least 80km/h making it impossible for me to overtake in time and building up such a cloud of dust that I had to stop, turn on the high beam and the alarm blinkers and hope nothing ran me over from any direction. After a few seconds the cloud cleared up a little bit and I was able to move again. Opening my helmet visor returned a scratching noise that indicated that soil had penetrated, well, everywhere. Later I confirmed this by finding dust IN the "good" pannier. If dust can get in with so little exposure, imagine what water can do in heavy rain... Another thing not to think about for now.

Shortly after my spirits improved dramatically when I stopped in a village somewhere on the mountain and bought some foodstuff (olives, cheese, nutella, eggs etc) and immediately got offered chai and was asked where I was from and where I was going etc etc with a lot of smiles and pats on the back and kids pushing all the colourful buttons/levers of the bike in the meantime, not realising my smile concealed the touch-this-again-and-die look (I admit being slightly protective of my bike).

Then I rode on to find a lovely shade on a lovely dirtpath that broke off the main road with lovely sturdy level ground where I put the bike on the center stand and had a lovely meal. All very lovely, really, only the butterflies were missing. With apologies to all the chefs of this world, the particular meal of plastic cheese, tomato in hand, olives from a plastic bag, stale bread and CamelBak water beats any old spiffy meal I have ever had hands down.


It was so good it magically fixed my wounded self-esteem and overall psyche. I stopped indulging in self-pity and realised how lucky I was to be where I was and told myself "snap out of it you idiot!". And I did.

I was rewarded with miles and miles of twisty mountain roads, of questionable quality, sure, allowing me to only do 60-70km/h, sure, but dammit it was fun. Good for the digestion as well.


The only problem is that a nagging metallic sound had started, er, some hours ago, and I thought it was the stupid cooking set clanging, but on closer inspection (and after having stuffed the cooking set so full of socks and sponges and plastic bags it wouldn't have clanged even if dropped from the moon) it turned out it was something else... guess what? The pannier base started to disintegrate as well!

Kappa pannier base snafu

So I just positioned it back into place by hand and decided to worry about it later, thinking the off-roading earlier had snapped it out of place. I'm sure it wasn't welded or screwed in originally. Sure it wasn't.

(just got served chai at the Internet cafe. Talk about service!)

After Goksun the road is shooting straight down the mountain towards Kahramanmaras (try saying that in one breath), but before I got there I stopped to refill my fresh water stock at a mountain spring, bought the most strongly smelling apples I've ever laid my hands on, and in the process got served chai and had a quick chat with plenty of nodding and gesturing (the beauty of the language gap) with the owner of the spring-shack-cum-cafereria who was a good chap and warned me that the road becomes narrower somewhere in Turkey. I promised to be careful, thanked him for the chai and moved on.

Less than 10km later I got to Tekir, where apparently there is a camping, which really is an apple orchard owned by a semi-famous guy with funny hair. But let me explain.

The orchard:


The semi-famous guy with funny hair:


You can see the hair runs in the family. He told me something about himself and television, I nodded appreciatively, but unfortunately could not fully grasp what he was talking about.

I got there early, before my usual settling down time, but it was good as I needed to do something about the pannier base. On advice by none other than the not-as-famous-as-he-should-be Vassilis Orfanos I have packed an epoxy glue in my toolkit, which I used to "glue" together the two metal parts.


It seems to have worked so far, so kudos to Vassilis and hurray for my first "fix" on the road. Now I feel like a proper mechanic. Not.

So today all I did was ride. Passed Gaziantep, found the "chain wax" and then took the road East to Sanliurfa, where I now am. The hotel minder was nice enough to offer exclusive parking facilities for my Vstrom:


...and I was lucky enough to find my way back to the centre of Sanliurfa after being "temporarily misplaced" for about an hour in the byzantine sokaks of the old town. It has some quite beautiful corners, but its main attraction for me is its role as the gateway to Eastern Anatolia.


Here's hoping to less Coca-Cola signs and more dusty old villages, lovely gorges and tranquil lakes.

Till next time!

(for technical details of this trip and the bike, read on)


I ride a Suzuki DL650A (casually known as the Vstrom 650), 2007 model which I purchased brand new in Greece in the beginning of 2007.

I started this trip with 60,000 km on the clock.

Modifications of the bike:

(1) A rear shock absorber by Ohlins (PCS46) installed by KAIS Performance in Manchester, UK. Luckily I survived the experience (as the shock was found with the top bolt just about to slip out after 2000km of riding).

(2) 12V socket outlets installed in the top case - very useful for charging camera, phone, batteries for GPS and head torch

(3) Continental TKC80 tyres - very good grip and feel in the frequent gravel I've met so far in Turkey, but afraid they wear quickly and will need a new set before long. They're not cheap either.

(4) Improved X-ring DID transmission chain. I hope it will take the mistreatment I'm going to give it with a smile.

Other than that the Vstrom is as stock as possible. I'm very happy with it so far.

I travel on highways with 100km/h (4,500 rpm with 6th gear) which gives me 4,3Lt/100km consumption, or roughly 500km on a (22Lt) petrol tank.

In Athens I had the following parts installed brand new (and Suzuki originals):

1. All brake pads
2. Battery
3. Air filter
4. Engine oil
5. Engine oil filter
6. Ignition switch assembly (incl. kill switch - it was beginning to act up)
7. Front & rear transmission sprockets

Cylinders balanced, injection valves adjusted, fingers crossed and we're off!

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 05:03 PM GMT
October 24, 2009 GMT
Nemrut Dagi

Pushing on with how events unfolded: After Sanliurfa I visited Harran, famous for its beehive houses. There I got immediately attacked by a "tourist guide" which was quite probably a junkie. Of dogginess so infinite that he spoilt my entire mood and I thought "sod this" and left without seeing the beehive houses. I'm sure my life will be forever incomplete now.

But, it turned out that this was a good thing - if I hadn't left on that precise time, I wouldn't have stopped to check the epoxy fix of the broken pannier base. I wouldn't have noticed that the fix was very temporary, and needed a proper fix soon.


And I wouldn't have met a random passer-by who approached to help and told me there was a guy 2km down the road that can fix this - "no problem".

So I went 2km down the road in a petrol station that was out of petrol, but the dude was there. The man with the golden hands. The dude. His dudeness. The duder. He took one look at the breakage, went "no problem" after slightly scoffing at me for being stressed with something so obviously trivial, and proceeded to weld the thing once and for all. While he was at it he also proceeded to adjust the tie-down clips and make the pannier that was slightly bent since Norway last year actually straight! I would have been banging for hours/days/years with questionable results, he took one look, put it down under his knee, and pressed it once at the right point with the right angle and that was that. The Duder. When asked in sign language "what do I owe you, o demigod of metal?" he shrugged, smiled and waved me goodbye. That was after I had been served tea. Dammit, I just couldn't leave like that, so I just left a fiver, shook dirty hands heartily and left with a smile.

And with that, I was super-happy and care-free. All was well. The birds were singing, the morning rain had ceased, and breakfast was as nutritious and healthy as ever.


So I drove up Mnt Nemrut...


...and after a bit of "exploring" (i.e. getting lost) I found Damlacik and its Garden Camping. That's where I had addressed the pannier lid to be sent from Greece... so when I got there and a man greeted me I immediately said "Ibrahim?" - he said "YES!", I said "Alex!" and it was as if good'ol buddies had met. Of course he's in his 60's and doesn't speak more than 10 words of English, but when was that a problem? When I asked how much he charged per night to pitch my tent he pointed to me and said "musafir!" (i.e, "you are my guest") and that was that. I had dinner with the rest of the family, and the next day three meals, and even when I was late for dinner they saved a portion for me. What can I say.

They've got lovely view from the *ahem* men's bathroom:


So after parking the bike on the lovely grass and pitching my tent, I heard a "plomp" and turned around to see the bike on the ground. Apparently the ground was not as hard as I thought and after a while on the double stand (the most secure in general), it went over. So, first drop of the trip, and of course gloriously adventurous as usual. From parked. Oh well.


It was a gentle drop, I picked it up relatively easily, had a look over, looked fine. I mean, it fell on soft grass from being still. WTF.

After a while I tried to put the lid on the "good" pannier and realised something was wrong.


Dammit, it's bent. Went to have another look on the other pannier:


Bollocks. This is more serious than I thought. Now BOTH panniers are so deformed I can't close them. Crap.

On a THIRD, even more serious look, I notice that this is an EVEN BIGGER problem than I thought. What's that crack?


Lovely. The panniers are disintegrating. That's it. Emotional low. I'm an idiot (of course, I should have analyzed the geological composition before parking). I've done it again. Both trashed. Crap (and other unprintable things).

Next morning I think "screw this" and rationalise, ask around, figure out closest master fixer is in Kahta (just 30km away), go there, find the dude, he sends me to another dude who sends me to another dude (to be more precise, the penultimate dude sends off a kid with my pannier in hand and I shoot off after him on foot, not even having the time to take the key off the ignition and I just leave the bike there).

To cut a long story short (I sincerely think you're a hero or 1st degree relative if you're reading this), the 3rd guy is also a wizard and does a lot of wonderful things, after which my panniers are better than ever.


Poetry on aluminium, I'm sure you agree.


So anyway, again the birds are singing, right? Alex is happy. I get back around noon to the campsite (just in time for lunch - how convenient - and by the way they do have fantastic food!) and basically wait for the lid to arrive from Greece... it doesn't by 16:00 and I'm despairing that I lost the day, tomorrow is Saturday, next delivery chance is Monday, poo and all that, days lost, etc etc. Again emotional low. Well done me, I 've turned my emotional status to a bloody trampoline!

Oh I also forgot that my trusty mobile phone which I've used since 2006 with no hiccups whatsoever, decides to break in a funky way and doesn't like my turkish SIM any longer.


So I buy another phone in a spur of hopelessness since I KNOW this is something with the configuration of the Turkcell network really, and not a hardware issue (since my phone works with other SIMs), but I can't afford to call them and argue in Turkish (they'll win) so I just buy the cheapest phone I find. Surprise! It's crap. Horrible. Stupid. Argh!

So I decide I'll see the sights of Mt Nemrut tonight, and leave for somewhere else tomorrow to make some use out of the weekend, and then come back on Monday if need be to grab the lid. So I frantically leave the campsite, pack a flashlight, the GPS, the earth/sea/sky super-high-tech long sleeve that Ping-Yi brought me, walking shoes, I wear the bike trousers & boots as the LonelyPlanet says the final 3km of the approach are horrilble steep dirt road with a couple of crocodiles thrown in to spice it up, and leave.

I get to the ticket office of Nemrut Dagi Milli Parki and get told I'm too late and will miss the sunset. I return a "I don't think so kiddo" look and vanish in a cloud of smoke. It's uphill alright. Initially I rush but then I remember that riding like mad is fine if you're enjoying it, NOT if you're in a rush. So I slow down, but the road is actually very good and there's no completely off-road part (never mind what the LonelyPlanet says), and especially the final 1000 meters of the approach to the tourist kiosk look like the grand ski jump thingy (the one where you jump off and either get a world record or die) and the Vstrom tears at the cement tiles of the road at 3rd gear and it must all look quite cool because when I park and turn around all the tour guides who were having their tea waiting for the tourists to take their pictures have stopped chatting and are all silently looking at me. I throw a smile in their general direction, don't bother changing to walking shoes and zoom through the tourist kiosk to the mountain path that will take me to the summit.


At this point I must say I'm happy I got Sidi touring boots and not storm-trooper-plastic-enduro boots, because that would just have been impossible (or deadly). So I stride up the path, get thiiiiis close to a heart attack (it's quite steep and I was in a rush), and turn around and see the damn sunset and think to myself "eat your heart out, ticket office fools!".

These boots are made for walking:


I then proceed to lie down and half suffocate / half cough for 5 minutes until I get my breath back and my heartrate goes out of the red "NUCLEAR REACTOR ABOUT TO EXPLODE" band. All good.

Pictures of a king's idea of grandeur:


and my idea of it:


The way down is fantastic, the sweet night falls over the mountain, and oh man, this is the time of colour, of silence, of magic. It takes me an hour to descend to Damlacik.



When I get back, a surprise! The lid is there. Hurray! Alex happy. Wait a minute... wrong colour sticker on the inside. Check size. Bollocks. It's too small. I obviously sent the wrong measurement to Touratech Greece. Excellent. Idiot. Alex very unhappy once more.

The next day I pack up everything and by 8am I am on the road. I need to go somewhere... anywhere! I do emails etc in the morning, get an anxiety-inducing for a fellow traveller (he talks of servicing the bike before entering Iran - doing WHAT to the bike?) and then I ride over the mountain, north, in the general direction of Malatya.

The map shows there are dirt roads connecting the villages, and indeed after about 50km of dirt with lovely twisty roads on the mountain...


... (and of course being ever so slightly lost) I get to a surfaced road that I'm sure reaches Malatya after 70km, pace up, the wind blows, all is good... and the road ends.


There has been a landslide, I realise there is no other way than back again over the mountain and sort-of get anxious, but the dudes of the work site tell me it'll be only 5 minutes. Hrmf. Is this like the "Money Pit" (movie with Tom Hanks and a house that was broken in all possible ways) "2 weeks" thing? Let's see.

But they're fast:

Indeed after half an hour the dudes have worked wonders and the road is free.


Get to manic, frantic, busier than Ankara Malatya just before dark. Check into the dodgiest possible hotel in town (the staircase is constantly full with people in business suits carrying huge suitcases). Strangely, my mood is very good.

What does all this jazz mean to me? That I am fighting against noone else but myself. That I only have fear itself to fear. That this trip is an exercise in Zen, in dealing with my stupid emotional ups and downs in a better way (or perish trying). A lot of small silly things are going wrong (stuff breaking, damages etc) and this is lesson number one: Stop sweating the small things.

I shall learn it one day. I'm getting a lot of practice.

End of nursing for tonight. Thank you for reading.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 04:28 PM GMT
October 26, 2009 GMT
Munzur Vadisi milli parki

After stocking up on supplies in Malatya, I covered the yawn-inspiring stretch of road to Elazig and then headed north to take the Elazig-Pertek ferry. I wanted to reach the Munzur Vadisi national park, both because my map said it was of excellent natural beauty (two blue stars - can't beat that) and because the LonelyPlanet didn't even mention it. Intriguing.

At the ferryboat I was finally properly recognised as a celebrity and wasn't allowed to pay the fare. Thank you people, it was about time!

(seriously though, the list of places I haven't been allowed to pay is getting longer - it started with the Ankara airport parking lot and is going on... very touching)

On the ferry I met multiple people, all of which took an interest in my map. I defended it with my life otherwise they would all have liked to pull it slightly more to their side - and thus shredded it to pieces. But, a dolmus (mini-van used as public trasport) driver told me he was going to Hozat and I should follow him because that's the prettiest road to reach the national park. Obviously all this in sign language, which means that this was my interpretation. He might be just having a bad case of indigestion and thus gesturing wildly for all I know. But anyway he pointed to his van, smiled at me warmly and beckoned me to follow.

After inhaling the dust & diesel fumes of the minibus for 5 minutes I politely overtook, squeezing the Vstrom's engine for all it had, as the maniac in the minibus was doing 110km/h in a narrow mountain road, with a van full of people. I then rode to Hozat following the signs, always making sure the van was at a safe distance behind me. When we got to the village, I waved and then pulled into a petrol station to fill up, and the van pulled in as well! They waited there for me to fill it up, pay, smile smugly to the question "are you a capitalist?" etc. Imagine that, a van full of people, patiently waiting there, just because the driver had taken a fancy in me. What can I say. I waved again and this time rode off quickly enough to shake the van.

And then the fun started. From Hozat the map showed a road to Gyiksuyu which would take me straight to the heart of Munzur Vadisi. So off I went:


The road cut through a mountain range and then eventually descended to Gyiksuyu. It was lovely unsurfaced gravel road, which I'm getting quite used to by now:


Of course I did some exploring (read: I got lost again) and at one point reached a village where the road dead-ended and there asked for directions. While trying to comprehend the giggles of the guy I was discussing with, I was watching with the corner of my eye another guy racing from the other side of the village (we're talking about 15 houses here) to our direction. The racer introduced himself as the proud owner of a fine piece of Turkish two-wheeled engineering and then proceeded to show me his bike, but complained that its sound was "pat-pat-pat" and not my Strom's nice "vrooom", hence that the bike was crap. Anyway, it was a connection point, which immediately led to a chai invitation.

How could I say no? He took me (and the giggling dude who was really beginning to annoy me by that point) to his house, introduced his wife and vanished for a bit, only to return with a steaming jug of chai, lots of sugar, two huge pieces of bread (pita-like, but not quite pita), a bowl of butter and a bown of butter dipped in honey. Need I describe the massacre that followed? Needless to say, I did not think of any national pride or self-image or anything like that - I just went for it. T'was all delicious.

So anyway I found the national park (set around a beautiful gorge), rode through it, had a nice picnic by the river that runs through it, refilled my water supplies, got a bit drenched by a quick 10-minute rain. At this point it's worth pointing out the steps in the rain-on-a-motorcycle process:

1. It starts to rain.
2. I ignore it, thinking "nah, it'll stop soon"
3. My high-tech jacket sucks in the first drops of rain and throws them on my skin.
4. I think "bollocks", but endure.
5. Rain gets heavier.
6. Cursing gods and daemons, I stop the bike right at the spot under the cloud where the rain is thickest and begin the lengthy process of putting on the rainproofs, covering the tank bag, the camelbak etc.
7. After 10 minutes fighting to put on all that crap, I am wet from sweat in addition to rain, and ride off to cool myself a little bit.
8. After 150m the rain stops.

By the time I got to Ovacik I was semi-tired and thinking what to do next, but some hills captured my attention and I thought "hmmm I wouldn't mind camping there".

I miraculously found the right dirt road and soon enough found myself riding through this lovely valley:


I explored a bit further (always a sucker for more view, privacy and exposure to the elements) but got thwarted in my efforts to return to nature by the deteriorating road conditions.


The message was basically "look, you may get away with it, but don't push your luck too hard", so I returned to the lovely valley and pitched my tent there.


Lovely, ain't it? In lovely valleys it is customary to oil one's chain, and to do that I had to put the bike on the double stand. I did, and once more, off it went to the right side. Interestingly, it all happened very slowly (so slowly that I had the time to jump on it and try to save it, only to realise I wasn't strong enough to keep it upright with the earth underneath us collapsing). Damn valleys. But I did have the time to control how it went over, so I strategically positioned a stone for the handlebar to rest on, which made picking up the bike much easier after it was done dropping and I was done taking pictures.

No real damage, as usual one of the panniers got a wee bit deformed, I managed to pull it back into shape (getting the hang of this by now...) and all was good. Exhausted, but with the bike upright and its chain adjusted, cleaned AND oiled, I prepared dinner (pasta, olives, tuna, plastic cheese, tomatos), wrote my diary, took some more pictures and around 8 went to bed. It was completely dark at 6, so going to bed this early felt completely natural.

My first free camp experience. Quite lovely indeed.

This is the "preparing dinner" bit - probably filling the petrol stove from the bike's tank, making a mess and then cleaning it up:

So with a *very* full stomach I went to bed. I read another chapter of "Freedom from the Known" by J.Krishnamurti before shutting my eyes and the final words of the chapter (on fear) were really gripping. He talked about the nature of fear, understanding what it is, where it comes from, whether it's a conscious thing or not, and ended with this: "When you see that you are a part of fear, not separate from it -that you are fear- then you cannot do anything about it; then fear comes totally to an end."

I was shaken by these words, and went to bed feeling more relaxed and less afraid than ever. It was a very big coincidence (if we accept there is such a thing) that I very soon had a chance to test myself...

After midnight, I was woken up by the sound of boots on the ground, the characteristic metallic noise of guns being carried and the heavy breathing of dogs. Initially I thought a bunch of hunters would be going up the mountain to hunt, but at that hour? Then I heard someone talking to me, certainly it was directed at me, but of course it was in Turkish and I didn't know what it was. It was a question, asked in a gentle voice. I responded with a "mmwwwwfffhh?" (the international "I'm sleeping now - go away" sound), but the question was repeated. Alright, I found my torch, unzipped the tent and opened the fly-sheet. All I saw was a hand extended to me, and I heard the question "hello, where are you from?" in English. I reached out and shook the hand, still being half inside my sleeping bag, said "Yunanistan" ("Greece" in Turkish), the voice wished me good night and walked away. I re-zipped the tent and went back in the sleeping bag, now listening to the thumping of boots for minutes - this was most probably a regiment of the local army camp going out for night training or something.

I checked myself for the usual signs of fear: Quick breath? Nope. Shaky hands? Nope. Shaky feet? Nope. Thoughts about self-defence, horrible attack scenarios played out on my mind? Nope. I went back to sleep after a couple of minutes, very puzzled by my reaction. There was no fear. Freak incident? Perhaps.

The next day (today), I woke up quite early (remember I had been to bed very early as well) and, well, it was a bit chilly:

I had breakfast (hot tea... mmmm)
and enjoyed the lovely view once more:

After packing up, I visited Ovacik proper (the village), used the post office and asked around about the road over the mountains that my map showed. Sure enough there was a road over the mountain straight to Erzincan, right?

Wrong. The villagers were unanimous in that there was no road. Only mountain paths. I had to take a 50km detour to get to Erzincan. But... my map still showed that road, so thinking "bah, what do these guys know - they've only lived here all their lives" I went off to find the road.

These are the mountains I wanted to cross:


Several roads seemed to approach, but invariably they ended up in someone's back yard


or anyway in places you didn't want to be:


After deciding to quit multiple times but always not quite letting go and accepting defeat, I found this much promising road that didn't head straight north for the mountain, but nevertheless seemed quite well used and gave me hope:


This road reminded me of the lyrics of "Hotel California" and, inevitably,the Dude's appraisal of the Eagles Sure, this is no desert, and it's not dark, but the mind plays tricks...

After 25km and a lot of exploring of forks, alternatives, ending up in people's back yards, talking with people who brushed their teeth, being offered chai by portly women cooking their milk in wood fires...


I was still right next to the mountain, but wasn't going over it...


I was told repeatedly that the connection I was looking for did not exist. The last guy also offered me these tiny (and with a wonderful strong scent) pears, which convinced me to quit.


There was no bloody connection to where I wanted to go, and I would have to ride back through the valley. So be it.

After re-inflating my tyres to road pressure (here with the wonderful Topeak pump and gauge in hand)


...I took the main roads back to Elazig and from there rode to Diyarbakir, getting there half an hour after dark, at 17:30!


Good night world.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 08:02 PM GMT
October 30, 2009 GMT
It's raining ticks, halleluyah

After not-so-exciting-for-me Diyarbakir I zoomed through Mardin, really not doing the place right, as it's a Unesco world heritage site and is thus worth a visit, but it was early in the morning and really, I'm not setup to park the bike and walk around a new city in full gear... that's why a van would be nice - you walk in dressed like Clark Kent and you walk out as Superman. The Vstrom doesn't afford one this privacy. Oh well.

So I buy a Mardin load of bread (lovely, crispy, yumm) and move on to visit the famous (?) Mar Gabriel monastery. No idea why it's famous, to me it looks like a failed attempt to reach the architectural/artistic grandeur of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.


After about 20' I was done with that monastery. Very nice, but also too much religion in one place. Gotta move on.

So I headed north to Hasankeyf, a small village that sports more cave houses than Cappadocia in one place, but for some reason is not as well known. The "Castle" of Hasankeyf, an Acropolis really, a walled city on the top of a hill, is an entire ancient ruined city.


I walked there for 2-3 hours and there was still much to see - the place is pretty much in disrepair with no clearly marked paths or anything, so it's up to the visitor to not walk off the cliff.


The castle lies on the bank of the river Tigris, another ancient source of life that has seen entire civilisations come and go...


After a good night's sleep, I moved on NE, towards lake Van. It rained during the night and all roads were wet, and hence muddy. As if the skidding trucks were not bad enough, I got assaulted by a flock of sheep:


The end result was that the bike (and myself) became quite muddy - here during a rest/snack break on the road to Tatvan:


In Tatvan, I checked in a hotel and went out on foot to explore the city. I walked for a few hours, most of the route right on the lake's shore. An interesting sight: A minaret (mosque tower) construction site, with two turkish flags on the scaffolding! Flag makers in Turkey certainly have an easy life... it's difficult not to have a turkish flag in some shape/form in sight wherever one turns one's eye.


The next morning, I thought I would visit Mount Nemrut. Not the one with the national park around it and the huge stone heads on it, but another volcanic mountain that also sports a lake and supposedly a lovely crater one can camp on! I wouldn't camp (too cold/damp) but I wanted to see it before I moved on. So I found the unmarked road that headed up the mountain and started ascending.


First there was the mist.
Then the tarmac ended and the road became a (quite bad) dirt road.
Then came the snow.

at 2615m up Nemrut Dagi

Argh! Turn on the GPS. I'm at 2615m (300 vertical meters below the top) and I can't really carry on without taking unacceptable risk. This isn't really worth it (with a fully loaded bike? no way!), so I turn back and descend.

I take the south road that skirts the lake and heads east to Van. The landscape is beautiful...


...but it's also mui mui cold! That's why I look like the Michellin man in this picture, I have 5 layers on! (thermal underwear, synthetic base layer, fleece, cordura & the waterproof overalls)


So I get to Van in one (frozen) piece, look for a hotel, realise there is no secure parking, the city is a madhouse, there is no way I am parking my bike on the street there, way too noisy, way too dangerous, traffic is a nightmare, mud everywhere, people bolt out to cross the street and make me test the ABS with the Strom skidding like crazy, huge potholes filled with rainwater that the buses drive me into... not a nice experience. So I do what I do best and piss off 15km out, find a camping site (that turns out to be infested with ticks) and pitch my tent there. Slightly damp, but overall much better.

The next day (today!) I go out on a mission: change the engine oil and get a spare rear tyre, in preparation for Iran. I spot a Suzuki dealership on my way into town. I ask them for the right engine oil for my bike, the blokes make a few phone calls and within 3' have the solution. They are extremely friendly and helpful, we take a couple of pictures and they tell me exactly where to go to get the oil changed.


On the course of the day I also find Bora on the phone, he has the right tyre, we do all the paperwork payment etc and it's already on its way, so now all I have to do is wait, and in a few days I shall be fully equipped to enter Iran.

Till then!

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at 04:11 PM GMT

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