November 24, 2005 GMT
Turkey - The East

Now, I could tell about the snow plough through the 2190 meter Kizildag Pass, or the unalike easiness of the slightly lower Sakaltutan Pass. I could go straight to the description of the two remaining mountain passes, but these would not compare with the fifth high, the most unexpected encounter. I rumbled into Erzurum at dawn, rolled the bike into the reception of Kral Hotel, and got the key to what might was the shabbiest room in town. Unshaved since Germany and with a face discolored from a long day in traffic I decided for a dinner at the Güzelyurt Restorant, with the intention of returning to the sound of pigeons crawling above the stained ceiling plates in my hotel room when the lonely feast was over.

You know that your motorcycle marathon across Turkey is close to the end when you see Mount Ararat in the horizon

To make a long story short: A Turkish girl was in the same restaurant. We were strangers. Eighteen hours later she escaped from her pedagogical studies at the university by buying a yellow slalom helmet (motorcycle helmets were not available). We rode over the icy 2315 meter Sac Pass where dirt smudged children threw stones at us, passed the notorious PKK guerrilla settlement of Eleskirt, and was forced by sunset to seek refuge at a dubious hotel in Agri, all in a days work. By noon the next day we conquered the last pass. The sky was clear, displaying the mighty Mount Ararat which became the view from our window in Dogubayazit.

The view from Ishak Pasa Palace

The 1700 kilometers through rain and snow had been strenuous for the motorcycle. I had not made any prior efforts to protect the electrics, and water repelling, cleaning and extensive use of insulating tape was needed. Then some lubrication here and there, and with the addition of a fresh Denso spark plug Balto responded with cheerfulness. It seemed like he felt the same kind of revival as we humans do when having a shower after a tiring journey. While he rested, the girl and I went on a bus trip to Ishak Pasa Palace, an epitome of the Thousand and One Nights castle. The light brown bricks, the clear blue sky, the fruitless but green sand, it all contributed to the utopian experience.

Traveling with the Turkish girl raised some concerns. Eastern Turkey offers a conservative culture where unmarried male and female companionship is a sensitive matter. Furthermore, according to the girls passport she is Muslim, while I am identified as a Christian. This is the way we were perceived, and the perception would only become more of an issue when crossing the border to Iran. On top of everything this “inappropriate” team would arrive by motorcycle (motorcycles with more than 200cc is illegal in Iran, though temporary import by foreign travelers is somewhat accepted). So how would be welcomed? We had no idea. There was only one way to find out. She covered her hair with a black veil while I kickstarted Balto. And off we went.

Posted by Erik Saue at November 24, 2005 02:12 PM GMT

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