I just left Turkey and am now in Batumi, Georgia. The scene after the border, on the Black Sea coast, is dominated by casino and strip club billboards, towering above small street stalls and money exchanges. A huge Georgian flag announces the new country, as do the umpteen fridges full of cold beer, surprisingly not very tempting after the joy of fresh fruit and tea and a clear head in the morning.
I saw many flags in Turkey. For the first week or two I was taking my mind off cycling by trying to identify the moments when there were none in sight. There were plenty, but they were few and far between. After the coup attempt there probably weren’t any at all. Even small towns and villages came alive each evening with rallies and all-night traffic jams full of cars fitted out with flags and super-sized car horns.
On the roads in the day time, passengers would lean out of the window or the sunroof and call out as they passed me with flag rippling behind. Many of the car horns had been replaced with sirens, and I swear I heard one beep the Godfather theme tune.
Unlike many travellers I met that were in Istanbul or Ankara, I didn’t see anything when the coup attempt occurred, in Konya, but cycling through the country has given me a strong but probably quite shallow impression of its aftermath. Joining shop and hostel owners to watch the round the clock coverage on TV, slowly talking with petrol station workers and locals over tea, and becoming the object of excitement for groups of demonstrators in evening rallies.
It feels good to move on. You can’t escape the sense of a polarised country even in the day-to-day interactions of a cycle tourist, sharing the concerned glance of a teacher, or the secretive comment of someone scared by the crowds on the streets. And all the time in the background you remember the appalling brutality of jets firing on parliament and soldiers firing on civilians, something that is much closer to the consciousness of people here than I imagine it is for people back at home. Camping in petrol stations and off to the side of the roads probably wasn’t a good idea, given the situation, and while I already miss the people, the scenery, and the culture, it is time for new adventures in Georgia.
Turkey is cyclists paradise, though, and I could have spent a year exploring. Check out the updated route map for an overview of my route from Konya to the Black Sea coast and to Batumi in Georgia.
After the lake region of Isparta I progressed slowly along the highways of the central plain, taking days to gradually climb from 900m to 1200m and to 1400m before reaching the mountains guarding the Black Sea coast.
It was all isolated petrol stations and baking hot plains.
Cappadoccia comes out of nowhere with a descent into this strange wonderland of caves and chapels carved into the rock, with smooth roads falling sharply circling steep peaks of stone. It was about 830pm and I didn’t take any photos but have video, which I will one day edit, one day.
I had a few days off after a 150k and a 100k day since Konya, stopping in Aksaray, and suffering from a bad back, wishing I had done this when I was 24…
After leaving Goreme in Cappadoccia, which was difficult, I added broken bike to broken back and progressed slowly across more of the central plain to Kayseri, a small village called Sarioglan, and Sivas, struggling with flat tyres on my overloaded rear wheel. It was a welcome relief to stop at some of the Caravanserrei, inns with central courtyards and small mosques, spaced out for traders travelling the Silk Road.
After slow progress I upped the speed a bit to make it to Sivas and the start of the climb over the mountains to the Black Sea coast. I had decided to go over the mountains from Sivas to Giresun, instead of travelling east, running parallel to the mountains, and avoiding the black sea altogether. Met a motorbike traveller going the other way, who confirmed the roads in Tajikistan aren’t very good and we wondered why we were so intent on travelling over the Pamirs…
I made it up to 2000m for the first time, but while I was happy I started from 1400m so it wasn’t that much of a climb. The big one would be the next day, after a 1300m descent to 700m, and then back up to 2100m. I commemorated 2000m with a few photos though and met a guy that lived at the top in the mountain rescue, before zooming down the other side.
The next day promised to be totally epic. I camped in a great spot and started climbing in the baking heat about 930am, with ominous mountains stretching out and up in front of me.
About 30k in I got another flat tyre and realised I had lost my bike pump. Oops. So game over.. no means of putting air in tyre.. and much as the scenery was phenomenal I instantly fell asleep when I managed to get a ride on a bus to Giresun and didn’t take any pictures.
Arriving at the Black Sea coast was like another world. The religious conservatism of Konya and the arid scenery of the plains had given way to what seems like a much more liberal set of cities and lively beach towns. I can’t understand why everyone cycles along it though, and didn’t enjoy the long flat roads and tunnels. I still didn’t turn around and do the mountains again though; starting those after I finish this blog post…
Borders on a bike tend to be a breeze and I was through in 15 minutes. I started passing the lines of lorries about 15km before and the lines of foot passengers were pretty epic too.
And so Georgia.
The second half of blog posts tend to be a pretty functional list of destinations, as I always need to get going, and sitting here at 420pm with nowhere to sleep is no different. Send me a comment if you are still reading :-/
I just applied for visas for Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, and hopefully will be picking up my Uzbekistan visa in Baku before taking a cargo ferry to Aktau in Kazakhstan (visa free). I’m taking the mountain road, due east, to Tbilisi and then venturing further east to the Kakheti wine region, before entering Azerbaijan.
First up is straight up to 2000m and then down the other side, to make up for my previous bus ride, and to escape the city and the highway. It should be about 5-6 days of camping until Tbilisi, probably meeting up with some other cycle tourists from Poland and Belgium along the way, if we manage to coordinate maps and wifi access.. After 2 days in a hostel, with a bed, I cannot wait 🙂