After a few restful days in Cappadocia, watching the hot air balloons go by and swimming in the campsite pool we reluctantly set off again heading east towards Kayseri and Malatya. We were told the road to Malatya was busy and monotonous so we thumbed a lift. A kind sales man driving from Istanbul to Malatya in his pick-up took us on board. It was all we could do to keep him awake as he seemed to be falling asleep at the wheel. A coffee and a prayer (“not for us thanks”) stop helped. Outside Malatya he showed us his apricot orchard (Malatya is world famous for apricots) and we ate them and mulberries straight from the trees.
On arrival, we had arranged to stay at a Couchsurfers’ house but he was out for the evening so his friend met us and whisked us off to a restaurant in a neighbouring town. We ate mother and sister kofte and a whole platter of delicious meat, baklava, fruit and finally of course the obligatory pot of chai. Ali would not let us pay for a thing and we had only just met him, he said you are my guests. In fact we were technically only on loan to him for the evening!
We met Ilyas and Zerah at their home and were shown to our room. Ilyas is a teacher at a local school and Zerah a university student, studying to be a teacher. Their son was adorable and a great entertainer of us throughout our stay. He is the same age as our nephew Lewis and speaks better English. They were really perfect cycling hosts; interesting conversation, great food but they knew we would be tired and need to rest too. One evening was particularly interesting, as you know there are are a lot of people unhappy with the oppressive nature of this government. It involved one very brave woman standing (literally) up peacefully for what she believes in and trying to make a difference to the future of her child. The numerous plain clothed police, oddly, did not see it that way. They made quite a fuss and when they learnt we were foreigners, who (stupidly I know) had forgotten to carry their ID with them, the fuss got bigger and turned in our direction. After a bit of an argument, Rose won I think, we were put in the back of a cop car with the press who had been filming and interviewing for over an hour flashing their bulbs as we entered. After several hours when our passports had been presented and the police seemed happy that we were not the international saboteurs that they had first feared we went to the hospital to see a doctor and prove that we hadn’t been harmed. Finally we went home, stopping off at a supermarket for food, where on leaving we found one of the plain clothed coppers lurking in the shadows outside. Awkward. We said hello to him; didn’t know what else to do. The next day the British Embassy called us and told us to be cautious and that the best course of action would be to leave and head away from the South East for the time being. The best way to do this quickly would be to go by bus, so we booked a night bus to Erzerum. We had intended to go to Lake Van and further South. Keeping our plans flexible is a good way of dealing with eventualities such as these.
Thank-you Ilyas and Zerah for showing us the importance of backing up your beliefs, and for demonstrating how to make a lovely family home too.
Oddly enough, as on my (Jimi) last bus ride to Erzurum four years ago, the bus broke down repeatedly, with one of the tea boys jumping of every 10 minutes to hit the engine with something hard. On arrival to Erzurum we abruptly left, heading north into the green hills that surround the city. We were so tired from the overnight bus that we pulled into a disused petrol station and slept on the forecourt for several hours. We lunched out at another petrol station, a mistake. Note to self, if something tastes like it’s gone bad it probably has so stop eating it you stingy bugger. I was a little ill for the next couple of days. Rose was fine and enjoyed leading the peleton.
For three days we climbed high passes and rolled through incredibly green valleys thick with grass, unusual compared to the rest of Turkey. We met Samil and Selep who invited us to their house for a typically amazing Turkish breakfast, thanks dudes. They told us that the locals here were lazy, that they could grow crops if the wanted but preferred to take the easier and less monetary route of keeping a few cattle. We can’t honestly say we’d do any different.
At Ispir we turned into a valley which on the map looked like it would be a lovely couple of days on a quiet road camping by a river. However we had inadvertently stumbled into one of the huge hydroelectric dam projects which are so controversial in Turkey. Of the people we spoke to there seemed a mix of reactions to the dams. Some think it is progress, others are sad for the destruction of communities and eco systems and some are even quickly building properties on condemned land so as to make a profit when the government pays them off. The valley is narrow and has steep rocky cliff faces on either side. The first 20km was complete but the final 80km was one big building site. A terrible road surface with huge trucks carelessly rumbling past all the time made for an unpleasant ride. We decided to do a long day and get out of the valley. At 5pm we were stopped at a construction checkpoint along with all the other traffic and made to wait until the blasting and resultant rubble was cleared from the road. We pootled on again dodging the potholes after 6pm and after a few kilometres were rather surprised (see sh%t our pants) when a huge explosion went off high above the very spot we had rode not 3 minutes earlier with the boulders, big and small, tumbling down. We rode with a little more urgency after that. We didn’t make it out of the valley but we did succeed in finding a camp spot by a tea house that acted as an OK (the game, not an appraisal of facilities) gambling den for the workers when they’d knocked off.
We rode into Yusefeli and found a campsite to rest, make arrangements for our new jobs in China, drink beer and plan our next leg.