It feels good, time to time on a long cycling trip, to drop the bikes and rest your ass for more than just a regular one day break.
That’s what we plan to do with our friend Clément after crossing Van’s lake in the train boat. Train boat because they built railway onto the boat and the trains are literally going onto the boat. If trains are going in, no worries to bring in two bicycles.
Clément made this long way from Strasburg, France to Van, Turkey by bus and train in couple of days. It was a planned trip, but still what a surprise to see a known face in the middle of Van’s bus station after all the travel.
We received our Iranian visa in Erzurum couple of days ago and it’s full of confidence for the next part of the trip that we drop now the bikes for 10 days in Edremit, on the side of the lake, at Gizem and Ayhan’s place.
Together we head towards Dogubayazit for some hiking.
…: “Police! Passport!”
Us: “Merde, fait chier [in french in the text]! We didn’t see the road passing above the camp.”
Two men pointing flashlight in our direction are going down the slope towards our lovely mountain camp. The first man shows rapidly his ID card but we understand this is the police and we will have to unpack our camp.
The police man:”What do you do here? Show me what’s in the tent? Passport? Visa? [In Turkish in reality]”
Us: “Tourist, hiking, camping…..”
Follows a couple of discussions but somehow we can stay here for the time being. We go back to our cow shit fire cooking.
You can see in the Kurdish mountain a lot of those cow shit walls more or less dry standing on the side of villages and houses. We lack wood but not cow shit so we have to give it a try for our fire. It doesn’t work very well, but we manage to eat.
…: “Hey! You can’t stay here! You have to move”, says the two police man coming back to our camp two hours later.
It’s now pitch black and already freezing so the discussion moves around the fire.
Police man: “PKK! Dangerous!”
Us: “No, it’s fine. No danger, we can stay. We already camped nearby last night.”
Police man: “No, bombs, attacks, you cannot stay here!”.
A phone call to a colleague, who can speak English, makes us understand that the bombs are more likely to come from the Turkish army if they see light in the mountain thinking it could come from the rebel group. But we remain very unmotivated to unpack all our thing and leave at that time. The discussion takes a final turn when they see our way of making tea in the same pot we used for rice previously. Shame on us! No choice we have to unpack. We get a ride to the close village and camp in the school playground.
We stay about two weeks hiking and travelling as backpackers in the Turkish Kurdistan. The Mount Ararat, or Ağrı Dağı, shows us its beautiful faces during our hikes. We realize in Iğdir how close is Armenia and see it very well from the Tekalti Dağı, a summit we climb with the Iğdir hiking group. We all agree that we would not have brought beginners on that advanced path but we are very happy to be in this nice ascent.
As a final we head towards Ani, one of the ancient Armenian capital, which belongs now to Turkish territory. The city’s site is impressive and the remaining churches ruins in a good state. Adding the beautiful river gorge landscape it gives a nice deep atmosphere.
Kars is the Turkish region of cheese and it’s from the city itself that we say bye to Clément. We may meet again along the trip, maybe with bicycles. We don’t forget to bring our 2kg cheese for the route (such a pleasure to find something we can finally call cheese) and we go back to our two “children”.
Ayhan makes us try his homemade beer that we help bottling two weeks ago. If we knew it was going to be our last beers for the next 3 months, I’m (Xavier) sure we would have drunk more.
We used two days to reach the Kapikoy/Razi border, but it is at 2200m and we have to ask the last village if we can stay for the night. Based on our previous police experience we don’t want to risk it again in the mountains. We end up staying inside and having a very good last night in Turkey.
After a early wake up we cycle to the border, ready to discover a new country and new cultures.
It has been a lovely two and a half month in Turkey.