July 14th, 2016 — Begging Babies
The day starts with the excitement of the shower’s water pressure dropping to zero when Petra is all soaped up, but fortunately it returns quickly. We leave Çeşme around noon. Although there are plenty of sights to see here, we continue eastward in the direction of Ankara. We need to apply for visa for Turkmenistan there and we’ve found some information that it may take up to 15 days. We hope this is either not true or can be sped up with an express procedure. If it does take 15 days, we’ll spend a lot of time around Ankara. From Ankara, it’s still approximately 1200km (750mi) to the Iranian border. We don’t want to enter Iran too late because it is one of the destinations of our trip that we are most curious about.
We head for the motorway as soon as we can. There are gates with cameras that seem to be part of an automated toll system. There are no barriers to stop us though. We wonder how the system will cope with our Swiss license plates. There is no possibility to return and find another route so, worst case, we’ll see the bill when we get home.
We have lunch at some village of outlet shops that you might also find in Europe. Because our luggage space has been used up, there is no shopping for us. Of course, there are more authentic places to eat, but at least the food tastes good.
The motorway changes into a dual carriageway that still allows us to cover quite some distance today. This road does lead through villages occasionally but remains very wide. The official speed limit here is 50km/h (30mph) but we would be an obstacle and in serious trouble if we did that. Other traffic maintains a speed of 70-90km/h (45-55mph) including big trucks. At the sparse traffic lights we see begging mothers and grandmothers, often carrying babies in their arms, in the exhaust fumes of the vehicles.
We encounter some dangerous situations caused by the absence of exit lanes for left-turning traffic and sudden and unannounced closures of road lanes. The drivers here don’t look very far ahead, so such situations usually lead to last-second braking and frantic lane changing. We do try to keep looking far ahead and in our mirrors and keep ourselves out of danger.
The bikes draw quite a bit of attention again, especially at fuel stations. It’s too bad that we don’t speak any Turkish because most people want to have a chat, which is now reduced to friendly smiles and waving.
Nature is nice here, with hills, grain fields and olive orchards. Due to the emergency lane being used by slow trucks and tractors there are no places to stop safely and take photos so we just enjoy and try to remember.
We continue to Uşak, making this one of the longest legs of our journey so far. In Uşak we are two of the few guests in our hotel. We can park on the street straight in front of the entrance and use the bike covers again that we cleaned after the cats had their way with them. We have Sac Kuvurma, a dish with fried lamb meat, onions, tomato, peppers and herbs. It tastes great and we have Turkish raki too.
July 15th, 2016 — Plums and Waterfalls
When we pull the covers off the bikes, we’re greeted by a strong odor of — cat pee! What else?! Apparently our cleaning efforts were not appreciated and the Turkish cats are in strong competition with the Greek cats. Cat paw prints all over the seats. Damn creatures! No braking for cats anymore. Swerving for bonus points is allowed and recommended.
When loading the bikes, a man tells us that we should pay 10 Turkish Lira for parking. We’re skeptical at first, but he’s probably not walking around for fun in a jacket with Uşak Park on the back. He is interested in the bikes though and when he wants to take pictures, Petra tells him that this will cost 10 Lira. He doesn’t have an answer to that so he only talks to me from now on.
It’s Friday today. It is possible to arrive in Ankara today, but embassies will be closed. We don’t want to spend an extra weekend in Ankara, so we’ll take a detour in southeastern direction. The lake at Eğirdir looks nice on the map and we should be able to reach it today.
The road out of Uşak is not as good as the main road to Ankara that we were on yesterday. Gravel as been strewn on the road in many places and we can immediately see why: the asphalt or the layer of tar on it is quite soft, almost fluid, and it isn’t much hotter than 30°C (85°F). Somebody must have missed a decimal point or two when mixing the ingredients. We can see how heavy hay trailers draw permanent tracks in the liquid mess. The best place to ride for us is between the two tire tracks for maximum grip, whatever the maximum is here.
After filling up we take a break in a small restaurant at the fuel station. It is run by a friendly family. We order coffee and they tell us it’s free and give us free fruit too! These are the contours of Turkish hospitality appearing.
I fill the one gallon water container for the first time today. It’s good to have plenty of water in case of an emergency, such as a breakdown by the road in the blazing sunshine. I don’t think I need to worry about the freeze line on the container today… This way it takes almost 4.5 liters (1.2 gallons).
Around lunch time we reach the small village of Gümüşsu where we find a small restaurant. The owners and two teenagers are very interested in our story and the bikes. Mehmet, one of the owners, speaks a bit of Dutch because he worked in the Flemish part of Belgium for 17 months in the past. After the delicious food he gets his motorcycle and invites us to ride with him and Mert (one of the teenagers) to the nearby mountain and his favorite waterfall. This allows us to practise our off-road skills, now with the added challenge of hairpin turns. It turns out that we could use a bit more practise.
We make it unscathed to the highest point reacheable by motorcycle. We have to continue on foot here. Mehmet buys some plums from some harassing grandmothers, but they keep harassing me, probably because I look like I could turn today’s meagre sales into a success. I really don’t want to buy anything and tell her, in Dutch, “that this will do, grandma”. The tone of my message pierces through the language barrier and we are left alone.
We spend the next hour snacking on plums, drinking cola, taking photos while standing in ankle deep water in front of waterfalls and posing for the photos of complete strangers. It’s a really nice place and we’re glad we took on the spontaneous invitation.
When riding down, during some more off-road hairpin turn practise, Petra scores 1-0 in the laying-your-bike-down-competition. Her hand protector and the big sidebag break her fall. All is well and she’s back on her wheels in seconds.
We say goodbye to Mehmet and Mert with the local habit of two kisses on the cheeks (not for Petra, obviously). Mehmet rides with us for a few more kilometers until we pass him honking and waving.
July 15th, 2016 (continued) — Peaches and Coups
It is not that hot anymore at 5:30pm so the asphalt has cooled to its solid self. We ride to Isparta to inform ourselves about hotels. We find a good candidate Eğirdir so we continue for 30km (20mi). There is a nice descent down to the lake of Eğirdir. At a nice viewpoint we take photos until someone starts yelling and whistling from below. There appears to be a military base that isn’t really apparent from up here. Oops!! We apologize with gestures and move on. Let’s hope they’re not stopping us on the road below because we don’t feel like a long interview session tonight. They’re probably too busy with the general rehearsal for a military coup anyway.
The guest house that we’d like to stay in is not shown at the right position on Tripadvisor’s map so we end up in a back yard in a dead-end street where an entire family is sitting on two couches. They are as surprised as we are, but very friendly and point us in the right direction. Before we can turn around, grandmother gives Petra three peaches. We now fully comprehend Turkish hospitality.
We find Fulya’s Pension on the peninsula in the lake. Müslüm shows us around. It is a simple but comfortable place and has great views over the lake. Dinner is served in the neighboring Charly’s Pension where we also meet Carla from Britain and Ben from Australia. We immediately feel at home with all of them.
At 10pm the news about the ongoing military coup reaches our favorite Dutch news sites and we ask what is going on. Neither of us saw this coming and we spend the next few hours watching television. Our hosts keep us informed of the situation in a neutral manner. All internet pages that interest us keep working, as does WhatsApp. Facebook and Twitter appear to be blocked but we don’t use those anyway. Many friends abroad, in the Netherlands, Greece and California are worried and offer help in case we need it. We appreciate this very much. There is not much they or we can do right now but wait and see.
From the minaret, very close to our guest house, songs sound that are usually sung when people are supposed to stand together in tough times. One of the guests complains that the government abuses religion to achieve its goals. After the request from the president to the people to take the streets and demonstrate, we notice a bit more noise coming from the center of this small town.
We do feel safe though, 350km (220mi) away from Ankara and even further from Istanbul. We are mostly surprised that this can actually happen in modern-day Turkey. We’re glad that we didn’t decide to continue to Ankara today. We could have been in the middle of it right now.
Before we go to bed there is some news that the coup has failed. We inform family, friends and colleagues that we’re OK and hit our pillows at 3am.
July 16th, 2016 — Post-Coup
We have a good post-coup breakfast on the roof terrace of our guest house. The view is spectacular. We have decided to stay at least one more day in Eğirdir to see how the situation develops. We do need to get to Ankara to apply for visa and we don’t want to go too soon in case the situation turns for the worse.
An additional complication is that Mission Control in Zürich is going on vacation for two weeks and we would like to have our passports sent to Ankara where we will have to spend some time anyway. We decide to take the risk and want to have our passports sent to the hotel we’ve reserved in Ankara. However, we find out that the Swiss Mail will only send passports to embassies. Really?? With some last-minute searching we find the address of the embassy of the Netherlands in Ankara and have our Dutch passports sent there. Thank you Mission Control!
We follow the news for the rest of the day. Istanbul and Ankara have quieted down. From a selfish point of view, we’re glad that it turned out this way. What if the coup had succeeded and martial law and a curfew would have been put into effect for a few weeks? What would we have done? Managing this trip is already complicated enough without a coup and its aftermath. Would it have been the end of our trip?
Random observations from below a minaret: The minaret sounds a few times a day here, starting at sunrise. It is straight across from our bedroom window and obviously pretty loud. Before the minaret sounds, some tones can be heard that sound like telephone dialing tones. They’re just dialing into the Minaret Network! “Thank you for joining this telephone conference. All other participants have already joined.”
July 17th, 2016 — Muddy
We meet Ravi from Malaysia at breakfast. He’s what I call a world citizen. He is an avid hiker and has seen a lot of the world this way already. We hope to meet him again under the Petronas Towers at the planned end of our trip.
We’ll move closer to Ankara today. The post-coup situation has remained calm and we don’t want to lose any more time. We do take some time for some more tea with Müslüm.
The asphalt is soft again and we have to be careful in the corners. We also encounter some road works. As we’ve first encountered in Croatia, they also rip out the entire road here. The first time is dry gravel and quite easy to ride. The second time is a bit sandy. For our convenience, they’ve watered the sand to keep the dust down, but it’s much tougher to ride now because it’s almost muddy. We notice that Petra’s front tire (Heidenau K60) is much better in these conditions than mine (Heidenau K60 Scout). I’m skidding about a bit as she tells me to hurry up. Thankfully she refrains from wheelying past me.
There is a pass road going up to 1600m (5200ft) before we reach Akşehir. We have lunch in the shade under the frequent honking of passersby. We’re not impressed with anything but the main roads so far, so we ride north-west to Afyonkarahisar (Afyon). If we’d ride to Ankara directly there would be no more villages. If the road would be bad too, this day might take a lot longer than we want and we don’t want to arrive in a town where people are demonstrating as per request of their president.
We find a slightly too luxurious hotel in Afyon. The waiter is an irritating prick who tries to put things on our table that we’ve explicitly declined before. He stops trying after his second attempt. This could have to do with the looks we’ve given him.
July 18th, 2016 — Approaching Ankara
Last night’s waiter is pleasantly absent at breakfast. After filling up our fuel and water reserves we’re on a straight road to Ankara pretty soon. There is a lot of wind today. We need to lean the bikes to precompensate the wind gusts. It’s noisy and quite tiring. At Polatlı we go south-east, hoping for quieter traffic and to aiming for Ankara’s suburb Çankaya from a better angle.
When entering Ankara we expect more police presence and increased security checks. We see none of those. The only obstacle is a traffic jam in Çankaya. We reach our hotel without problems and can park in a prime spot in front of the entrance.