Saturday, November 10, 2007

Anniversary 16/10/07
We finally reached Turkey!
Our final destination (for this part of our trip), after 10.5 months of answering the famous question: “To Turkey!”.
And we entered on our 1’st anniversary. How can we explain how excited we were? We reached Turkey!
We were so thrilled, we managed to ignore the cold weather and the rain.
The two officials at border control were surprised to see us. We had to remind them that Israelies don’t need visa for Turkey. We were surprised they had internet, but we quickly showed them our blog. We later found out that Turkey (east Turkey) is much more developed than we thought, even too developed.
It was raining heavily, so we had our lunch (bread, salad, cheese and olives) at the border control.
We finally left. The mountain road was perfect; barely any traffic, smooth asphalt and beautiful autumn scenery. We reached the first village. It was pouring again. We hid in a shop for an hour and worked on our Turkish. The village hotel was very expensive (and dirty), so we continued to the next village, where someone recommended us a cheap hotel (whorehouse). It was dark, our hands froze, but we reached the place and our friend brought us tea & bread, we had a warm shower, a warm bed and most importantly – a 1.5 liter of Georgian wine.
We ate our dinner with the wine at the attached restaurant/night club (they even brought us plates and silverware) and enjoyed classic Turkish music.

Happy & freezing Anniversary for us!!!
Freezing and enjoying the views.

Snow storm 17/10/08
We woke up to see fresh snow on the mountains from our window. We climbed all day a never ending but extremely beautiful climb.
When we reached the snow, just over 2,000m we were sure its now down hill but the climb continued.
We reached a giant oil pump line station (running from Azerbaijan to the west), super modern, very secured. The security officer invited us for tea and warming up at his office. Just as we left, cycling towards the road, we saw a cyclist coming the other way. We called and waved but he didn’t stop! We haven’t seen cyclists since the 2 Basks in Azerbaijan, he probably hasn’t seen cyclists/westerners in a while – and he didn’t stop!
We continued. After a few kilometers the weather turned really bad. We were inside a cloud, snow falling from all directions and we were freezing. Gal was afraid to continue (not that there were any cars around), but we had no choice. Then we saw a building/compound on the right. We quickly went there, parked our bikes in the huge garage and entered to defrost our hands. It was a ‘road workers camp’ (camp of road maintenance). They greeted us warmly and filled us with warm Turkish tea. The storm was getting stronger, no sign of us going anywhere. We were invited to stay the night. Warm beds, a warm shower, and a good dinner were included.
The next morning there was fresh snow all around and blue sky. Gal finally understood what Rami was telling since June, still in China: “let’s hurry, I’m afraid of the winter of east Turkey”.

In the road workers camp.
A picture of their very usefull map.
Everything is white!!!

Rabies part 6 18/10/07
We reached Ardahan, a very small town, but the center of things in the far, mountainous north-east. We took a room in a too-cheap hotel; any other option was over our budget (Turkey turned out to be over our budget). We changed cloths and asked about Rabies vaccination. It was 2 weeks after vaccination #4. We were sent to the local hospital, but then the guy decided he’ll take us there.
In the hospital, an English-speaking official arrived and helped us out. No bureaucracy, nothing much, just a quick vaccine. Then we went to an office and showed them our blog. After a few minutes he apologized, he was late for dinner, and asked if we want to join. Soon we were at their apartment, with two more friends, all doctors, eating excellent fish (black sea style). It was a very interesting evening with a lot of telling about Israel and Turkey.
P.S. – they were all serving 2 years of ‘doctor duty’ in the far-east, poor corner of Turkey.

Cham Pass (2430m)
A word of our sponsors.

The Kachkar.
Long down hill.

Apples - a contribution to our diet.

Swiss chocolate 20/10/07
After crossing snow-covered Cham Pass (2430m) on the previous day, we continued our long descend to almost sea level. We spotted Fabian, a Swiss cyclist, another ‘trailer trash’ (like us, towing a Bob-trailer). He just started 5 days ago, in the black sea, on his way to Iran, but was searching desperately for company – not an easy task.
Coming from the snow we were wearing all we had (balaclavas included) while Fabian was sweating in his shorts.
After an hour or so, we departed, but not before he indulged us with chocolate he brought from back home ;-)
We camped a lot in Turkey; hotels were expensive and the locals were not as hospitable and welcoming as their neighbors in Georgia.

Lunch with a truck driver.

Oops... Almost ran over that one.

Fish & bears 24/10/07
Another difficult cycling day, up in the mountains. The small roads in the north-east are all paved, but in a funny way, very uncomfortable for cycling (half glued gravel, probably for the harsh winters). The inclines and descends are tough, almost impossible.
We were looking for a camp ground with water (maybe even a roof – Rami always wants a roof). There was nothing for a long time. We reached another big climb, just as we noticed as apple grove on our left, near the river. We were allowed to camp, so we set up our tent near the river between the trees, and gathered wood for a fire. Then the owner of the grove arrived. He was fishing down stream and gave us 2 fish he caught. He warned us of bears, coming down for the apples. Gal wasn’t too calm that night, but we enjoyed the fish, the fire and the almost fool moon. Like many other accomplishments of ours, we survived that night without doing anything!

Almost full moon.
Another fantastic night.

Rest day 27/10/07
Did we mention that Turkey was a bit over travel budget?
We’ve been cycling too many days on a row. We usually try to have a ‘rest day’ at least once a week, but we’ve been cycling with no rest for over 2 weeks. When we finally reached a town we’d have liked to stay at (and update our blog), the hotel would be over $30.
Ant then we reached Kose, a tiny town up in the high grass-lands. Nothing but one simple hotel, 2 women (Gal was one of them) and a thousand chai (tea) shops, filled with old and young men, sipping their chai all day long.
The hotel was simple and cheap. The room was small, but there was a warm shower and a popular chai shop downstairs. The internet café was near by, so we stayed. We asked the old owner where we can do our laundry. He said he will do it for us (his machine), and later that day we got all our clothes back, clean and dry, without asking for money; more like bringing your laundry to your parents. Most of the day and a half we were on the computer, working on our blog and communicating with home. It was too cold and too lazy to ‘do’ anything else.
While sitting in the chai shop, the TV constantly showed news of the war with the PKK. Everybody was staring at the TV, worried. We didn’t understand the language, but it was very obvious. The whole of south-east Turkey was at war and everywhere we’ve been cycling people were warning us to avoid this and that area, due to PKK terror.

A typical chai shop.

Israel time
That night Turkey moved their clock 1 hour back - daylight saving.
We started the trip in Thailand, 9 hours ahead of Israel.
We were stuck in China for 4.5 months with the same time-zone, even though we were far west of Beijing.
Later, in Central Asia and the Caucasus, we moved the clock an hour ahead every second country.
We were finally at Israel time!

New shifter 28/10/08
We detoured from the main road (sort of a highway) to a small town, to buy the usual groceries for dinner & breakfast: bread, cheese, Fasoulia (a can of Turkish spiced red beans), tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and a bit of chocolate.
In turkey, like in modern countries, the main road doesn’t run through the center of every town on the way; a big disadvantage for cyclists.
As we entered town, Gal had a problem with here rear derailleur. We stopped to check it out. After ‘digging’ inside her shifter for over an hour, we found a broken spring, so small and so deep inside, but one which is a must for lowering gears.
We were frustrated!
We were sure that the trip has finished (for Gal, at least) and the closest shifter (for 9 gears) will be at Ankara, so it’s closer to hitch to Antalya and catch a cheep flight to Israel. But, what about the last 1,000km? what about our dream of a ship back to Israel? Well, at least we reached Turkey… but, so near!
It was Sunday, most shops were closed (what happened to the 3’rd world countries, working on weekends?), so we found an internet café and called our mechanic back-up in Israel, Ehud Dahari (thank god Sunday is not the weekend in Israel!) he wasn’t in, but his father, Avshalom, who can build a wheel blindfolded, answered. After a short explanation of the problem, he suggested we put an old ‘zipper’ shifter, like 10 years ago, “they’ll have it in any hole”.
Then, the kids helping us told us the mechanic arrived. We quickly went there, he had a ‘zipper’ shifter, and in half an hour and with $6 less we continued!

Gals' new shifter.
Frost on our tent.

We’re not in Georgia any more
That night we reached a small town (10km before Seran). It was late, near sunset and the hotel was around $40. We decided to quickly get out of town and camp.
We climbed a bit till we reached a small restaurant/house with a big garden and (what we were looking for) water. We’ve been enough time in Turkey to learn that they lack the Georgian hospitality, but Rami, again, wanted to give them another chance. The owner sent us 1km ahead, to a water fountain like many others we’ve used while camping. These water fountains were usually built for the memory of someone. A nice idea, but it still gave a feeling of camping in a small cemetery (and we are not talking a bout the one time that we actually camped in a cemetery).
Rami was heart-broken, again. We had another cold East-Turkey night in our tent. At 01:00 the local police came to check who we were. Seeing we were not PKK terrorists, they bid us good night.
We woke up to a beautifully sunny day. New snow was seen on the mountain peaks around us.
We had luck with the packing. 2 hours later it started to rain, an annoying drizzle, which continued all day.
Around noon, while cycling down this beautiful, narrow canyon, it started raining heavily. We passed a house, checked for cover, but the woman didn’t cooperate. 2 km later we stopped next to a simpler house. The man opened the door, immediately, motioned us to park the bikes there and took us to a room. He quickly lit a fire in the oven and we started to dry off as he was preparing tea, lots of tea.
His daughter-in-law (yes, we managed to figure that out!) brought in a traditional (huge) silver tray with soup, cheese, olives, bread and more (fasoulia!). We ate, drank and dried off. The rain stopped. We thanked our beautiful host, and continued.
We reached a small village. It was raining again, so we stopped for shelter. The teenager working in the chai shop (filled with the old men of the village) offered we stay the night. It was still early, so we decided to continue, though, we were surprised by the offer.
Towards sunset, we asked few farm houses if we can camp, but they all directed us to the nearest town.
We ended up camping near a gas station (which had a too expensive hotel attached to it) in the outskirts of town. The truck drivers pointed us to a location, understanding we are cheep buggers. It was a bit awkward, but the scenery was stunning!
To our point: it’s not that the Turkish people are not ‘good’ people, they are very warm and helpful. But, we just crossed the border and…
we’re not in Georgia anymore…

Traditional East-Turkish lunch.

Camping near the gas station.

Land ahoy!!!!! 31/10/07
It was a sunny day, not too many of those lately. We turned on our cell phone, waiting for SMSs. Surprise – surprise, our vice-president of logistics and operations (Rachel, Ramis’ mother) SMSed us: “You can catch a cruse-boat to Israel, from Alanya, on 10/11/07… let me know”.
Gal hates airplanes! She doesn’t trust them, she hates the claustrophobic feeling and the food sucks! But, she loves the sea and she dreamed of catching a boat on the Mediterranean, from Turkey, back home to Israel.
We asked Rachel to look for a boat (we even preferred a cargo ship) but she couldn’t find anything. Later, Ramis’ brother, Danny told us about “Mano shipping”. We asked Rachel about them. She said she talked with them and they don’t take passengers one way. We told her to try again, tell them about these 2 cyclists… pleeeeeeeease… and, they sais “Yes”, depending on the weather.
So, we got the SMS and we were thrilled, for 5 minutes. Then Gal realized she’ll not have enough time to cycle all the way to the coast! Like a young child whose favorite game was just taken! Mrrrrrr….
Rami was thrilled! It´s over!
So, Rami started planning our hitches, so we’ll arrive on schedule, while Gal tried fighting. She just wanted to cycle.
Her only silly dream was that we’ll continue to cycle in Latin America.
With all these thoughts in our head, we had one of our most beautiful camp spots that night.

Our beatiful camp spot.

Another night to remember 01/11/07
Nothing special about this night, except for us wanting to remember it.
We cycled down a valley, towards the small town of Zara. It was late, so we stopped near a house, across the river, and tried our luck. Rami went to ask about camping, skeptic…
An old couple greeted us with a smile and even made a small bed for us. After a lot of hope and a small struggle the electricity came back while the beautiful fire-wood stove warmed the tea and the house. We ate traditional bread & cheese and just felt relaxed.
The next morning, 10km later, in Zara, the old man spotted us and invited us for chai, with all the old chai-drinkers. We were proud to sit with our host.

Hitching 02/11/07
Gal hates this chapter, it’s not just the hitching, this is the end…
We had 7 days to be in Alanya, more than 2,000km of mountainous roads. Finally Rami persuaded Gal not to wait with the hitching for the last moment. After fighting a bit, we decided to hitch towards Cappadocia and cycle there a bit.
Nothing special about Cappadocia, very beautiful, many busses with many tourists, cold and wet – been there, done that.

Picking grapes in Cappadocia.

A cave house.
Potato storage cave.

It was still too cold, wet and windy to enjoy the cycling and Rami was not in the mood for cycling so we decided to try our luck in the south, crossing the mountain range to Alanya. When our truck reached the area we saw the weather was the same, so we decided to continue with the truck till Mersin, a huge port city and cycle west on the Mediterranean.

A night in the back of a lorry
The truck dropped us somewhere. It was dark. The traffic was bad, so we tried to hitch, but with no luck. We didn’t even know where we are or where we want to go; we were very confused.
After 2 hours of no success, we tried asking about a place to sleep. We were told there is a hotel 5km away, but cycling was out of the question. We asked about camping in the area, but with no success. Then Rami decided to try his luck at the gas station across the road. A truck driver who was planning to spend the night at the gas station suggested we sleep in his empty lorry. Rami said there is no chance his wife will accept it, but, surprise – surprise, Gal agreed.
We cooked our dinner in the small kitchen of the gas station while the truck drivers helped us with ingredients. Later we opened our mattresses and had a romantic night in the back of the red truck.
The next morning we hitched anther truck to the center of Mersin, understanding how huge the city is.

This is the end 06/11/07
We tried to hitch towards Alanya (we didn’t have enough time to cycle all the way there). After waiting more than an hour, Saadat, a local on a mountain bike, approached us and asked (in English) how he can help. We told him the story and he told us that no one will take us and worse – that the road is extremely dangerous for cycling. He recommended a night bus (no day busses because the road is too busy and narrow for busses during the day). He invited us to his garage, from where we can call the bus station.
It was a motorcycle garage and all the guys welcomed us. They made a few calls and took Rami on a scooter to one of the bus stations to buy the tickets for the 21:30 bus. We had many hours to kill, so they took us to the house of Yismaiils’ family. They lit a fire to boil water for a fantastic shower, spoiled us with food and gave a room on the roof to rest in till the evening. They treated us like family.
At that point we truly understood that our bicycle trip is over.
At night they gave us a bag of oranges and took us to the bus station with their pick-up truck.
The bus didn’t allow us to board – no room for the luggage. We waited 45 minutes for the next bus. This time Rami was more assertive, and we were on the bus.

Yismaiil and the family.

On the roof, listening to the preyer (and the cell hpone at the end).

The guys in the garage.

Alanya 07/11/07
We were dropped at Alanya bus station at 05:00. It was still dark. We cycled to the beach and waited for the town to wake up. We found a nice hotel a block from the beach. Luckily, the bus station was far from the city center, which was a bit too touristy for us. We had 2 too long days till the boat arrived.

Sunrise on the beach.
And sunset.

Iris 09/11/07
The “Iris” arrived. We went on board and got our claustrophobic room. We got a bit of a culture shock from the Israelis on board - it has been a long year!

The "Iris" on the horizon.
Alanya fort.

The next day we sailed off. The views of Alanya and the coast were spectacular.
Gal was sea-sick in the evening, while Rami attacked again the terrible food.
We woke up to see the sunrise over the Carmel, a small hill behind Haifa.