The day after my birthday I took a night bus to Sivas in Central Anatolia. I really don't know why I take night buses. I'm getting to old for this! You cannot sleep on these buses. The seats are horrible, every two hours a stop where you surely wake up and there is a guarantee that there comes a noisy group on board.
So I was very happy when I arrived in Sivas and could leave the smell of vomit and air freshener behind. It felt so good to be on the road again and not only because of the fresh air.
Central Anatolia is a rough place. The bus took me to 1'300m over sea level and it became cold. With the sun out it was OK but I knew from the weather forecast that the sunshine would not last for very long. The landscape is sparse and wide. While this is difficult to describe this is exactly the type of landscape I was dreaming of when I thought about this trip. I had this grin on my face the whole day because I felt as if I had arrived where I wanted to be! The day went by and I had to find a place to sleep since the forecast warned about upcoming minus degrees. As I was aiming for the small town called Zara I saw two figures on the horizon. They turned out to be Lucie and Louis a french couple on their way to China. We decided to spend the night together in a hotel. We had connected well and felt confident that we could cycle some days together.
It was a nice change to cycle in company. It is not that I don't like to cycle on my own. But together it's just different. To share an experience with another person on the road is a good feeling.
That next day we cycled together towards Erzincan about 200 km away. I guess I could have done it in two days but we took it easy. I had to realize as well that there are no easy kilometers in Anatolia. The road goes up and down, there is always wind (of course mostly in the wrong direction) and I feel a bit the altitude when going over passes.
But this is not a problem since slowing down opens the possibility of long lunch breaks and relaxed conversations.
On this day we wanted to sleep next to a fuel station. Fuel stations are actually a pretty good place to camp. There are toilets and most stations have food and a security system of some sort (in this case two dogs). While we were drinking çay in the station it started to snow outside and it took only a well placed sigh combined with an exhausted facial expression to be invited to sleep inside. We got a room next to the office and we had a warm and cozy night. What a treat!
The next day started with a pass. The whole morning we pedaled upwards, each in its own speed. Cycling uphill is a lonely experience. You normally don't have the breath to engage in a conversation. In the end there is always a reward. The downhill stretch took my full attention though. The road was not particularly well maintained and I had to look out for uneven surfaces. Riding down a bad road with a fully loaded bicycle is an nerve-wracking experience. On the other side of the pass the landscape changed as well. There were pine trees and it looked to me somewhat similar to some parts of North America.
It was also here where we met a new "friend". A dog - we called him Ali - that followed us for about 10 km. No tricks helped to send him off. I stayed back and played with him to then speed down a slope but he always came after us. Finally we succeeded to get rid of Ali with the help of some locals which managed to hold on to him and give me a big enough head start so he could not follow me anymore.
Dogs are a nuisance here. Many of them aren't chained - which is good I suppose - but aren't under control either. Ali was lucky. While he ran along with us there was not much traffic and he stayed to the side of the road. Other dogs that I was to come by on the road hadn't been that fortunate though.
We ended up in Refahiye were I was kindly invited to stay with Lucie and Louis in a apartment with some teachers of the local school. The head teacher is active on hosting platforms like couchsurfing and warmshowers. The only problem is that he does not speak a single word of English so he puts his guests with English and German teachers of the school. We had all a great dinner prepared by the wife of the Islamic religion teacher.
The conversation started to become political - something I do not favor when traveling. It is difficult to talk about local politics if you come from such a different background. In this case it also turned out that our host is very close to the AKP. This is a fact that I do respect. But the way he stood his ground and was not willing to discuss any other point of view scared me. He is a man truly indoctrinated by his conservative views. He even started to go on about the political views of the teacher who was kindly translating the whole conversation.
It is sad to say but I was relieved when he left. Then the real conversation with the remaining teachers started. At the present time Turkey is close to vote on a referendum that would give a lot of power to the president putting him almost in a dictator like position. When you read this blog you will already know the outcome of it and I guess it will not have come as no surprise.
I heard and saw a lot these days how the evet (yes) campaign was pushed and the opposition discriminated. You only had to see the state media to understand what was going on. I don't want to write any more details since I maybe want to visit Turkey again.
The next day we woke up to a cold wind and snowfall. Lucie and Louis decided to stay at Refahiye while I rode on. It was a good decision of them - not me...
The road was covered in mushy snow soaked with dirt from the road. On the first kilometers the road was not even cleared and the trucks that went by sprayed all that nasty stuff on me. There was no escape. It came from every direction. Wet snow from above, wet mushy snow from the road lifted up by my front tire and - as mentioned - some more from the side. Somehow I made it to the top of the next overpass and in the mean time the roads had been cleared. To my utter surprise one of the teachers came by car all the way up to the top of the pass to hand me a sandwich and a bottle of water. I was mesmerized by that much kindness!
On the other side of the pass I found a totally different world. The snow seamed to be only on the west side of the pass and I could enjoy a perfect down hill ride. I had to smile when I stopped in the valley for a hefty lunch and saw on my trip computer that my top speed that day had been beyond 70km/h.
The following night I was hosted by Ibrahim a flight controller at the domestic airport of Erzincan. He is an outdoor fanatic and loves to host people from around the world. It was also there where I met a fellow Rumanian cyclist. We cooked a nice dinner on our camping stoves since Ibrahim had just moved into his new flat and had not had time yet to install an oven.
The next day I started off only to find three French cyclists on my way. We ended up cycling together for the rest of the day. During lunch we had more dog encounters. While one dog stole some bread another chased us along the street until we outran him.
Even when we made camp next to an old mill we were greeted by a dog. Dogs seem to be everywhere. As he didn't leave us we seized him and chained him to a tree. Like this we could eat and sleep that night.
The next day we unchained the dog who was still in the mood to play with us. We decided to ignore him hoping he would lose interest in us. That was far-fetched. He ran along for some kilometers only to be hit by a truck in the next village where he got in a fight with an other dog. I guess he didn't survive the fight. On that road I saw at least two other dogs who were either hit by a vehicle or otherwise wounded but still alive alongside the road. This seems to be normal here.
In the afternoon we arrived in Erzurum where we split up. We had different places to stay and wanted to head in different directions from here on.
I chose a cheap hotel called Kervansery and later that evening ate in an better one which had been restored. It was the end of the voting day and the vibe in town was clear. Nearly all the votes had been counted and the evet campaign seemed to have won. Cars with AKP and Turkey flags were honking on the streets and people chanted paroles.
That night I fell asleep to the noise of people celebrating the victory mixed with the sound of the muezzin's voice musing about the future of this country.