About Koran Schools, Power Outages and the Local Police Station

Monday morning, the morning after one of the most important nights in modern Turkish history: After washing my dirty clothes I went for a bit of sightseeing and some local food. While roaming around town I came across the french guys I had been riding with the other day. Their host Özgür and two of his friends where also with them. They invited me for dinner. I happily accepted.

It was so pleasant to meet young Turks and very refreshing to see a dynamic part of the society that does not simply accept what's happening around them. That evening I decided to continue with one of the french guys towards the Iranian border.

So the next morning François and I started off east. It was a good cycling day: Wind from behind and a road leading down most of the stretch. Only a small accident without serious consequences dampened the good mood. I sometimes hang on to slow trucks or tractors to go up an especially steep hill and so did both of us that day. François, having no experience with doing so crashed while trying to grab the back of a trailer. Having recovered from this experience he is now a professional in uphill finagling. ;)

When it was time to find a place for the night it seemed there were no acceptable camping spots available. Our main objections are: Not to be seen from the road, stay away from villages to avoid unwanted guests and, if possible, have access to a source of running water. The area was just not suitable to camp freely so we went to a small hamlet without name to ask for a place to pitch the tent.

A young math teacher let us into the local school building just in time. A cold rain had started when we had arrived at the village. The teacher called for the village chef who offered us a room in the Koran school just across the street. We were happy not to sleep in the cold outside and accepted the generous offer gratefully.

I love Turkey for this kind of hospitality. It seems there is always a solution for any problem. You just have to ask!

The next day started with a mountain pass. Though with wind from behind we managed to make over 100km in little more than four hours. We had a host for that night in Ağrı but arrived way too early. So we went to the local hamam. Here the hamam was really a place where man came and spoke about politics, god and the world. We soon made new friends and spend almost four hours in the hamam. This place  differed considerably from the one I had visited in Istanbul: Prices where around 10 TL (less than 3€), the steam bath significantly hotter and the massages resembled a torture act more than anything else.

After our "rebirth" we went to meet our host Ercan. We enjoyed an easy going evening with an only half-baked pizza since there happened a power outage. We could laugh about this but our host could not.

The next day we profited again from tailwind and had our fastest day for a long time. 22km/h is a good average speed if you consider that we climbed almost 600m of altitude the same day. On a short downhill section I achieved a new speed record of almost 80km/h and this in a hailstorm. Eastern Anatolia is a crazy place...

Coming towards the town of Doğubeyazıt we recognized parts of a mountain that turned out to belong to the famous Ararat Mountain. If you are familiar with our heritage you will know that this is the mountain where Noah is said to have stranded with his ark after the great deluge.

Sadly, Mount Ararat was covered in clouds throughout the whole day and so we went to a hotel without having seen its top.

The following day was reserved for sightseeing and resting. However, things developed otherwise. After some necessary bike repairs and maintenance we still went to see the Ishak Pasha Palace which towers over the city. The other visit we had in mind is the “actual” Noah’s Ark. But as we met some other travelers we had a beer instead.

Back in the city we savored local food and attempted to find some post cards. By chance we came across the tourist information and thought of inquiring where to buy them. The information was closed. So we turned away to leave but were stopped by a police man in civil. Since we were only in town for some food and postcards we had no passports on us. That was a mistake.

The situation in Turkey is loaded especially in this area where 90% of the population is Kurdish. So police checkpoints are the norm. We had already passed many of them on the way and had encountered no real problems so far. Normally the patrol would stop us for some conversation. But not this overeager police officer. He took us into the police station just next to the tourist information. I was actually surprised that he did not offer any çay while we had to wait.

We thought the situation was funny and had a laugh at how the police were doing their work. It seemed extremely dilettante. They took pictures with their smart phones from the big screen where a security camera caught a potentially suspicious person, looked for keys to their armored vehicles and just did not know what to do with us.

For a situation like this, François carries a paper with the numbers of the embassies along the road . The only problem was that the police now thought we were spies.

They started to interrogate us using google translator, an app that while being useful is not very accurate. So situations like this happened. “Who is your employer?” - referring to the paper with the numbers of the embassy. “Are you intelligent?” or later just “intelligence” were some of the outputs of the app. That was the point where we realized that they suspected us of being spies. We couldn’t do anything but laugh. We tried to explain that we are tourists and on our way to Iran. Probably the Iran part did not help. In the end we could convince the officers to come with us to the hotel so we could show them our passports.

It would have been a two minutes walk. But no, we had to take the car… In the hotel the police started to speak to the receptionist who did not comprehend the situation at all. Eventually the police officers got annoyed and asked us what the problem was. “There is no problem!” was our simple answer. But then they wanted to know why we had entered a government area.

We were taken aback as we had all the time believed that this was a “normal” passport control! Instead we had supposedly entered a regulated government area. We just repeated “tourist information” and they finally understood. Then they apologized and even asked if we needed any information.

So we asked them where we could buy postcards.