Into Anatolia

2009/08/17: Big Field Camp 52 km
2009/08/18: Overgrown Gravel Pit 74 km
2009/08/19: Kars 58 km
I knew we had decided to avoid the Black Sea Coast and enter Turkey’s high country, but I hadn’t realized that the first day’s cycling would involve a 1,200 m climb to Ilgar Geçedi, the highest pass in Turkey.

We climbed slowly through broad meadows, and were invited for tea by the road maintenance boss at the summit. We were served sweet black tea in the same pear-shape glasses that are used in Azerbaijan, and then shown the snow blower that extends the season during which the pass can be used. Language is a struggle again; I realize now how useful my few Russian words were. Despite the communication challenges, we understood that the snow blower was manufactured in Italy, but was of Canadian design.

The descent from the pass was a lovely set of sweeping curves, and the town we stopped in welcomed us warmly. The grocery shop owner served us glasses of juice, and the baker made sure we got a loaf that was still warm. We camped beside a track in a broad field. A farm vehicle passed us during the night but didn’t seem to mind our presence.

The next day we pedalled on early, having stuffed away a very wet tent. Looking for a spot to dry it later on made us realize just how many manned military foxholes we were passing, and we noticed an armoured personnel carrier come out of an army base to position itself at a junction. In the next town, where we stopped for internet and a new sim card, Chris struck up a conversation with an off-duty police officer who strongly advised us to change our route plan and to backtrack to the last junction. We understood there had been some kind of terrorist activity in the town ahead, so backtrack we did, and camped in a gravel pit that passing time had made into a meadow.

The new route would take us to Kars, so we planned an off-bike day there. The final day took us through dust and road construction. We met a Polish cyclist, Andrezjej, on a two month loop which had taken him through Syria and Turkey. He planned to take a boat north across the Black Sea and return to Poland via the Ukraine. He advised us to visit the ancient Silk Road city of Ani while we were in Kars. In Kars, we found ourselves modest digs and did much needed washing. Our hotel has wireless which can be reached from the lobby, and a shop that sells baklava just around the corner. Over the course if this trip, Chris has developed a sweet tooth – something he never had before!


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