Great places abound in the area with a visit to the underground city, the Ihlara valley (a stunning lush green canyon cutting through the dusty surrounding hillside) and a fantastic early morning balloon ride over Goreme being some of the highlights.
Goreme by air
The road to Ihlara Valley
Walking in the valley
Cave homes at Ischtar
The underground city at Derinkuyu is probably the peak of the Troglodytes burrowing activity. 75 meters deep spread over 7 stories it’s a veritable warren of passageways and rooms. It is said that several other underground cities in the surrounding area where all linked by 10’s of kilometres of connecting passageways, a true navigation feet in itself.
Some observations about the people of Turkey…….
The people have got to be the most friendly and welcoming race I’ve ever met, inquisitive, with a great zest for life and a fantastic sense of humour. A great example being when visiting the petrol stations. As well as the obligatory Chai (Tea) offered. I’ve been fed several times and even been offered free petrol twice! The later I refused. While fantastic, It can sometimes make buying petrol a time consuming exercise with questions about where I’m from, where I’m going and of course lots of questions about the bike.
A more infamous observation is the apparent infidelity in married men. I chatted to several hostel owners and despite most of them being married with children they still actively chased the female tourists with a real vigour. On speaking with some of the local women it was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and a statement of ‘they’re still young‘. There seems an almost begrudging acceptance from the women.
It was then time to get back on the road and head east to the rugged mountains of eastern Turkey.
I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect from Eastern Turkey. All I can say is that the last 3 days have been the best of the trip so far. Immense landscapes, friendly people and a total lack of tourists. I’ve seen 1 other adventure biker and 2 tourists since I left Goreme….The towns themselves tend to have a rough and ready feel, perfect for exploring and getting a real feel for life beyond the tourist traps of Antalia, Goreme and Istanbul.
Generally, when taking a journey you hit areas of scenic beauty that are fleeting. Eastern Turkey is different in that respect. I’ve spent the last 3 days riding through countryside that has been constantly awe inspiring …..from the grassy mountainous regions leading up to Nemrut, to the baking hot open grasslands of cattle country bordering Syria, to the central mountainous region of the Guneydogu Oroslar and the road from Ezurum to Barhol with the most incredible canyon lands you are likely to see anywhere in the world. Eastern Turkey is a scenery lovers dream.
The road to Nemrut
From Nemrut to the plains
Lunch on a petrol station forecourt
Marked differences from the west, apart from the fact that it’s a much more impoverished part of the country, are an appearance of army vehicles and police and army checkpoints. Largely due to the problems with a fiercely proud Kurdish population fighting for the right to express their national identity. Beyond the problems of the past, things seem to be changing for the better with a new Turkish government taking a more liberal approach. The language is now openly taught in schools, there are Kurdish TV and radio stations and even a Kurdish run local government.The women are also more conservatory dressed, with headscarf’s being the norm rather than the exception.
I then spent a couple of days in the little trekking village of Barhol about 120k’s South of the Georgian border to change the front tyre, which was looking decidedly bald by now, and give the bike some general servicing and checks before heading off to Georgia. Barhol is a village with a ticking time bomb. The government are in the process of building a dam down stream which will raise the water level by 750 meters. This will mean relocating all the villagers to higher ground.
After changing my front tyre to a new Bridgestone - Trail Wing, I discovered that I hadn’t bought the correct adaptor for pumping the tyre up again, Doh! A real school boy error but as is the way in Turkey there’s always someone close by to help out a stranger in need. Queue right stage….. the appearance of the hostel owner who quickly ran down the street and returned with an electric pump borrowed from his mate. With tyre inflated in seconds I was ready to head off to Georgia and say goodbye to Turkey.
If I was to sum up Turkey in a nutshell. Amazing history, culture, food, landscapes and most importantly the people. Friendly, generous and funny they make all visitors welcome beyond belief. I have to say it’s one of best countries I’ve ever visited and I’ll certainly be back. To all my friends, I recommend you ditch the other holiday destinations and make Turkey your next trip. Make sure you catch some of the raw East, it‘s amazing……
After a confusing border crossing, which involved been repeatedly sent back to an office by the boarder police to get a piece of paper (god knows what for) and the office insisting I didn’t need one as an EU citizen, the boarder guard finally let me into Georgia after much raised voices and expressions of frustration.
It was then a quick 15k sprint up to Batumi, a crumbing soviet style seaside town on the Black Sea, and an overnight stay at an aging Russian style hostel that had seen better days. Once kit was removed from the bike, the owner took me to my room for the guided tour which included instructions on how the shower worked. This included a demonstration where by he started flicking the open fusebox type switches on the wall with dripping wet hands as I looked on horror and backed away to the door expecting him to fry himself. Luckily he didn’t burst into flames and with a sigh of relief I said goodnight.