As I neared the Turkey border, I noticed a currency exchange and quickly pulled up to dispense of my remaining Georgian Lari. The guy at the counter was polite, but serious until of course he saw my bike. A huge smile stretched across his face. More impressive to him though was that I was from Australia. (People just get blown away by that… and it makes sense. The motorbike is a long way from home.) Whilst fishing out my coins I came across a rogue Euro 20 cent I’d be carrying for some time. I guess somewhere along the line a shop must have given it to me by accident (or not) and it was really annoying me. I saw a bin on the street and threw the coin at it. It hit the rim and landed on the ground. As the currency exchange vendor came out of his booth to inspect my bike, he saw the coin lying on the ground and swiftly scooped it up and presented it to me as a gift knowing I was onward bound to Europe. If only he had seen what transpired seconds earlier. I thanked him kindly (trying to hold back laughter) and quickly stuffed the coin back into my pocket. Looks like I’d be carrying it for a bit longer.
Entering Turkey was a breeze and thanks to some advice from Anne and Anthony I knew where to pick up my third party insurance for the bike. It was a bit of a relief because for so long I’d been riding insurance-free (with the exception of Armenia) so it was due time I started decreasing some risks. Furthermore, they don’t let you in the country without it, so it wasn’t like I had a choice. During the border process I met a Turkish rider on a beat up old Honda if my memory serves me correctly. His set up was pretty rough and I couldn’t help but admire him for it. Basically his panniers (side luggage) where two fat backpacks. So he was super wide. But I imagine it costed 1/10th of mine! We did a fist pump after emerging on the Turkish side and parted ways. Many people were walking through the border zone (as people have to get off coaches at borders) and some woman gave me the thumbs up. I reciprocated and gave her a smile. Little things like that on the journey are funny. Just small gestures between strangers can give you an unexpected lift.
The day would be a big one on the bike. Bigger than I expected. It began with a beautiful fast highway along the Black Sea Coast. These are nice to an extent, but can get boring after awhile. Therefore, I was pretty glad I only had an hour on it before I would turn south and make my way to the infamous D915!
Thanks again to my virtual tour guides Anne and Anthony, I was made aware of the D915. This is the name of a road that is regarded as the most dangerous in the world! I was super pumped! It’s that perfect blend of excitement, anticipation and anxiety. The feeling of “what am I getting myself into?”. The only thing I had to go by were some descriptions and photos on the Internet that painted a terrifying picture. Anne and Anthony had opted out, so they couldn’t give me any first hand stories and this only made it better. What makes it dangerous is basically the number of deaths. It even beats Bolivia’s famous road that tourists ride mountain bikes down. (Riobamba? Can’t remember.) Of course, I knew full well that riding on a bike (under your own control) as opposed to a minivan driven at highspeed by a local with a deathwish meant I never really felt concerned for my safety. My only real concern was how bloody long was it and how long will it take?
The journey there was particularly fun. Winding through valleys and up mountains with a beautiful stream flowing below. I accidentally missed the turn off, but realised I was heading to a tourist destination called Uzun Gol so decided to continue and get a peek at what it was all about. Uzun Gol in fact, is a beautiful lake with restaurants and cabins around where people can relax and do (pretty basic) watersports. There were a tonne of Turkish tourists there and the atmosphere seemed really nice. It even had a glorious dirt road that made its way up further into the mountains behind it which I took full advantage of. I didn’t stay long. A burst on the bike, a photo or two and I was off. The D915 was calling!
As I neared the infamous road, already things started to get hairy. Slippery smooth wide gravel roads with absolutely no guard rail for the huge drop to the stream below. I figured it was an appropriate G rated introduction to what was to come. I finally came upon it, not through signage but through terrain. A sometimes rocky, patchy, narrow winding road along the cliff dissecting tiny villages every now and then with the most perilous of drops off the edge and obviously… not a guard rail in site. This was it. Given my direction had me on the outside (nearer the edge) I had to be careful, because any vehicles coming the other way around these sharp mountain corners would either hit me head on or send me to a slightly slower death over the edge. I could probably wrap this portion of the journey in the most dramatic prose, but to be truthful, on a bike it was safe. Don’t get me wrong, just looking at the edge completely messes with your head, but overall you are well within control of your own destiny. What did worry me though was the time. The road was ridiculously slow. Furthermore, my engine continued to overheat due to this slow pace. And to top it off I had no idea whether it was 20kms or 200kms! Fortunately, it was the former. But that still took two hours mostly due to the stops I had to make to cool the engine, but it still was a very slow road.
As I rounded the other side a magnificent series of switchbacks presented themselves and so I began winding my way up and up. As I neared the top I heard a beep. Some motorcyclists were on the ledge above and gave me a flick of the head to say come on up. I reached them and perhaps “the number one” position based on photos I had previously seen on the Internet. We had a great chat, joined in each others’ photos and shared Instagram accounts. They were impressed I’d chosen to do it alone and with no real knowledge of what was in store. It was so nice to share that triumphant feeling up on that crazy road with others.
I bade farewell and tore of over the top of the mountain. The Turks told me I would enjoy the other side and I did! It completely changed to lush rolling hills (albeit late summer so a bit dry) with the most wonderful winding dirt roads. A dirt biker’s paradise. I gave myself plenty of freedom to twist that throttle and my energy grew and grew after the tension of the D915. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen in one day. A coastal highway with lush forests on one side, a perilous mountain edge road and now these rolling hills. With maps.me on my iPhone as my navigation, I often get “direct” routes instead of mainstream routes. Despite the ongoing uncertainty and mild angst whenever I embark, it’s never let me down. That day would be no different. I found myself winding around narrow bitumen roads with barely a vehicle on them coming across villages I would never have seen on a highway. I even came across some military vehicles in the middle of nowhere. I eventually popped out onto the highway I was probably meant to be on and after a short period of boredom found myself descending into my destination city, Erzincan, as night fell. Again, it was glorious ride down the mountain, albeit two lanes wide each way, but it was nice to see the lights of “home” ahead. At $50 per night, the Hilton was a no brainer and I relished the opportunity for luxury.
The next day saw me head off to Goreme, one of the lovely villages of the famed Cappadocia region. The area is full of incredible cave villages – some historical and some inhabited to this day (albeit with modifications). Many of the hotels offer the same experience too. My hotel was high up in Goreme and was partially cavernous. Overall, there was so much to explore. My “rest day” was abandoned in favour of whizzing around the valleys on my motorbike and basically doing my own private tour of all the incredible sights. There were tourists everywhere. I can only imagine how crazy peak season must be. Buses, quad bikes, hot air balloons. I can imagine people easily spending a couple or more days there, but I was content with my two nights. I was able to amble around an old cave monastery (again in my famed “trekking” moto boots) and the awe these places inspired was simply endless. My departure morning had me booked on a dawn hot air balloon ride. I was quite excited until we found out it was cancelled due to windy weather. I’m not joking when I tell you it was so still your breath would have blown harder. But I guess somewhere up in the sky it was a different matter. We even made it to the balloon field where some of the balloons had been half inflated, so it was particularly disappointing to be oh so close and yet so far.
On my route to Istanbul I overnighted in Eskisehir, a very lovely university city with trams and even canals in the centre of town. I didn’t get to see much so I can’t really report anything. Sometimes you just don’t feel like exploring so you just chill out.
My journey continued. I was on a mission to get to Istanbul. When I finally determined a couple of weeks prior that Russia was no longer on the itinerary, I decided I should try and make it to my friend’s wedding in Italy. Having re-rsvp’ed and got the all clear (in Sarah’s words “I’m sure we can save a couple of Sangas for you” – Sangas being the Australian word for sandwiches) I found that flights from Istanbul to Naples were cheap and fast, so it was just a matter of getting myself to Istanbul in time for the flight. If everything worked out perfectly I would be able to get my bike serviced at KTM along with a few fixes, store my luggage at the hotel and be on my way for a holiday within a holiday!
As usual maps.me (my gps application) gave a direct route and I was steered up over a mountain. I was pretty excited by this route as I’d had three days of highways and was sick of them. The road wound its way up into a beautiful forested area, past streams and the odd cow with splendid views from the top. On the way down I reached some switchbacks and decided to cut the engine and enjoy the peace and quiet as I rolled down. I don’t normally do it because of the lack of control, but it was a popular pastime of the Iranian guys after an off road day out and I thought I could continue it a little bit more in Turkey.
It proved to be a huge mistake. As Dad said afterward “they don’t call it angel gear for nothing”. Angel gear indeed. As I built up speed into a left hand hairpin my rear brakes failed (perhaps over heating) and so I quickly dropped the bike into first and gently squeezed the front brake, but it was all too quick. the jolt of first gear and the fact I was already into the turn saw the bike bite hard into the bitumen and throw me over the front left landing on my right shoulder with the bike crashing onto my left leg. Fortunately, my leg was fine albeit trapped for a brief moment, but my right shoulder was in excruciating pain. I’d landed hard. I was cursing myself and my luck and I quickly picked up the bike (on my second attempt) further aggravating the pain and paced around trying to calm myself down. I could barely lift my arm and decided to just give myself a few minutes to clear my head. I’d say there was an element of shock. The suddenness and end result really hit you. A local emerged from a house nearby and enquired as to my well being. After indicating I was ok he quickly disappeared again. It was a huge wake up call and all from seemingly nothing. I reminded myself of what an idiot I was for having the engine off and swore never to do it again.
I made my way into Istanbul and all it’s grandeur in a lot of pain. It wasn’t long before I realised how lucky I was. Firstly, it could have been a lot worse. Secondly, I only had one hour to ride and then I’d be off the bike for at least 10 days while I looked around Istanbul and then went to Italy. This would hopefully give me the recovery time I needed. Finally, I was on my way to the KTM dealership, so any damage done to the bike could be rectified. The damage to me, however, I was not so sure about. I couldn’t raise my arm above my head and even sitting on the bike with it holding the handlebar was a mission in itself. I figured I would see how it went over the next few days.
Riding into Istanbul was a tremendous experience. The view alone is incredible. Where the Dardanelles meet the Black Sea, via the Bosphorus Strait. Such an impressive and incredibly historic city. But it’s also chaos. Constant traffic chaos. Eventually I made it to KTM and was left with great confidence that everything would be taken care of. These guys looked like they knew what they were doing and the head mechanic had many years Dakar experience supporting competitors. I decided I would just ride back the next day. It would be easier to go straight to the hotel with all my luggage.
Returning the next day, I gave them a massive laundry list of items (along with some fixes needed after my crash) and set off sightseeing in the heart of Istanbul. The weather was perfect and it was nice to just wander around. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were right in the heart of it all and were stunning. Aside from getting ripped off by a tour guide, I made the most of the day with a walk across the bridge and a boat cruise up the Bosphorus. Trying to get a taxi back to my hotel without getting shafted is almost an impossible mission, but sometimes you just have to accept it.
Like so many things on this trip, I still had one last uncertainty to deal with before I could go to Italy. I found out that to leave my bike in Turkey, I had to complete a certain form at the airport. Even though I could do it the day I flew out, experience told me I should go there a couple of days earlier to do a bit of reconnaissance. That proved to be a very wise decision. Basically, I was to find the Customs office and request the form. In and out and around I went finding counter after counter of Customs offices with not a single person having a clue what I was talking about. I even showed them there own website. Furthermore, I had the confidence of authority because I had the hotel owner in Goreme ring Customs a few days prior and they gave the instructions. (Don’t worry, you sometimes doubt whether you’ve just been told a story as is often the case).
Anyway, it reached a point where the Customs guys decided it was easiest to deal with me by simply ignoring me. I was pretty filthy, but kept searching. One direction had me going through a security door into the baggage claim area. But still, no luck. Eventually, I found myself back at some check-in counters and I saw yet another Customs desk. As one last attempt before I giving up, I approached and explained. The girl working there was lovely and suggested several places I should try… all of which I already had! She was shocked. I think she could see I was getting desperate. So she said: “I will help you. Can you wait?” I said “Please take as long as you like. Thank you so much.”
15 minutes later we were marching around the airport and back through the security door. She was directed to an office directly opposite the baggage carousel and in we went. Sure enough a man and a woman were in the office. After hearing the story, the woman in the office turned around, opened a filling cabinet and grabbed a form. I couldn’t believe it. But the man told her to wait and said I should come back on the day of my flight with my boarding pass. I told them it was an early flight, but they said someone would be there.
I thanked my helper profusely. (She even wrote a note on my phone in Turkish so I could show it to Customs and get back through the security door on my departure day.) What confused me the most, was why on earth would a form for a departing passenger be in arrivals? Nevertheless, I shot off outside just in time to catch my hotel shuttle back and I was set.
Two days later I was at the airport bright and early. I got my way through the security door and then onto the Customs office next to the baggage carousel. I looked in the office. Not a soul. I thought you can’t be serious. I called out, looked around and then thought bugger it. I opened the filing cabinet and grabbed the form. I had pretty much filled it out and then realised it would need to be signed it off. Hmmm. So I went outside and looked around. I went to the Customs guys who are the last stop before people walk through arrivals doors to meet their loved ones. Upon showing him the form he pointed me to a colleague whom I immediately recognised as the one from the office two days prior. I thought sheesh I hope he doesn’t ask where I got the form from. Sure enough, he casually got up, led me back to the same office, logged onto his computer, signed off the form, completed something on the computer, scanned the form and my boarding pass and I was done! Finally, I could relax.
So many times, you just don’t know what an outcome is going to be. You always think and hope things will work it out, but you’re never quite sure. And the problem is, the consequences can be quite significant: like losing hundreds of dollars on flights and accommodation and missing a wedding. But that wasn’t to be the case. I thanked God and made my way to the departure gate. I was on my way to Italy.
Note: It really is so hard to fit everything into this journal. Every time I proof read I think of more things that happened and other photos I should have put up. But I guess everything has its limit and it’s always good to keep a few good stories up one’s sleeve… and yes, there are many!