Thursday, March 26, 2009


Its been 3 weeks since I updated this blog and its been a very eventual 3 weeks. Some brilliant news, some awful news. Now where do I start.
Arriving into Istanbul was a pleasure as much as it was a relief. Stage 1 of Globalcycleride was Naas to Istanbul and thankfully stage 1 was complete. We are about 25% into the circumnavigation of the globe and all things considered I was happy how stage 1 went. The bike has ran perfectly and the health was 100%. I was keen to prepare for a stage 2. My dad (Jim), brother (Paul) and girlfriend (Genevieve) were coming over soon. I set about running around town restocking all the goods I had lost in Bergama and it was time to visit the different embassies and start collecting the visas. Having Dad,Paul and Genevieve over to Istanbul was such a treat. At this stage I'm fed up talking to the bicycle (although I'll probably continue to do so). To hear a familar Irish accent with the usual banter of slagging and joking with the family keeps the spirits high. And the world wide web is no place to voice my discussions with Genevieve. Dad and Paul were here from March 13th till March 18th while Genevieve stayed from March 17th till March 22nd. It was an exceptional week of visiting all the sights; The Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Bascillica Cistern, Topkaki Palace, Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Grand Bazaar, Spice market, Hippodrome, etc... The Limousines waiting below the roof top restaurants were a far cry from my campsite speciality of noodles with a mug of icy red wine. And our cruises up the Borphorus with Europe to the west and Asia to the east really hammers home the stratigic position of this city down through the ages. There were walks along the Sea of Marmara next to our lovely Turkauz Hotel. The Doherty clan lined out for Two-Mile-House for a midnight photo in front of the Blue Mosque. And Genevieve and I had the strangest lock-in ever at a wine bar in Sultanahmet. In fact it was more similar to a kidnapping with alcohol involved, rather than a lock-in. The regular morning call to pray from the nearby Mosque seemed to blast out an extra verse for St Patricks Day. But for a muslim country, there was no shortage of alcohol. Genevieve and I even managed to find a bar showing some Ireland's greatest rugby moments. Our diet consisted of far more than just doner kebabs. And by the time the Dohetys left town, the local carpet selling touts were convinced we just liked talking to sales people because the boys joined the "Nothing to Declare" queue at Istanbul airport.Just the best week ever,but now it was time to face back into my reality.
Long before I had ever left Ireland, I had considered the options available on how I would continue east after Istanbul. Check out this map link There are many different routes from Istanbul to China and now it was time to choose one.
1. Fly from Istanbul to Beijing-(not really an option)
2. Bike east across Turkey and into Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and into China. (too dangerous)
3. Take the northern route- ie.get a boat across the Black Sea from Istanbul to Odessa,Ukraine and bike on towards Astrakhan in Russia before entering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and then China (no noteworthy sights,v.bad roads)
3. Bike east across Turkey and on up into Georgia, Azerbaijan and get a ferry across the Caspian Sea into Kazakhstan (irregular ferry,I've heard of people waiting from 2 to 21 days)
4. Bike east across Turkey and into Iran, Pakistan, India (Its a cul de sac. Due to visa restrictions you cannot continue through either Tibet or Myanmar{Burma}. The only exit is to fly to Bangkok)
5. Bike east across Turkey and into Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and into China.(Perfect,in a Central Asia kinda way)
Each of these routes have different problems which would take hours to go into but I’ve decided to attempt the last route. Genevieve does a lot of work in China and has offered to help me get a Chinese visa. The Kyrgyzstan visa is generally easy to obtain in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I got the visa for Uzbekistan 14 days ago from their consulate in Istanbul. helped me here. And they are also helping with the Iranian visa (see below). Turkmenistan is gonna be the real headache. Independent travel is difficult here. Its hard to get a visa unless you join a tour. But of course my plan is to bike across it. We'll keep you posted on progress here. So that’s the story on the hopeful route of the future and the plan for stage 2.
Now to update ye on what happened when I first arrived in Istanbul. I checked into a hostel that was down the road from the Blue Mosque. It seemed a pretty cool place but the strangest thing happened one evening. I was sitting at a computer and there was one of the guys in the hostel standing behind me. He was talking to a girl beside me,- Saying that he would like to give her a massage. For some reason, completely beyond my understanding, he put his hands on my neck and gave my neck a quick sharp turn which resulted in a cracking noise. I have no idea why he did this. It wasn’t provoked. I wasn’t even talking to him. It was a complete surprise rather than anything painful but over the next 4 or 5 days I could feel my neck gradually tighten up. 3 years ago I was in a accident that caused a neck injury that took about 20 sessions of sports massage therapy, spinelogy and physio over a year to correct. And the scary part is all the old symptoms are back. I’ve been to hospital but they couldn’t help me. I went to a Turkish bath, but when I told them what happened they wouldn’t touch me but recommended a doctor of physiotherapy. This man has called twice to my hotel and I visited his clinic once. I have another appointment in the morning and he has helped hugely. In fact he seemed to almost cure it but the pain has recently returned. So I’m just after spending a fortune on buying all new stuff while also paying out for upcoming visas and now I’m stuck in Istanbul till I get this neck sorted. It really has become an awful mess. In fact I'm sorry to say that the tour has hit a huge low. The pain was so intense a few days ago, I was actually checking flights home to Ireland. But I've decided to continue with the physio here and hopefully over the coming week I'll return to 100% fitness. But I could not continue in this state and yet I need to power on as the visas are only valid up till so long.........
Anyway I think I'll write a bit about the Iranian visa situation;
When George Bush called Iran the "axis of all evil", he took a giant step in destroying relations between Iran and the U.S. Thankfully no present or former leader of Ireland has made such judgements of Iran. Now its almost impossible for an American citizen to enter Iran (unless they join a designated tour) Since arriving in Istanbul I have only met four people (2 Spanish,2 French)hoping to get an Iranian visa from the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul. All four were denied a visa. They had little options but to continue east to attempt the embassies in Ankara, Erzurum or where ever. The visas are a nightmare. Its something you have little control over. The duration and direction of your trip is in the hands of a stone faced guy the other side of a plane of glass. Having a "Letter of Invitation" from an agency like Stantours helps. Just being able to say "Hello, Yes, Please, Thank you" in their spoken tongue, Farsi,helps. And not making any association between Iran and an "axis of all evil" definitly helps. And so when my passport was handed back to me with the words "Visa approved", I said "Thank you" with such enthusiasm, I even managed to get a smile out of the stone faced embassy official. I went back to my hostel smiling and lay down to rest my heavy head.
And so all in all, the past 2 weeks have been full of "some brilliant news, some awful news" as I said at the start of this chapter. But now everyone has returned to Ireland and its time to hopefully face into the long road across Asia. Its here where the real sense of adventure comes into the trip. Once we go east of Istanbul we will be stepping away from Europe and starting a massive journey along the "Silk Road" across Turkey, Iran and 'The Stans'. I'm just so ready to go. I've restocked everything. I have all the necessary visas from the Istanbul embassies to continue. The weather is okay for cycling. But I simply cannot leave town with the state my neck is in. Its an awkward situation. If I don't leave town soon, I wont be able to make the border posts before my visas expire and I also need to consider that Turkmenistan is 95% desert. I need to get through this region before the summer heat kicks in. So the bottom line is; I've decided to stay in Istanbul another week (2 weeks absolute max). If I'm not 100% by then, I'm pulling the plug on Global-cycle-ride. Believe me, its the last thing I want to do.


Emilio Fernandez said...

That is the last option, dont think about that and it won`t be an option. We are on the road and have already got in touch wth Iran embassy looks ok, for the moment.
We whant to see you again so get well and keep on cycling.
Chicken the last to get to the Iran boarder.
See you sooon the spanich couple you met.

Patrick83 said...

Hi Mark,
hope you can recover in time from your neck imjury to go further.
Remember that you are Irish!