Thursday, April 30, 2009

DAY 159 TILL DAY 163

Time was ticking on my Iranian visa, and I still hadn't entered Iran yet. It was time to pedal out of Erzurum and continue east to the Iranian border. I expected Erzurum to be a backward eastern Turkish city. But its really a city of contrasts. Its a thriving university city with the liviest pub (Cafe 79) I've been to in Turkey. But yet the influences of the Islamic Republic of Iran (to give it its full title) are very visible. Now more than ever do I see women dressed in chador,ie everything is covered except their eyes. And chador happens to be Farsi (the language of Iran) for "black tent".
Henrik,from Sweden,whom I met in the Mavi guesthouse in Istanbul, was staying at the same hotel as me in Erzurum. He was over landing through 'the Stans' and into China, then Pakistan. And we spent the evening chatting over beers, maps and guidebooks. The main topic of conversation- Visas. Speaking of which, I have something up my sleeve for the Turkmenistan visa, but I'll tell ye about that later

DAY 160
40KMs outside Erzurum and the chain breaks. Luckily I'm near a bike shop and we get it fixed. 10KMs down the road and its gone again. This is not good. I camp up for the night and decide to sleep on it.

For once the bike is at a higher altitude that me. Its strapped onto the roof of the bus I'm sitting in. We're going back to Erzurum. I change my chain every 6000KMs and I only use XT Deore components, because there is nothing better for touring. I got this chain in Istanbul. The packaging it came in was labelled "for use with XT Deore". I have my doubts.I'm about 3 days away from Iran. According to my guidebook, "domestic flights are no longer as ridiculously cheap as they were, but you can still fly from Tehran to Esfahan for only US$17. And in Iran its 5c for a litre of fuel. Basically, this all means that the poorest of the poor use motorised transport. The bike must be 100% before we enter Iran. If Iran has no bikes,then it has no bike mechanics or no bike parts.We get the chain fixed and get a spare. It may be some cheap brand but its the best I could find. I find an internet cafe and book a night in an Iranian hotel along the Caspian sea two weeks from now. And then go on to a website selling bike parts and have a XT Deore chain sent to the hotel. We load the bike back up onto the roof of a bus and continue cycling from where we stopped. The next bus I get on will have an Irish registration plate. And I don't care if it costs US$17 to fly halfway across Iran, "I AIN'T GETTING ON NO PLANE"

DAY 162
Head down, legs turning. We did over 100kms which included getting over a 2200M pass. Chain seems fine.


Aren't they so lovely and playful and innocent. The kids out east are vicious little feckers. When they come running out of the school yard to greet you,its best to stop and play along with them. "Hello, hello, What is your name?, 1,2,3...7,8,9. Otherwise they will peg you with stones. You don't believe me?? Well what's that stuck up the sleeve of the 'little angel' making the army salute on the front left of the photo??


I'm in Dogubayazit, which is pronounced something like"doggy-biscuit", on the doorstep of Iran. Tomorrow I cross the border and say farewell to Turkey. I'm just gone 2 months here and I have to admit it didn't run completly smoothly. The neck cracking antics of the "wannabe physio" in Istanbul and the loss of the bulk of my stuff in Bergama had the trip on its knees. But the neck cracking incident were more a stupid, (but dangerous) prank, rather than an assault. Thankfully the pain has completely eased now, and it no longer affects me. And as for losing my stuff. Well, everyday I go into a supermarket or use a toilet in a cafe or petrol station, I turn my back on my stuff. I can lock my bags to my bike and the bike to a pole, but all someone needs is 30 seconds and a sharp knife and the bags are gone. Its a problem. A solo cyclist, with all their stuff attached to the bike is very vurnable. But the day I lost my stuff in Bergama, I was making it just too easy for a thief. But these 2 bad days in 2 months are not my overridng memory of Turkey.Apart from east of Erzurum, I found Turkey to be a far more modern country than I expected it to be. But once you go east of Erzurum, its like you are entering a different country. The Turkish flag flys everywhere throughout the country, but I barely saw one in the east. Roads detiorate. People live in more basic housing and mud huts are used for storage at the side of the homes. One bizarre thing I noticed was that throughout all of Turkey, it was generally the women who were working in the fields, but in the east everyone seemed to be working the land. Its also a country with a huge military pressence, again espically in the east. El Salvador is about the only place I've been where I've seen more guns. I mean there was even a soldier with a machine gun at the entrance to the church at Meryemana (the home of the Virgin Mary) But Turkey for me, has been about visiting the impressive city of Istanbul with the best of company. Its been Ephesus, the ancient wonder of the world. The 1000km road that follows the black sea and the long hard climb up the mountains to the Iranian border. The daily examples of the goodness of the Turkish people are just too many to mention. The old man who saw me putting up my tent in the rain near a beach and invited me into his home, a truck driver who stopped and pulled a load of notes from his pocket and asked if I was OK for money. He handed me a fiver and just would not accept my refusal. Clare and Receps invitation to their home with food and lodging and a long chat into all hours that helped give me a better understanding of Turkey and its people. There were other invites to peoples homes,but it was either too early in the day or else their english was so bad, its just more comfort to have some time to yourself in the tent. I've often asked people on the street for directions to an internet cafe or restaurant or whatever and people stop what they are doing and actually walk with me to the place I'm looking for. One day on the road, a guy stops his car in front of me ,- asks if I'm having any problems in Turkey. I say "none whatsoever". He says, "well,here's my card. I speak good english. If you ever need any help, you can contact me" And then he continued on about his business. I have been invited into a few of the tea-houses and offered endless amounts of tea. In fact I would say I have only paid for about 1 in every 5 glasses of tea here. Its almost always on the house or someone else offers to pay for it. Literally thousands of friendly hoots of the horn from friendly passing vehicles. Its just a constant positive vibe from the people of Turkey.But this time tomorrow I should be Iran. I'm excited and nervous in equal measures. But at this stage I notice I always seem to get nervous when I cross a border into another country. I'll probably be nervous when I eventually cross back over into my final country, Ireland.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


And so it was time to turn south and away from the Black Sea and begin the 360km hike up to Erzurum. Now when I had left Istanbul this road was still closed due to snow, but (most of) the locals seemed to say it was possible by bike. I was given a great send off from the coastal town of Tirebola. Locals gave me food and vegetables and the old boys in the cay (tea) house examined my map and pointed out the towns I would be passing and rated them between "cold" and "cold,cold,cold,cold". And so most of the next 5 days were spent climbing. It wasn't very steep (never more than 5%) but it was consistent. It was time to put the altimeter to use.

DAY 1- 0M to 322M

It felt good to start climbing. A sense of upcoming adventure. The road to Erzurum had played on my mind long before I had left Ireland and now finally I was here. Straight away the scenery was incredible. The road followed a fast flowing river through densely forested mountains.

DAY 2- 322M to 1250M

The legs were strong and I was eager to get places so today I climbed an altitude higher than sea-level to the summit of Croagh Patrick. The terrain was no longer as green and the snow capped peaks of the coming days came into view

DAY 3- 1250M to 1660M

The temperature had now noticeably dropped. Today we went over the first (1875M) of 2 passes on the road to Erzurum. But the definite highlight of the day was meeting 3 boys from Clare (Paul,Mike and Brian) who were pedalling home from Bangkok. . The last thing you expect to meet coming around a bend in the back end of Eastern Turkey is 3 Irish lads free-wheeling down to the Black Sea. I told them I'll hopefully be landing in Shannon about this time next year and I'll head north for Clare before continuing east for Naas.

DAY 4- 1660M to 1706M (with a pass of 2302M)

Today was a day of serious climbing. We were crossing over one of the biggest passes in Turkey and biking over the highest altitude of the trip so far. Friendly truckers stopped and offered to chuck the bike in the trailer and drive me over the pass. My plan was to pedal all the way (but that didn't stop me from grabbing on to the back of the slow moving trucks to help me along). Generally if they don't want you holding on to the back they'll give either an angry blast from the air horns or else "wag the tail" (steer the cab from left to right, which causes the trailer to shake). One friendly driver of a yellow Scania even stopped for a few minutes to shake my hand, welcome me to Turkey and to give me a chance to put on my jacket and gloves as the temperature was dropping. We were at an altitude now more than twice the height of Ireland's highest mountains. It was seriously cold (ie"cold,cold,cold,cold") and either side of the road was a wall of snow.

DAY 5- 1706M to Erzurum (1950M)

And so we finally made it Erzurum. Today's ride was mostly across a barren steppe landscape similar to the kind of terrain you would expect in Central Asia or Mongolia. I'm presently chilling out against a warm radiator in a cheap hotel in town and I think I'm due a rest day. Tomorrow will be a relaxing day

Monday, April 20, 2009

DAY 153

I've been running along side the Black Sea now since Istanbul. My campsites have included everything from cliff tops to beaches, from forests to hazelnut groves. My "ensuite facilities" have ranged from mountain streams to a dip in the sea. I've had all kinds of dealing with my surrounding wildlife. I've been camped next to toads that croaked till 3am. Another night I had some bird that must have just migrated back from Africa as it was stuck in a different time zone. It sang all night and was getting hoarse come sunrise. Another night I must have camped directly on top of the entrance to a mouse's lair as I had 3 or 4 mice running along the roof of the tent and scratching to get in. I lit the stove up for an hour to clear them off. Another night, I was in a forest between two towns. The evenings' final call to prayer echoed across the forest at about 8.30pm. Then the wolves started howling along to the prayer call and then the dogs started barking at the wolves. The entire hills were full of sound.
And so tonight I'm in a hotel.(my second since Istanbul). All electric goods are being queued up for the plug socket and I've found a handy way of having a wash while also doing the laundry;-get into the shower fully clothed.Scenery wise the Black Sea coastal run has been exceptional. And the people I have met have been the friendliest since Day 1 of GCR (Global-Cycle-Ride). The first half (Istanbul to Sinop) had roads of empty traffic but the difficult 10% hills. The second half (Sinop to Giresun) has been a flat dual-carriageway with a smooth hard shoulder all the way. We've rode across two thirds of Turkey but now its time to step away from the sea, select a low gear and swing right into the mountains. The reason I left Ireland in mid-November was to get to the mountains of east Turkey in time for the winter snow to melt, while also taking into consideration the fact that I want to cross the Central Asian deserts before the peak summer comes. All things considered, we're doing OK on time.


Since leaving Istanbul 12days/1000kms ago, I've been pedalling flat out with the Black Sea on my left hand side as I head east across Turkey. The continual rolling hills at a 10% gradient along the coast has made this leg of the trip the most difficult so far. But the route is packed full of rewards. The roads are generally quiet to traffic (although we dd have 1 roadblock due to a landslide), finding a place to camp is not a problem, there are loads of public wells so its no worries keeping the water bottles topped up and I pass a few towns each day so its easy getting food.But the over riding feature of this leg of the trip is the welcomes from the people. The further east I go, the more welcoming the people seem to be. About 1 in 5 vehicles that pass me,on the smaller roads, give a friendly hoot of the horn. When it first started I was constantly looking over my shoulder, checking to see if my tent or "IRELAND" plate was slipping off the back of the bike. People have walked up to me in supermarkets or an internet cafe and say "Welcome", shake you hand and then continue about their business. One particularly bizarre day, I had 2 people arguing over who was going to pay for my lunch. They both wanted to get the bill. About 2 hours later, I stopped at a bakery to get some bread for the following mornings' breakfast. The baker refused payment. A further 2 hours later, an old man found me putting up my tent and invited me into his home. He set up a bed for me, heated up my prepared dinner and flicked through his TV stations looking for a programme with little or no dialogue. We spent the evening on a couch watching a war movie packed full of gunfire. He had not 1 word of english and the next morning before I left, he prepared a fine breakfast. He wouldn't take any money. He wouldn't even take the bread the baker had given me the previous day.Its the overwhelming goodness of the people that is the main feature of my days now. Turkey is a big country. Its more than 10 times the size of Ireland but tomorrow I'll be passing through the city of Samsun. We're getting places.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


28 year old Toyota Corolla. 1 (unbelievably) careful driver. It should have no problem passing the NCT. First to see will buy. Phone (045) 123456. Naas area

(PS. If you are not famılar wıth Irısh number plates, thıs advertısment probably makes no sense)

DAY 143

Do you notice anything out of place in the photo above????
Well God bless your eyesight if you can see the foot long steel bar sticking out of the road just 4 feet in front of where this photo was taken. Cause I didn't see it when I was flying down this hill and over the handlebars I went for my first (and hopefully last) fall of the trip. I'd say it would have been amazing to see it (rather than actually take part in it) as I slide on down the loose chipping using my back as brakes. But apart from a hell of a surprise and a few scratches, I was fine and back on the bike in a few minutes.

DAY 139

And so after 28 days in Istanbul it was finally time to load up the saddle bags and take the boat across the the Bosporus River and start pedalling stage 2; Istanbul to the Chinese border.The legs have gotten surprisingly lazy after their months rest, and seemed almost on fire as I crawled up the hılls and out of Istanbul. But it felt great to be back cycling and my mind drifted off into the road ahead and the upcoming adventures that awaited me. Stepping from Europe across into Asia is only a short boat ride but the coming months with be filled with excitement and adventure as we step away from the main tourist trail and join up with some of the old 'Silk Roads'. But with the excitement comes some niggling fears. Eastern Turkey has mountains 5 times higher than anything we have in Ireland. Mt Arafat is almost two thirds the height of Everest. The region is home to bears, wolves and the ferocious Kangol sheepdog. Being top of the food chain is always something I have taken for granted.After Turkey we cross into Iran. From my research, the Iranian people are some of the most welcoming, friendly and generous people in the world. In fact its very common for tourists here to look to extend their visas. But when fellow travellers hear I'm going here, I regularly get asked "Is it safe to go there?"I think its as safe as it gets. Yet such consistent questions raise doubts. But what is worrying about Iran is that it does not recognize Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus, Maestro, Laser etc. Basically you have to cross that border with a months worth of cash in your pocket. I don't like that. But that border is nearly 2000kms away and we'll cross that bridge/border when we get there. Finding wi-fi to update this site may also be more difficult to find over the coming months so there might be long periods when the site is not updated.
P.S.-I got stopped by a TV crew today.(photo above) They were interested in my bike ride from Ireland and so they filmed me cycling and asked me a few questions. Apparently I'm on Turkish national TV on saturday night...............

Friday, April 3, 2009


I must admit the last time I was updating this blog, I was pretty sure I would be home before the end of March. But thankfully after a lot of physio and a lot of rest, the neck has relaxed a lot and so tomorrow I plan to leave Istanbul and continue east. It is a great city, but at this stage I cant wait top get moving. Tomorrow I cross over into Asia and begin stage 2; Istanbul to the Chinese border. If the neck remains strong for the first 2 weeks, then chances are it will remain strong for the trip. I cant wait to 'smoke outta town like dust with boots on'. In fact I probably would have headed home, if it wasn't for Vincent from France.
Vincent and his girlfriend, Flore, sold pretty much everything, closed up their physiotherapy business and bought 2 bicycles and all the kit necessary for a cycle around the world. Their plan of no physio for 15 months was abruptly ended when they checked into the same dorm as me in the super Mavi Hostel in Istanbul. Thankfully Vincent has offered to help fix my neck and apart from a few beers and some food, he won't accept payment. The photo above shows Vincent, his girlfriend ,Flore and her sister, Clare. So fingers crossed we will continue east. The sun is beaming down today. When I first arrived in Istanbul, the hostels were much quieter and the weather was colder. Now there are coach loads of tourists everywhere. I'm so keen to leave town and start up this adventure again. Its 1,827kms to the Iranian border and I hope to get there fast. We've got a lot of time to make up. The visas are only valid for so long., and I need to get through the desert and into the mountains in Uzbekistan before mid-June. Watch this space.......