Archive for October, 2008

Talking Turkey

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I crossed into Turkey the other day without incident, except for a slimy border guard on the Georgian side who wanted me to give him my iPod. I said no way, that cost $150! I gave him what was left of a pack of Marlboro cigarettes I had bought in Ashgabat to bribe the Turkmenistan police. He did not seem too happy but he gave me my passport and let me through.

Here is where I am now and my route for the next couple months.

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In Turkey the cold wet weather and mountains continued. My first stop was the town of Kars, and in particular the ancient ruins of the city of Ani.

Ani is a ruined and uninhabited medieval city situated beside the border with Armenia. It was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present day Armenia and eastern Turkey.  Called the “City of 1001 Churches”, it stood on various trade routes and its many religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications were amongst the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world. At the height of its glory, Ani had a population of 100,000 – 200,000 people and was the rival of Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. Renowned for its splendor and magnificence, Ani was at its peak around AD. 1000 and was ruled by Byzantine and Seljuk Turks over the years until destroyed by the Mongols In 1220. The decline of the Silk Road and further destruction by Timur in the 1380s was the death knell for Ani. It was abandoned and never again occupied.

Today it is an erie site. Mostly in ruins but with some 1000 year old churches still standing. With some imagination you can visualize Ani’s former greatness.

One of the churches still standing. This church is over 1000 years old.

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Ani was protected by steep valleys on three sides. Here is one valley. The river separates Turkey from Armenia.

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The remains of a church.

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A few from inside one of the churches.

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Why am I Doing This?

When I left Kars it was raining again and I had a high pass to climb up (2500 m). For three hours I slogged uphill getting soaking wet. I had on every stitch of clothing I had with me–4 layers on top, two pair of pants, a hat and two hoods, gloves, two pair of socks plus plastic bags on my feet. It was 6 deg C out and the wind was fierce. I was not having fun and not for the first time I thought, ‘Ugh, what a dumb idea this cycling thing is.’

I was also wondering where I would spend the night. There were no hotels around so I was looking at the dreaded prospect of camping in the rain while already soaked and freezing.

Just then a truck pulled up along side and the driver asked if I wanted a ride. (He spoke Russian and even my limited Russian is better than my Turkish.) I thought about it for a nanosecond then accepted. He saved my life. We rode together for about four hours which saved me three days and lot of grief. Here is Anil the truck driver.

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When Anil deposited me by the side of the road it had stopped raining and I had dried out my clothes and warmed up. I made my way to the town of Van, on Lake Van. It rained there too so I did not take many photos. But here are a few local residents.

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By the way, these were some of the few women I saw. Turkey seems to be overwhelmingly male, like the dwarfs. I guess all the women are kept at home. As you may know, women occupy a low place in Muslim society.

I rode along Lake Van for a few days. The weather was a little better but it still rained every day.

Some views around Lake Van.

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The road took me over some big mountains. Here is a view of a small mountain village.

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Mountain clouds.

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Man’s Best Friend?

Dogs were again a problem. One time three attacked me simultaneously. My strategy now is to dismount when they approach and prepare my pepper spray and grab a handful of rocks. This usually keeps them at bay until I can ride off. But one time two big dogs came after me. Even with a face full of pepper spray and and hit by rocks they kept coming. So I ran after them yelling and throwing more rocks. I did not realize I was in front of a military post however and seconds later a soldier came towards me dressed in full military fatigues and carrying a machine gun.

I tried to explain about the dogs but he did not speak English. Then another soldier came out, kicked the dog and invited me in for tea. A bit shaken, I accepted. One of the soldiers spoke good English so we had a little conversation for half an hour. Here I am with the Turkish soldiers in the mess hall. I love the guy in the middle–he looks like he is posing for GQ magazine.

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By the way, the above photo is the only one I was allowed to take. I have passed more military posts in Turkey than any other country. These are not necessarily checkpoints, although they did search all my panniers once. They consist of one or more fortified huts by the side of the road, staffed by a couple of soldiers and with an armored vehicle nearby. I pass two or three of these every day. At first I asked if I could take a photo but was refused so many times I gave up. I considered taking one on the sly but decided against it. I did not want to risk getting caught and accused of being a spy. That would make great blog material however.

Instead, here is a photo of a typical armored vehicle I got from the internet.

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Next post, more about the machine gun-toting (and shooting) Turkish soldiers and a visit to the Kurdish stronghold city of Diyarbakir.