Saturday, July 30, 2011

15th July, Crossing from Turkey to Iran at Sero. On to Orumiyeh

Top tip: if you arrive in a town in Iran, and need to ask for directions, find a stall that is selling something you fancy the look of. I was trying to find a money changer that I knew was nearby and asked a guy who happened to be selling all these fantastic cup cakes (Iranian style), he tried to help, but in doing so, when complimented on the fine display, gave me one. Delicious. Alas he could not help, but would not let me leave without a bag of these delights. I had read you had to offer something 3 times here to have it accepted, but alas my numerous offers to pay for them did not succeed.
A few minutes later I stupidly (?) walked  into an iron bar that was sticking out of an awning at head height. It drew blood, although looked worse than it was. Somewhat thrown, I started walking back to the hotel, when a beep from a car heralded a lady holding out a handful of tissues for me. I guess she must have seen it, and so kind.

My experience of Iran within hours of arriving.

I had left the "plush" (don't get me started on the broken aircon, the broken shower etc) Turkish hotel at 6 in the morning to make for the Sero crossing by midday. It was a 150 miles away and all the mixed reports made me want to give it as much time as possible.

The last 4 days had been rather dull from a journal point of view, but I will report that it is amazing how much one can catch up on in 3 or 4 intense and long days. The business is going great, looked after by my fabulous colleagues, and a few of the on going development things are in v good hands now. Our online strategy meeting lasted 5 hours and over 20 new actions, small and large, emerged for the team to get stuck into over the next quarter.

I feel a bit bad about Maarten and Line from Holland, who I had met in Van and who were cycling to China from Holland, because I kept blowing them out for dinner. Sadly the UK and US hours just kept conflicting. Here is a link to their trip.

It was great to be back on the road again. Good though the 'work' days had been, the beginnings of frustration at  Batty's static-ness was beginning to tell. The road from Van was through and over a range of mountains that had the height record broken again at 2700m.

The last 20 miles was on dusty 'about to be tarmaced' road and we emerged at the border post as if we had been through the paint spray shop.

It took an hour and a half going through the crossing. I was so wary of the warning I had had of insurance touts that I ignored any approaches, and suddenly found myself been greeted 'Welcome to Iran' and I was in. Rather painless, but fantastic, fulfilling a long held wish to be here. The trouble was that I had missed the insurance booth to get the mandatory 3rd party insurance for the bike. I thought I would get it in the town I stay in, and crossed my fingers that we would stay safe getting there.
The Garmin maps that I had been given did not have a detailed map of  Orumiyeh on, so finding a hotel was tricky, but ended up in the Reza Hotel.

On the road to Sero, Turkish/Iranian crossing

It will have to be a 2 night stay as tomorrow is Friday (Sabbath) and the insurance offices are closed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Tracking map

I think this is getting closer to what I was after. As yet it only started in Turkey, and I will try and back date it in due course.

I have put it on the 'Route' page/tab

7th/8th/9th/10th July, Dogubayazit and Van

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

I promised the Turkish barber who last cut my hair in London that the next time would be in Turkey. With a week still to go before leaving for Iran, and at Huw's suggestion we both walked into a barber. For the last year or so, and up until the last cut in London, I have been self barbering. Not for any particular reason other than trimming a bit here and there over my ears developed into more ambitious cuts, the acquisition of serrated scissors and before long it seemed to be  pretty straightforward once all the mirrors were properly set up.
 Once duly tidied up we went into the hammam. Huw had been using the hammam as a regular ablution facility to complement his camping life, so this was very normal for him. I have been to 2 before, once in Moscow which was a hugely ornate and entirely naked affair–it was the start of a stag night which ended up with one's clothes back on.   The second had been in Tbilisi, Georgia. this involved a pretty robust, uncomfortable and over familiar massage. so the deal was  to just sweat it  and have a shower. It  was very relaxing and as it was a local (no tourists to speak of) set up, it was only a few quid.

Sorry no photos….

8 July,

Hit the road before nine for a beautiful four hour journey to Van. It involved the highest point of the journey so far at 2600 m. 

It is right in Kurd territory and one can see the life people have here. 

One of the more depressing things that started happening in these eastern parts, is some of the kids (not this delightful lad in the picture) are asking for money, probably not really understanding what they are doing, but it is a new phenomenon and, as in other places around the world where this happens, it compromises the experience. It is apparently much worse if your a cyclist, where stones are thrown at you if you do not stop….perhaps they do know what they're doing. I found this out from Peter and his wife who are staying in the same hotel in Van. Coincidentally I had passed them battling all the way up to the high peak the day before and wish them good luck as Batty did my battling for me. They had cycled from Bavaria on a 4000 km, two months trip that they had just finished.


 Van is quite a big city and I'm staying here for six nights. This is longer than perhaps anticipated, but I wanted to be here with some margin for a quarterly, half day, business meeting that we always have. We conduct it over the Internet using a web conferencing facility. The first three nights are in a modest hotel, the next are in a much plusher affair in the hope that with its plushness comes a robust Internet connection.

 In the morning I walked down to the castle which is on an outcrop of rock by the lake. It is about 3 miles, followed by  a scrambled to the top to see great views. 

Van is a modern place, with a lot of contemporary fashion outlets 
and a lot of development going on.

The Asur  Otel is pretty central and they have let me put Batty in a locked up courtyard. It has allowed me a bit of time to have another fiddle with the clutch. Although not as serious as before it did need looking at before I go to Iran. Fuat Bozbay runs the carpet shop right next to the hotel front door, he and I had started chatting the evening before when a lot of Kurdish protesters had run pass with riot police and water cannon in hot pursuit. He assured me that it wasn't dangerous and relatively common. Yesterday when he saw that I was fiddling around with the bike, he came over and I asked him if he knew of any local mechanics to get some ball bearings etc. He brilliantly did, shutting up his shop and spent two hours with me as we went round a few places getting the bits and pieces that I needed. I tried to buy him a drink, but he would not hear of it  saying that I was a guest. The various shops that I went to with him, also refused any remuneration for their help.  Truly lovely people.

In the evening I popped into the hotel bar for a quick drink (the first in about a week) and met Thomas who runs the UNHCR here. He kindly asked me to join him for a drink later on in a bar and we ended up having quite a night of it. Fascinating hearing the inside story on this volatile area and the struggles that the UN has in its efforts to help displaced people.


There is a street  about a 10 minute walk from the hotel that is known as 'Kahvalti Sokak'  (Breakfast Street).  Famed for the quality and range of morning offerings. It was fun to see and experience this particular unique place, but I get the feeling that it has become a bit of a tourist thing (not that there are many this year from my witness and what I keep hearing from everyone) and my eggs and something were fine, but not special.

I am struggling with ways to show and track the route I have taken on this site, and I am on to a possible solution with, but it is a bit of a code muddle for this code illiterate...any way a few hours of that followed by Thomas kindly taking me  to a delicious kabab joint at a village along the lake for lunch. 

For the next few days I am going to have my head down on work things and wont be very attentive to blog matters, followed by the run through Iran for 2 weeks. Things may have changed, but my understanding is that internet is not very available, so there may just be one up date at the end of the month.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

3rd 4th 5th 6th July, Malatya, Mus and Dogubayazit

View Larger Map

Farewell Goreme

Farewell Jane and John

Off to Malatya in morning. A full days driving and all up high in the Anatolyan mountains and hills, all above 1000 m and up to 1900m. Stunning roads and all dual carriage ways with hardly a car on them. One comes across a lot of road works but that has been the case on every road I have been on here. The investment is staggering, then I heard that the Turkish last quarter economic growth rate was 11%, making it the fastest growing economy in the world. I am going to have a chat with Miranda, who looks after my stocks and shares and see if there are some funds worth looking at. With the proposed entry into the euro and uniquely positioned between East and West, a stable  democratic government (albeit polarizing and slightly non secular), property values set to double over the next 3 years, it would not be a stupid punt.

I have been on the look out for a sheepskin to put on the seat. Apparently it will do wonders for posterior comfort. Not that I suffer much, but any additional luxury has to be good. Anyway the point is that in Malatya, where I stayed, there is a market by the hotel with lots of stalls selling wool, but non appeared to be attached to the fleece (that was quite a feat of sign language) I was offered one, but the shop keeper had been sitting on it for the last 20 years by the look of it and it would have been wrong to have torn them apart, yuck. The qwest goes on.
During this market meanderings, a chap came up and said hello. He was in his 30s I guess and said he had lived in the UK for a few years, in Bristol and Reading, but was sent home when his visa ran out. I asked what he missed most. The women he said, they are the most beautiful in the world. I tried to compliment him on the many Turkish beauties I had seen, but he would not even hear a comparison. That is something I miss too, and only gone a month....

Bit by bit, the further east I've gone it has started to get dryer and dryer, and green a more precious colour on the landscape. The people outside the towns are very rustic, with a great many cattle and donkeys wondering along and across the road.  The trucks are slower, and Batty's overtaking skills are getting practiced on an hourly basis now. There have been no Ferraris in Turkey, and only one in Greece.

Stayed in a very suspect Otel in Mus, the loo stank, which is not a nice thing to clean ones' teeth next to. It is the worst so far, but they have been kind and allowed Batty to stay in the office over night.

Headed for the frontier town of Dogubayazit (seems to be known as Dogbuscuit by some).

Lovely drive and a lot reminiscent of the Highlands (Scotland), but bigger temperature swings.
 A local herdsman and his boys
 A long shot of his tented village...he offered me a bed for the I understood it, but alas it was mid morning and I wanted to push on.
Another local, no regard whatsoever for other road users......

Parked up for a break and photo shoot, when a military patrol stopped and asked me what I was doing. No great issue and a few handshakes and pointing at the map, had them smiling and leaving.
 Just before the law arrived and stopped the next shot...which would have shown a larger brow.
 Nice spot though, worth defending

Most delicious trout for lunch, and prepared at a road side garage restaurant, funny how that can be.

As I head nearer Dogubayazit (MAP) I saw the first sign post for Iran. Although I will not be going there till next week, it is exciting to be this near.

I met Huw in a cafe, where he was supping and advised me the establishment's offerings were good. We got chatting and heard about his 18 month journey around North Africa and around on to Turkey in his Landrover Forward Control 101.

We teamed up in the morning to go and see the Palace of Ishak Pasha near Dogubayazit  that is 4 miles up the hill. Amazing place, with brilliant views, alas hit by Russians and earthquakes I believe and now needs imagination to see it's full glory of yesteryear.

This town is in the shadow of Mount Ararat, Turkey's highest at 5000+ m.
 Noah landed on top of it as well, you may remember.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

2nd July, Cappadocia, Goreme, Turkey

I joined a herd in the shape of a conducted tour, via my guesthouse. It was an all day thing that was to cover much of the areas highlights.
For this lone traveler it was a bit of a shock being pitched in to a minibus with a whole lot of strangers. Cappadocia is a big area and it seemed a good way to see some of the gems. The last group joining the bus in the town, were about 8 Koreans, all babbling away. I was rather nervous that it could be a mistake. I was wrong, they were very charming and spoke excellent English. Hitomi was staying in my Otel and there were a couple of fun Italian girls as well. One thing is for sure, these trips are a great way of meeting people. I will tell the story of the day in as few pics as possible.
The one thing difficult to show is the under ground town. Build over a 1000 years ago to protect the minority Christian groups. About 20-100 people for many centuries lived all there domestic life in these very deep dug out caves. Over 7 storeys deep and hundreds of feet. Now I can do caves, and have even been pot holing, but this was not a thing anyone should do with the slightest twinge of claustrophobia. There were about 10 of us, and probably 200 other trippers at the site as well, they filed us down and down these tiny interconnecting stairwells, that one had to crouch going down and was a bit of a squeeze.  It was fascinating, but I am afraid I was getting very nervy by the time we got to the bottom. I was practicing my 'fear of flying' anxiety busting techniques, i.e squeezing ones' bum cheeks and deep steady breathing, I even started writing some journal up to get my mind off it. Talking of shitting one self, they apparently used clay pots that were bought up daily.
As we climbed back higher it became easier but the idea of living there was incredible. I am not surprised that it was abandoned when the threat stopped.

That evening John and Jane rolled into town and after being introduced to a cool bar by Anna and Claudia from Roma, we all went and supped at the 'Local' restaurant, which served a delicious speciality called a clay pot Kabab. Basically a stew, which they have to break the pottery cooking pot to serve. Grt fun.
The next day was rather relaxed and  we went to a local museum in the morning, had lunch, a potter abound the town, tried to get some sunset shots in the Rose valley then a beer followed by supper again at Local. We all agreed it was the best Turkish food we had had and worth paying a few quid extra.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

30th June& 1st July, Konja and Goreme, Turkey

 Had quite a long drive to Konja, but as ever through exciting roads that tend to be in plains and surrounded by amazing mountains.

Stopped for a sort of lunch break at a lovely town called Egridir, which was by a lake of that name.

The only reason why I stopped at Konja, was because it was six inches away from Pamakkule on my map, 6 inches being about a days travel on the map I have. There was not much in the guide book other than it being a transport hub. In fact it is a main city in the carpet manufacturing industry.
Not having a hotel booked, I headed for the centre and asked Garmin for hotels and there were a few just nearby. I have a budget of about 30-40 Turkish Lira, which is about £11-15. I am not too fussy and as long as it looks clean,  I don't fanny about comparing for one night's stay. Otel Cinar  was on the corner and they had a lovely vivid pink single room, with a pink bed down. Perhaps they offer that room to all single chaps?
When I parked Batty in the adjacent carpark there was another bike, albeit with a cover on, but it was clearly an overlander's bike. The 4 or 5 local guys hanging around the attendant's kiosk came over, drawn by Batty's somewhat unique good looks no doubt, one of them spoke quite good English and when they hear it is diesel the questions started streaming; How fast? How far? Where are you from? How much? Etc. it goes in differing orders and all at once.  They told me that the other bike was  English too.
I came back downstairs after washing 8 hours worth of dust off, to try and find a local supper. Bending down next to Batty was John, as it turned out, taking down this website address from the stickers on the panniers. He and Jane were on the final leg of a RTW  trip, that started in the States. Over  supper and coffee the next morning, I enjoyed their very good company. They imparted so much valuable info, beit how to drive in India, where to stay in Nepal, what to look out for in Cambodia, get a bike cover for India, as well as many lovely stories of their year long travels.
They had met so many other overland bikers on the trip and so much info is willingly handed around like a giant 'pass the parcel' party. I am looking forward to more of these meetings as I go.

Off I went from this enjoyable meeting to the much vaunted Cappidosia (Land of the beautiful horse in Persian, and they are), 5 hours east.
This is a place resulting from a volcanic bang millennia ago, and in amongst the high rolling hills/mountains are some weird natural phenomena that man has put to use over the years. I was heading for Goreme, which is the main central town. As you head down the hill one sees what looks like blobs from a culinary creation, but these are big enough to have houses in them, which they do.

Staying in the comfortable Anatolya Cave Pension and will stay for 3 nights.

Airplanes beginning to use veg oil

Jane Burston sent me a link to a BBC article the other day about KLM starting to use veg oil in their planes, and now I see Thomson are doing the same in the Telegraph

Once the production issues are sorted out, and the consumption has no impact on food needs, this could be an important step towards mass transportation with low carbon emission.

Batty takes to the air...better get quick....