We set off in the direction of Nemrut Dagi, with a stop in at Diyarbakir on the way. This town makes claims of having the longest city wall in the world at 6 km, but we know of at least one of 23 km in India and there are probably a dozen more that could beat it in the wall stakes. (An even bolder claim was that this was second only to the Great Wall of China in the wall league premiership).
Anyway, we were definitely back off the tourist route. Diyarbakir, in recent year’s has had somewhat of a reputation for hard line Kurdish uprisings, so if there were once tourists there are none now. The town was unremarkable, the concrete modern buildings were punctuated by the odd old mosque and bit of city wall.
Nooooo, what the…… I looked down at my arm. My forearms were covered in lots of tiny blisters. Had I picked up some form of chicken pox, was I contagious? They weren’t itchy, what was it? In a couple of seconds of panic the brain whirred into action. Then, I was fascinated, the sunburn I had got in Doggy had trapped in the sweat and made lots of tiny capsules. I then got great pleasure in popping them like popping those blisters in bubble wrap. OK, so I am a sad woman.
We rather made a mess of compensating for Turkish/Kurdish generosity. We fancied some cheese and so working on the time honoured theory that the stalls at the back of market are less likely to see outsiders and so not be in the practice of hiking up prices, we wended our way to a rather sumptuous counter at the back. This area of Turkey has a cheese we had grown rather fond of, a feta with pickled garlic leaves mixed in with it. We asked for a little. He gave us more (latterly we thought he had very astutely spied the size of our loaf and correctly estimated sufficient cheese) but he insisted it was free. We wanted to give him something, so we decided to have some olives and make sure we pay for them, but he refused our cash for these, too. It had all gone a bit wrong in our eagerness to pay him, he had ended up giving us more. Was this the Kurdish threat that we should be so worried about; it’s benign, it’s subtle, it’s deadly, they lull you into cholesterol overload and wait for their enemies to keel over with heart attacks.
We also saw for the first time a strange game – we thought it was dominoes to start with but then we noticed a distinct lack of dots and in their place A, 1 to 13 and in 4 colours, this was in fact, a tile form of Rummy. We were invited to sit and watch a game in hand, whilst the participants chain drank tea from from small waisted glasses. I don’t want to bring the tea thing back up again but …as the glasses are so tiddly, it is quite possible that even though the Turks drink more glasses, we drink a larger volume. Whatever.
We had splashed out on a room for the night at 20 Euros with breakfast, but were noticeably shabbily dressed amongst the diners at breakfast. Full of open breakfast, we began loading the bike. Not good news, the back tyre was flat as a pancake. This was the scenario I had been dreading. We’d changed the tyre back in Iran with the intention of getting a decent bit of new rubber in Turkey without knowing that the east of Turkey is rather less developed than all the bits we’d seen on the way through before. I whipped the wheel off and set off with the hotel ‘boy’ to find the local tyre shop. It turned out that the previous patch put on in Iran was leaking at the edge and so this guy put a patch over the patch – not the best course of action but as he put it in his vulcanising press I thought it might come out OK. Meanwhile, the receptionist in the hotel was feeling sorry for me and I was being supplied with chai.
50 kilometres up the road and with a completely flat tyre in the middle of nowhere, I rued the repair strategy. Why didn’t I check around town for a new inner tube? It must have been around this time that I came up with a concept for another long trip – the ‘No regrets’ tour of the world. On this journey, I would never pass up a photo opportunity, I would never miss the chance to buy the perfect souvenir and I would always make the best repair possible rather than take the budget option. There was the glimmer of a silver lining in the cloud, we’d pulled up on the road opposite a quarry where it was possible that there might be a compressor on hand to make tyre repair that bit easier. The God of Travellers was looking after us again.
A half dozen guys were hanging around in the shade of a porch and seemed pleased that we pulled up by them. Out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to break the monotony of greasing the wheels of the rock crusher, a couple of bikers with a flat tyre must have been like a night out at the Palladium. Tea was made (of course) and cheese and bread brought out to fortify the visitors. We struggled to make meaningful conversation, but luckily for us a flat tyre is pretty self explanatory.
As Pat took the wheel off helping hands rallied around finding crates and the like to support Berthette’s haunches. The tyre off it was clear that the inner tube was beyond repair, seemingly weakened by the vulcanising it got in Diyarbakir – a rip had formed along the edge of the patch, even you if managed to repair the rip, you knew another would develop as some as you left their yard.
What to do, what to do…… The guys were muttering amongst themselves. They had the makings of a plan, a lad would hitch to the next town with our wrecked inner tube buy a similar one and hitch back. They sent him off, checking that he knew what size to get. Pragmatically, Pat called after him to get 2 while he was at it. I was dubious that the next little town would have a replacement – this is not the most usual of tyre sizes.
We settled into an afternoon of Pischti with the lads, who seemed unconcerned that we were delaying their work. When we got out some biscuits to share in an effort to repay the chai, bread and cheese, they took it to mean we were still hungry, and brought out halva and more goodies. These guys were Kurdish batmen, or at least they were Kurds from Batman, 20 km away. One knew no English but had gathered that Pat was from Bolton, and sporadically throughout the Pischti game shouted JJ Okocha, (he used to play from Gallataseray or some other Istanbul club)
As the afternoon wore on, the mobile phones came out and they began chivvying along the lad that had been sent to town for us. A guy nipped out and returned with two inner tubes. They could not have done more for us, and it would have been wrong to be ungrateful, but he had got the wrong size, 18 inch rather than 17 inch. What do you say, what do you do? You accept graciously and hope that when you put it back together the tyre would function. We reimbursed them for their outlay, but typically despite the outrageous cost of fuel they would take nothing for their diesel.
As if orchestrated by magic, a truck pulled into the gravel workings equipped with a compressor, just at the point where Pat was giving up hope of getting enough pressure into the tyre to get the bead on the rim. Sorted! Dusk was drawing in. We knew we would be made welcome if we had decided to camp there, we also knew that the guys had already dug into their reserves to feed us, if we stayed we knew they would not permit to feed ourselves and dig deeper into their short supplies, we decided to head on, if only for another 50 km or so, to find a rough camping spot. Berthette reassembled, food was plonked in front of us again, we could not escape their hospitality that easily. It was simple soup and some pasta, but it was a feast, I felt guilty as I ate, that the guys were waiting for their ‘guests’ to have their fill before they ate themselves. I am always humbled by such hospitality, and it is embarrassingly often how the people that have the least spare to share that are the most forthcoming in their generosity. I understand that Islamic traditions in hospitality go one step further than Christian ones, beyond sharing what you have to true altruism, preferring to go without and make sure the guest is well catered for.
We felt it was right to give them a gift for their time and to say thank-you, but what did we have to give them. This is where something like Sjaak’s postcards or Karin and Coen little clogs, that they could give as gifts were such a good idea, the Dutch have all the good ideas. Anyway, this does not help us with the immediate problem of how to show our gratitude. We rattled our brains, and mentally went through the contents of our baggage, was there anything that we had that was remotely resembling a gift and was not so battered that it would be insulting to come up with. All we could think of was our inflatable globe, with our route daubed on it. We had been gradually shedding items in last month, either by our own ineptitude or by design. A pair of kurta pyjama trousers had been lost in the bedding of the first hotel in Yazd. Our 1950′s ‘not so safe’ safety razor which had been amongst my father’s belongings when he died, I had been mortified at absentmindedly leaving behind in Esfahan – I had somehow managed to pack the neat classic, bakelite box and had left the razor on the sink. Now the inflatable world we had carried for 5 year’s that had been given to us as a leaving present from my sister, we were passing on to a new Kurdish home.
As we left we were waved on, and we hoped the ill-fitting inner tube would at least last us till a reasonable sized town. We would see. (As we write this somewhat after the event I can report that the back tyre with the wrong sized inner tube made it all the way home!) Immediately the issue was to find a place to rough camp before the light completely disappeared.
Everywhere we looked that initially seemed a good stop, as our eyes focused in the progressing gloom, a shepherd and their flock seemed to appear. It was getting desperate, we stopped by some walls that we could sneak behind and hide out for the night. Closer inspection they were herding pens, we chose our spot on the basis of the one with just a sprinkling of sheep dropping rather than the ones caked in generation of animal faeces.
It was clear as the light finally faded and that shepherds’ lamps glimmered on the other side of road and their dogs barked at phantoms or the smell of a pair of bikers in the area, we were not alone. The lamp scanned the area like a searchlight. They were checking us out I am sure. We heard gun shot. Best lie low. Was the shot to ward of a predator from their sheep; to ward off us? Should we have heeded the warnings made by others about this Kurdish territory.
The night was fitful and tiring. The tent seemed to be plagued by some kind of minute sheep flies who were happy to use a little human flesh as a alternative banquet. In wakeful moments I eased my discomfort by the satisfying squeezing of another couple of new water blisters that had developed on my arm, from the sunburn. We were finally awoken before dawn by the ding-ding of a bell, that heralded the arrival of a flock of sheep, who along with their human leader tramped around our tent and passed on. I think the shepherd probably thought we were more than a little weird choosing the set up camp on a pile of sheep shit for the night, rather than a threat.
Up and down and we’ve made it round
A check of the tyre, suggested it had at least managed to keep air overnight. On to Nemrut Dagi. Via a ferry that connects two parts of a road that still exist despite the middle section being deliberately flooded to create a reservoir.
Dagi means hill, and this is one those hills that is so steep that it beg for a monument on the top. So millennia back a Roman guy did the necessary, leaving a perfect stop for sunset; giant heads lie enigmatically looking out at all they survey. Sadly the altar is now used as a helipad for those dignitaries who feel it undignified or too much effort to walk.
There was the customary power outage at the simple guest house we were staying at. Unusually, the outage was a wholly internal problem rather than a result of poor supply. What was unusually brutal was the approach to the problem. Just hammer the junction box until something happens, bits of plaster flying off in every direction. Whether coincidentally or by hammer technology the power returned. But for how long……
It is hard to say which route up Nemrut Dagi is the more onerous, the East route is cobbled with chunky basalt, the West is as steep as a steep thing that is exceedingly steep. We opted to go down the steep side and half way managed to cook the brakes, it was an excellent excuse to wait and enjoy the scenery. Beautiful. We wandered around Arsameia another bit of Roman indulgence, and had a lovely chat with the owners of the caff who offered free camping.
Eric, the dog, followed us amiably around the site until some more gullible prospective sponsors came along. Why, Eric you may ask? Something to do with its uncanny likeness to an equally amiable dog in the Watson family.
Our intention had been to drop in for a snap shot of an old Roman bridge on our drive out. But as is the way with these things it managed successfully to elude us. This was made unfortunate because we could have done with something to brighten up an generally dull and hot journey.
As we turned north at a junction 22 km from Gazientep we stopped to pause at the nondescript spot. For us this was a huge landmark. Nearly 5 years before we had gone through Gazientep on our way south to Syria. We were in world terms in spitting distance of completing the circle. This was it in East to West terms we were now into overlap zone. I am sure to the people passing by on the road they wondered what on earth a couple of foreigners thought photo-worthy.
As if to welcome us back the landscape transformed into dramatic alpine scenery. We rose and twisted through glorious forest. We should have taken the opportunity to rough camp in the hills, because as we dropped down the cover became sparse and the wind began to blow through. Dusk was drawing in, we found a spot somewhat reminiscent of our campsite in the Atacama, masked from view of the road by a tump and clearly used by the construction workers who had made the road.
It was a lovely windy road, that passed at one point through a salt marsh, where the storks had utilised the electricity poles for their nests. I am sure that now in the highlands of Turkey the storks have evolved to be artful avoid electrocution, or have insulated feet. This was a welcome distraction from the coolness over the top.
It looked like a bicycle that was coming towards us up the hill, but it looked wrong somehow, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. It was too high, but it was going the right speed. …….A penny farthing……..a guy in a pith helmet. As we passed him, it could only be a Brit. And sure enough, on the frame a Union Jack. We had biscuits to share and a flask of tea. Time for a break.
The wonderfully eccentric Joff Summerfield (some of his pictures and part of his story ) had taken on the beautifully insane challenge to ride a penny farthing around the world. Apparently this has been done before but not since 1884. His only deadline was to make it to NZ for the penny farthing world championships in 18 months. This was his third attempt the first two had been foiled by injuries and an unhelpful scrape with a truck.
He dislikes cities even more than we do, with the traffic lights and suchlike, he ends up pushing more than riding. He has to push down steep hills as well as up! We pondered what own does is the event of a crash. He tells us that according to the ‘Boys Own Manual’ in the 1880s ‘If you know you are going to crash, aim for a large hedge or a fat woman’. Not sure what is wrong with a fat man. With today’s suing culture, lawyers would have a field day with such a situation.
He had a nice little set up with a little trailer out the back of the farthing. He reckoned on travelling about 70 km a day and stopping for the day mid afternoon and trying to stick to a budget of a fiver a day.
He made our trip seem pathetically ordinary. But I worried for him that he was heading to Nemrut Dagi and we knew he would be pushing up and down it. We later heard that had made it, it took him 3 days but he did it….. fair play and the photos are fantastic on his web site . Sadly, the long distances and travelling at altitude in Iran got the better of him and he has since flown to Australia.
It was a lovely interlude in our journey that day, and watching him ride off up the hill, I warmed to know that the flag of British madness still flies strong, with a young man and his pedal-powered stead. We breezed on with ease on Berthette to Goreme in Capadoccia.
Wow…..we have entered a whole new world. Tourists, thousands of ‘em …… from here on home things are going to be very different.
Originally written for Pat and Helen World Tour