Turkey 3: When the muezzin is calling

Did anybody ever wonder, if muezzins always sing the same lyrics and do they have to use a certain melody? Apparently the lyrics depend a bit on the time of day, but are more or less the same. The melody is mutable and should be as nice as possible. It doesn’t always work out, but most of the time it sounds quite nice. After a few days we got used to it so much, that we are already waiting inwardly for the next prayer session every time – kind of cool, isn’t it?

After we have left Olüdeniz, we follow the coastline to Antalya. The weather is great and we pass many bays with turquoise-blue water. It is the first time we can ride only with t-shirts below our motorcycle jackets. All the days before it has been too cold. We overtake a young couple on a 150cc Honda and they start following us for quite a while. Some kilometers later we have to wait at a traffic light and they stop right next to Miriam. Two happy and curious faces look at us and hand Miriam a mobile phone, while calling “Instagram?”. They ask us to join for an orange juice, so we follow them to a coffee bar. Both are students and they live in Antalya. We have a nice chat and they are very excited about our trip and the motorcycles. Therefore they even call some friends and tell them to come to our place. Unfortunately we have already prebooked an accommodation, since they offer us to stay at their appartment in Antalya for the night. However they want to guide us to our guesthouse. So finally we follow 4 people on 2 motorcycles with highspeed along the coastal road all the way to Kemer, where we say goodbye.

The next day we reach Antalya and I decide, that it might be a good idea, to get our motorcycles serviced. It is the last possibility to find an official Honda service dealer for many thousands of kilometers. We just have arrived at the shop (Honda Ataberk Motosiklet Plaza), as a friendly looking man approaches us and starts talking to us in perfect german. Only a few minutes later, they already start servicing our bikes. They give us preferential treatment, that we are able to continue immediately. At lunch time they even invite us to munch their food. Miriam’s sidestand is still a little bit too long, because of the weight of the luggage. The guy doing the service has noticed the issue and he shortens and welds it on the spot. A little bit later the bikes are packed and look like new again – how amazing is this service, isn’t it? Finally we still have enough time left to ride to Alanya that afternoon before darkness.

Alanya is touristy – or rather insanely touristy. We haven’t seen a region with so many resorts on the whole trip so far. 20km (~13mi) before Antalya you already find one huge resort next to another. We have booked an accomodation in the city centre and we start getting concerned about this decision. Luckily the city centre is not that bad at all. It is still very touristy, but all the massive resorts are actually situated at the suburb. Miri hasn’t booked a room, but a whole appartment by accident. It is still a reasonable price and right next to the beach.

We stay two nights to visit Alanya’s historic centre the next day. The old town is basically a fortress on a hill. A castle situated on the very top is surrounded by beautiful houses, pretty alleys and a massive ancient city wall. You can have a fantastic overview at the castle – and even better – you can watch the shitty “disco-club-pseudo-pirate” sailing boats leaving the marina and drive around the fortress with infernal club sound. Yes – they are here, too. Just not as extravagant as in Olüdeniz, since they are missing water slides.

Most of the restaurants and supermarkets are completely orientated to tourists. They really offer every imaginable crap from all parts of the world – they even sell swedish chewing tobacco (Snus). We try to find one of the local trademan restaurants (Lokanta) between all the viking bars and pirate restaurants. Google maps helps a lot, but we have to walk for 3,5km (2.2mi). It is hidden behind a hospital and the friendly owner warmly welcomes us. They are surpised to see tourists and ask us, how we have found their place. After we have sipped our “dessert” black-tea, we have to promise to return the next morning before we leave. 

No sooner said than done – we go there for breakfast the next morning with all our stuff and continue to ride inland over the mountains towards Göreme afterwards. Northwards of Alanya you don’t have to ride very far anymore to find lots of nature and we are happy to be on the countryside again. Although it was not crowded due to low season, we don’t really want to experience Alanya’s hustle and bustle in high season. The road gets extremely narrow again and turns into a gravel track once in a while. Unfortunately they have many road works at that time and it affects the fantastic scenery while riding through all these beautiful mountain villages.

We pass the timberline again and an icy wind comes up. The sky turns grey and it looks like a thunderstorm is approaching. Miriam and me are not very happy, although the local goat herders, living in their yurts at the back of beyond, don’t seem to be bothered about that. Therefore we start riding much faster and luckily manage to escape the rain while riding down the mountain pass to the anatolian plain.

The next city is Karaman and there is actually not very much to see, except of some of the friendliest people in this country. It is late afternoon and we decide to look for a restaurant to have dinner. As we stop beside the road to check the map, three men start talking to us. One of them speaks russian, another one french and the last one speaks german very well once again, of course. It doesn’t take very long and we know the best place for a dinner.

A few more hundred meters, we stop next to a market and immediately another man appears. He proudly presents us his belgian secondary passport while asking us, if we could speak french. On the other side of the road the owner of a snack bar is waving and wants to invite us for tea. This also looks like a good place for dinner, so we order two Dürüms (wrap with meat), too. A few minutes later an older man passes by and we have a lovely chat in turkish, although we have quite a hard time to understand him. He disappars afterwards to come back with a bunch of chickpeas and offers them to Miriam. It doesn’t take very long and another man starts talking to us. He is living in Hamburg (Germany) and is visiting his family in Karaman. “Certainly you can eat two more Dürüms, because this is the best snack bar in town?” – so he enters the little hut and a few minutes later, we receive two more Dürüms. While we are still sitting there with stuffed cheeks, the man comes out of the snack bar again. He says goodbye and wishes us lots of fun for the rest of our stay in Turkey. “You should have a look at the nearby market before you leave and – by the way – you don’t have to pay for your dinner anymore. I already settled the bill!”.

So we stagger ourselves jam-packed through the market after we have finished our meal. At the first booth the friendly owner offers us immediately some chickpeas, but we have to kindly decline them, since we still feel quite stuffed. 

At the second both, we get our hands filled with cherries without ifs and buts. At the following booths we have to try mulberries and strange looking green and orange balls. After we have explored the market for half an hour, we leave Karaman to find a proper camping spot for the night. Our happenings in Karaman are an extreme example for the turkish hospitality.  However the turkish people are super hospitable in the whole country and things like that are happening everywhere. They invite you for tea, even at the petrol stations. People are happy to see foreigners and offer you little things all the time. Vendors and Tour guides were never really intrusive to us. Obviously they want to sell you something, but we had some very nice chats with some of them, although we had told them immediately we were not interested in their offerings. We actually have never experienced it like that in another country so far.

The next day we arrive in Göreme. You can already notice the gorgeous rock fortress of Uchisar from a distance, but as soon as you ride into the valley to Göreme, you know why this place is an enormous tourist attraction. The small rock spires look like in a fairyland and the countless guesthouses, restaurants and hotels are build unobtrusively into the beautiful landscape.

The weather is rainy the next day. A good chance to visit one of the underground cities. The largest one is Derinkuyu and is part of the tourist day tours. People told us, that it is usually very crowded, so we decide to go to the smaller Kaymakli instead. However it was quite crowded, too. Some locals explain, that season in Göreme is all the year round and a low season, like in many other regions, doesn’t really exist at this place.

We don’t want to join a guided tour and it also turns out to be a good decision for us. The groups are huge and stand penned up in these little chambers to listen to the guides. They all stay in the illuminated zones, but you can also explore some tunnels in absolute darkness. Luckily we have brought our headlamps and it is lots of fun to creep through these areas.

When we return to the surface, Miriam is the only person completely filthy – what a surprise? The other tourists are wondering about that, too. At least it doesn’t rain at the moment, so I bolt back to our hotel with my dusty “child”.

Miriam wants to explore the region by offroading, so we take our motorcycles to explore the valleys. That’s basically what all the people do here. They are either on motorcycles, horses or quads – you hardly see anybody hiking. You can visit different valleys with interesting rock formations, a few rock-cut cities and the rock fortress in Uchisar. However, the most popular thing to do in Göreme is a hot air balloon ride. This is why you often can find photos of Göreme, where dozens of balloons are pictured. The weather in this region hasn’t been very great for a few days and the hot air balloons couldn’t start for the last 4 days. So on the 5th day we suddenly have an especially large number of balloons in the morning. We are actually quite surprised about the quantity, since one balloon is suitable for at least 6 persons, the largest ones can even take 24 persons, and the prices for tickets start at ~150$.

As we are about to leave the next day, it starts raining heavily once again. The weather forecast for the black sea coast doesn’t look very promising and the hotel prices are three times higher than anywhere else. We finally decide to continue to Georgia because of that.

After another camping night in the mountains, we take a pass route from Bayburt towards the black sea – the notorious D915. It doesn’t take very long and the route turns into a tiny gravel road. The whole region would be brilliant for motorcycle riding, but we are driving right into another thunderstorm. We reach the highest point of the pass at around 2300m and even end up in snow. We don’t feel very comfortable, since we have to ride in thick fog, the road is potholed, it is raining and we are surrounded by muddy snow. Great – who said “Turkey is a warm country?”.

Luckily on the other side of the pass, it starts getting warmer and we feel comfortable again. We have to take a detour, because the main road is blocked with snow. Our schedule speed isn’t very fast due to the slimy road running next to a gaping abyss in some places. We don’t see a single person on the route – probably because the road is impassable with normal vehicles at this time. Many beautiful serpentines later, we reach a small village and have a snack in a small restaurant. The locals there are very friendly and we shake a lot of hands, while they wish us luck.

A few kilometers later we have reached the black sea and it is not very far to the georgian border anymore. Even the sun comes out and we can get rid of our rain gear. It is very busy at the border and we face a long queue of vehicles. A lot of them miss their bumper bars and busses sometimes half of the front. Obviously this isn’t a big deal, since you can still enter the bus at the rear end. We start waiting in the queue until all the people tell us to drive past. Motorcycle riders don’t have to line up, so we reach the border very quickly and are still well in time. The officers start stamping our documents and we are almost finished yet, as they suddenly send us to a “moto control”. What the heck is that? They tell us the “system” has decided, that one of our motorcycles has to be checked. Unfortunately the x-ray station is 25km to the opposite direction.

Since the officers prefer to spend the waiting time with Miriam, I have to bring my bike to the inspection, although the “system” has actually chosen her motorcycle. I am the only motorcycle rider at that place and I have to wait there surrounded by busses and huge trucks. In the meanwhile Miriam is munching cookies, cake, tea and coffee.

As they finally order me to remove my luggage, I ask them what they are actually checking for. “All sorts of contraband goods!” – “ok, and why is nobody checking my luggage?” – “Nobody hasn’t checked your luggage yet?” – “no” – “Usually somebody should have checked it!”. The discussion ends after that, because the officer has to work. He doesn’t seem to be interested in my panniers either, since his job is to x-ray vehicles and not checking lugagge. More than an hour later I am finally allowed to ride back to the frontier, to pick up my well-fed wife and continue to Georgia.

At the georgian side we have some little trouble with Miriam’s secondary passport. The officer has never seen before, that people can have two legal passports at the same time. After we have sorted out this issue, we also have to buy a motorcycle insurance. Although we have asked for 30 days, Miriam’s insurance is only valid for 15 days. So I try to tell the young guy, that he has to change it. He replies, that this is not possible in his computer system. For any reason, it is also not possible to buy an additional insurance for 15 days, starting at the date when the other one expires. He returns some money instead and says repeatedly “no problem”, while we are leaving the office. We continue to ride the last kilometers to Batumi. In the meantime it has turned completely dark, of course.

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