Having finished typing our blog, Abby and I were free to explore the region a bit further. We began with a visit to the Red Beach. According to Theo, Natasa's father, it was even better than Matala beach. And indeed, apart from the nude swimmers, the water was clearer and the view was interesting. But getting there wasn't so easy. We had to climb over a rocky hill that proved quite steep and slippery and then descends towards the beach. By the time we reached the sand, we were hot and sweaty so we rushed into the waves and just floated on our back until sunset.
When we returned, Theo had finally hanged his two hammocks to the trees in the garden. He was talking about it since three days but hadn't not come around to do it. So we tested the installation for him and congratulated him for his achievement, indeed, these hammocks were very pleasant, at least as long as mosquitoes weren't spoiling the fun. We celebrated the event by emptying a bottle of Raki that night. Natasa was shocked by my insinuations that perhaps she had been drinking too much that evening and pointed out the fact that there was no glass in front of her on the table... she had been gulping the raki straight from the bottle!
By now, everybody in town addressed me as "Captain". Having found a white sailor cap and wearing a matching white skirt made me look like a bearded version of Corto Maltese, I was very proud of my look and, vainly, didn't mind that little show of fake respect from the locals.However, Abby decided that I looked more like a pipe-less version of a spinach deprived Popeye... girls just can't take anything seriously! Nevertheless, that was going to be my new look for a while, at least as long as we were going to hang around coastlines.
How could Matala keep so well the spirit of freedom and the laid back atmosphere of the 60's? That was rather intriguing. As we sat at the terrace of a restaurant on the psychedelically painted main square, I spied on the old men who were sitting on benches nearby. They had seen the whole scene and I wished I could speak Greek and share their golden memories. One of them was obviously still nurturing his dreams of peace and love. He had kept the style, his long hair was now completely white. The washed up colours of his clothes as well as the way he walked had a pronounced "freak" touch to them. I imagined an aged Janis Joplin giving him a lift on-board her 1965 Porsche cabriolet. In my teens, I had been wanting these people, their ideas and philosophy to rule the world so badly, I had bet on them with all my young soul and I had pushed away all the other values that my boring grey-ish hometown promoted. I wanted to go on their traces, searching for sun, life, love, adventures, encounters with new cultures, I was holding on, reading their travelling tales, listening to the music, embracing the revolution and its lyrics, watching the films, learning in books everything there was to know about the drugs, polishing my style and fluffing my hair. I was preparing myself for the ultimate departure. I was too late to hitchhike my way into a VW van departing for Afghanistan but would I have left without that generation? My own trips took me to the same places anyway, the Isle of Wight, Goa, Manali, Kathmandu, the Golden Triangle, Bali, Paradise Valley, Matala... I bet somethings gonna take me to Woodstock one day for a reason or another.
Having recorded the next radio program for Pierre in Hong Kong, it was now time to visit the highlight of the region: the Minoan palace of Phaistos. We didn't spot any more labyrinths nor Minotaurs there than in Knossos. Minos's wife giving birth to an half-bull, half-human baby after cheating on her husband with Poseidon's white bull and the help of Daedalus's hollow wooden cow, was probably just a legend. However, we admired the vivid imagination of the ancient Cretans when it comes to wet dream inducing bedtime stories!
Built at the same period of time, the place looked very much like the palace of Knossos, a big set of ruins. Some buildings had been restored with bright red columns but most of the frescoes were just mere reproductions. However, it wasn't as crowded with tourists as Knossos had been and with the Messara plain on one side and the Ida mountains on the other, the panorama around was quite a treat.
We took a nice ride on countryside roads and tracks, crossing tiny Greek villages and leading to a small lake in Zaros. The lake was full of trouts and a few ducks were resting in the shadow of bushes along the shore. There were no tourists there and we enjoyed a quiet afternoon walking around the lake and cooling down with some ice-coffee.
We spent our last evening at the "Hakuna Matata" restaurant listening to some live music and having laughs with Dimitri. Matala, like Zagora, Mirleft, Chefchaouen and so many other small paradises, was a hard place to leave. We had met so many good people there. We'll miss all of them.
Dimitri had advised us to visit Myrtos, another small town along the sea, further East. So we decided to ride there, using small roads, but it wasn't half as good. The little town was pretty and the beach was almost empty but it really didn't have much activity and we soon had walked all around the place. So we packed up early in the morning and carried on towards the East coast of Crete. Again, we took the smallest roads and followed the coast, as much as possible, up to Cape Sideros at the furthest North-
East point of the island, slowly trading the waters of the Lybian sea for the Aegean floods. We weren't allowed to ride to the tip of the peninsula as it was military ground, not too surprisingly. We tried another neighbouring Cape with the same fate. Then we rode all the way back down to Sitia through curvy little roads and finally arrived in Agios Nikolaos not long before sunset.
That had been a pretty long and hot ride but it was so beautiful and exciting with all those curves in the mountains along the blue sea, that we didn't feel tired until we reached our bedroom in an hotel located a short walk away from the harbour. It was a relief to slip out of our sticky protection gear and boots. We were hungry and thirsty but first, we needed a good shower. We found a restaurant near the port and ordered a gargantuan dinner and some Mythos, the local Greek beer, before going to see the sail boats floating in the harbour. Two huge catamarans were anchored and, looking at their large inviting living rooms, we began dreaming of going on our next trip by boat. It beats mobile homes. We could probably load a couple of bikes on the deck, perhaps even a jet ski... Mythos, good beer!
As we passed near a boat named "Freedom", in a repair shipyard, I was wondering how far off "normality" this past year "off leach" had already taken us. That in itself wasn't much of a problem as how to return to it. Going back to routine after an exciting change like this was like going against progress. How could the little us go against the laws of evolution? It's a Darwin thing, we just wouldn't be able to pretend it didn't happen. I mean, who ever winded back to sticks after Zippo was invented? Apart from Oscar winning French films, who ever went back to black & white after experiencing HD, claiming they were good colours too? Except for Catholic nuns, who ever claimed to prefer candles to light bulbs? There was no turning back, we couldn't possibly crash that bad after getting so high. Nature just wouldn't allow it.
I would tell myself anything to prevent those thoughts from reaching me... I had lived through some of those gloomy "home" returns before and it was seriously depressing.
Agios Nikolaos proved to be a very charming place to visit by foot with restaurants and bars around its famous Lake Voulismeni and along its sunny waterfront. There were quite a few tourists near the small beaches but not too many, just like in most places we had visited so far... obviously this summer wouldn't see Greece out of its financial difficulties more than it did last year.
Our last trip from Agios Nikolaos to Heraklion offered some stunning views again. We climbed up some mountains and stopped near some old white windmills that looked down into the valley, leading our eyes towards the sea at the horizon. Riding around Crete had been a treat all the way, a hot but sweet one. It sometimes looked very much like Morocco with all the dry hills and rare vegetation.
In Morocco one day, we had received a email via Horizon Unlimited from a member called Mehmet. He was also a member of the Istanbul Motosiklet Club and he wanted to know what was the best way for his mates to ride their bikes into China. I had linked him to Geoff and Angus at the MX club in Hong Kong so as to get him the freshest info but, having failed at achieving the same goal ourselves, Abby and I weren't very optimistic. However Mehmet seemed to be a nice chap and had since followed us throughout our journey, sometimes adding a kind comment to our entries in Facebook and Multiply.
As we returned to our room in Heraklion, I received a mail from Mehmet. Since he knew that we were soon going to Turkey, he assured us that it would be the highlight of our whole journey. He could send us maps and leaflets about the places and hidden secrets in Turkey that we shouldn't miss. All we had to do was to tell him in which port we would most likely be landing. Coming from Rhodos, our next destination, that probably would be Marmaris. Mehmet said that, his wife being working at the Post Office, he would arrange for a parcel to be sent at Marmaris Post Restante. That was very kind and sounded interesting so we gratefully accepted his helpful offer.
Heraklion wasn't as pretty as Agios Nikolaos and somehow looked more hurt by the Greek crisis than any other places we had visited in Crete. The majority of the outlets had ran out of business and the streets were a long display of empty shop windows. The bars and restaurants were almost empty of customers, the main motorcycle shop had just a second hand scooter on display in a large room, it looked pretty bad but there were scores of fishermen at the pier solving their nets and selling sea sponges as if Poseidon would always be there for Crete if Athena failed at her job.
Our ferry to Rhodos was a few hours late and, as we waited patiently in the heat at the pier, we rejoiced at the idea that we would arrive at breakfast time rather than in the middle of the night. And indeed, riding the Transalp in the fresh air through the empty streets of sleepy Rhodos and along the seashore, that next morning, was quite a pleasant introduction to the island. Two days later, the riot police in Heraklion took to the streets to fight against demonstrators.
Rhodos, first, looked a bit more touristic than we had expected but, as we visited the medieval city, we found scores of tiny old streets, enjoying the fact that the old houses still sheltered a large amount of the population. We enjoyed losing our way among these beautiful and typical paths. Being very close to Turkey, Rhodos has several mosques and a few coffee shops provide comfortable sofas outside where one could smoke water pipe, just like in Spanish Granada. Our trip was a long journey along a not so virtual line between Islam and Christianity, right where the two melted. History had seen all these places belong to both religions. Each civilisation had built reminders of its presence and places to worship it. They had carved their culture into the stones and the customs of locals. A certain tolerance could only naturally result of these two influences. It felt refreshing and hopeful. These lands had seen so many occupants since it raised from the floods thanks to Poseidon. We even stumbled across an ancient Jewish quarter and as we visited the Kahal Shalom synagogue and its adjacent museum, we learnt that the now departed Jews who lived there until WW2, mostly came from Spanish Andalucia. It was interesting to build a link between the Jewish house we had visited in Cordoba and what we discovered now. These days, Jewish families come from United-States to visit the graves of their ancestors... a long journey through time.
We took a ride to Rhodos acropolis and were about the only visitors as the temperature was quite high. The archaeological site was interesting and well preserved but we didn't resist the sun for very long and rode back to the fresher coastline before getting too roasted.
The port of Rhodos was busy with incredibly luxurious yachts. On board, people seemed to be good at ignoring life on Earth. They ate, played cards, were busy with their repair or their cleaning and I thought that, perhaps, the world was smaller on boats than on motorbikes... I liked rails and roads, I wanted to cross villages and see the land between cities. Ships could well be just like planes when only destinations count or was I just thirsty for a Mythos?
Since there was only one ferry per week to Turkish Marmaris, we decided to explore the island a little bit further so we rode along the West coast to Butterflies Valley and to middle-age castles like Monolithos and Kritinia. The beautiful sunny mountain roads were almost empty of traffic and the blue sea was never very far. We travelled, slowly, peacefully , for the whole day, stopping for some pictures of the most attractive sites or for an ice cream after a fuel refill, in the garden of almost deserted petrol stations. By the time we reached Katavia, in the South of the island, the sun was getting down and it was time to search for a place to spend the night. We rode faster towards the East and back up North, along the sea, up to Metamorphoseos but we couldn't spot any hotel on the way.
In the end, we crossed a very small town named Kiotari Notia Rodou and saw a sign to the "Il Ponte Taverna" that seemed to have some rooms for rent. One of the few rooms available was vacant for three or four days, the restaurant and the garden looked very pleasant and the beach was on the other side of the road. There even was a car park on the side for the Transalp. Augustinos welcomed us warmly and Constantinos, his brother and cook, showed us the menu of the restaurant. Moreover, we weren't very far from Lindos, which acropolis we wanted to visit, so we decided to unload the bike and get a tan for a few days.
The temperature was so high that walking bare foot on the sand proved quite impossible and staying out of the water was only good for the time it took to dry up. So we experienced what the GoPro cam could do underwater and were quite pleased with the results although there weren't many fishes we could film, one to be honest.
Missing our Transalp but not too eager to go and roast on the roads, we rented a jet ski instead and Abby had her first experience at sea speeding (well... only 80km/h) which she found quite fun.
Every evening when we returned to the restaurant, we were treated with an excellent dinner prepared by Constantinos and some pretty good wine served by Augustinos who entertained us and made us laugh with his stories. We would have gladly retired right there, forever.
We did visit Lindos but found it invaded with tourists. The sights from the top of the acropolis were superb however.
Before we knew it, it was time for us to get out of early retirement and head back to Rhodos city. We had to get our ferry tickets to Turkey.
We found a nice room near the old walled city, booked our tickets to Marmaris for the next day morning, took a night walk in the medieval streets and sat in a quiet garden restaurant for dinner... in the end, travelling the world on a motorcycle was just as hard as one made it. I looked at Abby. I felt good to be with her. We were living the best days of our lives. Because of us being together, this journey was the coolest each of us had ever done so far. The harmony we had built between us was a sort of precious and warm cocoon. We felt as if we were travelling on a flying carpet, called Transalp, that took us around the nicest places on Earth.
The next day morning, we woke up early and left our hotel to go to the port before anyone was in the streets. We waited for the counters to open as other travellers started gathering. We weren't feeling totally comfortable. Riding a fully loaded motorcycle around isn't something one should do without being properly insured and... we weren't... not anymore.
We had begun our trip with an excess of insurances. Before our departure from Hong Kong, I had purchased online a three months green card insurance from Knopftour which validity, somehow, was denied by the Post Office lady in England when it had come to tax the Transalp for UK. So we had purchased another one which was valid for a year.
Then we arrived in Morocco, a country which didn't recognise green cards. We had therefore re insured our bike at the border, yes, a third one! Since we had travelled in and out of Morocco for a while, that didn't matter much, we needed a green card anyway. But by the time we had reached Crete, the validity of our English insurance was running slim. In fact, as we checked our British insurance papers we were surprised to spot a mistake in the dates. We had purchased a one year insurance in mid-July 2010 but the expiry date somehow was written for the 30th of March 2011. We wondered if we had been covered at all since then! I guess we should have checked earlier but if we can't count on British administration anymore, where was the world going!?
We had planned to reach Turkey before mid-July 2011 but in the end, we couldn't resist the good life in Matala and had stayed two weeks instead of two days. Our insurance had expired two weeks earlier and we were still in Europe. We were reluctant to purchase another one year of green card for just two weeks because we were going to leave Europe and would have to buy a Turkish insurance at the border, just like in Morocco. Then we would probably ship the bike back to Hong Kong or, if not, we would buy an insurance for Europe when we would exit Turkey.
We had tried to get a temporary insurance as we entered Rhodos but none of the companies we called accepted to insure a bike registered in UK. We clearly stood in a niche unexploited by insurance companies. Long time travellers who change countries all the time on their overloaded motorcycles are probably not considered as a very safe source of profit.
Riding around Crete and Rhodos without any insurance for two weeks had taken a certain amount of confidence on my throttle twisting but Greek drivers were a kind bunch, as they saw us coming behind, they would enter the emergency lane on the side to leave enough room for us to pass them without riding across the middle of the road. The driving was relax and safe and, so far, Greece, apart from Athens, won the gold medal when it came to traffic. Still.
Anyway, the fact was that after having sometimes been covered by three distinct insurances, we had none as we prepared to board on our weekly ship to Marmaris and we just prayed that everything would go smoothly.
Everything went alright but the guy behind the counter warned us that Alan's procuration letter would need to be translated in Turkish or they might not let us in. It sounded weird to us. After all, the Moroccan custom officers had never had such a requirement, why would the Turkish authorities have so much trouble understanding English anyway? Let's try our luck. We could always return to Rhodos if things turned too fishy. A German biker next to us said that his girlfriend was Turkish and, should we need it, she could translate anything in Turkish. There we go, no worries!
The trip out of Rhodos port and to Turkey was one of the nicest one we had experienced so far. There were so many islands and creeks and beaches and small villages on lonely floating hills, it made us dream of sailing again. How cool would it be to just go from one island to the other, turning around each of them in search for the most beautiful spots!? Before we knew it, we had entered into the port of Marmaris. Lots of superb blue sailing boats were entering with us. The city looked white, sunny and hot.
The amount of vessels anchored in front of it was just amazing.
We disembarked on our Transalp and parked in the custom area, under a scorching sun. Then we queued up, with all the other driving visitors, in the fresher corridor of a custom building, in front of the door of an office dedicated to vehicles clearance. When our turn arrived, we were surprised that none of the officers inside could speak a word of English but felt uneasy when the one in charge of our case began addressing us in Turkish with a tone that meant trouble.
"Hold on a sec, Mate!" I said to him, "I'm gonna get help."
I went back to the corridor to borrow the German rider's girlfriend. She kindly accompanied me back inside the office and told us what the problem was.
Where was our procuration letter and its translation?
We had no translation sorry. Could she translate it for us? It was a short one.
Nope, the translator must be official.
Had they got one around?
Nope, we had to go to town to find one.
How did we get there without our vehicle?
The officer was going to make a call, someone would drive Abby to the official translator.
What about the insurance?
She could get one in town too.
Right, OK, it all sounded quite reasonable, if a little clumsy, to us. As long as there was a solution for us to get in, that would do the trick and we would be able to ride safely with a proper insurance again.
One hour later, Abby was back with both documents in order and we were allowed in Turkey with no further delay and lots of "welcome to our country! Enjoy your trip!"
At first, happy as I was to have us freshly insured, I was tempted to pull a little harder on the throttle than I had done for the past two weeks but then Abby told me that it wasn't good enough of a reason so I took it a bit easier and we arrived in Marmaris in one piece. We booked in our hotel and immediately set off to find the General Post Office where Mehmet's parcel was awaiting us.
It wasn't very far but no one knew anything about any parcel. We stepped into the director's office and politely requested her assistance. She was a nice lady and after a few phone calls, she was able to spot it in another post office and told us how to get to it.
That gave us the opportunity to walk along the port which was full of boats on one side and filled with hotels and restaurants on the other. There was nothing really new or particularly Turkish to it. We found the Post Office and our parcel in which we discovered a set of maps of Turkey, guide books and most importantly Mehmet's notes. He had taken the time to circle more than a dozen spots on the map and had listed them on a piece of paper, so as to draw a whole circuit through his country, all the way up to Istanbul. That was really cool and, not knowing much about Turkey anyway, it was exactly what we needed. We could just pop to the first spot and see how it went. What came first on the list? Bodrum? Hmm... I had never heard of any Bodrum in my life and neither had Abby. We checked the guide book Mehmet had placed in our parcel and what we found there sounded definitely as a good enough excuse for a little ride up North-West, along the coast of the Aegean Sea.
After visiting the old city and the castle, we finally sat down for a hookah and a mojito on the outdoor couches of a coffee shop, eager to learn what "Turkish delights" really stood for.
The next day, we rode to Bodrum and pretty much, it was our first try at Turkish landscape and roads. The behaviour of the traffic and the condition of the tarmac felt new to me. The general driving style was rather more aggressive than it had ever been in Greece and the textures of the roads changed all the time. In some spots, the sun had melted the tar which had formed small waves in the middle of the way. At some other time, the gravel was hardly held by any tar at all. Long portions of road had still to be covered and looked just like pistes in South Morocco. Trucks had left oil on their way uphill and cars always seemed to want to race me. I was very glad we were now insured, something was telling me that we might need it! So, more than anywhere else we had been, the landscape had to wait because I had to concentrate on my riding first.
Bodrum was a pretty touristic city but we preferred it to Marmaris because it offered lots of interesting spots aside of the beach. After our breakfast in the garden of our hotel, we took a walk along the sea and all the way up to some old round white wind mills standing on top of an extremely windy hill at the tip of a small peninsula. On one side was Bodrum, on the other was Gümbet, two ports, two tourist resorts, on both sides of a thin peninsula. On our way back, we climbed up to the last row of a Roman amphitheatre and were rewarded with a splendid view over the whole bay. People really knew how to build cool places in the ol' time, I mean even if the show was boring, one could still watch the big blue one at the back, up to the horizon.
We hanged around in the old city while going down back to the beach streets. Since it was time for dinner, we decided to let the owner of the restaurant introduce us to Turkish traditional family food. We ended up with lots of dishes on our table. It was a delicious mixture of stuffed eggplants with bechamel sauce, stuffed mushrooms, yogurt, kebabs and various food with no name on it but great taste on the tongue. Completely satisfied, we went to a beach coffee shop to digest quietly in bean bags while smoking a hookah and sip a mojito next to the water. Ramadan obviously didn't eradicate alcohol in South Turkey, I guess tourism industry came first. And I wasn't feeling sad about it as we peacefully watched the sunset and then the moon rise behind the towers of the Knights of St-John castle as small waves broke a few feet away from ours. Oh yes, Turkey was going to feel good!
Another beautiful ride up North took us to Selçuk, a city only a couple of kilometres away from Ephesus where we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. We booked at a hotel near the only remaining column of the Artemision or temple of Artemis. Since we were now living almost in front of Selçuk archaeological museum, we visited it straight away and we were both surprised and delighted by the quality of the pieces on display. The statue of Artemis was, of course, the highlight of the museum but many other sculptures drove our camera into a frenzy of activity once again.
On the roof terrace of our hotel, above our room, where we had our breakfast, we sat right in front of the Ayasoluk hill, the grand fortress, the Basilica of St-John the Apostle and the Isa Bey Mosque while little doves jumped from a table to another to have their crumbs party.
The muezzin, at the neighbouring mosque, wasn't too loud and the Ramadan didn't prevent our host from smoking a fag with his friends while having afternoon tea. However we soon discovered that Turkey, during the month of Ramadan, kept an old tradition of having drummers bang in the streets at 5:30 in the morning to awake people so that they could eat something before sunrise since they would be fasting until sunset. I wished I had my bass guitar and amplifier with me to play along with those passing drums to see if anyone around would complain about the din in the dark. That would have been fun.
After a brief visit to the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers, a collection of ancient graves and a place of Christian pilgrimage, we rode to Ephesus to finally visit that famous archaeological city, the second largest in the Roman empire. It had been a Greek city at first but the Romans turned it into a prestigious one mostly by building a famous library there. The Library of Celsus was the second largest to the Egyptian one in Alexandria in the ancient times so we hoped we could borrow some books.
Abby and I left the crowds of tourists near the big amphitheatre and the library and walked down to the Church of Mary, the first one ever built. Then, we took some paths on the left and walked through ruins of columns until we reached Harbour road that leads back to the amphitheatre. It took us a couple of hours to visit the entire site. When we saw groups of tourists, we approached them and listened to the comments of their tour guide... hacking information doesn't work just online!
We went all the way up to the Odeon. There, I went on stage while Abby was filming and I declaimed one of the multiple stories of Nasr Eddin Hodja from the Turkish folklore.
I liked the tales of Hodja very much as they display the sort of irreverent and philosophical humour of Don-Quixote or Cyrano. He looks like a bearded Sancho Pensa and rides a donkey. He's called "Hodja" or "Hoca" in Turkey but his folktales could be found as far as in Muslim Uygur China where he's called simply Effendi, a former term of respect in Ottoman Turkish, like "Sir" in Victorian English.
Leaving Ephesus, we rode up to the mountains and shot some pictures of a giant golden sculpture of Virgin Mary by the side of the road, erected by the American Society of Ephesus in 1996. We arrived at the House of Virgin Mary soon after, a site considered as sacred by both Muslims and Christians. Protected and taken away from Palestine, for safety reasons, by the Apostle John, Virgin Mary is supposed to have lived her last days there and died at the age of 64. A tiny stone chapel was built on the spot where her house apparently stood if one trusts the visions of Sister Emmerich, a XIXth century nun who had never even visited the region, let alone on a Transalp.
"Miracles" are said to have occurred at the fountain nearby and the walls, near the taps, were indeed covered with visitors prayers and requests written on small pieces of white folded papers.
The next day, we visited the Isa Bey Mosque and, a few yards away, the Basilica of St-John where we found the Apostle's grave, another place of pilgrimage and legends. On the way back, we stopped at a traditional carpet weaving centre where we were given loads of information about the materials and the meaning of the different designs and enjoyed the display of dozens of magnificent pieces. As usual when it came to choose something, the ones I liked the most were also the most expensive. It was a very convenient set of mind. Since I couldn't afford the decent stuff but wouldn't settle for less, I was saving quite a bit this way. How come that each time we left a carpet salesman, being Moroccan or now Turkish, we always did so with a distinct sense of victory?
This one had used a particularly cunning plan to get us into his cooperative workshop.
We had met him in the street a couple of days before as he was purchasing a few melons from a passing peasant. The mountain of golden fruits in the cart of the farmer looked so bright, I had shot a few pictures of it and ended up chatting with the carpet salesman. Next thing we knew, we had tea at the terrace, a few neighbours had joined in, we had talked about the recent events in the Middle-East, answered a few questions and shared a couple of cigarettes. He had told us how, coming from Istanbul, he much preferred living in the peaceful South and had casually presented himself as the manager of a local carpet weaving school, a government sponsored cooperative aiming at preserving traditional Turkish regional cultures. He wasn't pushy at all, just mentioning that we might be interested to see Turkish carpets in process of being created.
So, naturally, as we passed in front of the "school", we felt alright about getting in. Indeed, the manager introduced us to a weaving "student", while showing us the different steps of processing silk worms cocoons. Then we sat in another larger room where helpers skilfully unrolled and piled up carpets with different traditional regional patterns as the manager pointed their origin on a map. He almost sounded like a professor at the university making an interesting presentation about the art of weaving carpets and kilims in Turkey throughout the ages... while leaving the option of buying a few for ourselves open. Selecting the ones we preferred felt almost like a class activity as the helpers swiftly rerolled the neglected pieces and took them away. In the end, only three carpets were left unfurled at our feet and we were casually invited to guess their value. Strangely, we were wrong about the three of them with my favourite one costing thousands of Euros.
We thanked the manager and his helpers for their kind welcome and the interesting show and left the premises with no particular hard feelings about not having purchased anything and a much better knowledge of carpet culture. Turkey definitely did things in style, even rag sales.
It was Saturday, a market day in Selçuk, so we couldn't resist the temptation of shooting a bunch of pictures of the vivid colours on display, the carefully arranged fruits and vegetables, fresh or dried, the bags full of multiple varieties of nuts and cereals, the pyramids of odoriferous spices, the sweet-smelling mixture of dried petals, rare barks and peels, the soft shades of loukhoums and mysterious candies, the barrels filled with olives of all sizes, textures and tints of green, the shiny bottles of golden olive oil, the delicate veils and transparent embroideries floating in the lukewarm air, the diversity of the costumes and the scarves worn by busy ladies, the lively expressions on everyone's face on both sides of the market stalls. All this was such a feast for the eyes!
Everywhere we looked, there was something attracting our attention, worth a picture, a comment or a scene worth watching. We were greeted by scores of people, invited to take a bite, to have a taste or to snap a photo. Folks seemed quite open in Turkey, very warm, welcoming, simple, Mediterranean, spontaneous and smiling. The general feeling was relax. People were in a good mood and despite being very hard at work, they seemed able to accomplish their duties positively, without stress and with a smile in their eyes.
We took a ride to Sirince. It wasn't very far but the ride in the mountains was cool. Sirince first reminded us of the city of Lindos in Rhodos, not so much for being an ex-Greek village but simply because it looked 100% tourist oriented too. However there were a few differences in the local products. The wine of Sirince is quite famous for example but I doubt if the hand-made woollen socks were truly a local speciality as we saw the same about everywhere. As we left the village, I saw a spotless white Jawa parked on the side. I stopped and Abby took a picture of it while the owner asked me if I wanted to exchange our Transalp. We had been offered to trade it for a white Russian Ural with matching sidecar in Moroccan Tafraoute, a vintage Czechoslovak Jawa was surely more tempting but no, thanks... however I wouldn't mind getting my hands on one of those superb 1953 BMW models we had spotted in front of a restaurant, back in Bodrum.
I was no big fan of Artemis, alias Diana. I mean, the girl was a true pest. She didn't like men. Alright, I was ready to accept that. She had begged her father, Zeus alias Jupiter, to keep her virginity and never have to marry. I was fine with that too. She was a great hunter and stood as the goddess of wild nature and all animals. This, already, sounded a bit contradictory... go figure.
But when she turned Actaeon, another mythic hunter, into a dear and had his own dogs devour him just because he stumbled upon her, in the nude, as she took a bath in a valley of Mount Cithaeron, I thought she really was a mega fascist goddess! And hold on, that wasn't all: while there were some strong suspicions that she was more than involved with the horrific and cold murders of Adonis and Orion, both serious hunting competitors, clear evidence showed that she tricked two other hunters, Otos and Ephialtes, into killing each others.
She was the one behind Agamemnon trying to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia in order to have the winds blow in the correct direction to Troy so as to get back his wife Helen. Alright, she did change Iphigenia into a dear at the last minute but only to turn her into her own sex slave for all eternity... I really wasn't sure if the girl wouldn't have preferred death!
She and Apollo used poisoned arrows to shoot the twelve kids of Amphion dead. He committed suicide as a result while his wife and mother of his children was turned into stone as she wept!
She killed Chione after shooting off her tongue for being loved by both Apollo and Hermes at the same time. She had Aura, another Lesbian, raped for claiming that she, Artemis, was too feminine..! Aura became mad after that and ate her own son.
She tried to hurt Atalanta even though she had saved her from death as an infant, again for having pretended to hunt better.
Artemis was obviously unable to control her extreme feelings. Jealousy and unlimited pride characterised her twisted personality and fuelled her abusive attitude. She was a cold hearted psycho and a remorseless serial killer. Precise mythological sources clearly point at her again when it comes to the case of cute and innocent Callisto, one of her many lovers.
Artemis's dad, Zeus, had appeared to her disguised as his own demented hunting daughter so as to better rape the poor girl. As a result Callisto had become pregnant and delivered a son, Arcas. Artemis, instead of feeling sorry for her abused girlfriend, became enraged at her, not at her dad, and, totally out of her mind, turned her into a bear. She then convinced Arcas to hunt his own mother down. Zeus, perhaps due to a faint feeling of guilt, saved her at the last minute, sending her to the heaven where she became a constellation.
I have no doubt that Artemis was somehow, herself, traumatised by her almighty (and deeply deranged) father but still. What an example to set for all the wild animals she led! No wonder they're now so unapproachable!
She was such a daddy's girl as well! When Hera made her drop and lose her arrows during the Trojan war, Artemis turned into a cry baby and ran to her father for help, tell me about a hero!
In fact, she was all into violence and turning people into prays but when violence came to her, pfuit, no one was there to stand anymore! I think that's what I dislike the most in her.When Julius Ceasar sent Arsinoë, Cleopatra's sister, to the Artemision near Ephesus - THE mega temple of Artemis, a place where no men could ever enter, a sacred sanctuary like no others - for her own safety, did Artemis even lift a finger when, later on, Mark Antony had the poor Egyptian princess executed on the steps of the building?
Nope! She did nothing, not the slightest retaliation for that vile murder! She remained in complete silence, showed a total disdain for the ugly crime, ignored the whole disgusting matter all together while the rest of the Roman empire, scandalised, shook with outrage. May she be forced to have hamburgers for only bush meat during seven generations!
That's why Abby and I had kept the visit of the only remaining standing column of the Artemision for the end, just in case we would still have time for a quick look around... it.
In our view, it was not a good thing to encourage such vain and cruel deities by honouring them with bus loads of curious, icons seeking, tourists. It felt better to simply ignore them and let them sink into shameful oblivion.
But since we had five minutes to waste, we did enter the site. It was bordered with a stinky swamp and that made me laugh at the ex-goddess. "Ha, Artemis" I said in a loud voice, "I can see how you're surrounded by the stench of your multiple victims! May this serve you as an eternal reminder of your evil crimes! Remember Arsinoë whom you didn't help? May the reeking of her roting flesh prevent your criminal nostrils from enjoying a single blooming Spring ever again! Yes we, Modern People, remember you for your unspeakable, and unpunished, crimes and we still consider you with horror! May that sickening smell be the expression of our vomiting consideration and remain on you until you are utterly forgotten by all!"
Next thing I knew, a mosquito, coming from the swamp, plunged its little blood thirsty arrow into the tender flesh of my chubby arm which soon became all swollen and painful... and took four days to get better! That was it! I decided that this definitely was the last time I would ever talk to any disregarded mythological god lings, being Greek, Roman or even Egyptian, for they all had no sense of humour whatsoever.
When the landscape of Pamukkale, near Denizli, unfolded in front of our eyes, Abby and I really felt grateful to Mehmet. Selçuk had already been such a chest full of treasures and it obviously kept on getting better and better. The entire countryside had suddenly turned white as snow. But it wasn't snow, it was a strange kind of carbonate mineral which flowing water had helped spreading all over the entire surface of natural terraces, turning everything white. We had never seen anything quite like that!
The place was very popular among Korean tourists to the point that signs on our hotel walls were written with Korean characters.
As we visited the small town, almost entirely dedicated to tourist industry, we were very tempted to book a paragliding flight to admire the region from the top but the prices cooled down our enthusiasm.
Instead, we went back up and crossed the main road, edged with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Then we took our shoes off and began walking up to the pools, on the smooth white surface of the mineral covered slope which is constantly washed by a shallow stream of lukewarm water.
The day was pretty hot so when we reached the pools, we couldn't help but undress to our undies and immerse in the white water. It wasn't very deep, just under the knee level and the temperature of the water proved very pleasant. The bottom of the pools was covered with a thick layer of soft mineral mud in which our feet deliciously sank.
The cliff, next to us, was chalk white and reflected the sunlight. Once cooled down, I gathered mud underneath my feet and entirely covered myself with it. As it dried in the hot sun, I began looking like some sort of prehistoric ape man with bits of mud falling off my long beard and hair. Tourists stopped in their busy path to take a few pictures of their siblings with me in the background. Some others were pretending nothing but I could see their index finger pressing the trigger. A few asked me for permission. It didn't stop! One lady even stepped into the pool to have her picture taken next to me. I offered her a free hug which she strangely declined. There I stood, popular all of a sudden... under my thick layer of mineral mud.
Refreshed, cleaned and smothered by mineral mud, we sun dried ourselves within five minutes and resumed our walk up to the top of the cliff. Behind the pools stood Hierapolis. Well, "stood" is a slight exaggeration... apart from a few columns and gates.
The necropolis was huge and occupied a large surface of the archaeological site as wealthy old Greeks, Romans and Jews were retiring in Hierapolis to enjoy the thermal pools which they considered as beneficial to their health. Then they usually died and were buried nearby in sumptuous sarcophagi.
By the time we reached the amphitheatre, we were hot and sweaty but I was determined to find the grave of St-Philip. I left Abby in the shadow, walked up a dusty track and found the grave on top of a hill, in an excavation site that was still in progress. I was allowed two pictures by one archaeologist and then I got kicked out by the site manager. So I returned, meeting Abby on the way down.
Our bottle was empty and we were both feeling dehydrated so we ended up paying a fortune for fresh water at the tourist spot, near Cleopatra's pool. I guess her Egyptian majesty had got caught by the heat too and had a bath built for herself. Seeing the price of single bottle, I can imagine how wealthy she was!
We cooled down a little in the diverse rooms of the museum but quickly decided to cut down on sunburns and take refuge back in the pools.
I was fast to cover myself with fresh cool mineral mud again... what a relief!
A young lady next to us, who was bathing with her son and her husband, asked me why I did that and I explained that the mud was good for health, "that's why they built Hierapolis behind" I added. So she proceeded to do the same and then covered her young son with mud as well. Her husband joined in and soon, everyone in the pool was covered with white clay too! Because I had a thick layer on my head, I guess they all assumed that it must have been good for hair so all the men in the pond started pouring mud on their head and face. Even those who were in the water before we stepped in joined in the muddy trend. There are many pools in Pamukkale but ours had become the only one filled with prehistoric bathers. Abby and I were quite amused. In the morning, I had become a curiosity for tourists and now I was promoted to lithotherapy specialist...
"People are strange when you're a stranger,
Faces turn muddy, not yours alone."
The next step in Mehmet's list, named Fethiye, was located in the Antalya region and needed us to ride back South to the Mediterranean sea.
Well, so far Mehmet had given us each time a better surprise and beside, this was going to be our last ride around that dear blue sea. We had joined with it near the Moroccan border with Algeria, in Saïdia, the Blue Pearl, in the extreme North-East. We had travelled the whole way along since. It was like another azure sky always at hand, on our right, almost as if we were cruising half on bike and half on jet ski. I loved the curves on the roads that ran along the cliffs. The sights, downhill, onto small charming creeks, large enough to shelter a couple of white houses and three sailing boats that seemed to float above the ground so clear the water was, were generally making it harder for me to focus on the traffic in front of our wheels.
I felt sad at the idea that this probably was our last ride along its coastline. Who knows when we would be back? I have never felt homesick in my entire life but I had to admit that I felt more home near that sea than any other. Look, I was even getting fat! That was exactly the sort of symptoms that occurred when one felt too much at ease, home. I was handling 200 kg of Transalp plus Abby and all our luggage on a daily basis, for hours. This should have counted as exercising but, instead of turning into a slim, muscular Apollo as I naturally expected, I was unwillingly transformed into some sort of tanned balding Buddha on the verge of having to shamefully change his almost new Dainese protection trousers for something larger in the waist region.
How healthy really was that Mediterranean cuisine I was so attracted to? What was it!? I could swim, I didn't need a lifebelt around my waist!
Abby was gaining weight too but it just added to her charm. As for me, I was beginning to seriously dislike mirrors, a problem that was due to disappear soon enough however, as my eye sight wasn't getting any sharper. Abby had slowly become a full time maps reader as I couldn't see a thing on them without my glasses which, of course, I couldn't find, particularly if I had slid them above my forehead. At the beginning of our journey, I could perfectly read the indications on our GPS like altitude or speed. They had now vanished into a blurry mess of dark melting fluffy sort of worms, useless.
I still shot most of our pictures as Abby guided me through but I could no longer aim using the screen on its back. I needed my glasses for that too. Eventually it came to me that there was less and less pepper in my "salt and pepper" beard. It wasn't bad ageing on the road actually... travelling on two wheels from meridional towns to Mediterranean cities, it could be worst. Perhaps it was even better to indulge in these sorts of trip at the end of youth to embrace it in an even wider way and fully savour the relief of freedom. What we were experiencing felt like what life should be every day. If I was going to be reborn as a vehicle, next life, I would definitely hate those times when I'd be parked or anchored. Being on the move was the thing, that's when it really felt alive.
Fethiye was a rather touristic spot. We found a hotel near the beach that was obviously planned for German families on holiday and then we took a walk along the sea, on a promenade packed with restaurants, terraces and souvenirs shops. It wasn't really our cup of tea so we took some rides around the region instead, starting with some antique rock tombs dug by the Lycians and looking over the entire city, the port and the tiny islands. We rode along the shores of the blue Aegean sea, eventually getting higher and higher on the cliffs where we were met by an incredible beauty. Once up there, we felt good again. We watched the crowd on the beaches, having a tan, swimming, diving, jet skiing, banana boat speeding, kite surfing, paragliding, in short indulging in all sort of seaside activities that can be purchased on the sand all around the world.
Some "typical" camels could be seen every now and then but the only purpose of their presence was to be photographed and mounted for a few minutes by paying foreigners. We were far from those we had seen, hanging around in herds, in the Moroccan desert... some even had Turkish hats on.
The Turkish flag could be seen floating everywhere, some of them as large as a sail. It usually hanged on balconies, above entrance doors, sometimes it would be attached to cars. Greece had shown its fair share of flags as well but not nearly as many as Turkey did. Canadians were pretty keen on doing the same, even on the balcony of Thai beach bungalows, and, of course, Americans probably were the world champs at raising their "Star-Spangled Banner" in their own garden. To me, nationalism was just another sort of religion. When Serge Gainsbourg turned the French national anthem "La Marseillaise", into reggae music, I thought it was a cool idea. Accompanied by Marley's Black musicians, Jewish Gainsbourg was helping bringing some peace and cool into that belligerent French hymn and I could see no "disrespect towards those who had died at the sound of that anthem" in it. Every national song should celebrate peace and cool, it'd be a first obvious step against primitive wars. Are there really any parents proud of their sons and daughters as they sing "Let's slit some throats together!" in choir with their primary school classmates?
The Turkish flag wasn't the only recurring item around. Nazars were everywhere to be seen as well. They're amulets, generally coming in shades of blue and shaped like an eye or a tear. They're supposed to protect against bad luck. The portrait of Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, who died in 1938, was still on display in nearly every shop and office, just like King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Thailand. Turkish tea was being drank everywhere in the same tulip-shaped glasses called "ince belli".
Naturally, the Arabic characters for "Allah" were carved or painted in many locations. The hand of Fatima was less popular than in Morocco but we saw several Turkish versions of it mounted into necklaces and earrings.
We carried on riding along the magnificent coastline, going up all the way until the mountain track suddenly stopped at a tiny village where we found a unique coffee shop with an elevated terrace. We had a drink and refreshed in the shadow while looking at the valley below and at the sea. Small paths between the fruit trees led to isolated houses in the mountain. It all looked very peaceful and remote, until I spotted a desktop and a modem nearby. I used to think that it was people who had invaded the Internet, there were only 250000 of them when I connected the first time but now, up there, it felt as if instead, Internet had swallowed the entire planet.
Kas - Antalya
After a short visit to the Dalyan, near Marmaris, to see the Dalyan Çayi River and the cliffs where Lycian tombs were dug into the rock, we decided to carry on towards Antalya. Our next destination, according to Mehmet's list was called Kas, a small fishing town and, despite being a tourist attraction, one of the best unspoiled spot on the Turkish riviera. As soon as we passed Patara, the ride turned into one of the most beautiful and fun we had ever experienced. The road ran along the blue sea a little bit like the Napoleon road did on the way to Monaco in the South of France. The multiple twists made it exciting to ride and the panorama was even more stunning than in Provence.
After a short police check at the entrance of the city, we quickly found our way to the peninsula and our hotel. The place was brand new, there was a pool outside right in front of the sea and our "room" even had a mezzanine and a kitchenette. Our host, a biker himself, told us how he got fed up with his pet food factory and his life in Istanbul which is why he decided to buy this place instead, not a bad move considering how splendid the environment was and how peaceful it felt. We walked all over the town and checked out its Lycian curiosities before enjoying a cold drink near the port. We took slow sunny walks along the coastal road of peninsula, never having enough of watching the stunning panorama. Boats seemed to float above the bottom of the sea so clear the water was. At one point, the peninsula becomes so narrow, there's only enough room for two beaches, one on each side, and a little road in the middle. This certainly was the most beautiful portion of the Mediterranean coastline we had seen.
We went to visit the archaeological site of Patara, a little town famous for its beach and the place where St-Nicholas was born. That gave us the chance to do that incredible ride along the coast again and to film it for the moody days to come.
A few days later, it was time for us to ride further East to Antalya.
Some king had chosen its location as the paradise on earth after sending his men search the entire planet for it.
The road was pleasant although not as stunning as the previous trip but as we arrived in Antalya, it became obvious that the city had expanded since that king's time. Still, the old town offered a lot of pretty sights with its wooden balconies and tiny streets. The Antalya museum contained interesting archaeological pieces kept in excellent condition but the best was near the edge of the cliff, on the other side of the road where we could contemplate the bay and the bordering mountains. It was a bit too big for my idea of paradise but maybe it was OK for a king.
There were many old buildings and monuments to check out in Antalya. We also enjoyed the cuisine served at the outdoor terraces. It was expensive but really delicious.
We had a chat, one evening, with some folks having dinner next to us and, as we were having Turkish coffee, one of the ladies decided to read our fortune in our cups. Fortunately she didn't detect any major crash coming our way, we left feeling relieved.
The traffic in Antalya was quite dense and a little scary but we soon got off the main roads and headed to Aspendos to see the best kept antique amphitheatre. Shows are still regularly organised there so I had a bit of bombastic fun on stage, testing the sound while Abby was filming. After all the legend has it that the acoustics proved so amazing, the king gave his daughter to the architect as a reward. I wonder if that architect ever got paid for his job?
Perge wasn't far so we paid a visit and were rewarded with yet another Roman city in ruins. Still, the amount of standing marble columns along the main antique street was quite remarkable and was well worth a couple of hours of our time.
According to Mehmet, we should now leave the coast and ride North to Lake Egirdir at an altitude of about 1000m. There we would find a certain "Green Island", linked to the mainland by a narrow path, where there should be many pensions to chose from.
The trip was interesting and beautiful as we left the Mediterranean seafront and climbed up to more mountainous regions. It became spectacular as we approached the mounts that surround the lake. There wasn't always tarmac on the narrow, almost deserted, road and the gravel was a little slippery but the sights above the valleys and their rich vegetation made up for it big time. We refilled the Transalp at the first petrol station as we arrived on the shores of the lake. Upon seeing our British plate number, the boss came out of his boutique to greet us and ask where we came from. Hearing our reply, he declared that he loved Asia and had been many times to Thailand so we threw some "kob kun krab" and "savadikaa" at each others.
We found the island of Yesilada very easily. We rode pass the world's only walk through minaret and next to the castle of Croesus, king of Lydia and carried on up to the end of the peninsula where we reached a little family guest-house named Ali's Pension. We were welcomed by Musa who let us choose our room, facing the lake. We would have breakfast and dinner at the terrace, under an arbour covered with vine. Bunches of grapes, above our heads, were ready to be eaten and we just had to hold out our hands to get dessert. Musa said we could but herself wouldn't because it was Ramadan.
During the month of Ramadan, the people of Egirdir get together in order to organise a big free for all dinner every evening but somehow, we always preferred to stay quietly near the lake and feed the ducks instead. Beer wasn't for sale at the pension but was served at a nearby terrace. I liked that atmosphere of tolerance, it seemed everybody could deal with the rules of the Koran pretty freely in this country, much more than in Morocco. The most religious people wouldn't eat, drink or smoke during the day but didn't bother the less religious members of the community who did. Respect was the only thing that mattered, it felt great.
Following Musa advises, we took a ride along the water to a small village named Barla, during which we were rewarded with splendid sights over the lake. First the village is composed of modern houses where the younger population lives but as we ventured further in, the houses turned to traditional wooden ones where the elder members of the community still lived. I guess that was a way like another to keep problems between generations at bay. I had to park the bike at one point as the track was becoming impassable and we carried on walking down the narrow path to the bottom of the valley, crossing farm yards and small streams on our way, until the whole village was above us, clinging to the side of the mountain.
The next day Musa directed us towards an even greater walk in the Yazili Kanyon preceded by one of our most beautiful rides on little roads through the mountains. As much as Kas had been the most exciting oceanic ride, as much this mountainous one seemed to deserve the gold medal for its rich colourful vegetation and the complex beauty of its layout.
Being in Morocco, France, Crete, Rhodos or Turkey, an altitude of about 1000 meters always seemed to offer the perfect blend of forestry, shades, colours and light. The Yazili Kanyon is part of the 500km St-Paul walk and is located on the 5th Century B.C King's path which used to spread from Ephesus to Babylon.
The path begins at a campsite next to the Göksu River. Dragonflies were everywhere. We parked the bike near the water and soon we started climbing among the rocks and across the stream over a small bridge. On the other side, posted on the rocks, there was a touching text, written by the philosopher Epiktetos and addressed to the traveller, that spoke about freedom and liberal spirit. What a treat and what a change from the usual soda advertisement!
We felt definitely at home in this deeply historical country. No nonsense, the heart always seemed to talk first... the Mediterranean spirit at its best, we were falling in love with the atmosphere.
After the text, the walk became tough. We passed rapids and small waterfalls, we crawled on large rocks, caught some roots to avoid slipping, passed under scary tunnels that looked just about to crumble down and ended up, soaked and sweaty, right in front of a gigantic cliff that needed more than a good pair of walking shoes to tame safely.
On the way back we took a rest on the rocks near a waterfall and played with a river crab that wasn't prepared to let us invade its territory without a fight. Then, back on the saddle, we decided to ride and get lost in the mountains until the lowering sun would give us the signal to turn our GPS on and let it lead us back to Ali's Pension. Again, the whole ride was a real pleasure for the senses while the multiple hairpins kept it fun too.
Antalya might have been a king's idea of paradise on Earth but to us, common mortals, Kas and Egirdir were far closer to our idea of heaven with its natural beauty, its simple living and its cheerful people. We wished that, after a whole lifetime of travelling of course, we could finally retire in South Turkey, it'd be perfect.
Mehmet had to be a really cool guy. I mean, what else did he have up his sleeve? Following his list seemed to be getting us in better and better places all the time!
Konya, the second largest Turkish city after Istanbul was next so, as reluctant and sad as we were to leave Musa, her cool pension and her lovely family behind, we refilled the tank a last time at the station of the Thai speaking petrol dealer and hit the road towards the East, passed Lake Beysehir, about three hours away.
We were riding on a sort of plateau when Konya suddenly appeared at our wheels. Its size was impressive. The city seemed to spread as far to the horizon on the right as on the left. As we entered the town, we soon drove by a mosque. It was probably prayer time as the muezzin was chanting. Almost immediately, we passed near a second loud-speaking minaret, then a third, and a fourth. The chanting accompanied our ride all the way up to our hotel. How many mosques were there in Konya, we'd never know.
We could only be puzzled by the fact that some of them seemed to have been built next to one another.
The atmosphere in the street felt a bit different all of a sudden. It took me a while to identify that strange feeling of déjà-vu I was getting. Islam seemed more present. People were as nice and cool as anywhere we had been in Turkey but they had lost that European touch somehow. Suddenly it came to me. I was starting to see and feel the same as I had experienced, ages ago, in India. Oh just hints of it of course, Konya is far from being Calcutta but still, there was something common in all those streets dealers, tea sellers, shoe shiners, biscuit traders and all these small businesses that flourish in India. The costume of the women reminded me vaguely of the sari worn by Indian ladies too. The style of their jewels, the way they sat and held their toddlers, their gestures, everything suddenly seemed to be originated from Asia rather than from the Mediterranean region. It was like finding the missing link between the East and the West.
I smiled. I never thought the two could meet. I had happily left France for India and, having fallen in love with the Orient, I had lived most of my life even further away, straight in South-East Asia. But now that I had reached the improbable age of mid-life, maybe I could finally do with a less extreme Orient after all and Turkey felt just like the perfect Middle-East for both Abby and me.
As we hungrily searched for a restaurant near the Mevlana, we suddenly spotted an old man having tea at the terrace who looked exactly like a Persian caliph with the huge turban, the long white beard and the shiny robe. We tried not to stare at our first caliph and decided in the end that the best way to satisfy our curiosity was to ask him for directions. He pointed at a door nearby and we entered.
We climbed the stairs and arrived on a large terrace where a few guests were having dinner. As we sat at our table, the muezzin of the mosque in front began chanting and performed very very well. A colourful caliph, delicious Turkish cuisine, cups of tea that looked like tulips, oriental chants that blew our minds away like flying carpets, an horizon filled with thin, round minarets... we felt completely under the spell of Aladdin's night, happy to lose our sense of reality.
The Mevlana museum, where the founders of the Mevlevi order of the Whirling Dervishes were buried, looked awesome from the outside with its domes covered with turquoise faience and its garden but, being complete ignorants about that particular branch of Islam, we felt quite untouched by the relics inside. The Turkish pilgrimers, however, seemed to have great respect and devotion for them so I later investigated online and found a rather smooth and tolerant spiritual philosophy.
But it was great to just walk through the covered market, watching life, shooting faces and colours and enjoy tea at the shadowy terraces of some coffee shops. Konya didn't have tourism first in mind, everything felt very genuine and natural. We liked that.
As we left the city, we soon found ourselves riding on a large plateau. The road was straight. We were going to Ürgüp. Not that we had ever heard of Ürgüp before but if that was where Mehmet thought we should go, we knew we wouldn't be disappointed.
Cappadocia, right in the centre of Turkey, certainly wasn't to be missed. Neither Abby or me had ever seen something quite unique like this before! Suddenly the whole landscape turned into a sea of mineral chimneys. Totally amazing! Forgetting that a bike always goes where the eyes of the rider do, I almost ran out of the road and into one of these incredible miniatures of peaks. Apparently a combination of soft volcanic rock and erosion has created that unusual Martian world. Mehmet had managed to top it all again! After all, it wasn't very common for a 51 years old like me to discover a brand new planet at the end of a road turn!
We booked at Ürgüp Cappadocia Palace Hotel, a renovated 19th-century Greek guest house decorated with antiques. From our window, we could see a sort of giant cliff with caves carved in it so we decided to walk to it and investigate. Indeed, as we climbed up the cliff, we could see more and more caverns digged in the limestone. We visited several of them and were surprised to see many rooms inside. These places were inhabited until the 50's when the rock became to fragile due to the erosion and the government of Turkey relocated the whole troglodyte population into new built housing estates down in the suburbs of Ürgüp. However, many of these caves still serve as barns and storage facilities. One family was still lodged there though, as well as an old man who lived surrounded by an army of cats. Having no running water, they had to carry it up in jerry cans but electricity was available although I have no idea where they had plugged their cables. Soon it became obvious that an entire city had been carved in the rock. We visited several houses, some with a surprisingly large number of wide rooms and even space for the cattle. Mosques, chapels and churches could still be seen and visited. This was the largest troglodyte settlement I had ever been to.
We spent a long time in Cappadocia. We could never get enough as every day seemed to bring a new set of surprises and discoveries. We took long walks along the Rose Valley with its numerous fairy chimneys, following a rather dusty and slippery track all the way up to an hermit refuge. Our camera didn't appreciate the harsh treatment.
Dust got stuck in the lens mechanism and jammed it. Damn, we were left with just the GoPro cam which wide angle wasn't very appropriate for still images. And yet, we were in a place too amazing to just give up shooting pictures. Ürgüp not offering much choice, we ended up purchasing a Nikon before heading to the "castle" of Uçhisar, carved into a huge rock as well. In fact we even found some underground cities. Early Christians were living there, underground, when they were still persecuted. I hope Jesus saved them from claustrophobia because the corridors were quite narrow and the ceilings pretty low. Still, the mere size of the site was just astonishing.
Many churches and chapels, carved into rocks as well, could be visited on the site of Göreme. Their walls were still painted with religious Christian frescoes. It was forbidden to shoot photos (even without flash) in the chapels. Being quite undisciplined and disobedient still, I insisted on shooting a few with our new camera until being roughly told to stop by a big bad guardian who had been informed of my outrageous illegal activities by some fellow tourists with a taste for dilation (I made sure to appear in each of their own photos after that. That might remind them to mind their own business in the future).
I just didn't like that resurgent but nevertheless abusive trend of preventing ticket holders from shooting harmless pictures in the sacred name of business. It certainly didn't encourage me to purchase any books or DVD at the museum boutique!
We discovered a very cute Greek village named Mustafapasa and visited its many ex-orthodox buildings before enjoying large Turkish pides and beer at the terrace of a Greek restaurant. Then we took a long, hot and spectacular walk through the dry and dusty hills around the village and finally ended up in front of the Church of St-Nikolas which we visited after climbing over the wall since it was under renovation, making sure that there were no tourists around, ready to denounce us to the authority.
In the evening, we would ride back to Ürgüp to enjoy the regional food speciality: the pot kebab. No, it isn't cooked with marijuana. The meat and seasoning is simply placed into a clay vase with a narrow neck and cooked that way. When it is time to serve, the chef simply breaks the neck of the vase and pours the content into your plate. Then, for dessert, we would check out the different ice cream parlours of the town because so far, we had never tasted better ones, even in Italy.
In fact, life was so good in Ürgüp, it took us more than a week to convince ourselves to leave and check out our next destination up North, a place on Mehmet's list that was named Safranbolu. Just the name of it made us salivate in expectation for more tasty spicy treats. After all, they must claim that saffron is as valuable as gold for a good reason!
In fact, apart from the pricey spices, Safranbolu is mostly known for its superb Ottoman houses and their splendid wooden decorations. We quickly found ourselves riding on a very ancient paved road that led to our Ottoman hotel. It was the last day of Ramadan. Tonight, many people would celebrate with a good dinner. Wine and beer were still prohibited until the next day though.
The guy at the reception of our hotel didn't like our riding boots obviously... quite understandably since the ground was covered with a superb waxed parquet floor. He preferred to direct us towards another Ottoman house, a few meters aways, located in a magnificent garden. The fact that both the necks of some white ceramic gooses decorating the flowerbeds were broken should have alarmed us a little or at least given us a hint that something wasn't quite right despite the good looks. But it distracted our attention and we didn't even notice the worrying presence of a tall minaret right next to our house. Once inside that marvellously decorated house, the absence of any other guest should have raised some questions but we were too busy admiring the wooden ceilings and staircase. The warm atmosphere of the house made us wish to spend a whole winter in it. Little did we know that we would be riding out of town at full speed early the very next morning.
The city was interesting to walk through due to its impressive collection of cosy looking Ottoman houses, built of stones with their upper half made of wood. It looked quite overwhelmed with tourism which might have proved a tiny bit too much for a town already spoiled by the commerce of saffron. As we walked through the old streets, we felt observed, judged, commented while not many smiles were exchanged. We had never felt so foreign anywhere else in Turkey so far, not even in Konya... it felt a bit like in Marrakesh actually. We had dinner in the beautiful garden of an amazing house but the same awkward feeling was still there. I guess the end of Ramadan is a big family thing, a bit like Christmas in Europe and we didn't melt in very well.
The multiple minarets of Safranbolu sounded as if they had purchased second hand scene equipments from major international heavy metal bands and, for once, the muezzins didn't seem to chant all at the same time. They felt omnipresent... and frankly out of tune.
We discovered that there wasn't much saffron produced in Safranbolu anymore despite being the best and the most expensive. We were told that the process of extracting the spice was too long and too tedious so, between Internet and video games, no one wanted to do it anymore. Ah, kids these days!
Back in our Ottoman bedroom and its luxurious panelling, we didn't feel very warm. We went to bed early.
At five in the morning, the heavy metal loudspeaker of the minaret next door began pumping some real powerful "Allah Ouakbar". It woke us up but there was nothing new about it except the volume. Why did they have to give us the nearest room when the rest of the house was empty? Well, never mind, it would generally stop after five minutes or so and we'd be soon allowed to sink back into our dreams. And it did. We were still trying to resume our night sleep when the voice of the muezzin came back with full energy to, this time, recite some pages of the Koran... or was it some chapters rather because it lasted a good twenty minutes at least. Forget sleep! I was fuming and, as a result, might have slammed the door to our bathroom a little harshly, I should confess, since it detached the cemented tile on the floor. Whatever the reason, the volume went down a little. I wanted to climb up that minaret, kidnap the muezzin and tied him up to the bells of Notre-Dame during an Easter mass!
That was the first and only time in now eight months of cruising through diverse Muslim cities that a muezzin had prevented us from getting back to sleep. We had been happily staying right next to mosques in Selçuk or Dakhla before and it had never bothered us, in fact we liked the chants of the muezzins which were often quite enchanting and I had recorded a few with our Dictaphone during our whole journey. But Safranbolu imams hands felt a little too heavy for our secular taste so we decided to leave right after breakfast and before the next prayer.
Since we were off to Iznik (ancient Nicaea, famous for its councils) back on the West side, we decided to push up North to the Black Sea for a quick look first and then ride back down to our destination.
Either there was something wrong with the region of Safranbolu or perhaps the end of Ramadan created such a general relief that it could be felt in the way folks were driving but the first fifty kilometres of our ride was the worst of our entire journey in terms of mad drivers taking too many risks. Everybody seemed to be racing everybody. Or were they all sniffing too much saffron powder? Antique petrol chariots loaded with the entire population of small villages tried, with great difficulty and long pointless efforts, to take us over although there was obviously no space between our Transalp and the car in front of us. The same was happening on the other side of the road with cars coming our way on the wrong lane. It was plain madness! The ride looked nice but I really had no leisure to admire it.
In the end, after painfully unclamping my teeth, I told Abby to use our camera as a defence weapon and indeed, that calmed down the maniacs on wheels instantly. Abby filmed clearly and openly so it worked perfectly at wiping all aggressiveness off our way. We weren't of course shooting for real but it did help. I know I said that I didn't like surveillance cameras in the streets but still, in terms of prevention, I guess pointing a cam is more polite than aiming a gun. Would have Dennis Hopper ended up shot if he had worn a GoPro cam on top of his cowboy hat in "Easy Rider"? Nah, cameras saved karmas!
Despite the highways being free of charge that day, the end of Ramadan wasn't a very good time to ride on Turkish roads. We had seen quite a few accidents and observed a certain brutality or, to remain kind, a sort of competitiveness in the general way of driving in this country but that morning topped it all! Could we all just relax! Damn!
However, the tension existed on roads only. As soon I as we pulled into a petrol station for instance, we were welcome and nicely treated again. People would kindly offer us free cups of coffee or fruits and we would resume our journey with a renewed confidence.
Traffic got better as we approached the Black Sea. The sky was as grey as the water. North, it didn't matter where, always gave a sticky touch to everything. We left the shore line with no particular regrets but the harm had been done. Just like Oujda in Morocco had brutally taken us out of our desert daze, the Black Sea took its toll on our wandering bliss.
Our trip was going to end soon. There was no way around that. We were still tripping but the North felt like a downer. We had to plan ahead which meant us admitting an ugly fact: our undeniable return to Hong Kong, a fate that we both didn't quite fancy and had successfully managed to kick out of our heads so far. Our budget coming to its end, we had to make some choices. What would we do with Grand-mothership? Should we ride it back to England and sell it there. That would mean a few extra weeks on the road but we loved that bike. After so much time on it and so many roads together, it would be heartbreaking to get rid of it or park it in my parents barn for years of idleness. The memories of the few troubles it had given us were all wiped off. Only enchantment remained.
We decided to wait until Istanbul and see if we could afford to ship it back to Hong Kong. If not, then we'd ride it back to UK.
But that was it, the worm had reached the apple. The "after trip" idea was upon us now, faintly staining our state of mind already. It had become obvious that we wouldn't be settling anywhere. If we did, we would never have the means to save for our next trip and that would be even worst than the dread of living in Hong Kong... or was it? The idea of staying somewhere just because it lets you escape from time to time was a strange concept but unfortunately a reality.
Iznik looked like a nice little town with a big quiet lake at the end of our street. It was the first evening after the end of Ramadan and everybody could finally take it easy. Beer was now available almost everywhere. All the youngsters wore their best clothing on that special occasion. It was interesting to watch the street from the terrace of our hotel, just a few yards away from the shoreline.
A lorry stops in front of us. Two young girls are being driven around by daddy who jumps out from behind his wheel and buys three ice creams from our place. When he returns to his truck, his youngest daughter gladly accepts the present but the teenage one, obviously obsessed, refuses. I guess her dad didn't let her run the streets with the other kids we saw hanging around on their scooters, wearing white shirts and suits.
There was a local restaurant on the other side of the street. Four teenagers, two of them wearing jeans and t-shirts and two others wearing suits, enter the joint and take a table. When the t-shirts wearing kids try to pull a chair and sit, the two suits wearing ones make it clear that they aren't inviting. So the two less fortunate ones leave, dragging their feet in their old basket shoes.
Suddenly the owner of the only chopper in town roars down the street in front of us and, a few minutes later, roars back up with a lady sitting behind, probably going for dinner. Twenty minutes later they are back. The guy parks his bike on the sidewalk and follows his pillion to her apartment. He leaves a long time later, a big smile on his face, for, I guess, Ramadan has lasted one whole month... and is finally over.
Iznik kept us busy, for a few days, visiting the Green Mosque, the St-Sophia Church and the archaeological museum as well as the many boutiques selling stunning ceramics and hand-made tiles, the speciality of the city. In a little street, two little girls stopped Abby in her path and gave her a ring and a smile. Then they looked at me, a little shy, and gave me a ring too before running away laughing.
Çanakkale - Eceabat
We arrived in Çanakkale the day when most Turkish tourists were on their way back home. The queues of vehicles waiting for the ferry to Eceabat, on the other side of the Dardanelles Strait, were impressive. We were lucky because that meant that we surely could now get some accommodation in the city. Had we come a day earlier, we would probably have regretted our camping gear.
The first thing one noticed as one entered the town was a gigantic representation of the Trojan Horse, which, somehow, looked familiar. Later on, we learnt that the horse built for the movie "Troy", with Brad Pitt, had been donated to the city of Çanakkale. Indeed, the real Troy was very near but both Abby and me felt like we had our fair share of ruins. We enjoyed the holiday atmosphere instead, hanging around in the streets, having ice creams at the port and watching life pass by.
The ferry trip to Eceabat was special for it would be our last on this journey. The boat being full, we stayed near the bike for the few minutes that it took to reach the other side. By the time we had unpacked in our room and had a good walk around the little town followed by a well deserved kebab in a nearby restaurant, the wind started blowing madly, covering the sea with white foam. It started raining, something we had not experienced since Ioannina, way back in Greece. Not that we missed it but we worried as if we would be able to make it dry to Istanbul the next day.
When we woke up, the sunshine was back so we packed. Everybody must have had returned to work because the roads weren't as busy as they had been since the end of Ramadan. We had a beautiful and peaceful ride and, as we entered Istanbul, our kind GPS took us straight to the hotel Safir which Abby had selected. The traffic was pretty bad but being guided through it made it fine and easy. We parked the bike in our hotel underground car park and took a quick shower in our rather nice and comfy room
before rushing downstairs to get our first sniff at the streets.
Mehmet had told us that Turkey would be the best part of our trip and that Istanbul would be the highlight of it all. We would have to wait a bit for him to show us around though, as he was still away on holiday. We kept in touch by email, he'd be back soon and we were very curious to meet the man who, very kindly, had guided us so well through his stunning country. His gentle suggestions had led us to a path filled with unforgettable surprises and amazing discoveries. We felt naturally thankful as if we had just received series of priceless gifts, which is, in fact, what lifetime memories really are.
Until we may meet Mehmet, Istanbul still offered lots of obvious sites to investigate. We went straight to the spice market at first and, as a result, decided that it was urgent to get our Canon camera fixed as soon as we could. Interesting contrasts of colours but also of costumes and attitudes, just begged to be shot everywhere. I liked it very much. People seemed open and smiling. Istanbul, at first, looked pretty close to the vision I had of an Oriental large city when I was reading the tales of travellers from all periods of time. It felt like the Bagdad of my imagination as it seemed to have kept an invisible link with the Thousand and One Nights, with Aladdin, and yes, with Persia.
There were hints of India, Iran, Syria, Egypt, but also of Morocco as well as of Germany and Eastern Europe. Here was the centre of the old world, with influences from all over the continent, from Nouadhibou to Calcutta and further as well as from St-Petersbourg and Jordan! The more I felt the atmosphere, the scents of that city, the more I loved it. Everything was harmoniously coming in fair amounts. People seemed very hard working but they kept a smiling face. Kids looked well behaved and obedient yet they appeared full of joy, playing around and laughing. Most ladies wore a scarf on their head but didn't look shy or lacking education. Many men looked and were amazingly strong. They appeared quite fierce and hot blooded too. Respect was due, obviously. But they weren't loosing their sense of humour or their kindness easily either as people definitely seemed to be living from their hearts in Turkey. They didn't need or want to wear any masks.
Traffic was pretty bad on main avenues but there were enough small streets full of neat little coffee shops and tea parlours with shadowy terraces to catch ones breath.
Signs of nationalism were everywhere and the most beautiful mosques we had ever seen too but then again, the Greeks are also displaying their flags a lot and churches aren't coming in small amounts there either. It just showed that old values were still vivid in this old corner of the world. In a way, it all felt pretty good, a bit as if I had been allowed to jump back to the old days when I was wearing shorts and life was simple and the limits were clear... a bit like choosing an old reliable Transalp over a brand new GS to go on a long trip. There's a smoothing curve in remaining simple and transparent.
As we sat at an outdoor table, the waiter, pointing at a group of full burka wearing ladies behind us, giggled and said: "Beware, here come the Ninjas!"
We turned around but they didn't seem to belong to that special Iranian female Ninja unit we had seen training on TV, they looked a bit too fat for that.
"They're tourists from Saudi-Arabia, our women don't disguise like that in Turkey!" the waiter continued, "for all I know, they might not even be wearing anything underneath!"
We were glad that he didn't check it out on the spot.
There was a great sense of respect and love for the arts. We visited most tourist spots of course, we went to the Topkapi Palace, to the Haghia Sophia and of course to the Blue Mosque. At prayer time, we stood between the Blue Mosque and two others on the Hyppodrome Square and the chanting of the muezzins, replying to each others from the top of the minarets was probably one of the most enchanting we had heard since the Isa Bey Mosque in Selçuk, the muezzins of Konya and the sort of soft choir, on a Ramadan night, in Chefchaouen in Morocco.
We spent almost an entire day at the National Archaeological Museum as we stumbled upon the most incredibly well preserved collection of antiques, some pieces hardly even damaged by time at all. We had been impressed by what we had seen first at the Selçuk museum and even more, later on, in Antalya and this one made it a truly remarkable trilogy.
After a couple of days, Mehmet returned to Istanbul. He called us and announced that he would be picking us up at our hotel, that same evening, to take us to the Istanbul Bikers Club where one of the members would be sharing his birthday cake. He said a couple of RTW riders were there already so we shouldn't worry, beer would be available in large amounts as well... must be my way of signing "cheers" at the end of my emails, now everybody thinks I'm a drunk!
Mehmet showed up right on time at the lobby of our hotel. We shook hands and introduced each others. Mehmet was a few years older than me, slim and tall, dressed casually with a pair of jeans, a shirt and a black sleeveless biker cardigan. We wasted no time and jumped at the back of one of Mehmet's friends car which skillfully inserted into the heavy traffic.
Zeki, our driver, couldn't speak much English but Mehmet was fluent. We thanked him for his care and advises and told him with enthusiasm about our impressions of Cappadocia, Egirdir or Pamukkale. He said he would be showing us around Istanbul the next day if we liked. And we could stay at the club too. He was sorry he couldn't take us in tonight because some other bikers were already using the flat but they would be gone tomorrow so we could move in then if we liked.
Wow! I didn't know what to say. Since the beginning of our trip, almost fifteen months ago, Abby and I had been living more or less in the wild. We didn't meet that many bikers, we talked to a few, but since Joanne and Martin in Mirleft (Morocco), we had just wandered around on our own, the bike, Abby and me. We had become some sort of hermits living so free and moving so fast that in the end, all places had become new sceneries and most interactions with other human beings had become short ones and therefore, slightly superficial.
There was something very touching in Mehmet's ways, something I thought had gone and disappeared a long time ago and which used to be called genuine, ideal, heartfelt bikers brotherhood. As long as we had liked our ride, Mehmet was satisfied. He didn't think more of his role. Now he was inviting us to stay with the club and he just felt sorry he couldn't have done it earlier. No questions asked. We were on the road, we were on two wheels, we liked Turkey, so it was enough, we were welcome. The bike needed to be fixed? No problem, Adil, the president of the club, was a great mechanic, I just had to talk to him. Did we want to ship the bike back to Hong Kong? We'll talk about it again later but they just helped another rider to ship his bike to New Delhi so we shouldn't worry about it. We had planned to take a cruise on the Bosphorus the next day? Great but did we have our tickets yet, he could arrange it for us.
Yup, that's how I was dreaming about the bikers world when I was still collecting photos and pictures of bikes in my childhood, the world I would join one day, as soon as I could get my own bike. Then I grew up and moved to Hong Kong where bikes were really just vehicles but that's where I finally was able to grab my first one.
Anyway, there it was, the bikers world of my dreams, shining bright behind Mehmet in a little street away from the busy centre of Istanbul, at the ground floor of a five storey building, next to a demolished one. There shone the lights of the Istanbul Cycling Biking Specialty Club Association where the exhausted two-wheeled wanderer can find true support at its best and enjoy the grand travelling bikers spirit.
We had a terrific evening that night. We met with Mehmet's friends and members of the club. Adil, the president and owner of the place was there too with Tatiana, his Moldavian wife and her black pekingese dog named Karaduman. Apo and his wife Meral were there to celebrate Apo's birthday and all the other guys were joining in. Ismail arrived on his Yamaha with his brother Serhat on a KTM. Taylan who races and works with Apo in their garage rode a KTM too while Apo was riding an old XT500 with the tank of an MZ and owned a KTM as well. Adil was riding a Transalp of the second generation but in the city, he preferred his old and reliable Honda scooter. We also met with Richard on a GS1200 and his friend riding another brand new GS1200, loaded with an incredible amount of luggage. They were leaving for Syria the next day and planned a trip all the way down to the Cape.
Stuart was the rider who's GS800 had just been shipped by DHL to India. He said it took a while at the customs but eventually his bike made it on its way. He would fly to New-Delhi in a couple of days and reunite with his wheels. Ultimately, he was planning to end his trip in New-Zealand.
We all had a great time sharing stories, taking pictures and checking maps. Adil assured me that he could easily find a good change for our back tire as well as a great chain kit to replace ours which dated back from Dakhla near Mauritania. Apparently shipping the bike by boat wouldn't cost such a fortune so Abby and I would have to decide what we wanted to do soon. We opened another can of Efes, the local beer, instead, we had to fix our poor old grand-mothership first.
On the way back in the taxi that had been called and paid for, Abby and I were both quite enthusiastic about our first encounter with Mehmet and the club. What a cool and interesting bunch of people they all were! We definitely should move in, we'd have a great time with them. We might have reached the finishing line of our trip, depending what we would decide to do with the Transalp but at least the end would be much happier if we stayed with the club. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to turn it all off softly for stalling an engine is never a pretty sight. It was going to feel horrible to get off the road. We couldn't even think of it right then but we really should start preparing for it and make it easier for ourselves.
The cruise on the Bosphorus the next day was charming. We took the traditional ferryboat and found ourselves free to walk around, smoking at will. Many stylish palaces could be seen built along the shores, next to minarets and small fishing ports. After an hour or two, we disembarked in Anadolu Kavagi right in front of the Black Sea and walked up to an ancient fort to take a breathtaking sight at the mouth of the Bosphorus. After a quiet lunch at the terrace of a restaurant right above the strait, we walked back down to the port and enjoyed another one of these delicious Turkish ice creams that we got so addicted to since a while. There was something so creamy and smooth about them, let alone the fresh fruity flavour, we would miss them.
The next day, we met Mehmet in the lobby of our hotel and he took us for a big walk around Istanbul. We began by a visit to the Miniatürk, an open area where Turkey's most impressive monuments are celebrated in the shape of a miniaturised models. Mehmet later showed us two of the most beautiful mosques built by the architect Mimar
Sinan, the Sehzade Mehmet mosque which Sinan labelled as the mere job of an apprentice and the Süleymaniye mosque which Sinan considered as the accomplishment of just a normal builder. I have to admit that we were impressed by both. The Blue Mosque wasn't built by Sinan but by one of his student named Sedefhar Mehmet Aga.
Mehmet also took us to the Chora Byzantine Church where amazing Christian mosaics and frescoes could be seen and to the Church of St-George in the ancient Greek corner of Istanbul. We spotted the Marmara, anchored down in the port, as we climbed the stiff streets of the neighbourhood. Finally we crossed an area where most ladies wore burkas and where men were sporting long beards and a taqiyah on their head. There, Mehmet said, most people got married within the area and sent their kids to Islamic schools only.
When Mehmet left us, pretty exhausted, at the gate of our hotel, he kindly invited us again to move to the club and we agreed to do that the next day. It didn't take very long for us to fall asleep that night.
The staff gave us a small present, some tea and two tulip shaped glasses and spoons, as we left the lobby late in the morning. We loaded the bike and I tried to turn it on.
Nothing. No juice. Dead.
One of the hotel staff and Abby pushed behind in the underground garage and, on the second try, Grand-mothership accepted to wake up. We left immediately and, with the GPS telling us where to go, we made it easily back to the club.
In no time, Adil, the president of the club, an excellent mechanic and a Transalp lover himself, had done his expertise of our sick but dear rolling antique and his verdict was encouraging. This old thing just needed a bit of pampering and, with the trip she had just granted us, she was damn right going to receive it! Adil, having detected some irregularities in the barrel under the handlebar, removed the front forks in just a minute and fixed the problem. He then jumped on his scooter and returned with a decent set of sprockets and a good chain as well as a brand new tire. He never stopped working. Adil had just been recovering from a serious illness a few months before and he felt excited about setting a garage for himself again. I would come down in the morning when I heard him lift up the metal curtain that protected the club during the night. We'd have a relaxing breakfast together, coffee and cakes that he bought up in the street. Adil was a really cool guy. He'd call me "Sir Pascal" and I'd reply "Yes my Lord!", we had such good laughs and despite him not speaking much English, we always managed to understand each others.
Anyway, as soon as he had drank his last sip of coffee, Adil would start getting busy. The way he could pass from relax to full activity never ceased to amaze me as I watched him getting started every morning. Where could he find such an energy!? How could he take it so well? Getting to work took a real effort out of me. I didn't like it. I grumbled, I squeaked, I cringed, it never was easy and didn't leave me quite in the same mood either. With Adil and, as far as I had seen, with everyone else, nothing of the sort could be noticed. What was the secret behind this phenomenal vitality? Usually, in Hong Kong, I would suspect cocaine but not there! Is it what happiness did to folks?
All the club members, all the neighbours we met, had the same sort of tranquillity in the back of their eyes. Turkish people seemed strangely happier than anywhere we'd been. What was it? A city of eighteen million people should be generating far more bad mood and gloomy attitudes but it didn't. Neighbours drank tea, sitting together on the footpaths. Kids were playing with wooden boards or crates and were laughing to tears. I watched mothers taking their kids to school in the morning, drivers delivering goods, groups of young girls going to college, all the life that one gets to see from a balcony or from the terrace of a coffee shop and I liked what I saw. I envied it even. How could life be so cool in such a large city!? That puzzled me.
Adil would be busy all day. Tatiana would try, every day, to convince him to stop for a little while, say, to eat something, or go walk Karaduman to the park - she didn't dare to say "Adil, take a bloody rest, you're killing yourself!" - but Adil just had no time for that. "Disciplin, No!" smiled Tatiana with her strong slave accent.
As travellers came by and left, he would prepare parcels for them and send it to them at the Iran or Syrian border. He would fix bikes too, including ours which looked better and better everyday. Then, at about six o'clock, Adil would finally sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea. He would take a deep breath, look around and reluctantly let it go, as if he was wondering why he felt so tired suddenly when so much had still to be done in his mind.
The flat where we lived, above the club, belonged to Adil as well. He lives on a flat above. Our apartment was really cool with a large living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, two toilets and a bathroom and a pleasant balcony above the street. If there was space in the flat, any travelling rider could take a rest there while fixing his bike at the club downstairs. Tatiana kept it clean, the supermarket wasn't far, there was a market full of fresh delicious fruits and vegetables up in the street. The beer dealer wasn't far either and could speak German and there were some restaurants that served great Turkish cuisine only a few steps away. Let alone the tea shop that stood next to the club.
We really had a good time at the club. Bikers from everywhere were coming and going. We were in heaven. We spent a few days with three Swiss bikers, Roland and Stefan, both riding two shiny GS800 and René on his white Tenere as they were on their way to Thailand via Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Johan and Milda, from Lithuania, travelling on a black V-Strom to Malaysia, shared the flat with us for a couple of nights.
Mehmet and Adil, having done their share of travelling themselves, had kept friends everywhere and could recommend travellers to them. They would be safe there. If anything happened on the way, they could just call and they would make sure they were safe within a few hours. We spent a few days together while they shopped for parts that Adil would send them at the Iran border. Stuart was now in Dehli and we received news that his bike had arrived as well. He was on his way to Cachemire.
Adil having repaired our Transalp told us many good things about it and encouraged us to keep it. A trip back to France and England was tempting and sounded exciting but we were getting short of cash and the temperature would cool down quickly as we would be riding North so we'd have to be fast anyway. In the end, the idea of selling our dear Transalp was too much of a heartbreak. We decided to give it Givi protection bars instead and had our panniers holders repainted black to match with them, and a pair of new red handles too. Then we took off a few stickers and called a mobile karcher company to have it neatly cleaned. There, now she was cute as a new born Honda!
Thank you for those 40000km of pure happiness, this machine had been a true team mate!
We were getting to know more and more people everyday. The neighbours were really cool people too, always ready to give a hand if needed. We really liked the atmosphere.
We felt welcome and at ease. Every evening, when Adil was off work, we would all sit in the club, have some food ordered or served by Tatiana who's a great cook, someone would go and buy some cans of Efes as club members, neighbours and friends would come by. We didn't see the time pass. Still, sometimes Adil would get up and fix something on a bike or tidy up something, he was just unstoppable. We met many new friends during these evenings like Nedim, a Red Skin Turkish Indian who can imitate the sound of bikes so well or Pantera who was a movie idol in the seventies with his six-exhausts bike, a true local Peter Fonda from whom we proudly received a large autographed photo showing him riding his legendary bike.
Mehmet took us to a shipping company and everything was arranged to transfer our Transalp by boat to Hong Kong. It would take more than a month to arrive so we had plenty of time to get there. The deal was pretty good but we had to get a crate ready to ship it properly. Mehmet was confident that Adil would find a solution, it wasn't his first.
And indeed, Adil soon came back with the metal base and frame of a GS800 and adapted it for our Transalp. He bought wooden panels for the side of the crate and we were soon able to arrange our panniers and stuff in the empty corners. But first, let's have a last ride all together!
A picnic was organised in the woods during the weekend and most of the club members joined in with their wheels. We rode to a small town near Istanbul where we all had breakfast and then we headed to a moto-cross track a little further away. Then we took it to the woods and stopped near a lake in which most guys quickly jumped for a invigorating swim. I noticed that healthy dudes always did that. I was once at a party in New Zealand that ended up with most people falling dead drunk on the floor and next morning, as late as 8 a.m, there was everybody jumping into freezing lakes and having a hell of a fun at it while I stood on the shore, desperate for an aspirin! What to do!?
Showing regrets for my spoiled childhood would be too insincere.
So I remained with the ladies.
Soon after, having all gathered enough dry wood for a good fire, Apo and Taylan began preparing the two chicken and the vegetables we would be having for lunch. They were to be cooked the "gypsy way". That sounded interesting. Having cleaned and seasoned the birds, two large metal cans, the sort that contains jam in industrial size, were "disinfected" in the flames by Apo while the two chickens were each impaled on a stick by Taylan. Apo covered the chicken with the metal cans, more wood was accumulated around and the fire intensified. The chicken cooked that way for 45 minutes before being served. They were delicious, tender and juicy. I'll have to try that recipe one of these days, in our future flat in Hong Kong.
Having had fun swinging to a rope tied up to a branch and after a playful fight among each others, Apo, Taylan, Ismail, Nedim, Serhat and Adil still found the energy to help a passing biker with a flat back tire. It was repaired in no time, the tube was changed thanks to a spare Ismail had in his bike and the whole thing was remounted in less than ten minutes, with enthusiasm and good mood of course. These guys rule!
We took a track on the way back and later stopped in a small village for a cup of tea in the garden of a coffee shop. The ride had been great and now we would be heading back to Istanbul. The traffic thickened as one by one all the riders waved us good bye and disappeared in the flow. Soon we were back at the club and it was time to lock our Transalp in its box for a little cruise on her own. It was sad to screw the last panel to the crate but we were happy that our bike would stay ours. Somehow, it was a confirmation that we would do another trip together one day and quite frankly, we had nothing better to wish for.
I was wondering how the crate would be lifted from the ground to the lorry that would take it to the port. It must have weighted around 250kg, would Adil call a stacker?
Nope, he called five neighbours instead and the six of them managed to lift the big heavy box onto the truck in no time. I laughed, I could imagine myself trying to round up five neighbours in Hong Kong in order to carry such a weight! They couldn't even hold the lift for you over there!
It took about a day to see our bike through the customs. One of Adil's neighbour kindly drove us to the port, we waited, showed a few documents, were asked for a green card, explained that green cards ain't valid in Hong Kong, visited a few offices, said hello to a lady behind a big desk, walked all the way to the shipyard, waited a few more hours next to our crate, were told to go home and then called to come back so Adil went instead and returned announcing that everything was done and cleared. Our bike was now on board and on its way to Hong Kong.
No wheels! We felt almost handicapped all of a sudden. We were so welcome everywhere thanks to our bike. Would people still like us without it?
Well, Mehmet's mother did like us still. She offered us many presents when we accompanied her son to her house for a visit. She was a lovely old lady who must have been a great and strong mother seeing how much Mehmet cared for her. We felt honoured that he would take us along to see her.
All in all, we had already abused our stay for two weeks at the club but it had felt like only two days. It was really time to get going. We hated the idea of ending our trip and go back to Hong Kong. We didn't want to leave the club, didn't want to leave Istanbul or Turkey or the road or our trip, but we didn't know how to stay either.
I remembered what Grant and Susan from Horizon Unlimited claimed in their DVD: "A trip that's guaranteed to change your life!"
I wished they were right but I already knew. Life had not been the same for me right after my first trip to India, the entire planet had become "home"... I think that's what they meant to say. Unfortunately that doesn't preserve anyone from having to - ugly expression - earn a living. That would never change.
One feels full of life when travelling on the road, in a way that's just not gonna exist at the office or in class, it was just as simple as that. I tried to reason myself by imagining the worst: what if I had to return to France instead of Hong Kong!? But it didn't work very well. I had turned the French page a long time ago and I thought to have done the same with Hong Kong when we had left. Was our ride just a temporary break then? Something didn't feel quite right. There should have been changes. What was Darwin up to? I wanted evolution! How could we ever get back to the same routine after what we've just been through?
Mehmet caught a cold, then I caught it too before passing it to Adil. Nobody felt very good during our last few days at the club. We tried to cheer each others up with not too much success. We visited a few more interesting places with Mehmet and Adil but our plane tickets felt heavy in our pockets. Then it was time to go.
We hugged everybody, we promised to return the next year and have a big ride together to South Turkey and Adil took us to the airport. It was a sad moment, almost unreal because we had so much difficulty accepting the reality. Already the crowd queueing at the airport was mostly Asian. Where had they been during all these months!? It felt awkward to see them again all of a sudden, to recognise their attitudes and to hear their accent. Adil queued up with us and we had a last cup of coffee together before crossing the customs. We hugged and said goodbye. We'd keep in touch anyway, we'd be back, they'd be visiting us, no worries, keep the rubber down Mate and... thanks a lot for everything, it was really great, we'll miss you. Bye Mate. Bye.
Adil stayed behind the fence all the time while we showed our passports. Abby and I waved him goodbye and walked to our plane in silence.
God I hated airports and planes! It wasn't a sad thing to leave on a bike as it was on board an aeroplane. You went somewhere, you had a good time and then you took a plane back home and it suddenly all felt as if you had just been at the cinema watching a good movie that you wish had never stopped. I hate it when the gloominess of reality wraps me back this way, it feels like death with my mind gasping in vain, trying to preserve some pieces of a now gone heaven!
Postface - Hong Kong
Turkish Airline was very good, I had to admit as we arrived in Hong Kong, without any enthusiasm, after an event less flight. Our plane had even landed early... which was probably why my daughters, who wanted to surprise me, missed our exit from the customs. I also had to admit that getting through Hong Kong immigration was a piece of cake if one happened to be a permanent resident. All we had to do was to insert our ID card to open a first gate, press our thumb on an electronic scanner to open a second sliding door and that was it, we were in, not a single question asked. Passing from one European country to another was even easier but still, compared to some place we had been, it felt quite right. We would still have to see if getting our bike through would be as simple but so far, we couldn't complain.
Abby and I got in the bus to town. Everything was in the same place and looked identical as it had been, fifteen months ago. I didn't feel the same though. There was something that didn't function in me anymore. I had lived 28 years in that city but I didn't feel like I wanted to be there anymore. Everything being the same, it also raised a repulsive feeling of having just woken up from a long, marvellous dream. I hated it! There was a scream in my mind, no, Hong Kong wasn't going to wipe away the fifteen months of life we just had! It just didn't carry enough weight to challenge the places we had been. Reality didn't belong to Hong Kong anymore but outside, it stood where the big world was! This little territory wanted me to believe that the rest of the world was all about just the same and it wasn't true. I didn't have to take it anymore and I wasn't going to. I forgot why we even bothered to come back. The game was over when we left.
A typhoon hit the city that night and rain started pouring while the jet lag kept us awake. What were we doing here?
At this point I totally admit that I took off my captain cap. Abby took over brilliantly and with talent. First, we lived in a very comfy service apartment which, I must confess, was far better than the cockroach infested mini-room I had when I first came to Hong Kong 28 years ago. It felt as if we were still on the road, it wasn't a home. The place was surrounded with buildings of course but we didn't really have to look. I went out as little as I could, preferring to watch Al Jazeera and National Geographic on the tube. I felt "on hold".
It took us nearly one month to select a decent flat, one with a room large enough for Abby's grand piano and with enough space in the lift to take it up. The Transalp arrived on time. It took nearly two months of administrative procedures to get it registered but we made it. Geoff helped us with the crate and with the local MOT. I just had enough time to polish the brass parts of my old W650 before the start of Hong Kong yearly bike show. Abby and I were kindly given some space in Geoff's booth to show off our bikes. We had prepared a display with maps and photos of our trip. That was a good day because it felt part of our journey.
Strange feelings happened sometimes. Being riding the Transalp without my MX boots made me miss the foot clutch the first time I took our grand-mothership for a ride in Hong Kong. It made me jump. Last time I had missed the clutch was on the way to Dakhla when it was miserably hanging down. My stupid mind made me think that the same had just occurred. I checked and, for a short second, it took me back there, on that sandy Western Sahara road, with Abby sitting at my back, like then. This incident helped me realise how deranged I had become. I had never felt homesick in my entire life and now I was suffering from a severe case of trip sick.
Fortunately Abby wasn't losing her mind or getting impatient and being together was our main "cylinder" as it had always been but I had come back with so many unanswered questions, I felt a bit lost between dreams and reality. Let alone the fact that, having accomplished a dream I had at sixteen, I was now having a big empty space on my shelf. Should I fill it back with the same sort of dream but different? Of course! Riding free with Abby holding me behind, what could be better?
Here, to go for a ride, we had to walk ten minutes and climb four floors to reach our bikes at the car park, it sort of took spontaneity out of the game really. We knew every bit of the territory anyway and traffic was still as bad as it had always been.
Our Transalp was probably the only one of that sort in town. One day, I spotted a YouTube clip of a Transalp rally in 1989 where I thought I could recognise our grand-mothership. It had exactly the same stickers. I sent a mail to the owner of the video and he confirmed that the stickers on our bike are those of the sponsors of the 1989 rally, a rally that went to the same places we had visited, Carcassonne, Andalousia and Barcelona! We already knew that our Transalp was born in 87 in Japan, that she had been exported to Germany and taken to Malta but we didn't know that she had also taken part to rallies! It made us plan to ride her back to her birthplace in Japan on our next trip. This time, we wanted to ship her to Osaka, ride North, catch the ferry to Vlad and ride to Mongolia, Kazakstan and all the way down back to the club in Istanbul.
But for now, our dear globetrotter on wheels was as stuck in Hong Kong as we were. We wanted to believe in fate. If this bike had such an history of traveling, we should definitely stick to it and trust that it will take us away again some day.
I couldn't finish our travel book, this blog I mean, I would just surf the net and read other riders stories instead. I thought of long time travellers like Vladimir Yarets whom we had met in Cadiz. Ten years on the road! How!? What did we miss?
It is hard not to trust fate when hope comes from someone who has already appeared in your life one day, out of nowhere, to guide you to unexpected wonders. We had, of course, kept in touch with our friends in Istanbul and when Mehmet sent us a link to a school that was looking for staff, we remembered the kids of Istanbul and immediately regained our smiles. There was a really good looking road ahead of us, one that was really worth the ride!
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. As far as I'm concerned, the most dangerous part of our trip took place when it was over. I must admit that I wasn't ready for it and that I was very lucky to have Abby next to me.
Now that, thanks to Mehmet, the words "Game over" have disappeared from my horizon, I finally find myself brave enough to type these two words:
2 persons - 1 Honda Transalp 1988
15 months - 13 countries - 40000km
1 flat - 1 breakdown
1 traffic incident at 0km/h
4 falls in the sand at slow speed
1 speeding ticket (in France of course)
Cost: Average of 100 euros per day for the 3 of us (1 bike = 1 person)
1 camping chair to build panniers holders
6 tires at the back - 2 at the front
A few tubes
2 chain kits
2 CDI units
1 odometer unit
1 pair of handles
A few spark plugs
3 cans of chain lube
1 bottle of demineralized water
2 jerry cans (5L each)
as well as:
3 GoPro on board cameras
2 handheld cameras
6 USB hard drives or
3 terabytes of pictures & video clips
1 mobile phone
3 USB modems sticks
We didn't use:
Our tire repair kit
Our spare tubes
Our helmet to helmet communication system
Our spare CDI unit
Lots of stuff we never missed (UK)
Our camping gear (Greece)
1 Transalp fairing (it was cracked before)
1 foot clutch
1 front brake lever
1 handheld camera
1 GoPro camera
1 pair of sunglasses
Our record of long journeys
1 GoPro cam
Faith in sedentary life
Confirmation that Abby and I were made for each other
Weight, at least 5kg each
A beard (me, I mean!)
Muscles I never knew I had
We needed and didn't have:
1 procuration letter because the Transalp wasn't registered in our names.
1 Turkish translation of the same procuration letter.
760km: Rimini (Italy) to Ioannina (Greece)
720km: Agadir to Larache (Morocco)
710km: Irun to Santiago de Compostela (Spain)
Most expensive petrol:
Most expensive tire:
We're thankful to these brands:
Honda - Airoh - Dainese - Fox - Cargo Endurance
Garmin - Asus Shell Eee Pc
GoPro (with some reservations)
for their good design, outcome and durability.
We're grateful to Honda in Sevilla, Cadiz, Almeria, Genova and Ioannina for the service we got.
We're not grateful to Honda in Carcassonne and Perpignan for the service we got.
Internet sites we used the most:
TripAdvisor & Booking.com for accommodations.
Lonely Planet for local info.
Google & Wikipedia for general info and service.
Horizon Unlimited, Facebook and Multiply for sharing our experience.