“Be careful, the Eastern part of Turkey is dangerous!” is what we’ve heard several times since the beginning of the trip. This kept interesting us, especially when meeting cyclists who enjoyed this part of the country. So we changed our plan and got ready to discover a region under police and military control: the Turkish Kurdistan.
That’s in Cappadocia that we took the decision to cycle East. This has been a meeting point with cyclo-tourists. As it’s very central and as the nature is incomparable, many stop here for a while and go in every directions.
The following goup picture was taken by Will and Jessica. This american couple has been traveling for more some years with their two kids. John, Teagan, Jerry and Nicole camped with us this night on top of the love valley.
A ride for baklavas
We were happy to be back on the cycles after almost a week of break. People were very generous to us two and offered us two kilos of almonds from their garden and a lunch (etliekmek from a place we wouldn’t have found alone). On the next day, we’re unlucky with the weather again: it’s raining cats and dogs! We got told that this year is particularly rainy, but at least the landscapes are green. We go to the first shelter we can find: a small shop. They welcome us warmly with tea, coffee and bread. Of course, they also invite us to stay over in a warm place but as it’s not noon yet, we prefer to go on cycling. For lunch, we find a small restaurant, where we get a hot soup and bread similar to French baguette.
In the evening, we find a potential shelter from the rain in a village. We ask the men at the cafe if we can camp there and they agree but ask us to stay to get a tea. Then an old man comes on a tractor: Yzzet, who lived a year near Geneva. He offers us in French to spend the night at his place.
After some backgammon (tavla), we take the road and soon meet four French guys on bikes. Arif, Elias, Jules et Mathieu are on a gap year in their studies and decided to go in 6 months from Istanbul to Mongolia. With them, we cycled our highest pass so far (1990m). We’ll camp all together near a cute small lake.
As we wake up, it rains. The weather is definitely not on our side for happy cycling. We follow 30 nice kilometers to the next big road, where we start hitchhiking. Our motivation to cycle 140km of motorway under the rain is low and other cyclists told us that hitchhiking with bikes would be fine. A car stops and offers to take us, open the small trunk, think how to fit two people, fourteen bags and two bicycles, this is extremely nice but obviously not possible. A van will stop and take us, later an empty lorry and again a van. It will take us to a safe place to camp: a terrasse of an ice-cream (Maras dondurma) shop.
Listen to your belly
On the next day, we reach our goal: the city of Gaziantep, where baklavas have been invented. Yes, we have been doing this all way for baklavas and we were not disappointed. We tried the best baklavas we’ve even had. Not only for sweet, this city is famous around the whole country for food. We were so happy to be able to try new food, but our stomachs disagreed. Just before reached the city, we started to have pain and our three days of eating turned into three days of rest. Lucky us, we had a great Couchsurfing host, who took good care of us.
By chance, we met Matt and Pheng, two cyclists from New-Zealand, going the other way round. With them, we played okey (Turkisch Rummikub) and other card games during two afternoons while getting some information about their way from China. They also crossed the north of Irak on bikes and camping without feeling unsafe.
From Gaziantep, we took a bus to Kiziltepe, near the old town of Mardin. This shortcut allows us to avoid 320km of flat land. As we arrived, we were welcomed by Abdullah in the “biggest village of the world” (referring to the dirt road in the center of the city). We directly go to a traditional restaurant and visit Mardin by night. On the next day, he took us to a valley where Kurdish people have been sent away some decades ago. He was born in such village. As a real tour guide, he will bring us to Mardin again and some places we wouldn’t have found alone.
Borders and walls
Going on cycling, we stay for 50 km close to the Syrian border. It was very impressive to see the no man’s land and watch towers all along the old railway track. Behind we can see Syria, as green as on the Turkish side of the wall. Three years ago, there was no wall separating the Kurdish people here.
We have here the vague memory of a history lesson on Mesopotamia, cradle of humanity. In primary school, our teacher told us about this fertile flatland between Euphrate and Tigrus. Here we are now.
From Nusaybin, town on the border, we cycle north, away from Syria. A lovely small road in a valley brings us to some restaurants on the river. Most are closed and preparing to reopen for the next season. In one of them, we ask if we can put the tent for the night. They agree and even share some food with us. The place is lovely but soon, we’re getting sick again.
We didn’t get completely cured from what we got in Gaziantep and the few 35km to Midyat were hard. Lucky our host Cihad, IT teacher in a technical highschool, is ready to host us. We spent two days resting in his place.
As we were getting some rest, Angélique texted Mehmet, a friend from our time in Germany. He directly answers “I was born in Midyat!” and we call each other. Two of his brothers are living 80km from here.
On the way, we pass by the old town of Hasankeyf, which will soon be under water because of the construction of a damm.
On the next day, we’re welcomed as kings at Mehmet’s family in Batman. It starts to rain as we still had 10km to ride to their house. Adnan, Mehmet’s brother, offers us to take us and the bikes in the car. So we wait in a gas station with a tea and a Google Translate conversation. As we arrived at Ridvan’s house (Mehmet’s older brother), they show us the bathroom and even offered us some clean and dry clothes. The two brothers, the wife and four children of one of them are there too. We all communicate with hands, a big smile and Google Translate. Then we go for dinner. They prepared delicious homemade pide for a hundred people at least.
Batman used to be a village and as they found petrol 50 years, the city expended. We’ve done all that tourists can do in Batman: going to the place where they first found petrol and having a tea at the Petrol Cafe. We’ve also learnt two new games: batack and okey 101.
The whole family insisted: “it’s too cold and too high to cycle!” We had no choice but to get in Adnan’s car again towards Tatvan. We can’t say we’ve been much faster, as it took us seven hours for 200 km. Adnan had to deliver invoices and we had to drink teas.
As we arrived in Tatvan, the two brothers organised that we could store our bikes in an office for the time that we go and come back to Erzurum. We had to get to the Iranian Consul to get our visas and go on traveling. For some days, we became hitchhikers backpackers.
Back in Tatvan with our Iranian visas, we were hosted by Mimar and Aysun, welcoming brother and sister. As usual, we eat well, drink tea and play games and visit the place.
Our next meeting is approaching: Clément will meet us in Van for about 10 days. We will cross the Lake Van to meet him.