I had my first real Turkish coffee in Sivas.
Next morning I woke up far too early for some inexplicable reason. So it was straight to the beer garden for breakfast with a view. I took my time over a lazy breakfast which included my first real Turkish coffee. I was surprised to find that the most common drink for Turkish people wasn’t coffee at all but chai – green tea invariably sweetened with two sugar cubes. Like just about every other country I had visited so far.
With only 350km to Kirikkale I was in no hurry to leave so I chatted to Orhan, my Red Bull-fuelled friend from yesterday, as I packed the bike. He begged me for a ride of my bike. As a general rule I don’t let anybody ride my bike and certainly not an adolescent male who seemed to have a can of Red Bull permanently grafted to his hand. As grateful as I was for his help in finding another hotel yesterday, there was no way I was going to let Orhan ride my bike. I could just see him trying to do a X-Fighters FMX stunt on my bike, which weighed over 300kg when fully loaded, in the main street of Sivas and only managing to smear it and himself along the bitumen.
I had thoroughly enjoyed my brief overnight stop in Sivas, but it was now time to move on. I had a self-imposed schedule to be in Istanbul in 2-3 days. I waved goodbye to Orhan, still standing disappointedly on the footpath.
9°C! As if! But it was a nice balmy 29°C!
The road to Kirikkale was perfect but not of any great interest. I stopped every 100km or so to break up the monotony. Just after noon I pulled into a roadside café which had a digital thermometer telling me it was 9°C. Based on how much I was sweating inside my helmet and jacket, I was pretty sure it was hotter than 9°C. It turned out to be 29°C of course, as the “2” kept flickering on and off.
Still, it was first time in months that the midday temperature had been less than 30°C. A sign that the long, hot summer was finally coming to an end? I could only hope!
Packed and ready to go outside the Hotel Dilaver in downtown Erzurum.
I took my leave of the friendly but still-disbelieving staff of the Hotel Dilaver and started the long 1300km haul to Istanbul.
But for today, it was only about 450km from Erzurum to Sivas – a relatively easy day’s ride thanks to the excellent highway, even at my dawdling pace. My new route to Istanbul would take me through parts of Turkey I hadn’t originally planned to visit so I didn’t know what lay ahead of me.
About 60km out of Erzurum the bike clicked over exactly 10,000km since I had left Kathmandu. I pulled off the highway to take a photo to mark the occasion. Some friendly Turkish policemen pulled up beside me to check if everything was OK. They were very interested in the map of the world on my RHS pannier that charted my progress across Asia. They too were amazed that I had been able to travel freely in Iran. They firmly believed it was a police state worse was than Russia (I assumed they meant the old USSR).
My pleasant chat with the curious constables over, I resumed my trip to Sivas, all the while looking out for something interesting to look at.
Exactly 10,000km since I left Kathmandu. And the engine is still idling away nicely.
Halfway between Erzurum and Erzincan the road started to follow a small creek for many kilometres. The numerous signs simply said “Firat 1”. I became very curious about what “Firat 1” meant. The only detailed map of Eastern Anatolia I had was an old one in Farsi that I had been given in Mashhad. So that was worse than useless. Eventually it clicked that this small creek was actually the head waters of the Euphrates River – one of the most important rivers in the history of human civilisation as it waters the ancient lands of Mesopotamia downstream in Iraq.
This non-descript stormwater drain is the not-yet-mighty Euphrates river.
As I rode the 35km from the border at Bazargan to Dogubayazit a snow-covered peak appeared out of the heat haze to the north. Eventually I realised that it must be Mt. Ararat, of Old Testament fame. I couldn’t see any sign of Noah or his Ark though.
Mt Ararat – at over 5000m it still had snow in the middle of summer.
A perfect day for riding.
It was a perfect day for riding – good roads, blazing blue skies, spectacular scenery and surprisingly little traffic. Dogubayazit came and went without a second thought as I headed for Agri and the Tahir Pass on the way to Horasan.
It was in Horasan I came back down to earth with a thud.
After months in Central Asia and Iran I had become accustomed to paying less than US$1/L for fuel. In fact, in Iran and Turkmenistan it was only US$0.35/L. But in Turkey it was about US$2.40/L – almost 8 times the price in Iran that I had left just a few hours ago. This was going to have a big impact on the budget!
Rejoining the main highway I dawdled the last 85km to Erzurum – relishing the fact I could at least read the road signs even if I couldn’t understand them. I found a decent hotel right in the centre of Erzurum without too much trouble. The staff were very friendly but were aghast when I told them I had just spent 2-3 weeks in Iran. They would not believe that a Western tourist could travel independently on a motorcycle in Iran. I assured them that the Iranian people had been unfailingly friendly. They remained unconvinced. As I had discovered throughout my travels, it was very common for the people of one country to believe that the neighbouring country was inhabited solely by thieves, murderers and sundry ne’er-do-wells.
Nevertheless, I decided that Erzurum also seemed like a friendly place and was worth more than the planned overnight stop, so the Hotel Dilaver became my home for a couple of days as I set about exploring the city and its history.