D day has arrived. A new (and bloody expensive) winter riding jacket has found it’s way into my possession. I cringed heavily at the cost and almost withdrew from my purchase. Pondering over my dwindling funds in my dorm bed, I feel alarm at the lack of figures appearing in my spendings account… a new winter jacket does however make me feel much better about tackling the winter snows now falling in Cappadocia, and other parts of Turkey and Iran.
Planning the next leg of any trip is always exciting, and knowing I can hit light snow is comforting. Riding in snow kind of scares me at the thought actually. I’m not a seasoned winter rider by any means, and the thought of icy roads makes my undies grow rather colourful.
However, a new challenge has always been character building for me. I’d rather have a host of scary challenges into my version of the unknown, then a ‘nothing went wrong’ version of events. So with the dawn of winter riding upon me, I’m very honestly feeling excited, scared and calm at the same time. Let’s go and see what happens in Cappadocia eh?
Antalya to Cappadocia
After a lazy 3 nights wandering about Antalya, eating 1 euro Dürüm rolls for dinner, lunch and snacks, it was high time to go. I’d spend my last afternoon doing some preventative maitenance on Trumpet. I’d forgotten what an adjusted, clean chain looked like.
Leaving later then planned from Antalya, I tossed up the idea of stopping in Konya (three hundred kilometres away)… or riding the five hundred and fifty kilometres to Cappadocia instead. I just borrowed the old adage – time would tell.
Half swiss and half moroccan mountains formed up on the d695 road towards Konya. Brilliant oranges shouted over the cool grey of the low mountain ranges as Trumpet shifted between gears on the sweeping curves. Cool air flowed under my helmet, and I was thankful for my Klim windproof buff.
Within a few hours we had entered the fringes of Konya, and with plenty of sun left, it was decided to carry on to the red rocks surrounding Cappadocia. It was all good until the sun dropped – then it got bloody cold. After a wee, a cigarette, and a fill up at a shell station, I slowed up to counter the black night. Smoked visors really don’t help your night vision.
There was of course, no road lighting, and riding with my stupid smoked visor up just made my eyes water. I know I was close, just not sure how far I was from Cappadocia. At some point I arrived, to where I wandered into my rock cave, which was dimly lit and as warm as toast. 550 km later, we were in Cappadocia.
Cappadocia – Göreme
The following morning found Amis curled up in his bed, a few bunks away. I’d met the lanky Tunisian back at the rasta hotel in Antalya. He’d been to some interesting places, North Korea to name one of them!
Bolting down the free breakfast the cave hostel offered upstairs, Amis woke up shortly thereafter and joined me. Offering to tote him around Cappadocia on the back of trumpet, Amis wasted no time looking for a helmet.
At late afternoon, Amis wandered back into the dorm room with a helmet in hand, ready to pillion. It was going to be a nice change from all the riding I’d been doing alone with Trumpet. Gliding along the curving fresh tarmac, it took all of 5 minutes to reach Uçhisar, a high viewpoint overlooking Cappadocia.
Snow had been falling a few days before arriving, so the sloping hills and stone houses were crusted in a soft white powder. Reaching the top, the usual tourist trinkets were available to buy as well as various stalls selling dried fruits. Skipping paying to enter the rock citadel, we played around the strangely shaped rocks next door instead.
With the sun dropping, Amis and I headed back down the hill to Trumpet and made for more curious rocky outcrops a few kilometres south east of Göreme. The trails leading around the rocks were great easy riding. It was good fun riding through the rocks, looking for a high point to watch the sunset over Cappadocia from.
Day two in Cappadocia was again, another lazy start to the day. Amis and I finally got our shit together at 1pm, and headed south for Derinkuyu. Parking out the front of a boarded up church, some sweet old turkish lady wandered up, selling handmade dolls for two liras. Sure, why not, supporting the local economy was a great idea we thought. Besides, I was getting lonely and needed some form of female company on the road.
Twenty liras later, we wandered deep into the underground rock city – seven floors deep to be exact. It didn’t take either of us long to smack our heads into the overhanging rock – these bloody tunnels were so small we were doubled over most of the time. (With loud colourful exclamations of my feelings about said overhanging rocks, I found it pretty funny when the tunnels shouted “F#$% ME” right back!)
An underground rock missionary school, church, baptismal pool and water well later, we stepped back into the warmth of the twelve degrees weatger. Heading further south west for Ilhara Valley, Trumpet stretched her legs for another sixty kilometres. I could see Amis trying to hide behind me to get out of the cutting wind at 120km/h. Poor bugger.
Was Ilhara just another valley? It sure felt like it – aside from some freakish looking doll sculptures, and more churches dug out of rock. With recently fallen white snow decorating the drab grey trees of an almost winter, it was a pleasant walk, if a little nippy. Luckily it didn’t take long for us to wander in another part of the valley, yellow and completely sun drenched.
Watching a grumpy old woman prepare our Gözleme in the valley, she looked something out of a story book. She gave me some disapproving looks – not sure if it was the nose ring, the dishevelled beard or just my presence that offended her. Still, the disapproving old lady knocked up a great tasting Gözleme, cooked by a bored looking young bloke over a fire.
With the sun dropping quick, I made an extra squirty effort to get to Avanos before the sun dropped. My toes felt like they weren’t there after a half hour, and Amis had gone completely silent. The relative cold biting pain was all worth it for the sunset at the “Fairy Chimneys” though. Not sure about the name, they just looked like big rock cocks. “Dick Chimneys” would have been a more suitable.
Despite the overbearing phallic symbolism, heavy reds and soft pink hues from hobby gardens mixed in well with the cream coloured rock. Orange sun rays iced the top of the curious rocky shapes. It was a pretty remarkable view to be honest, and well worth the early switchback from the “ok-ness” of Ilhara.
Returning just after nightfall, Amis headed into the warmth of the cave, while I sussed out a BMW GS 650 sitting in the parking lot. Covered in lovely filth and brown dirt, a low hanging chain, eagle feathers and huge panniers, it looked like it had been around the world proper good. Minutes later, a short, grinning, grey haired south korean in flip flops and a thermal suit wandered around the corner.
Instantly the bike banter began. Shit, this was bloody nice, someone who likes bikes just as much as me. We swapped our stories, from my crashes in Iran and Georgia, to his major crash with a sheep in Georgia. He’d managed to lose the one of two main bolts holding his frame together, and somehow made it to Tbilisi without the bike falling apart. He’d had his bashplate rewelded three times, and sections of his front frame rewelded too.
56 year old Soon Ki had left South Korea a few months ago, and was headed for South Africa via the european alps, crossing at Spain to Morocco. I was headed the opposite way. I think it was a big relief for us to have met – neither of us had seen anyone overlanding on a bike for months. Being winter now, we were crossing turkey at the last possible moments before it got unbearably cold. It made alot of sense we hadn’t seen any other riders for a while.
That morning Amis and Soonki had elected to get up early to ride in the hot air balloons. I took the cheaper and free option to ride out to rose valley to watch the balloons from the small mountains instead. My gloves weren’t doing much from saving my fingers from falling off, but as it was a short 10 minute ride away, it didn’t matter much anyway.
Rose valley (named due to the colour of the rocks) was empty aside from me at 6.45 am. I puffed on a North Korean cigarette (gifts from Amis) while looking for good vantage points. Really, the entire place was amazing anyway, even in the dark. It’s like Michaelangelo had gone on an acid trip and come up with red valley as a sculpture. Pointy rocks, smooth wavey rocks, skinny carved cones, lime greens mixed with white snow and rose coloured stone…. a valley full of resplendent character.
“wait…is that… OH SICK!”
I almost wet myself a little when I saw the first balloon peep over the resplendent valley, farting out a little squirt of fire. To be honest, it’s a pretty bloody exciting feeling. The first of many balloons came fully into view. I’m not sure whether the best part was seeing the first hot air balloon come up, or when the fire flared and the whole thing lit up.
The darkness of dawn was transformed within a 45 minute period. Hot air balloons everywhere, it was more then picture perfect. The black background had changed to a sunrise of pinks and purples. Mix if with the rose coloured valley, and the forty odd balloons up in the sky… it was something pretty special.
It was so good I repeated it the next morning – with a very jovial Soonki in tow. It’s great being a kid again.
Far south east Turkey is a no no
With Amis now headed for Istanbul, it was Soonki and I sleeping the rest of the day away. While listening to the snores of Soon Ki, my planned route through Şırnak to Hakkari and into Urmia was looking to change. There was fighting happening between the Turkish armed forces and the independant terrorist groups of PYD, PKK, Daesh and Isis in the area.
After recommendations by all my friends and contacts in Turkey, I was persuaded to turn north after initially wanting to turn direct south east along the Syrian and Iraq borders. Reading up on affairs, there was random bombings and occasional small firefights occuring along the way. So south it was to Adana, before turning North east to Van to avoid the “hotspots”.
Leaving beautiful Göreme behind me, Soon Ki accompanied me for about 60 km to Derinkuyu. It was a good feeling, sharing the ride with another overlander. After wishing each other well, Soon Ki headed into the small town, while I turned south east for Adana.
Arriving in the afternoon, a smiling Esma tapped me on the shoulder and helped me carry my gear up to her penthouse apartment in Adana. After chatting for a short while, she took me out for an Adana shish which came on a plate with lots of bread and 5 different plates of vegetables. A turkish coffee reading followed, before I was lucky enough to meet her parents and sister in their home nearby.
If a man wanted to be fat and well fed, this was the place to do it. Esma’s parents sat me down and fed me with different kinds of dried and fresh fruits, nuts and the like. We had a conversation of Turkish translated to English and back again while sharing a light meal together.
One major thing I noticed in Adana, is that the city was much more conservative then any other place I had visited in Turkey. Bars were slighty less visible, and beer though still accesible, appearing less then everywhere else I had been. People seemed to dress more conservatively then other southern cities like Antalya too. Or maybe it was just the cold!
On to Şanlıurfa
Thanking Esma for her warm hospitality (I mean, she even got up early to cook me breakfast!), the highway to Şanlıurfa beckoned. There wasn’t much worth noting except that, as at almost every gas station I stopped at, I was offered a cup of chai. The young guys were all quite nice, and we made some kind of rough conversation over chai and a cigarette, even though all I know in Turkish is how to say thank you.
A brief four hours from leaving Adana, I arrived in Şanlıurfa, or “Urfa” as most turkish people call it. Again, as in Adana, I noticed that the city was quite conservative, moreso then Adana. There were no local bars to be seen, and if they were here, they were well hidden. Trumpet and I were definetly headed east.
Having trouble finding my host Jay’s apartment, a young guy delivering kebabs came to my rescue. He didn’t speak a word of english, which I also noticed as another change from most of the cities along the Mediterranean. Somehow we got around that and I showed him the address. He hopped on his scooter, motioned that I followed him, and so I did.
A minute after arriving and staring at the keypad, the door opened and there was Jay, with an outstretched hand and pulling me into a turkish greeting. Getting my drybags upstairs, I gratefully hopped into a long hot shower. Freshly washed and in clean clothes, it was time to see more of Urfa.
Jay was my chauffeur for the evening. First stop was Balıklı Göl, inside the old castle of King Nimrod, where now lies a lovely mosque and a bloke called Ibrahim. Ibrahim was a pagan fella who fell in love with Nimrod’s daughter. It is rumored that this is where he threw Ibrahim into the fire for fear of being murdered by Ibrahim, and the result is that the god of the time turned the fire to water and the trees became the holy fish in the pool. All a bit complicated if you ask me. Still, a nice story.
Jay took me through the Rizvaniye Cami mosque, which was smallish, but quite charming nonetheless. Much more… polished then the mosques in Istanbul if one needs comparisons. Climbing the hill just behind the mosque, the call to prayer sung out across the park, while the sun set. Jay led me to a warm cave where we got a little more acquianted over a glass of chai.
Almost the best dinner in Turkey
Dinnertime came, and was the best eating I’d had in Turkey thus far – excluding the legendary cooking of Zeynep in Istanbul. It was a sort of “do it yourself dürüm“, except the meat came hot and steaming off the fire on a fresh, thin slab of bread. Cutting my own onion, and loading our dürüms up with salad, it was utterly delicious. All kinds of spices were involved in the party in my mouth, washed down with a frothy cup of Ayran.
To finish off the night, Jay then stepped it up a notch and took me to a local traditional place for Billuriye, a sweet sort of pastry thing loaded with pistachios and honey. Oh, and I can’t forget about the syrian ice cream. One thing is for sure – when it comes to food, great affordable local food, Turkey really has its shit together.