A little tale of woe today I’m afraid, coming via Dad who’s uploaded and typed a lot of this for us. So we happily survived our little tour of ‘the axis of evil’, and very much enjoyed the trip. Mum breathed an audible sign of relief when she heard we reached Europe, and then we have to call and tell her we’re in jail in Turkey, land of the free. Oopsy daisy! At least this isn’t Iran though, we’re pretty confident they haven’t thrown away the key so we’re just waiting for a decent interpreter to show up so we can explain the situation. In the meantime, here’s the deal….
We’d been warned the Iraq-Turkey border was a nightmare, a no go for pedestrians and requiring at least 8 hours in a vehicle due to painstaking inspections. In and out in 90 minutes on a bicycle, with one cursory inspection, there are some advantages to using your thighs! And so we arrived in Turkey, Europe! It felt so good to finally see the Roman alphabet. OK, we couldn’t understand a word it said but at least we could read the letters. Unfortunately, this was the region’s only positive quality. The tanks parked at the entrance to each town put us a little on edge, and we quickly realised this was one of the most unpleasant areas we’d ever visited.
The people in this historically volatile border region didn’t seem particularly blessed with intelligence, looks or smiles and they didn’t exactly redeem themselves by throwing stones at us either. We passed through during the Kurdish festival of No Ruz (New Year) which meant every Kurdish village had a lit a fire of tyres so that the horizon was filled with ugly plumes of black smoke.
On ‘New Year’s Day’ we entered one town which seemed a little more pleasant than the rest, a welcoming ‘No Ruz’ banner encouraging Turks, Armenians etc to enjoy No Ruz along with the Kurds. Music was playing at the bandstand, a few folk spoke English, and the cafes were pleasant. As we turned around to leave we noticed riot police at a street corner and found our exit route past the bandstand was blocked by a crowd of yoofs, many with scarves wrapped around their faces. The older fellas bordering the crowd encouraged us to find another way out and kept the hostile yoofs out of our way long enough to stop them doing us any harm. We didn’t think much of it until we saw the town on the news the following night. The police, in gas masks, had cleared the crowd using tear gas and firing rubber bullets. We’d made it out just in time.
Things didn’t look up much, we tried to cross the border into Syria but were turned away as we had no pre-arranged visa. We’d read plenty of stories of people winging it, especially from countries without a Syrian embassy (eg Ireland) but the border guards were having none of it and encouraged us to try another border post a few hundred km down the road.
We hadn’t really got off to a good start with Turkey but it did have its advantages. Yummy, readily available food, good roads, warm weather and friendly petrol station staff when we couldn’t find a decent campsite. We had to cycle past some promising spots one evening when we spotted a tank, and army fellas in bright blue berets combing the area. On the news that evening it was revealed that 3 people had been shot in a nearby village over a land dispute. Lovely!
As we entered a town near the next Syrian border post a slick fella in a knackered car approached proclaiming to be a cop and asked for our passports. We showed them, and asked for his ID too. That all seemed in order but he insisted we accompany him to the police station. After much haggling we regained possession of our passports and followed him to the cop shop. Cue much waiting around, drinking tea and trying to make out all the Turkish chatter. After a long wait and some impressive sign language we establish that the Syrian border is closed and they want to search our stuff. Yawn!
Its getting dark and we’ve long since given up hope of making any progress today but we do get a kebab and some tea while they go through our things. Unfortunately they don’t really like what they find. I’m carrying 3 passports, and Pete has 2. This is of course completely innocent, we are fully entitled to these Irish, Canadian and British passports. As we both have a propensity for losing important things, and had some visa shenanigans at the start, having 5 passports hidden around between us seemed to make sense. We’re also carrying a GPS and SPOT transmitter, neither of which function correctly (though they look like they do). Pete has 3 different camera lenses and a laptop. None of these things go down very well so they settle us into a comfortable (to us at least) cell for the night.
Today, we’ve been allowed to make phone calls, drink a lot of tea, and are waiting for an interpreter. Pete’s been wearing women’s sunglasses since Iraq so maybe these cops are concerned about his sexuality, maybe they think we’re mercenaries heading for Syria in our high vis vests! Fingers crossed tomorrow we’ll be back on the road, unharmed, but a bit sad not to be going to Syria. We’d heard great things of the people and scenery, and I was very much looking forward to beers with a buddy there. Better luck next time eh!
km cycled to date: 5418km