It is a lazy Sunday morning and we are 48 hours from our flight to Nepal, sipping tea in a quiet Istanbul neighborhood. The morning news headline is about families of the US consulate staff in Istanbul being asked to leave Turkey, citing security threats. A coup attempt, deadly airport attacks, and suicide bombers are all over the news in Turkey this year but these terrors are not the Turkey we have witnessed, felt, or experienced. For that matter, if we didn’t have access to digital media saying otherwise I would tell you this is one of the friendliest, honest, and safest places we have ever traveled.
Of course there are places we were warned away from like proximity to the Syrian border or the Kurdish areas in the far east. But in our 2,200-mile loop around Western Turkey we were met only with kindness and acceptance. There was not a single moment in our nearly eight weeks in Turkey that we felt unsafe. Quite the opposite in fact, we have been fed, sheltered, and cared for by strangers and have only witnessed the best of this wonderful country. We have made many friends here.
The WW I battlefield of the Gallipoli Peninsula was a bloody affair of trench warfare and attrition. Allied forces had suffered heavy casualties and had made little headway from their initial landing sites. After less than than a year the Allied forces evacuated Gallipoli with clear victory going to the Turks. Gallipoli, Turkey.
Our riding partner Clinton is from New Zealand and found our visit to Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) Cove especially sobering and personal. This cove became famous as the site of the WWI landing of the ANZACs on 25 April 1915.
Riding along the Sea of Marmara we encountered many of these precarious fishing structures. The pier is used in conjunction with a net somehow but we didn’t witness any active fishing so I can only guess.
Shannon tending the herd of Suzukis while they graze. Sea of Marmara, Turkey.
Istanbul is a city of 14 million people and is the country’s economic and cultural center. The massive city has one foot in Europe and the other in Asia and has a rich history going back thousands of years. We spent a few weeks here exploring so our time in Istanbul will get its own post.
We entered Turkey riding with our New Zealand pal Clinton. After he left for Greece two weeks later our friends, Gillian and Bradley, flew in from Seattle for a visit. Between these old friends and the new ones we made we were far from lonely.
Our riding in Turkey followed a clockwise loop through the Western half of the country. We decided early on to stick to the small roads and limit our travels to the interior regions away from the more touristic and modern Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines. Another deciding factor was the high cost of gasoline; Turkey has one of the highest fuel costs in the world (our average cost was US$6.23 a gallon, or $1.65 per liter). Our decision rewarded us with the joys of being far away from the tourist areas on our riding routes. And, this helped balance our Turkish experience with our stops in some of the country’s most beautiful (and touristy) must see areas.
After a long stay in Istanbul we headed northeast to see the Black Sea. We were warned not to bother because it always rains here and is often a miserable place to visit in the Fall. We were lucky and got two days of very rare sunshine.
Some mighty cabbages for sale in Cappadocia. The farmer wanted to make sure his sign made it in the photo. Göreme, Turkey.
The eroded hills of Cappadocia consist of deep layers of compacted volcanic ash (tuff). This soft stone-like material can be dug and cut relatively easily by simple bone or metal tools. Over the millennia the hills have been hollowed out to make homes, churches, monasteries, stables, and pigeon roosts. Entire cities have been discovered underground able to hold thousands of people. Göreme, Turkey.
The remains of a Christian church carved into the hillside. The amount of caves and voids carved by humans in the region is countless and new discoveries are still being made. Göreme, Turkey.
Frescos from the 4th century AD are still magnificent in this underground sanctuary. Göreme, Turkey.
No trip to Cappadocia is complete without a sunrise hot air ballon ride over this magnificent landscape.
Sunrise over Cappadocia from a hot air balloon. Göreme, Turkey.
A colorful sea anemone on the the coral reef? Nope, the top of a hot air ballon passing over the eroded hills of Cappadocia.
Our balloon captain was one of only 7 female pilots in Turkey. She was equal parts skill and fun. The trip was $85 per person, about half the normal price because there are so few tourists in Turkey at this time.
Shannon and Bradley taming the wild East on their trusty steeds. Göreme, Turkey.
The Rose Valley at sunset is the perfect place for a horseback trip into the backcountry. Göreme, Turkey.
An underground cave monastery with well preserved wall paintings. Treasures like this are everywhere in Cappadocia and a person could spend months in the region exploring all there is to see.
No greater treat than seeing old friends in new places. Traveling in Turkey with our Seattle friends was not possible on the motorcycles so we rode to Cappadocia over the course of 4 days and they flew and met us there.
These strange rock formations were supposed to be the original film location to represent the planet Tattooine in the original Star Wars movie. The Turkish government at the time did not allow the filming to happen. Cappadocia, Turkey.
The Black Cathedral is carved inside a rock spire. The black patina on the frescos was caused by cooking fires built inside by nomadic inhabitants in the centuries after it was abandoned. Cappadocia, Turkey.
We will miss our friends now that they have returned to Seattle but it was sure fun while it lasted.
A good example of just how hollowed out the hills of Cappadocia really are.
Turkey is very safe for wild camping and there is a lot of forest and suitable land devoid of people. Some of our best campsites were found on dirt tracks leading into the forested mountains. We also found hotels and cafes more than happy to let us pitch our tent in the garden for a nominal fee. In our four week circuit of Western Turkey we spent every night but one in our tent. All this camping was made possible by an entire month of blue sky and crisp yet comfortable temperatures. It was perfect “Indian Summer” weather.
The bikes continued to perform flawlessly but two years on the road is starting to take some toll. The Donkey needed a rear wheel bearing replaced after a total failure and I have discovered a significant crack in the frame that will need a welder. I was able to replace the bearing in a campsite but the welding will need to wait until Nepal. Shannon’s bike has a broken windscreen mount that also needs welding and I put further cracks in her windshield after I dropped it on the concrete while preparing the bikes for crating and air shipment. All in all these are minor issues considering the amount of miles we have ridden.
Quiet and little used roads through the mountains of Turkey in the crisp fall air, Can’t ask for a better life than this. Western Anatolia, Turkey.
Wild camping was no problem in Turkey. Once away from the cities there are many great routes through the sparsely populated mountains of Central and Western Anatolia.
Wild camping on the shore of Lake Salda in Western Anatolia. The water is highly alkaline and is not safe to drink but it sure is pretty to look at.
Breaking camp on Lake Salda. We found a great deal on tires in Bulgaria and have been lugging them around ever since. We will finish our tour of Turkey on the old tires and put the new ones on a day or two before crating the bikes for Nepal.
Mineral rich water flows down a hillside in Pamukkale, Turkey. The resulting deposits are called travertine and look more like Antarctic ice sheets than warm stone.
Shannon’s new flock of seagulls hairdo. Pamukkale, Turkey.
Space Invaders. This pesky kitten loved to get between the tent and rainfly. If she wasn’t such a sweet little beast we probably would have shooed her away. Instead, she got invited in the tent for afternoon nap time with us. Selcuk, Turkey (Ephesus).
We are air freighting the bikes from Istanbul to Nepal. We decided to do this due to the difficulty in obtaining Iranian and Pakistani visas as Americans as well as the rapidly approaching winter. It took a hundred emails and many weeks to arrange this shipment but the job is complete and the bikes are now tucked into a wooden crate along with most of our gear waiting for its flight. We fly in two days and will meet our bikes in Nepal and be back on the road.
Our campsite near Ephesus was nearly deserted due to falling on hard times. The camp host befriended us and insisted on making us a meal. He made us a monumental Turkish feast that lasted for 5 hours. Turks like to eat slow, talk, drink some tea, and talk some more. It was a lovely evening.
Getting a haircut in foreign places is always a treat. The politics, gossip and jokes are different in every country, as is the technique. Turkey is the first place where a flaming cotton ball was thrust into my ear to remove the ‘old man’ hairs sprouting out of my ear holes. Bergama, Turkey.
Everything breaks eventually. The Black Donkey spit a rear wheel bearing. It was bound to happen so we carry spare bearings and seals and I was able to make the repair in an hour.
We grew to really love Turkey and will probably return here one day. It is our heartfelt wish that Turkey will find peace, stability, and prosperity. It is painful to see something you love suffer. Thank you to the Turkish people for making us welcome, safe, and cared for. The warmth and sincerity of the Turkish people will be our most lasting memory of our stay.
The weather is changing rapidly and each day is colder than the last. Time to pack it in and head for Nepal. Erdek, Turkey.