Tigris River and old rock houses in the cliff face
Part one – the southeast
Customs and Imigration on the Turkey side was a bit of a shock after the efficient Iranians. We expected them to be more switched on and organised than they were, but we spent an hour and a half getting through. Seems they were having lunch!! When the visa guy eventually got back he would only accept Euros for the visa and we had just changed our Euros for US dollars as the guide book said they only take dollars. Then the customs guy was completely overloaded as about 20 truck drivers had arrived while he was having lunch and they all wanted to be processed. Fortunately I managed to fast track the Carnet but it seemed that every 10 minutes or so, someone needed us to sign another form or needed to look at the passports, yet again. Eventually I got so fed up that I told the guys on the last gate that the passports were sleeping in my pocket as they were so tired of being looked at and surprisingly the guard lifted the boom with a smile on his face! We thought we took a long time but some German friends we caught up with told us it took them over 5 hours to get through.
Funny how things pan out. We have had drama with a slow puncture since India, and thought we'd sorted it out. Well from Shiraz on it kept leaking slowly and we kept putting in new plugs which would last for a couple of days and then start leaking slowly again. Well, just before we crossed the border I removed the tyre and put a patch on from the inside thinking that would be the end of our problems. This was on the 11th and the last day of our visa was the 12th so we had to boogie to the border. Well the patch didn't hold and the tyre would only hold air for about an hour so we had to keep stopping to find a compressor and pump it up. No big deal we thought as we'll replace the tyre in Turkey.
After the border delay the tyre was almost flat again but we had to ride on slowly until just outside Dogbiscuit (Dogubayazit, 35 km from the Turkish border) where we stopped again to pump it up. With a pumped up tyre we were keen to find our 'home' for the night but when I hit the starter there was no go. Just a click click click. Bugger. Out with the voltmeter and the battery only has about 4 volts. What to do, nobody here speaks English and the guy with the compressor just offers us tea! Get a taxi perhaps. Ok good idea, we'll show him the problem and he can find someone to help out. Taxi arrives, seems to understand the problem and we get him to drop Dianne off at a hotel and I go with him to a motorcycle shop. A guy comes with us to the bike and we try a jump start, but to no avail. We're about 2km from the town and we can't leave the bike here so what do we do? Well, the guy from the MC shop is as thin as a rake and tries to get Jack off the side stand to push him, but he can't manage it, so I do and we start pushing all the way to town. Along the way old mate collared a few people to help out and I sat on Jack, but we were really stuffed by the time we reached town and the bike shop.
I tried to ask the guys to charge the battery overnight and then do a load test, but remember they don't speak any English. When I went back in the morning they were over the moon. They told me through an interpreter that the battery didn't have any water but they had found a way to open it up and add water. They thought that would fix the problem. Remember this is a gel battery, totally sealed and not meant to be topped up. Now it is totally buggered. Anyway to cut a long story short, we were stuck in Dogbiscuit for 3 days while BMW sent a replacement battery from Istanbul under warranty. Seems these new gel batteries can just fail like that without warning at any time. We organised a new tyre while we're here too, so now we're rested and Jack is rearing to go.
In Turkey these problems are easy to sort out, but just think, if this had happened a few hours earlier in Iran! We were on the last day of our visa and seriously short of Iranian cash, not to mention the non availability of tyres and battery to suit Jack. We would really have been in the soup then. As I always say, if you're going to have bad luck, make sure you also have some good luck.
While we waited for the bike parts to arrive we relaxed a bit and enjoyed the fantastic blue skies and good views of the dormant volcano Mt. Ararat, the highest summit in Turkey. A bit of a privilege really as the volcano is usually covered in cloud. The Ishak Pasa Palace is only a short 6km mini bus ride up a steep hill behind the town and has interesting architecture with stunning scenery. I should mention for other travellers that we stayed at Hotel Tahran in Dogbiscuit which has comfortable rooms where Celal the manager speaks English and will go out of his way to help travellers.
The battery and tyre have arrived as arranged so we are ready to move on. Thanks to Sam and Lee our sponsors for the tyre, Jack is very happy.
The clear blue skies that we enjoyed for two days have been replaced with cloud and rain and this bad weather has forced us to revise our plan to head up the mountains to the Black Sea, so instead we will go south to Van on the east side of the Van lake, the biggest lake in Turkey. Leaving Dogbiscuit the temps had dropped to 8 degrees and it was starting to rain as as we climbed the mountains it got even colder and started to hail. Fortunately, about 40 km from town there was a military check point and they needed to see our passports. 'Get them out' I said to Dianne. 'You get them out' she replied. Bugger. They were still with the hotel manager back in Dogbiscuit. We're still not used to having to leave our passports with the hotel and with all the dramas with the bike had completely forgotten to get them back. Nothing for it now but to return to Dogbiscuit and get them.
We understand that the Turks have a real problem with the Kurds so there is a huge military presence here in eastern Turkey even though the situation is settled right now and we are told travel is quite safe. There's evidently about 25 thousand Kurdish milisha fighting for better rights for the Kurdish population and the area is controlled with many military checkpoints.
Van, with a population of half a million is the eastern most city in Turkey and is famous for its castle, the Van cat and special cheeses which are served for breakfast.
Two days in Van though is enough and today we decide to ride around northern side of the lake passing through Ahlat with it's fascinating Seljuk Turkish tombs and ancient graveyard.
German friends Annette and Kai who we met in Alice Springs (Australia) have emailed us to say they are in Dogbiscuit, so we make an arrangement to meet on the southern side of Lake Van at Akdamer Camp site near Akdamer Island. Our friends are also finding things expensive so we decided to set up our first camp in Turkey. We found the ground a little hard but it was good to be back in the tent and we will certainly be camping a lot from now on.
Turkey is full of interesting things to see and near Tatvan on the south east corner of the lake is Mt Nemrut, 2930m.
A most enjoyable ride through ever changing scenery and farm lands as we head for Hasankeyf on the Tigris River. In contrast to the cities we pass through the people here have a simple and traditional way of life.
High rocks house thousands of rock houses, support a mosque and the remains of an extensive ancient city, now in ruins. Hasankeyf was founded in Roman times as a border post with Persia. The town is expected to be drowned by the waters of an artificial lake although protests against this "cultural vandalism" has, fortunately for us, delayed this sad event.
We spend the night at Midyat before heading west to Mardin another ancient town built into the hillside below a castle.
A must see in the east is the Nemrut Dagi National park, our friends tell us that right now it is only accessible from the west through Kahta because of low water levels, the ferry in the east is not operational. We have to take the long way round through to Sanliurfa past the Atatürk Dam to the west. The good news is our guide book describes Sanliurfa as "one of the most exotic cities in Turkey."
Sanliurfa, known as the Prophets' City because of legends saying that the Patriarch Abraham was born in a cave here. Local Muslim legend differs from that of the other faiths by the intervention of one vicious and cruel King Nimrod, who had Abraham launched from a catapult from the city's citadel to fall into a pile of burning wood. Happily, God intervened, and turned the fire to water and the wood pile into fish, and we visit the mosque complex surrounding Abraham's Cave and The Pool of Sacred Fish (Balikligöl) around it. The cruel ruler's giant slingshot is represented by two Corinthian columns still standing atop the citadel. The city dates back at least 3500 year because it sits right at the crossroads of routes to Europe, Asia and Africa. We spend several hours here wandering through the park and wonderful medieval bazaar.
We stayed at the Cesme pansion and camp site in the mountains right next to the gate into Park. The Nemrut Dagi National park is home to the more famous Mt Nemrut (than the one on Van Lake) and the stone carvings of seated figures of gods and kings several metres high with their fallen heads at their feet, toppled by earthquakes.
Dianne and I have decided to make the most of being in this region and Syria and Jordan sound fascinating, so from Nemrut Dagi it's on to Gaziantep, about 130km from the Syrian border. There is a Syrian Consulate there and we were hopeful they would issue us with a visa, but they need a letter of invitation from the Australian embassy before they can do that. However, we're told that if we simply arrive at the border, we should be granted a visa so tomorrow morning we'll give it a go after the weekend.
After going into many hotels, all over $100, and starting to panic a bit we finally found the Junus Hotel here in Gaziantep for $50 with a good breakfast.
Jack is long overdue for an oil change and a short walk further on from the Syrian Consulate I noticed a shop selling Mobil oils. I went inside and checked the oils out, but didn't find what I really wanted. The owner didn't speak English but I indicated that Jack wanted a full synthetic 15/50 oil. Well, he ripped open a cardboard carton and pulled out a container of Mobil One Racing 4T, Jack's favorite. This fellow gave us a good price for the oil, offered us tea and I then asked where we could exchange money. The Syrian officials want Euros for the visa. Hop on the back of my scooter, he indicated and he to took me to an exchange place. We did the deed and were offered more tea and then returned to his shop where he insisted that we stay for lunch. I just can't remember getting that sort of service in Australia when I buy oil!
What a difference a country makes
From the little we have seen of Turkey there is no typical Turkey, it is a land of contrasts, of ever changing scenery, with places that are either progressive or lost in time. We have found traditional and innovative people in both ancient and modern cities. The only common denominator is the strong National pride here and we look forward to returning after our visit to Syria and Jordon to explore more of Turkey and find out more about the food here!!! For now we have already covered 2000 kms in Turkey with a moving average speed of 67,5 km an hour. The traffic here in the east is well regulated and not dense and at this stage we have no complaints about the traffic.
Click Next page below to continue our journey in Syria