Thursday, June 29, 2006

Trabzon, Turkey

Well, this blog entry sees us in Trabzon, Turkey. In a day or so we should be going across the border into Georgia.
Here we are also doing a major update to our web pages (finally), so make sure you check out
The update covers our time in North Africa, and includes everything we have done up to Turkey, so we hope you enjoy it.

Now to this blog:
After a little over two weeks, we managed to get all our visas (with the exception of Kazahkstan, which we will get in Tashkehnt). I spent an extra couple of days polishing up the last few pages to our web site and we took of.

Not only did we manage to take care of the Visas, but somewhere in there we did a lot of work on the bikes. Including, inserting a heli-coil one week, taking it out and modifying it the following week. Replacing the front brake lever piston, and the left front fork seal on Cecilias bike. What it all meant is that we could take off with the bikes in pretty good condition.
Of course we also had plenty of time to catch up on a lot of movies which we had missed. So relaxed and rested we were looking forward to what the road had to offer.

Early Monday morning we headed to the Black Sea coast (why is it called the Black Sea?). The first night we made it to a town called Amasra, which turned out to be a very nice, relaxing, laid back resort town. For us it was just amazing how green everything was. One hour out of Ankara, and we hit the hills, with forests as far as the eye could see. It was so green we were almost blinded. The contrast is just incredible, to what we had been experiencing for the past 6 months or so.

After spending a night in Amasra, we headed to Sinop, where we found a little camping spot just outside of town. Sinop also turns out to be resort town, with plenty of beaches. It sits on a peninsula, so it has beaches on both sides, pretty cool.

After Sinop, we continued onwards, unfortunately it stopped being so nice. Up to Sinop, the road had been very small, and went up and down mountains, as it hugged the coastline as much as possible. There were few towns and everything was pretty rural. After Sinop, it changed the coastline wasn't as nice anymore, and the towns, larger and "grittier". It probably didn't help that there is a lot of construction going on, on the road along the coast. Lots of heavy traffic, dust, gravel, and more dust. We looked like two fugitives from Mad Max, when we arrived at Besikduzu near Trabzon. You could hardly tell my jacket was red! We were too tired to really bother and took the first hotel we found. A couple of kebabs and bed.

Before getting there though, we did take a break at Jasons Cape, having a quick look at Jason's Church. That is, as in Jason and the Argonauts. Across the road is a quaint little cafe, where we had a couple of cokes right on the beach, with the church in the background. As the weather was pretty overcast, it was pretty cool, when a ray of the sun would hit the church giving it a very heavenly aura. Not really tourist place, even if there is a desolated campground next to the church.

The next day it rained in the morning, but since we had decided to only go to Trabzon in order to take care of some last minute details before leaving Turkey, sure enough a couple of hours later it stopped, and we took off.

Trabzon, turns out to be a very busy, hecktic, port city, with lots of one-way street, and like a number of other Turkish towns, built on hills and valleys. We nevertheless managed to find a decent hotel with suitable parking for our motorcycles, and settled it. We proceeded to take care of a few things, and then spent some time catching up on the e-mails, and updating our web pages. Check them out at and that is it for now. Next time you will hear from us should be Georgia.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Ankara, Turkey

Well, a couple of weeks have already rolled by, and this update finds us in Ankara, busy trying to get all the paperwork necessary to head East.

To catch up. After leaving Damascus we headed to Krac Du Chevalier a little north west of Damascus. This is one of the best preserved castles in the region. It is on top of a mountain (ok, hill for us Swiss), and is visible for miles around. The whole area where it stands is hill after hill, and there is no straight way to get to this place. It always seemed that there was another hill to go around or over on the way there. The roads all very small and pretty dangerous, but we made it ok. The ride was a lot of fun, plenty of curves (obviously) and not too much traffic. Around every corner another beautiful panorama of small towns clustered on the sides of hills, with orchards and small farms taking the rest of the space.
At the Krac Du Chevalier we saw our Swiss friends Manuela and Francesco again, we parked next to their van and saw them waving at us from the top of the castle. We set up camp and went to have a look ourselves. It was definitely the most interesting castle I can recall having seen. You were allowed to walk everywhere, and there was a lot to see. Plenty of hidden nooks and crannies. We first walked around the outer walls, checked out the Turkish baths (bring a flashlight, as there are no lights). One passage goes down three stories or so and just dead ends into a closed tunnel. Later we speculated that maybe the dungeons where down here. Afterwards we entered the inner fortifications and walked along the inside wall, checking out the storage area with their oil storage jars still visible in the floor. Finally after two hours or peering around corners and shining our flashlights into every dark niche we could find we went to the top ramparts and enjoyed the view from the towers. Spectacular, towards the north east you could see the Mediterranean. Below, you could see far into the plains and you had a good view all around. No wonder this castle has never been conquered, by force at least. The outer walls had been breached, but the inner castle held, until the attacker used guile to overcome the defenders. He faked a message from their compatriots on the coast to surrender, and were given safe passage to the coast!

Back at the campground, Francesco and Manuela had gone shopping and bought some meat for grilling. So that is exactly what we did. After we had finished the manager came over and he and Francesco fired up a water pipe by our campfire. An excellent finish to the day.
The following morning we headed towards Hama, where there are Roman era water wheels, which are supposed to be very interesting.
As soon as we came down from the mountain, the heat hit us. Our computers both showed 49C (in the shade!), for you on the wrong side of the pond this translates to 120F! I cannot recall ever being anywhere where it was this hot. It was actually, cooler with my visor down on my helmet, rather than letting the outside air in! By the time we hit Hama we were all really tired, and looking for any shade we could find. We though that it was hot in Aswan or Libya where we previously had 43C-44C, and yes there is a difference in the extra few degrees. Anyway, we decided that we would find a cheap hotel and get out of our traveling clothes and cool off before doing any sightseeing. Luckily there were three hotels (all listed in our guidebooks, as reasonable) nearby, so I went and checked two of them out. The hotel Riad won the contest by being the friendliest (talk to Abdullah), not to mention giving us the best rate. We parked the bikes in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the hotel, unpacked everything, and spent the next few hours re-hydrating and relaxing in the hotel. It is really amazing, the moment you got out of the sun into the hotel the temperature dropped what seemed like 20C (actually only 10). Manuela actually caught a cold!

Later in the early evening, sufıcıently recovered, we headed the couple of hundred meters to the park where the water wheel(s) where. The park was pretty packed, no real surprise with this heat. It was shady and there was plenty of water all around so it was very cool. The wheel(s) themselves were really fascinating. It is large around 20 meters or so, and is very noisy. It moves water from the river to an aqueduct which supplied water to the town, and it is still operational! Another one across the way wasn't turning, but the one was enough. There are apparently quite a large number of these things here. We watched it go around and around for a while, and interestingly enough, it sometime almost stopped before getting going again. I guess the water flow varied. We found it so interesting that we decided to go and see a couple of others nearby, so we walked 2km along the river to another area where there were a couple of these things still running. These were only decorative and were hidden behind a row of riverside restaurants. We went in and had a quick look, without buying anything (the waiter hovering nearby). Here there is one large one like the one in the central park, but additionally there are two smaller ones next to it. All together they made quite a racket, and an impression. The pieces of the aqueduct can still be seen, and when you consider they have been around nearly 2000 years it is pretty impressive. What interested us the most is the fact that they made of wood, and they can be modified to carry more or less water by adding additional "scoops". Francesco and I speculated that, the central log on which the wheels turn, doesn't wear down because it is constantly wet. Maybe, maybe not.
We spent the following day just lounging about the hotel and doing the odd errand or two, before heading off to the north and the Sal-adin castle, while Francesco and Manuela waited for a phone call and an appointment to see someone in Allepo. So we said our goodbyes and agreed that we would probably see each other again in Ankara. We headed towards Latakia and got to the castle fairly early, had lunch and decided to continue to the border. We didn't bother seeing the castle from the inside. We did however have a good look from across the way where there is a great vantage point. The castle is pretty much gone, and only the grounds are clearly visible, parts of some buildings stand but not very much. The most impressive thing was the needle where two lanes have been carved into the mountain leaving the wall of the castle separate from the other side. (pictures will be posted soon..).

From here we headed to the border, and spend a while looking for a cheap hotel or camping. The tourist season hadn't really started so most of the places where closed, and those that were open wanted too much money. So we decided to go into Turkey. This was an un-usual decision for us since we usually like to go across borders early in the morning and not late in the afternoon (it was 17:00 already). The border post on both sides was virtually deserted, and all the paperwork was handled quickly and very easily, both getting out and in. Before we knew it we were in Turkey! We decided to head to the only campground we were aware of in Adana, which was another 280km away! The ride turned out to be excruciatingly long. First we were delayed by road building projects, apparently they are building a new "super-highway" towards the border. After that we had a flat just before sundown. I quickly got this fixed, but as soon as we got started again, and headed up over the mountains towards the coast the wind hit us really hard. The next 2 hours or so, we were constantly battling a very strong and gusting wind as we made our way over the mountains in the twighlight of early evening. As we looked out over the plains we caught sight of fires burning everywhere as they were burning the fields after having harvested. In the dark it looked like something out of Dantes Inferno. Very impressive. Luckily we didn't have to drive through any of the smoke.
The area near the coast is very industrialized and had lots of heavy traffic, so we headed for the Toll road. This at least gave us a nice clear road and a lot less traffic. In Adana, we spent an hour looking for the camping. No-one we asked had heard of one, and we just couldn't find it, so around midnight we gave up and headed for a cheap hotel. We pretty much took the first one we found (ok, second one, the first wanted 60USD, the second, 40TKY around 32USD), and went straight to bed. The bikes, were parked on the sidewalk in front of the hotel watched over by the staff. In the morning, everything was still there, and we got going pretty early. I got a pretty good surprise as I paid. Apparently the room went for 25TKY not the 40TKY the other person had wanted the night before. This is the first time that they have charged me less than agreed upon. The room wasn't worth more anyway!
We headed out of town in the direction of Ankara. On the way we were stopped by the police, for no apparent reason. They (3 of them) talked excitedly among themselves, before coming over and posing for a picture in front of our bikes, after which they let us go. Pretty funny actually. My bike was giving me problems, leaking oil all over the bottom part of my left leg. So we decided to go to Aksaray where there was a very nice camping and it wasn't too far away. There I let the bike cool off before trying to tighten the engine stud which has been loose since Morocco. Unfortunately afterwards, I started the engine and oil was still dripping out. We then decided to stay an extra day and I would try and fix the thing permanently by inserting the heli-coil which we had gotten from home back in Egypt. As it was late, we decided to do the work in the morning and enjoy the rest of the day relaxing in this very nice camping, which happened to be totally deserted. It even had a kitchen area with gas stoves for cooking, what luxury.

The next morning, I took the cylinder apart and quickly determined that the problem was the gasket. The cylinder gasket had blown and was the cause of the oil leak, the engine stud was still loose, so I decided to try and remove it, to see if I could do the heli-coil here. Once I got it out, I found that part of the threads were stripped, so I decided to skip the heli-coil and just clean up the threads, as I figured I would need a new stud before doing a heli-coil. I put the whole thing together and the oil leak problem was gone, the valve issue resulting from the loose stud would have to be solved in Ankara. The next day we made it to Ankara without any further problems. Ankara is a large city, build partly on and between hills. We spent a fustrating couple of hours looking for accommodations. First, the camping which we knew about was no longer open. An alternative wasn't very appealing as it had no showers and didn't look very secure. So we headed back into town to find a tourist office, which turned out to be more difficult than predicted, in the end we tried a couple of hotels and settled for the most reasonable one, with a good spot for parking the bikes.
The following day (Friday) we started the visa quest, as we wanted to get something started before the weekend. First up was the Azerbaijan consulate. Here we found out that we needed a "recommendation" from our embassy and we had to pay 40USD per person at a local bank. So off we went. In order to speed it up we decided to take taxis this first day as we didn't really want to waste the time looking for everything ourselves. This really turned out to be a good (if expensive) idea. In the end we managed everything fairly quickly, unfortunately the embassies close at 12:00 so we would have to return on Monday to submit our paperwork. We rewarded ourselves with a movie and some fast food, and bought some detailed maps, so that we could find our own way around town. On Saturday we decided to go by the embassy on the off chance that they might be open, unfortunately they weren't. It wasn't a total loss as we spent the next couple of hours riding around getting to know the area and finding other embassies which we would need.
The rest of the weekend, was spent relaxing and watching some more movies, as well as preparing for the coming week, by doing some last minute research. Early on Monday we submitted our paperwork and were told to return to pick up our passports (with visa) on Wednesday. A complete report of the visa quest will be posted on our "main" pages soon. The rest of the week was spent pretty much between embassies, internet, movie theaters, shops and hotel (updating the pages).
More coming soon...