In at the deep end

Bad roads, nice terrorists.

October 19, 2008

Where to begin.
On reflection I should have made a blog post before I left Turkey.
‘Oh, I’ll do one when I cross the border’
Little did I know the Iranian internet infrastructure was slightly lacking capacity.
I’m writing from the first internet cafe that has speeds above 56k per computer, which means I can get on to wordpress, yay!
Downside is I didn’t expect this, so the only photos available are those that I uploaded before I left Turkey.

After leaving DoggyBiscuit Stefan had to go back down south so we bade him faretheewell and as 2 bikes and three men headed north for Ani.

We stopped briefly at Diyadin for their famous hot spring baths, in the process locating a hotel for 5 lira a night each (approximately 2 pound fifty).
‘Twenty Lira’
‘But we were told 1 lira!’
‘Twenty Lira private bath!’
‘Well lads, let’s be sociable!’
We stripped to the undies (undies and swimming trunks in my case as I’d taken to wearing swimming trunks rather than trousers under my leathers in the hotter weather) and climbed in with everyone else.
‘Aaah, this is the life’ I said to no-one in particular as I stretched my arms along the edge of the pool, sitting comfortably on the wide shelf just under the water.
First bath (as opposed to shower) I’ve had since leaving England. Beautiful!

We woke the next morning properly refreshed and headed once more in the direction of Ani.
‘Get there tonight, stay somewhere close by, visit the site in the morning’ I suggested.
‘Sounds good’ Chris agreed.
Little did we know three nights would pass before we would actually make it to Ani…

We took a right off the main road onto an ‘important link road’ (as classified by the map) that cut around 250kms off the main road’s path, and based on previous experience, roads of this classification were generally 100km an hour roads.

The road was OK to start off with, lumpy tarmac, but reasonably well maintained.
Soon though the road started to become pitted with potholes, then degenerated to massive roadworks which left only a narrow path for the bikes, a car would have had to turn around.
But we soldiered on, even when the road turned to mud and the poor CB’s road tyres clogged with mud and took Wez and Chris for a tumble.

Eventually the road came to a little village, where the surface finally turned into the same consistency of mud as potters use as ‘slip’.

And slip we did, Wez and Chris landed right next to a locals car, who immediately came out and pointed angrily at the rust patches and paint cracks on it, as if somehow caused by us…
As the bike had landed on Chris’ foot, this was the last thing on his mind and he rightly ignored the opportunistic local and stood the bike up and gingerly rode out of the mud.

Immediately after the village the road forked, and the direction marked on the map went uphill and showed no signs of improving, whereas the unmarked road started off paved and went on the flat.
According to a local…

… A rather eccentric local, the paved road would take us out onto the main road in fairly short order.
Meanwhile Wez and Chris stop to take off the mudguard on the CB, which is acting as a perfect ‘mud distributer’ and liberally caking the wheel with fresh mud each time they clean it.

Pretty cool vista I must say…

We soldiered along the road, and after coming over the top of some spectacular mountains, picked our way carefully down a seemingly endless series of alpine style hairpins covered in gravel.
After getting to the valley floor we rode through a small forest, me leading and I very nearly binned the bike into the hedge when suddenly a massive Armoured Personell Carrier came charging round the corner, gun barrel pointed directly at us and rumbled on past oblivious.
Eventually we came to a small village, modest, though large enough for a chai shop, where we gratefully stopped after our ordeal.
‘Oh great, here come the Jandarma’
Usual rigmarole, follow me, passports please.
Except this time it took longer than usual, and they were rather more pleased to see us.
Wez made noises about being hungry and we were promptly sat in front of an omlette and a can of coca cola each.
‘Cor, so this is where our tax money goes!’

Muuch better! We headed off again to stop at Digor, a tiny town which when we rolled up and asked for directions to ‘otel…
‘No otel’
‘No otel?!?’
‘No otel..’
We whipped round and saw a mustachioed gentleman who made signs that said we could sleep in his house.
His ‘house’ as it turned out was in fact the middle-floor of a bakery, and after getting settled in he queried.
Efes being the Turkish Beer of choice we nodded vigorously and were shown the ‘back’ of a local chai shop.
*Some time/beer later..*
#Onsi fan dari don… Neden#
‘Neden!’ The three of us chorused, being unable to remember the rest of the oft-repeated lyric fragment.
Our mustachioed amigo sat up in his chair, pulled out his mobile phone, played with the buttons for a while and passed it to me.
In front of me was a picture of him holding a submachine gun in full camoflague gear.
I handed it to Wez and Chris slightly concerned.
He pointed to himself, and then to his two friends who were drinking with us.
‘Peh Keh Keh, Peh Keh Keh, Peh Keh Keh’
‘I think they’re part of the PKK…’
The tone was still jovial, and we spent the rest of the night drinking, learned what the Kurdistani flag looked like, and went to sleep in the bakery.

A few hours later I was woken by the sharp squeak of a walkie talkie end-call tone.
I half opened an eye to see an armed figure standing in the middle of the three beds, Chris and Wez were standing up.
Somehow my sleep-addled brain thought this unworthy of waking up for, and I immediately put my head back down and went back to sleep.

Chris related in the morning that at about midnight the Polis burst in in an armed squad of 20 and demanded to see passports.
Fortunately there only being two bikes outside, they didn’t notice me and I was left undisturbed!

We spent that day visiting a nearby Armenian church, which, while locationally impressive (why you’d bother to build a church on such an inaccessible outcrop of rock I’ll never know) was not especially beautiful, and personally I was thinking only of Ani.

After another night spent at the PKK bakery we set off in the morning for Ani.
According to our map (a familiar phrase!) the road to Ani was half way between Kars and Digor.
Well, there was only one road in the right direction even approximately halfway between Kars and Digor, so we took it.

Beautiful bit of road, all the better for not being sealed.

Striking countryside, though the road has now turned into a tractor trail that’s mostly invisible.

At the bottom of this valley is a river crossing, which both bikes deal with with panache.
Having got to the other side, we now have to climb up the hill.

Oh come on lads, this is ridiculous!

Getting the bike from the bottom left hand side of the picture to the top right was far more difficult than it might appear.

Having crested the hill I was simply happy not to end up like the guy in the foreground.

We found the gravelly broken road to Ani and set off.
By the time we arrived the place was about to close (it was getting dark) so we attacked the local grocers shop (which had only 4 eggs) and were promptly invited to stay the night with a family of Turkish farmers, which we whiled away teaching each other card games (with varied degrees of success)

The next morning we stormed Ani.

Being an ex-UT geek I found ‘The Church of The Redeemer’ hilarious and a place of worship simultaneously.

From the inside.

The inside of another church, nearer the canyon that is the natural border between Turkey and Armenia.

The ceiling of the same.

Broken steps.

Another little Chapel.

Perilously close to the edge!

Quite an effective natural border I’d say!

Some of the patterns feel almost Celtic.

The minaret of the oldest-mosque-in-the-area-now-known-as-Turkey (named for factual accuracy) which me and Chris climbed to the top of before noticing the ‘Do not climb minaret’ sign round the side…

What’s the best thing to do with graffiti on your ancient Armenianchurch?
Why whitewash it of course! Historical conservation, Turkish style!

This blog post has taken a surprising amount of effort to write, I’d hoped to be able to write about Iran while I have a reasonably fast internet connection but I’ve run out of time.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to update next so apologies if it’s a long time!
If you really get desperate for an update I’ve got an Iranian mobile now, the number of which is…
+98 937 093 6325

Guli Guli! (or the farsi equivilent!)

  • AJ

    Chap… Every post you, err… post – i get more jealous…

    Fantastic thing you’re doing and following closely. Just tried phoning you, didn’t go through though so will try later.

    Take it easy!


  • Sam

    Oh that was you was it!
    Thanks for waking me up you bastard :P
    Don’t forget I’m 2 and a half hours ahead of you!

  • AJ

    My bad… Will try at a more reasonable time next time round!

    Hope you are doing well, dear boy.

  • Alex

    You know I doubt now that you was in Ukraine
    Believe me ,our roads is the worse in the world