The Loneliness of the Long Distance Motorcyclist Part 2
"All the pathos and irony of leaving one's youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time." - Paul Fussell
I rode through ferocious side-winds on the way to the Greek-Turkish border and I felt sorry for the soldiers on the border standing exposed out on the gate. Photo: Bernie showing Cathy who is blind all the countries I had rode through.
Borders are all about getting things done in the right order…
Passport checked; buy vehicle insurance; get that checked; get another signature; ride across to the other side and do the whole thing again.
A French woman in a VW Camper van just wouldn't have it. She told the Turkish customs official that her insurance was good for Turkey. He kept on shaking his head and he wasn't going to budge.
I told her that it would cost her 9 Euros for insurance and it would take her no more than two minutes to get the certificate, so she stormed off to give the insurance lady a hard time.
I rode happily along until I reached the outskirts of Istanbul. I thought all I had to do was take a right turn then follow the road and I would get to Sultanahmet. Istanbul has 25 million inhabitants - five times the size of Scotland.
I got totally lost. I stopped to think things through. The first guy I asked told me to go back the way I came so I did and rejoined the motorway.
I came off the motorway nearer to the centre. Stopped and asked a taxi driver. He told me to follow him which I did until he swerved off to pick up a fare.
Eventually I found the centre and budget traveler area of Sultanahmet. Fran who I had met at the Iranian Embassy back in London was there to meet me. She took me up to the roof for a cold beer and a view over the Bosphorous towards Asia.
I met to many people there to mention, but they were all good and I wish them all the best.
The next day I crossed the Bosphorous by ferry to get oil filter for Asha. Stuart and me got on the first ferry we came across. What puzzled me was why were we getting on a car ferry when there was a bridge no bigger than Westminster Bridge just up the river.
But the other side was not Asia that was round the corner. Silly me!
We finally got to the Triumph dealer who said he would send a filter over to my hotel the next morning.
He did. And I got the oil changed.
The young guys who worked on Asha were wonderful, especially lad with learning difficulties who constantly held my hand and laughed a lot. So did I.
The next morning I went back to the bike shop and met up with Adil who had ridden from Istanbul to Burma 10 years ago. He gave me loads of advice, lunch and rode me around Istanbul showing me the sights.
We stopped off to see a few of his friends and have tea, which included Mr Levent a former fighter pilot with the Turkish air force. He was still flying Spitfires in the 1960s.
Imagine flying up the Bosphorous in your own Spitfire? Amazing.
Adil also drove me around old Istanbul and we stopped off again at another friend who owned a yogurt factory. It tasted delicious.
It would not have been proper to pay Adil for all he done for me. He was only showing hospitality and friendship.
All he asked for in return was for me to ride slowly and telephone him when I had stopped for the night. I did ride cautiously and I did phone him every night.
After four days it was time to move on. The back packers I was with were either going back towards Europe or east towards Iran.
Thursday morning came and I packed Asha up and said my farewells.
I got back on the motorway to cross the suspension bridge across the Bosphorous. There were numerous traffic jams, but Asha makes light work of them and soon we were across into Asia.
However, when I got to the tolls on the other side of the bridge there was nowhere for me to pay. I hung around for about five minutes waving Dinar notes nobody came, so I rode on.
Another rule of adventure motorcycling is never to ride too far. I did.
By 6 o'clock I had ridden for about 300 miles. Rather than stopping at the town I had planned to I continued on. I had petrol but there was no hotels or towns.
I came off the main highway into a little hamlet everything was shut up and deserted. I got back on to the highway and was starting to feel anxious.
However, I came over a rise in the road and I could make out the flashing neon sign of a welcoming motel.
Off the bike, more tea, phone Adil, and bed.
Turkish hospitality is humbling. At the motorbike dealership, the bike garage, hotels, and gas stations - I would be given a glass of tea.
One time I stopped off in a brand new petrol station. I filled up and got under some shade for a rest.
The attendant was busy filling the soft drink machine. He waved for me to go into the yet to be opened cafeteria and get a cup of tea.
I finally found the kitchen where a pot was simmering on the stove. I poured two tulip shaped glasses of tea and gave one to the attendant. We smiled; drunk our tea, and then I helped him fill up the Coke a Cola cooler.
From Adeer I climbed up onto the eastern plateau of Turkey wide arid valleys with green and red tinged mountains. I would wave at the lorry drivers as I overtook them later on when I had stopped for a rest further up the road they would wave back. The Iranian drivers would not only wave but beep their horns too.
Another rule of adventure motorcycling is to keep those men on your side. You might need them in the future: when you have broken down, ran out of petrol or if...
I got to Erzurum in the far east of Turkey where I stayed with Bernie and Cathy. Cathy is blind and Bernie did the riding.
I get amazed most days, but some just out do others.
They were riding from England to Australia. You can't beat that now can you?
They had been waiting there for over two weeks to get their Iranian visas.
They had not found a liquor store. It took me ten minutes. White wine for Cathy and an ice-cold beer for Bernie and I.
Before crossing into Iran I stayed the night in Dogubayazit at the foot of the twin peaked Mount Ararat.
It looked so out of place with its peaks covered in snow slap bang in the centre of an arid brown desert.
I should have stopped at the first hotel I saw on the main highway I was worried about exchanging money at the border - another 34km further on.
So I rode around town until I found a cash point, every time I stopped I got pestered by street children. The region has a strong Kurdish population, but there doesn't seem to be many schools, many tanks though.
I finally went back to the first hotel I spotted of course they could change money; had a bar, and cable TV.
So I got up at 4.30 in the morning at first light and rode in to town to get some money. After breakfast I changed the money and rode on to the border.
Borders can be very daunting. Am I going to get stripped searched? Will they refuse to let me in? Will I be able to change money?
I met a moneychanger on the Turkish side who took me around five different offices for as many stamps and signatures then it was into Iran.
I waited, and I waited, and I waited. Finally a guy from the Iranian office came out and sauntered across to slide the gate back.
The Turkish gate was opened then the Iranian one (as slow as you like), and Asha and I just managed to squeeze through.
The border guard then chatted away to his Turkish counterpart. He was sure I was from Ireland. Well it did say so on the front of my passport.
I was then ushered into the immigration hall where everyone was so helpful. I was sent to the front of the queue and had my passport stamped in no time at all. I apologised profusely to the people waiting. They just smiled.
I then had to go and see six different people to get the Carnet for Asha signed stamped then signed again.
I walked into one office where a couple was in earnest conversation. After a couple of minutes or so I tapped on the door.
"Excuse me for a second sir. She is wrong and I just need to tell put her straight about a few things."
After a minute or so it appeared that they had settled their differences. He turned to me: "Now how can I help you this cerebral morning?"
I handed him my carnet and as he proceeded to log Asha's details in to his PC I turned around to the lady in the far corner. She shook her head and pointed at her colleague. Maybe they hadn't come to an amicable agreement after all.
When he got down to the section where he had to enter Asha's manufacturer. "BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki?" "No, I replied proudly, she is British: a Triumph Bonneville." "Royal Enfield?" "Okay. That I'll do."
Finally, I had to get a chit signed so I could be released from the border area. In all the formalities took about 45 minutes to complete, it was great fun!
Tabriz was not far and I was aiming for the hotel in the Lonely Planet Guide, which allows motorbikes to stay in the foyer. Hey! Asha needs her home comforts too.
A young family waved at me as they overtook me then stopped and waved me down. Their two children got up and sat on Asha. I told them I was looking for a hotel for the night. They beckoned me to follow them. So I did. Their two children wanted to stay on the bike. I was too tired and it was not such a good idea.
I thought the young boy was going to burst into tears until his mother put him in the back of the car and sat beside him with her arm around his shoulder.
Oh' everyone waved as they drove by.
When we got to the hotel they pointed at it and just drove on.
The hotel owner was a wise old looking gentleman. I was starving. He told me of a couple local places where I could get something to eat.
Asha was wheeled into the side of the reception desk, which everyone admired as they walked into the lobby.
I left my bags in my room and had a quickly washed the dust of my face. I was so hungry and the first place I spotted was a hamburger bar.
I tried ordering a Tak Tak and Aras - a beef burger and a coke.
However, it was 1pm and the owner was praying. I felt I had infringed on him and I felt embarrassed and so apologetic.
Two young teenagers about 12 or 13 started laughing and mocking the burger bar owner for praying. I scolded them and told them that if he wanted to pray then he should be given peace and quiet.
For goodness sake I am a Scottish orthodox atheist!
I waited outside on the pavement and a man in a business suit came up and asked me what had happened and if I needed any help. I explained the situation to him and he just laughed.
He looked into the café and told me that he would be finished in a minute.
I asked him if he was a Muslim. No. He said he sold cosmetics.
The burger was wonderful! The children were so polite after they had finished giggling and mocking the burger bar owner.
As I munched into my Tak Tak and guzzled down my Aras we chatted for a while before they had to return to class. Bright, enthusiastic youngsters I hope they get the chance to visit the world that they spoke so earnestly about.
As I walked up the tree-lined avenues of Tabriz nobody took a second look at me. I felt safe.
All the young women wore headscarves and make up. The scarves were pushed back to about the middle of their heads and the hair brushed up and sometimes dyed light.
Young couples walked hand-in-hand down the street every so often letting go when someone gave them a disapprovingly look.
Then as soon as they had passed they grabbed each others hands just that little bit harder.
To be continued.