Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Erzurum - The lost days

Eight pounds a night doesn't get you much but I'm just grateful for the radiator – wifi is a bonus.

The next four days disappear to food poisoning and copious sleeping. I had the room closest to the communal toilet – sadly sometimes it wasn't quite close enough....another disadvantage of only having one pair of trousers!

I leave the hotel a few kilos lighter. I pick up my bike and ride out of town towards the bus stop. It's the last day I can enter Iran and I still have 300km to cover – my travels solely by bicycle come to a premature end.

The -25C air burns as I suck it into my lungs. I'm grateful that the bus stop isn't too far. My bike is bundled into the storage area and we get moving – thanks to the internal combustion engine beneath me (symbolic spitting on the floor). I sulk for a while as I look out the window but soon turn my attention to seeing if I enjoy this new method of travel.

On the bus I meet a man who offers to take me to the border. We load my bike into the back of his van and then he takes me into town to meet his friends and buy me lunch. Not a bad deal! Driving out towards the border I get my first views of Mt Ararat – and a beautiful view it is to. I imagine the climbing, the thin air, and the view from the top. I come very close to to scrapping my plans and blowing €600 on a trek.

I cross the border in the dark. The process is simple enough – no bag searching etc and I'm in. Manage to lose my lift to Tabriz – but I'm in!! Barzargan is just another manky border town. I ride until there's sufficiently low building density and put up my tent in a field by the roadside. The ground is frozen solid and so my tent is poorly pitched – could be a grim night. From the adjacent building I hear some kind fellow empty two magazines of a handgun...sweet dreams.

Askale - Erzurum 58km 11/01/2011

I feel compelled to mention, if only briefly, the Turkish soap operas that play continuously in truckstops and service stations. Their "quality" trancends the language barrier. Think Eastenders - written by Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal. Busty beauties feature heavily, storyline takes a back seat to drug dealing, door kicking and fiery arguments. Firearm props appear to be taken from the Judge Dread set.

Many a glass of cay has disappeared while I warm my digits in a greasy truckies cafe - peeling my eyes away from the action only long enough to drop two sugar cubes into my glass. This is culture!

Warm night thanks to the for walls and roof that surround me. I knock back a few glasses of cay and get the wheels turning.
I ride across a huge plain that is fenced all around by snowy peaks extending heavenward. Wide open space bliss. Few cars disturb the tranquility - at such times its easy to remember why I'm doing this, and why a chose a bicycle.

I come close to loosing the battle with the cold - mainly due to my insufficient gloves. As I pick up speed on a gradual downhill the windchill freezes my breath into my beard.

Brunch of road kill grilled on my stove, charred dog leg with a side order of hydrocarbons - don't think I'll be trying that again in a hurry!

I climb gently up into the centre of Erzurum. I park the bike up in the street. Seconds later I'm being called by the security guard of a gallery to join him for cay and a warm by the radiator. Ahmet hands me a big old glass of cay and we get to talking sport. Erzurum is hosting an international winter sports event in a few weeks - shame I can't stick around. I'm then ushered into the restaurant next door and treated to a free feed of delicious chicken stew. I say my thanks and good byes and seek out a cheap room for the night.