Day 2: Brave
Published on August 13, 2011 in Oriental Express, Pictures, Tips n Tricks and Travellin'.
Had an extremely rich day. Crossed two borders, arrived in Ardahan and solved some important logistics issues today. Satisfied and excited about riding to Erzurum tomorrow.
In the morning in Gyumri I did meet the BMW riders during breakfast. Despite the license plate being Italian, the riders themselves were Greek and their destination was Yerevan. Our talk was short but useful, as they gave me valuable information about road conditions in Georgia and Turkey as well as an excellent tip on the relationship between speeding foreign motorcyclists and Turkish policemen. As we were parting, they asked:
“Are you riding the trip on that Honda by yourself?”
“You are brave!”
I grinned. “Your machine is such an overkill for the trip you’re taking” crossed my mind, but I kept it to myself. We checked out of the terrific hotel, purchased a USB cable and some medicine and headed out to the border.
Now if you are a motorcyclist who happened to arrive here doing a search on border crossing between Georgia, Turkey and Armenia then here’s a tip for you — border crossing is quick! You will hardly spend more that 20 minutes on the checkpoints. I rode into Georgia, refueled at Chevron (why don’t we have Chevron fuel in Armenia?), and rode to find someone on the road who could help me find directions to Akhalkalaki and Akhaltshkhe. Shortly I came across a police car that had pulled someone over. I stopped by their car and one of them approached me, realizing I wanna ask something.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes please, I need to find the border crossing with Turkey at Posof.”
“You’re going to Turkey? You’ll need to turn left at the next intersection then keep going straight all the way to Akhaltskhe. About 70 kilometers, then you will see the signs.”
“Are you from Armenia?”
“And you’re going to Turkey?”
“Yes, to Istanbul!”
“You are brave! Good luck, brother!”
I grinned again and rode off. By the way, I would be an asshole if I didn’t mention that both policemen were extremely nice, polite, helpful, eager to help and charismatic. Our own policemen have a long way to go to get there.
After a some riding across Georgian towns with a lot of Armenian markings, captions and labels, I arrived at Posof border crossing. Huge Turkish flags, everyone acted extremely professional and there was this feeling after Georgia of somehow entering Europe. I approached the security official stamping the passports and used the only Turkish word that I know:
“Mehraba!” (Turkish: Hello!)
“…Hay es?” (Armenian: Are you Armenian?)
“Ayo!” (Armenian: Yes!)
“Bari galust Turqia, sireli yeghbayr!” (Armenian: Welcome to Turkey, dear brother!)
That kinda stunned me for a second. He then asked me if I have international insurance. Finding out that I do not, he called someone and asked me to sign some papers, printing out an insurance form for me. Cost me 15 liras and I was happy I didn’t get one back in Yerevan — would probably cost me an arm and a leg. And so I drove off — Turkey!
The roads are totally Europe. There is generally always a flag in a visible range. The cars obey the speed limits most of the time. Towns are really underdeveloped, however, strangely enough, mechanization level is fairly high.
Road signs and license plates are almost identical to those in Europe. Direction signs are everywhere and navigating is easy. A bewildering experience were the truck drivers — if they see a motorcyclist in the mirror, they give you a hand sign of when to hold behind them for an incoming car and when it is actually safe to pass. Very nice for any motorcyclist, as we know the pain passing over a truck can be on a curvy road.Source : http://www.onehellofaride.com/2011/08/brave/
After about 80 kilometers, I arrived in Ardahan.
A very oriental city, kinda underdeveloped. Does not really compare to any city in Armenia. Mugham in the streets, streets are kinda dirty, almost all women wear hijabs, town center looks like some 3rd rank square in Bangladesh, Yerevan. Obviously not big on tourism. All roads are strangely made of cobblestone.
I checked into some really crappy hotel for 50 liras per night (I think it was the best in town) and went to eat something. What do you eat in Turkey? That’s right, kebab!! All sorts of them!
The way these people prepare meat here is absolutely stunning. I have realized that this journey is gonna be journey about food.
Not only is meat delicious, they also serve you unlimited amount of wonderfully baked white bread. At 10 liras (about $6,00) you have absolutely no way of staying hungry.
Besides the food, Ardahan is pretty boring and underdeveloped. The hotel is junk: they have WiFi but they do not have hot water until after 9:30. Absolutely nobody speaks English, or anything other than Turkish for that matter. While buying my Turkcell SIM card and configuring my 3G, had to use Google Translate to communicate.
One of the ladies at Turkcell asked a lot of questions about the trip using Google Translate. Finding out that I was heading to Istanbul, she inputted something in Turkish that translated into: “Will you have me?” I presumed it was a Google algorithm error, smiled and walked out.
She’s the second from the left. The guy’s name was Murad, he helped configure my 3G while I was talking with the lady.
Make no mistake with the girls asking you to have them on Google Translate though. Ardahan is extremely boring, no couples and no fun going on. A very typical oriental town. You don’t wanna live there.
There is a some architecture and details that remind of Armenia.
Erzurum tomorrow, that is 239km. Hopefully Erzurum will be more exciting than Ardahan. For now, park yapılmaz!
Day 3 part 1: AccidentSource : http://www.onehellofaride.com/2011/08/accident/
Published on August 15, 2011 in Oriental Express, Pictures and Travellin'.
“Like a good muslim!”
—Turkish traffic police officer
I took off from Ardahan early in the morning, hoping to arrive early in Erzurum. The weather was amazing, and the road was perfect. There was a road section on the way that was being renovated, and the workers were doing such a thorough job that I thought I should get off the bike and take a picture of the thickness of an asphalt layer that real roads are supposed to have.
After about 3 hours, I entered Erzurum. A pretty large city with visually decent economy. Once you enter the city, on a span of 300 meters you come across a car dealership office for every single brand that you can recall, from Dodge all the way to Mercedes. No motorcycles though. How come? Another thing you notice is that the tarmac is extremely slippery, just the way it usually is when rain just starts pouring and the car exhaust chemicals are not washed off the ground yet. What’s wrong? How can tarmac be so slippery when it’s dry?
I rode into some petrol station, refueled, and asked to pay with a Mastercard at the counter. My card was rejected. That gave me a sick feeling — I knew for a fact that my HSBC Mastercard was OK, and I didn’t have a lot of cash with me!
Riding out of the station, I dropped my speed to about 50 km/h, entered some tunnel that was curved inside, realized I was going too fast, pushed my brakes, locked the wheels, skid, hit the tunnel wall on the curve, fell down, the end.
Not really. I then hit the engine killer switch, got up, checked to make sure that I was alright and put my helmet in front of the tunnel so that the cars could know something was wrong inside. Some car stopped. The driver helped me lift the motorcycle, asked if I needed ambulance, called the police, told them a “motosiklet turist” has an accident, and left wondering how could I survive that crash — I hadn’t even scratched a finger. I was actually surprised myself. Surprised and grateful for every single dollar I had not saved when purchasing my protection gear. Kudos to AGV, Dainese and Spidi!
Two police cars arrived in less than two minutes. One of them blocked the tunnel entrance, the other one drove in and 3 policemen started asking me questions and registering my accident. Their behavior was, again, extremely professional. All of them were very polite, helpful and sorry for my problem. Only one of them spoke English.
“No, I’m OK”
“Move your hands and touch your legs please?”
(I move my arms and touch my legs)
“Move hands in other direction?”
“Can you stand straight?”
“Tamam. License plate? What country?”
“Tamam. Insurance papers?”
“Tamam. I will ask the central station where the closest authorized Honda Repair shop is, and we can take your motorcycle there.”
“What was your speed?”
“The law requires that you do 30km/h inside tunnels. You were riding too fast.”
“50 is too fast? I didn’t see a speed sign before entering the tunnel! Was there one?”
“No sign, the speed limit in tunnels is a general law.”
“OK, well I didn’t know that”
“We need to do an alcohol test. Did you drink before driving?”
“Can you please blow into the tube?”
I blew into the tube. He looked at the readings, dazzled. The sensor said “0.00″. He resetted it.
“Can you blow again?”
I blew again. “0.00″
“Like a good muslim eh? If you died here, you’d go to paradise my friend!” He laughed. Then pointed his finger up. “Ramazan!”
At that point the “central station” contacted him on the radio and told him that there is no Honda in Erzurum.
“The closest official Honda repair store is in Ankara. We will have to tow your motorcycle to the autopark, and you can decide what you wanna do later on. Towing service will cost you 30 dollars. Parking lot will cost you 3 dollars per night.”
“You sure you don’t need ambulance?”
“OK, please call 112 if you feel wrong later on”
The towing vehicle arrived in about 5 minutes, and took my motorcycle and myself to some open-air car parking area with a bunch of smashed cars and motorcycles. The police drove away, asking me to go see them at the central station tomorrow at 9am, to get a copy of my accident report. “You need that copy, because your insurance will have to pay for the damage you did to the tunnel wall.”
Day 3 part 2: Cengiz and UğurSource : http://www.onehellofaride.com/2011/08/cengiz-and-ugur/
Published on August 15, 2011 in Oriental Express, Pictures and Travellin'.
“You don’t go to a turk, ask for the price and say “OK.”
You go to a turk, ask for the price, and then you say — “But why??”"
The watcher of the “autopark” was a man in his 60ies named Cengiz. With barely 3 visible teeth in his mouth, he could not speak a single word in English and could not even comprehend simple words like “OK”. So I was sitting there, a lone “Ermeni” who had just crashed his motorbike, in this booth somewhere in Erzurum with this Turkish man who I could not speak a word with, my Mastercard being declined and my right knee hurting because of the impact. A pretty fucked up situation, or so I felt. I went to check my motorcycle for the damage. The throttle grip was broken, the left mirror smashed, the clutch lever and the headlight metal twisted, the front left turn signal broken. There was, however, good news — the engine started fine, and there was no leakage. I just could not ride it because of the broken throttle grip. We walked back to the booth. “Su?” asked Cengiz. Not knowing what that meant, I suddenly realized I was extremely thirsty. “Water”, I said. “I’m thirsty!”. “Su, su!” Cengiz opened the fridge and handed me two bottles of cold water. “Su” meant “water”. I will never forget.
He then turned on his old PC, fired up Internet Explorer with a bunch of stupid toolbars and yelled — “Internet!”
That sounded so right!
Google Translate took over from that point. Cengiz asked my name, asked me about my job in Armenia, gave me a thumbs up about being a programmer, then started calling to places and looking for Honda Repair shops in Ankara and Istanbul. After 2 hours of searching and calling, we could not find anything. I started getting hopeless again. “Yemek?”. Yemek means to eat. Cengiz suggested that I check into a hotel, eat something and call him tomorrow morning: “yarın!” He then walked me into a hotel called “Kral Hotel”, bargained a price for me at the counter from 100 dollars a night down to 50, carried my luggage all the way to the room, refilled my phone credits for 25TL, gave me his number and disappeared.
I took a shower, changed my clothes, and walked out to try and find something on my own. Now here is a useful traveling tip: nobody, I mean NOBODY speaks English in Erzurum. Although a pretty vibrant town, the society itself is very “traditional”. People do not speak anything but Turkish, and because of Ramazan all restaurants and eating places are either closed, or completely empty before 7:30. Nobody eats anything. So I tried my luck with “I’m sorry”ies and “Excuse me”ies and even “Hi”s, but nobody would even respond. And then, through trial and error, I met Uğur, fitting a carpet with a friend into a small red Opel. He had a backpack, and it somehow looked as though he could speak English.
“Do you speak English?”
Yay! 5 minutes later Uğur and his friend Ibrahim were driving me in Ibrahim’s car to the motorcycle repair places in Erzurum. Ibrahim couldn’t speak English but he could understand the word “OK” and nod. After seeing some shops I started worrying about troubling the fellows too much.
“Aren’t you busy? I don’t want to take your time!”
“No problem my friend, we help you and then we go!”
Uğur and Ibrahim were in the Turkish Air Force. Ibrahim was a pilot, Uğur was an air traffic controller.
“Are you Ermeni?”
“Yes, how did you guess?”
“You look like a turk, but you are not a turk!” he laughed. “That means you are Ermeni! Similar face like brothers! Kurds more different face!”
“If you no have problem with me, I no have problem with you. Like brothers.”
After talking to many different mechanics about my motorcycle’s broken parts, Uğur and Ibrahim decided that it was best for me to go to Istanbul.
“Take a bus, bus cheap!”
“But I need to take my motorcycle with me! How will I fit it into a bus?”
“Motorcycle yes, bus yes, OK!”
“Dude, my motorcycle weighs 200 kilos and is pretty wide, it is no bicycle!”
“Kawasaki 1200cc in bus OK? Your motorcycle bigger than Kawasaki??”
I shut up.
“We take you bus station now.”
The bus station was somewhere in the outskirts. The two friends walked to one of the company representatives, and started explaining my situation in Turkish. The driver didn’t even want to hear about taking a motorcycle on a bus. Uğur and Ibrahim were, however, persistent. Along the conversation I heard the word “Kawasaki”. The bullet argument. The bus driver gave up, opened the luggage compartment and asked me if the bike would fit.
“Evet!” I nodded.
“How much?” I made a money gesture to the driver
He took a paper out of his shirt pocket and wrote on it — “350 dolar”
“OK,” I told the driver and gave him a thumbs up. “Do we leave now?” I asked Uğur. He looked annoyed.
“You don’t go to a turk, ask for the price and say “OK.”! You go to a turk, ask for the price, and then you say — “But why??”"
I shut up.
“We now bargain the price. Give us time my friend.”
After about 10 minutes of talking really loud, Uğur turned to me.
“200 liras, or 130 dollar. Is OK?”
I was stunned. “OK!”
“You never say OK to price!” he smiled. “No forget! We take you to otel now? What you wanna do?”
“I have taken so much of your time! I insist that I take you guys out on dinner! What do you say? You can’t say no!”
“Only one condition — I pay!”
“OK! Can we take Ibrahim’s carpet to his home first?”
“Sure, where does he live?”
“It is near, military base!”
I shut the fuck up.
Something has to be said about the Turkish military. There is a huge lot of military bases all over the place — inside cities, towns, and along the highways. They are easy to recognize because the walls are painted a specific orange red. There is always an armed soldier guarding the entrance. Sometimes the soldier runs out and raises a flag, if the base is on a busy street. That stops all traffic and you can see tanks or Land Rover vehicles with NATO marking driving in and out. The military have a lot of respect in the public, and they look kinda different: always in good shape, hair done, the “charismatic alpha” kind. Uğur told me the military have more respect than the police. “First soldiers, then jandarms, then police.” I figured that with so many bases and so much respect in the society, whoever controlled the military would have an immense control over Turkey’s internal politics. I insist that it must be so, even if it is not.
Nobody stopped our car. Ibrahim and Uğur took the carpet up, and came back with Ibrahim’s mom.
“OK, we go, wait one hour, then 7:30 we eat. Ramazan!”
We went to a restaurant somewhere downtown, and talked about almost everything for an hour, from sex to PKK. Uğur was asking a lot of questions.
“You have a girlfriend?” he asked
“What do you mean by a girlfriend?” I wondered
“Someone you want to marry all your life but you have to wait because you can’t marry now!”
“No, I guess I never had a girlfriend on those terms!” I laughed
“Oh, Why no girlfriend? I have a girlfriend! We marry next week!”
“Do you know dolma?”
“Yeah I know Dolma!”
“Ibrahim’s mother makes great Dolma! You know what Dolma means in Turkish?”
“Yes, stuff! Something inside, stuff!”
At exactly 7:30 the food started coming. We had excellent meals: roast lamb meat, borek with cheese, cutlets and kebabs followed by dessert. I asked for the bill. The waiter got ridiculed.
“It is free!” laughed Uğur. “Ramazan!”
“But I insisted that I pay!”
“It is free. Food is free. It is Ramazan! Everything you eat free!”
We then walked around the town, they helped me exchange my dollars for liras and that is when I realized I had not spent a single dollar whole day except for the accommodation.