A quicky to Greece
After 1300 kms of monotonous motorways and a relaxed boat trip from Ancona, Italy, t Patras, Greece, we finally ride our bikes off the ferry. This is the real starting point of our trip. The final destination is the historic site of Petra en the road will take us through Greec, Turkey, Syria and Jordan for about 10000 kms back and forth. Caro just got her permit since about a month and many people said we were nuts to already leave on a big trip. But every once in a while one just has to do what he feels like. Practice makes perfect and Caro is determined to complete this trip successfully. It won’t be as fast, extreme and technical as my former trip to South America, that’s for sure. I am used to travelling on my own so I usually don’t have to pay attention to anyone. But living such an experience as a couple is truly worth the compromise. I am sure that many adventure travellers would envy me…
The first day is merely a warming up spin. It’s already three o’clock in the afternoon as we get on our bikes, but the atmosphere is great. Landscapes are stunning and the roads look more than attractive, but the road surface is of pretty bad quality which does not allow to ride the edges of our tyres. At the first roundabout my rear wheel breaks out violently and cornering makes the bike feel pretty vague. This is only a mere announcement of what is ahead us.
We spend the first night in Olympia: the first Greek culinary specialties and the first impressive historic site are a fact. Olympia is more than worth a visit but compared to about 15 years ago, this place has become way more touristic, without getting too commercial. Prices are ok, people are friendly and open and the atmosphere is hospitable. We enjoy it a lot!
We had a nice route prepared for the next day but once on the bike, we just followed a mere direction through the Peloponnesian coutryside. I have the impression that no matter which route you go for, it always turns out to be breathtaking: twisties in the mountains, fast on the straight sections, almost no traffic, the sun in our face and enjoying the priceless views of the mountaneous green landscape. No place on earth has a denser concentration of ancient monuments but we can’t but be selective and we pass many of them without stopping. The impressive Corinth Canal, the connection between the Corinth Gulf and the Aegean Sea, is our last stop before we head to my friend Kostas near Athens.
It’s pretty late already as we arrive there but we get a more than warm welcome. We get to know the Greek hospitability: Kostas is a fanatic GS’er and I only know him from the internet, but he treats us like a king. I ordered my TKC knobblies and shipped them to him, which avoids taking two heavy tyres on the back of the bike. They’re waiting for us in his garage and the next day we take the time to prepare the bike for what’s coming. Tyres around the rims, a warm goodbye from Kostas and Hope and off we go for Piraeus to catch the ferry to Turkey. Just as I see the automatic door closing behind me, I notice the front wheel has lost all pressure. Ooooh bloody hell! We have to be at the ferry in about an hour! We had to hurry: 20 minutes later the old tube is out and the new one is fitted. I am soaking wet as I did this in the burning sun at about 30 degrees. That bloody brand new tyre. I had pinched it by accident with my tyre leaver. My own stupid fault. And in the hectic traffic chaos of Piraeus, my engine runs hot and the oil level drops from max to below minimum in just 15 minutes. But we get to the ferry just in time and we are dropped on the isle of Kos in the middle of the night.
We didn’t get any sleep, but the sun and the atmosphere makes us feel good. Another half an hour to Cesme, Turkey, and than as quick as possible fixing our paperwork at the border … or NOT.A friendly Turkish customs agent tells me a cannot bring two motorbikes in the country and as both bikes are registered on my company, we have a problem. A big one. %22You will have to leave one bike here and proceed the trip with the other one%22. An attempt to fix things in an informal way you know, man to man, understanding and flexibility leaves me with a prompt but clear NO! Shit, apparently the Turks have become a little stricter these days and they are making themselves clear that it wouldn’t be wise to try that once more … So there we are, at the border after a sleepless night, with two bikes that are not allowed in. Mehtab, a translator/fixer finally gets us to a notary where we get the confirmation that absolutely nothing can be done without the necessary documents. And those are at home, veeeeeeerrrrryyyyyy far away. This can’t be true! We ask and discuss and curse and try to explain things in sign language for half an hour until we finally come up with our own solution scenario that makes them lift their eyebrows. It goes from over the Belgian embassy in Ankara to my notary in Belgium over an official translator in Cesme, back to the Turkish notary and finally customs. According to Mehtab there is a slight chance of success and finally, just before closing time, the notary gives us the necessary stamp, albeit with quite a bit of suspicion. We’re wrecked, we smell like a dog, but the day after we ride our bikes across that bloody border. Motherfuckers!
Pamukkale and Capadocia
Just one more stretch through the wasp nest named Izmir and then off to the Turkish countryside. The condition of the roads is bad but the views are impressive. Caro is doing pretty well and we make good progress that day, but it is after dark already and we still have a twisty road ahead till Denizli. Allthough tis is really not her cup of tea, we make it without too many troubles. The condition of the hotel rooms deteriorates as well and one shouldn’t fear the occasional fungus on the wall or the horrifying hygienic conditions of the kitchen. But we get our bit of sleep we are craving for. And there’s airco, albeit a bit on the noisy side. After a lazy morning, Pammukale makes it all up. The impressive beauty of the chalkrocks is a true boost and we enjoy the many pools. It’s pretty late already as we set off to Capadocia. Via the twisties we finally end up in Yalvac, an unknown hole where, as it appears, the yearly festivities are taking place. As a consequence, all hotels are fully booked or rooms are offered at enormous rates. I clearly notice the reflection of dollar signs on the cornea of the hotelmanagers as they are not at all ashamed to ask 80 EUR for a basic room. But we meet a bunch of Turkish archeology students and we are offered a place to sleep for free in a student home. Not really a luxury experience, but there’s a shower, a bed and breakfast. The latter unfortunately at 5.30 AM. Why the hell these archeologists start digging so early?
Capadocia fulfilled all our expectations, starting with a lazy afternoon to catch up some sleep, but most of all the overwhelming beauty of its landscape, result of millions of years of erosion. We feel so tiny on our bikes in this moonlike environment. Houses and churches are cut out of soft chalk rocks and shelter loads of cultural tresors. Motorbikes are the means of transport here to absorb all of this to a maximum extend. The wind in our faces, riding the twisties and looking around. A cultural stop from time to time… Hmmm… Niiiice… We end the day in beauty in the nice and lazy touristic atmosphere of Goreme. Tasty food but crappy Turkish wine. Who cares anyway. We could stay here a litlle longer but if we want to get to Petra in time, we have to head further direction Syrian border.
Nice roads to a dirty shithole
Direction South offers some of the nicest road till now. Desolate landscapes, a little off road from time to time and lots of nice curves. It only goes slightly wrong Caro’s front wheel tucks away because she breaks a little bit too violently on a stretch of gravel. But overall she does more than great. As an experienced biker she glides through the curves on the asphalt and little by little she gains confidence. A little stretch of off road turns out to be a little too ambitious as we have to make a U turn and follow the sealed road, but I realize that I will have to take the very limited experience of Caro into account. But her performance goes beyond my expectations. I do not want to force things. Building up confidence step by step is what I need to do. But as I take a dive in a dry lake on my bike to let the rear wheel spin and have a bit of off road fun, she surprisingly decides to follow me in full self confidence. Way to go baby! That’s going to be a real one! The sector of road construction in Turkey has a bit of it’s own proper techniques. Resurfacing the road is limited most of the time to pouring and rolling a layer of gravel after which a big truck adds a thin layer of liquid tar to stabilise it all al little. Riding through this stuff, as happened to us quite a few times due to the complete lack of road signalization, leaves your bike and gear covered with a dirty black sticky tar substance. The heat glues the soles of our boots to the ground and in no time our the pegs of our bikes are covered with the same shit. Not too low in the curves and a little careful with the throttle is my only advice.
It’s already pretty late as we arrive in a town called Dirtyol. And a ‘dirty hole’it is! The hotel room is horror, food is crap and there is absolutely nothing interesting to do.
I suggest taking a shortcut but the off road piste is just a tad too challenging for Caro. Another flat tyre later we decide to go for the most reliable road and follow the coast line direction Syrian border.
After our night in the ‘dirty hole’, we are heading towards Aleppo. Despite the GPS and the map, we find ourselves lost in the citycenter. Getting out of the center and finding the right main road has proven to be the pretty difficult most of the time and in such a situation you cannot really rely on my sense of orientation. But luckily also in Turkey the police is your friend. Cops show us the way by riding in front of us and as Tom asks if this road leads to Syria, their answer is: ‘No, very difficult!’. Too bad for me Toms dictionary does not contain the word ‘no’ and ‘very difficult’ just means ‘go for it!’ We continue and all by all we are doing fine, until I run another flat about 10 meters before the ‘very difficult’ stretch. While Tom is replacing the inner tube, I am being force fed with all kinds of typical local specialties whilst having a view on a road full of rocks along a steep ravine. The thought of it alone makes me sick already. As Tom asks me if I feel comfortable with the road ahead, I clearly reply: ‘NO!’ But that bloody dictionary of Tom… We proceed after anyway. I am shaking and shivering. I think of my mum who told me not to take any risks. I feel bad, really bad! How I managed to do it is still a mystery to me but I managed to ride for two or so kms. Then I stop and tell Tom I %22really%22 don’t want this. I can see the disappointment in Toms eyes, but this is simply not something I am ready for.
But unfortunately this means I also have to go back the way we came and that’s the same two kms we just did… Tom doesn’t want to ride my bike back (and he is probably right) so I curse, cry, yell and shout! I think I must have screamed every possible curse. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad decision after all not to goe for that bike to bike communication system. By the time we got to the next stop I have calmed down a bit already and a stiff row was avoided.