Day 43, 44 & 45 – Sinop to Trabzon and Erzurum

Lovely start to Day 43 with a guy drilling right outside my window at 7.30 after going bed at about 1am. He was balancing on some beams for an awning and drilling above his head, they’re not much for scaffolding around here. I stumbled up 5 flights of stairs for breakfast in the cafe which is actually really nice in this hotel. Mostly just bread and jam, but the bread isn’t stale and the jam isn’t from little packets.

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I kind of had to leave today, I’d had two days off in this place and I was starting to kick myself for it. I hate sitting around so much. I could quite happily sit all day everyday, but I know I shouldn’t, there’s stuff to see and things to do. I got geared up pretty quick and headed off. I stopped not long after for a nice lunch, a rare find during Ramadan, a cafe serving fresh-ish pastries. Most places either don’t have anything cooked, just serving Chai or are closed.

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I headed inland a little to get some nicer riding, it’s starting to get hilly from here eastwards so I’m taking advantage. I spotted a lake on the map with the road running around it so aimed for that. Turns out the “lake” isn’t really there anymore, it’s fields. It’s dried up to a small river, which made the scenery very weird. A road running around some fields in a basin. Just out of the valley I ran in to a sheet of rain, it was very odd. Doing about 60mph down a 4 lane road, it was dry and warm, then all of a sudden it was biblical rain, just off then on. I stopped at soon as I could to get the phone away and camera off, do up some zips to make me waterproof and cover the tank bag. Everything still got very wet in those 2 minutes though. The rain carried on for another hour and I was soaked. Luckily my gear is still very waterproof so it didn’t take long to dry in the heat.

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I got to Ordu fairly late in the day but it kind of helps with Ramadan. By about 8pm all the cafes and restaurants are cooking ready for the rush at 8.20, so it’s much easier to find food. I could park Donkey right in front of reception of the hotel which always makes me feel better. Much less likely someone will rummage through him or try and nick him if it’s in a high traffic area. A couple of guys watched me pulling up to the front in awe and then wanted their photos taking with the bike. Donkey gets a lot of attention in Turkey. I just get a lot of weird stares.

I had a long walk around looking for some food at around 7pm but there’s was literally nothing but donner, I’ve had plenty of those. They’re usually tasty, chicken donner with salad and sauce in a nice bread, not greasy at all, but after 5 days of them I fancied something else. I eventually found a place with a menu, it’s rare, and got a burger for the first time in about 2 weeks I think. Then a nice walk down the sea front to take some snaps and see some of the nicer parts of town.

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I was keen to get going in the morning but held myself back a little. I got some more stuff sorted, since I still had internet and power in the hotel. I didn’t have far to ride anyway and I’m trying to make myself take a little easier. Not long after I set out I spotted a biker on the other side of the road, walking with a helmet and jacket, which is a rare sight here. I spotted the bike he was walking away from was a Yam Tenere with panniers. I spun round at the next place I could and parked up behind him. It was a german bike with full touring gear, I went in to stalker mode and spotted him in a cafe just down the beach so I went and said hi. We had a good 15 minute chat about our trips, he was just returning from riding around Iran.

It was going to be raining heavily in the mountains like the day before, but I was starting to distrust weather reports, especially when there’s both coast and mountains, which mess things up. So I got my water proof gloves out ready and sealed everything up in case it came by surprise from behind a rock or something. Then set off into the mountains, intending to come out further down the coast after seeing the Sumela Monastery. Though that turned out to be closed for a year. Oops. The road leading up the hill toward the monastery was incredible though. It was only 8 or so miles but it was fresh tarmac, through the steep valley, with a raging river attached to the side. No surprises, no traffic just awesome riding and amazing views. Also, no rain the entire day.

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On the way I spotted a Land Rover with a big tent contraption on top, then realised it had a “GB” plate! As I got up closer I could see the stickers on the back window “Cornwall to Nepal” and their Facebook page. I gave them a big wave and a pip as I passed, which they returned when I stopped up the road to do up some zips, we were hitting about 2400m at this point and just entered a cloud (which sounds odd, but it’s what happens) so it was getting nippy. I passed them again further down the road (Donkey’s still got moves) and then they passed one last time when I stopped for fuel. Would have been nice to stop for a chat, but it’s hard to do on a mountain and I was heading off to the monastery anyway. I don’t think I’ve seen a GB plate vehicle since Italy, which is about 4 weeks ago. Can’t imagine I’ll see another for a very long time.

I got down from the mountains and into Trabzon in the late afternoon. Heading straight in to the centre to find a hotel or hostel. I didn’t get a good vibe going in to the city, but that’s normal for some places, different areas have a different feel and you never know what “end” of a city you’re entering, industrial, residential, tourist and they all feel different. By the time I’d ridden around some outskirts then down in to the very centre, I still didn’t have a good feeling. It might have been based on nothing, but I tend to trust my instincts now, they’ve proved right too many times. So I shuffled on down the coast trying to find somewhere to camp if I could. I rode up some steep mountain paths only to discover busy mosques or towns on them. Too many people in too small an area don’t help when trying to find a camp. I rode through about 4 other towns looking for hotels but couldn’t find a single one, which is really odd, either I wasn’t looking for the right thing, or they just don’t get any travellers. I eventually found a roadside hotel that looked OK, not extortionate, and after checking out the WiFi connection and state of the room, decided to just throw down the bags there, I was done looking.

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A weird meal in the hotel followed, nobody spoke any English, but it was mainly a fish restaurant and they had some salmon, which I haven’t had in far too long. So I just pointed and they nodded. The hotel owner was a little over-friendly and kept just talking to me in Turkish, as if he forgot every 5 minutes that I couldn’t understand him, like sitting with Dory. He also sat at the table smoking basically watching me eat since we couldn’t really talk. But he was friendly enough and eventually understood what I was doing on the trip and that I was doing it by bike, with the language barrier it can take some time to assure them that’s really what you meant.

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A pretty terrible breakfast to start day 45, I went down about 20 minutes before breakfast finished, but that’s about 2 hours after Ramadan started so there was nobody there and breakfast was all put away. The over-friendly owner found me some stale bread a few packets of jam. Awesome. I hung around a little again to hold myself off from just riding all day and got some more stuff done. Then got geared up and set off, stopping for some fuel first, which is becoming a bit of fun for me. The Turkish petrol stations all have assistants that put in your Registration Number into their computer and authorise it before you fill, then you get a ticket to go pay, then show the assistant the receipt. The Turkish alphabet doesn’t have a “W” which my registration starts with. So there’s a couple of minutes of the guy going back and forth between his machine and my bike with a confused look on his face, until they just hit “V” and leave it.

It only took about 10 minutes off the coast road to get in to some amazing mountain roads, then they lasted for hours. Heading along valleys by the fast river at first, then a very slow rise to around 1500m that I didn’t even notice. Then a mountain pass which has constant signs warning of snow and needing chain tyres which was slightly worrying, since I’d seen photos of some guys heading this way a few months back and it was thick snow, but it should have thawed by now….right? It had, though there was still plenty along side the road. I came down from one mountain pass to some fuel and a few cafes. None of them serving food though, thanks Ramadan, so I grabbed some crappy bread from the bakery and a bag of crisps. I get stared at a lot these days, especially in more remote towns like this one. The whole cafe had stopped to turn and stare as I got off the bike, it’s still weird by I’m getting used to it and just give them a wave now.

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While I was snacking on lunch next to the shop some kids were running around playing but obviously interested in the bike and me and kept glancing. Once I waved to one of them they came running over asking me all sorts in Turkish, we eventually managed to get some things across and they had a good laugh and a sit on the bike. I finsihed up my flour and water bread, it was like eating crackers, and downed a pint of water then headed off, much to the kids delight, revving the engine.

Only about 10 minutes up the road I passed some kids on little 125cc bikes. Pretty typical around here, 4 of them on 2 bikes in sandals and t-shirts. They spotted me coming behind them and were pointing and waving, laughing when I over took them. I stopped for a nice photo just up the road and they pulled in next to me and had a look at the bike. As I was about to leave they got excited and ran to their bikes, gesturing me on, universal sign language for a race. Fairly one sided given Donkey is about 5x more powerful than their bikes but it was a good laugh. I just kept letting them overtake and then passing them in corners which they loved. Though one of them was a little harder to pass. Uphill was a doddle, more power just makes it easy, but once we started going downhill, he pulled away from me in places. I wasn’t willing to push the front tyre nearly that hard to keep up with him, and there were 2 of them on it!

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They flagged me down to stop on a little flat straight stretch and I wondered what the hell they wanted, always paranoid about some idiot kids grabbing the keys or something. They just wanted to show me where they were heading though and shot off the side of the road up a little hill to a swimming spot. I left Donkey on the road and walked after them, not willing to risk getting him stuck in a ditch for no reason. They led me up to 2 little rain water pools not far off the road that they swim in and mess about on the rocks with the bikes. We had a little chat using some Google translate, mostly of them wondering what the hell I was doing there.

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After I left the kids the road climed some more to around 2000m then levelled off which felt very odd. I’m used to mountain passes which are all steep up, then steep down. This levelled off into a plateau for as far as I could see, with more hills surrounding it. All of a sudden I was riding in a valley again, but at 2000m, it climbed and fell again, but never below 2000m. I guess I’ve hit the Plateau of Erzurum. The views around were stunning, some places mirrored the Alps but others were unique I think, grass fields for miles with small settlements made of wood, tarps and string. Masses of cattle bunched together looking tiny in such a massive place. There was a ton of infrastructure work going on, all the way from the coast, widening the road and building tunnels, but on the plateau the work was done. So I had a huge, wide road winding up and down the hills all to myself. I was a glorious playground, no steep hills means you can see around most corners for nearly a mile so I could open up Donkey full and cruise around the turns, it was awesome, especially after tight, twisty mountain riding for 3 hours.

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Coming into Erzurum was very odd too, just cresting a hill and seeing a city in the middle of one of the vast plateaus, knowing you’re at 1800m and yet it’s a flat. The highest city I’ve been too is Andorra but that certainly feels like it, built on steep hills and surrounded by mountains. I’ll be on this plateau for the next few days though I think, heading over to Kars and then north to Georgia it stays quite high so I’ll get used to it, and the thinner air!

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Searching for a hotel was a little different this time too. I accidentally ended up in hotel ally, when I parked up I looked around and spotted at least 7 hotels. I set off wandering around them finding out prices and, more importantly, if they had any parking, any hotel with secure parking gets a big plus. I managed to find a bargain, so I’ll probably be staying here a couple of nights.

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I’m quite liking the place, after a nice long walk around for some food. It’s falling apart in places, but there’s work going on everywhere to spruce it all up. Plenty of food and shops and the people friendly. It certainly feels different to some of the coastal towns anyway.

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