Cycling to Ezurum we crossed the regional border between the Black Sea region and Eastern Anatolia, and the differences were immediately noticeable. Villages were poorer, the landscape dryer and the mountains snow capped. Our new routine became: camp at the base of beautiful towering mountains, wake up and climb 2500m high passes, before flying down the other side, and starting all over again. The further inland we went, the colder it got, and one day we even cycled with snowflakes falling on our faces!
Erzurum was a fascinating city. Once the capital of the Seljuk empire, the centre was filled Seljuk monuments, set against a backdrop of stunning mountains and Turkeys best ski resort. After exploring the cultural sights with our very own English and French speaking guides (thanks to Couchsurfing) we decided to pay a visit to the local hamam, and relax all those hard-working muscles. I quickly learnt that the experience was starkly different from 'Frenchified' hamam, where you simply sit in a corner and sweat in your swimsuit. Here, ladies who came in full chador stripped down to almost nakedness. Moreover, a hamam in Turkey is not for sitting purposes. Your mission is to wash your friends and yourself several times, with many different soaps and shampoos, all while chatting about the daily news. Seeing my confusion (I was still sitting in a corner, with neither soap nor shampoo) a little grandma decided to take me under her wing, and proceeded to vigorously (I never knew a grandma of this age could have that much strength!) scrub my back and shampoo my hair.
Feeling very relaxed, we left Erzurum ready to cycle hard and fast, only to be stopped that very day by a teacher who invited us to his house for the night. 1 night quickly turned into 2 and we were introduced to the whole school, filled with overjoyed children at the sight of such strange visitors. Our nights were filled with long chats and hours smoking narguile as we learned more about Turkish culture. 48 hours later, with ten new friends, it was time to leave the small town of Tortum.
Determined to camp the next day, we found what we thought was the perfect campsite. Although a little close to a military base, we were behind some trees, so we thought it would be fine. It's only when a guy came up to us miming guns being shot at us that we realised we could have been mistaken for PKK spies... maybe PKK has an eco friendly branch with spies on bikes?! Anyway, we changed our camping spot quickly.
On the way to Ardahan, we were also treated to some rather unusual sights: two boys came charging down the highway on a tiny horse, racing with Ben on his bike. We're still not sure who won. We also saw a man crossing the river on his donkey, while immaculately dressed in his best suit (as every man above the age of 40 in Turkey). He was riding the donkey with his legs and arms high up in the air, to avoid his suit being touched by even a drop of water. In addition, while climbing a hill, our hippyish PKK spy look apparently played another trick on us, as two undercover soldiers pulled out of their car to ask us some questions. Through the whole interview, it seemed that they were hesitating between arresting us or taking a selfie. Thankfully, they opted for the latter.
Ardahan, our last decent size town before crossing over to Georgia, was as cold as everyone told us it would be, so a tent wasn't too tempting. We were hosted by a professor along with four of his students, all extremely kind, curious and hospitable. I've never met a group of Uni students who cooked so well, as they impressed us with delicious home cooked dishes that covered the dinner table. We had a great evening, and bonds were quickly strong enough for one of the students to ask if my sister was available for marriage (Eve, if you read this, you have a husband waiting for you in Gaziantep. His dream is to have 10 children.) Their hospitality made it even harder to leave Turkey. Although I tried to delay as much as possible our departure, even suggesting an absurd detour to the opposite side of the country, we did cross the border through a recently opened border post, leaving Turkey on a dirt road.
We are now in Georgia after two wonderful months in Turkey, mostlythanks to the beautiful people we have met. A new adventure begins, with a new language to learn, new people to meet, new food to try and a new culture to discover.