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Carving a Path Through Central Turkey

Cappadocia to Erzurum in 8 days…

Day 1: Goreme to Kayseri 73km

Phil finally dragged me away from Cappadocia. It was mainly our cosy campsite at Kaya Camping I was attached to.  We opted to leave via the main road towards Kayseri via Aksalur to the route 805 and 260, rather than the hill option to Incenu, as our legs were feeling it after 5 days off the bike. The scenery slowly changed from the familiar rock formations of Cappadocia to wide valleys with low, brown hills on either side, scenery typical of Central Anatolia.

Around about lunchtime we approached a petrol station with a lokanta and were excited to see out the front a touring tandem! It was a Dawes, so they had to be British. Inside we found Ian and Annie, seasoned cycle tourers and expat Brits now living in Australia. They are currently cycling around the world 3 months at a time with this the first day of their next leg from Turkey to India. We cycled with them to Kayseri, where they showed us the mighty power of the tandem down hills, up to 80km/h, Phil had to pedal fast to be even close to them. We decided to call it a day in Kayseri and stay in a hotel and share our cycling stories with our new cycling friends.

Ian and Anne Marie

Ian and Anne Marie

Day 2: Kayseri to Yenicuhuk 89km

We set off towards Sivas with Ian and Annie with the aim of camping somewhere along the route. The scenery was much the same: flat planes surrounded by hills with a couple of climbs thrown in. Towards the end of the day, the weather started to turn a bit, the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. We thought we’d try and push on to Sarkisla, but a perfect petrol station camping spot presented itself to us just out of Yeniçuhuk, so we left the other two to carry on to a hotel and stayed the night at our first petrol station campsite. There was a lovely concealed garden next to the lokanta, and the staff kindly let us pitch up. We felt obligated to each at the lokanta for dinner, (which only cost us 10 Lira) and spent a cosy night in our tent after more kindly souls had brought us çay, apples and more blankets.

Petrol Station Camping

Petrol Station Camping

Day 3: Yenicuhuk to Sivas 106km

As we set off next morning, we thought that Ian & Annie had probably stayed at the next hotel they came to about 5km up the road, as the weather wasn’t good. We were right but for the wrong reasons – they’d been blown off their bike in a gust of wind and hit a road sign. The bike was alright but they were a bit battered and bruised from the fall and were taking a day off to recover with a bus to Sivas. We said our goodbyes and maybe we’d catch them in Erzurum while waiting for our Iran visas. Lucky for them they caught the bus because that days ride was horrible. It was raining, cold and windy, the scenery didn’t improve, the roads were in bad condition or under construction and a long day at 110km. To top it there were no food stops for around 40km in the middle of the day when we wanted lunch, we finally found a petrol station that fed us honeycomb and bread with çay, if ever there was an excuse to eat a whole chunk of honeycomb it was today! The scenery improved as we turned onto the route 850 to Sivas with the road winding through a rocky valley. We thought we would stay in a hotel but spotted a perfect petrol station garden just before Sivas and after some initial misunderstandings finally convinced them to let us camp in their lovely garden. We didn’t account for the freezing temperatures (Sivas is at 1285m), and woke in the morning to ice covered tent and me not having had much sleep due to the cold.

Day 4: Sivas to Imranli 115km

Piling on the layers of clothing the next morning we cycled through Sivas, freezing, but thankful for the sun to thaw us out. We climbed two passes (Seyfibeli Gecidi 1435m and Armutbeli 1690m) through the usual Central Anatolian landscape getting the usual toots from truck drivers and cars, and waves from the farmers and road workers.

Pretty Cool Turkish Landscape

Pretty Cool Turkish Landscape

We came across a lake (Todurge Golu) and what looked like a lokanta on the lake at the end of a track off the road. We went to investigate and found a beautifully positioned restaurant serving up a pile of fresh fish from the lake for the bargain price of 15TL. A great place to stop if you’re passing this way.

Fish Locanta

Fish Locanta

Fish Fish Fish

Fish Fish Fish

After Zara the scenery started to change with the valley becoming narrower and much prettier. Just before we started to climb the next hill, there was a petrol station and lokanta at the bottom of the hill that looked like a good free camping spot, or anywhere along the river if you wanted to be in the wild, but we carried on. Half way up the hill, I got a flat. I’d run over one of the shredded tyres that litter the roadside in Turkey and the wire had made its way into my tyre puncturing the inner tube. We stopped by the side of the road and fixed it under the close observation of a bored old man who’s wife was picking berries by the side of the road.

Local Helping with Puncture

Local "Helping" with Puncture

A truck driver also stopped and offered his assistance.  One of the more annoying traits of the Turks are their efforts to help you fix stuff at any cost.  He practically wrenching the pump from Phil’s hands in an effort to help, Phil managed to get it back off him and finish the job.

We cycled away and finished climbing Kizilarmut Beli (1690m). The views from the top were beautiful, it was a really peaceful, quiet climb with lots of opportunities for wild camping (if it wasn’t so cold).

Forboding Weather

Forboding Weather

Down the other side there was another lokanta that could have been a potential campsite but we were heading for a hotel. We cycled into Imranli and asked at the petrol station after a hotel, they made a phone call and the manager drove out to meet us and escort us back into town to the hotel. Lucky he did because it wasn’t well signposted and sat above a lokanta – we would never have found it. The hotel was one of our favourites, a great breakfast, toasty comfortable beds, the shower was amazing, wifi and satellite tv all for 50TL, bargain! Annie and Ian later told us they stayed here and thought the same. Imranli is a small town but the people were really friendly, we got lots of waves on the way in a nods walking down the street and people came up to tell us they had seen us on the road that day, narrowing the incident down by saying, “I was the one that beeped at you” :) it was a nice, welcoming end to a good days cycling.

Day 5: Imranli to Refahiye 75km

The next morning it rained while we were still in bed, but it wasn’t heavy enough to put us off cycling. So we put on all our layers, and cycled out of Imranli towards our first hill. It was much colder than the day before with no sun and light rain. 20 km out of Imranli, we started climbing up to Kizildag Gecidi (2190m), it was long and pretty quiet, except for the road workers, but beautiful. Half way up we were passed by 4 armoured vehicles, the one at the front and back with a soldier armed with machine guns poking out the top. They waved and yelled greetings out the window at us, but it was the first time we had seen such a serious military presence in Turkey, usually it’s some guys out the front of an army base waving cos they’re bored.

We cycled down the other side of the hill and it became more forested with villages every 10km or so. The mountains started to become like huge lumps of dirt that were eroding down the sides, there was something about that valley that gave you a weird feeling, like someone was watching you. We soon climbed out of it and down onto the road to Erzinçan. This road had huge roadworks underway, they were widening the original 1 lane road to 2 lanes each way through a very narrow but beautiful valley, with big rocky hills on one side and a fast river flowing past. It was really sad to see them blasting the hills at one end to get fill to complete the road. The river was full of silt because of the poor construction methods they were using. The Turks are very good at building roads, but they do it at the expense of the environment and quite often the road doesn’t even need to be widened, it’s quite frustrating. We stayed the night in Refahiye, where we settled for the best hotel out of a bad lot. On the up side, the lokanta across the road was the best we’ve been to in Turkey.

Koc Locanta

Koc Locanta

Day 6: Refahiye to Erzincan 70km

Between Refahiye and Erzinçan there were more road works destroying beautiful but narrow valleys as we slowly climbed up to the next and highest pass (Sakultutan Geçidi 2260m) before descending to Erzinçan. The valley we descended down was beautiful, there were treeless, eroding dirt mountains on each side with a huge river running through the middle.

More Hills

More Hills

There was a restaurant and camping area/ fish farm at the bottom of the hill where we stopped for lunch. The valley is a great example of the erosion issue in Turkey, you could see where the sediment and gravel comes off the mountain and gets deposited into the river. There is tree planting and terracing of the hills going on to help prevent the erosion, but they continue to build the roads without giving a shit about the impact on the environment and the erosion they’re causing.

Entering Erzinçan was great, we got lots of waves from the locals, there are lots of parks on the approach into the town and lots of bikes around the place. We settled into Hotel Berlin where the staff were lovely and the room was great. We walked down the street and ate some pide where the staff were also friendly, the whole town had a really good vibe about it.

The Pida Process

The Pida Process

On the way back to the hotel, who should we bump into but Annie and Ian! They were searching for a hotel as they’d caught a bus again still recovering from the fall. We had a quick chat and arranged to meet up in Erzurum in a few days.

Day 7: Erzincan to Askale 139km

Having had a lovely stay in Erzinçan, we headed off up the relatively flat valley road. We asked some locals who told us the road was on a very low gradient for most of the day all the way to Askale where it then went up to Erzurum. The valley was fairly easy riding with some potential petrol station campsites between Mercan and Tercan. Tercan was going to be our original destination but we thought we’d push on to Askale as it was flat, wasn’t it? So on we went climbing out of Tercan. After a while we realised the climbing hadn’t stopped, but as there was no pass marked on the map so it couldn’t last long right? WRONG, it went on forever and at the top there was a surprise pass at 2057m meaning we climbed 900m over a 140km day, we were absolutely stuffed!

Kat Not Happy With Unexpected Climb

Kat Not Happy With Unexpected Climb

The moral of the story, locals know bugger all. The descent down was only 6km to Askale where we found a teachers hotel (Ogretman Evi, check them out, they’re cheap accommodation) at 36 TL. The building was confusing as it looked like a government building rather than a hotel, but eventually we found the English teacher and she explained that it was a government workers hotel. Only downside was there was no hot water until 8pm and it was cold outside!

Day 8: Askale to Erzurum 56km

After rescuing Phil from a mob of children the next morning (he hates them nearly as much as horses), we left for 55km to Erzurum. The road was fairly flat, a few small hills and usual landscape. We stopped just outside Erzurum and some truckdrivers from Van bought us çay. Entering Erzurum the first thing you notice is the number of army buildings and soliders around, they are all guarding various buildings from bunkers with some serious guns. Phil decided to test the security by taking a photo of the army base, turns out they’re a bit lax. The people in town were fairly friendly and we didn’t have any problems. After looking at 8 hotels we finally settled on Hotel Tahran, a good choice with lovely, helpful staff for a good price. We settled in to prepare for our visa mission…

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