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I write this on a roof terrace with view on the Bosporus and the first hills of Asia. Next to me there's the first Dutch newspaper I see this trip, and I'm going to read every character I can find. I need a couple of days break, I need a good time, forget for a while what Bulgaria has done to me. Istanbul doesn't run away! I can sightsee tomorrow too. Getting to Istanbul wasn't too easy either. It was hot (+40 C, 110 F) and dry. The landscape was very cyclist unfriendly: 100 meters up, 99 meters down, 100 meters up, 99 down. That repeated 100 times and then it changed to 99 up and 100 down. A waving landscape like that is terribly frustrating. Combined with the 12 lane highway I followed the last 100 km's it was practically hell.

Göreme, 19th of September 1998

Hi There!

It's been a month since I wrote to you last, although to me it seems like I left Istanbul yesterday. Because it was such a disaster to enter Istanbul, I decide to leave this town by boat. Turks in traffic are nasty to cyclists. A colleague of my father - a Turk - gave me the address of his family in Gölcük, and to them I pay a visit. Very friendly people, we can communicate in Dutch, though they don't always understand it. One of the younger boys living with them is so enthusiastic about what I'm doing that he runs to a friend with a camera, and the next day I am on Turkish television! What makes me laugh often is the perception of the world by the Turks. Most people I talk to hardly say anything when I say I'm cycling from Holland to India - keep it simple for them. But when I tell them I'm cycling from Istanbul to Erzurum... "Jesus Christ! Istanbul to Erzurum by bicycle??? Are you crazy! You know how far that is??"

On the strangest places I meet even stranger people. Just before Ankara I passed two people on foot. Two Belgians who were on the road from Belgium to Jerusalem! This kind of world travelers stop for each other; it is really admirable. Walking really is too slow for me. They plan to be in Jerusalem somewhere in December!

Cycling, at times, doesn't go as fast as I might want it to. Especially not with my 'new' rear tire. Every 130 kms or so I get a flat, and for no reason. But I don't manage to fix it right. Time after time, when I have just loaded my luggage, psssssssss.... Flat again. Very frustrating and when for the 4th time in three days I've been f*cking around for an hour I give up. At that moment a car appears on the horizon. Two expat British give me a lift to Beypazari so I can catch a bus to Ankara; this way I skip 100 kms and God knows how many frustrations.

Here I interrupt the story for an excerpt from my diary; this was a very special day, and I wish to share with you what I wrote that day.

Karakaya, 16 September 1998

Today was a very special day. The second day that I on my bike again since Ankara, and on those days I always get the Harley-Davidson feeling. The Recumbent Bicycle is the Harley among the bicycles anyway; in all its vulnerability it makes me somehow feel powerfull! Although I didn't sleep too well last night (I had put up my tent too close to the road), I headed uphill with the incredible speed of about 7 kilometers per hour. The nine kilometer climb brought me to Bala. Almost up I feel like a garden hose for the sweat I produce; so I stop for a while and wash my bike. After Bala I go down again with barely nine times the speed as I was going up. Halfway I take a brake, not to wash my bike, nor to wipe the sweat off my face, but because the view is spectacular!

The last ten kilometers of today are up again, but not as steep as this morning. At about half past two I find a place for my tent. When you leave at seven thirty, in this heat that is more than late enough. This spot is excelent. It is quite a way off the road, so the traffic won't keep me awake for another night. I am hidden between willows so nobody will come and pay me a (possibly unpleasant) visit at night. And I am in a dry riverbed, where traces are that at times it can be quite a stream! But now there's no water, so I don't worry. However, when I wake up from my siesta it is suddenly quite cool and strangely quiet. All animals seem to have stopped breathing, and there's not a spot of blue left in the sky. At the horizon I hear some thunder, but the wind blows that cloud away from me. No panic. But hey, what's that? Behind that hill there's suddenly a lot of smoke, instead of flames - they burn the harvested fields here - which means rain. And that is exactly upstream of my riverbed! Should I move my tent? The smoke comes in my direction. And fast! When I have just brought my bike out of my hiding onto the (privately owned) field there's suddenly mist. Not watermist, but a duststorm.

To save my eyes and my bike I put it back in the river bed in the quiet shelter of the willows. From my tent I listen to the things that happen outside, and every now and again, I peak outside. When the dust has gone, but the wind has not, I get out of my tent, and look around. Half a kilometer to the left and the right there's rain; whether there's rain or not upstream I can't distinguish (is it rain or dust?) It still doesn't rain here. Will I have to move tonight? I don't hope so, but I tell myself to wake up at the first sound of water...

Ankara is the most boring city I have visited so far. I can only find two things worth visiting; and that is only worth it when you happen to be stuck here. One is the Atatürk Mausoleum, a awfully big building visible from a long distance - once near it it is impossible to find. And the Kocetepe Mosque, a modern mosque and if you ask me it is more beautiful than the blue mosque in Istanbul. Still I stayed a week in Ankara. Why? I had to get a visa for Iran and Pakistan. And as I still had to start at zero - my first time - it took some time.

With a new rear tire and without a single flat I cycled to Göreme (stressed syllable is on the last e). Days like I describe in my diary, which you can read following the link. Generally no storms though, but instead streams of people offering tea, or restaurant owners who don't want money from me because they are impressed by my story. And loads of sunshine.

Dogubayazit, 17th of October 1998

Hi There!

Göreme was luxurious and good. I have met quite a few nice people once again, and I have enjoyed the movies and e-mails in C@fedoci@ (before I left Holland I was cinemaddict, so on that point cycling the world was very hard). But after a long break I feel like I should do something for my money once again. So I jump on my bicycle and follow the road signs to Kayseri. After ten kilometers I find out that those road signs don't show me the shortest route; it's some ten k's more. How I love cycling! I really enjoy every meter I cycle; even on busy roads where trucks and minivans have a competition shaving my legs; racing past as close as possible as fast as possible without killing me.

The second day out of Göreme, between Kayseri and Sivas, I take a break at the second largest still existing Kervanserai in Turkey, the one at Sultanhani. And over there I see a Dutch campervan. Just about ten minutes after that I'm drinking tea with two Dutch people and a Turk who has lived in Holland on the Turks' terrace. I hold my travel fever down for about an hour but then I use the upcoming rain as an excuse to get going again. I want to stay dry, I tell them, and I want to have my tent standing before the rain comes.

At night, while planning tomorrow, I find on the map a back road to Kangal. A little town on the line between Göreme and Erzurum. I wanted to go through Kangal in order to avoid the E 80 (The highway between Sofia (Bulgaria) and Tehran (Iran)). I expect that following this backroad will be quieter. And that is true. For that is also a very good reason: For about ten kilometers the road is so steep that I use all my leg-engergy in order to go 8 km/h. Added to that it's getting pretty cold. Yesterdays clouds haven't disappeared yet and on an altitude of 1500 meters the wind is quite a bit stronger. Halfway I put on my gloves and I ride on to Altinyayla (which means 'Golden Highlands') where I fall into a chair in the local teahouse. My morale isn't too good anymore. I'm tired and cold. Where did the sun go? Am I supposed to ride the next couple of months under clouds? At night I get the answer. At around three pm I fall asleep in my tent - feeling cold and sick - the wind gets stronger. At around 1 am I wake up for a toilet stop I notice that outside it's even colder, but also clear. I can see the milky way! I feel better instantly and I feel like going on in the middle of the night. Five hours later, just after sunrise and breakfast the first ice this year melts off my tent.

I don't like traveling by bus. Especially when it is direction Boring City; ie Ankara. From Kangal to Ankara takes including a two hour stop over 10 hours. And than, in the dark, from the gigantic Otogar (bus station) in Ankara to Otel Fuar. The taxi driver - I can't find my way in the dark - tries to get me into a fifty dollar hotel, so in a horrible mood I end up where I wanted to be. My mood swings quite a bit to the positive when I find out that the mail I expected had already arrived!

In Ankara I went one afternoon to a Hamam (traditional Turkish Bath). Sauna is better; but sauna with public massage service. After the great massage I cool down slowly in my cabin (with bed) enjoying a typical Turkish tea. Suddenly a man appears in the door. With sign language he offers to wank me for money... Fuck off! I can do that myself if I want to!!

Monday isn't a good day to go to the Iranian Emabassy. "No, on Monday we don't hand out visa." So I can try to entertain myself another day, in order to try again on Tuesday. All this hassle for a simple sticker in my passport! The print is a line up from where it is supposed to be, but with this I'm allowed to stay 30 days in Iran. Singing for joy I hop into an internet c@fe for the last time in a while. And what catches my attention outside? Another recumbent bicycle. The owner is Dutch too and is quite focused on his speedometer on his way to Jerusalem. It's his fault that I stay another day in Ankara of which I don't regret a second. Although the Turkish bus system is fantastic, I dislike 'bussing' more and more. On my - bus - way back to Kangal somebody tells me I am completely bonkers to cycle alone in this area. In German he tells me: "Don't you read any newspaper? Terrorists!!"

No I don't speak any Turkish and in this part of Turkey there aren't any foreign newspapers. Immediately outside Kangal I'm checked by the Jandarma - police. They only want to let me through when I guarantee that I will be in Divrigi before sundown. Because of this I decide to sleep in hotels for a while, it feels a little safer than out there on my own in my tent. With hindsight I think it is safer to rough camp - provided I am cautious enough only to camp on spots where I can't be seen from the road.

For a while I can enjoy cycling again; on my own power rolling through the fantastic central Turkish landscape. Just for a short while. Because the little angel on the back of my bike who has been teasing me punching holes in my tire with a needle, has found a knife somewhere along the road, and just as I start a steep downhill - when I think I can finally relax - he uses the knife. With a big bang I swerve across the quiet road and come to a stop. I hitchhike the last bit to Divrigi. This little town gives me a Greek impression. Narrow roads, overgrown with grapes, white houses, lazy people. The local bicycle mechanic manages to can't find me a fitting tire, and I don't feel like waiting here for new tires that are still in Holland. So I go to Erzincan by train. Erzincan is on the highway (E 80). I expect that a new tire from Holland arrives sooner there than in the middle of nowhere Divrigi. I walk to the railway station, where I wait for the train which leaves 1.30 am. At night the tiny railway station is guarded by 12 soldiers who play games in the upstairs office. They insist that I join them, and take a couple of pictures with the different cameras available.

Traveling by train works for me a lot better than by bus. But because I travel on quite strange times (arrival at 4.30 am) I don't feel very up to date when I arrive. What I didn't expect was that the people back home found an address in Erzurum, and even before I contacted them they have sent new tires there. First it seems like I'll have to 'train' another 200 km but another pleasant surprise awaits me in Erzincan: A bike mechanic has a tire that fits. It's thicker than my normal tire, so between the frame and my tire there's now only some 3 millimeters space, but it works.

Another two days cycling to Erzurum. Halfway I meet two people who are travelling the world by Lada. For the non Europeans, Lada's are Polish cars from the time Poland was still considered Russian; Cars not worth more than making jokes about (How do you double the value of a Lada? Fill up with petrol). I thought I was crazy, but there are worse lunatics around!

My tires were supposedly sent by courier, but there's no blessing on sending my stuff by courier. Remember when I left Holland? Well, something similar happens here. The company is new in Erzurum, so the driver can't find the address... It takes a week more than the promised 4 days. And Erzurum is not the city for weeks sightseeing. There are some nice places, but the best is the talk. Erzurum is the transit city for people going and coming to and from Iran. Among others I meet two Austrians who have just left Iran, and together with 4 others who are heading for Iran I interrogate them. Iran is scary; Iran is unknown. What's waiting for me? Talking is the only way to know beforehand. I also meet Stefan Mertens, a German who is cycling to Sydney (Stefan, if you happen to read this, please contact me. In Pakistan my address book was stolen so I can't contact you anymore). He travels faster than I do, and on a slightly different route.

He leaves Erzurum before I do, but somehow we arrive on the same day in Dogubayazit. The last town before the Iranian border. By now I have got good quality tires - I hope - and I am enjoying the view from Ishak Papa camping high up in the mountains above Dogubayazit. And right now we are writing about our adventures to the people back home. This campsite is obvious a remnant of the time when hippies hitchhiked to India; this is an ideal spot to get stoned. But by this time of year, it does get cold at over 2000 meters (6000 foot) altitude.

More later on, I'm curious about Iran... Another 35 kilometers.