Friday, July 31, 2009

Shave and a haircut

Just got a shave and haircut from a Turkish barber in Kilis on the Syrian border. The illusion of cleanliness (trust me it is just an illusion) is important in Turkey where the men generally keep themselves looking sharp.

It has been a long journey to get here. Suffered from stomach problems, a cold and physical exhaustion in Erzurum. When everything but the digestive problems passed I headed on through the mountains to the city of Bingol.

Since I look Turkish (or at least I don't look not Turkish) I didn't have people coming up and asking me questions once I got off the bike. A bit bored in this small town, I decided to go to the local music shop. I met some guys and jammed with my harmonica while they played guıtar and oud (spelling?). Turned out that these guys were officers out for the afternoon. They took me to the base, we gathered a few more officers and went out around town. One spoke English and two of them spoke French so I could put away my 30 words of Turkish.

Really nice guys. They all complained how small and conservative the city was (since they are all from the West) and said I was the first foreigner they had seen in the city. Shortly after this was said, we saw two other cyclists pull into town. Crazy coincidence. We went back to the base for a great meal and played more music.

The next day I realized that my problems were more serious than I had thought. I'm not going to beat around the bush or put it in vague terms: shitting blood. Passed a very cautious, relaxed day with the two cyclists. Two really sweet people ( I really needed the day to talk with them. The next day I was feeling a bit better and made for Diyabakir. If the Kurdish people had a country, Diyarbakir would be the capital.

This brings me to the issue of Kurdish separatists: the PKK. The Kurds are the world's largest ethnic group without a country. For the past few decades they have fought a bitter conflict with the Turkish government. The soldiers warned me to be incredible careful in this region.

Anyway, after two mountain passes I can see the land getting more arid and feel the heat. Technical difficulties force me to repair the bike at a stream when I am approach by some men. They invite me for bread and veggies and I chat with the one who speaks a little English. They ask me if I know about Kurds and are delighted that I know a lot about them. They start singing PKK songs and swearing to fight what they call 'Turkish facism.' Since my bike needs some repairs they refuse to let me cycle to Diyarbakir. Since they are passing the city anyway they invite me (make me) catch a ride with them. In the car it is more talks of Kurdistan and I find out that one man's father is in prison in Bingol for PKK activity guarded by the very Gendarma who I am proud to call my friends (the same people who warned me to becareful because of the PKK 'terrorists'). That was a bit of a mind job. I can get on so well with each of these groups but they hate each other.

Diyarbakir in 5: more blood, a Kurdish man that made me go the local hospital, old city walls, the Tigris River, BIM supemarket

Southeast Anatolia is hot. Really hot. I cycle out of Diyarbakir in 100+ heat and a strong headwind. But I am happy that my gut no long pains me (though it is still in bad shape). Slow and steady with warm welcomes and cold drinks from every gas station attendant on the way. A semi truck passes me and drops a few bricks from the top. The driver stops and climbs the back to fix the straps that hold down the cargo. I help him and am surprised that he speaks some English. He invites me (makes me) catch a ride close to SanlıUrfa (birthplace of Abraham). I find out he is fluent in Russian so we switch languages and (again) I am speaking Russian in Turkey. I find it fascinating how worldly most Turkish truckers are. He spoke 4 languages fluently and had travelled to 20 countries because of his occupation.

SanlıUrfa: Run into supefriendly people but I do not stay because I am making a break for the Syrian border. 50km in 110 heat. I get into the Syrian side of the border and... am promptly ejected. Damn it. Giant billboard of president Al-Assad's head staring at me as I bike back to the Turkish side. Have to either go to Gaziantep to get a visa or try a different border. Meet another trucker at the border. I want to catch a ride back to SanlıUrfa but find out he is off to Gaziantep so I go with. Get out in the outskirts late that evening and start pedaling to Kilis by the Syrian border. Come into a small town exausted in the middle of the night. There a man directs me to a place I can sleep.

Please note the preposition here: I slept UNDER a pile of melons last night. I'll leave that one up to the imagination. Cycled into Kilis this morning and have been eating constantly ever since. Honey soaked baklava, chicken kebabs, spicy lamb and pistachio ice cream so thick I could nail it to a wall.

And the blood stopped!!!

Tomorrow (inshallah) I will be in Aleppo (Halab), Syria


  1. First to read, first to comment! I love hearing about your journeys. I am so sorry you are ill! Sorry/worried, but I know you'll be ok. Don't push yourself too hard! I am almost done with my stint in SB; I plan to spend the rest of my time on the beach, reading and relaxing. Germany is slowly coming together!
    I miss you, James.

  2. James james... I'm glad that bleeding has stopped. That sounds like something that no man should ever experience. While you deal with these troubles, Calen and I relax in the luxury of a Hotel. However, our 2300 miles traveled and 120 mile day gave us some validation of it... haha. Anyways, I hope you stay well, and it has been awesome reading your blog when we have the chance. The pictures that you have posted are wonderful. I really like the story of your accounts and friendship with both PKK and Gendarma.. what an interesting experience. Well, we must be on our way as we have over 300 miles to Minneapolis and only 3 days to get there. I have an appointment to renew my passport there and we will travel briefly into canada above lake erie. Look forward to hearing from you soon. Call again when you can.

    Nico and Calen

  3. Don't tell me you're out of Turkey already! I'm not getting to Istanbul until the 19th. Then I'm going to Iran in September. Let me know if you wanna go I might be able to get you in. Don't mind the protests