A month has passed since my last post here. It wasn’t just a break from writing, but also riding. Somehow, the two seem to work together. I’ve only started moving one week ago so you haven’t missed much of the road. A few things have to be known before I proceed. Turkey is where I was born and raised. My family and friends live in Ankara, the capital. This has been a psychological mid-point on the route. This is where the west ends and the east begins. This is where I intended to take a 15 day break to see my family, apply for visas and take a good look at the bike. I did all of these, but it took twice as much.

Central Asian beurocracy operates in a weird way. The embassies have no authority in approving a visa application. They’re like post offices where you submit and receive forms. All of them require some kind of official invitation that needs to be approved by the ministry of internal affairs. These invitations are then sent to the embassy you make the application to receive your visa. The process takes anywhere between 10 days to a month. It’s wasn’t possible to make simultaneous applications in my case, because as a Turkish citizen, I can only have one valid passport at a time. On top of that, transit visas require a visa for the following country so there is a sequence that needs to be followed… I left as soon as the Uzbek visa was stamped on my passport. Currently, I have access to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and S. Korea. The beurocratic trip is completed. Now I can do the physical one.

I feel lucky to have been in the comfort of my family and friends in the meantime. Mom and dad have stopped their summer vacation to be with me back at home. My brother who was on a business trip in Istanbul also came for a day. We had a great day full of nostalgia. My mother and sister in law live downtown, so I also spent a good amount of time with them. Damla escorted me to many boring places including insurance and consular offices, turning these tedious sessions into pleasure. The idle waiting stages in between bacame intriguing conversations I’ll remember dearly. Pırıl, my younger sister in law (there is clearly an abundance of them) and her husband Semih invited us over for two nights. Their one year old toddler, Onat joined us at the table. Using an unopened can, he practiced drinking beer —an essential activity he will depend on in the future— as we grown-ups played with his toys… Things can get quite idiotic with the right combination of people…

That being said, I now have to introduce my “all-time-best-buddy”, Kutlu… I met with this guy long time ago. It would be an underestimation to try to explain the depth and volume of our relation in a few paragraphs. Instead of that I’ll hint a few of the extremes we’ve gone together. These activities include:

• Hiking in city dumpster and waste collection zones.
• Making collages using old pornographic publications.
• Hitchiking to the southeastern point of the country in 24 hours.
• Physically fighting with each other.
• Sleeping together the very same night.
• Being slapped in the face by a hotel receptionist due to an unfortunate misunderstanding.
• Playing music to a group of stray dogs.
• Celebrating the new year dressed as women.
• Carving 11 pieces of body limbs out of 30 kilos of plaster.
• Painting frescos with human feces. Our own.
• Feeding fish in the middle of the Black Sea with the contents of our stomach.
• Driving with no headlights through a dark forest at night.
• Consuming redundant amounts of alcoholic beverages on numerous sleepless nights with the pure intention of improving our theoretical abilities on art and critical thinking.

Given the sheer amount of valuable experiance we have together, it would have been ideal to continue the journey together with Kutlu. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a bike yet. So our only chance was to continue two-up on the same bike as long as the road conditions allowed until Georgia… But that’s another post. I’ll now go back and recap a few things that happened before Ankara.

After Thessaloniki, it took me less than a day to the Greek-Turkish border. Turkey has the most expensive gas in the entire world so I made sure to fill up before. Border crossing was the most intricate so far. I stopped at five seperate check points all of which involved my passport, insurance and registration. I have no idea why there is more than one. They all seemed to be doing the same thing. My guess is that the first one checks your papers to see if you are able to proceed, the second one checks to see if the first one missed anything, the third one does the processing, the fourth one checks for mistakes in the process, and the fifth one is there because the first four have long forgotten about his existance.

A few kilometers later, I noticed three loaded bikes on the side of the road and pulled over. They were three Germans riding to Georgia. We were going the same route until Gelibolu, Çanakkale so decided to continue together for the remainder of the day and have a few beers at night. We checked into a cheap hotel and found a place to spend the night by the port. A few beers turned into bottles of Rakı. We were having difficulty walking back to the hotel… Riding was not an option for me the next morning, so I spent the day in an internet cafe making phone calls trying to find a place in Turkey to get my second TBE vaccination. A few hours later, I was convinced that there wasn’t any. My only chance to get it will be in Russia, where the disease is most prominent.

Thessaloniki, İstanbul, Çanakkale, Ankara and Samsun are not only important to me as cities on my route, but they also have a historical significance. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkish Republic was born in Thessaloniki, completed his military education in İstanbul, faught successfully against the invading forces in Çanakkale as a comander in the Ottoman Empire army, renounced his official duty and sailed to Samsun to ignite a grassroots revolution against a 500 year old empire and the countries invading it to found a young democratic republic at the heart of the land in Ankara… Until his death in 1938, the country has gone through a rapid series of revolutions in the name of development, industrialization, modernization and democratization. A naturally difficult and problematic process that normally takes centuries to stabilize was compressed in an amazingly short duration of 10 years.

Throughout my journey in Greece and Turkey, I observed some of the landmarks of this impressive struggle beginning with the house he was born at in Thessaloniki. More than 30 families have called it home since then so it’s hard to expect any originality, but it was still nice to see.

The most impressive of it all was Gelibolu, Çanakkale. This small piece of land was the most heavily bombarded place during the course of WWI. It’s possible to see remains of bullets that collided in the air. Thousands of young men from distant parts of the world are buried in these trenches in an enormous military struggle to gain control of the strategic channels. Walking through the museum, one can only see personal artifacts such as bones, clothes, canteens, shoes, cutlery, guns and tobacco boxes. All crushed under an abstract power. A power with no face other than those of the people it consumes. This should never happen. The only thing that’s glorious about war is the human ability to recover from it, forget all the hatred and symphatize with the people on the other side even if it’s against the dominant political will.

There are stories of “enemy” soldiers exchanging cigarettes and photographs across the trenches during the war. I met a beautiful young Australian couple visiting the graves of their grandfathers. We smiled at each other and talked about the history. There is a photograph at the exit of the museum. Two old veterans, one Turk and one Brit, hugging each other, with tears on their eyes… What do you go through to hug someone who once killed your brother? What does it take to walk that distance?

I moved on to İstanbul. This is the old Ottoman capital and the cultural, commercial and industrial heart of the republic. Yunus, my cousin invited me to stay at his place for a few days while I attended a few bike related stuff. Motoplus is a very large shop full of dual sport riding accessories and toys and I highly recommend it to anyone doing this sort of a trip. Bahadır, the owner, went out of his way to make sure I had everything needed. He helped me find new tires and gave me an automatic chain lubrication kit which I’ll be happy to write a review for at the end of the trip. We replaced the Tourances with Karoo(T)’s. These new tires are more suiable for dirt and gravel but they wear out faster. So I took an extra set to send over to Bishkek. That proved to be a task of it’s own. I needed an address and a means to send them without the hassle of customs. I started asking around. Based on Savaş’s reference I went to İsmail Boy, a businessman who trades leather products between Bishkek and İstanbul. A brand new set of tires are waiting for me in a factory at Bishkek now.

The road from Istanbul to Ankara was not a solo ride. My old friend Doğa, who has been avidly following this blog since the beginning wanted to get a real taste of it. It was a beautiful ride. We crossed the Bosphorus bridge to Asia and rode around 500kms to Ankara sharing the road and the music that merged into it…

A serious problem with the bike was waiting for me in Ankara. The rear shock absorber was leaking oil. This is an essential part of the bike and I had upgraded it before the trip so it came as quite a disappointment. Luckily, the main body was intact and it was just the preload adjustment section. I started searching for someone who could do the repair in Ankara and contacted the manufacturer in Germany to have the necessary parts sent to me. After 15 e-mails, 10 telephone calls to Germany, 3 visits to the workshop, and 10 days of patience, the shock absorber is fixed.

The language barrier has been broken. People I meet on the road, ask me the same questions over and over again. It begins with where I’m coming from and going to; then move towards the motorcycle, speedometer and price; continues to how much money I make; and ends with warnings about the countries on my route. Almost everyone has some sort of a horror story in graphic details which they do not hesitate to emphasize. They seem certain that I’m going to suffer from some sort of misfortune. The only question is how much pain I’m going to endure… People love these stories. They look for the fear in your eyes. I’m simply bored of it.