When you’ve only got 20 quid left in Turkish money, what do you do? Stay in a hotel for a night and make packed lunches or sleep on a pier and eat like a king?
They’ve really ruined the coast here. I was expecting lazy beaches and seaside towns dotted along, but nothing is “at” the sea here, only a motorway. And although the scenery around is quite beautiful, you will find no peace with all the traffic and the lorries bound for Central Asia. The road doesn’t particularly benefit the people that live here as much as it detracts from the area; it’s just a through-road for Istanbul. Tourism outside of any city on the coast is practically over, or at best a weak alternative to anywhere else in Turkey.
The people here also seem odd. Less friendly and somehow backward. I didn’t see a lot of women, and most men had a sort of macho attitude. Some even looked like serial killers. Normally roads open up the world for people, but I can’t help thinking this road robbed the people of something beautiful. It is a sort of sadly isolated place here, because you’ve really only got this one, gigantic, noisy beast to go up and down, or you’ve got to drive, like, 100km, to get over the mountains to the sizeable towns inland.
Still, there are things to see and do. A lot of other cycle tourers meet on this stretch. It appears to be a bottleneck for everyone as they head into Georgia before parting ways again (there are only two entry points from Turkey). Some straight to Azerbaijan, some to Armenia, and some to Iran. I met a few cyclists, including this nice old Swiss guy travelling around on his bicycle, who was quite inspiring. He didn’t have any technology with him other than a dumb-phone for emergencies.
It seems so long ago that I was using paper maps – in my opinion a still somewhat superior technology to tiny smartphone screens. This is my first trip using maps downloaded on my phone, because it’s cheaper. Max spoke of times where it was easy to get a job, and he would go and travel and return and within a week find work as a labourer. It makes me wonder what I’ll do when I return from travelling. But for now, I’m more worried about trivial bunk like what’s for lunch. Which incidentally is nearly always the same: bread with tahini and pekmes, nuts, dried apricots, chocolate.
Back on the road again, I was just getting sick of everything from the constant whiz of traffic going by when a guy randomly stopped his car to excitedly tell me about other cyclists in the area, and then proceeded to give me a bag of breadsticks and packet of biscuits. It was such a nice gesture, and not at all uncommon. But this time it made me wonder what kind of strange duality I was currently living in: between extreme kindness and extreme road-rage.
The trucks are really unforgiving on this road, and it doesn’t even have to be busy for it to be a problem. Two or three drivers beeped me off the road despite the lanes next to them being emptier than their heads. And when it reaches that sweet spot of busy, when another truck decides to overtake another inside one of the many 1km+ tunnels, you’re just fucked.
Despite the disappointing traffic, I managed about 150km. With the money I’d saved by cycling madly and reducing the number of days in Turkey, I splashed out in some nice food joints after sunset. Ramadan is still in full swing and in this part of Turkey it’s much more adhered to, so good meals come at night time.
The problem with that is trying to find somewhere to sleep. On this road you have to get pretty creative. But I think my creativity had a small battle with my laziness and I ended up vegetating on the end of a short pier sticking out from the town. It was quite isolated, but I had forgotten it was Saturday, and so I had a few visitors in the night. Not drunk of course; you’d be lucky to find alcohol around here. Most people just left when they saw the bum huddled in his sleeping bag next to a bicycle.
Except the two policemen.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was sleeping.”
“Yeah, why not?”
They looked at each other, a little bewildered but also a little defeated. And for lack of any good reason, they just left me there.
“Ok. Goodnight.” They said. They went back to their cigarettes and chatting on the pier, and I went back to sleeping.
In the morning I was woken up by a fisherman at about 4:30am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. But at least the sunrise was half decent.
“Yok balik.” He said in Turkish. No fish. He shook my hand with a smile and left. How can people be so friendly and yet drive so recklessly?
I felt oddly energetic. Even though I only got about 5 hours of disturbed sleep, I felt like I was on some hardcore, multi-day race cycle. And this somehow edged me on until I had cracked 150km and the border of Georgia. I don’t normally tell people that besides thinking of lunch, I’m perpetually crossing the finish line of the Tour de France–first, obviously–every day. That and winning a lot of fake arguments.
Nothing particularly interesting about the border itself. It was just a chaotic mess of traffic and poorly marked instructions; fat, bored and bald border guards yawning in their booths, and rows of exchange offices. I say offices they were really more like shacks. Later I would find out that everyone here seems to have a currency exchange side-business crudely stuck on to their shops, whether it be an off-licence (which I think is another side-business), a market, a photo-development shop, or a jewellers.
The difference in culture is also weighted by how different the people look. At first I thought there were a lot of tourists around until I realised that all these people are actually just Georgian. The clothes are a different style and decidedly “western.” The people are noticeably fatter too, and this probably is down to diet. So far the food I’ve tasted in Georgia is pretty tasty, but I wouldn’t say at all healthy. It’s kind of like an unlimited selection of pastries and bready stuff. You can have whatever you want as long as it’s got dough or butter.
There is also a colder feel to Georgia, despite it being warmer than where I’ve come from. The buildings can be quite drab (especially the newer ones), and have an unmistakably Soviet feel. Actually from a distance there seem to be more cranes and buildings under construction in Batumi than buildings actually built, with several concrete skeletons jutting into the sky.
After a tough few days of cycling, I found a homely hostel to crash and drank copious amounts of beer, it being the first time in about a month. I’m not sure what excuse the Georgians have though.