We were told to arrive at the bus station at 10am but the bus didn’t in fact leave until 6pm. So after an early start, we relaxed in a café call day. When it came to putting the bikes on the bus, the driver and his motley crew tried charging us and extra 50 turkish lira to take our bikes with us. We contested this arguing that they knew when we paid for our tickets that we had our bikes with us etc etc. Still they pressed for it. We said we weren’t going to pay and then they started removing the bikes from the luggage hold. There wasn’t a lot we could do. In the end we haggled them down to 40 (Matze had forgotten what the Turkish for 30 was), saving ourselves a whopping £1.90 each…
The bus was pretty good actually. In total we paid £40 each which ain’t at all bad considering the distance. It had TV, music, the ability to watch stuff and listen to stuff from USB, good air conditioning and free hot and cold drinks served. The road in places was diabolical, and it was difficult to get any good kip. All the more for the fact they woke everyone up at 0330 in the morning to dispense hot drinks. Bizarre.
Anyway, here we are now in Erzurum where we have been since last Thursday. We got a cheap hotel one night (£9.50 pp), slept on a building site the next night (and got woken up by workmen using powertools at 0700. Quite fun casually walking out as if everything was normal), and we’ve been couchsurfing the rest of the time. The town itself I don’t really rate but the surrounding mountains look stunning. At 1900 metres above sea level, this city is a full ½ km+ higher than Ben Nevis. We found a rooftop café with free wifi, fat beanbags, and phat views over the city.
Basically from here on it is a case of navigating the visa minefield. There were two options for the next part of the journey. Either I could go North into the Caucaus region (Georgia & Azerbijan) and the across the Caspian Sea, or straight through Iran. You need a visa for both Azerbijan and Iran. For a long time I was unsure about the safety aspect of Iran, but from everything I can gather this is the most welcoming nation of people out there. Iran sets us up a lot better for the rest of the journey, plus I hear Tehran has some of the best underground parties on Earth… and so Iran it is. So now it is a tedious waiting game to hear back from the Visa agency in order to pick up our Iranian visas.
We met by chance a retired German chap in his 60s called Walter who is cycling around the World to a greater or lesser extent. He has cycle toured for over 20 years and therefore had refined his set up. High qulaity suspension seat post, modded Tubus rear racks, and E-Werk converter (which is a lot smaller than I thought) were all present. He was going through Iran to Pakistan and then flying onwards to another destination from there. We also met another German tourer but the same age as us who was cycling to India to do some kind of slacklining project with kids. Philip and Matze had been emailing for the last few weeks/months after encountering each other on an online bike forum. The last time Matze emailed was when we were in Varna. Philip was perplexed how we were now in front of him whereas when he set off (from Vienna), he was already one month ahead of Matze. We told we put down at 200km per day mindestens just to see how he would react. He didn’t buy it one bit but went along with it. He showed us some of his photos from Turkey. Absolutely stunning. Made me feel really gutted not have cycled it. Another time eh? He told us a story how he had stood his bike up in the middle of a rope suspension bridge in order to take a photo. As he reapproached the bike it fell over and catastrophically his pannier with all his most important stuff fell off and over the bridge into the river below! It was just turning dark and so he legged it down river trying to retrieve it. He stacked hard in the process and was still recovering from the cuts. Fortunately he managed to find his bag 200metres down stream. He told us how he had picked up his Iranian visa in Trabzon. He found out about this grey service via the internet. 75€: pay in the morning, receive visa in the afternoon. Amazing…
We applied for a visa via a company called Iranianvisa.com and so far my experience with them had been less than dandy. Indeed we have heard horror stories from blogs about people not even receiving them until 50 days after payment, and then finally not being what they requested (i.e. 14day visa as opposed to 30). We have already paid up but because of these stories and because we now know it is possile to get a same day visa in Trabzon we are now considering busing it there and back and just coughing up the money..
To kill time here we’ve been drinking lots of Çay, pouring over maps of Central Asia, playing lots of chess (backgammon is what the locals all play) and attempting to cycle up the highest mountain here (3200 metres high). The directions we were given took us the wrong way and so we weren’t able to complete this last challenge. It was good experience cycling on rocky and gravel tracks (a nightmare) in that I now know I probably should get a second off-roading tyre for the forthcoming Pamir Highway. No idea if the altitude induces merely a pyschosomatic effect at this level, but we were both feeling significantly weaker and shorter of breath. Better get used to it I suppose ‘cos the roads to come will take us over 2.5times higher than our current altitude.
This afternoon we are scrubbing up, donning our best clothes, and going to the Iranian consulate in person to see if there is any way we can catalyse this visa application process. If we have no luck then we will probably hit Trabzon tomorrow in order to get moving again asap….