Thank You Everyone!!

Who to thank and where to start? I’ll give this a go and I’m sure no one will be offended if I leave them out.

Friends and family gave me emotional and financial support when things went a little pear shaped and many more pitched in with their moral support and help along the way. Some of those I knew and others I only met.

Thanks to all the people from Tramore (my hometown) and Clashmore who gave generously to the two charities. A special thanks to Collette for organsing the table quiz in Clashmore. Thanks to absolutely everyone for donating to the MyCharity Page. All money went to the two charities and did not fund the trip. Thanks to Nicola for helping me out on the fundraising night

Thanks to my sponsors; Mulligans pharmacy, Michael Ryan of Al Eile Stud, John Connolly of IPRS and the guys from Tramore Tyres.

Thanks to the O’ Neill family for their support and especially Lisa for helping me collect in Super Valu.

Thanks to all those who physically shared the journey with me. We have been lucky to experience and see some breathtaking countries and meet some amazing people. There were some tough days on the road, but that’s part and parcel of it too.

Thanks to that Kurdish guy who went to my Jeep and came back with my phone charger after I got refused at the Iranian/ Turkish border. You’ll never read this but it was a gesture I’m unlikely to forget.

Thanks you Faisal Baloch Notezai and Irfan for organizing the armed escorts in Pakistan

Thanks Stephen for housing and watering me for two weeks in Thailand while I waited for the jeep to be shipped. I raided your fridge on more than one occasion and sorry for crashing your moped. Thanks James Croke for putting me up in Singapore; even though you were going back to Ireland on holiday. You are a king amongst men. Michelle, you were always there for the chats. Thanks will never be enough 

Thanks Moe, Rick and Gavan for a great laugh during the road trip in Thailand.

Thanks to the Orang Eire GAA club in Kuala Lumpur. I owe them more than I can express. Thanks to Paddy, Conor, Dan, Enda and the ‘Bold’ Marie for putting me up. Thanks to Barry for that email that set me up. I’ll try to repay it on the football field.

Thanks to Sonya and Stephen for all of the above and in between. The cake on my birthday was unforgettable.

Thanks to Paul and Jim from Corkjoint giving me a job and enabling me to finish the journey.

Thanks Gavan Flinter for coming along and sharing the last leg of the journey. When I called, you took off holidays and came with for a legendary few days. Thanks to Gavan’s housemate Pete for being an sound. It was short but sweet.

I know I thanked my family but I especially have to thank my little sister, Olga, for getting all excited and organizing the welcoming party. No better woman. The best!! 

On that note, thank you Tea Gardens for having the finishing line and fundraiser in Sydney. Thanks Matt Colgan for storing my jeep and dropping me to the Airport. Top man! I’ll be back, I promise.

This was a lot of people and I hope I didn’t forget anyone, but it was over a year so give me a break! ha ha

I’m hope I will post on this page again and in the not so distant future. My jeep is I storage in Brisbane so the door is still open. On a personal note, it’s been this amazing adventure and I have been humbled time and time again.

To sign off I would like to say something profound but I think I’ll leave you with my biggest achievement…. Finally I’m interesting :)

The Finishing Line!!

OK it’s finally happening…. I’m driving the final leg of my trip from from Brisbane to Sydney and finishing up with the final fundraiser at the Tea Gardens on Bondi Junction Friday 11th July, 2014.

I have to admit it’s not the epic drive from Darwin to Sydney that i had originally planned, but hey it’s not a bad achievement. Some might even had doubted whether i’d make it. You know who you are ;)

So my itinerary, pending all things go according to plan, is to fly into Gold Coast from Kuala

A toyota landcruiser parked on a road

Where is all started, Tramore, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Lumpur Wednesday 9th July and collect the tank that evening or collect it the next morning from the awesome guys in EDI. I spend Thursday morning renewing my Carnet Du Passage and then get on the road to Sydney. I have a one Gavin Flinter, who i met in Thailand who will accompany. Looking forward to to some good company. Top man and never short on a few words.

I will arrive in Sydney at the pre-arranged finish line at the Tea Gardens Hotel on Bondi Junction Friday 11th July, where the final fundraiser for the two charities (Irish Cancer Society & Console) will take place. The guys in the Tea Gardens have put on DJ, food and are going to have some collection buckets. If you can make it down, please do. It’s the final chapter in a very long, sometimes complicated but overall an EPIC journey. Have a beer and raise some money for a couple of very good causes :)

PS – Sorry about the blog entries or lack there of…. I may get to them one day

 

Iran II – An unexpected Journey

After my four day ‘holiday’ in Turkey (not!), Jay and Hossein, the manager of the guesthouse in Urmia, drove out to meet me at the border. To say I was tired was an understatement. I had slept on each of the buses, but it had been sleep interrupted. By the time I got back to Urmia, any thoughts of getting back on the road that day were delusional. It actually took me another day and some before I could face the road again.

Our improvised route that included Georgia and Armenia meant my Iranian and Pakistani visa dates were quickly bearing down. My little excursion into Turkey didn’t help. What was supposed to be a few days in Urmia to recharge the batteries and service the Tank, turned into eight days – many of which were wasted while I was trying to get back into Iran. While it doesn’t seem like a long time it made a real mess of our already tight itinerary in Iran.

We had planned to visit Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz and then drive towards Pakistan. Instead we limited our route to a few days in Isfahan and then the border. Saddened that Iran was to be cut dramatically short, we took off. At least we would see Isfahan, the capital of ancient Persia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Or so we thought….

About half hour east of Saqqez, in Kurdish dominated Iran, further disaster struck.. Dum Dum Dum… At about 1 a.m in the morning while driving down the motorway the clutch completely gave up. It had been over-revving for about a week and the advice from we got suggested it was simply a sticky accelerator. We had mentioned it to the guys doing the service in Umia and they suggested I would need the diagnostic tool to pinpoint the issue.

While it felt like what can go wrong will go wrong, it was one of those things. So far the only mechanical issue we had was a flat battery in Italy and Turkey and that was down to driver error (Me!). in the great scheme of things a burnt our clutch wasn’t bad going.

On an even brighter note the car came to a halt at an area with a no crash barrier and a

An unwelcome stop in the Iranian desert

An unwelcome stop in the Iranian desert

dirt road banking down to the right. We steered the car off the road, down the hill and lay her resting out of the way from oncoming cars. There was nothing we could do but pitch the rooftent. Jay, Shannon and myself squeezed in. The next morning our mission was to get the Tank to the nearest garage get it back on the road ASAP. It was a bit of a jam but that night we laughed it off best we could and got some sleep.The next morning we experienced more extreme samples of Iranian hospitality and generosity. The first car we flagged down stopped to help us.

After some charades explaining our predicament this amazing individual, who was traveling in the opposite direction, towed us back 40km back to Saqquez. It was just beautiful. All of a sudden our pickle looked less precarious. He towed us to a mechanic friend. Before we

Our good Samaritan tows us out of trouble

Our good Samaritan tows us out of trouble

went our separate ways he grudgingly took 50,000 Rials ( €12). In fact it took some real insistence. A legend amongst men. After being rescued by our good Samaritan, our concerns turned to whether we would make it to the Pakistan border before our visas ran out. Little did we know it would be another one of the surreal moments of this trip and one that will live long in the memory?

Although we had heard Kurdish hospitality was second to none, this was just ridiculous. Upon arrival at the house they fed us fruit and cooked us dinner. Once we ate and had long chats and many pictures, they brought us sightseeing around the city and even some smoking of the sish.

It didn’t end there. We were brought back to the house for supper and then the family

The whole family came to meet us

The whole family came to meet us

came around to meet us. At one stage there was over twenty of the extended family that ranged from the youngest children to three grandparents. In fact it was very hard to leave as the family were insistent that we stay the night and continue our drive towards Pakistan in the morning. The car was finished and brought back to the house at 11 p.m. At that stage, we began to think they were conspiring to keep us there lol. We were resolute and determined to get on the road immediately.

The family treated us like one of their own. I’m not sure what more they could have done. It wasn’t just the generosity in the way of food, but the

Presenting the Irish Flag

Presenting the Irish Flag

kindness and affection they showed to people they had only met. It was an amazing experience and a joy to be a part of. I gave them my address in Ireland. I can only imagine the look on my mother’s face when a Kurdish family come visit next year. Some craic!

That night was feat of endurance. We drove all night and into the next day to get to the very beautiful Yadz. We stayed two nights in one of the Yadz’s traditional houses that has been transformed into a hotel.

It was great to have a couple of nights to relax after an absolute hectic few days before

The sad goodbyes

The sad goodbyes

stopping in Bam. Bam is an unremarkable city that is mainly used as a gateway to Pakistan to the border town of Zahedan. We stayed in Akbar’s guesthouse for one night.

Little did we know, this was to prove our last night for a while that didn’t involve armed escorts and prison like hotels……

 

 

Iran I – An unexpected Journey

Distance Traveled so far: 12,228 kms

Iran for me was going to be a highlight. I have a keen interest in Middle Eastern politics and the culture in general. When I mentioned Iran as part of my itinerary to family and friends, their reaction was negative. In the west Iran conjures up negative connotations of religious extremism, nuclear armament and a strict police state. While some of it was justified, traveling in Iran and Iranian hospitality isgetting some really positive coverage.

Unfortunately Iran was one country that, due to poor planning and some misfortune, ended up being a little rushed. Since we traveled through Georgia and Armenia we knew that our time in Iran would be curtailed. It was further exacerbated by two unfortunate incidents that ended up being two very good war stories. I’ll focus on one of them in this blog.

We arrived at the Armenian / Iranian border late (no shocker there). Since the drive from Yerevan to Goris, where I was picking up the Jay and Shannon, took longer than expected, we proceeded to take the road less traveled to the border. It was so less traveled, It probably hadn’t seen a car in a decade. Deplorable road quality coupled with continuous switchbacks that swung left, right, up and down meant that the 40kms to the border took us about three hours.

The inspection at the border leaving Armenia was gearing up to be much more comprehensive that we had entering. The border guards looked like they were really up for it. However their enthusiasm diminished once they opened the rear door and saw the ‘Tank’ packed full of gear. On reflection they assured us that since we had such a good time in Armenia they would expedite the process of leaving the country. Without even a hint that there was too much work involved taking out all the gear and inspecting it. One guard inspected the front of the jeep and we were good to go. In fairness it was late and they looked tired.

Entering Iran was the same but different. Upon seeing the jeep and insisting they see ‘all’ the gear in the back, I kicked up a bit of a strop. I reminded them there was lots of gear in the jeep and inspecting it and putting it through the scanners (and doing their job properly) was an inconvenient to us….. indignant that they wanted to do their job properly. Common sense (laziness) prevailed and once they saw us carrying all the bags, camping gear, etc. Inspection of the bags were enough for them.

Once we got on our way, we were in a bit of a bind. It was well after 12 midnight. We had arranged to stay at Hossain’s Guesthouse in Urmia City, just east of Lake Urmia. We could find a place just over the border in some non-descript border town, but this may be a hassle to find a decent place so late and where the jeep would be secure. Instead we decided to drive the 300kms all the way to Urmia. We phoned Hossein and told him we would be there very early the morning and we requested a very early check.

After a few wrong turns we arrived in Urmia about 6 am. Hossien met us at the edge of town and with him leading the way on his motorbike, we followed him to the guesthouse, checked in and went to bed. Over the next two days

Jason, Shannon and i pose with Hossein and family, all holding the Iranian flag

Posing with Hossein and his family after out arrival

Hossein, as our host showed us around the city and gave us insight in Iranian and Azeri life. His friends were quite eccentric and very entertaining, especially the night we went smoking some shish. Hossein and his family were very hospitable and they made us feel very much at home. Although the accommodation at the guesthouse was a little on the expensive side ($20 USD pp per night) Hossein as a guide made it worthwhile.

 

 

Not long after we arrived in Urmia, we realised that we didn’t have enough money for the duration of our stay. Due to the financial embargo placed on Iran by the international community for continuing their nuclear programme, it was impossible to get money from ATM’s with foreign bank cards. This had happened to Hossein’s guest before, so there was  solution.

All we had to do was make a trip over the Turkish / Iranian border, take enough money out of the ATM with our bank cards for the duration of our stay in Iran and come back the same route. Since I enjoy a little excitement and some adventure, I was glad to volunteer for the jaunt over the border.

The exact plan was to drive 40 km to the border of Iranian/Turkish border, park the ‘Tank’ a few miles away from the border at secure parking. Once the jeep was parked I was to get a taxi to the border and go through Iranian and Turkish security. On the Turkish side of the border, i wouuld take a mini bus for 10 Turkish Lira (€3.22) for one way to the border town of Yuksekova. I would ask the taxi driver to wait while I got three lots of money out for Jay, Shannon and I. Once i was back on board, he would then pick up more people going back to the border. All I would have to do it pass through the border and make my way back to Urmia. Easy!

Feeling a little smug, I even had enough to post a photo on Facebook about ‘an unexpected Journey’ back to Turkey. It was a little adventure and everything was going fine, until I tried to re-enter Iran……

I handed over my passport and expected to be waived through. The guard went off with my passport and said he’d be back in a few minutes. In my mind everything was fine. I had

Picture of the Turkish flag as i cross the border from Iran

Great to be back in Turkey!

been told by the Iranian border guard when passing into Armenia that I was ok to stay in Iran for up to a month and free to leave and re-enter once over the next 30 days. I mean a border guard told me that and he should know… right?? Wrong…… it transpires that since my visa had expired I was not allowed to re-enter Iran. After 5 long hours of trying to convince the guards, they were having none of it. I was told in no uncertain terms that ‘You will not be entering Iran today.’ They explained that my only option was to get a new visa in the nearest Iranian consulate in Erzurum, north eastern Turkey. A reflection of the way my luck was going, it was the eve of Eid ul-Agha, a large Muslim holiday so there would be lots of people traveling and limited public transport. Just lovely :(

Since I was only to be gone for a few hours my only possessions was a small shoulder bag and a bottle of water, although I did have money (and lots of it). Another issue was that my phone had died and I had no way of contacting the guys in the guesthouse to tell them I hadn’t been kidnapped.

With clarity of the situation setting in, I realised I was in a bit of a pickle. With no hope of entering Iran I made my way back to re-enter Turkey for the second time that day. I won’t lie, while trying to remain positive, I had a face like a slapped arse walking back into Turkey. Throw in a few sighs and some tutting (this will be familiar to my friends), I had the aura of someone just pissed off. In a funny turn of events, the Turkish border guard asked me to come into his office and tell him my problems, which I thought was hilarious for a Turkish border guard. With some Chi and a cigarette we talked it out. He was a fairly cool guy. He was even organising one of the border guards to drop me into Yuksekova for only 50 Turkish lira. It was late at night and the taxi rates if I was traveling solo at night is 150TL.

While we were chatting in his booth, he was still stamping passports as people passed through, although at this hour of nightit was much more sporadic. One guy passing though must have heard me chatting. In perfect English, he asked if I had an issue at the Iranian border. I told him my story and he offered to help. I told him that is was a futile, but he insisted and I gave in.

He explained to me that he is an Iranian Kurd who was visiting Turkey playing at various music festivals and he was returning home. In essence he was a traveling musician hippy with no fixed abode. There was something about him though that was immediately engaging. He seemed very kind and sincere and the kind of person that made you feel like the most important person in the room and meant it.

What happened next was slightly bizarre. The Iranian border guards, (who spoke Persian and Azeri) and I had communicated in English, however I struggled to get my point across so my new friend said he would do the talking. As he couldn’t speak Azeri or Persian fluently, he translated to the guy in front of him who could understood Kurdish and spoke Azeri. So for the next couple of minutes my story passed through two people before reaching the border guard. Under different circumstances this game of chinese whispers would have been hilarious –just not right at that moment :)

It was obvious very soon that this wasn’t working. There was a four day round trip ahead of me. Since I would struggle to get a charger for my iPhone 5, I might not be contactable for a few days by which time my friends would have feared the worse. Also factored in that I didn’t have a stitch to wear, it wasn’t ideal. I did have a charger in my jeep and I had asked the border guards could I go back to the jeep, even under escort to retrieve it……not a chance.

So we weighed up my options. I plough on towards Erzurum and hopefully I get a charge over the next two or three days or I get the charger from my jeep. I made a decision that in many

Making new friends in Yuksukova

Making new friends in Yuksekova, Turkey

ways could have gone horribly wrong. I asked my Kurdish friend that if I gave him the keys for the Jeep, would he retrieve the charger? He agreed. The worst that could happen is that he steals the jeep and everything in it.

I know it sounds insane, I had no doubt he would come back with the keys and charger with everything left where it should be. Even when he took longer to find the car, I never doubted him for a second. He arrived back 45 minutes later with charger in hand. I tried incredibly hard to give him the money for the taxi to to the parking lot and he refused to accept it. He said that I was a visitor in his country. An amazing guy and an act of kindness I will never forget.

Once the phone was charged, I managed to call the guesthouse. Hossein and the guys came to the border. They tried one last time to get me through and when that failed, they had a bag of clothes to get me through the next few days.

The next few days were a feat of human endurance. I took umpteen taxis and buses and in the course of one 48 hours, I spent 32 hours of that on buses going between Yukusukova,Van, Diyarbakir (all Kurdish parts of Turkey), Erzurum and back. In one of those weird ways

My new Iranian visa obtained from the Iranian Consulate, Erzurum, Turkey

My new visa minus the photo

it was a really rewarding experience. I had people helping me on the way. The Kurdish guy and his family that dropped me to Yuksekova from the border late at night for a very fair price.The bus conductor in Van that let me sit on the steps when the all the seats were sold out. My Iraqi Kurd and Facebook friend, Mohammed King, who hung out all night in Diyarbakir and talked. The taxi drivers who let me stay in their place when I arrived in Van. There was a even more that I met and we had great chats. I have a love for Kurdish people.

And just when i was cursing all things Iranian, particularly Iranian bureaucracy (whilst also alleviating me from any blame ha ha), it was the guy at the Iranian Consulate that did me the biggest favour. To get the visa the same day, all I had to do was arrive about 10am to allow time for processing, at least one passport photograph and cost of the visa in Euro or dollars. Of course I rocked up ten minutes before close, no photographs and only Turkish Lira. In defense i was on buses non stop for for a day and a half.

Whether it was my charm or he wanted rid of one smelly scruffy traveler, i don’t know? Either way 30 minutes later after accepting Turkish Lira and with no passport photograph, I had an Iranian Visa…… My hero!!

After being picked up at the border by Jay and Hossein, we returned to the guesthouse where i caught up and some much needed sleep.

What I learned? Don’t listen to Iranian border guards, they talk through their ass / People in general are awesome

Where Next? Driving through Iran to Pakistan

Armenia II: Embracing The Unknown

Distance Travelled so far: 11,009 kms

Following a couple of enjoyable days in Yerevan, Galen joined us as we made our way to Nagorno Karabakh (I’ll refer to it as Karabakh). I have mentioned this region  few times in my blog. Since I started researching all about Armenia (couple of weeks before I arrived ha ha), I became fascinated with this small region. It has been described as an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle and for good reason. Officially it’s part of Azerbaijan, while also declaring independence (that almost no one recognises). In reality it’s governed by Armenia.

In the 1990’s a vicious civil between Azerbaijan and Armenia broke out for control over Karabakh. The Armenia forces prevailed against the odds and a tentative peace still holds almost twenty year on. This civil war received very little coverage in our sphere as it was the same time as the Balkans war. Up to recently, its existence was news to me. There is almost 1.2 million people still displaced and for both countries the wounds are very raw and the scars run deep.

We took the main to a somewhat formal border. Our passports were checked, the jeep

We pose under the Armenia and Nogorno Karabakh flags

Posing as we enter Karabakh

was inspected (If you could call it that) and we even allowed take a photo at the border crossing in front of the Karabakhian and Armenia flags, which coincidentally look almost identical. With the formalities over, we were quickly on our way. Our first stop was naturally the capital, Stepanakert. It’s a very charming town with some really nice architecture and keeping in line with Armenia tradition it has some really nice outside art installations. It suffered badly during the war, however you wouldn’t know it twenty years on. Check out what I would call ‘lovers lane’ in the centre of town. It’s just off the main square and worth a look.

What really stood out for me was the gratitude of the locals for just visiting their ‘country’. Although I never asked directly, I assume that just visiting as a tourist is a demonstration of support for their existence as a separate identity or separate from Azerbaijan.  On several occasions local people came up to us in the street and thanked us for coming to visit. A very humbling experience.

As part of one of our day trips from the capital, we visited the town of Shusha /Shousi. It’s

Shoushi Church

Shoushi Church

a small pedestrian town that easy going and easy to get around.  The local church is well worth a visit. It’s really is striking building. As we were visiting the church the priest and other staff were preparing the church for a wedding. After a brief chat, he was kind enough to give us a quick tour and there’s even an Echo Chamber  (I may well have got the name wrong) in the basement that I got to sing. Thank god I was the only person who could hear.

 

 

After returning to Stepanakert, Jay and Shannon decided to stick around for a while and we said that we would hook up again in Goris in the South of Armenia before entering Iran.

Since I met Galen one of the must see things for us was a visit the city of Agdam.  Agdam was the scene of one of the last battles of the war with Azerbaijan. In the immediate aftermath of Armenian forces taking the city a, the remaining Armenians residents were ordered to leave. Armenia high command has decided on a ‘scorched earth’. Once the resident had left they began to level the city.

Twenty years it’s a ghost city. All the buildings are destroyed to one degree or the next.

The  devastation of Agham from the view of the mosque

The devastation of Agdam

Root and trees grow up between buildings and through kitchens and living rooms that once housed a population of over 50,000. Playgrounds and gardens that once witnessed children playing were mere rubble and weeds. Amazingly enough, the only building remaining entirely intact is a mosque situated in the middle of the deserted city. As the Azeris were muslim and Armenians Christian, destroying the mosque would be considered a war crime. It is currently under ‘protection’ by the Armenian government.

We had read many blogs that visiting Agdam should be avoided. We made some tentative enquiries at the ministry in Stephanakert and were told the same, but this made us more determined.

It was a very weird experience entering the city. We weaved between what were once roads and streets. Some had been blocked off but there was still routes into the heart of the city. Within the ruins the mosque stood out like a sore thumb. We managed to drive up to the back of the mosque and with cameras in hand we went for a closer inspection. Entering the mosque was straightforward and the stairs to the roof was easily accessible. Once on the roof we were also able to climb the minarets for a birds eyes view of the wholesale destruction. As gloomy as the sight was, it felt like a real adventure..

While Galen was up in the second minaret and I was on the roof, I heard the

The old woman i met in the bombed out Agdam City

A very humbling experience

noise of a vehicle approaching. It was Armenian solders in an old soviet army style jeep. I signaled to Galen we had company and we nervously made out way down off the roof to the soldiers. We heard anecdotes of people having their cameras confiscated and ordered to leave immediately. Once Galen introduced ourselves in his broken Russian and explained where we were from, the soldiers were satisfied, shook out hands and told us to be careful. A very unexpected outcome. We had a bit of a laugh out our good fortune and continued our tour of the city.

While that was enough excitement for one day it was far from over. What we experienced next was hands down the most wonderful, sorrowful and surreal moment of the entire trip.

As we photographed and walked through one of the destroyed factories further into the

The bombed out corn mill in Agdam City

The bombed out corn mill

town, an old woman approached us and walked into the bombed factory greeting us with a big smile. Thankfully with Galen’s Russian we were able to communicate and understand a little bit more of what happened in the city. This woman had lived there all her life. She explained that the relationship between ethnic Armenians and Azeri were quite good until the Azeri’s ‘lost their hearts’ and started killing people. This is of course one sided interpretation, however it was fascinating to hear her story.

This was only the start of what was to be a heart-breaking story. It emerges that the ruined corn mill we were standing in was the very place where she lost two sons to a rocket attack by Azeri forces twently years earlier. She showed us a rickety old bed surrounded by coffee cans. She stays at the factory on that very bed from time to time as a kind of vigil. The rest of her family have passed away or emigrated to Europe and the USA. She lives on the edge of town with a number of remaining residents.

 

When I recant the story I still sometimes choke up a little and it will never leave me. While the destruction of the city had a morbid fascination, meeting this woman with such a big smile and putting a tangible and human element to this story makes it all the more sorrowful and much more real.

We left the centre of the city a little astounded as to what happened.  We drove

A tank on the outskirts of Agdam City

Still littering the Agdam Landscape

northwards and further scale of the destruction became more apparent. As we drove along the somewhat deserted roads, almost every building for miles the other side of the city met the same fate. The landscape is still littered with trenches, tanks and other armoured vehicles almost twenty years on. Hard battles were fought here and many young men and women died here.

From the surreal to the bizarre. Another place we wanted to see was the ‘Titanic Hotel’ in Vank. Officially called Hotel Eclectica. It’s built in the form of a ship. The fact this even exists in such an improvised and recently war town area was only the start of a bizarre series of events.

It was going to be a gimmick for us to stay there more than anything.  When we pulled up the entrance I actually hit the overhead barrier and caused some damage. After some brief apologies we got talking to some of the locals and within minutes, we were offered what we were told was the best weed in the Caucasus. These things happen and we didn’t really flinch and just kindly refused. We duly checked in and went down to the restaurant. After ordering some food the rest of the staff came down to eat nearby.  We soon realised that just all the staff were stoned out of their heads. It wasn’t that they were stoned, their behaviour was really bizarre and not in a friendly, stoned and fun way. We made some excuses and checked out. After finding another hotel (minus the strange staff),  we checked in for the night.

We drove northwards and another side of Armenia was revealed to use. We had entered

Canyons in Armenia

Scenes from dreams

Karabakh from the Southern Armenia and Galen had I had decided to re-enter Armenia around Lake Sevan. As we drove the roads got gradually worse, however the scenery got better and better. I have seen some amazing landscapes and mountains, this was the first time I driven through immense canyons. During my day dreaming of this trip I used to see photos from Overlanders that inspired me to take this trip. I was taking this pictures first hand. The tank was dwarfed by canyon walls hundreds of feet high and slow flowing rivers running through them.

We had planned to continue on through the canyons and towards an old natural spring where communists officials used to come to relax during soviet times. Almost since

'The Tank' looks tiny

‘The Tank’ looks tiny

we left Stepanakert and drove north we didn’t pass a petrol station. It wasn’t worth the risk. Luckily we didn’t decide to continue on as we need to ‘borrow’ some diesel from a mine that we passed. Typical Armenian hospitality meant that our attempts to pay were shot down. After an amazing few days, we arrived back to Yerevan and stayed in Grammy Hostel.

The next day I picked up Jay and Shannon in Goris and towards the Iranian border. There was just one last bit of drama as a bit of a wrong turn. We were only about 40kms away from the border, however it took us about two and a half hours. Jay undertook the driving and I take my hat off. It was the worst of the entire trip and the worst roads we are likely to come up agains againt.

 

It was a tough end to an amazing experience. Armenia and Karabakh was a highlight for me that one that would be difficult to top. This was a couple of weeks I would that would live long in the memory.

 

Where Next? Iran and beyond

 

Armenia: Embracing The Unknown

Distance Travelled so far: 10,191 kms

So it was time for Armenia. Expectations were neither high nor low. Bar knowing Armenia was a former soviet republic and Kim Kardashian’s ass stems from her Armenian heritage, my knowledge on the country was limited. Getting to the border was never going to straight forward. We had had some bad luck in Georgia and it continued just a little longer. The Sat Nav which has been struggling to do what it was designed to do – ‘calculating location to high precision’, thus allowing us to route our Journey. Knowing it wasn’t working properly and STILL blindly following it was also to blame.

We left Tbilisi after our brush with Georgian Gypsies and drove south towards the Armenian border. Upon arrival we knew something was amiss when Azerbaijan cars were queuing up to cross the border. To backtrack briefly, Azerbaijan and Armenia were at a de facto state of war and if you were from one country you had little intention to travel into the other country. Yup we were at the Azerbaijan border and not the Armenia border. After sheepishly confirming it was the Azerbaijan border, one of the locals enthusiastically told us the Armenian border was just down the road. Easy mistake to make…. Right?

It transpires that we were only about 20kms away from the Armenian border. After being welcomed by the Armenian border guards we were on our way into the unknown. We

Shannon, Jay and myself posing at the Armenia border post

We finally make it to Armenia

were happy to leave our experiences in Georgia behind us. I’m fairly confident Armenia doesn’t enjoy the same level of tourism as some of its neighbours and our welcome at the border was sincere. They were sincerely pleased to see us and I had a good feeling. Our early observations of Armenia were stereotypical yet a little surprising. While there was remnants of a Soviet hangover in the form of abandoned or partially running mills and steelworks, the scenery was very attractive in many ways reminded me of a dryer version of Ireland. I’m not sure why but I was expecting something a little desolate. The hills disappeared, the geography flattened out and the landscape became a little more arid. Nonetheless it still maintained a rugged charm.

After crossing the border we drove south and stayed out first night in ‘The Red Hotel’ in Dilijan, two hours drive from the border. It was in this hotel that my love affair with Armenia

began. The hotel manager/ chef of the hotel was a gregarious figure at the very least. He welcomed us with such warmth and genuine energy that we were slightly embarrassed.

The jeep after it's first wash since Ireland

The firsr wash since Ireland

After only staying one night, he went to the bank with me when the ATM swallowed my card. He fed us all day until we were ready to leave (non gratis) and since we were planning on going to Yerevan (Armenian capital) we were not allowed to go unless we got the car washed. There was once again no charge. I would later understand that this warmth and hospitable nature was the norm in Armenia.

 

 

We left Dilijan and made our way towards Lake Sevan, located in Central Eastern Armenia and it’s one of the largest fresh water high Altitudes lakes in the world. When it gets roasting hot (40+ degrees) in the summer, Armenians flock to the lake to take a dip and cool off. It’s beautiful and one of the things to see in Armenia.

We arrived to the actual town of Sevan around 2pm. While pulled over to check the map for the centre of town, we saw a man waving at us to drive towards him. If there’s anything I learned on this trip it was to follow the direction of strange men who wave and call you. We were quickly invited into this man’s house and it seemed with didn’t have a choice. His intentions seemed good and we were happy to oblige.

We were joined by some of the hosts brothers and friends. It started innocently with some tea and coffee and soon developed into a raucous drinking spree with wine, vodka and some Armenia moonshine. I’m not sure what the name of said alcohol was, but it’s never

We pose with our Armenia hosts

We pose mid session

good when it’s a clear liquid and comes from a large jam jar with no label. It would seem the guys had started drinking earlier that day (remember it was only about 2pm). We were in some experienced company. We drank, hugged and sang. Most of the guys were ex-military and they told us stories of comrades who were lost in Afghanistan serving in the Soviet Army and more recently in the Armenia – Azerbaijan war. Jay and one of the guys developed a practically close bond. That day, they were the best of buds. The same goes for Shannon and the young girl doing all the translating for a bunch of Irish and Armenian louts. Another surreal time on this trip. We are richer people for it. Needless to say, when we woke the next morning, the hangovers were something special. We struggled to get our sh#t together and headed for Yerevan.

While rural Armenia suffers considerably from the economic blockade from Azerbaijan and Turkey, Yerevan is a world apart. Although it’s the capital of a country that’s ranked 133 in nominal GDP (Behind Chad, Mali and Mongolia, etc) , you wouldn’t know it. The first things you notice is the clean streets, flower laden road diverges and the many expensive 4WD vehicles ‘rolling’ around the city. It also prides itself on having a very healthy and buzzing coffee shop and nightlife. I can testify to that.

We stayed in Hostel Yerevan based in the centre of the city. It’s a nice clean hostel and the staffs were very helpful and pleasant. It’s a much quieter hostel than others in the town. If you are after something a little more exciting, this may not be the place for you.

One of the main attractions in the city and well worth a visit is the Yerevan Vernissage, a weekend market that was originally established by local artists selling their artworks. It has since expanded and it now sells an ecliptic mix including coins, instruments, chemistry sets, old army medals and the list goes on and on. Some of the stalls are knick knack, however quality artwork and handcrafts are commonplace.

While we were at the Market we stopped in for something to eat and we bumped into Galen. An American guy (More Alaskan he would say) in his early 20’s who seemed to

Galen and I enjying the nightlife at the Music Venue in Yerevan

Galen and I enjying the nightlife

have lived so much at such an early age. He graduated to University at 15 and had already obtained his degree and worked as an intern in a couple of American embassies, most recently being based in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina. He had a good grasp of Bosnian, Serbian and Russian that was particularly helpful in Armenia. Our paths had crossed in Turkey and twice in Georgia, but this was the first time we had spoken. I liked Galen straight away. He was an immediately impressive and while we are all unique some are more so than other…. Some are more unique than others.

 

We partied a couple of nights in Yerevan. There is bustling and lively nightlife. There are

Shannon posing with a can of Guinness in an Irish Bar in Yerevan

Shannon finally gets her on hands on some Guinness

many good bars however the nightclubs and later bars are a little bit harder to come by. I would recommend the Music Club. It’s smoky and the music is very loud, but screw that we’re not old age pensioners. Get drunk, inhale second hand smoke and enjoy the scenery ;)

 

 

 

 

What I learned? Expectations can be a curse and ignorance can be bliss

Where Next? Nagorno karabakh– Goris, Stepanakert, Soushi, Aghdam and back to Yerevan

Georgia II: She’s a Real Beauty

Distance Travelled so far: 9874 kms

To leave you where I left off in Georgia….

So the planned route across the mountain path from Ushguli to Lentecki was closed when we reached Mestia. It was still open periodically, however with visas for Iran and Pakistan winding down, we didn’t have the time to wait around and wait for it to be passable. It could be a couple of days or it could be a week and we didn’t have that kind of time. Motorbike friends that we made on the way, Laura and Chris, did take the pass about two weeks later. The pass was everything it was supposed to be. To say I was gutted and unbelievably jealous was an understatement. This has firmly been placed on my bucket list. I catch it on the way back right? Ha ha

Our drive back to South and then West was interrupted by a stop in Mazeri, only 20km from Mestia. We had heard of a short hike around Mazeri where we could see Mount Elbrus in Russia. We drove up to Mezeri and happened across a very nice and beautiful hotel called ‘Grand Hotel Usba’.

We drove through a couple of small villages and hamlets and narrow lanes that could only be described as ‘Boreens’ back in Ireland. We then drove down a muddy and steep decent

The jeep parked outside Grand Hotel Usba

Outside Grand Hotel Usba

with no road. Suddenly we drove into the Grand Hotel Usba and it didn’t seem all that ‘Grand’ from first impressions. It appeared to be a normal Georgian House with a couple of bigger buildings in the same pot. Convinced we had taken a wrong turn we drove back up the lane. At the top of the lane we met another vehicle coming down. We stopped them and it turns out it was Grand Hotel Usba. We doubled back and we said we’d go back for a coffee before we continued back in the road.

We had some really good coffee and cake and we were immediately charmed by the Norwegian owner. He had come to Mazeri on a hiking trip and noticed the opportunity to open a hotel on the land. With the backing of the local Georgian people who owned the land, he established the Hotel.

The prices were way outside what we had been paying so far, but we were hooked by the Alpine ambiance,  mouth-watering menu and the promise of some really good Georgian wine – this was the clincher for Jay anyway. Although it the most we paid for accommodation and probably the most we will pay for the entire trip, we decided to treat ourselves.

It was expensive, but it ticked all the boxes. We went to bed content and just a little merry. We woke the next morning to fully understand why people travel eight hours from Tblisi to Mazeri to trek and holiday. The snow had come down over night and we were surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains, a winter wonderland for us. With pockets a little lighter but with grins firmly on our faces we started out drive to Gori.

Gori is an unimpressive town as you are going to get anywhere in the world and it’s most famous for being the birthplace of one Josef Stalin and of course the Stalin Museum. Being a history buff I have to say the nerd inside me was very excited. We arrived in Gori and booked into a hotel literally across the road from the museum.

To say the museum was a let down doesn’t even go near enough. It was like coming down on Christmas morning to find someone has opened all your presents, complete and utter calamity. There was lots of photographs and exhibits on display, including Stalin’s death mask, however all the explanations with the artefacts were in Russian or Georgian. Seeing as none of us had any idea of either, it was a quick look around and out the gap.  Time for Tbilisi!

If we had any thoughts about staying in Tbilisi or Georgia for one more night, they were

Getting it back on....

Getting it back on….

quickly extinguished. We stayed in Opera hostel in Tbilisi. As we used the internet downstairs before we left the hostel, there was a bit of a commotion. Some guy ran into the hostel shouting loudly in what must have been Russian or Georgian. Believing that it was a local matter and nothing got to do with us we paid no heed and went about Facebooking and Googling. I’m not 100% sure about the next course of events but all I remember was being told to go outside to the tank. As soon as I looked at it, something was amiss.

Then I realised, there was no bloddy rooftent. It transpired that a neighbour of the hostel came outside to find Gypsies working on The Tank. They had tried unsuccessfully to break into the jeep and then had proceeded to unscrew the rooftent from the roofrack. The

Shannon surveys the damage

Shannon surveys the damage

neighbour had caught them just as they were walking down the side alley with the tent in hand. Once they had been disturbed they dropped the tent and ran off empty handed. It was time to get leave Georgia. Shannon had found all the screws and Jay began to screw back on the tent.  Once we surveyed the damage and thankful that nothing was taken, we decided to drive on towards Armenia.

We went to Georgia with expectations very high. Hospitality is supposed to be a second nature, but we weren’t lucky enough to experience it. I’m not saying that Georgia isn’t a very hospitable place nonetheless all I can write about is out experiences. While it is truly a breath-taking country to take in, we found many Georgians to be somewhat standoffish. Since our visas for Iran and Pakistan were winding down it was an extra incentive to make out way to Armenia. Things would be very different in Armenia J

 

What I learned / Tip of the week?

The mental Georgian driving never ceased to amaze me….. lunatics J

Where Next?

Armenia  – Lake Sevan, Yerevan and Nagorno Karabakh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia: She’s a Real Beauty

With all heads accounted for and a new found want to take the scenic route to Iran via Georgia and Armenia, we set off for the Turkey/ Georgia border.

When we first researched into taking the route through the Caucuses it looked straightforward, but this was far from the case. As with so many countries in this region, there are various levels of tension between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia. It turns out it’s a quagmire of suspicion and a good deal of dislike.

Turkey and Armenia haven’t been on good terms since the 1920’s after Turkey committed

Jay and Shannon pose in front of Georgian Flag

Jay and Shannon just after arriving over the border

what’s now considered one of the first genocides by massacring approximately 1.5million ethnic Armenians. Georgia gets on with most of its neighbours with the exception of Russia who support the separatists’ movements of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.  Armenia has no relations with Turkey to the east, but their relationship with Azerbaijan to the west is decidedly worse. They went to war over a breakaway region of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990’s. This all meant that some of the borders are either closed or had restricted access.

With the local history lesson over, I’ll swiftly move on……..

We made the trip from Ayder to the border town of Sarpi in a couple of hours. The crossing was straight forward and the least problematic of whole trip so far. A simple stamping out on the Turkish side and a stamping in on the Georgian side and off you go. There was a half-hearted search of the car and we were stamped in with no visa fee or insurance required (nor available even when we went looking for it). Apparently visa costs have been waived for those crossing in from Turkey to promote the booming casino and gambling trade. It’s naturally banned in Turkey.

Georgia is well known for its natural beauty and considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It’s also known for its hospitality and their friendliness which a way of life….. according to the guidebooks.

Out first impressions of Georgian hospitality was extremely positive. We stopped for a few

Jay enjoys a beer with the two guys we met at the petrol station

Jay samples some local hospitality

minutes at a petrol station outside Batsumi, a major Georgian border town opposite Sarpi. We bumped into some locals who immediately offered to buy us beer. We had a couple of beers with the guys and we had a good laugh and chatted about where to go and what to see. They insisted on paying for the beer, even when we protested. The guidebooks may have got this one right J

Our first overnight stop was for some rest. Shannon had been sick before we left Turkey and we decided to stay in Kobuleti for a few days for her to recover. There was no point trudging on if someone was sick. Plus it’s a long trip and we have the fortune of time to stay night here and there. We stayed in the Condor hotel for three nights. We went for some walks on the beach and just took is time to chill. As with arriving in any country, you are trying to gage the culture, atmosphere and people.

To be honest, we didn’t really experience that in Kobuleti. It’s a quite a tasteless tourist town on the beach and it was the off season where everything was closed. What we did get to the experience was the substandard service commonplace in Georgia. While we slept at the hotel at night the staff and their friends partied hard throughout the night. For a couple of nights in a row you could hear young guys roam the hotel hammered drunk.  An unusual hotel experience!

The road system is quite limited with a disconnect between the mountainous North and the flatter south. This is even more apparent in winter when many roads in the North are closed due to snowy weather and landslides that are all too frequent.

Rocks lie on the road after a small landslide in Georgia

You got to love the roads

Our plan was to travel through Kobuleti then North all the way to Mestia. After a few nights in Mestia we had planned to drive to Ushguli and over the top of the mountains to Lentekhi. This is supposed to be one of the most spectacular drives in the Caucuses and beyond. It’s also a notoriously tough route to drive. A 4WD is required and it’s not passable in snowy conditions. If we couldn’t make the pass we would be have to double back east, then south and West towards Gori and Tblisi. It was a small risk taking on the route in October, but after hearing so many wonderful things we thought we’d give it a shot. Plus I love taking the tank off road.

After few days rest and Shannon nearly back to full health we got back on the road. Our journey north was everything that was expected. The roads were poor to fair with a couple of stops while they cleared landslides, but it was also a stunning drive as we scaled and then meandered through the Georgian country side.

Before we started the ascent up the hills and mountains, the scenery north of Kobuleti was

Stunning...

Stunning…

downright breath-taking. The colours were a beautiful mix of green and turquoise. It was so remarkable that It even looked strangely artificial. We stopped a few times along the road and were just blown away, an amazing piece of scenery. We also took what I consider my favourite photo of the journey so far. No filter required.

We made it Mestia that evening and checked into the hostel in the newly refurbished square. We had planned to stay a couple of nights, but the hostel was very clinical lacked character.

After one night we had enough of the hostel we moved to Manoni’s guesthouse for some Georgian hospitality. It was as authentic as you’re going to get. The lady of the house is an amazing and very hospitable woman and she made us feel right at home. If there are enough guests booked in she puts on a full spread for dinner that’s impossible to get through. I would definitely recommend staying here. The only negative are the beds which were rock hard. They also allow camping in the garden of the guesthouse. This is another option.

Mestia, like Ayder in Turkey is a major hiking starting point. Since it’s located so close to Elbrus, the scenery is actually more impressive. The tourist town provided maps of the all

We meet again

We meet again

the hikes in the area.  Jay and I took a half day hike to the Glacier near the town. You can start from the town or drive to where the road ends. It’s a very pleasant and beautiful hike through woods, the rocky valley and then up to the Glacier valley. It was my first glacier so it was very cool. It was another first for me on this trip. We had a really nice time in Mestia and we even met up with Chris and Laura who are doing the same route as us over four years. It was really nice to catch up with them again.

It was during our time here that we found out that while we could still reach Ushguli, the road to Lentecki with the fabulous mountains views would not be passable as the snows had already started. It wasn’t closed for the winter yet, but we didn’t have the time to wait until the snowed cleared and the pass reopened.

It was all the way back the way we came, south east and then west to Gori, Tbilisi and the wine country. It was a gamble and we lost… Drive on J

What I learned / Tip of the week?

Georgian drivers are the craziest drivers out there. The amount of times we saw overtaking trucks on blind bends or overtaking when no sane person would was unbelievable.

Where Next?

Gori, Tbilisi and onwards….

Turkey 3 – Change of Plan

Our next stop was Sinop, a much bigger town and harbour that is protected from the sea on three sides. To be honest with the exception of some amazing seafood, it was a

The long sandy beach at Marti Camping, Sinop

The sandy beach at Marti Camping

relaxing few days. We stayed in a small campsite outside Sinop called Marti camping. It’s the beautiful setting and the close proximity to a proper sandy beach. Get out the tent in the morning and walk about twenty metres and you’re there – noice. One drawback was the amount of mozzies. Maybe we were just unlucky, but we left riddled with bites.

 

 

It was our time in Sinop that we toyed with the idea of going to Iran via Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia instead of going straight to Iran. We heard  Georgian hospitality was second to none (nevermind the scenery) and after reading and about the bizarre status of the Nagorno-Karabakh and its recent war with Azerbaijan, it really piqued my interest. After a ridiculous lazy days in Sinop, it was time to pick up the pace once more and continue the journey eastwards along the coast. Since we had almost certainly decided to

An aerial picture of Cappadocia

Cappodocia – next time for sure

travel the roundabout way to Iran, we were going to miss out on Cappadocia. This had always been my ‘must see’ list for the entire trip, but it wasn’t meant to be. Another of the must see as far as Turkey is concerned is Sumela Monastery. It’s a former Greek Orthodox monastery dating back to the 4th century. The most fascinating thing about the monastery is its position on the side of a steep cliff and it’s the aesthetics when you get up there. It overlooks beautiful streams and forests.

 

Sumela is almost 600kms away further down the coast and with the demanding Black Sea drive, it would mean at least one stop on the way. We decided to camp over in Unye. It’s considered one of the nicest beaches on the Black Sea coast. If our itinerary had been more flexible we might have stayed for a few days. With collective procrastination we managed to arrive in Unye after dark. Not a big deal we googled map the nearest campsite. It wouldn’t be the first campsite we arrived at far too late at night.

We arrived about ten o’ clock and opened the gate to enter. Soon after driving into the

The campsite was situated on a beautiful sandy beach

The ‘abandoned’ campsite, Unye

campsite and closing the gate behind us we noticed that the campsite was in disrepair and almost looked abandoned (or so we thought). We drove down to the end of the campsite and we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was situated on a beautiful sandy beach on the outskirts of the city. It was late, we were tired and we would be gone early in the morning so we decided to stay. As soon as we justified with the above excuses we made camp. We started a very small fire and stove and chilled for the night, happy with ourselves and looking forward to the swim in the morning.

Our happiness was short-lived as the ground person turned up in a not too happy mood. After some explanations through gesture he put us on to the owner over the phone. The owner was a little annoyed and kept reminding me that if he had of found us he might have shot us. A claim he repeated several times when he turned up the next morning. No harm done I suppose and we did have an awesome swim the next morning.

With no deaths or injuries to report we made up the rest of the trip to Sumela that day. We arrived at the campsite about 10kms away from the actual monastery and just outside

Jason and I posing with Chris and Laura

The road warriors, Chris and Laura

Sumela town. It was at this point that we bumped into a German and Italian couple, Chris and Laura, and it wouldn’t be the first time. This guy’s put our trip into perspective and shows that everything in life is relative. They are traveling the same route as us to Australia, however they are doing it over FOUR YEARS!!!! We enjoyed their company immensely. Chris in particular has travelled the globe over and over again. Quite often a story would begin with ‘this time in the Congo’ or ‘when I was living in Afghanistan.’ It may sound boastful, but it was his humility that was most obvious. Laura, his partner in crime, is half Italian-Australian and with all the attributes to go with it, loud and proud and a great laugh. Like Shannon, she is determined to save the stray dogs of the world. Shannon and Laura hit it off straight away.

We decided to hike up to the monastery instead of driving up. It involved walking up the

Sumela Monastery as it hands to the side of the cliff overlooking green forest forests

Sumela Monastry hangs to the Cliff

main road with views of the monastery. The biggest hazard was avoiding the big buses whizzing up and down the narrow road, ferrying tourists to and from the Monastery. It was well worth it though.

After a few nights in Sumela, we turned out attention to Ayder. Located just below the Kascar Mountains about 60kms south of Rize, it’s famous as a centre for hiking and trekking in Turkey. The hikes from Ayder and around the Kascar mountains cater for all hiking abilities, from 5 hours up to about 6 days. The most popular day hikes are up to the glacier lakes and a full day summiting Kascar Mountain, if you’re fit enough.

Ayder has an alpine feel to it and it would be considered very touristy, but in many respects it’s quite classy. We found a restaurant at the top of the hill that allowed us to camp on their premises total of 15TL per night. We camped and had something to eat. The next day I took a drive up to Koren (I think is the name), a village that is considered the base camp for hiking in and around Kascar Mountains. It was situated 9km up the most demanding road I had taken on this trip. No tarmac just brutal off road, often being reduced to 15-20kms per hour.

After gingerly making my way to Koren, I bumped into Vladimir. He had hitchhiked from Slovakia to Turkey and had planned to travel to Georgia and Armenia before making his way home. After a five minute chat, we decided to meet the next day and hike to the glacier lakes. Taking on Kascar mountains without a guide (too expensive) would be foolhardy.

We set out at 10.30am and with darkness at around 7pm, we had a window of about 8 ½

The mist gathers around Kascar Mountain, Turkey

The stunning Kascar Mountain.

hours to make it up and back to the village. We had no map or compass, but with a hike up and back and some rudimentary knowledge of the mountains from locals, no equipment was necessary. After setting off, I quickly learned that Vladmir was an avid rock climber and keen hiker. We took off at a brisk pace and drove hard up the undulating the valleys.

After a while the accents got a little steep until a time that we using all four limbs to clamber up a steep gullies. The shale and lose rock made it a very tough accent. At the highest we had climbed over 3,400m (the highest I’d been) .

After a few customary photographs, we walked along the ridge. I felt a little outside my comfort zone. We jumped a couple of gaps, albeit only about 2/3 foot wide, with a couple of hundred metre drops. Vladimir jumped them nonchalant while my efforts were outrageously cautious and very slow. Unlike Vladimir I hold a high value on my life ha ha.

We had hiked past the glacier lakes. We had hiked over four hours and with three hours back, we had a window of an hour. Vladimir wanted to press on

Me and my hiking campanion, Vladimir, as we hike up the Kascar mountains, Turkey.

Happier times :)

over the ridge in the mist and around the mountain and then back to the village. With no compass, no map, darkness approaching and Vladimir’s ‘good feeling’ of the way, I wasn’t having anymore of it. Plus I don’t think Turkey has a mountain rescue to speak of :( . There was a heated exchange on the side of the mountain. I think I may have even used the immortal and very drammatic words, ‘you got to respect the mountain’ (no doubt taken out of some mountain movie). Anyway after some deliberation and to my relief we turned back and made it back with little difficulty. Vladimir may have been right in taking that route, but it wasn’t worth the gamble. Samantha and I had got lost up mountains in Slovenia and it wasn’t happening again.

The tension was short-lived. We drank tea in the restaurant after changing into warm clothes. I also gave him a bed to sleep in and a lift to the nearest town while when we left Ayder for Georgia.

Vladimir and O have a cup of tea in the cafe after hiking up the Kascar Mountains.

Warming the bones

All’s well that’s ends with me living and not perishing up a mountain with some crazy Slovak :)

What I learned / Tip of the week?

Turn back when you still have the time :)

What’s next?

Georgia

 

 

 

Turkey 2 – The Black Sea Coast

Before I continue where I left off, I think the Black Sea (Karadeniz) coast deserves special mention. With a beautiful Black Se sea coast on one side and large mountains on the

Stunning seaside scenes around every corner

Stunning seaside scenes around every corner

other, it’s frequently compared to Highway 1 in California, from San Francisco to Los Angelus. I’ve lived in California for two years and while it’s an impressive stretch of road, I think it’s a distant second to the Karadeniz coastal drive. Call it ignorance but I never would have associated Turkey with such beautiful shades of green that would rival anywhere in Ireland. What makes it extra special that while the road hugs both the sea and mountains and it’s the road that you have to take on. The road swings from right to left, rolls around, goes up and down and has everything except a loop the loop. Initially it requires total concentration but once you acclimatise to some unnerving corners and decents, It’s actually quite fun to drive and if the weather is good, around every corner it another sea side daydream.

So where I left off….. After our unexpected delay in Cakraz we left a bit later than expected (there’s a definitive pattern emerging here ha). We approached Cide at dusk and just before the town we spotted a grassy patch above the sea shore, almost concealed by some thick bushes. We weren’t feeling comfortable enough to just camp anywhere until we understood what was appropriate and until a time we were brazen enough to camp just about anywhere. In this case it was ideal; we set up camp, went for a walk along the (not so pretty) beach and cooked some food. Weather-wise it wasn’t the best of nights and we quickly began to realise that the weather could be hit and miss this time of year. Saying that, it was early in the adventure and we were far from battle weary, so bring it on……

Our first meaningful stop in Turkey was Doganyurt, a small that is the second most the northerly point after Sinop on the Karadeniz coast. We were actually on our way to Inebolu, a little further along the coast but stopped to have a look around the market they have there every Friday. It was a chance meeting with a local man who had worked on ships all over the world that persuaded us to stay in Dognayurt…. for a night anyway. We told him about our trip and he recommended that we camp by the harbour and assured us there wouldn’t be a problem. More importantly he also told us that it’s picturesque and where most of the locals went swimming. With our interest piqued, we said we’d have a look.

 

Sunshine and calm waters in Doganyurt Harbour, Turkey

The reason why we stayed in Doganyurt for so long

At first glance the sea side of Doganyurt isn’t particularly pretty and that’s mainly because the harbour is concealed behind some cliffs. We drove around to the harbour and it was as described, a beautiful and clean little harbour with calm waters and ideal for swimming. It was perfect for our first stopover where we could explore the town and get a real taste of Turkey. We camped on a grassy knoll and spent four wonderful days there. We were lucky that our time here cooincudede with some glorious sunshine.

 

As they rarely get any foreign tourists coupled with the sight of the tank camped up on the harbour or driving around the town we stuck out like a bit of sore thumb. In our case it worked in our favour. To be honest it didn’t take long to investigate and look around the town itself, however it was the charm of the locals that kept us there. We ate in the small traditional restaurants and Jay and I had out first haircuts and shaves. We also realised that that when language barriers arose (frequently) the universal language of football could strike up any conversation. Mention Galatasaray or Fenerbahce around these parts and it will either be met with a shaking of the hands or some playful derision, either way it’s a great ice breaker.

Posing with our Turksih friends outside a cafe in Doganyurt, Turkey

We say goodbye to our Turkish friends in Doganyurt

The people in the town itself were very friendly and hospitable and we were frequently being asked about our welfare. We made friends with some young Turkish lads who came down to visit us a few times. We introduced them to Hurling and had a right few cans one night on the harbour. A sweet bunch and we had a good laugh, although one took a real fancy to Shannon ;)

 

 

 

It was one of the Turkish guys that recommended Abana as another stopping point along the way. Unfortunately it was only about 50kms away and with Turkey being such a vast country; we wanted to put some miles on the clock. It was on the way so we said we’d check it out.

Abana was such an unexpected treat. Belittling its size (Approx pop of 2,500), it’s a very popular tourist destination in summer. Its long sandy beaches and long natural shoreline draw a lot of indigenous tourists, but Mediterranean Turkey it is not. It can be a little rough around the edges but I wanted Kusadasi, I would have book a holiday in the sun. We illegally parked on wasteland near the beach and went to check out the town. Once again, it was the same degree of hospitality that we had come to expect. There were so many examples of embarrassing levels of friendliness and generosity. Notably, one evening when eating at an outdoor kebab stand a local came up talking to us. By any standards he looked a little dishevelled and not someone with much disposable income. After an exchange that only lasted 5 or 10 minutes, we went to pay for our food and he had got there before us. It was only a few euros in our terms, but it was a gesture that I won’t forget in a hurry.

What made Abana particularly special for us was meeting a local who had been born in

Posing just before we go out on the boat

Posing just before we go out on the boat

Turkey and spent the last twenty years living in London. He and his son took us under their wing the next few days. He showed us the local sights, learned about local traditions, traditional food and even went out one night for a couple of beers and learned how to dance Turkish traditional style… I think. I was a blast but the highlight for me was going out in their speedboat and dolphin watching. It was an unexpected treat and a very memorable few days.

 

Over the next few days in Abana, we had some children visit us on and off. At first they were inquisitive and shy and as they became more familiar with us they became brazen

Shannon poses with Kurdish Children that befriended us in Abana, Turkey

Shannon poses with her adpoted Kurdish Children

and a little wild. We actually got such a laugh off them. They were sweet children behind it all and when we gave them a copy book and pen, they were absolutely delighted and smiled from ear to ear. It probably did more for use than it did for them. They were like children everywhere, mad to pose for the pics and wear Shannon’s sunglasses as well as jump in the jeep. We asked around about the children and their background as there was no adult with them. It transpired they were visiting from the Kurdish west of the country. When we did enquire some people scoffed at the children and their ethnicity and even when we subsequently put up photos of children on the ‘Overland to Oz’ Facebook page, a Turkish follower with Nationalist leanings commented that they were no better than animals. A stark reminder of the hate and suspicion that continues to dog this region….

What I learned / Tip of the week?

Saying ‘Thank You’ in Turkish is some pain in the ass

What’s next?

Turkish Black Sea Coast – Sinop, Sumella & Ayder