Strange People, Dangerous Drivers 

In Sarpi, the border town, I met my new travel partner for a couple of weeks. Katherina the Austrian, who had already soaked up some of Georgia’s interesting ways before I had arrived. We camped out on some beach chairs, falling asleep with the sounds of kms of passing Trucks overhead, and that horrible, overly electronic music that seems to infest this part of the world. 

The next day it was up through Batumi, and North, to find just one decent beach to camp out on… This is where we met Goga (something like that). 

Hitching out from the main road North, Goga appeared. The usual “Where are you from,” changed to “I’ll come with you!” an old man decided to join us, who actually stole our ride (maybe without even realizing it?)… But after a few strange rides we got to a place called Kobuleti. 

I don’t think there was one spot on Georgia’s black Sea coast that was human free. But free enough for a night. After an awkward escalation in Gogas’ painful flirting attempts with Katherina, he randomly and suddenly disappeared. As mysteriously and strangely as he appeared, he vanished… This was also one of the more tame men to have gone after my poor friend.

The next day we headed to Kutaisi, or rather the mountains north of there. Oakatse canyon was our goal, to the big ‘ol waterfall it was well known for. The rides were more or less uneventful, although I did get my first true glimpse of just how many cows love to block the roads in this country… 

In the foothills of these mountains we passed through some large abandoned Soviet complexes (the biggest being an old wellness center based around mineral water, I think?) and sweated our asses off walking the final few kilometers to the falls. Luckily, at this time, most people were leaving. It was a perfect way to end a humid, sweltering hot traveling day – staring off at hillside cottages with a massive waterfall beside us as sunlight died away. 

We stayed for another night as rain basically trapped us up there, but it’s hard to complain about being “stuck” in such a spot, right? 

The next day it was off to Tbilisi… Kinda. We were making good time from the mountain, even after being stopped by local hill folk and force fed bread, cheese, and very strong wine… But then we met my sketchiest hitchhiking ride yet. 

Off Kutaisi’s southern edge we were picked up by three guys. They were more or less going our way, at least to the main road East. Cool. Except, when we got to the main road, they wanted to take us South. After some confusion, Katherina spoke to a friend of theirs over the phone (she speaks Russian, thankfully), who made it sound like they would eventually take us close to our next destination, Chiatura. We felt a bit off but kept seated, and away we went. 

We stopped near some small nowhere village, the guys greeted some locals, and we proceeded down a dirt road. Questioning this direction, the driver assured us that two of the Georgian passengers were just being dropped off… Alright. Of course the muffler got smashed off by a rock and half an hour of waiting out in the farmlands commenced. The guys were giving my friend disturbing looks, and that voice saying “leave” kept haunting me… But once fixed, we got back in the car. 

Eventually two of the passengers left, thankfully, and it was just us three. Off to Chiatura!… Or not. 

Another two hours were spent locating a mechanic, picking up a seemingly random old man, and questions concerning mine and Katherinas relationship came up more than once (we agreed to be married for this trip to attempt to save awkward situations).

Right before we decided to just drop it all and leave, the car was fixed and we hit the road again, this time to Chiatura. We were so happy. Were

Cruising through small roads we stopped at a gas station. They asked for gas money (we collectively sighed). Of course we tried to explain we were hitchhiking, that we don’t pay for gas, this is how we afford to travel. Locals began to gather, curious as to what was going on…. Again, we were about to leave when they told us to just sit down and we would go… Why we both ignored our instincts, still, I don’t know. 

Not far back on the road, they turned off towards another small village. Fuck this. “OK, here is good, we go.” They didn’t even look at us or flinch, but went a little faster. “Hey man, STOP. We go Chiatura, other way.” Still nothing. Katherina yells “stop the fucking car!” We obviously pick up speed this time. We’re almost away from any houses by this point. 

Katherina turned to me. “I’m gonna jump,” she says. I say wait, and yell at the damn guy to stop. Nothing. So she opens the door, and I grab the handle of my pocket knife. I don’t want to escalate this but the situation was getting really out of hand. Luckily, as soon as she opened the door, our driver suddenly clued into reality and slammed on the break. 

As she got out and unloaded our bags, I kept talking to the guy until it was clear. We said thanks, backed away, and almost ran back to the main road, laughing and swearing at the absurdity of what just happened. Luckily, a transport van stopped almost immediately, and we were outta there. 

For at least an hour, “fuck” was our main word. What happened? Were they so suddenly deaf? Were they going to rob us? Kill me, rape her? We were hitting ourselves for having not listened to our instincts, to those little voices saying “this is wrong, something isn’t right.” The looks the driver was giving us through his rear-view mirror suddenly seemed so dark… And that unchanging face when he so clearly ignored us seemed so concentrated, so dead set on something. And why did he stop? Was he scared that the locals would be alerted so he decided to cut his losses? Would he have stopped if there was no one else around?.. We shall never know! 

Onwards we went, thankful we had each other, and that we got away with an odd story, and nothing more.

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Turkish Truckers, Long Days

My checklist for Turkey complete (not that I really have checklists), I hefted up my pack and aimed for Georgia. 

I aimed for Sivas, with one ride handing me a handful of cigarettes as we parted ways in the middle of nowhere, while a group of students showed me their hometown of Kayseri before packing me on a tram out of the city center. Turkish rides are usually pretty eventful I’ve found, especially when some are constantly making sexual signs with their hands as they drive you three hours down the road. Wonderful stuff. 

Outside Sivas I spent a good few hours into the night, talking go random streets dogs as cars just kept going by, and certain songs playing through my headphones that reminded me of hanging out in front of the Playstation with my brothers. So long ago, and look where I am now, outside a dusty Turkish gas station in in the middle of nowhere (could almost describe every day, really)

That night I spent in an adjacent parking lot, hiding half-under an abandoned truck. 

The next day, after being woken up from a huge but friend and curious sheepdog, I made a lot of miles. I was picked up by a trucker bound for Iran, and the next five hours would see us becoming friends over the mountainous roads on the way to Erzurum. 

The nicest big dog around

It’s a beautiful road, really. Many ups and downs, relatively unspoiled nature, and you get to see how the Jandarma headquarters go from regular government buildings into something resembling a forward operating base in Afghanistan (due to conflicts with Kurdish militant groups). 

Imagine a fortified police station in Canada :/

I suppose the highlight was Having lunch in a mountain pass, as he used the trucks air gun to “fan” the coal to cook some meat. The scene described Turks pretty well. 

He was pretty happy with himself

Evening had me on the outskirts of Erzurum. I zipped right through and headed North, towards Hopa. Yet another beautiful road, of course I ended up camping in a horribly mosquito-infested clearing off the main road and across a somewhat trusty looking old bridge.

Flatness of Erzurum

Actually I had wished for a bridge literally before I found this one… Gift from Allah?

Continuing the next day with probably the giggliest Iranian trucker, I spent yet another half day going up and down through canyons, tunnels, around dams, and just generally taking a long time… Again, beautiful drive, though.

Bit of a cliche sorta picture, I know.

Happiest trucker everywhere (picture doesn’t do him justice!)

Beautiful Erzurum-Artvin road

A workers camp for the dams… I think?

In Artvin, a strange looking town built up the side of a mountain, I switched to again of my faster rides in recent memory. Another palms-soaked-with-sweat sort of ride as a young fellow took every corner with a “drift,” sometimes laughing like a crazy man when I was visibly having the “is this where I die?” face on. At one point he aimed straight for an oncoming truck, swerved out at the last second, smiled and me and casually said “friend” in Turkish. Reassuring, of course. 

The little psychotic driver himself

Hopa

I did make it to Hopa alive, however, and just 10km or so from the border! Unfortunately I had to compete with an increasing amount of hippies arriving on their way to the Georgian rainbow gathering. Three people and a dog got picked up before me, somehow… Not sure how that happens. 

Maybe an hour or two later I was crossing the border into Georgia. Two months of Turkish magic was now giving way to the mystery of Georgia… Now that I write weeks after these events, I would be laughing at myself had I known what I know now! 

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Cappadocian Caves

Konya to Cappadocia was more or less flat and full of nothing. Besides one ride with a cocaine dealer (whose speed had my hands sweating a bit more than I’d like), I arrived in Cappadocia.

The area looks like nothing special at first. Some hills, lots of nothing, but when the road turns down towards Goreme, the central town, a few small caves turn into a sprawling network of caves and “fairy chimneys” that soon enough surround you. I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it before. It’s like a less green version of Hobbiton.

I spent the next few days living out of a cave hostel (it would be easy as hell to wild camp, but the prices are also incredibly cheap, due to recent issues no doubt), and wandering up various canyons, and sneaking into some of the hollowed out pillars of rock that had been mainly converted to storage of various kinds.

Many of the caves are noticeably too small for humans, with holes the right size for… Birds. Apparently, due to lack of decent soil for working, locals had decided to attract pigeons to the area and built some elaborate homes for them out of the easily workable rock. The birds’ leftovers would help fertilize the soil.

As I made my way through some of the canyons, it didn’t matter if I walked off the beaten path, or followed a tunnel made by water, there was always the mark of humans. Someone somewhere had called just about every corner of this place home for at least a little while. But this doesn’t surprise me. It was hard not to imagine making my own elaborate cave system to live in.

As impressive as Cappadocia is above ground, it’s even more spectacular as you go into one of the underground cities outside the Goreme area. This is what I discovered when I hitched over to Kaymakli, the little brother of Derinkuyu (the more touristy one).

It really is mind boggling to walk through these levels upon levels of caves and try to think of people actually living there. Generally they weren’t longterm dwellings, but more for protection during the many conflicts that the area had exoerienced. Massive circular rock doors could be rolled into place at entranceways, while massive vertical tunnels acted as ventilation shafts (one of which I dropped a coin down… It was deep). At some points the lights were burnt out, and I kept going with a flashlight, only to be too scared to continue when the tunnels grew smaller and smaller. While many tourists were in this place, it wasn’t hard to go so deep that you could be alone in the darkness.

One interesting little fact about the Christian areas, the car churches, is that most of the icons painted on the walls were missing their faces. This is because in Islam it is against the teachings to depict holy figures. So it was common practice to throw stones at these centuries-old paintings… Religions can be pretty silly… 

After only a few days, however, I had to make my way towards Georgia to meet up with my Austrian friend. I don’t doubt I could spend more time in that place, though. I didn’t think I would be as impressed and taken in as I was, especially with how touristy it is… But I was pleasantly surprised.

The road pointed me towards Sivas, Erzurum, and on to Georgia. It wasn’t really getting cooler, but at least it wasn’t as humid at this point.. Gotta think on the bright side. 

Here’s a few Cappadocian animals:

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How it is 

For the other travelers out there, you know that feeling, the night before you leave, where the road is so close and everything is calm and quiet… When you’re just waiting to make distance and be in a completely new setting? Yea, in my last full moon swimming night at that touristy place called Kabak, I was feeling this mellowness.

The road actually treated me quite well that day. Besides being dropped off in Central Fethiye and walking out to the highway (while being quite literally drenched in sweat), I made a lot of miles.

From Fethiye through the rolling and calming mountains on the way to Antalya, having my face stuffed with Turkish food at a roadside restaurant while watching Erdogans purges take place over any and all TV screens – I drifted through it all like a dream. 

Then I got dumped in Central Antalya. While attempting to shrug off random Turks telling me I would never get a ride, I was saved by a young Pole who took me away from that humid concrete mess. So luck still held. 

In the late evening I found myself hanging out on an overpass, watching a full moon rise and cars zip by me into the unlit road towards Konya, my hopeful stopover for the night as I made my way for Cappadocia.

I walked and walked, making sure to press myself against the concrete barriers of the road as some cars came a little too close. But by this point I’m used to it, and can’t say it scares me. You still gotta take precautions, though. One bad move and it’s all over, eh? Have to say that would be a shitty end to it all. 

At 11pm I was strolling past stand after stand of fruit, giving off the only light around, manned by those who were obviously curious as to why this stupidly sweaty man was walking by, talking to himself with a dumb smile on his face. While I was greeted with blank stares by most, a few chased after me with water and bananas. My dumb smile grew wider. 

As I scouted out possible sleeping locations, a car screeched to a halt ahead of me. A man and his son figured I was “probably hitchhiking,” based off obvious reasons, although by this point I was being half asked about it. 

Off to Konya! In my zombie-like state we talked about just what the hell I was doing, the attempted coup, and just about all the usual stuff I end up talking about (after a while it’s almost like a pretty recorded speech depending on how often the same questions come up). 

2am is when I got dumped in the city center of Konya… Not exactly what  I wanted. My new friends told me that it would be fine, and even asked the police if I could sleep there. They agreed (not used to this. Canadian police would definitely not allow it). So under the guard of machine-gun wielding police, I slept with one eye open in Konyas’ city center, while Turks sped their cars through the streets, honking their horns and waving their flags out the window (anti-coup demonstrations). 

Somehow I still managed to sleep. I think I was just glad to be back on the road. 

I’m actually writing these while I travel through Georgia and Armenia. I’m pretty behind with this stuff! 

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Coups and Supposedly Secret Beaches. 

How on earth did I forget to mention this: days before I left the campsite, an attempted military coup took place while I slept. A fair chunk of the armies’ upper ranks decided they wanted Erdogan out, using conscripts to block bridges and airports in Istanbul, under the guise of an exercise. Many other targets around Turkey were taken as well. Around 300 people were killed, but it ultimately ended up failing. The resulting “purges” resulted in thousands being arrested and fired, while Erdogan swept in with tighter controls on the country (I have met more than a few who think it was all a way to gain more power). 

Tianamen Turks.

Turks were glued to TV screens wherever I went, many unsure what it all meant,and what was to happen. Now, weeks later, shit is still hitting the fan. 

Apparently millions attended the “anti-coup rally” recently…

Anyways, I hitchhiked from Akbuk Bay to Bodrum to see a friend for the first time in years (Bodrum is pretty but a major expensive tourist trap). This particular friend was with me on that Turkish gulet I had volunteered on years ago (no idea how many people who read this were reading back then). I was stuck in Mugla for two hours, but later learned some special forces were hiding up in the nearby mountains (I believe the guys who were to capture Erdogan himself as he vacationed an hour away at the time of the coup), and me with my military rucksack may have looked… Suspicious, I guess? I mean, if a special forces guy was wanted by the government, I doubt he would hitchhike from a major city with a military bag… Anyways.

Totally special forces

I fled from Bodrum to Ferthiye, somehow getting a really nice private room in a fancy part of town for dirt cheap. Soaked in sweat, and i’m sure smelling very bad, I must have fit in so well! 

From here I journeyed South, checking out some of the beautiful ancient Lycian tombs above the city (which I had all to myself! Thank you tourists for being more interested in beaches and cheap Chinese crap lining the streets), and checking out Kayakoy. Kayakoy being a dead Greek village leftover from the Turkey/Greek war of the early 1900s that saw Muslims expelled from Greece, and Christians likewise from Turkey – all to create majority Muslim/Christian states… It’s pretty crazy to think about.

This one village in particular was really quite big, 2,000 people once called it home. All that is left now are the shells of churches and houses, with fireplaces and some small bits of paint giving the homes some uniqueness from the others. Trees and bushes take over many now. Sad to see what we humans do to each other. On the other hand, it’s always nice to see nature taking back what is hers.

Small section of the village

I was on my way to Kabak valley, one of the apparently hippified and picturesque beach of the area. This is what I had constantly been told. “You gotta go!” After passing through yet more tourist-choked towns, I arrived.

Kabak valley/Kabakoy is a steep walk or bus ride down from the main road, where you are then greeted by more campsites stuffed into one little area than I had ever seen before. Prices ranged from “I guess I can spend that much… ” to “are you goddamm kidding me?!” I decided to go with the latter, for some reason, as I was too lazy to search the place at a late hour for other deals. Granted, the food was unlimited for dinner and breakfast.

Directly behind me was another campsite, and I’m sure another squeezed behind that

I tried to get into the mood of the place. I went for a full moon swim, talked to other travelers and vacationers, and strolled past other camps with varying types of music blasting from within… But it didn’t feel like it was for me… It felt constructed, fake, modified, off. I can’t quite say how, it’s just one of those feelings. Others definitely loved the place, and they were welcome to it. But as always, the search goes on.

Had the beach to myself during the full moon, somehow.

The next day Ieft, after pondering whether I should try another night. But the little voice told me to go. And who in their right mind doesn’t listen to the little voices in their heads, right? Ridiculous. 

My eyes were set on Cappadocia, the most famous and usually most touristic area of Turkey. I hit the road looking forward to being free from Turkeys’ southern humidity, and starting to make some more distance. 

Maybe my place is just not finding a place, eh? 

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Dog Defending and Postponed Adventures 

From Bafa it was a relatively short trip down to the campsite I was to volunteer at… I can’t recall if I even mentioned that yet, but yea, through the website http://www.workaway.info (awesome website. Like wwoofing but a lot better for prices, website design, and volunteer opportunities) I found a campsite to spend a couple weeks at. 

The place is located in Akbuk Bay, a little place with probably the most picturesque beach I’ve been to (apart from all the beach chairs, umbrellas, etc). On arrival it seemed like a pretty nice place, albeit a bit touristy. I’m used to beaches with no bars and crowds of people, but I decided to give this place a chance.

Here I met Serdar and his family, as well as Kont the campsite dog, who were just hearing up for the end of Ramadan. The end of Ramadan means a holiday, with a massive influx of tourists to beaches. Sissi went her own way, following the coast south.

My work at the campsite is nothing glamorous. Raking leaves, cleaning bathrooms, dog walking, etc. It was to be just two weeks of mellowing, swimming, writing… Until plans got pushed back. 

There was one night of spontaneous music playing, anyway

One night I was escorting Gizem, the daughter of the family, to the market maybe 200 metres away. I took Kont along, because it’s an excuse to walk a dog. Gizem entered the market, and I stood outside, hanging out with my dog pal, until a rottweiler strolled on up.

Oh and this little bastard pissed on my bed… I still love him, though.

By strolled I mean ominously and slowly walked towards us. His owner, an older lady, was shouting at him to return, but he had his eyes set on Kont…. Great. Before I knew it he was in striking distance, I had myself between them, and Kont was getting pissed off.

This friendly little guy has a beast within

The rottweiler jumped on Kont, knocking me back, a wee bit stunned. I managed to push him back a few times, getting between them again and again, but both were at each other’s throats now (literally). It scared the hell out of me to see this huge dog locked onto my friend, with punching not doing anything. Locals started to appear, most of them just hanging out and watching the show. 

At one point I managed to again get between them, this time the rottweiler going after me instead. He locked into my hand and wrist, then pulled me along, as he tightened his grip. At this point I was just shout-screaming and punching it’s face. I have to say though, that your mind doesn’t really work so well in these situations. The pain and shock kind of take over. No one was doing anything either. Interesting situation I got myself into. 

I can’t remember how, but he let go and both dogs went back at it, with me attempting to help while I held a blood soaked hand and was starting to feel light headed… But somehow again they were pulled apart, Kont took off running, and Gizem and I retreated as well. 

To avoid a very long story, an ambulance came 40 minutes or so later, and the night was spent hanging out in the hospital. I had five lovely shots, two of which were in my ass (first time, woo), got my first cast, and was told I had to get rebandaged every day for 10 days, as well as get 3 more shots… Yay. From the hospital we had to go to another nowhere town to make a report to the Jandarma (kinda a mix of police and military). The night wrapped up at 4am, or something. 

That 10 day period just ended. I am finally free of all bandages and shots. The worst of the wounds still has a bit more healing to do, but I can finally swim again! (Seriously, no swimming from all this time… Horrible.)

My boredom levels were at “finding ants doing interesting things” at some points.

Soon I should leave. I should have been gone a week ago, Georgia bound to meet a friend. So while I hate speeding things up, I think I’ll cut a couple places off my to-do list. Partially because my friend doesn’t have so much time to travel, and partially because this damn heat is just not practical to do much in. Especially the humid heat of this area! 40C with humidity is just hiding weather.

I’m definitely looking forward to being on the road again. Geting away from the heat, new places every day, and not just hanging around waiting to heal. I haven’t had a bad time here, and there are definitely worse places to be stuck. I had a lot of help from the people I’m staying with, and the owner of the dog is driving me everywhere I need to go, paying for the expenses, and being a pretty nice and caring person. I even met the rottweiler again, and he licked my hand.

Everyone around here is surprised at how well I’ve taken everything. I’ve learned that being mopey or angry doesn’t help anyone or anything (in most situations), so I’ve found it better just to smile through these kinds of things. Who knows, maybe this change is going to lead to meeting some interesting people, or get me into yet more interesting situations… 

Small events like this can create big changes down the road, after all.

Rottweiler owners were always taking selfies or simply taking pictures of me.. Akbuk in background.

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Turkish delight and full moon swimmin’

I can’t say Izmir grabbed me. Maybe if I lived there I would like it more, but for visiting, there just wasn’t much. For me. I’ve heard some of the best things to do are social things, such as hanging out at a few of the grassy areas in the center, drinking some beers at sunset (good sunsets by the way), etc. So maybe in another life, when I’m a cat.

The guy I was couchsurfing with, Ege, was the most accepting host I’ve had yet. Didn’t say no to any request, even when spaces to sleep were not so easy to find. He even found a German on the ferry that he took home for a few nights. This German, Sissi, was to be my travel partner for a couple days.

Sweating our asses off in the early morning hours, Sissi and I hiked out to the nearest on-ramp to the highway. Of course we also stopped to talk to dogs on the way. 

Soon enough we had a ride with Ergun, an odd little man in an old beat up van, on the road to sell Turkish delight. Apparently he just kinda goes down the road, finding markets to sell his wares, and keeps driving until gas is up and he has to sell more to keep going. At one point Sissi was driving and the one marketing the stuff (she also knows Turkish).

We zipped through small nowhere towns, with no luck selling anything, until all of a sudden just about every store was taking some. I think being with two foreigners got him more attention than he normally would. It was boiling hot out, and we were slowly making our way towards Ephesus, so we had no complaints about this odd adventure.

Eventually we parted ways at the gates of Ephesus, of course this was at the hottest point of the day. The next few hours were spent (slowly) making our way through the impressively large expanse of ruins, dodging Chinese tour groups (equipped with rain jackets and umbrellas, no joke), and once the heat really killed us, hanging out in one of the forgotten corners, in the shade of a building we had no idea of its original purpose. Actually, just sitting there in the Shell of an ancient building, with almost complete silence, felt more authentic than trying to see everything. Imagining generations of humans, varying empires, and at one point only animals and crumbling rock… 

Ephesus is definitely worth the visit, but I always seem to need a reminder to tell me what really means something – deep down. But we’re all a bit like that I think, whether it’s seeing it all or taking pictures of it all (both?). Take it slow, man! 

On we wandered, moving slowly down twisty roads with hot wind blowing on our faces as the old semi we rode bumped along. We decided to stop at Bafa Lake for the evening, which was literally next to the road at one point. We made it just in time for a sunset and Chai. I had forgotten that basically all Turkish truckers carry a fully equipped tea set in their trucks. Perfect.

After finding a lakeside spot to throw our bags down on, we made sure the full moon had peeked over the horizon before a good skinny dip. I think that’s the first time I’ve swam during a full moon, and definitely the first time in another country, with a random other traveler, and naked… I think we spent a least a couple hours floating in the moonlight, offering up personal secrets and weird childhood info that only people who are together in the world are likely to give up so easily.

Moonlight swimming, a small campfire of olive branches, and random but meaningful conversations. One of those times I don’t nearly have enough of. 

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