Last installment we left The Bear and Charlie in Turkey, and now in Part 13 they head on into Greece, where Charlie’s XL developed some mechanical gremlins…
We suspect that Xenophon’s troops were more enthusiastic than we were about the Black Sea, but hey – the rest of Turkey was pretty amazing.
When we came over the last pass, we headed straight down into cloud and rain. It stayed with us until we left the Black Sea again. At the campsite in Trabzon we met an Australian couple in a Range-Rover who had just spent three weeks camped at a petrol station waiting for a delivery so they could fill their tank and go on. We carried every ounce of spare petrol we could from then on.
Scenery along the coast was pleasant enough but hardly stunning, and the constant drizzle dampened our spirits. This is where Xenophon’s soldiers enthusiastically greeted the Black Sea as ‘Thalatta! Thalatta!’ – ‘The sea! The sea!’ but I couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. Charlie, intrepid soul that he is, had a swim in the Black Sea.
We then struck the touring rider’s bane—roadworks. There was mud on the road, and passing trucks threw up a fine film that settled on my spectacles and turned them opaque. Once out of that, we had a dice with a John Deere combine harvester; for once, we won. Back on the main cross-Turkey road, the traffic became a problem and I nearly killed myself when I misjudged the speed of a truck I was trying to pass.
Ankara was dreary and dirty, but the campsite was a welcome little oasis. The guard looked like Rochester from the Jack Benny Show and refused to let us camp on the grass—we had to put up our shelter on the rocky verge. He also claimed to speak six languages, but they all turned out to be Turkish.
Our next destination was Cappadocia and the rock houses of Goreme, so we turned south. We rode past the salty Lake Tuz on good but monotonously straight roads down to Nevshehir and Goreme – there was a little trouble getting petrol but not much and we made it through without major delays.
‘Paris Camping’ supplied hot showers on our first night, but then we moved down to the Rock House Hotel which was much more ‘authentic’. Some enterprising local souls had laid down a few carpets in one of the old stone houses and had turned it into an hotel. It was not exactly luxury class – the bathroom consisted of a puddle halfway up the hill and the toilets were the surrounding vineyards—but it was cheap and interesting.
We pottered around for a couple of days looking at the truly amazing carving – what could be more amazing than a whole carved house – and then continued south towards the coast.
Just out of Nigde, the spring clip holding the rear wheel spacer on Charlie’s bike gave out. In one of the neatest pieces of open-road surgery I have ever seen, he fabricated a new clip by hacksawing a piece out of the spare spacer from Penang and bending it together. A good man to have along is Charlie.
We buzzed down through the ferocious traffic in the Cilician Gates, the main pass leading to the Middle East, and had a lunch of expensive half-raw roast chicken in Mersin. I demonstrated my masculinity (or stupidity) by eating an entire large hot pepper and lost, I estimate, a kilo with all the sweat that poured out of me
We regretted our decision to spend the night in the grandiose BP Mocamp at Silifke, too—the allegedly hot showers were cold and the staff must have been specially selected for insolence. And it was expensive.
Things improved after that, with the road becoming more interesting as the coast became more rugged. It’s pretty country, and campsites jump out at you from under the pine trees—unofficial campsites. We spent one night high up in the hills sitting around a fire and feeling thoroughly at peace with the world.
A quick look at the famous Crusader castle at Anamur and a dip in the Med prepared us for another day on the road, although it didn’t prepare us for the couple we met driving a camper van with an ‘Australia’ sticker on the back. I’d gone to school with Alex, and Charlie had gone to University with Carol’s brother. Do you want to say it or shall I? Small world, ain’t it….
In Antalya they were tarring both sides of the main road and the detour through the lanes wasn’t signposted. We saw every back street in that town at least twice before we got out. Then we came across a chilling sight—row upon row of little asbestos-sheet huts on the beach, behind barbed wire. We thought it was a concentration camp, but it turned out to be a holiday village.
The Kemer road was pretty again, with pine forests and cliffs and a little cafe under the trees by a waterfall. But our nemesis, road works, struck again and we struggled through bulldozed mudbaths to Kas. This picturesque little fishing village lies at the foot of a 300m cliff, is very attractive but lacks a campground, so exploring along the dirt track that pretends to be a main road west of here we found a sheltered beach where we could set up camp.
Charlie’s bike was beginning to worry us now. It was difficult to start and had begun to leak oil badly around the head gasket. Doing the timing didn’t improve things and it became obvious that two of the head bolts had stripped the thread in the barrel.
After a glass of tea at dozy Kalkhan we tackled the gravel section we’d heard of.
It was interesting, all right. I took it at speed and unusually got so far ahead that Charlie turned around to see if he hadn’t passed me without realising it. After we got together again, my bike went into a terrifying tank slapper at about 80km/h. I’ll say this, I didn’t fall off. No thanks to my riding ability; I just hung on, and I think I screamed.
Then Charlie was very nearly skittled by a tractor that turned across the road in front of him. But the people were nice to us, gave us vegetables and let us camp on their land.
A short but scary run with the traffic on the main road, the E23, took us to Istanbul and over the great new toll bridge to Europe.
At the Youth Hostel near the Blue Mosque our bikes once again found a home in the lobby. Istanbul traffic looks quite terrifying, but isn’t all that bad on a bike. We met a couple of sad-looking blokes at the post office who had been waiting for the third member of their party for two days.
On the way out of town, he and his 650 Yamaha had disappeared. These two were leaning on their BMW and Honda 500 twin hoping he’d turn up. As they were headed for Australia they still had quite a way to go.
We went for a ferry trip on the Bosphorus, ate hugely at a little snack bar specialising in shish kebabs, shopped at the Grand Bazaar and even sampled the nightlife. In one bar a Turkish seaman who had been to Australia insisted on buying us beers. When we finally demurred because we had to ride back to the hostel, he looked at us unbelievingly and said, “What kind of Australians are you?”
Finally we left for the Greek border. Then Charlie’s bike misbehaved again, spluttering and refusing to pull. For those of you who can no longer stand the suspense, it was the timing. It was checked later with a strobe and found to be way out. So don’t try to do static timing on an XL, OK?
The border was boring. But then, very few borders aren’t, and I’d rather have a boring one anyway. Excitement at borders generally means trouble.
And trouble there was at the Greek border. Not the kind you might expect, though.
After years spent faffing around with old Harleys, The Bear rode a Honda XL250 around the world and then decided he might as well keep writing about bikes. Three books and endless magazines later he now spends his time looking for those special bike roads.
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