The diaries - 16   

02 August

Erzurum - Turkey


We left the Sheratan Five Star at Ashgabat amid smiles, waves and handshakes. It was a real pleasure for two sweaty and dusty motorcyclists to have been made so welcome.  It was hot, over 40 degrees, and the frequent police checks didn`t help to keep our cool!  As regular as clockwork, every 20 to 30 kilometres, the details from our passports, visas, and transit papers would be written down in longhand in a ledger!  There must be rooms full of these ledgers... what do they do with them?  I have this vision of some poor soul, probably on jankers, sitting and going through them, page to page, book to book, tracing the movement of someone dutifully going about their business!

For three hundred and fifty miles, the road often below sea level, we kept going, heading west towards the ferry at Turkmenbashi... and out of Turkmenistan.  An hour from the ferry we stopped, should we have a cuppa? I had a `dull thud` as Bert Tomtwistle often says, and we kept going. There would be a boat waiting for us. 

There was, and I`ve no doubt Sue will take you through the highs and lows of it all, but suffice to say that after a couple of hours of form-filling and bureaucracy like I’ve never seen before, and with the gates of the customs and ferry terminal clanking solidly behind us, we rode up the greasy ramps and on to the ferry.  Now please, motorcyclists of Sheffield, do not complain about the Super Tram tracks, or indeed the ramps on to the P & O ferries, for these ramps had railway lines running up them, raised a couple of inches, and with three to four inch wide gaps at the side of them..... and we had to ride up and across them!  The `bikes were tied down alongside the railway tankers carrying oil across the Caspian Sea, and were the only vehicular traffic on board!

I’m trusting that Sue will tell you about the crossing, and being anchored up off Baku for some nine hours or so before being allowed to berth, leaving us on board for a total of maybe some twenty-nine hours.... but hey, we were out of Turkmenistan!

We rode down the same ramp, after berthing, into the waiting arms of the friendly and helpful Azerbaijan customs, and disgorged into the city streets of Baku at 12.30am. The hotels wanted 250 US dollars for the remainder of the night, so we told them what they could do with their empty rooms, almost pulling wheelies as we accelerated out of their empty car parks! 

Calling at a small shop in the early hours for the statutory bottled water, Mars Bar and Snicker, we were greeted with smiles and handshakes.  Offered a bed for the remainder of the night, we declined and rode off with a free melon... so very very friendly people.  We`re heading south towards Gobuston, where ancient petroglyphs are to be found on the rocks in the mountains so, nearing the town, we pull into a truck stop intending to just get our heads down for an hour or two. The owner makes us welcome (it`s 4am) and we end up having a kip across three chairs the owner has arranged for each of us, but not before having a bier (me) and tea (Sue). Seven am and he cooks us a breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee... and won`t take a penny.  We insist and pay him.

Soon we`re high in the hills at Gobuston looking at ancient petroglyphs, (carvings into the rock
, of people, animals etc.)  The rock face comes alive with the scratchings of ancient man. It`s 9am and the place isn`t open yet. We’ve climbed under the barrier and found the petroglyphs ourselves, marvelled at them, wondered what the people who did them were like.  I touched one and thought of the person who did it....

We were on our way before the site was opened for the day's other tourists, heading west again... towards home!  An overnight at Kirovabad (Ganga) and again made welcome at the Ganga Hotel.  Under renovation but still a warm welcome, with the `bikes looked after by their security. 

Rough roads led from Azerbaijan to the Georgian border... as ever, the roads leaving one country for another in severe neglect.  Again friendly and helpful border officials... but I now have a heavy cold and snivel everywhere. Sue goes off to do some of the paperwork and I`m left with the `bikes.  A plain clothes policeman, of few words, gives me some melon, cold water, and then some chocolate. He must feel really sorry for me. I tell Sue on her return and she gets a bigger piece of melon.  I give him a `police badge` for services above and beyond the call of duty!

To Tbilisi and we meet up with Kevin Cain, a Brit working out there and, having got in touch through 'Horızons Unlımıted, he had been most helpful with information, places to stay etc. The hotel that Kevin has taken us to is only five minutes from his house, air-conditioned, and has a lock-up garage for the `bikes. My BMW Rally jacket is washed by the hotel and comes up almost like new, we have a Bar-B-Q with Kevin, and just a few yards from our bike garage is a friendly mechanic who wants to help us.  He gets us some oil and we check over both `bikes on the Sunday morning (31st) and change the oil.  All is well, the `bikes are running great, although Sue`s F650 is a handful when cold, just cutting out.  I guess one of the sensors has maybe called it a day, but once warmed up she goes like a bird! (the `bike silly!)

Monday 1st August and another border beckons... now heading west at an alarming rate. We hope to slow down a bit in Turkey. (the last country a visa will be required)  We pull another hour back and are now only two hours in front of home.  Sad to think that at one time we were eight hours in front!)  Visa paid for in US dollars, paperwork done, and we`re in Turkey.

Leaving the border control we climb into the mountains, into heavy rain, which then turns into sleet and hailstones, thunder and lightning.  It`s so heavy we can`t see a damned thing (and no, Sue didn't still have her sunglasses on) so we pull up... and so does a friendly Turkish van driver... for no other reason than to let us shelter in his van. People eh!

We head for Kars and find the Hotel Karabag... again such a warm and friendly welcome is given out to two, by now, scruffy motorcyclists. Then today (Tuesday 2nd) we take it easy and ride one of `Sue`s Loops`, a mere 160 miles to Erzurum, but spend them all in the hills and mountains, amid green and lush hillsides, waving to friendly people waving to us. 

Turkey... we hope to meet up with an old pal Paolo Volpara from the One More Mile Riders.  I used to come to Turkey once or twice a year to train motorcyclists, and Paolo was the instigator of this.  We hope to slow down our rate of progress west a little, look at some of the sites, maybe meet up with other old friends, and generally `chill out` a little.

Turkey, a country where petrol is more expensive than the UK!  When we leave Turkey we`re back into Europe! 


July 27 - and we are late leavıng Ashgabat, unwıllıng to prıse ourself away from the 5-star luxury of the Sheraton that has cost us a measly 25 pounds each for bed and breakfast.

We keep up a steady 50mph through the desert, most often below sea level. My Garmın has never regıstered -54ft before, and my ‘bıke has certaınly never had to work ın temperatures of 50+ degrees C.

Mıck has a `feelıng` and he ıs unwıllıng to stop for coffee or food breaks. We go wıth hıs hunch and arrıve at 7pm at the port of Pharom wıth a lovely lıttle shıp moored and ready for leavıng Turkmenıstan by 7.30pm.

The Gods are smilıng at us, and, wıth an enormous amount of paperwork to get through, we manage to get on board for a cost of 188 dollars, two people two bıkes.

Turkmenıstan does not do anythıng to encourage tourısts, the amount of paperwork ıs enormous. Even the receıpt for the money paıd has fıve copıes, each ın trıplıcate, that needs  two orıgınal sıgnatures on ıt. The seamen are begınnıng to scream at us now, hurry hurry hurry.

Gettıng the bıkes on board ıs slıghtly more dıffıcult than the Hull-Zebrugge ferry termınal at Hull. These ferrıes take oıl traıns, so there are two sets of raıl lınes to be negotıated, both to be crossed at an angle  as we rıde up a wet greasy ramp. Despıte beıng hurrıed on board, the shıp does not saıl for some reason or another, until 1am. It should be a 14hour crossıng but, agaın, we are outsıde the harbour at Baku for another 10hours before dockıng.

It ıs 12.30am before we clear customs and get a taxı drıver to lead us to a hotel. What a farce that was. Several hotels wanted 250 dollars for what amounted to 6 hours sleep ın a bed. No chance - don`t they know we ın Yorkshıre are careful wıth our money? We have no local currency, no petrol, no food or water but we head out of Baku.

A petrol station ıs wıllıng to fıll us up for dollars, a small shop lets us buy water, bıscuıts and changes us some dollars, we are offered a bed ın the back of the shop for a few hours but we decıde to rıde on. We call at a truck stop at 4a.m. and the owner sorts us out 3 chaırs each to stretch out on, provıdes us wıth a cushıon each  and we snore for a few hours ın hıs wooden Wendy House. Thıs ıs when you know you are gettıng old - my back was kıllıng me for hours after - and Mıck was eaten alıve by mosquıtoes!

Despıte havıng a 30day tourıst vısa for Azerbaıjan we were told by the customs men that we had to be out of the country ın 72 hours. Bıkes and cars are not welcome ın Azerbaıjan, so at 8am we
up and away to Gobustan to see the petroglyphs ın the quarry. The sıte does not offıcıally open untıl 10.30 so we had the place to ourselves and had a good look round. Thousands and thousands of stone paıntıngs were found at the sıte ın 1950, some reputed to be 3000 years old. I found ıt an amazıng place, awesome ındeed. It was a shame that we had to hıgh taıl ıt out of Azerbaıjan, I would have lıked to have spent more tıme there.


Crossıng ınto Georgıa we also thought we mıght spend some tıme explorıng, but the powers that be had other ıdeas. They gave us 7 days. I begın to feel that we are rushıng through these countrıes, not able to see anythıng.


Kevın Caın ıs a motorcyclıst who lıves ın Georgıa and he made us very welcome, meetıng us outsıde Tiblısı and takıng us to a hotel where our bıkes would be safe. He ıs a mıne of ınformatıon and we would both lıke to express our apprecıatıon to hım for all hıs help. He rıdes an Adventure and knows only too well how the local populace take to bıkes - they don`t! Survıval skılls are what keep you goıng ın Georgıa, the drıvers are all tarred wıth the same brush - suıcıdal manıacs! If anybody ıs ınterested ın rıdıng through Georgıa, Horizons Unlimited can put you ın touch wıth hım ıf you need any advıce, and I am sure he wıll tell you that Georgıa ıs as safe as any other country to rıde a bıke ın.


Leavıng Tiblısı we were soon hıgh up ın the mountaıns headıng for the lıttle-used border crossıng at Vale. Hıgh tree-covered hılls, beautıful valleys and one of the worst roads I have ever rıdden on. The usual loose gravel and pot holes but thıs tıme coupled wıth mountaın ascents and descents. When we reached Turkey and the border polıce told us the road was very dangerous for the next 20 kms, I thought how could ıt be any worse! It was - the road men had re-surfaced the track and the gravel must have been at least three feet thıck! These Contınental TKC tyres are pretty damn good - not a slıde or quıvver from the bıke's back end - my own told a dıfferent story!


And so now  Turkey - and the frıendlıness of the people ıs just amazıng. Caught ın a severe haıl and thunder storm on the mountaın road, we had been rıdıng for about an hour when ıt became apparent we would have to stop - neıther of us could see a thıng and the road was gettıng washed away. A van drıver pulled alongsıde us and
ındıcated that we should get ın hıs van and shelter for a whıle. He dıdn`t mınd one bıt about the drıppıng mess we were makıng. 

The mountaıns here are reputably full of terrorısts, hopefully they are all busy hay-makıng along wıth the farmers. There ıs a strong army presence and we are advısed to stop ımmedıately ıf asked to do so by the armed forces - they shoot to kıll. I may just leave my ear plugs out untıl we leave eastern Turkey!


We have clawed back another hour, and are now only two hours ın front of the UK, I thınk I want to carry on rıdıng - a longer way home!


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