Those close to us and in regular contact will know how much we ended up disliking Turkey which is a huge shame considering how much we loved the hospitality at the beginning. Now it's a memory, we can reflect with perspective.
We spent nearly a month in Turkey and that's the longest in one single country so far on this trip. Considering it's the first country we've had real culture shock in and the country we've demanded the most from our bodies in, it's no wonder we struggled mentally.
For the last week and a half, pretty much since I was groped in Havsa, I had been desperate to leave. Every time we passed a coach station, every time we had the opportunity to try to hitch hike to speed it along I really had to fight with myself to keep going on the bike. I knew that once we were out of Turkey I'd be glad that I had persevered, especially since we're having to miss out central Asia. Perhaps it's that we read too many blogs about Turkey; cycle tourists seem to love it. We read raving reviews of the petrol stations and all the people who have been allowed to camp in them but we were turned away from all the ones we asked. Because our experience was not as out of this world fantastic as the others we read, it almost left us disappointed. HOWEVER, we had luck in other places others didn't.
Out of Erzurum we headed in the direction of Kars but turned off the E80 onto the D955 before we reached Koprukoy. We had (again) read that you could possibly run into trouble along the road to Kars because of the Kurdish conflict: farmers trying to rob you, anything from stones to knives being thrown at you, wild dog packs trying to bite you etc etc, so we were a little nervous. That lead us to taking this D955 road which took us one valley north of the Kars road and it was the best decision we made. The climb up and over the mountain pass is one of the hardest we had done but once you're over that the descent and the views are completely out of this world. It was like we'd been transported to a totally different part of the planet. The ascent is sharp but the descent is long and we did a 130KM day that day. We pushed ourselves to get to Oltu where two well educated brothers approached us, helped us haggle for a cheaper hotel room and took us for dinner. THIS was the Turkey we'd read about and hoped for and we were over the moon when we experienced it.
While this valley was trouble free there were still signs of previous shenanigans. Bullet holes were common in road signs and armoured vehicles drove up and down the valley. We didn't ever feel threatened or in danger, although the young boys are just as annoying as in the rest of the country. Once they see you, they either run after you or cycle after you shouting things. We had "hello, puppy, yes!" and "money, money" but other friends have reported "fuck me!" amongst other bizarre phrases. Where do they learn these from? Either way they're pretty harmless, just perpetually annoying but ignoring them completely until they get bored or too far from home seems to do the trick.
We had read on the fountain of knowledge website, Caravanistan, that the border crossing at Cildir-Aktas was open again so we could cross into Georgia without ascending up to 2500m at Posof.
That's not to say that it's flat; there is still a fair bit of climbing to do at the border and onwards through Georgia. We were determined to get close to the border on our last full day in Turkey but we were so drained and exhausted on the final climb that we started pushing our bikes to find a camping spot in the trees. We passed a man sitting in his car drinking a beer half way up the climb and thought nothing of it other than it meaning we couldn't camp near there. Fifty metres further up the road, we drove up to us and insisted we put our bikes into his car and he would drive us up to the top of the hill. He wouldn't take no for an answer so in the bikes went with us squished into the front passenger seat as he wiggled his way up the road, handing us a beer and some peanuts as he went. Luckily the road was really quiet and he seemed to have some control over his vehicle so we got out at the top, finished our beer with him and watched the sun set. This friendly chap seemed perfectly happy to chat away at us in Turkish without us providing a second half to the conversation but we're really happy that this was our last interaction with a Turk. A really joyful memory to underline the ending of that chapter.
I suppose the lesson I've learnt from Turkey is that it is possible to read too many accounts of other peoples travels. Our friend David also pointed out that a lot of people don't publicise the really difficult bits of their journey, you may only see the best bits they choose to post on their Instagram. Social media has a habit of filtering out the bad bits but we feel it's important to be sharing the whole journey. It's not a holiday after all!
Saying that, we have left Turkey with an array of joyful memories and a lot of lessons learnt for the future which can only make things better. We're currently making a real effort to learn Mandarin so we'll be able to make the most of our months in China and to make far fewer rookie errors than we did in Turkey. Onwards and upwards!