Part 2: The Caucasus
Turkey, Georgia & Armenia
My Journey through the Caucasus
Turkey was the biggest country yet and the first real tests of the trip. Massive distances, with little in between and as we headed further east we left any remnants of the tourist trails behind.
It was the first time the trip had become more than a physical challenge with endless long roads and hour after hour of highway cycling, punctuated only by short stops at service stations for cooling ice lollies and traditional Turkish tea.
Crossing from Islamic Turkey to Christian Georgia was an interesting experience - we had great experiences of hospitality on both sides of this divide, but the culture and local architecture were worlds apart.
Some good lessons were learnt on our mountain crossing of Georgia. Our progress much slower than expected due to terrible road conditions and unexpected (huge) mountain ranges - next time do more research!
Armenia is a beautiful country, but the cycling was tough. Aggressive guard dogs would chase cyclists passing their property, encounters became a daily, and then hourly occurrence.
The Caucases is an incredible part of the world well worth a visit and makes for an interesting, but tough, inclusion on any cycle tour!
From Istanbul we took the ferry across the Sea of Marmara to Bursa, if you've ever cycled the hectic roads of Istanbul you'd know why, from there Brad and I headed inland to the capital, Ankara.
There's not a lot to see in Ankara so we made our way north via a deceptively hilly route to Samsun, on the Black Sea. The roads were long as we cut across the huge distances on fairly large highways to make better time (an approach that would soon change as we headed further east!).
In Samsun we met an opera singing Couchsurfer, Sahan, and spent a few days recovering before following the Black Sea coast east.
Some long days and big distances eventually led us across the entire (and expansive!) width of Turkey where we headed off the most direct route to take a detour into the Caucases.
We crossed into Georgia at the seaside town of Batumi, before cutting across the less developed mountains. Camping in small villages and outside farm houses along the way.
Eventually we reached Tbilisi, where we cut south for the Armenian border.
Armenia was tough; mountainous, poor roads and long distances - not to mention the wolves, bears and frequent lightning storms! After three brutal days we made it to Yerevan. Surprisingly modern and full of western style shops it was a good final stop off point before continuing on to Iran.
"The road is long with good company."
- Turkish proverb
It's around 1,300km across the width of Turkey. Crossing from Bulgaria to Turkey felt like a real gateway in to Asia. In Europe countries were alike, with their own individual quirks, and if you'd had enough of one country you could quickly pop over a border to explore the next. Turkey was quite the opposite, even going at a fairly good pace (for touring bikes!) it took us the best part of 3 weeks to make the crossing!
We encountered as much hospitality as confusion as we rode our bikes across Turkey. Drivers would beep from all directions but it wasn't always obvious if was in support or anger!
Looking back we did spent a lot of time on a direct route on big roads. I wouldn't often take this approach in other countries I cycled through later but there was a slight sense of urgency, having fritted time away in Europe, to make our next destinations on time for the correct weather seasons.
Cycling across Turkey was an interesting, and challenging, experience. I was glad to have some company for this long leg of the journey.
Brad is an Aussie cyclist from the Gold Coast. He was cycling back home from London, when i met him in Istanbul.
We decided to team up and tackle Turkey together. We cycled over 2,000km to Yerevan in Armenia before parting ways. I was heading south to catch a flight to India and onwards to Nepal, whereas Brad was racing the oncoming winter to cycle up through the Stan's and through China.
We stayed in touch and by sheer fluke our routes crossed paths again in Vietnam, where we cycled down to Thailand and then met again, again by coincidence, in Malaysia.
"Georgia is not just a European country, but one of the most ancient European countries."
- Mikhail Saakashvili
JUST KEEP GOING
unknown mountain pass in Georgia
From the busy highways of Turkey we found ourselves carving a route through the high mountains of Georgia on gravel tracks and unknown paths. We spent days camping on the side of the road and meeting local farmers, who would give us potatoes and other unnecessarily heavy vegetables - just what we needed when climbing a 2,200m pass! We didn't really know where we were our how long it would take to cross the unpredictable terrain.
In Tbilisi we met another cycle tourer heading east, Xavier. I would end up travelling with Xavier for the next month through Iran.
Leaving Georgia and crossing in to Armenia things quickly became tougher. Long, steep climbs with few places to stop. Most nights we camped on the roadside and found few provisions in the towns we passed through. A highlight (pictured below) was cycling past Mount Ararat, on the border with Turkey.
Eventually reaching Armenia's capital, Yerevan, this was the end of our Caucasus adventure. Next stop Iran!