Iran, or no Iran? That’s the question.

The last blog ended in Göreme, Turkey. Wow, that seems likes ages ago. It’s only been three weeks! I’ll tell you what happened in the meantime.

After Göreme we took an adventurous route north-east. While climbing the roads narrowed and the asphalt got worse. Clouds packed together and the sky became darker. We reached a small mountain village and lightning started flashing. But still no rain. So we continued. The views were stunning, but the road turned to gravel and got me scared a little bit. Not much time to enjoy the view either, as I had to pay attention to the steep and short curves. The storm was chasing us and the gravel was getting deeper and harder to ride. At one point, Klaas had already passed a difficult bumpy, washed away part, I stopped and took a few breaths, to collect some courage. Then I left. I was almost at the end of the bad part, but I was watching the rocks I didn’t want to hit, instead of watching were I did want to go. The front wheel hit the rocks and the steer got pushed to the left. The bike fell and me too. I knew this was going to happen… Now my mirror had broken, my windscreen was in pieces, as was the lid of my tool-tube, my phone had jumped out of its mount and was lying face down on the rocks. Things were shattered all over the place and to make things worse, it started raining cats and dogs. 
I shouted at the bike, to Klaas and to myself (pay attention to the order 🙂 ). “What the hell are we doing? We don’t have the skills to do this”. I even said to Klaas, let’s put up our tent here, I’m not going to move any further today. Off course this was nonsense, being in a storm, on a rocky mountain, we should get the hell out of there. Luckily Klaas remained calm, as usual. So we picked up the bike, bits and pieces, Klaas rode the bike back over the bumpy part, we put on our rain gear and went down the mountain again.

 

This day we had ridden 200 kilometers, but only moved 76. I licked my wounds at a hotel. Luckily nothing essential was damaged, neither on me, or the bike.

The next morning we took a safer route, a beautiful mountain pass again with nice curves. In the afternoon, looking for a campsite, we met Norbert, a German with a BMW F800GS. We ended up in a pension together and talked all evening, drinking çay (tea), instead of beer, which wasn’t available. After breakfast we said goodbye. He went for Georgia and we went for Trabzon Moto Garaj, to try and get a replacement windscreen. Because without my hearing would be gone by the end of this year. 

The guys at the garage were very helpful. I got my windscreen and they also put some other pieces back into place on mine and Klaas’ motorbike. In the afternoon we visited the Hagia Sophia church, built in the 13th century, and just before dark we put up our tent in the garden of a rafting company. 

Thursday the 20th, the day my niece Isa became a teenager, we aimed to camp in Hatila Valley National Park, near the border of Georgia. We had read this was possible, but when we arrived at the entrance, after a whole lot of switchbacks and climbing about a kilometer in height, the guard told us this wasn’t possible. Now what? We didn’t like Artvin, the village we came through on the way up, so we continued towards Georgia. Almost immediately I regretted this decision, because of roadworks. I don’t mind a little gravel anymore, but this was quite a thick layer and it went on and on. Being disappointed the camping didn’t work out this didn’t help to get my mood back. After a while the surface improved and so did our speed, but there weren’t many sleeping possibilities. We ended up in a small family motel, when the sun had already started to set.
After mom approved Klaas and me sleeping in a double bed (are you married?), the boys helped carrying our luggage to the room and mom made us delicious dinner, which we ate in the garden. And we managed to make a phone call to congratulate Isa on her birthday.

Friday we cruised through the Turkish mountains, over another pass of about 2500 meter and we took the gamble of another short (15 km) off-road ride. In the middle of nowhere, with wide views over the valley, we cooked our previous bought dinner for lunch.

 

With our stomachs filled up we went for the Georgian border, which was an easy one.
In Akhaltsikhe we stayed in a guesthouse, as campsites are getting more scarce. We took a short break, because we’d been riding five days in a row. It shouldn’t start to look like work right? And we had time. 

Initially we weren’t planning on going to Georgia. We wanted to go from Turkey to Iran right away. But just before we left home Iran started enforcing an old law which meant motorcycles over 250cc couldn’t enter the country (we have 660). While in Turkey we had read messages of people who did get in and things might change within the near future. Our visa wouldn’t run out until July 9th, so we took a detour and kept our fingers crossed.

Heading east we visited some castles, monasteries and churches, which we jokingly have started to call “a pile of old rocks”. It’s kinda funny, because they’re all called the biggest, the first, the oldest, the most special of the town, region, country, or even the world. I always wonder, how do they know?

Longing for some rest in nature (that’s why we went to the national park a few days earlier) we went up the Georgian Military Road, also called Stepantsminda. It was supposed to be a beautiful road towards Russia, into the Caucasus mountains. It was also the most important route, which meant it was quite a busy one. And people were in a hurry to get away from where they were. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have mirrors, so I didn’t have to see what was chasing my tale.
But we made it alive, without damage and indeed the route became more impressive with each daredevil that raced by us. We stayed at a campsite in Kazbegi, and each morning we opened our tent we had an amazing view on Kazbek mountain. One of the highest mountains in Georgia and 5047 meter above sea level.

We stayed for a couple of nights and did a hike to the Gergeti Trinity church. It was a beautiful hike into the mountains, in the company of a dog. She joined us in town and walked with us all the way up to the church. Later we understood it wasn’t because she liked us so much, but because she had a lot of friends up there.
On the way down from Stepantsminda we had a few turistic stops. In Sno we watched some giant sculptures of faces. We have no clue if these are old or new and how they got there. Not really impressive. Further down the road we stopped at Gudauri view point. It’s a friendship monument between Russia and Georgia. I wonder what this is worth now, because the day we entered Georgia, riots took place in Tbilisi. Demonstrators think Russia has to much influence in the Georgian government.
When we returned to the motorcycles, we got our first interference with the police. A cop with a smug face was handing out parking tickets. We missed a sign and weren’t allowed to park next to the road. Luckily the fine was only € 3,- per motorbike, so our budget is not ruined.

In Georgia we went from left to ride and north to south. We’d seen forests and mountains, now we were headed for the dessert to watch the David Gareja monastery. Another pile of old rocks and it’s also partially built inside the rock face. The ride took us way longer than expected, the last 15 kilometers was a bad road. The actual monastery didn’t impress me that much, but the view of the surroundings all the more. While getting closer, everything went from green to yellow, with 50 shades of brown, orange and purple. On the way back, the sun started to set and the colors got even more intense. 

 

In Udabno we found a hostel where we could pitch our tent. At the bar we found Stefano, an Italian cyclist we passed by and waved at on the way to the monastery. We drank beer together and had nice conversations about traveling and life. Klaas and him were kidding about who would be first at the Pamir Highway. Maybe we’ll meet again someday, who knows?

The next day we went east again. Lagodekhi was our next stop. A national park with a campsite close by. We couldn’t find the campsite, so we went and asked at the information centre of the park. Inside was a really friendly English speaking guy, who told me it was his life mission to help make tourists happy, because once he was pointed in the right direction by a London bus driver. I wish my mind worked that simple… He spoke a lot about safety when camping and about the facilities of the centre. He showed me around, we could camp in the garden and use the toilets. It took me at least half an hour. In the meantime Klaas was getting soaked because of a rain shower while guarding the motorbikes.
All I asked was if he knew where the campsite was. So I tried again: “Do you know where this campsite is? We need a shower and here is no shower”. He took me outside and started explaining. It didn’t make things more clear, but some park rangers were taking a break and offered to show us. So I thanked the guy and promised with a smile we would be back the next day for a hike. 

We followed the guys in the car and after a bumpy forest path, through water, mud, and over rocks and roots we were finally at the campsite! We’d been really close before.
Then we started to take a closer look. It was a beautiful quiet spot, on the foot of the hill, in between trees and a stream running by. Perfect, except for the fact that nobody was there and everything was locked! No, why!?
We needed to make new plans and we ended up in a guesthouse again. We didn’t do the hike either, because we could only stay one night in the guesthouse. Our next plan also seemed to fail at first. We got up real early and went to the farmers market. I’d been looking forward to this ever since we came into Georgia and we’d been stretching our visit until Sunday, the day the market took place.
It was only a short ride, of about 15 kilometers, but the closer we got, the more rain started to fall from the sky. And I wanted to take my time walking around and take some pictures. I was already getting cranky again… Now what? It was seven o’clock in the morning and we didn’t have breakfast yet. But this time I was determined. We put on our rain gear and started walking. With the camera. Only a little while later the sun started to show itself and the rain stopped. Yes! 

The market was a real spectacle. They sold everything. Clothing, shoes, beds, carparts, fruit, vegetables and herbs, pigs, fish and birds and a lot more. The place was loaded with overloaded Lada’s, vans, horse carriages and motorcycles with sidecar. It looked like an ant’s nest, where everything was moving, carrying stuff and trying to get somewhere else, preferably using the horn.
We walked around for a few hours, took pictures, ate breakfast and bought lunch and then left for the Azerbaijan border. Our visit to the market became successful after all.

We arrived in Asteriya hostel in Shaki around one o’clock where we immediately were invited by a Polish couple for lunch. Ruslan, the owner took us for a short walk and we were showed how to make Qutab. It’s a pancake filled with meat, herbs, or cheese. We all chose one with meat and one with herbs. We also got traditional tea. The Polish couple spoke Russian with Ruslan, the Polish man explained us in English and Ruslan used Google translate to speak with us in English. It worked and we had a lot of fun together, even though we only just met.
The second round, they asked if we wanted more and we all chose herbs again. Afterwards we were asked by the restaurant people why we didn’t choose meat. It was supposed to be really good and they didn’t understand our choice. Funny, because we did like the meat, but because of the lack of vegetables lately we chose different.
Then Ruslan got us a taxi, probably a friend of his, and we all crawled into an Opel Astra station wagon. We’d barely knew each other and there we were, four adults piled up together in the back seat. On the road to who knows where. Then the cops showed up, doing controls at a crossing. Seat belts at the front seats were suddenly fastened and we had to hide a little bit. How?? All we could do was laugh. We passed the cops safely and went further, on a bumpy road, into the mountains. We ended up at a surreal forestry place. We were welcomed by papa Smurf and Smurfin, standing on top of toiletry buildings near the gate. It was a garden with different terrasses, we saw bridges and dolphins. We could walk around until our tea was made and we were called by a guy who took us to a building, while screaming towards it. A girl came out, told us to take of our shoes, and then she showed us around. It looked like a hotel, and they took us to the top floor. There we had to pose on the balcony, in front of a wonderful view. And so we did. We smiled and were polite, but all the time we were thinking, what do they want? We already have a place to stay? We thanked them and told them it was a beautiful place and then we left for tea.
When we went back to the hostel Ruslan told us we had to split up into two taxis, because of the cops. A few hundred metres before the crossing we stopped and we were put into a different car. Our driver liked to race, so we were back at the hostel in no time. In the meantime we started fantasising about newspaperheads, of a Polish couple who mysteriously disappeared in Azerbaijan. We didn’t really have a clue where we’d been, so what to tell the investigators?? Luckily this wasn’t the case, as they showed up at the hostel not long after we did.

In the afternoon, two Dutch cycling girls showed up, together with Ian, an English cyclist. And we met Rogier, a Dutch guy traveling with a Landcruiser with a rooftop tent.
Lucjan, the Polish guy, said to me jokingly: “We now have backpackers (themselves), cyclists, motorcyclists and a car driver. What will be next?” I told him it would be someone on a horse, but I was wrong. A Swiss couple showed up, with quite a big van. Together we went to see local guitar players at a “festival”. It only lasted half an hour, I was just getting in the mood. But afterwards we had dinner together and it was a really fun night. Who would have thought, when we woke up that morning at six o’clock, we would have such a fun day?

The next day we did necessary laundry, even our motorcycle gear and the inside of our helmets. In the afternoon we visited a Caravanserai where we had lunch. During the “silk road period” these were places where the traitors and travellers could rest their camels and themselves. In the evening we had dinner together with Rogier, and Ruslan showed us how to eat Piti. Not my favorite meal by the way. It’s an earthenware pot with soup, you can see the fat shaking on top of it. After eating the broth with bread, you have to cut the fat through the leftovers, which is (sheep)meat, peas and potatoes.

On the second of July we walked to the Sheki Khan summer palace where we took a guided tour. Impressive how much attention they put into the details. Making the building took 2 years (from 1797), decorating it took 8 years!
In the afternoon, again we were taken by Ruslan. This time with a French cycling couple, and Rogier. He took his own car, because he would go to Georgia afterwards, and we got into two taxis. We had kebab lunch (different kinds of grilled meat) at a duck lake (although I heard and saw more frogs), about a half hour drive from Shaki. Rogier knew he had to go get diesel, but he didn’t have many Manat’s left and wanted a gas station where he could use his bankcard. So after two stops we continued to the restaurant, where the others were already waiting for us. When we finished lunch he tried to start the car, but it wouldn’t go anymore. Bummer. Now we had to go get diesel first. Luckily we had the same race driver as two days before and within half an hour Rogier was good to go. We said goodbye to each other and the next day it was time for us to say goodbye to Ruslan. He promised to sent me Halvasi (typical Sheki baklava like cake) for the whole family once we get home. 

On the way to Baku we first passed the French cyclist couple and a little further we saw Ian and his girls again. We filmed each other and had a short chat.

 

In Baku we stayed within the walls of old town. It was like a labyrinth and I had fun walking around and trying to find my way to the supermarket in the morning. 

Getting closer to the Iranian border, we stopped and had a look at the petroglyphs and mud volcanoes of Gobustan. On the 7th we tried to get into Iran via Astara, but they refused to let the motorbikes in, so we went back to Baku. At this moment (10-07) we are almost ready to go to the ferry which will bring us to Kazakhstan. We’ve been waiting here, at a hostel, and phoning the harbour twice a day. Today they told us to come. It might still take until tomorrow before the ship leaves, so we’ll probably sleep in the outdoors tonight. All part of the adventure I guess. 

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