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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

PART 14: WEST ASIA - TURKEY & IRAN

TURKEY (21st MAY – 16th JUNE 2016)


In the morning, I made my way to Greece - Turkish border at Kipoi. Nearing the border, I saw lots of lorries lining up by the road side and the line was like a km or so. In my mind, oh god, why is such a long line? At the car/motorbike lane, there was a long line too and it took me 30mins to get my exit stamp. Then I rode to the next counter which was the Duane (customs). But the window was closed. There were 2 cars ahead of me and they were stuck there too as the gate was closed. I saw the driver of the first car talking to an officer, (in a soft manner first, then arguing), but I didnt understand what was going on. After 15mins, the line became longer and all restless drivers started to gather. Then only I knew that the Greek customs were on strike and they didnt want to work on that day. Ouchhh!!


I waited patiently. What else can I do? Fortunately the customs opened the gate after an hour but the officer didnt record my bike's exit (bcos they didnt want to work on that day!!), even after I had asked. Surely GD will be blacklist as never exit the country. I crossed the river which separated the two countries. In the Turkish side, first I need to register at a police check point. He asked for the bike docs. Then I had to ride to the immigration for an entry stamp. The third was the customs. They asked to see Turkish insurance which I didnt have. I had to go to the duty free shop nearby to purchase one, and it cost me EUR78 for a month. Thats the minimum rate. Then I made my way to the 4th counter which was a police check point again. In total, it was about 40mins at the Turkish side.




After that I rode all the way to Istanbul via E84. It was a very windy day and pretty stressful as I got side and headwind all the way and there were lots of rolling hills. My poor GD had a tough time to beat the headwind while climbing up the hills. For the first 100kms, the road was not good as there were lots of road works and many trucks plying the route. After that it was a good dual lane road but 40kms to Istanbul, I was caught in a very heavy traffic. It was a snail ride to zip in, in between of the vehicles. The drivers here didnt have any respect for motorcyclists, so they didnt give a damn to give way for me to zip in. It was very tiring. About 300m to reach my hosts house, the road was closed as there will be a United Nation meet at Grand Hyatt Hotel (which was next to my host's hse). The meeting is next Monday but they closed the road since last Thursday. I really wonder why. I had to go in circles to find another way but it all ended up closed. My last solution was to ask the police to help me and finally, I managed to reach my hosts house.


In Istanbul I was hosted by a lovely couple, Avram & Fanny. Avram was a successful Turkish businessman who lived in Singapore and Msia in the 70s. Fanny was an Indonesian/Sporean Chinese. They invited me to stay at their daughter's apartment since their daughter was away for vacation. I just couldnt believe that after a series of uncomfortable nights at dorms with mossies and raining during midnite while camping, I walked into an elegant apartment with marble floor and wall, beautiful chandelier, glittering 5 stars hotel kinda toilet and shower, a fully equipped kitchen and Fanny stocked the kitchen with food during my stay here. Not just that, she invited me for meals everyday and took me out to an expensive restaurant for lunch. I was very lucky indeed. I felt fully charged after spending 4 nights in Istanbul.




While in Istanbul, I managed to meet another kind Malaysian souls, PK and her husband. They were friends of Avram and Fanny. They came to meet me once they found out that I had arrived Istanbul. Both of them had been residing here for more than 20 years. They were proud of what I'm doing. PK took me out for sightseeing, and even gave me souvenirs for remembrance. Since this was also my 2nd time in Istanbul, we only visited the free attractions and had a drink at a restaurant in the Graand Bazaar. Thank you to all of you for the nice hospitality.





Words about me and my solo ride spread fast. I was contacted by TRT World TV saying that they were interested to interview me for a slot in the national news. I agreed and we spent about 3 hours for the shooting.



While in Turkey, I managed to do some touristy things such as visiting the travertine of Pamukkale. Its been quite some time I wanna see this place. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, some of the basins already dried up. Only a little bit were left to feast my eyes. However, its still a remarkable view. The whitish things of the travertine were hardened calcium carbonate. You need to walk bare footed on the travertine in order to conserve it. Entry fee to visit this place was YTL35. There were also some ruins nearby to explore.





My next destination in Turkey is Ankara. Its Friday and Fanny had warned me that the weather gonna be shitty and she advised me to stay few more days but unfortunately I had a schedule to follow. Fanny was right. It rained continously for 4 hours and I was soaked bcos I didnt put on my Givi rain coat. Hahh, served me well!! However, the view along the way was very beautiful.






I reached Ankara after riding 500kms in 8 hours. The good thing was theres no traffic jam when I entered the capital city of Turkey, unlike when entering Istanbul the other day. But the not so good thing was before reaching my hosts house, I had to ride on very very very steep and narrow switchbacks. Not one or two, but lots of switchbacks along the 4kms to reach her apartment. Few times when taking the crazy sharp inclines, I almost dropped GD bcos the corners were too tight and the road was too narrow. GD couldnt afford to climb up even with first gear. The impatience Turkish drivers didnt help at all. They were angry at me. Luckily I found my hosts house but I was so exhausted by then. Fortunately I am going to stay here for quite a while bcos I need to sort out Turkmen and Uzbek visas here.

During my GDR, I was very blessed to have very kind hosts during my journey. In Ankara, I was hosted by Colonel Zakaria (Msian Defense Attaché in Turkey) and her wife, Fida. They were truly kind to me. They took me everywhere they go, including to the agro market in Ulus doing their weekly marketing. What caught my eyes at the market were sheeps feet which sold here. I asked Fida if it taste good, but she hadnt try as yet. Mushrooms were cheap too, only TL5 per kg. 




After that, we wanted to visit Ankara Castle, a medieval citadel up the hill which was built more than a millennium ago. Unfortunately the road to the castle was closed. Then we visited Haci Bayram open mosque. Haci Bayram was a pious man who lived in the 14th century and his tomb was located nearby the mosque.




There were many visitors at this place and I took the opportunity to talk to some of them. It was a nice experience. In my opinion, Turks were friendly people and they didnt mind to be photographed (unlike the people in some countries), but some requested me not to put their pics on FB, which I fully respected. After Ulus, I was taken to a shopping mall to enjoy the weekend. 

I loved Ankara. Despite being very hilly, its a very clean and organized city with not so bad traffic, and never looked congested, unlike other world’s capital cities. Before we went home, we stopped at a place where Col Zakaria feed some stray cats everyday. It was fascinating to see how the cats came running upon seeing Col's car as if they knew that its eating time. The strays here were beautiful and I wished I could take one with me for GDR, but of course I couldnt do that.



On Monday, my hosts took me to report to the Ambassador at Msian Embassy in Ankara. I chatted with the Ambassador for a while and had to excuse myself bcos I need to sort out my visas.

Getting visa is one of the trickiest part in any travel. Different country has different procedures and sometimes the procedures can change overnight. For my GDR, I need visas for US, Canada, Bolivia, Iran (VOA), Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Russia. I have had difficulties when applying the first 3 visas, and I had set my mind that it will be tough for the remaining.

Fida and I went to Turkmen Embassy to apply for the visa. Knowing that its always difficult to deal with the Turkmens, I brought along a support letter from Msian Embassy in Ankara. To my surprise, the handsome young officer told me that processing will take 5 working days (instead of 2 weeks when asked by phone). I'm applying for a transit visa and the rule is you must already had both country visas in your passport (before and after Turkmen), then only you can apply for Turkmen transit visa. May be its bcos of the officers confusion to see sooo many stamps and previous visas in my passport, and bcos of the support letter that I brought along, he didnt demand to see Iran and Uzbek visas (before and after Turkmen, which I had not get as yet). He didnt even want to take the USD10 visa processing fee (visa fee was USD35). He didnt asked for hotel booking whatsoever, and the application form is a very simple one. As for Uzbek visa, the embassy only entertain visa application on Wednesday, so I had to wait two more days before applying for it.



While waiting for my visa to be processed, Fida took me to her many events. Being a wife to a Defense Attaché, Fida's schedule is always packed with her formal and informal activities with AMAC Ladies (an organization for the wives of foreign Defense Attaché based in Ankara). I was brought to a Ramadan Coffee Morning event, hosted by Mrs Mayada, spouse of Egypt Defence Attaché. This event gave me the opportunity to join and mixed with classy ladies from all over the world. The wife of Sudanese Ambassador was there too. Some of the guests were very beautiful. I also get to taste Egyptian and Turkish delicacies served during the event. 






It impressed me to see how well Fida brought herself and its even more amazing to see how highly she was respected by the AMAC ladies. She was the source of advises and approval whenever they discussed about their programs. She represented herself (and Malaysia) very well and I am so proud of her.



Everyday in Ankara was busy days for Fida, and me too, LOL. In a way, it made the waiting for the visa less stressful. Fida brought me to a potluck picnic party at Lozan Park organized by herself. Some of her AMAC Ladies friends were there. We had a really great time. Eating, playing games, chatting and laughing. Besides us, there were many other locals having their picnic here too. The park was very lively. Each of us brought food from own countries. I get to taste variety of food and they were all delicious.



Fida also took me for a vist to Anitkabir, a must visit grand museum dedicated to Mustafa Kamal Ataturk in Ankara. The museum not only housed the Turkish first President's belongings, but his tomb was here too. There were lots of exhibitions about his life history including his involvement in military and his contributions to the country. It was very obvious how Turkish people loved him. Here, his body was preserved and kept in a coffin. The coffin was not buried but was placed in an underground chamber in the museum.




On the last day before Ramadan, my hosts took me to AMAC picnic party which was held at a military recreation centre. It was a nice event, meeting lots of people from all around the globe. Some of them were bikers too and we had a very interesting conversation. The food was really good and I really had a feast.



One the first day of Ramadan, my hosts took me to an Iftar event, hosted by the Mayor. It was a Turkish style iftar. The starter were bread with lentil soup. The second course were rice and meat. The best was the dissert, which were baklava with goat milk ice cream. It was very delicious and indeed to die for.



On the 3rd day of Ramadan, my hosts organized iftar for Msian students who studied in Ankara. About 20 students turned up and lots of menus were served. Fida was a great cook. Whatever she cook surely tasted good. I had been putting on weight since I stayed here and I knew that I am going to miss her cooking very much.



It had been 15 days that I'm in Ankara. I already got my Uzbek visa, but Turkmens one seemed to be taking a while. They had promised that processing time are 5 days but I still didnt get the invitation letter. I'm already behind schedule. On day 17, I couldnt wait no more. I make a move after Turkmen Embassy ensured me that once I got the invitation letter which will be emailed to me, I can collect the visa from their embassy in Tehran. It was really hard to say goodbye to Fida after staying more than 2 weeks at her house. We had already been the best of friends and Fida actually asked me to stay longer, but the ride must continue. I felt really heart broken when I bided her good bye and viewed the last glimpse of her thru my side mirror. Without realizing, tears started to roll on my cheeks. Thank you very much Fida and Col Zek for the wonderful hospitality during my stay in Ankara. I will cherish this until my last breath.



The wind was a bit strong as I made my way to Goreme via D260 – D765. The weather was fine and the view was spectacular with golden and greenish wheat fields and rocky mountains. The road was sometimes good and sometimes so-so. It took me 4.15 hours and 302kms to reach the small town of Goreme. The rugged barren rocky view was a clear sign that I had reached this place which was famed for its cave houses and hot air balloon. 





Its not difficult to find Red River Tours office, the meeting point for me to meet my Air BnB host, Cave. He brought me to the hostel cave and I got my first experience staying in a cave house. It was cold inside my cave room. Before iftar, Cave brought me to Love Valley for sightseeing and sunset viewing. This place was name as such due to the many male genital like rock structure around this area. It were very unique.




The next morning, I woke up early for the hot air balloon experience. I had always wanted to experience this and I got a good price from Cave since I'm staying at his place. The experience and excitement were hard to describe. It was sooo beautiful viewing the rock formations and cave houses from above. It made me felt so small compared to God's power. The sunrise added colours to the magical view below me and I felt as if I'm in a fairy land. 



Once done with the tour, I checked out and make a move towards Erzincan. It was a long 545kms ride which I did in 7.15hrs, with no break except for quick stop for pics. The ride for the first half was ok with good road condition, but the 2nd half was quite taxing as the road after Sivas was bad, sunken and very bumpy. I had to fight side wind as well. My lips were peeling due to the dryness and the wind. Anyway the view was spectacular. I love Turkey's landscape, its so beautiful.




My last destination in Turkey is Dogubeyazit, a town not far from Turkish – Iranian border. I took D100/E80 route passing by Erzurum and Agri. The weather was good and less wind today. I must say that Erzincan to Agri was one of my bestest route in GDR. Even though I rode 500km in 7.30 hrs while fasting, but the amazing 'carpet' view of wild flowers of red, pink, white, purple and yellow made me forget the thirst and hunger.






IRAN (16th – 24th JUNE 2016)


Before leaving for the border, I stopped at a place which I since long wanted to see, which is 'The Landing of Noah's Ark'. It was a 5kms offroad and some badly broken asphalt with 4kms steep climb on the narrow winding road to reach the visitors centre of this attraction. The stoned ark was located on top of the hill (up left in the pic below). I had to walk up to reach the ark to get a closer look. Theres no one here except me and a village boy guarding after his goats.





I didnt spend long time here bcos it started to drizzle. The steep loose gravels road would be slippery when it get wet so I hurriedly left the place. Thank god I managed to get down safely. I left Dogubeyazit and rode to the border. There were too many people at the Turkish immigration. People were shouting and a police was trying to control the situation. I didnt know whats going on. Some touts approached me but I told them its ok, and I can managed myself. I cued up at the long line. A nice guy asked me to follow him if I didnt want to wait 4 hrs to get my exit stamp. He assured me he's not a tout. He brought me straight to the counter and spoke something to the officer. I was lucky that the officer entertained me straight away. The officer said something in Turkish which the guy translated to me, asking about Iranian visa. I told them that Malaysians can get a VOA for Iran. The guy asked if I'm sure about it, I said thats what Iranian Embassy in Ankara told me. He said ok then, but if theres trouble, he asked me to find him there. I thanked him and registered GD’s exit at the customs. It was very easy. Thirty mins and I'm done on the Turkish side.


Then I rode to the Iranian side. I had to wait 10mins for the guard to open the gate. And after that, Iranian hospitality begins. The guard brought me straight to the immigration office. The officer asked about visa and I told him the same thing. The officer made a call and 2mins later he stamped my passport. Then the guard brought me to the customs. My Carnet was stamped for the 1st time. Later, another officer inspected GD and then he said I'm good to go. Woweee...so quick!!! Its only 30mins and I'm done. I cant believe it. I had mentally prepared that its going to be 2 - 3hrs, bcos thats what I always heard from my overlander friends. Theres no fees or insurance to pay. Ohhh I'm sooo loving Iran :)



However, the not so good thing abot Iranians was their reckless driving attitude. They drove like maniacs, switching lanes as they liked and they didnt follow the road rules. I had to show my middle finger (excuse me) to a car who almost ran into me. To make matters worse, rain started to fall as soon as I entered this country. A storm and heavy wind came soon after when I'm crossing the desert. It was a very torturing ride. However there were some very unique landscapes which I managed to see while otw. Finally, I arrived chaotic Tabriz after riding approximately 350kms in 8.30hrs.



The next day, I rode to Zanjan via route 32. It was raining a bit in the morning and the road was quiet. After a while, I realized that its Friday, a rest day for Iranians. No wonder the road was deserted. The road was sometimes 2 lanes and sometimes 3 lanes but the surface was not very smooth. Theres presence of strong wind but the view of the sandy and rocky hills were so so spectacular. I made it to Zanjan in 5 hours.




After being back otr for the past 6 days, riding approximately 2300kms from Ankara, to be honest, I'm exhausted. Riding, fasting and fighting the wind took so much of my energy. The ride into the capital city, Tehran which has13 million population was quite hectic. Again there was strong wind all the way from Zanjan to Qazvin, and the presence of wind turbines were the indicator. Theres nothing to view except the empty desert.


One funny yet pissing me off thing was the too friendly attitude of the Iranians. They waved at me, took my pic and even tried to have a conversation with me on the busy road from their moving vehicle!!! I didnt mind that actually, but I do mind when I was struggling to keep my bike upright and keeping to my lane when being pushed by the side wind, and yet, those drivers drove side by side and very close to me, exactly to the direction where the wind was pushing me, just to ask me where I'm from, where I'm going and welcome to Iran. Crazy. I knew they were not aware that they could endanger me by doing that. I hope if theres any Iranians reading this note, please, tell your people, dont do that. I know you are the friendliest people on earth but this attitude is very dangerous.

I made my way to Sarah's house. Sarah was a dear friend whom I knew since 2008. We had been lost in contact since Iranian government banned FB, but I managed to find her in internet few months before I arrived Tehran. It was soooo good to meet her again. She was only 18 when I met her the first time, and she's sooo pretty now. We hugged very long time but I couldnt stay long as I need to send my bike for servicing. I had contacted Mr Vaziri who once worked for Yamaha Iran (but the business had stopped since 10 years back due to some problems). Mr Vaziri arrived and I followed him to TVS Motor. GD had his EO and oil filter changed, brake pad changed, air filter and spark plug cleaned, chain tightened and lubed, radiator and battery power checked, all screws tightened, air tires filled, coolant topped up, and side mirror fixed. The mechanics even washed the bike. When I asked Mr Vaziri how much was the total cost, he said, "Its very expensive. You had to rob a bank to make the payment." I'm puzzled. With a pat on my back he continued, "Its our complimentary. You are our guest." OMG. Iranian hospitality. TQVM sir...



I stayed 3 nights at Sarah's house in Tehran and I managed to get my Turkmenistan visa (finally). It cost me USD55 and about 1.30hrs of waiting at the embassy. After that Sarah drove me to Malaysian Embassy in Tehran and I reported to H.E. Raja Nurshirwan Zainal Abidin.




I was also being interviewed for Jamejam newspaper and CHAMEDAN magazine on my last day in Tehran. I didnt do any sightseeing in Tehran as it was fasting month and very hot during day time. Besides I had visited Tehran before and had seen all the attractions.




After 3 days, I left Tehran with a sad feeling. Sarah and her parents were like family to me. Its hard to let go our hugging, however the journey must go on. For 2 days, I rode 1000kms on E44 Imam Reza Expressway and reached Mashhad, the holy city for the shi'ite. The ride had been quite taxing with temperature of 40'C, especially when crossing Dasht-e-Kavir, a sand stone and salty desert plateau, which was said that in the heat of summer, was one of the hottest places on the planet. The wind was strong as well, as the vast desert enabled the wind to blow without any disturbance. From a distance, I saw sandstorms and twister of sands spiralling in the air. I had to fight side and head wind again which at times, I could only move at 50kmh. My arms and neck were so sore but I still keep my fast. Theres nothingness at the desert except sands. I also noticed GD consumed more gas due to this. Normally, a full 12 liter tank can last 400kms, but these 2 days, it didnt even cover 300kms per tank. Luckily gas here was sold at IRR10000 (USD0.35) per liter.




I stayed two nights in Mashhad and managed to visit the holy shrine of Imam Reza. It was very impressive and beautiful.






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Band: NASTIA, Title: ANGGUR (taken from EP 'EKSPRESI')
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