Monday, October 10, 2011

Traveling without pedaling

Why we love the Do─ču Ekspresi (Eastern Express) train:

- Spacious clean private bedroom for less than the price of a bus ticket (about $35 each)

- No one questions our age when we request the "young person discount"

- Complimentary slippers, plus chocolates and juice in our mini-fridge (!!!)

- Gorgeous mountain and river views to pass the time

- Plug to recharge the computer when we opt to watch movies

- Crazy old Turkish lady who wanders into our compartment from time to time; we're never lonely.

- Air-conditioning!

- Bathroom, sink, and a non-functioning shower, but heck, you don't sweat when there's AC

Thirty-six hours doesn't seem so long when you're so comfortable. We packed enough food to both feed and entertain ourselves, and we didn't want to leave. We even managed to access WiFi at some point and heard back from a CouchSurfer in Erzurum, and so we had someone waiting for us at the train station when we arrived and dragged ourselves out onto terra firma.

Erzurum was pleasant, a bit grey and chilly (apparently the coldest city in Turkey), but the first cool autumn air always brings a bit of happy nostalgia which is nurtured with hot delicious bowls of soup and endless cups of tea with the background music of long, melodic prayer calls. There are some really gorgeous mosques to be found amidst the ugly concrete buildings covered with advertisements. We sampled the local cuisine, cigar-shaped Kadayif, a Turkish pastry consisting of shredded wheat and crushed walnuts, wrapped in filo dough and soaked in honey (like so many other Turkish treats... not that we're complaining!) We spent a couple rainy hours in a tea house playing Rummi-Q with an Okey set, our presence clearly fascinating to all of the regular customers. They refused to let us pay for our tea, despite our protests, and we wandered back to our hosts, warmed and happy to feel so welcome in such a cold and far away place.

It means "welcome!"

Corn adds color to a gray day.

Lovely blue tiles

And lovely blue shoes

Little old ladies lower the basket from their window to buy groceries

Our favorite game

Leaving Erzurum the following day, our hosts gave us detailed instruction on where to best hitch a ride. We took a dolmus to the edge of town and hopped out, ready to stick our thumbs in the air. We weren't sure exactly how easy this would be, but before we had a chance to worry about it, a flat-bed pickup truck had pulled over and the we were offered a ride before we even made it clear that we wanted one. The driver was friendly and talkative, but he gave off a creepy vibe, possibly because the only items in the cab were a giant container of heart-shaped lollipops and a pack of cigarettes. The conversation, in our incredibly broken Turkish, was a bit slow, but we did gather that our driver was in the market for a nice and beautiful American wife, and he offered us his cell phone so we could maybe call one of our friends and try to hook him up. He assured us that he had a very nice house in Erzurum, but we pretended we couldn't understand what he was saying, and were secretly delighted when he had to stop at a town about thirty kilometers out of Erzurum. He told us to wait five minutes, but we scampered out of the cabin as quickly as possible, and within four minutes we had hitched another ride and were sitting comfortably in the wide cabin of a giant mac truck, speeding northwards as the weather turned drizzly.

The next ride was much longer, about four hours, to be exact. And it was with the slowest driver that we had ever seen. We watched as dozens of cars passed us as we chugged along the road at a snail's pace, lugging four tons of who-knows-what. To be fair, the road was narrow, and filled with quite a few cliff-hanging curves, so we were grateful to be safe. The scenery for this part of the ride was absolutely spectacular, as well, so we really didn't have much to complain about.

However, just as we were getting to the junction near Artvin where we would need to switch rides and head towards the Black sea, we slowed to a stop and behind a long queue of trucks just one kilometer from the junction. We eventually gathered that the road would be closed for one hour due to construction. Great! It was really getting late, and starting to rain, so we were a little nervous about finding a place to sleep for the night. However, we had the time to take out the Kindle and found that we had just heard back from a CouchSurfer in Ahavi, just 30 kilometers from the Georgia border. Perfect! Now we just needed to find a ride there. We got out of the truck to stretch our legs. It was a pretty great scene actually, just hanging out with a bunch of truck drivers, climbing trees to pick pomegranates, then snacking on the fruit while casually watching the bulldozers push giant boulders off of the road until they tumbled violently down the side of the mountain. One guy called us over to his cab and passed down a napkin filled with fresh hazelnuts, gesturing to explain that they were from his own tree. We managed to figure that he would be heading right past our stop, and was happy to bring us. Deal! 

This was our ride!
We moved our bags over from the other truck and before long, we were zooming along down the road at an alarmingly faster pace than our previous driver. But as it got dark, we could no longer see the dangerous curves of the road and we managed to even nod off until our driver pulled off by the side of the road at Ahavi. We met up with our host, Emre, inside a pide salon (Turkish pizza parlor) and finally solved our hunger problem before heading back to his (extra) beach house, which we would have to ourselves for the night. We went for a short stroll before passing out, and then awoke in the morning to the crack of thunder and rain pounding against the windows. We quickly dressed and repacked before meeting our host at his own home, two doors away, where he lived with his parents. His mother had cooked a big Turkish breakfast (traditionally the biggest meal of the day), and we enjoyed it together while talking about our own homes and families, with Emre serving as our interpreter while a steady rain continued to fall.

Suitably stuffed, Emre brought us to the bus station from which we would go to the border for only 5 Lira... no fun to hitchhike in the rain. Twenty minutes later we found ourselves in a huge wet Georgian sandwich, shoved against dozens of people in line to cross the border. We couldn't help but long for the time when we would get our special cyclist treatment, waved ahead, given props, and making it through long before anyone else. But luckily this time it went quickly enough anyway, and before long we were in the Republic of Georgia!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

lovely to follow ur amazing trip since we got back to Finland from our own travels.
best wishes from the english bloke u met in essaouria,morocco.
Jim and Terhi and coming soon Baby Girl Fullwood ;-)