At the same time as our arrival in Eastern Turkey, the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins. From sunrise to sunset, there is no eating or drinking for one whole month. That's why most restaurants are closed during the day and life is generally a bit more quiet. What does this mean for us? At the beginning, we are still unsure how to behave. Are we allowed to drink in public? Are the shops open? How can we feed ourselves during the day? We are curious and prepared for a lot. First we spend another day in Diyarbakır and have a look at the small but nice old town. Much of it has been rebuilt or restored, as an estimated 80% of the old town was destroyed in bombings in 2015. The vast majority of the population are Kurds, as in the rest of south-eastern Turkey. The streets are bustling despite Ramadan and the spring-like weather (finally) puts us in a good mood. We are invited straight into a bakery and are allowed to watch the production. The baker is visibly proud and enjoys the attention, we enjoy the delicious bread, which we are given as a gift.
The next morning we finally get back on our bikes. In perfect conditions we leave the city behind us and cycle on small roads through endless hilly agricultural zones. The landscape is interrupted by small, simple villages, where we are stared at with interest on the one hand and greeted in a friendly manner on the other. And some people just can't stop looking. We take care to drink outside the villages, still unsure how to behave. But several encounters that day teach us to deal with the situation more calmly.
Somewhere between endless farmlands a car stops and the nice gentleman invites us for Çay. We think maybe he doesn't do Ramadan. But no, wrong thinking. So we sit at the table on his property with his workers, are served water and Çay while they watch us. A bit uncomfortable, but apparently more for us than for them. So we thank them and cycle on. Some time later, a car stops again, the driver wordlessly hands us some sandwiches and drives on. Thank you very much for that. In the next bigger town we treat ourselves to a Coke for refreshment. We sip it as inconspicuously as possible in a park until two young men join us. They buy us more Coke and together we drink it in the park, completely relaxed. They are not doing Ramadan and we should not worry, they say. We thank them for the Coke and the chat and drive on. Here in the East we are approached much more often, invited for drinks and snacks. It feels like a different Turkey, as if we were already in the next country. Towards evening we reach a river where we want to pitch our tent. But it doesn't come to that. Two young men pass by and the evening ends in a vacant, not yet completely finished house, where we are allowed to spend the night, after we have spent the whole evening talking via Google Translate and of course drinking Çay.
The next day demands a lot from us. The sun and our legs are burning, the steep hills are never-ending and water is hard to find. Fortunately, the friendly women in the villages keep supplying us with liquids, which we gratefully accept. Actually, the route would be beautiful and hardly a car crosses our path, but the exertion makes the scenery fade into the background a bit. In the evening we place our tent away from the road and the village, hoping to remain undisturbed as we are pretty knocked out. Everything goes smoothly until three men suddenly appear in the dark, one of them armed and wearing a military uniform. Once again we can only communicate via Google Translate. Apparently we were spotted by a drone and they wanted to see what was going on. According to them we are in a terror zone, and are asked if we want to come to the village? We don't want to, we feel safe and actually just want to sleep. Our passports are checked, there are wild discussions and phone calls. Finally, the gentlemen light a fire and we wait for the police, who come panting up the hill. They just want to tell us that they are the official police and that we should go to the village in case of problems. Then they all say goodbye and as they are leaving, the policeman calls out to us to be careful when we cross the road. Thank you very much, this advice is extremely helpful. It remains to be said that the gentlemen were all very friendly and interested, and they were concerned that the whole thing be handled officially and correctly, which is why the police had to come. Nevertheless, we are happy when peace returns and we snuggle into our sleeping bags.
After a balanced breakfast (chips & coke) we cycle to Midyat. This town surprises us with an even prettier old town that invites us to stroll around. In the meantime we also learn where we can have lunch despite Ramadan. There are always restaurants with white cloths covering the windows where we can eat. So we also have the opportunity to enjoy Turkish cuisine during the day. We use the quiet afternoon in Midyat to buy Sara appropriate clothes for Iran.
And we also need our calm the next day. Changing money is the order of the day. What sounds easy turns into a gauntlet. From one bank to the next, always helpful people, horrendous fees and Google Translate keep us busy all morning until we finally have the dollars in our hands that we need for the next countries. A detailed description would go beyond the scope of this blog entry, but this much can be said: we were slightly annoyed... The headwind doesn't help the mood either, but the monastery on the way brightens our mood. The beautiful complex and its inhabitants belong to a minority nowadays and have already survived quite a lot. The Mor Gabriel monastery is considered one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.
After this break, we pedal off more kilometres, the sky is yellow, there is a lot of dust flying in the air. We ride through remote areas where sheep cross our path, tent villages can be seen and military posts remind us that the border is not far away. Unfortunately, we could never find out whether the tent villages are home to Bedouins, Syrian refugees or other groups. Tired from the intense day, we ask a few men in one village if we can pitch our tent somewhere. We are allowed to sleep directly in a room in the municipal administration. This building is guarded by a soldier all night. In the evening his colleagues come to visit, we drink Çay and the bikes are inspected and tested. A peaceful end to a long day.
The next two days are quickly told. A rather boring landscape and above all still a yellowish/hazy sky makes the ride a tedious affair. The last kilometres on Turkish soil are marked by many trucks thundering past, long straights and the anticipation of the next border. It is the first time we are crossing a border since we have been back on our bikes.
So we leave Turkey after a few ups and downs, both in terms of route and mood. We got to know new distances, ate delicious food, discovered beautiful beaches and wild mountains, saw touristy and less touristy regions, survived the cold, drank Çay and, of course, had an incredible number of enriching encounters again. We thank you for the insight into this wonderful country, there would be much more to discover, maybe another time. But now we are ready for the next country on our route, Northern Iraq.
The anticipation of a new country is enormous, after all we have been in Turkey for a long time. And then Iraq. We travel to northern Iraq, the autonomous region of Kurdistan. This is considered relatively safe compared to the rest of Iraq and we have informed ourselves in advance about the security situation. So far so good, the border formalities are relatively uncomplicated, especially because we are offered help from all sides. We can enter the country with a "visa on arrival" and stay for 30 days. Already at the border we are greeted everywhere in a friendly manner, eyed with interest and accompanied by shouts of "Welcome to Kurdistan". Northern Iraq, we are excited and are looking forward to getting to know you and your people.