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Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012

22/05/2012 Waiting for Turkey

Africa is now officially history. Today I set foot on Turkish soil. And my little Suzuki is with me. We made it all the way from Port Said by ferry, two long days and three nights on sea.

As most of the last week the ferry ride was another lesson in patience. It took one full day to get onto the ferry last Friday in Port Said. One day sitting next to the ferry and watch it. Just waiting. First it took hours to unload all the Turkish trucks from it. Then there was a problem with the paperwork for the ship. So it could not be loaded. Once that was out of the way we were informed that we should not receive our Carnet de Passage documents today. The documents we gave to the shippimg company the morning before as instructed to finalise Customs (=putting a stamp into it). Well obviously two days was not enough time to get that done. And we were told Customs only stamps it once the ship leaves the port. That would be 'normal procedure'. Leave the country first, get your stamp later. The plan was to get the stamped document sent to Turkey by DHL. Well, would you trust a shipping company with that? A company that usually calls you to come there latest by ... just to have you sitting there waiting for hours for nothing to happen? For three days in a row? Now promising the document would be in Turkey before the ferry arrives? A document worth many thousand Dollars deposit? How likely was it we would wait for our Carnets for weeks once we were out of sight? Nope! So we (the only five tourists on this ferry trip) put the pressure on. And when we refused boarding for an hour or so we got at least our unstamped Carnets back. I tell you, what a mess.

The ferry itself is awesome. The 'Anna Marine', a former Stena Line ship was still up to British standards. Clean, modern, extremely comfortable. We had two bed cabins with the most comfy beds I've had so far on this trip. There were three good meals per day and unlimited cooled drinking water, tea, coffee and crackers.
However, with only 6 passengers (the five of us plus one Turkish truck driver) on board such a huge ship there was a lot of empty space. As there was around the ship. The deep blue water of the Mediterranean all around us, all the way 360 degrees as far as we could see. The ship's bar was closed. There was no entertainment, no seats outside, no pool, no shops, nothing. Basically nothing to do but sitting around and drinking tea and waiting for the next meal. 'Waiting' continued to be the big word of the day.
Sunday evening 5:30pm we arrived in Mersin. Well, arrived in the port. The ship tried to dock. Unsuccessfully. Spun around by the wind or some ocean current. Tried again. Again failure to dock properly. It was pushed around by tug boats. No success. Going backwards and forwards. Closing in on the concrete pier. Giving up and go the other way. Eventually sailing far out of the harbour again to try another docking location. It was around 10pm when the vessel was finally secured and the ramp opened. By the time we were still able to clear immigration. But had to sleep another night on the ship for everything else was closed. Another night of waiting, being within reach of Turkish soil!
Next morning the game continued. First waiting for our agent who was supposed to support us through Customs. Well, he arrived. But they don't talk too much to you these people. Apart from 'Wait here!' while they disappear. Waiting for what? For how long? No answer. So we waited. Approximately two hours later the agent took us to the Customs office on the other side of the port. And what did we do there? Of course what we learned to do best in recent days. We waited. And waited. And waited. For hours. Until we decided to skip the agent and do it ourselves. Which worked nicely until one of the Customs guys mentioned we needed insurance for the bikes to be released. Where did we get insurance from? Somewhere in town. Can we go there with the bikes? Nope. Aaaaaaarrrrrghhhh! So Mike and me, we called a taxi. And waited. And waited. For it to arrive half an hour and one phone call later. To take us to an ATM to have money for insurance. And finally to the insurance office. Where it took another hour to issue the insurance for us. Back with the taxi to Customs. And Customs was closed for lunch. We would have to wait. Fortunately one Customs officer took mercy on us and gave us two of the three stamps we needed. The third one we would get once an inspector inspected our bikes. We knew the inspector, knew his office, he knew us, so no problem.
Except for the fact that it was lunch break. And after lunch all inspectors attended a meeting in some Customs headquarters. All of them. Not one was available to clear the expanding queue of vehicles waiting. How long would the meeting go for? 'Maybe an hour'. And so we waited. By now I was so over the waiting game, so over it. Nothing we could do. Two hours later the inspectors returned. By then we 'camped' right outside their door to make sure we would get our stuff done first. However, they opened the door and a whole bunch of agents poured in and drowned the inspectors in paperwork for waiting trucks. They ignored us completely. Us, standing there in the hot office squeezed between the agents waiving their papers. No one even looked at us and our papers. That was it, I was ready to kill people. I had a list in my mind who to kill first and who should die the most painfully. The thought of this pleasure seemed to calm me down somewhat.
But don't worry, it didn't come to that. Half an hour after opening his office an inspector took our papers, asked if we have anything to declare and just stamped them. No inspection. Just like that. Three out of three stamps. Means we are free to leave. It shouldn't be that easy.
We asked how to exit the port and people gave us directions. We juggled ourselves through all the trucks and got there. To be told we could not exit there. Wrong exit. Go to the other one. It also must be said that the exits are not signposted. So it takes a while to find them in the huge port area. However. We found it. To be told it was the wrong exit for us. Go to another one. 1km down that way. Going there it was of course the wrong exit. Aaaaaaarrrrgggggghhhhhh! One exit kept sending us to the other one, none would let us through. They wouldn't even look at our documents. No explanation why one exit is different from the other. None. Just 'not here, go there'. Playing this game for half an hour - it just became ridiculous. Stuff that. We went back to the Police where a couple of people had sent us to. And there, behind parked cars and some rubbish bins, the officer opened a gate which obviously has not been opened in months. For us to exit! So we did, not wasting a second. What made this exit behing the rubbish bins the only one right for us? We shall never know. It was now 4pm.
But the important fact remains: we are now in Turkey. With our bikes. Free. Awesome!

My plan from here is to stay in Mersin for a day or two to get my little Suzuki back up to scratch. Replace the bent handlebars. Do some maintenance. Get the oil seals for the fork replaced. They too got damaged in the accident which makes both front shocks leaking oil.
Once done I shall take on the final 3000km of this journey. No more waiting...


Leaving Port Said harbour. It is a long way out a channel before the ship reaches the open ocean. A good way to say good bye to Port Said, a friendly town to be our home for four days.

Our ferry was mostly empty. Two motorbikes, two cars and one truck was all that occupied the two RoRo vehicle decks.

The end of the journey through the black continent. Somehow it feels like the end of my journey. The last picture of Africa as it slowly disappears in the distance.

This is what you see when you travel the Mediterranean. Blue water. Nothing else for two days.

The first picture of Turkey. Arriving in the port of Mersin.

Our ship and our home for two days and three nights. The 'Anna Marine'.

24/05/2012 Turkey

Thanks everyone for your nice comments, you guys really keep me going!

Just a short one today, I have to take the opportunity to use the free WIFI in my hotel.
After coming from Africa, Turkey keeps surprising me. Things are suddenly so easy in so in many aspects.
Back on Monday in Mersin, when we finally got out of the port and found a cheap hotel, I was ready for action. Full of energy that now, there was no need for waiting for anything any more. Ready to get things done. First priority has of course my little Suzuki. The accident seemed to have misplaced the oil seals of my front shocks, both were leaking oil badly. And I needed to find a solution for the bent handlebar. So I asked at the hotel if they know a Suzuki workshop in town. Which the guy on the front desk googled and without me knowing he called them on the phone to make them come to the hotel. Just wait. Maybe half an hour.


The hotel guy was a really lucky guy that day. When he said 'Just wait' he got himself in real danger. I was ready to go to places, check out places, ask in workshops before they close for the evening. What was I doing now? WAITING!!!!! Thanks again! I suppose he noticed my face turning angry and in an pre-emptive strike invited me for a cup of excellent milk coffee. Well, okay then.
At the end though it was a really good thing. The mechanic came to the hotel as promised half an hour later. On a Chinese bike with a Suzuki badge on either side. Which was not a good omen. He had a look at the leaking forks. And to my surprise he said 'yes, we can...' (repair them). Which was a good omen. It would take two days to order the new oil seals. And that's all we need. Fortunately I carried a pair of new oil seals for my shocks with me all the way through Africa. So we could start the next morning at his workshop.

When it comes to my little Suzuki I don't trust everyone. Africa taught me to have a close look at the mechanic and the tools first. 'Yes we can' often meant 'We will try if we can bodge something'.
However, arriving at the workshop in Mersin really surprised me. There were BMW bikes, KTM, Kawasaki KLRs parked outside. There were workshop posters of Suzuki bikes on the wall. Everything looked clean and professional. And watching the mechanic made me feel like him loving my bike just as much as I do. Really good man. Within three hours and many many teas later and with the help of my DR650 workshop handbook everything was back to perfect order. New fork oil according to Suzuki specs, new oil seals, the handlebar bent back and sprayed black again, you would not see a difference to a new one. Seeing me smiling all the time he also cleaned the whole bike and lubed the chain with real chain lube (not just old motor oil as they did in Africa). Wow!
All this made me really happy! I planned to stay for two days in Mersin to get it all done without knowing if it could be done in Mersin at all. Now it took just half a day and my little Suzuki has absolutely no issues remaining from that accident! Back in the hotel I just wanted her to be in even more perfect shape and celebrated her with a set of shiny new spark plugs and a replacement of the broken aluminium cross brace of the Safari tank. With her being in such perfect state I couldn't wait to go riding again.
And so I did today. I must say I don't know nothing about Turkey. I tried to get at least a map in Mersin but failed. Using a free map from a petrol station (showing you all the stations of this brand overlaid on a map with dots for towns and lines for streets) I stumble through Turkey like a blind man. But hey, what counts is that riding here is so much fun. My little Suzuki and me, we did almost 400km today. Along awesome paved roads through the mountains. Small roads with next to no traffic. Winding their way up and down and through small towns with big mosques pitched on the mountain side. It felt like a dream being able to ride and ride and ride again. Feeling the freedom again without my knee putting any restraints on the fun. Or the little issues on the bike casting small shadows. No, everything was good. For the first time in many weeks I was free to ride. Troublefree. The environment was awesome. Everything worked. Nothing to be waiting for. Just go. And go. And go. Everywhere I stopped I found friendly people. I guess me smiling on my bike, I was just radiating freedom. And this attracted many good people. So I pretty much got stuck in these towns whenever I dared to stop. But it's nice. Turkish people are very friendly. Same as in Egypt, whatever you do, you do it with a glass of fresh tea in your hand. Which really hypes you up. I strongly believe my journey through Turkey will be a happy one.

The shocking part of today though was how cold it got! I started in the morning into a beautifully warm mediterranean summer day in Mersin. And ended up in snow in the mountains just a few hours later. The first snow since Kilimanjaro. But this time right next to the road. Fortunately not yet on the road.

I guess this is the way the next few days will go. Choosing some small roads through rural Turkey, roads which lead roughly in North Westerly direction. And enjoy riding as much as I can. Easy.


Who's got the biggest bike now?

She is back in perfect shape - my little Suzuki loving the mountains of Turkey

After all this time waiting and waiting and waiting it felt so good to be free to move again, see places, do stuff.

My new buddy in the snow. Unfortunately he couldn't hold on at speed.

Does this look cold? Yep!

28/05/2012 Last days in Turkey

The cold and sometimes rainy conditions in Turkey made me travel faster than I usually would. The route I chose went in a pretty straight line from Mersin near the Syrian border in the South to Canakkale in the North West of Turkey. Passing through Mut, Bozkir, Aksehir, Afyonkarahisar, Kuetahya and Balikesir. Starting on the warm Mediterranean coast in Mersin the road quickly went up to an altitude of around 1800m and stayed in the mountains all the way to Kuehtaya. It's beautiful scenery as you ride along. The roads are small and windy. The views far and awesome. There is next to no traffic. So cruising along you can make the most of this landscape, stop anytime, take photos. It feels like you and your bike own the road. Really just relax and enjoy the ride.
The mountains are quite cold though and there is snow. Nothing some proper riding gear can't cope with though. So I was riding with almost empty panniers, wearing pretty much all the clothes I could find. But once past Kuetahya everything changes. Most importantly the terrain is getting flatter. There is no more snow. It's much warmer. And everything looks nice and green. It looks a bit like the Hobbit Land out of the Lord of the Rings. An undulating landscape and everything covered in green. Most of it is agriculture, wheat fields or rye, often even rice. But still, there are hardly any settlements. Usually there is a town every 50km or so. And the roads are all yours to enjoy. Past Kuetahya the roads turned into highways, split carriageways, two lanes each direction. And much more straight than the small mountain roads. But still almost no traffic.

In terms of the weather Turkey is quite a change to Egypt. Not just the cold conditions in the mountains. But also rain. It is not so green for no reason. I guess it is a combination of these facts, enjoying the ride so much and trying to escape from uncomfortable weather, which made me gain a lot of km during the last few days.
So consequently - I am now on European soil. Still in Turkey. There is a ferry across the Bosporus from Canakkale to Eceabat which I took. And Eceabat is Europe.
Much more importantly though is the fact that Eceabat is on the Gallipoli peninsula. As an Australian you can not go to Turkey and not visit Gallipoli. In fact I would say that for Aussies Gallipoli is the most significant place outside Australia. Why?

Long time back in the WW1 it was here that the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) appeared on the world stage for the first time as an independent entity. In support of Mother England the ANZAC landed on a beach on the West coast of the Gallipoli peninsula on the 25th April 1915 in order to open up a new front and keep Turkey out of the war in Europe. After months of fierce fighting and thousands of casualties the operation failed. It ended in the evacuation of the ANZAC troops and Turkey reclaiming the tiny bit of land they had occupied.
The reason why it is so significant for Australia (and New Zealand) is the fact that Australia got involved as Australia. Not as before mixed up with English or Commonwealth troops. No, this time the Aussies stood on their own feet. They might have lost the battle. But established a reputation. And Australia's self confidence. And so, till today, the 25th of April continues to be a public holiday in Australia in commemoration of the ANZAC.
Thinking about it - it is an odd thing: while Australia celebrates it's defeat with a public holiday every year, Turkey accepts and supports memorials on their soil for troops attacking and occupying their country, resulting in the death of thousands of Turkish soldiers. The Turkish government even officially renamed the small bay at Gallipoli's West coast to 'ANZAC cove' as many brass plaques along the beach will tell you. In honour of an attacking force?? However, war does not make sense. And obviously lots has changed between Turkey and Australia in the meantime.

I liked the fact that my first foot steps onto the European continent would take place in Gallipoli. Arriving there after a short ride with a car ferry really was an awesome feeling. It's the same Gallipoli I heard so much about, saw so many pictures of. Was that really happening? Sydney to Gallipoli on a motorbike?

What I did not know was that Gallipoli is not just one site, no it is a peninsula full of sites. Of course the battle for Gallipoli is just as important for Turkish people as it is for Australians. After all Turkey successfully defended their country against the almigty Commonwealth troops. So the Gallipoli peninsula is full of monuments, brass plaques, historic sites. And cemetaries. Most of all cemetaries. The majority of the sites commemorate the Turkish involvement in the battle. And Turkish people take it in by the bus load. Okay, I went there on the weekend, but there were literally hundreds of buses. And thousands of people.
The ANZAC sites though were mostly deserted. However, there was one small bus with Australian tourists. And I met two more groups of Aussies in a rental car each. When I heard the familiar accent I felt all warm inside.

In moments like these I start missing Australia. It's strange. I love travelling. Really do. And sometimes, when travelling, I miss Australia. And I know, once I am back home I will miss travelling. And the freedom it gives you. And how much you grow through travelling. Now that the journey slowly comes to an end I start thinking about what life back home will be like. Back in the old appartment. Back in the old job. But the journey changed me to a new person. No doubt about that. Will it all be compatible again?

But that's a bridge I will cross when I get there.

For now I am in Edirne. Ready to cross into Bulgaria, the next country on this journey. Again I must admit, a country I know almost nothing about. No info, no map, no idea. I prepared myself nicely for Africa. But skipped the Europe part completely in my preparations. So it will be a surprise. I guess a good one.

28/05/2012 Turkey pics

The landscape Nort of Kuetahya changed into a beautiful green.

At the town of Canakkale - looking across the Bosporus to Europe and the Gallipoli peninsula.

My little Suzuki wedged in by buses on the ferry across the Bosporus.

The other side, Europe!!!

The main Turkish memorial site, consisting of a huge war cemetary and a tall monumental tower. It was just buzzing with people coming here on a weekend trip.

The ANZAC cove, a beach where the ANZAC troops landed back in 1915 and the struggle for Gallipoli started.

Me at one of the memorial sites.

The main ANZAC memorial site. Also a big cemetary and a colossal monument. But almost no one there.

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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann