Our remaining Iranian crony made a running jump out of the car as the border gates between Iran and Turkey rolled back to save himself from the temptations of the other side.
A kindly Turkish border officer greeted us with big smile and a chuckle. It seems the relief on our faces to be finally out of Iran was a little more obvious than we realized. It felt a bit odd to actually be allowed to pull off my headscarf and abaya in full view of the Iranian men lurking on the other side of the fence, but I hadn’t accounted for the female Turkish immigration officer who had poured herself into the tightest jeans and crop top in her wardrobe and seemed to take great joy in parading her liberal attire in front of the lucky Iranian guard trapped on the other side of the gate. No doubt he had drawn the long straw when they came to allotting duties for the day.
Our ecstasy at reaching Turkey was unfortunately relatively short lived, as we seemed to have drawn the attention of the only gloomy looking Turk we met during our whole time in Turkey. After extensive back and forth discussions between the gloomy customs official and his chirpy colleagues, we were picked up by two burly plain clothes officers and directed to the truck X Ray machine. After further discussions we had to park in an unloading bay and were made to empty the entire contents of the truck so that it could be X Rayed. David and the truck went off and I was left with all of our kit and made myself comfortable next to the sniffer dog kennels with a cup of tea (courtesy of the Turkish government) and a magazine. My attempts to make friends with the dogs, who I was told were named Roy and Rover, was met with a low growling so I hastily retreated.
We must have collected a fair amount of sand inside our tailgate on our last UAE camping trip, which meant that David had to drive through the X Ray machine twice to clarify the fact that we were not in fact smuggling any powdery substances of Afghan origin. In any case, we made a decent enough impression on the customs officers, so Roy and Rover never had the opportunity to snuffle through our possessions. After an hour of paperwork on the Iranian side (plus USD 70 of fixer money) and a further four hours on the Turkish side (no fixer money – the Turks were very correct) we were finally free to go.
We spent our first night in Turkey at Murat Camping in Dogubeyazit, which occupies a commanding position above the town and below the Pashas Palace. May is still a little early for the trekking groups who base themselves there for the ascent of Mount Ararat, so we were able to enjoy the fantastic view from the restaurant in the company of the proprietor, and indulged in a few Efes. The weather closed in heavily overnight to the extent that we abandoned the roof tent, but even so we still think fondly back to Murat Camping and our first night out of Iran.
We trundled on the following day, and made our way across the highlands towards the Georgia border, before turning back down towards Kars. A lost looking blonde fellow hailed us in the middle of nowhere somewhere above Kars, and we made a split decision to pick him up. It turns out he was a British guy who was couch surfing his way around eastern and southern Europe. He had initially planned to hitchhike to South East Asia, but had fallen for a girl in Bulgaria and was therefore making his way back there. I think he was as surprised to see the monster truck as we were to see him.
Our overall impression is that Turkey is going through a a bit of a boom time. The roads are fantastic, and the network is being heavily upgraded in the southern Black Sea region. Hydroelectric power stations with massive dams, seem to be popping up like mushrooms, although the aesthetic and environmental cost must be huge.
Rubbish is collected and taken to dedicated landfill sites, and is not just thrown over the town wall, as in Iran. Nevertheless we saw no evidence of recycling, and there was certainly a fair amount of littering along the main roads. Burning litter seems to be something that the Turks have in common with the Iranians, and we spent most of the time whilst hanging around the Turkish border inhaling the fumes from a mini bonfire which was fueled by the border officers disposable plastic coffee and water cups.
We were therefore relatively surprised that we were almost always sold bread in paper bags, and we were also given a reusable bag by a cheese monger in Kars, which we still use.
We left our hitchhiker in Kars , where he had already made a couch appointment, and eventually reached the snow line. Dubai had been hot and dry when we left, so we couldn’t resist the temptation to stomp around in it a bit. We climbed over the Karagol pass and into the Karagol National Park, where we found a picnic area to camp in. If we hadn’t known better, we would have thought that we were in the Swiss Alps, complete with wooden chalets and bubbling cow drinking troughs.
This part of Turkey is stuffed full of castles and monasteries, so it was high time for us to visit one. We chose the Sumelas Monastery, which is a masterpiece of engineering, and shows that you really can do a lot with a cave in the side of a sheer cliff. Since it was the weekend, a huge number of Turks seemed to have the same idea. We huffed and puffed our way up, and came to the conclusion that the caricature of the jolly fat friar must have had little relevance in Sumelas.
Much of the monastery is inaccessible or missing, but this certainly did not disturb the majority of the visitors, who seemed to be more interested in photographing each other than in the fantastic icons, all of which have been meticulously desecrated by a chap with a small chisel. There was after all some logic to the high heels which seemed to be shoe style of choice and we felt decidedly frumpish in our walking boots.
We continued our descent towards the Black Sea through steep valleys and across stormy rivers and discovered that the Black Sea really is black. The coastal motorway is excellent and deserted, and we zoomed along consuming gallons of expensive Turkish petrol.
We reached Samson the end of a very long days drive, and drove past a decent looking camp site next to the wakeboard park. Some sort of an offroading event was going on with tons of German over landers in ancient Audis and VWs, so we were a bit distracted and continued on through town to the only other campsite.
As soon as we turned into Kakanya Camping we knew this was going to be in our top 5 worst campsites. Raggedy dogs, screaming children, rusty furniture, rubbish, and decomposing fish heads greeted us, and we should have fled immediately. However, we couldn’t face the drive back through town, and settled for a spot close to the WIFI so that we could at least get some work done. We pulled open the roof top tent and David set about bashing in our hefty pegs, which hold down the porch area. In a campsite which was an area of about 100 meters by 100 meters David managed to fulfill one of his campsite nightmares and pierced the main water line. A fountain of water shot up through the earth as we tried to shove the peg back into the hole to stem the flow. Thankfully the campsite owner seemed to have a practical friend who got out the pitchfork and started digging down to the pipe. Someone else managed to find the the off tap, and we think this may not have happened for the first time, as they also seemed to have a special pipe fusing machine handy. We retreated up to bed in a glum mood, and swore that we would always trust our gut instincts with regard to camp sites from now on.
The following day (and many kilometers later) we stumbled across a blue flag beach at Kum Kale, which would have been extremely picturesque were it not littered with bottles and plastic bags. We finally found the nearby Hamburg Camping, which had been fully occupied the night before by a group of Dutch campervanners. Thankfully the camp site was deserted, with the exception of a friendly dog named Scruffy, who spent the night at the foot of our roof tent ladder.
Hefty Turkish fuel prices meant we tried to take a relatively direct route up towards Bulgaria, but since we had both seen Istanbul, and neither of us felt like navigating through the city with the monster truck, we decided to cross the Sea of Marmaris near Troy instead.
Our luck ran out at Troy camping, as the whole site had been booked out by a Swiss group, but the owner kindly let us camp on the parking lot. Unfortunately this meant we were within sniffing distance of his taverna, where Grandma was dishing out delicious home made meals. Budgetary constraints meant that we had to remain strong, and we settled for the usual self cooked pasta and pesto, but allowed ourselves a cold Efes.
The monster truck is always a topic of conversation on the campsites we visit, and it wasn’t long before we had made friends with the taverna owner, who told us of his plans to expand his campsite, hostel, shop and taverna complex. Later on David was befriended by a group of Ukrainian Hells Angels motorcyclists (we don’t think they were there to see Troy). They were so impressed by the monster truck that they honoured David with a set of their badges, which will look marvelous sewn onto his tweed jacket.
Troy is essentially a large collection of stones piled up on each other, which can occasionally be deciphered by experts as being a bath house, granary store, town wall, merchants house, etc… With a good guide, Troy must be a fascinating place, but, even though we were there at 8am, we were chased around through by groups of giggling schoolchildren and Japanese / American tour groups. The one room museum makes an attempt to explain the extremely complex site, which consist of many Troys on many levels of excavations, Teutonically dissected by a huge trench in the late 19th century under the supervision of the German archaeologist Schliemann. It’s still not clear if this is actually the Troy, but it was nevertheless declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and there are plans for a large museum, to be built, rather conveniently, opposite the campsite.
The following day we crossed the Dardanelles onto the Gallipoli Peninsula. The beaches on the Sea of Marmara side of the peninsula are extremely badly polluted, but there was significantly less rubbish on the beaches on the Mediterranean side. The peninsula is a picturesque but sobering place, and we spent the afternoon visiting a few of the Turkish and British war memorials.
We were tempted to do a bit of wild camping in the pine forests of the peninsula, but we hadn’t had the use of a washing machine since leaving Dubai, so we found a relatively nondescript campsite (Kum Camping and Motel) which offered the slowest washing machine in the world.
We’ve had at least one pretty aggressive comment on the website about the monster truck, which actually came from some guy who was using the IP address at an ex-boyfriends company, so I’m not sure whether it is flattering or mildly sad that one of the guys there felt incensed enough to comment about our choice of vehicle! The fact is that it’s not the smallest over landing vehicle we could have chosen, but on the other hand, we’ve owned the car for four years now, can’t afford to buy the typical Land Rover setup, and it’s certainly not beyond the middle end of the scale for over landing vehicles. Don’t even get me going on the behemoth camper vans that people cruise around in. We have seen them on our whole route, with the exception of Iran, and at least we still use up only once space in a parking lot.
People almost always ask about the beasts fuel efficiency, and most are surprised to learn that we do an average of 16 liters for 100 km. By way of comparison, our friend drives a 5 year old diesel G Wagen in Germany, and that does 14 liters to 100 km without a roof tent mounted. We even still have space to in the boot for swinging two dead cats at once.
Anyway, back to Kum Camping, and having observed yet another campervanner trying to select the best camping spot so that his automatic satellite dish would receive uninterrupted coverage of the latest Dutch / Swiss / German television soaps, it’s understandable then that our hearts lifted when we heard the distant chugging of another over landing beast. We beheld the monster of all monster trucks grinding through the gravel at us, complete with fire bucket hanging over the front grille, two huge water pipes mounted on the roof, and a motorbike on the back. It was a Magirus – Deutz with a locomotive (yes – ie train) diesel engine fitted. These trucks were built by the Germans and given to the Dutch as part of the reparations after the second world war, and served as fire engines or general heavy duty workhorses in two wheel drive and four wheel drive versions.
Our new best friends had owned a succession of these vehicles, and they had bought this one in the eighties in a military auction. After replacing the engine and fitting out the interior with solid wood furnishings rescued from an old camper, this Dutch couple have driven across most of the world in this super monster. Needless to say, we felt that our Ford F150 would have to be re-christened “mini truck” from now on.
We left Turkey into Greece through the border at Ipsala, which was a relatively easy process, barring the fact that the green card insurance we had been sold on entering Turkey was not in fact a green card at all and only covered us for Turkey. The helpful Greek border officer sent us back to the Turkish side (reversing through border posts is not much fun) as he thought we could get a better deal on the insurance there. In fact, we then found out that, having paid Euro 120 for two weeks insurance, we could have bought it on the Greek side for Euro 200 for two months.