A few weeks ago whilst visting a a half restored monument in mid Turkey we were invited by Kurdish stonemasons ( restoring the site) to share Cay/tea. By way of limited conversation their boss gestured round the room and said ‘ We are Batman’ . We were a bit confused to start with, having never heard the possessive plural used for, what is in the West, the name of a comic book superhero. And then they unfolded our map and after much dusty finger pointing indicated the town of ‘Batman’, many hundreds of kilometres away in the Kurdish part of Turkey. This it turned out was where they came from. ‘Choc Guzelle’ they said and pointed with chalky fingers- ‘very beautiful’.
More recently, after our marathon mountain rollercoaster, we have been detemined to take a more sensible path through the rest of Turkey , so at every opportunity have been asking locals for their advice. It turns out we could either go via the town of Bingol to the North or to via Batman to the south. However advice in Turkey is not a consistent commodity and getting folks to understand we wanted the flattest route and not the most tourist friendly has been difficult. To solve this we have played a careful numbers game and the net result has been that out of five respondents only one recommended Bingol. It sounds like a game of trumps in which Bingol is the minor superhero. But five Batmans really does beat a Bingol.
So we have cycled the flat(tish) route through the South West of Turkey via ‘Batman’ and despite some steep mountain passes more recently (and stupendous views) have made good progress and are now stationed in the town of Van by the high volcanic ‘Lake Van’, preparing to ride to Iran next week, weather being fine.
Western Turkey has a mainly Kurdish population and the Kurds have been very keen to point out their own culture as distinct from the rest of Turkey. Indeed in and around Batman there has been a strong dissident atmosphere and a heavy police presence.
Indeed everything here has had a heightened energy compared to the rest of Turkey- fuelled by ever more frantic tea drinking until seems at some truck stops that everyone has gone completely manic. There is no alcohol to be drunk but the caffiene quota is enormous. Tea is almost breathed and the clear, tea free, air of the more isolated mountain passes has been a blessed relief, although it was probably the tea that got us up there in the first place.
Notable adventures have included sleeping on the roof of a tea shop on a high mountain road. Here we gazed, as you do, at the star picked sky and milky way froth only to wake three hours later to find ourselves beneath a rainstorm and our host fast asleep downstairs and not answering our frantic knocking. We managed to sling up our tent on the concrete truck space outside using bits of rock as tent pegs and had a couple of damp hours sleep before emerging next to a small lake of rainwater. The moral- never trust a clear sky on a mountain.
Right now in ‘Van’ ( where they have coaches that say ‘Batman Van’) Jen has been buying more modest clothing in preparation for travel in Iran. She must ride in long trousers, long sleeves and a headscarf. Luckily the weather has changed and we find ourselves shivering at night whereas only a week or so ago we were still melting. Our worry now is snow and we need to complete our mountain passes before this sets in.
The bikes are holding up well despite some niggles. Jet had his back wheel straightened at a bike shop a couple of weeks ago as the endless downhills with a heavy load had caused a slight wobble and tyre punctures are a real problem despite our ‘punture proof’ brand. Recently Jet had six puntures in one go, three in the front and three in the back, after cycling over an evil thorny plant.
But the bodies are in good order and we are probably the fittest we’ve ever been. Jet’s bruised ribs after the fall from a horse are healing and he can sleep on his right side again. All in all everything is in good nick and we are heading to Persia with fingers crossed for good tailwinds….
j n j x