Escaping the dimly lit tunnels of Derinkuyu, we felt like moles coming out of our hole. We had to wonder how thousands of people could live in such conditions for months at a time.
Our travel clock was ticking a little faster now and we headed directly to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, to “try” to get our visa for Turkmenistan. More on that joke later. Georgia did not require a visa nor did Kyrgyzstan. We received our visa for Tajikistan in Istanbul and we had an email-visa for Azerbaijan. David Berghof at Stantours in Almaty, Kazakhstan, had arranged our paperwork and visa for Uzbekistan that gave us permission to “wild camp” for two out of every three nights. While we still did not have a visa for China, we did have an absolute etched-in-stone date when we had to meet our guide at the border.——tick, tick, tick, tick.
Wishing we had another year or two to explore other parts of Turkey, we sped north on good highways toward the Black Sea. As excellent as the highways and freeways were, there is always construction. Outside of Samsun was unusually chaotic with lanes being closed and detours around work areas. Then it happened. Three lanes merged into one lane with very little warning. As a white van tried to merge in front of me from the right, I swerved to the left and my mirror caught the edge of a road construction sign. The sound was horrible and the damage was obvious. The mirror had exploded. I parked while Monika ran back to pick up some pieces but they were useless.
Driving the next 20,000 miles through insanely maddening traffic without a side mirror was out of the question, but like Mexico or Russia, Turkey is a land of can-do. We hadn’t driven 5 miles before we saw the sign for automotive repairs. There were dozens of garages specializing in various mechanical problems from transmissions to windshields. We found a small shop on one of the back lanes who not only had replacement mirrors, (apparently broken mirrors were a common problem), but in our case, he simply took the frame from our broken mirror, cut a duplicate and siliconed it in place. The remote electric controls were history but the mirror was still adjustable. If that was the worst incident on this whole trip we would be lucky.
Harbors make great places to stop for the night. Local fishermen and kids hanging around fishing piers were friendly and curious. After a couple of peaceful nights overlooking the Black Sea we turned inland for one last side trip to visit the village of Uzungöl.
Located in a green valley between high rising mountains overlooking a pretty lake, it sounded like a nice place to spend a day or two. In the center of town was a beautiful mosque. Unfortunately, the tourist trade had discovered Uzungöl so there were several restaurants, hotels and tourist shops. We found safe camping in a large parking lot on the other side of the lake. The apparent peacefulness of the valley was broken periodically by the “call to prayer”. Though we had been accustomed to this in Istanbul, the religious leaders in Uzungöl didn’t want anybody to miss out. Loudspeakers on light posts and telephone poles throughout town echoed the muezzin’s voice across the lake. Apparently, it has become a popular place to visit for the more extreme Saudi Arabia Muslims, with the women dressed in their full body armor.
Thanks to our ongoing connection with Internet using our Vodafone EuroSim card, we were starting to get reports from other travelers, very few that there were. One particularly interesting blog was about “The Tunnel from Hell” or “The Tunnel of Death” in Tajikistan. Started in 2006 by the Russians but never finished, it is 5 kms., (3 mi.), of narrow 1 & 1/2 and 2-lane potholes, very few lights and almost no ventilation. Choking smoke from belching diesel trucks make visibility extremely limited. Locals have shared stories of people dying inside due to traffic jams when they were trapped as they succumbed to carbon monoxide. We will tell you more about that as we get closer. Sounds like a fun place huh?
Back on the main road we headed up the coast on the superhighway, hopping from harbor to harbor. The area is known for black tea and we could see the bushes growing on the sides of the mountains. With fuel being almost $7.00 a gallon in Turkey, we didn’t want to fill up until we reached Georgia, but we had to get a couple of gallons, so we pulled off onto a frontage road. A truck stop had a large paved parking area where I asked permission to do a quick spare tire to rear swap, getting our spare into circulation. Of course they said no problem and even helped me take the tire off and used air wrenches to tighten lug nuts.
Right across the street we happened to notice a little general-purpose store with exchange propane tanks. We weren’t out yet but since we knew we had the correct adapter for the Turkish exchange tanks, I walked over and asked if we could borrow a tank and just pay for the fuel. No problem. Ended up meeting the man’s family, taking pictures and even camping there for the night. Once again, the process of filling a propane tank took about three minutes. I will discuss this later in a special blog but the thing to bear in mind is that propane is not a gas, it’s a liquid. LPG stand for “liquid petroleum gas”.
Whenever we cross borders we always make sure that the truck is clean, and we are clean and neat. Just makes things go faster. After a quick stop at a roadside restaurant where there was a guy with a one-man carwash business, we crossed into Georgia and took a deep breath after an easy and friendly border crossing. Now where to camp the first night?