Week 2 – Turkey and Georgia
In the second week of our trip to Mongolia we drove by and visited Turkey and Georgia. The first stop, in Istanbul, was a short break from the intense driving that we had on the first week, when we were much more focused on leaving kilometers behind our back because we were crossing neighbor countries that we could easily visit any other time, so it was not a point to stop there for longer. Istanbul was colorful, noisy and super busy, with a lot of street markets and bazars of any kind, people shouting at potential cutomers on the streets and the air filled with the perfume of thousands of foods. During our city tour, we walked to the fish market and right after to a little bay where dozens of boat-restaurants were docked and serving fresh fish to local citizens and tourists. We were then invited into a shop where a young merchant proudly showed us his merchandise: a moltitude of jackets, pants and other accessories all made out of lamb leather. Later, before we left Istanbul, this same guy took us to a friend who had a mobile phone shop, so that we could buy a SIM card to have internet on our phones without the need of registering the mobile on our passports. Only after a few days we would realize that it was a bad idea. In fact, the shop guy ended up stealing half of the GigaBytes we bought. A lesson to learn not to trust the “easy way”.
Engine back on, boiling seats, Astropanda bound to Ankara. There we stopped for just half a day, quickly visiting Kocatepe mosque before driving to Anitkabir, the mausoleum dedicated to the founder of the turkish laic state: Mohamed Chemal Ataturk. The majesty of Anitkabir goes beyond imagination, with great gardens to surround the gient flat square and the main building where the body of Ataturk lies. At the entrance of the tomb, the last message that this beloved man left to his country: an “order” to the citizens to proudly protect their land from invaders and enemies. Particularly interesting was to see the change of the guards at the the tomb’s entrance. The new guards came marching in a row, swapped positins with the exiting ones and continued to the next point; a suggestive sequence of movementes executed with robotic precision.
Cappadocia was a longer stop and for the first time since our departure we opted for a real camping over the wild camping of the first days. We chose Dilek camping, a nice place in Goreme in the heart of Cappadocia. Murat, the owner, was extremely friendly and helped us organizing all of sightseeings. At Dilek, we crossed paths with a few other teams participating at Mongol Rally: Medical Pirates, Keep the Car Ma Running, Wartburger Kings and of course our favourite fellows Volkswakhan, really cool brother and sister from Belgium. Together with them, we booked the aerial tour of Cappadocia aboar the famous air ballons and we walked in the city exploring local life. Among the foods that we tried there, we remember the pleasant taste of Gozleme, traditional plate prepared with a base of dough filled with a variety of ingredients and cooked over a rounded metal surface. We tried cheese and spinach filling and we still fell hungry when we think of it.
Still in Cappadocia, we drove a few kilometers south to the underground city of Derinkuyu where about 3.000 years ago people were hiding during war times. The narrow tunnels and extremely small rooms were making us feel a slight sensation of claustrophoby. As a matter of facts, on our way down to the fifth of the eight levels open to visitors, we spotted a young woman that was anxiously ascending while being victim of a claustrophobic attack: heavy breating and fear was visible in all of her nervous movements.
We stayed for a total of three night in Cappadocia before we start up the engine of Astropanda and when we did, we drove through rural roads in the direction fo Trabzon. Along the way we stopped in the middel of an inhabitated area to give our (moral) support to a team who was parked roadside with the bonnet up. Apparently they had filled the tank with the wrong type of fuel and they had some troubles because of that. Nothing major thou, so in the time span of about one hour they were back on the road again. Mongol Rally is not a candy shop and breakdowns of any kind are part of the unplanned agenda that hits pretty much every team along this crazy journey.
Talking about breakdowns, we also had troubles just before we crossed the border with Georgia. We lost the exaust again! This time we were very close to the centre of Riza, one of the last populated areas before the border. We saw a FIAT salon so we immediately stopped to ask for help. There they could not help us but since our car is super cool we ended up with half of he staff coming out of the workshop to take pictures with us in front of Astropanda. After the photoshooting, one very kind guy escorted us to an area where we could have our exaust repaired, this time welded with a different tecnique from the one we had while in Slovakia. Engine on again, noise of the car back to normal and full speed into Georgia. Before crossing and since we were driving coastline, we could not resist to take our first bath into the Black Sea to refresh ourselves from the stress of the day. And so finished our time in Turkey, tired but relaxed and with very little fuel left in our tank.
We crossed the border to Georgia with our engine turned off. Since we basically had no fuel left we decided to not waste it by starting-and-stopping Astropanda while slowly moving in the long cue of cars that were waiting at the customs control. Needless to say, when the Georgian guards saw us pushing our car they cracked a massive laugh.
We spent the first night in a guesthouse in Batumi because we could not be bothered to seek for a place to wild camp in the dark. The next day we drove straight to a village (which name escapes my memory) to visit Prometheus Cave, a one-kilometer complex underground ensemble of tunnels populated by stalagtites and stalagmites. It was a pretty suggestive experience and it was definitely worth the stop, even just to get some refreshment from the boiling temperature of the surface.
Georgia was a relatively short stop for ScaccoMatto. After the visit at the cave we drove straight to Tblisi where we took a walk into the old city visiting shops and markets. We tried a couple of local spacialties (again my memory fails) made with nuts covered in mustard and contained into some skin-like package, similar to the way sausages are done. And that was all, off we went to Azerbaijan. The sunset was behind our backs and we wanted to enter the country before it was dark.