Once Everything, with Spicy! Our route in Turkey with a good 5’000km in total. First part blue approx. 3’000km and blue-violet 2’000km.

Chapter Six

Once Everything, with Spicy!

Welcome to Turkey

Bankruptcy, bad luck and hospitality

  • Official language
  • Capital
  • Surface
  • Population
  • Currency
  • National Day
  • Turkish
  • Ankara
  • 783.562 km²
  • 85.279.553
  • Turkish Lira
  • 29th October

Unfortunately, we didn’t see that much in Bulgaria, which we really regret. We have never seen such helpful and warm-hearted people before. One regularly asks oneself what is “somehow going wrong” in Central Europe? In comparison, we all have absolutely everything in terms of prosperity – and yet human deficits are hidden. All the more we were allowed to gather very incisive experiences on all levels. From our vehicle technology, to human joie de vivre, to the technology of dealing with the vehicle. For the sake of our mishap and the damage to the fibreglass, our journey progresses completely unprepared for the country ahead.

The border crossing with Turkey seems brobdinagic and took place on the 27th of October 2022. Imperial oversized flags tower over the landscape. We didn’t quite know where to line up – with the cars or with the trucks? Let’s try it with the cars. There we were sent to the trucks until they noticed that we were a camper van – back to the cars! The Bulgarians were totally relaxed, just wanted to know more about our vehicle and get a look inside. At the same time they warned us about the Turks – “will probably be a bit of a hassle and maybe we are a bit too big!”

It was now our first border crossing without any EU agreements.

Just before the border before we had to switch off the camera – it is not allowed to document at border crossings.

Once we arrived at the Turks, we started:

  1. Passport control
  2. Vehicle disinfection (yes – you read correctly)
  3. Luggage check…. And now they started… whether we are a camper van!? The first two officials hardly knew any English. A look inside the vehicle, however, convinced the gentleman and he said we could continue. Cheerfully we found the duty-free shop! Stocked up with stuff & booze, we rolled on to the next checkpoint no….
  4. “We are not given free!” That official explained to us with a grim look. “You’ll have to go back.”

Chaotically we pushed the whole column back behind us so we could get our clearance at the previous gate. After a good while, an official with English skills took care of me. There were problems because I had registered our Oleg for business and not for private use. Thus, my passport was “insufficiently coherent” with the motor vehicle registration card. Only my insurance certificate could provide him with information, as it shows the name and company name in one document (a Carnet des Passages would have made it easier for us, but we have not yet applied for this). After various documents and signatures, I was able to settle the problem with the well-trained official – we received our clearance after two hours!

Welcome to Turkey

The landscape has changed a lot immediately. This is real, a freaky phenomenon after every border crossing. The borders really do have something natural about them and not just purely man-made. We rattled on for a few more kilometres to the vicinity of Kirklareli – where there is still a barely developed bouldering area.

When we arrived there, we were first allowed to get really annoyed with Swisscom and plague them around. The change of our subscriptions to prepaid now requires a 3 month notice period! The hatred in dealing with big companies – although we have already phoned and researched this change X-fold in Switzerland, it is now different from what was explained to us by their employees …a CHF 600.- expensive nuisance! Furthermore, we were worried about Oleg, who has been making a terrible noise from the rear axles for several kilometres, the broken GRP and also the accusations of his “own inner pig dog”. At least we still had the old Turk-Telecom sim card from Fritz with a bit of data volume and the campsite was fantastically scenic. We had really prepared ourselves insufficiently for Turkey.

Pictures 1-3 Our first campsite at Kirklareli, Picture 4. Arrived at Lüleburgaz at the lake

The coming day started in a really bad mood. No internet, still no HGS (TR toll), crumbs everywhere (the Ziss has a crumb phobia), broken fiberglass plus disgusting noises from our wheels in the back! Oh, bouldering was out of the question. We regretted leaving Bulgaria even more at that moment.

Stay positive, move forward with small steps. So we went to Kirklareli “with the cow to the village”, practically! Small Turkish towns mean millimetre work at the wheel. Find a parking space – exchange – organise a sim! Whatchout, our mood has risen considerably – the only thing missing is the HGS, which you can apparently only get at the post office.

Picture 1. Kirklareli before the bank holidays, Picture 2. the dear traffic lights in Lüleburgaz

We didn’t realise that the Turkish National Day was coming up. We drove from place to place in the hope of getting the HGS sticker. At a petrol station we were told to get it at a post office on Monday. We found a great spot near Lüleburgaz on a lake. There was the programme for the next few days organising CPD, office work, copying documents and arriving in Turkey!

I don’t want to bore you here with everyday travel things like getting water and the like. I was more concerned with the journey to Istanbul. I was warned by some people that the city is, next to Delhi and Mumbai, one of the most demanding cities to drive in terms of traffic – especially with a big car. Locals told me to be very careful about height and width restrictions.

On 1 November, the time had come – the journey to Istanbul was imminent. I was enormously excited and nervous. Neither of us had ever been to such a large metropolis – almost 16 million people live here! It went better than expected – the SygicTruck navigation system was very helpful as you can enter the vehicle mass in this app. After arriving, we first had a power app. Afterwards, we two sociopathic outback junkies took our first steps into the big metropolis for dinner.

Büyücekmece Gölü – we thought we were looking at the Istanbul skyline – we were wrong!

Motivated, we prepared the bicycles as we wanted to save on taxi fares. Cycling through Istanbul to do our chores – what an adventure. Materials for repairing the fiberglass were on top of our list at the hardware store and waders for future river crossings at Decathlon. In Istanbul you hardly ever see anyone on a bike, so we were always pleased when we did see people on bikes.

Loaded with our shopping, we were shocked to realise that we had forgotten the key to one of the two locks in the camper – what a nuisance! NIX with saving costs, hehehehe… In the end we should have taken the taxi from the beginning, we would hardly have got our purchases on the bikes. “Back and forth” – afterwards the evening bike tour through Istanbul was all the more enjoyable.

In the next few days we had a few things to do before Flo came to visit us. We don’t want to waste his short visit time with repairs & everyday things of travellers.

Repairs, laundry, maintenance, sightseeing, discovering Istanbul, getting ripped off by the taxi driver and meeting great people to compensate.

Pick up Flo, go for dinner and off to Bafa Gölü….

Bafa Gölü – a bouldering paradise

“Fortunately” I couldn’t get hold of the Bafa Gölü climbing guidebook anywhere in a library, as it was sold out everywhere. So I tried to find the information I was looking for online. On Facebook I found the “Bafa-Boulderingpage” where nothing has been done for years – but just write to them!

Lo and behold, I got an answer in no time, followed by the contact of Evren & Ayca who live locally in Kapikiri – truly incredible people! When we arrived, they gave us the bouldering guide, all the information about the region and helped us book the ticket for Flo’s trip home. On this occasion we asked for a nice restaurant.

They recommended the “Karia” and told us to give them their best regards! When we arrived there, the gentleman said they were closed. So I said greetings, determined to leave. Standing in the exit, the gentleman called out “Wait! …Friends of Evren & Ayca!?” Turned on the lights and served us a lovely dinner. We had really nice climbing days in the best November weather and pleasant temperatures. The days flew by! Unfortunately, Flo had to return home on 15 November.

The area has a lot to recommend it, so I decided to experiment with some initial projections.

Herakleia on Latmos – Was an ancient Greek city in western Asia Minor in the countryside of Caria. Near Heraclea, according to legend, was the burial cave of Endymion. In ancient Heraclea, the moon goddess Selene was particularly worshipped – Wikipedia

We spent some more nice evenings with Evren & Ayca. But the highlight came at the weekend. We were invited to a party among friends. On the local weekend, the group of friends around the two and their crazy neighbours met. Friends from Istanbul who were actually there for the olive harvest, even a friend who has been living in New York for a few years and works as a bartender and musician. We decided to contribute a little light show – in line with my idea of the trip to experience “cultural exchange”. It was a very successful evening with fun Turkish-archaic live music by Omercan from New York. We sang, laughed and danced and they were very happy about the light show we set up. Their hospitality is hard to put into words, even though not all of them spoke good English, the whole group made an effort to integrate us and even to switch to English as much as possible in the social gathering.

After a good 18 days at Kapikiri on Lake Bafa, it was time to move on with our journey.

Oleg will again tickle our nerves with power loss and strange shifting behaviour during the next few hundred kilometres.

Unesco World Heritage Site

Our way led us further via Milas to Hierapolis, a once holy Greek city, the limestone terraces of Pammukkale which merge with Hierapolis through the Turkish landscape to Göreme.

As you could already notice in our Romania article, I am very critical of tourism – although we are clearly tourists as well. It seems to me to be a very divided business. From my point of view, it makes no sense to compile information on the individual places here. However, I will take the liberty of quoting the following section from Wikipedia. From my point of view, this section speaks volumes about the way tourism is handled in Turkey:

Pamukkale and Hierapolis are traditional destinations for Antalya holidaymakers. During the last few years, the steady increase of day tourists has been stopped: There has been demolition of hotels within the historic site, erection of fences and a ban on flying traders. The hotels used to channel the chalky water first into their pools, where it cooled and the chalk precipitated, so that the water from the pools was no longer suitable for maintaining the chalk terraces. Today, with the demolition of the hotels, the water is channelled back onto the terraces and the terraces are purposefully rebuilt with it. The damage caused by mass tourism, which used to be able to access the terraces freely, has been and will be repaired over time. The current excavation and reconstruction work is being carried out under the direction of Italian universities.

If you want to read a little more about these places, you can do so at the following links:

In any case, the sites are all well worth seeing. It depresses me immensely to see how man deals with his own heritage in modern times. This commercial squeezing out – which fortunately is decreasing further east and that until today there is hardly any awareness in dealing with waste in many places. “Unesco World Heritage Site” and if you take a closer look, local people often treat the places as if there were no tomorrow.

For example, the picturesque landscape around Göreme sometimes looks like a “Unesco rubbish dump”.

Poorly prepared or simply didn’t know any better

As far as our route planning was concerned, we made an unbelievable miscalculation or did only too sketchy research. Since the current world history scared us so much, we tried to find a route that did not lead through Iran.

This situation had already bothered us in Romania. As naive as I sometimes am, we came up with the idea of following the following route: from Turkey – Cyprus – Israel – Jordan, then Saudi Arabia – UAE and via ship to India. It felt like a good plan. Telephoned the Swiss Embassy in Cyprus: “I wonder if we can send our Carnet des Passages to you?” Furthermore, I explained our route in detail and was not told about the first gross mistake:

  1. As a Swiss citizen, I am not legally allowed to enter the Demarcation Line, i.e. from Turkish Cyprus to Greek Cyprus – certainly not with a vehicle.
  2. There are no ferries from Cyprus to Israel in winter (only from May to October).
  3. Our Carnet des Passages is already in Cyprus on the Greek side.
  4. Israel & Saudi Arabia don’t get on well with each other!

The perception of our mistakes was unfortunately far apart in time. However, I still resent the lady at the Swiss embassy in Cyprus for not pointing out the obstacle to entry.

Luckily, however, the very nice and highly competent Ms Ioannou also works there and I had to deal with her, who was annoyed with her colleague for not pointing out… you know what.

So we’ll send our CDP to Göreme at a later date! Write to various other travellers via Facebook and Instagram. We get various reports on different options to get to Saudi Arabia and are motivated to travel through Iran.

The days in this section of Turkey are very slow, accompanied by stifling weather. In the meantime we have arrived at Göreme in Cappadocia. Every day I got up early in the hope of marvelling at the hot air balloon spectacle – in vain as the weather did not allow any flights.

We are now writing down 25th November in the diary. The weather continues to put a massive damper on our mood. We realised today that I am not allowed to travel from Turkish to Greek Cyprus and our carnet is at the Greek embassy in Cyprus. Our situation is really breaking. We feel a bit like “Dumb & Dumber” on tour!

Our onward journey is unclear. There are various options which we discuss with other travellers online. None of them really makes us feel comfortable. At the moment, there is a fire in so many countries in those regions where we want to pass through.

Cappadokia – meeting place for travellers

After almost a week, the cloud cover finally lifts over us. The 27th of November seems to be a joyful and, after a long time, a calmer day. Early at 5:00 a.m. I was woken up by the filling of the first hot air balloons. I was as happy as a little child to marvel at the spectacle. I stumbled like a madman through the morning landscape of Cappadocia with my camera and took photos. It was a day when we could put our problems aside.

Walked through the breathtaking landscape. Met an Italian couple who motivated us to book a balloon ride. After our online research it was clear that we could not afford this event. “Go directly to the office” there it costs less than half the price, Michele said.

We let the information sink in as we started the descent into the valley to Oleg. This led us through the middle of a narrow valley. Back home we decided to fix the bikes and book a balloon ride for 120€.

Almost sleepless we got up in the freezing cold early morning. We cycled to the meeting point where our driver was to take us to the balloon. Such a hot-air balloon ride is hard to put into words – it was amazing:

Fulfilled by the experience, we tried to catch up on some sleep. Unfortunately without success, as I was plagued by our worries. I tried to take care of our CPD and gave FedEX the order to send the document to our trusted travel office. My mind was now a little relieved.

A pit stop was on the agenda, washing, blowing out the air filter and a few other small jobs. So we gondolaed to Kaya-Camping where we first met Andrea & Christoffer aka “Überallpenner” as well as Dylan & Tiff from the USA.

As I was longing for a sense of achievement, we decided to spend another night alone in the valleys of Cappadocia and experiment with projections. We got lost in Love Valley where we were anything but alone. Even on the other side of the valley we spotted the two from Überallpenner. While I was setting up my tripods and projectors, the first one approached me. It was Simon, who was travelling with his companion Caro in an old Mercedes Hymer built in 1981, which was unmistakably reminiscent of Breaking Bad. I explained what I was up to and invited them to join us later.

Meeting point Love Valley near Göreme

After dinner we illuminated the valley. Curiously, Manjana & Jörn joined us. A warm-hearted evening turned out with a Christmas atmosphere in the heart of Turkey.

Picture 1 Dylan & Tiff, Picture 2 Andrea & Christoffer with Ziss in the Underground City

In the morning, the whole crew gathered for coffee and the almost daily balloon spectacle. Sharing our stories, experiences and contacts. Later we had a date with Überallpenner and Dylan & Tiff. Dylan makes films for fun for a vanlife community and is looking for travellers with a “special” story. So he wanted to make a film about us which delighted us.

Our choice of scenery today was in the middle of the rocky chimneys of Cappadocia. Once again we went off-road! I am still overwhelmed by Oleg’s skills. Time to collect firewood and prepare for a cosy night’s camp.

It’s good to have some “social surroundings” again.

We spent the next few days with our new friends. We did a lot of things and explored the surroundings. Dylan made his film about us and we ended almost every evening on a happy note.

It would be Nicolaus today!

…but we didn’t notice anything. The two Überallpenner were already heading west 2 days ago. They want to change to a sailing boat and explore the world at sea. Barry & Tamara, who we unfortunately could only enjoy for a short time, left for the south the day before and Dylan & Tiff were also about to say goodbye.

Nothing in this world is permanent – silence returns!

Immediately we are confronted again with our Carnet des Passages which has been lost somewhere in Istanbul at FedEX for weeks now. Ayca & Evren are busy helping us. The situation has a high potential to fall into a mental deep. We had the glorious idea to bridge the waiting time with vehicle maintenance. Our ABS warning light has been on since we got stuck in Bulgaria and it is time to fix the grinding noises on our rear axle.

We soon rattled off every garage between Nevshehir and Aksaray – they were all incredibly friendly and helpful – a tea here, a tea there – our grinding noises of the rear axle could be fixed – free of charge – it was dried mud with stones from Bulgaria. However, everyone, including the Mercedes Benz garage in Aksaray, failed to read our ABS error code. Instead, they checked the entire brake system, took us out for lunch, greased all our moving parts, filled me a box with grease for later use and we were not allowed to pay anything – not even a small tip. Turkey’s hospitality is immeasurable and we were always and immediately served.

Back in the Cappadocian landscape, we had no idea what misfortune would befall us tonight. We were still pleased that we had brought our Oleg back into shape and cleaned it inside and out – almost like new. We cooked comfortably and enjoyed a film evening in the warm – bedtime. Oleg shook it in the gusts of wind and then it banged! …the wind smashed our skylight!

Workshop tour and broken windows – broken glass brings good luck!?

We were lucky, at least it only shattered the inner pane of the double glazing. The wind completely knocked the window over so that the gas struts glued to the inner pane were torn out. What a mess – and in the middle of December. The next day began with insurance matters, organising a delivery address and ordering a new window. Things are going really well for us! Lost carnet and broken window.

As a soul balm we got to know Nadine & Marcel, with whom we sweetened the coming cold evenings and chased away the grey days. Celebrated Marcel’s 30th birthday and counted the empty whiskey bottles of the week.

It should “only” take 4 weeks until we have our new window in our hands. Slowly but surely we are tired of Göreme and the Cappadocian landscape. The temperatures are also rising sharply in winter. We decide to trot south to the Mediterranean and spend Christmas in spring-like temperatures. After the first stage to TozGölü, northwest of Aksaray, we meet them for a last cheerful evening. They want to go skiing and will soon be at the end of their journey after a good year.

Toz Gölü – with almost pink salt

The next morning, I was shocked to discover that our four M12 fine-thread screws at the front, which hold the box to the subframe, had torn out of the steel beams in the floor. Somehow everything seems to be cursed (here we did not even begin to suspect what consequences this will bring – “little preview” of what we will be confronted with in Saudi Arabia). After saying goodbye to Nadine & Marcel, we first went to Mercedes in the hope of getting hold of long M12 fine thread screws. We were lucky, stocked up with screws, we looked for a cosy place for the repair. With a heavy heart, I had no choice but to chase the screws completely through the floor and deliberately create cold bridges. Still better than losing the case!

Having mastered one hurdle, the next one is already on the horizon. During the detour towards Mersin, our “accelerator problem” greets us again. We stopped somewhere on the outskirts of the village to adjust the linkage. During the inspection here, I noticed that the welding points of the linkage bracket were broken on one side. Out of nowhere, two Turkish gentlemen stood by my side. They peered into the bonnet before we greeted each other, which was funny. Despite the language barrier, they recognised our problem and immediately rushed to organise welding equipment or sheet metal screws.

Ten minutes later Murat was back, that’s what I call him here because I forgot his name. He insisted on screwing the whole thing tight and gave us a sugar beet as a thank you. I stood there quite taken aback. “Actually, I should give him something as a thank you” – I thought – but that’s just the warmth of Turkey! We chatted for a while. He explained that our destination was not a nice beach and recommended his personal hotspot. Now I hope that our accelerator will hold a little longer.

We chauffeured ours for the next few days from Mersin – Adana – Iskenderun to Konacik where we got ripped off over the Christmas period on an absolutely empty but really nice campsite.

We moved on to Gaziantep “the city of special Turkish food”. There we met Ali who will remain a good friend for the rest of the time. We continued to Nemrut Dagi near the upper reaches of the Euphrates. We got lost in the heights of the Taurus Mountains on the way to Malatya. This mountain journey will remain in our memories forever, snow, ice, steep gradients and narrow roads with a delightful scenery. On the middle stretch, we spent the start of the new year 2023 under an icy clear starry sky. We fervently wished to leave the phase of “bust, bad luck and breakdowns” behind us.

Back to Cappadokia – groundbreaking news awaits us. Our carnet was indeed lost in Istanbul. Our new skylight didn’t leave Holland because Ahmet didn’t accept our shipment – yay!

Furthermore, I noticed a loss of liquid on arrival – it was diesel. Quite quickly we realised that the filter was leaking. Out of stupidity combined with laziness, I unconsciously decided to make the situation a bit worse and quickly broke the filter canister – yihhaa… in the middle of the outback!

Crisis at its highest level – welcome to the year 2023 and shortly before a collapse!

From Gaziantep we chug back to Göreme via Nemrut Dagi in freezing temperatures. We were very lucky to straighten out our diesel filter!

Without a diesel filter, you can’t get away from the spot because the fuel supply is cut off. We where panicked and phoned for help. We researched whether epoxy resin is diesel-resistant – fortunately YES! So we were able to repair the broken pot provisionally. And Ali – our new friend from Gaziantep who is in the car business – was able to organise the part and send it to a friend in the region within 48 hours. We got away with a scare! What do we learn from this:

As long as a vehicle is still running and not necessarily on fire – wait with the repair until man and woman are more or less close to civilisation. Or you know exactly what you are doing – not like me in that situation!

A long-awaited ray of hope fills this morning. Mrs Ioannou from the Greek Embassy in Cyprus reports that our expensive document – the Carnet des Passages has arrived back in Greece, what a relief! FedEx, funnily enough, is still looking for & finding the document…no Words. We discuss with the nice lady a dispatch to the CH Embassy in Tbilisi and can finally let our way go ahead. “The handicap with our skylight will surely be solved somehow via Georgia”. In a good mood, we go to fetch our new diesel filter pot and set off for the east.

We were hardly aware of the massive mountain ranges that run through Turkey. So we set off from 5 January across the mountains in the direction of Trabzon. One 2’000m peak after the other followed. The route was really demanding. We hoped to get through without snowfall. Unfortunately, we did not succeed. The heavy descents challenged me with our 10 tons under my butt. At nightfall, a heavy snowstorm caught up with us just 50 kilometres before our destination. Shortly after the last pass before Trabzon, we treated ourselves to a break in what was probably the worst restaurant in Turkey. Somewhat recovered, we manoeuvred ourselves from 2’000m.a.s.l. to 10m.a.s.l. on the Black Sea coast at a pleasant 15℃ within 40 kilometres.

We chauffeured along the Black Sea coast for the next few days. We were still mentally burdened and then I noticed a crack in the GRP which actually almost caused us to abort our trip. “Broken window, CPD, ripped out screws of the bearing and now this”, we were completely at our wits’ end. Somehow I had the feeling that there was something wrong with our suspension – it was the only component we had not made ourselves and had it made by a so-called professional vehicle builder.

We were completely at our wits’ end and thought… “who could help us now!”? So we contacted Benno! Our families would have been too worried with our information and also have no experience whatsoever with travelling. We were completely amazed at how Benno senses us! He found the right words to bring us back on track! So we repaired our damage with the means at our disposal.

On 10 January we reached the Danzi campsite. From there we wanted to take care of the last administrative matters in Turkey and prepare for Georgia. Once there, we met the “Hiarzel” we already knew, Angelika & Wolfgang from Germany and Sarah & Wolfgang from Austria.

The camp is perfectly situated for travellers between Turkey and Georgia as a crossing point. The next day we meet Stefan from Switzerland who is on his way from Georgia to Scandinavia by bike!

So we end the days in Turkey in good company. We receive positive news from the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi that our carnet has arrived within 3 days and that they are willing to support us with a forwarding agent for our window.

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