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Into Asia: A Milestone

Posted by on Jun 13, 10:29 AM
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A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship.
-A Turkish Proverb

AlaatinMany people wonder where Europe ends and Asia begins. The answer: The continental divide (at the Turkish latitude) is formed by the Bosphorus, a narrow strip of water that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Black sea, that cuts directly through the center of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). This is the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

Two more longish days and the Brothers were in Istanbul, “the most dangerous city in the world for cyclists.” -Mustafa

Car LiftA night in Keşan with a hospitable young man named Alaatin was a fine introduction to Turkish hospitality, which, like Arab hospitality, is highly regarded by the culturally savvy. Two more longish days and the Brothers were in Istanbul, “the most dangerous city in the world for cyclists” (Mustafa). Please allow me to tell you something about Mustafa: He is a native Turkish bicycle-nut, a balding bachelor with a career in IT, no time for sleep and one of the most good-hearted and generous individuals that I have known. For example, the night before we were to arrive in Istanbul Mustafa began Lisato pedal from his abode in Euskadar (the Asian side of the Bosphorus) at 1 am and arrived at our meeting point at 5 am, 110 km to the west. He took a nap on the side of the road for two hours until I arrived (I had slept comfortably in the concrete dust of an unfinished house with a view of the water), handed me a bag of Turkish Delight for the road Spiceand exclaimed with a genuine grin “Welcome to Turkey!”

He and an Italian cyclist (“Raw Eggs” Roberto — don’t ask) we met bumbled our way to the commuter ferry port that lies on the edge of Istanbul and took a boat to Euskadar to avoid the Bosphorus traffic. Giulia, a Roman woman that we had cycled with a few weeks previous and who was to tag along on our next little Mustafa with Feastexcursion into the Middle East, had already arrived from the airport. Three days were packed with site seeing and sumptuous feasting. The culinary scene in Turkey is not to be shirked by the discerning gourmand! Every morning and evening Mustafa crowded the table with fresh bread that he had made, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, honey and all sorts of hand-picked delicacies with which to please the palette. As a bonus to a fantastic Policevisit to Istanbul, Lisa, a new friend from Portland, Oregon, generously carried some important, hard-to-find items (and Randall’s latest replacement laptop) to Istanbul for us since she was going to be there at the same time. Thank you, Lisa!

Onward: A comfortable overnight train ride to Adana, and our trio was back in the saddle. As we had arrived in the small city late after dark, we asked to camp at the police station in UBCC at the MosqueAdana. It took an hour of telephone calls and laughter on the part of the well-armed police, who were very friendly, to finally get an answer: “You come with us: Follow.” Lights flashing on our personal armed escort van, we did follow, and follow, and follow… and finally arrived at another police station located on a lake front. “Chai?” the officer asked. “A little, yes please,” I answered. The next morning, after a sound sleep in our tents, the two officers fixed us a full table of breakfast and tea in the sentry booth at the front of the station, which we enjoyed behind the booth!

This is the only pass between Gazianthep, far to the north, and Antioch, far to the south…

Tea TimeIt was a hot day. At 40 Celsius (104F), you spend less time on the bike than you do stopping to refill your water bottles. It was easy to accept a few invitations to tea in the shade! Mountains were the next day’s theme. There was a small road over the range that forms a piece of the border with Syria, as well as the the border of the region of Turkey to the northeast that is known as Kurdistan. This is the only pass between Grasshoppers and nettlesGazianthep, far to the north, and Antioch, far to the south, and we spent most of the morning asking around for directions to this road. One man said that “it is a little rough…not good for cars. But on bikes you can maybe do it.” A plain-clothed police officer said that we had to return north and cross to Gazianthep. “The road over the mountains to Hassa is closed. Kaput.” he said with a lateral hand gesture as if to dismiss the idea. Then he checked our passports.

With hearts full of doubt, but a distinct hope of crossing the pass, we continued to ask around until we found the road, which was narrow and quiet, like a national Giulia in the mountainspark road in the United States. Up and up, and up some more we climbed from the town of Dörtyol. The sun grew hotter overhead but the air cooled as we ascended to 1,100 meters (about 3,400 ft) from sea level. The lushly forested peaks surrounding us were an awe to behold. The tiny road, as we had been told it would, became an unpaved one as we passed through a silent little village, the petite houses perched impossibly on the steep mountain walls. Friendly hill-men who spoke no English invited us for tea and cookies with their families and it was a delight to take a break and fulfill their curiosity about us. We lost our way a number of times but always managed to find some help. Needless to say, there was almost no traffic to be seen for the entire day.

It was a strenuous but utterly breathtaking journey that ended for the day in a green clearing next to an ice-cold stream with plenty of cool shade. Randall and I had not anticipated camping in the mountains so we had not brought enough food, though Giulia was prepared. I had only some Nutella, a hunk of bread, a little butter and a few marshmallow cookies for the morning. Jokingly, I commented that “we could Kurdistanhave some grasshoppers for dinner.” The thought grew on me. I caught one, then another, and in a short time I had a good number jumping around inside one of my water bottles! That evening it was a fine supper of crisply sautéed ‘hoppers in garlic and butter with cooked nettle leaves on the side.

The next morning was a fantastic descent into the dry border region of Kurdistan. The day was again very warm. We arrived in the town of Killis, only 10 km from the border crossing of Syria, at dusk, and not a town I would recommend for a stay of any length.

I write from the house of Haim Bar, the Orphan Ride’s private, “self-appointed minister of hospitality in Israel,” as Randall has dubbed him.


  1. thanks randall!
    you look like a good person and good host
    buty fhotos

    — haim bar · Jun 13, 01:44 PM · #

  2. Thanks Haim for the kind words, i hope one day you’ll have a time to visit Istanbul. And we’ll have a chance to meet.

    It was just a great pleasure to meet with brothers.

    — mustafa · Jun 14, 04:23 AM · #

  3. I’m sitting in Sister’s office just had a full day of reading and prep supervision and yet another meal of rice. Nine days in and I’m already finding rice three times a day a bit much and then Andrew, I read about your grasshoppers. Thank you so much for teaching me appreciation for the food I don’t have to scavenge!

    — Monica · Jun 14, 07:33 AM · #

  4. mustafa:
    i visit in 98 in Istanbul and it was great visit.
    Unfortunately the Politicians from Both sides
    of our countries make a stupaid things.
    i simple man and i am looking at you like a good person.
    i hope one day we meet in istanbul or in karmiel

    — haim bar · Jun 17, 12:29 PM · #

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