sunnuntai 13. marraskuuta 2016

Turkey; the rollercoaster roads, chai and welcoming people

I entered to Turkey from Georgia by following the Black Sea cost. After 10 minutes spend on the customs showing my passport and getting it stamped, I pedaled my bike into Turkey. 10 minutes spend it turkey and I wondered how nice the border controllers were on Turkish side; they stamped me in and after that they asked me if I wanted to have chai (tea) before continuing pedaling. I said no for chai, since I had decided to reach town called Rize by the end of the evening and I still had 100km to go. Bulgarian cyclists Ivan and Todor whom I had met in Batumi  had written a note to their friend Eran and I had promised to deliver it to her. 

I managed to reach Rize by the evening and found out that Erans family had a beautiful restaurant next to the beach and they invited me in. I got served tree course meal and they even let me to sleep in their restaurant. The kindness of people all around the world never stops amazing me. The next day while helping Eran and her family in the restaurant, Eran told me she had been cycle touring in Finland some years ago. Before I left we went to have a swim in the sea and had another cup of chai with her fathers friends. As a woman It's not easy to find a swimming spots from the Black Sea. The men has these beautiful spots for relaxing everywhere, but at least I couldn't see any women around. In these spots they play chess and drink tea and once in a while they dip into the sea. I said good bye to Eran and felt lot of gratitude for being able to meet her and learn a lot about Turkish culture. 

While cycling in Turkey I was woman in a mission. I had set up a race with Calumn, a crazy Australian man who cycles around the world with his bmx bicycle. Without going to the details of the race, because we had many rules on it, the basic goal was to be the first one reaching Istanbul. I had never thought that I would cycle in this way, but never say never. The winds were helping me on the coastal roads a lot: I had beautiful tailwind, flat road and good tarmack. In the end I didnt spend that much more time on my bicycle than normally, but I just went faster than ever before. I have to admit, I enjoyed the new challenge on my journey. 

I had exchanged 20e for Turkish lira on the border and after one week I still had the same money in my pocket. No matter what I wanted to buy, ice cream, Coca Cola, bread, vegetables or tea, my money was always refused. In the beginning I was confused and I had to google if in Turkish culture exists tarof as in Iran (tarof is a cultural norm in Iran where the seller refuses to accept the money from the buyer for three times before accepting it). Turkey does not have a culture of tarof and fast I realized that all my free food came to me after people realized that I am alone as a woman and my husband is not around taking care of me. I ended up sleeping quite often at the gas station, because always when I pitched my tent on a quiet beach people came to tell me not to do it. Petrol stations became my 5 star hotels: they have wifi, toilets, electricity, security, tea and while pedaling alone they offered me delicious food for dinner and of course for free.. 

Turkish hospitality took another level one rainy night. I had eaten dinner that I had cooked by myself, I had finished also the plate that the staff from the petrol station brought me. That time arrived a Turkish family to invite me for a dinner into their house. I tried to refuse the offer, first of all because I was already extremely full but also because I was tired and it was already 7pm and almost my bed time. The family didn't speak any English but with the help of the patrol station stuff, they managed to get me into the car and I was brought to their home, just for a few hours. I got served way too much food, I was more full than during Christmas times in Finland. After few hours they brought me back to the petrol station where I had my tent and stuff. Because of the rain the men of the family returned after couple of hours and they insisted to take me into the hotel. I had been already sleeping and the last thing I wanted was to move to another place. While I was trying to explain them that I want to sleep here more people gathered around my tent to push me to move into the hotel. I realized that it's easier to give up and back my stuff and go with them. That night I had my first real shower since two weeks and I slept in a beautiful soft bed. Good bless my Turkish mother, who had taken into her responsible to take care of me. 

I managed to catch Calumn on the central highland rollercoaster hills of Turkey and in my opinion that was the momentum when I won the race. He might not agree but anyhow we continued together to Istanbul. It was interesting to see how the behavior of local people changed when I was cycling with the man. The amount of free stuff decreased and people were not talking to me as much as before to make sure everything is fine with me. Yet, I was enjoying good company and together the never ending rolling hills didn't feel as hard as before. I came into the conclusion that in central turkey, there is not really any flat area, either we went 10% up or down the hills, all the way to Istanbul the roads really didn't give a brake for my tired legs.

To reach Istanbul was a huge milestone to me. That's were I flew off exactly one year ago and now somehow I had completed my journey back to Istanbul from east. The road to enter to Istanbul had felt horrendously chaotic one year ago, but this time the extremely heavy traffic didn't give me the same feeling anymore. Turkey didn't feel as exotic as one year ago, now it already felt somehow European, somehow familiar territory. I was proud of myself; me and my bicycle had travelled far. The last 1700km without a day offs from cycling had made me tired physically but not mentally. To reach Istanbul was celebrated well with Calumn for one week before I left to Greece. My friends (whom I had met one year ago while cycling through Greece) invited me to stay with them up on the mountains at Sarakatsaniko refuge and I was so happy to see them again and get up to the mountains. In my head there wouldn't be better way to get used to the idea of being back in Europe.

torstai 27. lokakuuta 2016

Uzbekistan and how to spend a night on no-mans land in betweenUzbekistan and Turkmenistan

I am sitting on the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Killing time and waiting curiously, if I can stay inside the gates in Uzbekistan side or do I have to roll my wheels to scary and sunny nomans land. The people in Uzbekistan embassy were super friendly, they didn't check any of my stuff nor my pictures and didn't count my money, as they did for the most of the people crossing the border. Mr very nice sir passport controller said that I could try to stay overnight in Uzbek side because they have guards the whole night long so it will be safer, because I am a woman. The whole process in Uzbek side took me maybe 10 minutes :) when I entered to Uzbekistan side, the process was rather smooth as well and I never needed to face the reality of real Uzbek border control! 

Let's go back to this moment, I am sitting on the shade under a tree being stamped out from Uzbekistan but not being able to go to Turkemistan, and the army men keep coming to tell me to leave Uzbekistan. Luckily after I told them that the mr. Very nice guy said I can be here they have gone into his office and no-one has returned yet. One of the older army men ( with very emphatic eyes) invited me to sit on one of the air conditioned rooms to cool down and to eat surprise surprise watermelon and bread. Now, it sounds like thunder is arriving, no wonder the the air has been way too hot and I have a headache. Let's see what the afternoon and evening will bring.

How did I end up to be stuck in between the borders? Well, when I applied Turkmenistan visa, I'm hundred prosent sure I gave the right dates, because I checked them several times. Yet, when the Turkmenistan visa was on my passport, I didn't check that the dates were right, so I have one day gap In between my departure from Uzbekistan and entry to Turkmenistan. My mistake, I should have been more careful. Turkmenistan visa is hard to get and many people get rejected ( only 20% of the applicants gets it), therefore I just felt like a lottery winner to get the Turkmenistan visa and wanted to leave the embassy before they would change their mind and take the visa away from me. So here I am, sitting on the border and thinking that next time I will be more careful. 

I got very lucky that on the same day as I was leaving from Dushanbe (Tajikistan)  to have a 7 day 750km bicycle rally through Uzbekistan, Josh from Ireland was driving with his car to Uzbekistan. It wasn't hard decision to make (actually it was hard to give up the crazy challenge, but after several people told me to leave the stubborn idea I gave up ) to decided to jump into his car and see a bit of Uzbekistan instead of just cycling like crazy straight from border to border without being able to stop and talk to locals or see any places. Josh is having long overland journey with his car from Australia back to Ireland and Felix and Bob are backpacking little bit here and there. This was our road trip gang and How lucky I was once again to have the best possible company to Samarkand and Bukhara. 

Sitting as passenger in a car is very different experience than cycling. The kilometers passes by fast without my own effort to be made. I was just able to enjoy the views, listen to a music and think how hot it would feel to cycle through this deserted land. Altough, I missed cycling, because the movement is slower and therefore it's easier to see more, yet with such a good company I did enjoy the car ride as well. I was happy to see Samarkand and Bukhara and realized that Uzbekistan's beauty is in its historical cities, which I would have missed while racing through the country.   

Today, I did cycle 110km from Bukhara to the border. It's already hot and I am heading down south to Iran. My bicycle computer says its +42 degrees and I have been drinking already 7l of water and it's only 2pm. It's hard to describe the feeling how the sweat is just pooring down from everywhere and it does not stop. The breaks from cycling are the worse, I find it hard to communicate with people when I cannot keep my eyes open, because the sweat is burning them too badly. People are so friendly and at the same time I am smiling and being on edge of over-heating/exhaustion. I am already coming to a conclusion, that I come from a Nordic country and I am born during the coldest month in Finland, I am just not made for this. At the moment my mantra to myself is "just keep breathing and try to adapt" 42 degrees is less than 55 as it is currently in Teheran, Iran. Sometimes it's hard to push the panic of the heat away, because the heat is just so overwhelming and while being outside it's impossible to escape it (expect shades). Well, five days through Turkmenistan and Karakom desert is ahead of me and I believe that then I know a lot more about the heat (without shades). At least I don't need to sleep in a plastic bicycle bag freezing my tits off as I did on the mountains!

 I overslept today in Bukhara and got stressed in the morning because of that. Luckily my panniers were already on a bike, so it took only 45minutes after I woke up that I was already on the road. I was wondering, if I will ever make it to the border, but 110km went fast and I had to slow down my speed that I would not be there before 12 am. It feels easy to cycle flat road after Pamir mountains, even with a headwind. People kept waving, honking their horns and asking me for a chai and I felt sorry, that I was in such a rush that I thought I would not have time to sit around with local people.  Uzbekistan people have such a kind eyes and I wish I would have more time to spend with them. To this country I would like to return to understand more about its people and culture. One chai invitation I had to accept, because an old lady and young man kept scootering next to me and the old lady had the most shining goldtooth smile. Who could resist that kind of a babushka? They bought me an ice cream and chai and bread for the road and we had marvelous conversation, I spoke Finnish and they spoke Uzbek. Njet problem. 

Eventually, I got kicked out of the Uzbekistan side. Now I am sitting under a tree on no-mans land. The army men said I could stay in a hotel for free, but I prefer to stay in my tent. It seems that if they give me a free room the deal is including something else as well from my side. They made me scared with their words, "I will come into the room in the evening, do you understand". He repeated it several times and I got scared. Now, it's again the moment that I wish I was a man and I didn't need to be scared that they will touch me. Well, I hope I am worried for nothing. It still makes me sad that I have to be scared of men. I might be a strong woman, but this army-man just lifted my heavy bike by himself over the stairs. I could never do it and I was watching it quite horrified and heard his voice in my head saying, " I will come in the evening, do you understand". No, I don't understand he does not have any rights to come anywhere near me, if I don't want it. It's a men's world. Not all the men are assholes, the Iranian truck drivers are my absolute favorites at the moment. When they pass by, they always bring me something, now I have tuna, bread, coke (cold!) and fruits. Life could be worse, not all the trust to the manhood is gone yet. 

I used to be very open for people and believing that almost everybody is good. These days, I am having hard times realizing that I am concern about men. I am judging them in my head even before they have said a word to me.  I am making conclusions in my head without knowing the people I am judging. I had to face my own thoughts when the army man came in the evening to say hello to my tent. He asked me if I like dogs and I said yes, he left without saying a word and came back with two huge border dogs. I was petting them for one hour. The army man was showing me some pictures of his family, he is also 27 years and he has two children. Since he has been serving army quite long, he is getting retired in 5 years. He was looking forward to the time he was able to spend with his wife and children. After wonderful melon that he brought for me, I decided to start trusting again. How much energy I'm wasting while cycling with this heavy fear and negative thoughts on my shoulders? 

maanantai 17. lokakuuta 2016

Georgia: time to get connected

After Iran, I was more than happy to get rid of my hijab and start cycling again with my t-shirt and shorts, and feeling the wind on my hair. One word: Freedom. I passed by Armenia more quickly than I would have ever thought. I met Polish friends who were going to Georgia for a festival and quickly I decided to join them. I had dreamed of a festival for couple of months, but at the same time when the change was there I was a bit sad to skip almost whole Armenia. I could t remember, when was the last time I had been listening live music and danced? We hitch hiked together to Yerevan, capital of Armenia from where we took a bus to the border of Georgia. It's amazing how people were willing to help us by giving us rides and my bike was never a problem, it even traveled inside tiny cars hanging half way out without getting damaged at all. During this trip, I really appreciate people's attitude, when they don't look for problems but instead solutions. 

By choosing to go to One Caucasus festival ended up being one of my highlights in Georgia (even though Georgia was one big highlight in general). How liberating it was to dance on t-shirt in the nature and let all the conservative rules of how I should behave behind. The more I danced and looked how people were freely impressing themselves, creating and playing music the way they had chosen, the happier I got. Iran had definitely touched me by trying to control me and my freedom and by every sound, rhythm and move by move I felt how I was dropping the heavy feelings away that Iran had left me. I don't remember when I have appreciated and enjoyed dancing that much. 

Most of the friends I made in the festival came also to Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, where I cycled from the festival. How good it felt to have friends calling you to meet up for a wine (Georgia has great wine) or coffee. Actually it was first time on my trip that I was suddenly surrounded by friends whom I could call and asked if they are up to do something. Another big highlight in Georgia was Shota, whom I had met already in Nepal. He invited me to stay at his place in Tbilisi and he was the first person whom I had met earlier on this trip and who invited me into his home. I think for the first time I realized that I have cycled long way from Nepal to Georgia. So not only I had friends but I had beautiful home with keys to go into. Somehow, life felt so "normal" suddenly. As Shotas friend said, it's easy to arrive to Tbilisi, but it's hard to leave. I got stuck into this city where buildings are cutely old but the whole city is full of young alternative urban energy. Tbilisi is so far my favorite city that I have visited and at the same time a city where I could see myself living for a while. 

I had decided to take a ferry from Batumi, harbor town on a Black Sea cost, to Bulgary. So, after one and half week, I left Tbilisi by choosing a more quiet mountain road towards the cost. To continue cycling after long breaks it's always a bit hard. It's hard to get going and it was even harder to say goodbye to all my friends. Yet, the hunger for the unknown mountain road was bigger than the feeling for staying. I missed the road and I missed waking up from my tent. When I started to pedal up to the mountains from Tbilisi, I felt blessed (except my legs who wanted go back to the sofa). Suddenly, I felt like I was more me than I had been for months. The trust to kindness of humanity was found inside me again and I felt confident to hit the mountains and do camping without being scared of people. I cannot even thank enough for all these people who stepped into my life during that period of my trip and who  gave me so much love and connection to get myself back together. The same words go to all my old friends and family who asked me how am I doing. Special thank you for Shota who gave me safe home, thought me of Georgian culture.  

On the mountains of Georgia I had my first rains. When did it rain last time on my trip? I totally had forgotten how it feels to be wet and cold basically all the time. During rainy nights, when I slept basically in a cold swimming pools, I remembered how my tent is not waterproof and decided to do something about it in Europe. Over half of my cycling days it was raining, but I enjoyed the road in Georgia anyways. The landscape is green and mountainous (even though because of heavy rains and mist, most of the time I couldn't see anything) with lot of perfect camping spots. I felt that I have found a paradise in the world; nature is stunning, people are friendly and easy going and food (finally it was easy to find vegetarian options) and wine are super delicious. People continuously invited me to have tea, coffee or alcohol. The understanding of Time suited me very well, since It moves slowly in Georgia meaning that things happen rather tomorrow than today. Georgians are very proud of Georgia being very safe country and that is my experience as well. People are interested about me and my journey, but not in too intensive way. This feeling of safety was very welcomed to me and I slept well in my tent picking up the stunning camping spots. 

I made my way to Batumi where I met beautiful group of friends, who let me stay in their office and took me to eat my last (or that I thought then) dinner to tasty restaurant. This group of friends were from 19 to 22 years old, but some of them were already married and were running their own business! Because of all these people whom I met in Georgia, I was ready  to go to cycle trough Turkey instead of taking the boat to Bulgaria. This is one beauty of cycle touring, plans are there but I never know where I will end up. Bicycle touring gives The freedom to choose the right direction just by listening my own instincts. So, instead of all earlier plans, I decided to see Turkey. To be honest, the reason why I didn't want to go to turkey had nothing to do its current relatively unstable political situation, but I didn't want to have problems anymore. While cycling the mountains of Georgia, I just came into a conclusion that I cannot judge that country to be hazardous for me, without checking it out first. Therefore, I decided to give Turkey a chance and go there with open mind and heart. 

I didn't manage to leave Georgia quite yet, because the heaviest rain and thunder storm forced me to look for a shelter. I can only thank for the weather that I had a change to meet two Bulgarian cycle tourist Ivan and Todor. We found each other's just when the the rain started and together we spend the morning and afternoon under a roof watching cars diving through the flooded streets, drinking rakia and listening music. Once the rain stopped Ivan and Todor turned out to be two mans rock band on their way to destiny unknown. If I would have had little more money, I would have joined these two men to go back to east. As Ivan said, sometimes less is more and the next day we had to say good bye. Ivan and Todor are examples of people who are living their dream and they have put all their spirit into it, by doing that the energy around them is something magical. I am sure the world will show its best for these boys. How inspiring end for my never ending good times in Georgia.