The coast road was smooth and curvaceous, with the Black Sea’s mellow surf crashing to my right, rugged dark cliffs on my left, dotted with fishing villages, roadside markets and cafes, mosques with missile-shaped minarets, and blue skies overhead. The border crossing procedure was confusing, but eventually US$20 bought me a multi-entry visa, good for 90 days. My vague plan was to follow the coast road’s mild temperatures until I could find the least mountainous point to turn south toward Cappadocia. Once on the Anatolian plateau I knew I’d be gambling with winter weather.


When the sun touched the horizon, just east of Trabzon, I stopped at a ritzy roadside hotel that had more stars under its name than I thought my budget would allow; the price named by the man at reception confirmed my suspicions. With a slight intake of breath I thanked him for his time and turned to go. He named a lower price which regained my attention, but I still balked. Finally, he asked the golden question: “How much do you want to pay?” Oh, I guess we are in the low season. We agreed on a rate that was insulting to neither of us, and I apologetically handed my dusty luggage to the impeccably dressed bellhop. It wasn’t bargain hostel rates, but I had a well-appointed room with fast wireless internet, satellite TV with a few channels broadcasting in English, and a sprawling soft bed. I flopped out, and glancing at the time on my cell phone was amazed to learn that it was only 4:20 PM. I made the best of it by updating the blog, catching up on emails, ordering tasty and inexpensive room service and absorbing the latest EuroNews on the television.

The following day I made it to Samsun, where I turned southwest and seemed to climb forever before cresting the plateau.


Riding again after nightfall, and feeling the chill of elevation, I found a more modest roadside hotel near Havza. I made Goreme the next evening, passing through Corum, Kirikkale, Kersehir – again riding well into the night. (I’d rationalized my rule-breaking behavior by citing few daylight hours, the smooth and well maintained roads, relative lack of nighttime traffic and very few grazing animals wandering about.) In Goreme’s main junction I stopped for a stretch and to get my bearings, when I spied a well-travelled Honda Transalp parked nearby, loaded to the gunwales and bearing Spanish plates. I found the owner talking with another traveler (Bao, who will reappear later) and we chatted a while in the freezing air. The Spaniard was planning to camp among the nearby caves, even after Bao mentioned that his hostel was offering toasty dorm beds for US$7, saying he planned to travel for another five years(!), and was watching his budget very closely. Hats off to the man!

Goreme is situated in the middle of Cappadocia (say “kap-uh-DOE-kyuh”), a region where volcanic tuff has weathered into spires and chimneys, a few doing a timeless rock balancing act. Over the millennia, locals have carved homes from the relatively soft rock, and today some still use them for storing food and housing livestock. Goreme itself is a quiet village that has been consumed by tourism, but maintains a level of charm, compactness and laid-back friendliness in precisely the way Sedona, Arizona has not. I shacked up at Rock Valley pansion (cheap accommodations in Turkey, sometimes also spelled “pansiyon” or “pension”) for three nights, enjoying the cozy, tidy accommodations with restaurant and bar, the warm company of the husband-wife management team, a few locals, and travelers from Singapore, the US, Germany, and New Zealand. (I highly recommend staying there if you are in Goreme. Follow the signs, or just ask for Mustafa’s place.)

The next day, I joined up with Bao (who comes from Iowa City, by way of Vietnam) for a daylong hike among the hoodoos.



A few KMs north of Goreme, the rock has been transformed into a complex village and fortress. Before exploring, the three of us (we picked up another American among the rocks) paused for a yummy lunch of meleman (unbeaten eggs cooked with peppers, onions and spices), bread and coffee.



Even further north, nearing day’s end, balancing rocks.


In the fading light, we hoofed it back to Goreme via the paved road, trying unsuccessfully to flag down several passing (empty) minibuses.

I dawdled the next day, buying & mailing postcards, trying the local espresso & dessert shop (dessert was great, espresso was so-so), and tinkering with the bike. In the evening I met a pair of friendly and very fit Kiwis, Jo and Mike, who’d been bicycling west since starting in early March in eastern China. We lingered in the comfortable common area and shared stories from our respective two-wheeled overlanding adventures, and based on Mike’s questions about my bike I suspect he was hatching a plan for their next adventure! Bao had his sketchbook handy and everyone had a look at his collection of impressive drawings.

The next day I blazed south toward the Mediterranean, making good time, snacking on delightful Turkish sweets from my tankbag, descending from the plateau through myriad tunnels under snowy crags, entering Antakya (biblical Antioch) with daylight to spare. I spent the next three hours battling aggressive metropolitan traffic, having a few close calls, looking for a hotel with a room. At the fifth hotel the proprietor told me that all hotels would be full due to a gathering of the Turkish army in the area. So with no other choice I made east for the Syrian border, planning for renegade camping or the remote chance of a cheap roadside hotel. (I’ve found that scouting for campsites after dark is a frustrating, nearly futile exercise.) About 8km from the border I saw a sign for a pansion, which as it turns out was run by students from the local university. They gave me 4-bed dorm room to myself, fed me a cafeteria-style meal of soup, red beans, garbanzos, tea and bread (always bread). The next morning I spent time with some of the students, the main player being a Kurdish student who insisted that I should take a local bride (another student, who indeed proclaimed her love for me) and stay a while.


But wedded bliss is to wait for another day, it seems. I bid farewell to the kind students and a short ride later, I was entering the Syrian Arab Republic.