My Travel Report
Through Anatolia on the Motorbike
By Ralph Kratzer
There are things in life you plan for a longer time, and the closer the date of fulfillment comes, the more doubts arise whether you are actually doing the right thing…
I already knew parts of Anatolia, geographically also called Asia Minor (small Asia), through some trips by truck from Munich in southern Germany to Hatay (Antakya) in southern Turkey (near the Syrian border) and back.
How did this happen? Before I emigrated to Cyprus 12 years ago I had almost a year without employment. The businesses in Germany had already been phased out, but the new home on the Mediterranean island was not finished yet. A Turkish friend, whose family ran a forwarding company with several 40-ton refrigerated trucks, asked me one day: “You have been many years in the German army?”…”Yes”… “Then you surely have the driving licence for trucks!”… “Of course!”…”Do you also have experience with those vehicles?”…” Yeah, right!”…” Then do a few trips for us!”…” OK! Excellent! I will do!”
Now it is necessary to mention at this point that I had always dreamed of driving one of those big American trucks from the East Coast to the West Coast of the USA, you know one of these typical youngster´s dreams… it never happened, as with so many dreams in life. So I thought, instead of USA you are going with one of these vehicles across Europe to the Near East!
Of course the harsh reality taught me very soon that truck rides on the route Germany-Austria-Hungary-Serbia-Bulgaria-Turkey and back were anything but dreamlike and I was glad that I was able to give up this job after a few trips.
At least I got a taste of the vastness of Anatolia. And when I heard that my motorcycle club Turk Riders (a big association of bikers all over Turkey and worldwide) was planning a big tour through Asia Minor for this year, I promised my participation spontaneously. (Please watch the official Turk Riders video clip by clicking the link above).
But the expected long distance on the motorcycle and the terrible incidents in Turkey in recent times made me – the nearer the date came – doubt whether it was really such a good idea. But a promise is a promise… bikers´ honour, so to speak!
So, 3 enthusiastic motorcyclists – a Cypriot, a Turk and a German – made their way from Northern Cyprus to Turkey late in August, specifically first of all by ferry from Girne in the TRNC to Tasucu on the Turkish mainland.
Thus the subject of “inconveniences” of such a journey began. To all the readers who may plan to do a similar thing, i.e. to travel by car or motorbike from Northern Cyprus to Turkey for a holiday, has to be said: the whole completion of formalities in the ports is extremely time-consuming, confusing and tedious. The ferries themselves are anything but comfortable, unclean to shabby, hot and stuffy. On our ferry (I deliberately do not mention the name and company as I think they are all pretty much the same) you could book 2 or 3-bed cabins for additional money, but without air-con these little holes are like ovens! So we decided on the so called VIP-lounge with A/C (if it works!) and reclining seats (if they work either!). It turned out that this accommodation was anything else but VIP… To say it in short, this kind of holiday begins and ends with stress!
And especially motorcyclists, I recommend, when boarding the ferry, to be with your bike through the whole procedure of securing the machine with belts (“lashing” it´s called!!) and to watch the ferry-staff on their fingers. Otherwise, damages to the motorcycle are inevitable!
After an uncomfortable overnight ferry trip, almost without sleep and without a refreshing shower the next morning, and after endless police, customs and insurance procedures at the port of Tasucu, we finally headed to our first stopover Mersin, the starting point of our 3,000 kilometres trip through the Turkish motherland.
The route had been planned in detail by the General Road Captain of the Turk Riders and led us on the 1st day from Mersin via Adana (headquarter of the club) to Gaziantep; the day after from there to Sivas, then in stages to Ankara, Eskisehir, Isparta, Karaman, Silifke and back to Tasucu.
At each location club members from the other Turkish cities and regions joined us to celebrate with us and to accompany us for the next legs of the trip.
Anatolia can be described in a few words as seemingly infinite, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful and unique, and on the other side over long distances very monotonous. Landscapes with high mountains, rolling hills and wide plains alternate, almost everything appears in the colours brown and yellow (at least at the end of the hot summer). In the central and eastern parts of the country there are few forests. And what we are completely unaccustomed to as Germans, British or generally Middle Europeans is the fact that you hardly encounter human settlements outside the major cities of Anatolia. You drive dozens of miles without seeing a village or even a couple of houses…
Daily stages of up to nearly 500 kilometres on a motorbike are a strain, especially in the heat, unlike in the air-conditioned cab of a Volvo 40-ton truck with perfect suspension seats, audio system and minibar.
On the one hand there are the Turkish road conditions. In Anatolia there are roughly 3 categories of roads:
1A-motorways with new grippy tarmac and only a few wide curves.
Then country roads (especially in the mountainous regions) with old roadbeds, plentiful curves and bends, countless potholes, patched with extremely slippery fresh tar sections, sprinkled with hazardous loose gravel or any other dirt. Cows or other livestock cavort on the road…. and everything else the heart of a biker desires….!
And last but not least there are almost impassable dirt tracks (at least if you are not traveling on an off-road Enduro bike but with a Harley Davidson!).
The latter could only be “improved” if the unpaved road was watered by tank trucks for the purpose of dust control, because then the gravel road is replaced by a “super” mud-track!
On the other hand don´t forget the Turkish motorists. If someone thinks Northern Cypriot drivers are reckless and often acting without a brain, I recommend a trip through Turkey. “No-passing” signs and speed limits are generally and deliberately ignored, dangerous overtaking and speeding everywhere, whether in town or out of town. Turks are only prevented from speeding by nearly endless traffic jams in the big cities, such as experienced in Ankara.
In Ankara we met with club friends from all over Turkey, just in time for the Victory Day on August 30th.
Along the way to the Turkish capital, of course we ran into the only thunderstorm clouds that had built up over the whole of Anatolia this time of year. Because as a biker you deserve nothing else than that and you love to be wet and soggy!
On Victory Day a visit to the Atatürk mausoleum in Ankara was of course obligatory on the programme of the Turk Riders. I was honestly somewhat uncomfortable in such a mass event after all the terrorist attacks in Turkey during the previous weeks and months. But Thanks God all was peaceful and after a big vehicle parade together with other motorcycle clubs through Ankara´s downtown, we could continue our journey westward to the city of Eskisehir.
From Eskisehir to Isparta and from there to Karaman in the direction of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast the landscape becomes more varied and green, especially the lakes and mountain ranges east and south of Isparta forming a beautiful contrast to much of the route before.
After 2 more or less boring but relaxing days of waiting for the next ferry in the local Turks´ very popular recreation and holiday area of Kizkalesi on the south coast of Turkey, we finally went back to Northern Cyprus, tired but happy…
What have I learned from the exhausting days of this tour?
First, the club camaraderie was overwhelming. At each stage of our journey we were received by members of the other Turk Riders chapters most cordially. That I, as a German, am accepted and respected in their ranks, fills me with pride.
Secondly, this was probably my last big trip on a motorcycle. After numerous tours in the past with my Moto Guzzi California bike from Bavaria in Germany across all over Europe and this recent trip through Anatolia, I really only have the Route 62 in South Africa left on my bucket list, along with my partner Sarah. And this tour will be made in a very relaxed way on a rented bike without time pressure, with much shorter stages and all thinkable comfort regarding the motorcycle and the hotels…
You just don´t become younger…!
Editor´s note: Every bold, cursive and underlined link in the text above leads you automatically to more information about the specific topic.
Turk Riders out for the night in Karaman (some without helmets but with express permission of the police!)