When the police men waved me over from the other side of the street I expected the usual small talk. Whenever a police saw me, he’d demand me to stop (no matter the downhill I was enjoyng) simply to get to talk to me. “Where are you from? Where are you going?” He’d curiously ask as he’d let out a “wow, brave girl!” But this time was different. The police men weren’t stopping me to make small talk.
They were arresting me.
Two little shepherds: “I solemnly swear I am up to no good…”
“Are you really from Sweden?” The man asked me as he had heard me telling the ticket sales man so. I nodded to confirm and his face shone up in gratitude. “I am from Syria. Your people help my people so much. I thank you on the behalf of my people.” I honestly didn’t know what to reply to this, and exhausted and starving from the day’s 160 km ride I think I just replied: “Err… no problem.” (Really?Ugh, yes…)
Karim, Zafar and their two year old daughter Aisha. Karim was an engineer and Zafar had a PHD in Arabic (and was pregnant with their second daughter!)
Karim was eager to help me as a return favor for Sweden accepting so many Syrian refugees. The ticket sales men however, were eager to get as much money out of me as possible for my ticket to Ankara. Not only did Karim help me negotiate a reasonable price for me and the bike, he also invited me to meet his wife and little daughter before the night bus was to depart. I had a really nice time that evening, discussing the politics and economy of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden in one moment only to admire little two year old Aisha’s dance moves in the next.
At midnight, my night bus from Sivas took off. I had finally received the authorization code needed to apply for my Iranian visa and the letter of invitation needed to apply for my Uzbek visa which meant I was ready to go to Ankara to get started with my visa business for real. I chose to take the bus rather than bike there since going to Ankara meant I would have to backtrack (Sivas is about 500 km east of Ankara). After about two weeks in Ankara (yep that’s how much time it took to collect my visas) I took another night bus back to Sivas and continued my tour.
Ankara – one day it rained so intensely the streets got flooded…
Ankara is Turkey’s capital but it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey. My general impression was that if you mentioned Ankara to a Turk (or a tourist) he or she would be quick to compare it to Istanbul and how much better Istanbul was.
I had a fox at camp one evening!
Neither did I like Ankara particularly much in the beginning. I was in too much stress with the visas to do any touristic stuff and every day looked pretty much the same. I woke up early, went to Guvenpark (the central station for buses) to catch the bus to whatever embassy was on the list that day, went back, prepared the paper work for my next embassy stop, and repeated the process. I will tell you more details about the processes of obtaining the visas later in my visa section (whenever I get time for that…)
Trying on the hijab for the first time of my life and then proudly posing with my Iranian visa. Now when I am in Iran, I wear the hijab every day
When going to the Uzbek embassy I didn’t actually go by bus. Instead I hitched a ride with a police man. He put his machine gun aside, gave me a walkie talkie and we were off. It was quite an experience: He smoked a cigarette and chatted on facebook whilst driving and all sorts of other things!
I spent so much time frustratingly thinking to myself: “I just got to leave Ankara soon, I’m getting CRAZY here!” Only to end up feeling sad about it in the end. You see, I stayed long enough in Ankara to get my favorite street food places, my favorite breakfast bakeries, and my favorite bench in the park where I would sit sketching every day. An old man would frequently come by to check out the progress of my drawings and I felt so at peace, once again sinking into deep trance forgetting about everything else as the pencil danced upon the sheet of paper. I also found a bicycle shop owned by an awesome woman who toured herself and whom I had a nice chat with, and what’s more… I found myself a second home in Ankara.
Kevser owns her own bike shop in central Ankara. She is such a cool person and has taken on countless high mountain passes of Turkey on tough mtb roads. “Turkish parents are very protective. I try to tell them: Please let your daughters do things. Let them explore the world!” She had the sweetest father, too, and I was given both tea and food in the shop.
I had met the father of the family, Ugur, at the metro station already a few days earlier since I needed help to find my way. Fascinated by my trip, he had given me the address to his house since he wanted me to meet his family. I didn’t manage to find his block however, and had given up the thought of finding it when… I ran into him again!
I stayed two nights in the house of Ugur and his wife Arife and their three adorable little kids. Both Ugur and Arife are highly educated and in one night I learnt more about Turkey’s history and culture than I had done altogether in the past four weeks spent in the country. I also discovered that I love date plums which was a main dish for Prophet Muhammad and learnt a few other interesting things about Islam, as well as having lots of fun with the kids!
They were the most wonderful and welcoming family really, and made delicious food! 😉
When I once again was on the saddle riding my way from Sivas the grade of difficulty leveled up a little bit. Day after day I was confronted with rain and thunderstorms; One storm so extreme the wind took a fully grown tree to the ground right on the spot where I was planning to pitch my tent (it was the only groove around). It looked so unreal to see such a large object being taken to the ground with roots and all by an invisible force. And all at the same time, the thunder bolt kept lighting up the sky with terrifyingly loud booming.
Fortunately I was lucky enough to find an abandoned barn in which I spent the night to be safe from falling trees. The bricked roof was supported by hollow metal pipes and as the wind flew in them it sounded like the barn was haunted by ghost howls.
To the left: My cozy home a stormy night. To the right: A rodent actually made this huge hole in the floor fabric of my tent one night! Its little head popped up from the hole as I was investigating it and then disappeared quickly again… never expected that to happen! (Fixed with thread and needle)
Nevertheless did I have a really cozy, dry night and woke up to beams of sunshine finding their way inside from one of the window openings. I took the opportunity to dry my soaking wet clothes a little and then I took off.
But the sun didn’t stand by my side for long and soon I was once again freezing and all soaked, telling myself to just push a little further. As I thought things couldn’t get worse, I was all of a sudden arrested by the police.
“You cannot seriously arrest me for ‘stealing flowers'”? I asked the police men once again as I was taken to the police station.
I wish I could tell you I was arrested for something cool, such as stealing cows with a lasso or something.
But no. For the first time of my life I got arrested, and the accusation just had to be as silly as “someone called and said you stole flowers from their garden.” (Ok so I later found out “flowers” was just another word for drugs, but still… I had biked in the mountains all day, and not passed a single garden!)
Funny thing is, all at the same time as the police man told me I had to follow to the police station to sort out this “crime”, he shook my hand, asked; “Do you mind if I call you Eva? Your name is so difficult for me. You’re biking to China? You are a courageous girl!” Which made the whole situation so confusing, and I kept asking myself; Is this just a prank? Are the police men pranking me?
Once at the police station I was told to leave my bike outside of the gates. I refused.
“No.” I said and stopped at the entrance. “I am not leaving my bike outside. This bike is going to take me to China and if it gets stolen I got nothing. You will have to let me bring it inside.” The police men looked at each other, made a phone call, and let me bring my bicycle inside.
I was taken to the police officer and had my passport taken away from me, and then they searched my equipment for “stolen flowers”. They didn’t find a single trace of flowers – neither the normal kind or the drug kind – and hence concluded I wasn’t no flower thief after all.
My body shivering from cold, I was given hot Çay to warm up. My passport was given back to me and I was no longer arrested but free to go. They however offered to drive me to a municipality in which I could sleep for free, and I accepted. On the way there the police man who had arrested me made a quick visit to the supermarket and bought me a bag full of snacks to bring to my room.
Sleeping in a municipality
The next morning he picked me up in the police car again, since I had left my bicycle inside the police station to keep it safe. Not surprisingly the morning started off with a heavy rain, and rather than taking off directly I spent a few hours at the police station chatting with him, the police officer, and the rest of the staff whilst drinking more Çay. After having finished off the standard questions about my trip; “Why are you doing this? Why alone? What does your mother say? Does your father provide you with money? Are you not scared?” we entered the subject of religion instead. I think we were both equally fascinated by each other’s lives.
“So what religion do you have? Do you still believe in the Viking Gods in Sweden?” I found it so funny that they used to watch the series Vikings at the police station, and I answered him:
“No. My people are Godless, we come from the north, and we live in the woods. We are Wildlings!” Not disappointedly, he watched Game of Thrones too and got the reference. Nevertheless were the police men puzzled by the lack of religion present in the majority of Swedish people’s lives, and curiously kept asking questions; “You never pray? Never go to church? Your parents don’t tell you about heaven and hell when raising you up, Eva?” By now I was responding to him calling me Eva every single time.
I had a really enjoyable time chatting with the police staff and would not have minded to stay longer – but it was time to take on those last mountain passes before the Black Sea coast.
I had entered the police station as a person arrested for holding drugs, and I left it as a friend of the Turkish police with two interests in common: Vikings and Game of Thrones.
The black sea coast – the rest of my stay in Georgia wouldn’t be quite as sunny and holiday-looking as the right picture…
A few days later, the mountain passes were done and I had reached the Black Sea coast, which would take me to my next country: Georgia. But I will tell you more about this little Caucasian nation later (and boy do I got a lot to tell about it!)