We left Georgia via the seaside town of Batumi and headed straight for the industrial town of Hopa, also on the shorefront. The border crossing was a doddle (Just an E-Visa required). Priority numero one was to fix our crippled roof cage. All that held the cage on to the car were two ratchet straps anchoring it down; and two tyre inner tubes keeping the cage apart from the roof evenly.
Hopa was luckily very industrial so Jerome and I pulled up at a random construction yard on the outskirts of town and using Google Translate we asked if they knew of any welders in town. One of the guys jumped straight into his car and led us to the mechanics strip about 4 km away. He found us a welder within seconds and left us to it.
With a series of gestures and a shitty cardboard template we communicated that we wanted all six legs taken off the roof cage, welded back together and reinforced.
The guy got straight to it and a couple of hours later the job was done. He was a great welder but real heavy handed when it came to climbing around the troopy and removing bits and bobs.
Luckily he didn’t damage anything and after cleaning up his welds and spraying the brackets we were on our way again. I will forever have nightmares about that man. He was sat welding a bracket and I made the mistake of looking at the bracket and getting a full view of his knackers hanging freestyle through the holes in his trousers!!
Moving swiftly on. Tim and Nic were still with us and together we all headed to Erzurum for the night. This was the final place that we would all go together and the next day with great sadness we said goodbye and parted company. We met Nic and Tim by chance at a Toyota dealership in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We ended up spending over two months touring 6 counties together. Having such great company really changed the trip for all of us and I’m sure that we will remain in close contact. They have to be back in the UK for early December whilst we have an extra month to play with. We stocked up and shipped out.
We headed on about 400km South East towards Lake Van. Lake Van is incredibly salty; so much so that you can wash your clothes in it without the aid of any detergents. The lake is surrounded by mountains over 4,000m tall and is also the wettest place in Turkey. As we meandered our way towards the Lake we noticed quite a few things. Firstly – the roads were all excellent, even the minor windy ones.
We were forever traversing hills and mountains which was a nightmare for our fuel consumption (Diesel is over $AUD 2 per litre). The bonus of the terrain were the great views though. We were also blown away by the kindness and hospitality of EVERYONE. The Turkish love their Cai (Chai Tea) and literally everywhere we went we were asked to join people for Cai.
We camped at the bottom of a farmers field and he came down with his daughter and a brew for us. We pulled up to a servo to fuel up and the attendants plied us with Cai as we waited in the car! Our current record is six glasses of tea in one day, all from different people ;)We were just punting along and got pulled over by the Jandarma (A branch of the army responsible for rural police enforcement). I was pretty nervous but all they wanted to do was invite us to their army base for yes, you guessed it: Cai!
The Jandarma presence in the Eastern Anatolian region is just crazy. This area of Turkey shares its’ border with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Georgia so it is considered to be in the midst of some very unstable regions. The Turkish army is the 7th largest in the world with a manpower of over 40 million, built to keep the country stable. The sheer size of the army is largely due to conscription for all males between the ages of 20 and 41. They serve a maximum of 15 compulsory months, which can be reduced depending on their level of education.
Literally every town that we drove through had an army base. Some places seemed to just exist to house the Jandarma. I have never passed tanks and heavily armored vehicles on the road in active service before. They were everywhere with guns hanging off the tops and sides. Despite the heavy presence the area felt very peaceful and not at all intimidating.
We reached the town of Van from the North and quickly left in favour of taking the Southern route towards Altinsac Killisesi Church. We stopped for the night and camped on a piece of headland facing the water and the tiny Island that was home to the Church of the Holy Cross (over 1000 years old and accessible by ferry).
It was cold, wet and dark but the next morning we woke up to one of our favorite camping views of the trip. The troopy was parked on a green patch of grass, followed by rocks leading to the oh so blue water.
In the distance you could see the Island and behind that a panoramic view of snow capped mountains. Hell yeah! It had snowed heavily overnight too so the views were pretty dramatic.
We blasted some music and had an awesome brekkie. We set off for Killisesi Church and to get there we hugged the shoreline and wound our way up the hills with the snowy mountains providing a cracking backdrop to the Lake.
The church was set back from the Lake up a steep muddy track probably only suitable by foot. Of course we gave it our best shot. We didn’t get all the way up but we caught a glimpse of the church and got some awesome shots of the troopy doing some bush-bashing.
Our next goal was to drive up and into the Nemrut Dagi inactive volcano about 10km South West of Tatvan, just past the Lake. The crater has five lakes inside it and promised some excellent views back towards Van. The drive up there was relatively steep but the roads were mainly concreted as a ski resort was being built there. Once at the top there were several tracks branching off to the various lakes. We spent the afternoon exploring a bit and eventually chose a place to set up camp next to the biggest lake in amongst a little ‘cove’ of reeds. There was a rather attractive power pole laying on the shoreline just begging to be chainsawed up and burnt, so we obliged. The fire was awesome and I’m sure that we will get cancer from the protective chemicals on the pole.
I made an apple and cinnamon pie in the dutch oven and proceeded to burn the absolute f**k out of it in the fire coals. I got heaps distracted chainsawing wood and watching Jerome split the logs with his Nepalese knife. Gutted as it was going to be awesome. Anyhows crater camping was pretty cool and the next day we hopped out and headed dead West towards Mt Nemrut and our next adventures.