On the day that Ferda and I rolled into Seoul, Saudi Arabia, without much fanfare, swung their doors open wide to tourism. It’ll be a flood, I’m sure. Doesn’t everyone want to go to Saudi Arabia??!! Googling for information in English about bicycle touring in the kingdom, I was only able to find accounts from Gürkan Genç and Pablo Garcia. I thought I’d give it a try.
I left Antalya in the afternoon, had a layover in İstanbul, and took the red eye to Jeddah. I slept at the most a couple hours on the flight (it was only 3.5 hours). I built my bicycle at the airport, got money from the ATM, and bought a SIM card. One thing I’ve learned from the first week of cycling here is that distances are huge. I left the airport around 3:30am, and it would have been getting light by the time I set up my tent so I decided just to pedal all the way in to the center of the city, about 37km from the airport.
I spent the first couple days exploring Jeddah’s historical center, Al Balad, one of Saudi Arabia’s few UNESCO World Heritage sites.
While Tommy was visiting from Boulder, Seb took Tommy, Ömer, and me up to Neapolis, an archaeological site that I’d heard Seb talking about for years. The site isn’t so far from Seb’s house, northwest and above the village of Doyran. The site is accessed from the west via the dirt road network to the west of the Doyran Reservoir.
According to the research by Nevzat Çevik at Akdeniz Üniversitesi, the site sits “at the crossroad of Pisidia, Lycia, and Pamphylia” and had close ties with nearby Termessos. For the non-expert the most obvious remains are Lykian tombs, Roman temples, and a Byzantine basilica.
The access trail comes up through the Necropolis.
First, to conclude our journey:
In contrast to our quick 21-hour trip from Antalya to Seoul (with one short stop in Moscow), it took 44 hours to return from Miyazaki to Antalya. We had an overnight in Incheon — fun — and a fairly long wait in Istanbul since our original Istanbul-Antalya flight had been canceled and the later one they switched us to was delayed — not so fun.
I must say, the Incheon airport is a very easy one for an overnight layover. Seoul is very far, and Incheon is kind of far, but right near the airport is a place that may (or may not) be called Airport New Town. We took the cheap (1000 won (US$0.86)/person), frequent train less than 10 minutes to Unseo. From the station it was less than a 10-minute walk to a guest house where we found a clean room with heat and hot water in the attached bathroom for 30,000 won (US$26)/night for two people. It doesn’t get much easier than that from a giant international airport.
This is the same area where we had our first meal in Korea two months earlier:
Here we are back in front of the same restaurant but without our bikes this time:
As with my ski trip to Hokkaido a couple years ago, I was grateful for Keiichi’s help in planning this bicycle tour in Kyushu. He lives in Kagoshima now, and I was looking forward to visiting him there. However, with our detour to Usuki and the days spent there at the bamboo lantern festival, Ferda and I ran out of time. Being a fair bit out of our way we ended up skipping Kagoshima. Thank you, Keiichi, for all the help and sorry that we weren’t able to get together.
Our crossing from Kumamoto to Miyazaki Prefecture was through the scariest tunnel of the trip. As I mentioned in my last post, we hadn’t planned on crossing those mountains on such a busy highway, but the little road we wanted didn’t go through. The 1800m long tunnel was pretty narrow. We started the tunnel on the very narrow sidewalk with quite a high curb. I keep hitting the periodic reflectors with my right front bag (we were riding on the left as always in Japan), scared that I’d lose balance and crash into the highway. I had to stop part way through to calm my nerves. It was good timing as a fast truck zoomed by followed by the typical swirling wind. When the road started obviously going downhill, I got off the sidewalk and sped the rest of the way through the tunnel with no vehicles passing me. We rested in the sun on the other end, again needing to calm down.
The rest of our days in Japan were characterized by the wonderful people we met. We coasted down to Yoshimatsu, and an outgoing woman on a bicycle with two kids and good English gave us a short tour of the sites in her neighborhood: a spring and a shrine.
Even though it’s been over three years since a series of earthquakes rattled Kumamoto, the devastation is still readily apparent. As a reminder that we’re in a seismically active area Ferda and I started our Kumamoto tour by slowly bicycling up the rim of the huge Aso Caldera, “one of the largest calderas in the world” according to the Aso UNESCO Global Geopark literature that we picked up in the town of Aso. From the high point on the road we dropped quickly and steeply into the caldera itself.
Here’s a view from that descent looking down on the farmland in the caldera. The opposite rim of the caldera is in the far right of the photo while the peaks in the center of the caldera start to be visible in the left of the photo.
To try and get an idea of the enormity of the caldera also consider this photo, taken from the slope of the mountains in the caldera’s center looking toward the rim of the caldera. The mountains in the background are outside the caldera, but it’s easy to see the caldera’s rim shown as an unbroken horizontal band of green all the way across the photo.