The mountains near Tortum

Eight days of pedalling from Erzurum.  We’re in Uzundere, back on the main highway, about 80 km north of the city.  Sage and I rode a couple loops in Tortum İlçe.  Up and down, up and down.  I’m sure other touring cyclists have pedalled these roads, but “we’re off the main route” might be an understatement.

At the end of the Sage’s summer vacation, we’ll be back in Erzurum for her flight to Alaska.  Even when I sort of have a destination, I get easily distracted by tempting mountain passes.  Well, with no destination other than where we started, it’s hard to pass up a dirt track that climbs.  There seem to be plenty to choose from.

We did skip one, however.  A good dirt road headed NW from Yayla Geçidi to Uzundere.  Sage was the guinea pig and didn’t even ride 100m before the mud locked up her wheels.  We turned back and selected Plan B which set us up for the brilliant loop through Arılı, Meydanlar, Tipili, and Ballı.  The road we skipped is probably fine now.  We were there less than one hour after one of the most intense rain storms I have ever seen.

It’s rained almost every day since leaving Erzurum.  It’s mostly been light and refreshing rain.  Even with a couple deluges, I’ll take the rain over the heat that I endured a couple weeks ago.  Putting on my down coat, wool hat, and three pairs of pants two nights ago, it’s hard to believe it was so hot just two weeks ago.

Sage has plenty of bike touring experience riding big mountains in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Russia, China, Tibet, Pakistan, and India.  However, this is her longest tour on her relatively new Bike Friday with 20-inch wheels.  The steep dirt road descent from Kireçli Geçidi probably isn’t the best place to get used to a new ride, but she handled it well.  A few days later Sage counted 15 switchbacks on the plunge through Ballı from the green alpine meadows to the desert-like steep canyons below.  She rode that as fast as I did.

The offers for çay continue and more often than not turn into meals with cheese, bread, olives, onions, tomatoes, and even juice.  In Çakıllı a couple gave us homemade helva.  It wasn’t sweet like regular helva.  It was made from stringy cheese, oil, and something to give it a brownish color.  Full of calories, I’m sure, and very tasty.  We were sent off with a bag of the leftovers, another common gesture.  We’re getting enough to eat.

Finally, I really must say a few words about Ballı.  This small village, built into a south-facing hillside, must be the original earthship village.  Since most roofs are covered with grass, it looks like a brown field from a distance.  The outer walls of the houses are made of stone and upon closer examination you can see skylights and windows poking out of the earth.  It was sort of eerie walking around and seeing tunnel-like entrances to an underground city.  At first I poked into one hole only to hear people talking and realize I was tramping around on their roof!  We did enter one underground home in Tipili, and it was surprisingly light inside.  Maybe they’re not moles after all.

Üç Kümbetler by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0020 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0038 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0047 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0054 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0063 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0091 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0096 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0104 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0109 by bryandkeith on flickr

The photos of Ballı didn’t turn out very well.

DSCN0120 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0121 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0135 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN0141 by bryandkeith on flickr

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4 Responses to The mountains near Tortum

  1. Bill Wildenberg says:

    Bryan- Great to see all the places you are going to. You are much more productive in July traveling than you are when working since there is no computer for you to watch the Tour de France all day long. Looks like gorgeous country and nice remote roads. I hope you are showing the locals how to make your famous margaritas in return for their çay and homemade helva.

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Hmmm, no margaritas here in Turkey. You can actually buy tequila here, but it’s bad tequila and expensive. This is not margarita country, but I did see a lime a couple days ago for the first time in Turkey. Tour de France, ha! I still don’t even know who won. Maybe I’ll look it up now while I have internet.

  2. Elise says:

    Great photos as usual. Jasper commented that the buildings in the first photo look like castles. We also loved the photos of the underground homes. Good travels to you and Sage!

  3. Mike Painter says:

    It’s nice keeping up with you, Bryan!

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