Finally I decided I should go to Iran. Therefore I needed to head back west, to the city of Erzurum, to get my visa at the Iranian consulate. I also wanted to pick up my parcel which was sent from home to a hotel in Erzurum. It contained warm clothes, new tires and spare parts, maps and a few other things. At that time I still thought I would cross into Iran from Turkey so it was a lot easier to take the bus to Erzurum. To be on the safe side I took my bike with me, just in case I might change my plans.

 

 

We could couchsurf at Mevluts flat. He has got 3 flat mates and heaps of friends. I had bad food poisoning the very first night. I spent several hours on the toilet. Squat toilets, found throughout Turkey, are “especially comfortable” when you have to squat for several hours. I guess no one reads the newspaper while using the toilet.

I needed 2 passport pictures wearing a head scarf, smiling forbidden. Somehow I didn’t feel like laughing. I felt uncomfortable and it was at that moment when I realized that I have to wear this headscarf for the entire time while I am in Iran. It popped into my mind that I am visiting a country where I am told what to wear. In some way crazy. But the dress code is part of the culture, so I have to accept it. I guess there are worse things and that’s why I swept the thought aside.

 

I received the visa in two days, but the parcel didn’t want to arrive.
In the mean time Rafael said good bye and flew to Istanbul. I tried to get used to the daily rhythm of the flat mates because I stayed in the lounge. Breakfast at 2 pm, dinner at 10pm and nights rest at 4am.
After 10 long days at Mevluts flat, it was time to move to another host. I could stay at Mehmet’s flat, a warmshower member, where I felt much more integrated and welcome, even if the day rhythm was pretty similar and moreover he and his flat mates shot me with there computer games each night into my dreams.
I became homesick for the first time. I missed people with the same cultural background, similar thoughts and interest and I missed the opportunity to have a real conversation. To maintain my sanity  I listened more often to German music.
I met Stephan, a long distance hiker who is walking from Germany to Tibet. He impressed me with his calm nature and gave me a few new ideas about my pace. Less is sometimes more, and I totally agreed with it. It was one of those meetings I will keep in my mind for a while. I was thankful to have the opportunity to get to know him.

I went nearly every day to the post office, but every effort to speed up the delivery process failed. At the end I waited 16 days in Erzurum and the parcel had taken 30 days in total. On the delivery day I got a ride with the post van to the storage hall and searched for the parcel together with an employee. To my surprise they even gave me a ride back to Mehmets home.

 

I was burned out, tired and unenthusiastic. Turkey had cost me a lot of energy so I had the feeling I needed a break. A break from Islam, a break from a male dominated society. I couldn’t cope with the culture.
Now I can understand more and more why Turkish people in Germany have so many difficulties to integrate. The cultural differences are just to great. Globalisation is in full swing but the cultures are still so far away from each other.
I came to the point where I admitted not to be able to just give up my western mentality. I am not able to understand the way a Turkish woman or a Turkish man might think. I started to accept and I stopped questioning.
I just wanted my freedom for a while.
To get my power back I started pedalling to the north instead of east. So strained I felt it wouldn’t have been a good idea to go to Iran straight away. So I decided to visit the Caucasus first even if I was aware of the cold.

Like clockwork it rained on the first day. Super. It was hard to be back in the saddle, to fight against the rain and the cold and also against the thoughts, why am I doing this?

 
 

The first night I spent again in a side room of a mosque. Early in the morning when I was still lying in my sleeping bag, lots of women came in to have there Koran lesson. It was a funny meeting. They watched me and I watched them.

 

The fall colours where pretty much over, but even so the landscape was getting more dramatic and it was getting much more remote.

 
 

It is already getting dark by 4pm and because it is so cold I don’t start before 10 am so it is a short day. I had to cross a few mountains and valleys before I asked for a place to stay in a small town. A man invited me home and brought me to his women. We had a funny evening together. To my big surprise they asked me to arm wrestle. 3:0 for Germany. In between they unrolled there carpets and while they were praying they laughed about themselves.

 

The next day I continued through canyons to get to Nisantasi. I met a Polish hitch hiker travelling to Afghanistan. We shared a camp spot and spoke about everybody and his dog.
 
 

I felt sick. After I had something to eat in a small restaurant I fell asleep on my plate. A man woke me and took me to some sort of hostel. The walls where totally mouldy, but that didn’t bother me at that time, I just wanted to sleep. At 10.30 pm the police knocked at the door. They asked for my mothers and my fathers name. I couldn’t believe it, but I got dressed, opened the door, filled out the form and just said guele guele, which means bye bye. With blue light they drove away.

 
 

I came through an area where there where suddenly a lot of women on the street. It also was a lot easier for me by myself. Travelling as a woman alone I found people much more approachable. Both women and men were more open. In hindsight, I think it would have been easier to be by myself all the time. I also enjoyed to be able to go at my own pace again.

 

It still rained. So I knew, sooner or later I would be confronted with snow. Shortly before the last pass on my way to Georgia it was white.

 
 

It was nearly dark when I arrived at the border, so I stayed in the basement of a restaurant. My last night in Turkey. It was a relief.

At the same time there was an Iranian bloke at the border. They didn’t let him pass. I realised again how privileged I am. I am so lucky to be owner of a German passport which allows me to cycle across nearly every border on this planet. This is absolutely fantastic, considering our bad history. A lot of people on earth were happy to be able just to cross the border to there neighbour country.
I am honest. As the border officer gave me a big smile when he heard that I am German , it took a load of my mind. It rained cats and dogs but inside me it was a sunny day.
I managed it. After 2 months and nearly 2500km I left the country I had developed a split relationship with. On one side the extraordinary hospitality which I absolutely enjoyed a lot and on the other hand I had some really bad experiences, which really made me uncertain.
I am sure that the country will occupy my thoughts for a longer while, even if I would like to try not to put so much focus on it anymore. I would prefer to be open for new experiences.

Funnily the border police man asked me if my pushbike has got a number plate. I gave him a big smile and he gave me a stamp. Permission to stay for 365 days. I turned the clock 2 hours ahead.

 
 

Georgia is totally different. The first impression I got was the strong east block character. Poverty, ruined houses and many really old cars. Other faces, different fonts, churches and crosses. The many sweets in the markets, same as in the Ukraine and the slide rules which they use in every little grocery store. A lot reminded me of the Ukraine as well as the former GDR, which I visited when I was a child.

 

I took my time. I cycled only a few km a day and I spoilt myself checking into a guesthouse every night. 10 Lari which is about 4.50 Euro a night. Sadly there were no heaters anywhere. Outside it was wet and cold and inside wasn’t a lot better. In Turkey it was always really hot inside of the rooms and here it is freezing cold, so I needed my sleeping bag to get warm again. Luckily, now and than there was a shower with hot water.

 
 
 
 

I cycled along muddy roads, exciting tracks, through partly destroyed villages heading to the east. The area is called the little Caucasus. It was superb. The mountains were already covered with snow and the landscape belonged just to myself. The one way road into the Vardzia Valley goes along a wonderful canyon. The sun came back and I was happy about the few extra degress to warm me up a bit.

 
 
 

Vardzia is a cave monastery, which lies dramatically in a big rock face above the river.

 
 

But what impressed me even more was a tiny little church on the other side of the valley. This chapel sticks to the rock face like an eagles nest. At the foot of the rock is a little monastery which is also built into the rock. A monk invited me into his warm kitchen and offered me a typical Russian borscht soup, bread, sweets and cay. Here they also call tea cay, as everywhere since the Ukraine.
But suddenly there was a bit of stress and the monk told me that I should leave now because his monk brothers are coming back and he will be in trouble if they see me because women are not permitted inside of the monastery.

I found this short encounter pretty amusing and also really nice.

 

The food is delicious. Khinkali is a sort of dumpling which is cheap and available everywhere. Khachapuri is bread with scalloped cheese and egg.

 

In Ahalkalaki I was invited by the mother and daughter. They heat the house with a single plate of the oven. The daughter lived for a few years in Germany, so we could talk for a bit. She complained about the circumstances she has to live in now. There is no work and if so than the salary is really bad. Her kids are living in Russia, because they should have it better than her. She hasn’t seen them for more than 4 years.

 
 

They served big portions of delicious food. Once again they I had borscht soup, baked potatoes and some sort of rolled meat which is baked in a lot of oil. Really delicious. The people are poor so I gave them a bit of money for the food.

The highlands came next. Small villages, lakes, snow covered mountains and many sheep. A wonderful and endless vastness. No traffic, silence, loneliness. Superb. But it was cold, freezing cold.

 
 

At Lake Paravani, shortly before the pass at 2100m, I spotted a small restaurant. Luckily they had a heater. I ordered a cay and was invited by two Turkish men to share the table and there trout and grilled lamb. I asked for accommodation and the owner of the restaurant showed me his bed in his caravan and offered me to share his bed with him. But no sex he said right away. Well, that was a bit too much for me. They called another man and I followed him to a really damaged house, where the windows were broken to pieces and the cold wind blew through the room. No heater, no water, no light, just a few candles. It doesn’t cost anything he said to me. But he didn’t want to leave and said after a while I should stay at his place, it is way too cold here. Good idea. It was way below zero that night, so it was much warmer to stay with his family and the warm oven. They even had internet and a washing machine. But they didn’t have running water and the toilet was outside. The next day, the women asked me for money, the man felt embarrassed and I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I gave them some money.
The ground was still frozen when I left and I guess it wont defrost anymore before spring. The rivers and small streams had formed ice on the shore already and the fountains were completely frozen.
 
 

But after the pass it was downhill. Endless curves and lots of villages later I arrived in near darkness in Manglisi. A village which gives the impression that time here has stood still for the last 50 years. 
 
 

 

A lot of drunken men, heaps of barking dogs and just ruined houses. A picture I will not forget for a long while. I asked at the police for a hotel. They said there isn’t one. But other people said there is one. In total I found two. A drunken fella helped me to contact the owner of the first hotel. We stayed in front of it, which was next to the forest. It was dark. No soul in sight, no light, nothing.

There is no heater, no water, no electricity, no toilet, but it still cost 25 Euros. The other hotel was closed. I went back to the police and asked if I could pitch my tent next to the building, because it felt to be the safest place in this town. No. But they started calling and short while later a man came into the police building. I should follow him. It was pitching dark outside. No street lamps, no lights in any house. I followed this man through the dark night.

The road was getting smaller and the paths were getting more and more muddy. We passed heaps of ruined houses and it was getting more and more scary. At the end we came into a freezing cold, but pretty house. No family, just him and me. No lights in the neighbour houses. Super. So I convinced myself the first 30 minutes that the police arranged that so it will be safe for me. He turned on the oven, cooked potatoes and cay, showed me where I will sleep and at the end he was a really nice guy. He is a hair dresser and a client came to him through the darkness.

The next morning we had breakfast together and he accompanied me to the main road.

 
 

It was a day ride to get to Tbilisi. The capital is 400m above sea level, so I hoped for warmer temperatures. When I came closer to the city I was shocked to be surrounded by eastern block sky scrapers and a lot of mad traffic. But the closer I came to the city centre the more it turned out to be a really pretty city.  Old next to modern.
Niko, a facebook friend, offered me a place in his shared flat. His flat mates are a French and a German girl. It is nice to have some sort of normal life for a few days.

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