Once again we wake up at around 7:30am sweating profusely; as the sun rises the tent turns into an unbearable sauna. Luckily a watermelon from Romania remains in the limo and we butcher it up to refresh ourselves: ready for a long days driving.
The Rover’s off-road capability was once again tested up a steep inclination in order to get back to the roadside. Jack takes to the wheel and with the help of traction control the limo sails up with ease. The Rover will have to wait for Turkmenistan to be truly challenged!
Throughout Turkey we all tried our best to ‘eco-drive’ as the fuel prices were ridiculous, as in more than UK prices! So back home you pay about £1.30/ltr and here it is 5.16 turkish lira/ltr, which is approximately equivalent to £1.55/ltr. Despite our best efforts to maximise our fuel economy the day involved over 200km of mountain driving. This included continuously driving with the pedal to the metal for 20km up a mountain around steep meandering bends, many of which were gravel, and then coasting down the other side. Not the best for the MPG’s or for feeling slightly queasy with the limo’s boat like action, but at this point we did not care: the views were spectacular! Another plus side was that as we ascended more, the air temperature decreased to a point whereby we felt a bit chilly, a feeling we had not experienced for a while.
After about 100km of not seeing anything on the roadside, as soon as we spotted a roadside food stall we stopped to get some snacks. In the bare wilderness that we were in it was amazing that they had anything, but it was even more surprising that they sold Doritos and even the heat wave flavour, what a find! We also bought what looked like a homemade fig and nut roll of goodness. However, once the local stall owner ripped us off we returned to the limo only to find that in fact it was tasteless that can only be described as eating soft rubber.
Eventually we hit the Black Sea and this was the road we stayed on all the way to Georgia. Here the horn usage was definitely increased as the quality of other drivers on the road noticeably deteriorated. Indicating is a thing of the past, and the hard shoulder is now the de-facto mini-bus lane.
With some Turkish lira still to use up we stop off at a supermarket to stock up on supplies, a watermelon, pasta and beer. Returning back to the car we hear the roar of a 169bhp v6 24 valve Honda engine as Steve, who had been keeping the car company, revs the Rover in front of a crowd of mechanics from the local garage. It turns out that they had never seen a Rover before, unbelievable right! Steve had made friends with a fat Turkish kid and given him a Union Jack flag as he kept pointing to our prestige limo flags. Then one of the mechanics pointed down the side alley to a pair of homemade car ramps and gestured that we should drive the limo up. So after inspecting the welds we did. Once up we flicked the neons on, inspected the under carriage and showed them the mods we had made and they were happy, we were happy, everything was good!
Continuing along the coast, the sun had begun to set. With the (beachless) sea to our left and tropical mountain ranges to our right, we were unsure of our chances of finding a good spot to camp. Jack, human divining rod for perfect camping spots, led us off the map into the foothills. The winding road was populated by souped up transit vans (complete with bodykits and spoilers) shipping sombre children up hidden side lanes that went directly up the mountainside; overtaking us at speed on blind corners. A mystery of Turkey’s North coast.
With thick trees pressing in on one side and a steep drop to a stream hemming us in, we were struggling to imagine the scene opening up to allow space for two tents and a limousine. At the point of going back, we spotted a narrow, rutted footpath curling away towards the water. Jack reconnoitred and reported that it was an overgrown tarmacked road to a bridge that lead to an orchard of Hazelnut trees. In the hollow in the trees just before the bridge was space for two tents and a 21ft executive vehicle. There were also 5 bags of freshly picked hazelnuts…
We stood in indecision for some 10 minutes, tents half unpacked, as we discussed how likely it was that the group of people we had seen walking in the opposite direction were workers here, whether they would return for the bags, whether they would mind us sleeping on their stretch of road. We were not left speculating for long. An off-road vehicle reversed into the mouth of the path. Headlights silhouetted its passengers in the dark. We stood awkwardly, mired in an almost inexplicable situation: however well we get across our intentions, there’s always a limousine in the room.
We moved forward to take the initiative. Reaching them halfway down the slope, Dom muttered off his pre-learned Turkish…..”Hello-how-are-you-can-we-camp-here?” Even though it is dark, we all hoped they could make out the white of our teeth as friendly grins rather than threatening grimaces. A scrawny, bearded man in his mid-to-late 20s is the recipient of this uncertain barrage. I don’t know how I would have reacted either: he avoided eye contact and managed a sheepish chuckle, which I think captures the social abnormality of the encounter. Through a series of gestures we were able to rope ourselves into carrying the hazelnuts up to his car. For all we know, we were accessories to a rapid, highly efficient nut-heist.
Relaxed, we ate and played Settlers of Catan on the road, backlit by the car’s headlights. Midway through the game we heard a shout and saw a flash of lights from the road, a huddle of shadows appearing at the turning. Topless, sweating and midway through the game, which involves brightly coloured hexagonal tiles and twelve different sets of cards, we were not set up to receive guests. A moment of turmoil passed among us as we considered how long it would take to explain the rules of Settlers of Catan to a group of Turkish hazelnut pickers. It might not have been a problem, but we were embroiled in the more sophisticated expansion, Cities and Knights. Complete with flipcharts, it would take at least an hour to explain.
Dom rose wearily and moved to intercept the newcomers.
From the campsite, the others heard a halting exchange. Then: a long pause. Then “Ahhh…..Tourists….camping….”
The game resumed. The highlight of the game so far had been a freshwater crab climbing onto Dom’s foot and scaring the living crap out of him and a small almost fluorescent green spider making us aware of Steve’s phobia.