We are 11 days, 5190 km and 9 countries into The Mongol Rally (I am writing to you from Baku, Azerbaijan) and I have come to realize my own naiveté.
The Mongol Rally is not traveling. Oh no, not at all. The Mongol Rally is the perfect drug for those of us with Type A personalities who are goal oriented and slightly obsessive. If you are not a Type A person, the rally could very well turn you into one. In all the months before, during all the pre-planning, you have an inkling of what is to come, you knew this would not be travel as usual, but you still held a romantic notion about what you could manage. You knew that you would have to be really selective about what you get to see in any particular country because you can’t possibly see it all but you did think that you were going to see…something.
Nope. I am here to tell you that modest assumption is mostly wrong.
During our pre-planning, we build in flex-days so that we could take our time and explore Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul and which ever cities that we will pass through. But what we didn’t anticipate is that the moment we got our date specific transit visa in hand, GO became the only objective.
I traveled through the Western portion of Turkey in 2007 and was really looking forward to seeing Eastern Turkey on this trip. From what I understand, Eastern Turkey is much more Middle East-ish where as Western Turkey is a lot more Mediterranean in feel and vibe. Istanbul is cosmopolitan and you do not see the religious conservatism until you are deep into the east. The Kurdish minorities lives mostly in Eastern Turkey there is conflict and contrast from the ethnic divide. I was really looking forward to having a glimpse of this other side of Turkey that I’ve only read about.
We leave Istanbul first thing in the morning and there is about 1200 km between the Georgian border and us. We have 2 days to get across the length of Turkey via the Black Sea Coast.
I had visions of beautiful coastal towns interchanged with long stretches of sandy mountains winding along the Black Sea to my left.
What I saw was an entire coastline in development.
Each town is either in the middle of trying to figure itself out with new construction projects or it is so small that a single hotel is all the welcome there is for any travelers. The towns are far from idyllic certainly not photogenic. Concrete rectangles after concrete rectangles.
We were lured into spending the night in Persembe, a tiny town that was once an “important stop on the Silk Road”, in a little hotel “with a sea view.” There was a view of the Black Sea from our little room but it is not the glorious view you have pictured in your mind. The history and importance of Peresembe is hard to decipher from our short stint there and it is certainly not offered up on a platter for the weary travelers.
The Kackar Mountains supposed offer incredible trekking opportunities and Sumela Monastery is set on a cliff with beautiful Byzatine frescoes. All of which sounds appealing and also way out of our way. With a ticking clock attached to our passport and gradually deteriorating road conditions ahead, spending the time to fully explore the Black Sea coast and the Eastern interior of Turkey is simply not in the cards for us.
The Black Sea Coast and Eastern Turkey remains a mystery to me. Its ruins, history and the heart of its inhabitants are not apparent and at the ready for the travelers’ as its Western counter part. But I fear the Mongol Rally schedule will not allow me to stay and discover you as I would like. Don’t you worry, Eastern Turkey, I promise next time I will return with time and patience and unearth your charm.
The Mongol Rally, Expect the unexpected!
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