Hitchbiking in Kurdistan and Güle Güle Türkiye

Km 3573 – Van, Turkey


Since we have arrived in Southeastern Turkey, it has been continously warm, approx. 25-30 degrees – just like during German summer. Even though this sometimes seems hot to us for cycling, we happy to be here during spring time, because we have been told that it is over 40 degrees here in summer. In Tatvan and Van it become colder again. Both cities lie next to the huge lake van at an heigth of 1700m.

Many civilisations have lived in Mesopatamia. Today the „blessed land“ is mostly inhabited by Kurds. At the same time Turks, Arabs, Assyrians, Aramaic or Alevite people live here. Because of the war in Syria many Syrian people came to live here lately as well – especially in the border area.


We roar through the Turkish plateau with the quiet Yaşar. Jana fell asleep and my thoughts stray around. Travelling and going on holiday are totally different. Because travelling is a certain way of living – for most people during a very limited amount of time. This way of living that Jana and I have chosen for now is not a holiday. We have an unbelievable amount of freedom, but often it is the life of other people that determines our day. So we sit in the truck of a person and listen to the music that he chose, sleep in places that others show us and eat what others give us. That is travelling! It is curiosity, the lust for the new. New smells, sounds, tastes. New people, new ways of living. If this happens comfortably or not is not improtant. And this is exactly the main difference to the holiday: the short comfort for a few weeks in the year is supposed fulfill all (from time to time extreme) wishes of the self. „Milkcoffee-with-cream-whenever-I-like“ would be just a little example. It is not about that we couldn’t drink coffee when we like to – we are doing it in this very moment. It is about often spending our days in dependence of/arrangement with other people – this happens very consciously and opens us new worlds.


  • From Sivas we take the night train to Diyarbakir. Unfortunately, there is no day train and therefore no hours of views through wide windows.
  • Diyarbakir is the capital of Kurdistan which includes areas in Turkey, but also in Iran, Irak and Syria.
  • A nice man helps us to find the flat of Esra, our host. Once there we have breakfast and take a rest from the short night in her beautiful appartment. Esra gew up in Istanbul and now works in a project that gives women the possibility to produce a film in Kurdish. She doesn’t want to use the word “empowerment“ – one of those fashion words. Also regarding other subjects (e.g. socially constructed gender roles) the 25-year old has a very determined opinion. She explains us that the generosity in this area is a fight about inviting and therefore embodies male power demonstration. A very interesting thought – indeed, if we look back now, we realize that only men have invited us so far.
  • We enjoy life, look into an important mosk and an Armenian church, eat icecream and stroll through the narrow streets and alleys of the old town. At night another Couchsurfer comes to stay with Esra. Shu is from Japan and cycling from France back to his home country. On his way he tries any pastry that he can find. The 24-year old baker is specialised in sweet delights. During his travels his “Pastries Online Trade” pauses. He would like to reopen it with all the collected recipes. Such a clear project is nice to watch.


  • In Urfa we are waiting for our potential host. For the first time we drink fresh Ayran (foamy and cold) and play Tavla (Backgammon) until Ҫağdaş arrives. It turns out that he cannot host us, because his flatmates don’t want it during the exam period. Recently we had read on a blog that it is possible to sleep in mosks for travellers. This doesn’t work out this time, because is is already closed, but the islamic institutions still shows a lot of friendliness towards us. As the mosk’s gates reopen the next morning we are spontaneously invited to join the soup house (Ҫorba Evi). The hot soup and the fresh bread are a welcomed breakfast after a night without the tent beneath the sky. (Ҫağdaş had showen us a good spot: right above the famous park with the Balikligöl (fish lake) and the mosk). The early morning light adds a special atmosphere to this experience.


  • We leave Urfa with our bags full of delicious food and soon we sit on the load area of a van. This van takes us about 100km and leaves us in Viranşehir. We don’t even cycle 500 meters through the city as Hasan and Kemal stop us. These two would like to invite us. They do not only invite us for Ҫay, but also for food. Mahmut, the local German teacher, joins us for a little while as well.
  • We continue to cycle, now searching for a place to stay for the night. At a gas station we get lucky and are allowed to stay on the gas station’s roof for the night. The two employees invite us in for another Ҫay that night and offer us breakfast the next morning.


  • From Mardin we cycle to Hasankeyf. „This is one of our most beautiful camping spots“ Jana says. Indeed, the spot in the canyon is very picturesque. Like in Cappadocia there are many caves that invite to spend the night in there. But we put up our tent on an even place of lawn – right between the rock faces a little bit up with a great view into the canyon.  It is totally quiet, we are along – of course, the first thing I do is a little fire. A sky full of stars unfolds above us and I watch some satellites in the sky. The earth could not be more peaceful during this moment.
  • After some hiking through the canyon the next morning we have a look at the ruins. It is Saturday and Turkish tourists crowd the place. The castle is closed because it is dilapidated. The money for renovations is not given, because the whole region is to be flooded. The huge energy consumption of humanity has to be met and therefore not only culture but also nature have to be sacrificed for the dam project.


  • In Batman Zeynel picks us up. Spontaneously we go to a Kurdish wedding. Totally underdressed we arrive in the huge hall. Several hundred guests have come together. To us it is more similar to a public festival than to a wedding. A spectacle for the bridal couple which – following the tradition – doesn’t participate much. Both of them sit on a little stage and watch. Their guests dance until they sweat – we too are pulled to the dance floor and are to join the group dance. As we later drink a Ҫay outside we are the main attraction of all the children who would like to test their English.
  • Despite our protests, Zeynel pays for everything. We are astonished about this selfless hospitality. Erdem, Zeynel’s friend explains us that is would be weird for them not to do everything for us. But for us it is weird to accept this generosity. A cultural difference? Zeynel says something sweet: „Money shall serve the people. You should use it to make other people happy.“ That is true. But it is hard to explain that we need very little to be happy.


  • We have breakfast in the café where our bikes were „hosted“ for the night. Labor Women – that is the name of the small organisation which wants to strenghten the rights of women and improve their possibilities to work.
  • We cycle approximately 20 km out of town until Süleyman takes us. He drives a huge container to the Iranian border and belongs to the open drivers of our journey. Because the motor has to cool down we stop for a tea break. But we cannot see a Ҫay Evi (tea house) neither a gas station. Süleyman has it’s own kitchen with him. Underneath the container between the two axis a gate. Behind it a small gas stove and stocks of tea, olives, cheese, salҫa (tomato puree) and more are hiding. That’s how we can drink tea with him. Later we are also invited for dinner.
  • Shortly before Bitlis we are on the road again. We pack the bikes and look for a place to sleep. A gas station doesn’t want to help, but on our way to a bare brickwork house a vehicle stops and asks what we are doing. So we ask for a good place to camp and immediately the man named Mașallah (this is often used as a good wish for travellers) tells us to follow him. This is the first time that we are collected by someone from the street. The family dad has 7 children. The oldest son already studies in another city. The oldest daughters (16 and 17) speak the best English and mostly take care of us. A little bit later we sit together with the whole family and a dictionary over our world map and look where New Zealand is acutally located.
  • We cycle the last 5 km to Bitlis. Here we meet Abdullah in the tourist office. He doesn’t speak English but supplies us with many brochures about the region. As we come back from our little city tour the good-natured man has put a little desk outside of the office, on there a book. Why? To watch our bikes that we had left in front of the office. Aren’t we lucky to meet all these touching people? Happy about that we enjoy a ҫay and self-made pastry all together in the sun.


  • As we cylce the last kilometers towards Van we are amazed by the many snow covered mountains that gather around lake Van which is located at an altitude of 1700 meters. It is simply wonderful: the different kinds of blue of the sea and the sky and the white mountains in the background.
  • In Van itsself we prepare ourselves for Iran. We will take the night train from Van to Tabriz and after 3 months in this beautiful country we have to say good-bye. At the same time we are naturally curious about the new country.
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