Author Archives: Hitchhiking Diaries

Russia (Uralsk to Samara)

We had a comfortable sleep at our free hotel room in Uralsk. Now we are off to Samara, but we still don’t know which road goes to Samara. We find a shop which seems like a travel agency to buy plane-tickets. One young girl speaks english a little. They actually don’t really know how to get to the road by bus. After asking a few people she say we can take a bus and she will show us which one. But we have only russian money, we can’t buy the bus ticket with it. They buy the ticket for us which is quite cheap indeed.

We leave the bus after some time, seems like we are out of the city. Then we see a road sign ‘Samara’, but when we ask people, they show us another way. But we trust the road sign and follow the road. We don’t wait so long, one Kazakh guy take us. He tells us which city he goes, but we don’t have any map so we don’t know the name. As long as he follow the road which we believe it goes to Samara, that’s fine with us. But after talking with our driver we find out that the road doesn’t go to Samara, it goes to Saratov. We don’t know where is Saratov. Anyway we are not gonna go back, so we enjoy our ride on the Kazakh steps. But it ends somewhere middle of the steps. He goes to his town. Literally there is nothing in the town. It’s surrounding by steps. You wonder why people live here. Answer is oil and gas.

There is no traffic, almost every 20 minutes one car pass by, but no one stops. We walk and walk… It’s not raining anymore. We find some coins on the road, that keeps us walking. At least there is something to do, also we are making money with it. 🙂 After walking more than an hour we see some of the cars who didn’t stop for us. They are waiting on the line. Because of rain one part of the road is quite muddy. Normal cars cannot go, they are waiting for the help of a tractor. We are walking around the mud. People try not to have eye-contact with us.

On the other side of the mud we start hitchhiking. 4×4 car stops. A family is going to Saratov.  They are taking us to the border. They ask about our passport, visas and if we have something dangerous in our backpack. Because they don’t want trouble at the border. Everything is fine. At the border russian guard searches our back-pack. He finds nothing.

We are back in Russia now. Family take us for a while, but there is a baby in the car and he needs to sleep. So they kick us out to have more space for the baby. Our next driver is Kurdish and he speaks turkish. He is actually a taxi driver, but he takes us for free. Then he calls his Turkish friend, Mehmet. He thinks we are crazy, hitchhiking in Russia dangerous he says. He wants to meet us, then he will host us. We are lucky again.

We meet Mehmet in Saratov. Saratov is a city next to Volga river and it seems nice. Mehmet is from Samsun, but he married a russian. Now he is russian citizen. He takes us to a cafe. Owner of the cafe is an Armenian woman and costumers are from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkey, no Russian… it is interesting to see this nationalities in same place. We eat there our meal then go to another place to drink coffee. Then we go to Mehmet’s place and spend the night.

Next day we are ready to go, but there is a problem. My travel mate Anıl gets bored of travelling. He says he wants to go back Turkey. It has been only 10 days in Russia, but he got bored. I can’t say I’m having so much fun. Hitchhiking is hard, there are not many interesting things to see, but still we meet nice people. I try to change his mind and he tries to change mine.  Then he leaves me. I’m pissed off. We were planning this trip for months, but he gets bored after 10 days. Now I don’t have a tent anymore. It’s raining again and I don’t know if I have a host in Samara.

I start hitchhiking alone. I need to find the road to Samara first. Asking people doesn’t help. Either they don’t answer or they don’t know. Eventually one guy goes my direction by car and he can take me for a while. Hitchhiking alone works faster. I stop a truck, he takes me to Samara. Also I contact my host in Samara. Couchsurfer Polina is happy to host me. Everything gets smooth.

Polina is hosting someone from couchsurfing for first time. She is nice and friendly. We go to her friends place. They are cooking for me. We are having a little bit communication problem. Russians don’t speak english well and I don’t speak russian. There is a nice fire-place at home. We sit in this cozy room and talk. A nice evening ends Next day Polina shows me around. Samara is also on the Volga river. People seems nicer here. Polina tells me that Samara is famous with beautiful girls. It may be true, there are many beautiful girls. In Russia you see many women working everywhere. It feels like women works more than men in Russia.

We go to Lounge-looking place to smoke water-pipe. It’s quite expensive when you compare to Turkey. (more than 20 dolars) This is the money I spend in last 10 days. We play ‘who am I?’ game when we smoke our water-pipe. Then we move to a club. I meet lots of people there and they are all interested about my journey.  Next day we do another tour in the city with Polina and at the evening we celebrate one her friends birthday.

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Russia (Krasnodar to Uralsk)

After having trouble at the Georgian-Russian border, we go back to Turkey and find cheap flights to Krasnodar. We wait for Ramadan month in Turkey and eat lots of Baklava before we leave Turkey.

So my Russian experince starts with Krasnodar. As we don’t need visa for Russia, it’s easy to get in. We just fill immigration card at the airport and our passport is stamped.  First night we camp somewhere near the airport, then next day we start hitchhiking to Krasnodar center. Then we meet German biker Heinz Stücke. He is travelling for 47 years.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_St%C3%BCcke

Hitchhiking isn’t quite easy, but we stop a car. But one thing we don’t know every car can be a taxi in Russia. After reaching Krasnodar center, our driver is asking for money. We say “we are hitchhiking, we don’t have money”. These are a few words we learned in Russian. We give our driver some turkish coins as we won’t need in our journey. Andrey is going to host us in Krasnodar.

After staying a few days in Krasnodar we are ready to leave, but Andrey says local TV will interview us. We are famous in Russia now, at least in Krasnodar.
Here is the interview:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7pnUFVRiKU&context=C3360ac3ADOEgsToPDskKd4qYym2c3w8rda8rITufG

After the interview we start hitchhiking in the center which is a big mistake. We are walking out of the city and hitchhiking.  That is the first thing we learned in Russia about hitchhiking: “don’t hitchhike in the center! take the bus out of the city near highways!” So that’s what we do… We go out of Krasnodar by bus and find a good place to hitchhike, but we wait hours and hours. It is almost dark, I’m already looking a place to camp while waiting with my thump up. At last one truck stops. He goes to Maykop, it’s not really on our way. But it’s our first car stopped for us, we are not gonna say ‘no’. So we go to Maykop with this huge american truck. Our driver is russian and he is quite nice. We are hoping he invites us to his place, but no… He shows us a place to camp. At least we are out of the city and camp on a field next to the road.

Next morning we wake up and pack our backpack. Some polices come and ask ‘what we are doing here’, we say ‘we are hitchhiking to Tokyo, Japan’. They smile and go. Russian police is not so bad. This time hitchhiking works better, but it’s still not so good. We arrive Elsta after 14 hours hitchhiking with 9 cars. We are thankful to our last driver from Karachav-Cherkessia, he gaves us long ride and also he speaks turkish.
We are in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. Our Kalmyk host Lev pick us up with his car. We are staying with his Kalmyk family. They feed us quite well and they are interested about our culture and our journey. We are also interested about theirs. As we have not heard about Kalmyk people before.

Kalmyk people are related to Mongols and Kalmykia  is the Europe’s only Buddhist government . Next day we visit the Buddhist temple which is quite interesting. I wasn’t expecting to see any Buddhist temple until China. But here we are in the temple and looking to big statue of Buddha. When we leave the temple we are not turning our back to Buddha as to show our respect before we leave his temple.

Chess is quite important in Kalmykia, they even have a Chess City which has hosted the Chess Olympiad in 1998.

 

 

We are ready to leave Elista next day. We are greatful to our host Lev and his family for their hospitality. We are hitchhiking to Astrakhan now trough the steps of Kalmykia which gets boring after a while. After 9 hours of hitchhiking we are in Astrakhan and meet out host Elena, also the Volga river for the first time. Elena shows us around with her friends. Astrakhan seems nice. But we stay only one night.

We decide to go Kazakhstan to try hitchhiking over there. We can’t say we were enjoying hitchhiking in Russia, but it’s early be judgmental. Russian-Kazakh border is 70 km away and it take us 2 hours to reach there. Russian officer stamps our passport and ask for a cigarette which we don’t have, he lets us go. We are in Kazakhstan after 10km ride. Probably Kazakh officers have not seen turkish hitchhikers before. We don’t need visa for Kazakhstan, but they don’t know that. After asking a few people then she stamps our passport. Now we should find a ride. Actually we don’t know where we are going, but there is only one way to go until Atyrau.

It’s dark when we reach Atyrau. Hitchhiking seems a bit easier than Russia, but some people ask for money. It’s raining and we don’t know where to sleep.  We find a construction where we put our tent. We couldn’t eat a meal, just some junk foods our driver gave. Because we don’t have the Kazakh money (Tenge). We wake up next morning, it’s still raining a little and seems like it’s gonna rain for a few days. We have to decide which way we go. We have two options; north to Russia or east in Kazakhstan. Because of rain Russia sounds better, because we can find some hosts in couchsurfing.org, in Kazakhstan there are not so many of them.

I had already found a host in Samara, Russia. So that’s where we decide to go. We hitch 500km in 7 hours, so we couldn’t make Samara that day.  We are in Uralsk next to the Ural river which divides Europe and Asia. Our last driver is quite nice, he drives us to a big market where we can use our credit card. At least we have somethings to eat.

It rains more in Uralsk, we don’t know where to sleep. We want to go on hitchhiking, but we don’t know which road goes to Samara. We are asking people but they don’t understand us or they don’t know. So we follow our instinct and start to walk one direction. It’s already dark and we are quite wet. We would camp somewhere if it wasn’t raining. It’s quite muddy everywhere.  Then miracle happens; a nice BMW  stops, there is a couple in it. They are talking to us in english. They wonder what we are doing here. We explain that we are hitchhiking to east, maybe to Japan. They drive us to the road where we can hitchhike to Samara. But they still hesitate. It’s dark and raining. They say ‘they will come back in 1 hour and if we are still there, they will take us back’.

We see a construction after they left. Instead of hitchhiking we want to camp there, but security don’t let us in. 10 minutes later BMW comes back. They will take us to dinner and put us in a hotel. We are quite thankful for it. I give them my e-mail address. I hope they will come to Turkey one day.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Entrance

Gergeti Trinity Church – Georgia, 2011

 

 

Georgia Gallery

Georgia

After planning our trip with Anıl, at last we were on the way. Drawing lines on a map and saying “we go there and there” is an easy job. Now it’s time to do this in  real world, not on a imaginary map.

   Before we left Bursa -our hometown- we made sign ‘Tokyo’ as it’s a well-known city and at the end of the continent. That sign worked pretty well on our journey. People were trying to read the sign and it was a surprising for them. Thanks to the sign we didn’t wait so much.
We didn’t have a map for Turkey and we weren’t quite sure about the road. That’s why we made some zigzags in Turkey and extended our trip until Samsun. We had almost 10 rides. It was night when we reach Samsun, instead of hitchhiking over-night we decided to sleep next to highway.

Next day on our way to Sarp (border) some people thought we were foreigners, some of them invite us for a tea, some gave us a bread. After slowing down by the teas and bread it was night when we reach Turkish-Georgian border (Sarp). There was a huge line for truck. Our driver had to wait 8 hours in this line. We left him and walked until the border. But we decided to camp at the coast next to border. After the sunrise which made our tent like a sauna we went to swim and we were ready for Georgia.

It took us some minutes to cross the border. We asked about the Georgian-Russian border, whether it was open or not for Turkish citizens. Border-guards said ‘it was open’. After hearing many times border was open only for CIS citizens, it was a kind of relief to hear this from an official. After the border we reach Batumi with a nice car. Weather was so hot and humid all the time, also in Batumi. That’s why we didn’t  stay there and left for Tbilisi with a hope it wouldn’t be so humid. As it was weekend many people go to Batumi to swim, because of that there was a huge traffic-jam until Tbilisi. Even the Batumi-Tbilisi road is the best road in Georgia is still has to be better.Georgian drivers can drive quite crazy by the way.
Most of the Georgian’s are proud of their hospitality and it’s great hospitality when you visit villages. But we couldn’t find this hospitality in the couchsurfing Tbilisi group and end up on a hillside of Tbilisi. We had a quite nice view, even the richest Georgian don’t have. But we wake up in a sauna again thanks to the sun. It was time to go to mountains to find the cooler weather. Luckily we found a quite nice jeep which was going to Kazbegi -our destination near the Russian border.
Our driver stopped in some places like Ananuri.

In Georgia you can see many christian crosses on the hills. But Georgian cross is a little bit different. If you like to read history of it and see how it’s look like, here we go…

We have seen many structure’s from soviet times, roads, tunnels and statues are still in use, but in bad condition. This was one of them.
After the soviet union corruptions was everywhere in Georgia. That’s why Georgia couldn’t move forward, but I believe Georgia deserves better. Caucasus is just great, tourism can work pretty-well there. But this tourism will also destroy the culture slowly. Now you can see many constructions, especially in Batumi. Many casinos popping-up there. Many people from Turkey are visiting Batumi just for casinos. For my selfish reasons as a traveler I wouldn’t like to see tourism anywhere, but Georgia can use tourism and its money for better life standards.
Even the Kazbegi was one of the touristy place to visit in Georgia, no-one bothered us when we camped in a park. In a touristy places in Turkey, many times we’ve been kicked out by local quest house owners who didn’t want free-loaders or let’s say they tried to kick us out. 🙂
 We had a really nice camping place in a forestry park, some nice people from Belarus and Poland have joined us for a cup of tea. Next day we hiked up to Gergeti Trinity church on the

hill. We cursed Newton because of his discovery of Gravity. 🙂 our backpacks were getting heavier with every steps we took. But we reached the our nice camping place. Probably Kazbegi is quite famous in Poland. Because more than

15 people from Poland has joined us in the camping place and we were the only turkish people. As we were from Turkey we made a turkish tea and played tavla even there. 🙂

Next day we hiked near the Gergeti glacier, we didn’t go so close. It was the day to move to Russia.

 But long story short we couldn’t manage to cross the border. Turkish citizens don’t need visa for Russia, but we faced the truth… all the borders in Caucasus is open only for CIS citizens, not for us. It was really disappointing for us. Then we  went back to Tbilisi same day. We visited some consulates and searched about other options to get in Russia. There are ferries from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan, but on the internet we found the prices 200 Dollars which was quite much for us, also we would need visa for Azerbaijan and we didn’t really feel like waiting for visa in Tbilisi for 5 days.
Other option could be Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan and then Russia. But we found out Turkmen visa is really hard to get and can be expensive as well. After this disappointing infos we started to travel without knowing where we are going. We hitchhiked the cars wherever they are going, first day we ended up Mtskheta and attacked by the ants in our camping place. Then we move to west, maybe we could find some boats from Turkey to Russia, but again it wasn’t so cheap.
 There are cheaper boats to Ukraine, we thought about going there. But we would need visa for it. At last we ended up in our hometown Bursa. After searching the options for Russia, the best one was flying to Krasnodar. So we booked our flight and waiting for it here in Turkey.
We failed as a hitchhiker, hopefully it will be the first and last one. Now we are making better researches four our trip, not to face similar problems.
Ünsal

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