Today was definitely a day of 2 halves. Our first 10km followed the churning Curah river, exhibiting why it is one of the best white water rafting rivers in the world.
We then reached the point where the massive system of dams backed up and the river widened to a turquoise reservoir again, as we had seen before. The old road sank beneath the waters and we turned into our first tunnel. Having lost the old road, the road builders appear to have taken a direct approach and just blasted the road through the sheer walls of the mountains.
We passed through tunnel after tunnel, one leading almost directly into another and lasting a few hundred meters to a couple of km each time before glimpsing sun again.
The tunnels were well lit and we had full sets of lights. The worst thing for cyclists abut tunnels is the incredible noise reverberating round, Even a motor bike sounds like a combine harvester is descending upon you. Luckily the road at this stage was quiet and so mostly there were no vehicles or only one as we passed through each tunnel. It was like travelling through a massive engineering project. We read that there were more than 40 tunnels but towards the end there was evidence that we were going through new tunnels so over 70km there were probably 50 tunnels.
After about 30km we saw the first dam. Beyond there were signs of massive works still going on and we saw a digger perched precariously high on a steep hillside, digging out more tracks. We saw a bit more of the reservoir as the valley widened out more and saw the signs of half sunk villages, the practical result on peoples lives of these enormous projects.
There were sporadic bits of roadworks and evidence of yet more tunnels being built to speed the traffic along. By one workers compound we heard frantic barking and I was just thinking “I hope that dog is chained up” when it flew out of the gate. David had just gone past and as I veered round the dog with a completely instinctive burst of speed that would have made Usain Boult proud, the dog took a lunge at my trailer and I felt it topple over. I managed to stay upright and come to a halt and luckily the dog was so surprised it also came to a halt and although it kept barking it kept its distance. David got my trailer upright and we beat a hasty retreat. This is the only dog incident we have had on our trip so far. Of course the occasional dog has barked (our dogs still bark at the postman very day after all) but we have had no chasing or snarling. I was just so relieved it lunged at the trailer and not my leg or it might have been a different story.
Just before Artvin we saw the main dam – it was HUGE, an incredible engineering job. Having seen the beauty of the normal mountain river with its varied habitat I can see how these dam projects are complete heartbreak for environmentalists and have a lot of sympathy. But I can also see the incredible hydroelectric potential, which after all provides relatively clean energy, and realise I can’t consume energy without consequences. Strategically Turkey needs to be more self sufficient in energy and less reliant on its eastern neighbours in Russia and Iran so I can see why the die was cast in the way it was.
At Artvin we had done 70km by lunchtime. We pulled over to a cafe near the bus station which in spite of Ramadan was serving food and tea. We had a heavenly Tost (toasted sandwich) – the ‘special’ of the house – or rather we said yes to everything that could possiby go into a toastie (and more). It was delicious!
That set us up well for the second half of the day. The valley was much greener and full of trees – we were after all now down to an elevation of 200m. It was a warm cloudless day with bright blue sky. Before long the effects of the next dam were evident as the river again widened to reservoir. We were now on a much mainer road- a main route from the east to the black sea coast. The serface was good, which was a real treat. It should have been marvellous except that there was a ferocious headwind, the first of this holiday. At times the gusts almost brought us to a standstill. So the next 25km to Borcka was like constantly going up hill and very tiring.
We still reached Borcka in good time. Here our road left the Curah river and we had one last pass over the mountains to reach the Black Sea. That was to be done tomorrow but looking at the map we could see the road followed a smaller river so carried on out of town to look for a camping place by the river. Unfortunately the valley was narrow here and every slight flat piece of land was occupied by a building, or the road had been built up beside the river and we could not get down to the water. Km followed km and we were starting to wonder whether we would end up in the tent in a small layby!
A small picnic area came up with a tap. No where there but opposite was a small grassy track. David explored and as the track turned the corner it was flat enough to pitch a tent. No one seemed to have