I set off early in the morning form Armenia. Actually, Juanita insisted that I stay because it was January 15th, 2020 my 41st birthday. I could stay and we could celebrate together but I wanted to turn 41 on the road.
At the exit of Armenia, there is a very nice route for mountain bikes to Salento. It was the best option to follow this route for 30 km and reach the town. Because only mountain bike riders use the road. There are also a few farmhouses on this road. However, while on the road, a vehicle belonging to these places did not pass. The road was covered with trees and filled with various bird sounds. So, I thought I’d shoot a video or two with the drone. I prepared the drone, flew it, and sent it a little forward. A team came from the back where I was going to shoot a full video, I heard their voices. When I look back, 3 men and a woman, they are a little older. From this route, they head towards Salento. How nice, finding like-minded friends and pedaling on such routes at this age. The group stops just as it passes me. They looked at the bike and the loads and said a thing or two. Just when the man in the back was about to come and say something;
-Gurkan Genc? I don’t believe my eyes, you are really Gurkan!
With a confused expression;
Both me and his friends were astonished at the old man’s shouting response. I think the guy is following me on social media or something. I started to look at the man’s face carefully, after looking for a while it started to look familiar, wonder where do we meet? I tried to visualize the past years very quickly, but the archive is very large. I’ve seen this man somewhere before, but where?
-6 years ago you saw my bicycle and came next to me in a small town south of Barcelona. You had other friend with you. We sat in a restaurant and dined together. You had paid my meal Gurkan. I never forget that day!
When I told the story, the photos came to life in my brain. The moment we lived in the past flashed before my eyes…
Unbelievable, we met in the south of Barcelona on January 15, 2014. There were Funda Ulutürk and Enes Şensoy, with whom I pedaled together. In fact, he had put his phone on charge at the restaurant where we had dinner with Funda Fernando that day, and then forgot the phone there. We had traveled 50 km in the afternoon and came to a small town. That’s right there Funda “Alas, I forgot the phone at the place where we had lunch.” said. Who will go back another 50 km. Funda and Enes were waiting in the town we arrived, so I went back 50 km by train, picked up the phone, and then continued on our way. The reason he forgot the phone was because the conversation with Fernando was very good.
I met many people on the European continent who toured with their bicycles, and I had a conversation with almost all of them, even if it was just two words. In this town where we stopped for lunch, we saw a touring bike in front of a small business, went inside and met Fernando. Fernando, in his 60s, was a Spanish citizen, traveling on the pilgrimage routes in his country, working in churches and doing missionary work for them.
When you say pilgrimage paths, a memory comes to mind that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Our story with Thomas, who invited me to his home in England. He had also made the pilgrimage routes to Italy from England by bicycle. He also invited me to his presentation to lecturers on the subject at Durham University. What a day it was! I shared my thoughts on the pilgrimage routes in front of the professors, they stood up and applauded. You don’t expect praise or appreciation for what you’ve done and experienced, but there comes a time when it makes you happy to be supported and appreciated.
-Gurkan, I can’t believe you’re still traveling and on the way. I’ve read all your memories, you’re great.
-Did you read all the memoirs on my website? (I have a hard time getting Turks to read what I wrote)
-Yes, yes, we are going to Salento now. We will wait for you at the entrance of the town. We eat together. But this time the food is on me.
We agreed with a smile. When they started to pedal, he started to tell his friends how I rescued a woman who had fallen into the snow, one of my memories of the road in Ukraine. I listened to him with amazement. Wow. While they were on their way, I flew around looking left and right until the drone’s batteries were dead. Then we caught this group before we entered Salento and went to a restaurant. We talked about everything from South America to Europe, from the economic situation of countries to the future, from branch to branch. There were 4 people in front of me with amazing life experiences. It is a pleasure to listen to them and spend time with them. When it was time to leave, we stopped in the town square and took a photo and hugged each other.
-Gurkan, you are aware that you have encouraged many people with your actions. Don’t stop until you make your dream come true. Keep showing people the beauty, I’m following you.
I was just going to say something when 3 young friends in the square came to me and said;
-Excuse me, are you Turkish cyclist Gürkan Genç?
-Yes it is me.
-Unbelievable! My name is Oscar, I heard from Finnish Taneli, the touring cyclist you pedaled with, from Spanish Javier, from English Nicolas and many more touring cyclists. You are here in Salento now. Please if you’re going to stay here, my home is your home, you can stay with me as my guest.
With my mouth hanging open, I marveled at the moment I lived and thought how well I turned 41. Fernando touched my shoulder and hugged me:
-As I said, Gürkan, you gave encouragement to many people, and you continue to do so. We will meet again one day, until then take care of yourself.
After a long hug and smiles, we part ways. Oscar and his friends had gone grocery shopping. Since I was going to stay with them and we’re going to the market, I bought the supplies for lunch and dinner. Oscar and his friends are mountain guides on the Cocora Valley and Paramo road in Salento. Things are not bad at the moment as it is the full tourist season. All of them live in the city of Armenia.
-Gurkan Where did you stay in Armenia?
-There is Juanita, who toured the world with her bike, you know, she hosted in her house.
-Yes, I know well. My ex-girlfriend. We were together before he started his journey.
-No more hahah.
The world is small, I learned that on the way. Stay at the girl’s house, then go stay at your ex-boyfriend’s house in the next town.
The reasons why Salento is a well-known town around the world are the coffee plantations around it and the Cocora Valley. In this valley there is a tree called Crexlyon Quindiunse. They are very similar in appearance to the palm trees we know. The difference is that the trunks are thin and very long, the leaves are also slightly different, but at first glance it can be said that “Oh, palm tree”. These trees are seen at 2,000 meters and above sea level. While it can be seen scattered in the land in the north of Peru, there are forests with just these trees in Colombia.
One of those is Cocora Valley. This area was declared a national park by the Colombian government in the 1970s, but until then, trees were used. Beeswax is obtained from these trees, and it is used in many areas of industry, especially candles. Those who came to the region for this job, of course, also established agricultural lands.
As the agricultural lands increased, the habitat of the area also changed, and the trees began to gradually disappear and die. Oscar said one day, “Let’s go up the mountain and make the Paramo Road, and you’ll see the glacier.” This glacier had been there for millions of years and was now melting very quickly. Surprised? Of course no. Keep burning fragrant candles, then. J right now my body is very tired and I don’t want to go for a 4-day walk. Even the bike tour through Salento into the Cocora Valley is growing in my eyes. Maybe I will come to this side once more during my stay in Bogota. For two days, we chatted and hung out in the city with Oscar and his friends. I set out the next day. There was a land route through Salento that went to Bogotá, not towards the Cocora Valley, but in the same direction. It was said to be quite difficult. The reason was that it was a monolithic climb of 2,000 meters on the terrain. I set off late, as the morning conversation was long at Oscar’s house. I looked at the area I was going to climb on the GPS. 2.000 meters on a dirt road does not end in this day. I better take this road, go a little further, camp somewhere outside the town and set off early tomorrow morning.
I came out of Salento, looking left and right, and the climb started as soon as I got out. Turn one, turn two… Wow, what a view, I saw here a very beautiful establishment overlooking this view. I wonder if they’ll let me stay in their garden? I entered the place and a german shepherd greeted me:
-Hi Orti, how are you?
It’s obvious if the owner says attack, it bites. I looked at a view like this. Wow this is an ultra-luxurious place, its certain name is Gran Azul Salento. I may not be allowed to stay, but let me ask anyway. After a call, a young girl came in. When I said that my Spanish is not good, she immediately started to speak English. Of course she’s Venezuelan
-Hello, I’m touring around the world on my bike, now riding towards Alaska. How much does it cost one night stay?
-Wow super! How long will it take to arrive in Alaska?
-I don’t know yet, hahaha.
-One night costs 80 USD.
-Oo to much for me but its worth for this place. The garden is very nice, well may I be allowed to set up my tent at a corner of this garden?
-The owner of this place is Christina. I call her, she may allow you to stay..
-Is she Colombian?
-No Spanish from Barcelona.
So let’s wait a bit. Indeed, the view is very beautiful, the campus is also very beautiful. I’m sure the rooms are also very good. The girl picked up the phone, after a little talk she handed me the phone and said that Christina wanted to talk to me:
-Maria said you are traveling around the world on bike, is it true?
-My name is Gürkan, I have been traveling the world since 2012. I can even say that I came here from Barcelona by bike. If you have permission, can you let me set up a tent in your hotel for just one night? I’ll pay whatever the price is for the tent.
I’ll be there in 30 minutes, if you have time, I’d appreciate it if you’d wait for me. I would like to meet.
-Of course, I’m waiting to see you.
Maria showed me the area until Christina arrived. Wow, that’s really good! I couldn’t help but think that it would be great if I lay around for a few days. Maria left the country before Venezuelan internal affairs intervened. Currently living and working illegally in Colombia. She went to Colombia as soon as she finished university, she didn’t come back afterwards. Colombia was the country where I was asked the most when I was on the road in South America. It is not easy to live illegally in this country. Where would it be easy? If you get sick, if something happens to you, if you get involved, the situation can become more and more interesting.
Here’s Christina, a pretty woman in her 50s with white wavy hair. Next to her is a 7-year-old blond girl.
-Hi, Gurkan. Wowwww is that the bike? Are you coming here from Barcelona on this bike?
-Hi, Christina. Yes, it took a while, but here I am.
-Which way is the journey?
I’m on my way to Alaska.
There was a moment of silence, she looked at the bike, then turned back to me.
-You don’t need to set up a tent, one of the rooms is available, you can stay there.
-But it is too high for me.
-We’ll handle it, don’t worry, you settle in for now. You’re hungry, I’ll prepare a meal, let’s eat together.
Maria showed me my room. Amazing! The sun is setting directly across from my view. A place like this came as a surprise while hoping to stay in a tent.
After I unpack my things, I go to them to have lunch together. There are many beautiful photos hung on the walls in the place. When I said that the photos were beautiful, Christina, who took it, began to tell her story.
She and her husband, Jordi, quit their job in Spain, bought a yacht and started traveling the world. When they arrived in the Caribbean Islands, Christina became pregnant. After their daughter Gina was born, they continued to tour with their boats in South America and Central America. But one day, Gina said, “I want to go to school”. Jordi and Christina sold their yacht and built this beautiful place in Salento, Colombia. Gina started going to the town’s school. But their dream trip around the world was interrupted. Jordi and Christina ended their relationship and started living a life like this. 6 months Jordi spends time with their daughter Gina in Salento, meanwhile Christina continues to travel the world; For the next 6 months, Christina stays in Salento, runs the hotel, spends time with their daughter Gina, and Jordi travels the world. Wow what a lifestyle. (There are lifestyles that I am also amazed by, especially traveling with children like this)
When I gave the photos and videos of the place taken with the drone to Christina, the following offer came from her; “Rest in the room as long as you want, go whenever you feel like going. You don’t have to pay any fees, Gürkan. I more or less understand what kind of life you live…” While saying this, I saw that look in her eyes for the last time in Maral. Cahilcesaret.org Uğur and Maral had set off from Istanbul with their boats. I visited them in the Moroccan port of Mohammedia in February 2014. In November 2017, we met again in the capital of Argentina in South America. When I saw Uğur and Maral again 3 years later at a train station outside the center of Buenos Aires, I will never forget the look in Maral’s eyes, my eyes filled with tears while hugging them. We didn’t need to talk, we didn’t need to tell what we were going through. I saw this look in Funda Ulutürk, Enes Şensoy, Terry and Elena, Nora and Benjamin, Gauter and Nathan, and Elif Üzer, where I toured by bike. Christina’s offer was sincere and a great offer for me and I sat in front of that view for 3 days and watched the nature. I even went to the Cocora Valley on my bike while I was staying here and resting.
I watched the trees from the other side of the fence from the outside before entering the area that was paid for. Good thing I did, because when I set off, I realized that there were much more beautiful views on the other side of the valley, but there was no tourism on that road because the road to Salento was broken. However, the scenery was much more beautiful than the Cocora Valley.
After resting, it was really difficult to set off again, to leave this area. Christina was also surprised, she guessed that I would stay for at least 1 week, but there are many more places to see in Colombia. We made an agreement with Christina to meet again in North America in the coming years. Let’s see if we can make our dreams come true?
Before we hit the road, there was a skew in the bike frame that shouldn’t have happened. This frame was produced 9 years ago. It was kept in a warehouse until it was shipped to Santiago, Chile. Then it was an incredibly difficult road in the Atacama Desert in South America, in the lakes region of Bolivia, in Peru at 5,000 meters in the Andes, in Ecuador and Colombia. In this adventure, I realized that; As technology changes, it is beneficial to make some changes in the frame, as you change the mechanism of the bike. I had a few other experiences with the staff. In the future, I will definitely produce a bicycle frame with my signature on it, I will write it here.
It is 420 kilometers to Bogota, the capital of Colombia, no problem. I will cross this mountain road, where have I passed with this bike. As I said above, there are actually much more of the Crexlyon Quindiunse trees that people go to see in the Salento Cocora Valley in the valley next to it. I reached the village of Toche via a very bad road that climbs 1,800 meters in 39 kilometers. Once I reached the summit, I asked if I should sleep here, but then I said that the village is already small, I will find a place to pitch a tent and I let it go. The first thing I did when I got to the village was to find a market. It was a little dark for cooking and I needed to fill my stomach before pitching the tent or looking for a place. I just bought something from the market, I turn around, two blonde types are looking at me with a smile. I can’t speak with my mouth full, but after looking at each other for a while, we said hello. Tadi (female) and Mike are two travelers from Canada, the first 30 minutes of the conversation, I didn’t understand whether it was from the altitude or because I was tired, that these two friends came there by bike. They talk about the route, the climb, the slope or something; They talk, I listen and eat. Head still not working. When they talk about the food they carry and so on, and I feel a little bit myself, I say, “Are you traveling by bike?” I asked the question.
They started laughing, said “Come, there is a very cheap place” and took me to the place where they were staying. Also, dinner was being served. Friend, what I ate, but not like that. After dinner, we sat on the patio. The altitude was approximately 3,100 meters and the air was cool. The tea and conversation we had warmed the atmosphere. I started to examine the bikes that were right in front of me. Both bikes had 29 frame hydraulic disc brakes. Mirror arm and chain ratios were different. Mike rode a gravel-style bike, a cross-country version of racing bikes. These gravels are bikes where only 1.75 inch tires can be mounted and the gear system is changed, without making much changes in the form, that is, in the frame, in order to go faster on the field. For example, this bike had the GRX gear system developed by Shimano for gravel bikes. A facelift of Shimano Deore, the beginning of the professional series in mountain bikes. In Tadi, on the other hand, there was a beast that consisted entirely of a purebred Shimano XT set. It was mounted on the front wheel from the last dynamo that I also used. While Tedi had turned his mountain bike completely into a bikepacking style, Mike fitted a trunk in the back and placed much smaller bags than my front bags to the left and right of this trunk. I asked them if they were generally satisfied with their bikes. Tadi said she was directly in love with her bike. The bike looked perfect to me. Mike added that he is happy with his bike, but that such a journey is more enjoyable with a bike like Tadi’s. Previously, I had come across cyclists traveling with 29 squads of bicycles. All of them changed from 26 to 29 with the development of technology and they said that traveling with these bikes gained a whole new dimension. I used Nacho’s bike that I pedaled with in Ecuador. The technology I’m talking about here is not just bicycle technology. Electronic devices have shrunk, clothes have become more functional and take less space, bag technology has improved and we have started to place items in different parts of the bike, and the situation has become much more organized and compact. When the bike got lighter, disc brake became more useful, besides, disc brake pads and discs were diversified and changed. Ease of use has increased and it has become easier to find products from the market. As such, it made a lot of sense to move to 29 squads. In short, we sat and chatted on the veranda for a long time, and then everyone retired to their rooms. I was alone in a small room for $5. Wow, I’m glad I didn’t stay in the tent at the top of the mountain, good conversation returned and I finished the day by learning something again.
I had 50 kilometers left before I hit the asphalt. The rough road was indeed causing serious stress at every connection point of the bike. The front trunk, which I designed myself, became an unbreakable trunk after the renovation in Lima, but it became heavy. The luggage I will produce will be much, much better in the future, this is one of my dreams, let’s see when I will do it.
I arrive at a town when I take the highway. The town is very lively and there are so many road bikers… What is this? I thought there was a race or something. While I was standing next to a group and eating something, I learned that it is Sunday and everyone from the city of Ibeque comes here to practice. Ibeque is a city that was in a hole at 800 meters, and now that we are at 3,200 meters, folks were climbing this town for their weekend practice. A solid climb on a 2400-meter asphalt road. This time I was going down and I saw thousands of cyclists on the road to Ibeque. I even entered the city with two cyclists. They escorted me to the fire station where I planned to stay in the city. I went on the bike path to the front of the fire station in 15 kilometers in the city and told the fireman at the door where I came from and what I was doing. Firefighter Carlos immediately showed me a safe place to pitch my tent, showed me where the shower was and gave me the wifi password. They have hosted many cyclists before.
The next day, while leaving the city, I went on the bike path for a long time. I said once, did these guys build a bike path all the way to Bogota? It’s not impossible, I was very surprised by the number of road cyclists yesterday. There was no cycle path all the way to the capital, Bogota, but most of the road had “Beware of Cyclist” signs. They have reserved the area we know as the safety lane for cyclists. Isn’t that area mostly empty anyway? Why should it be idle so that our cyclists should use that one. Let’s remind those who drive, with the signs we put up every 500 meters, and let them engrave it in their brains.
This is the message these signs convey briefly. You left your house in the city of Bogota and when you go about 80 kilometers to the south, you descend from 3,200 meters to 800 meters. You’re 80 kilometers away from home. You ate lunch (which pro cyclists don’t do), you climb 80 km like a monolithic for 2,400 meters in one go, and there is a bicycle sign on the right all the way through. Well, the Tour de France champion and the best climbing cyclists are not going to come from another country. I am doing exactly this climbing; Secretary Yeşim is calling from our Turkish Embassy,
“We see your location on your page, Mr. Gurkan, what time do you plan to reach the embassy?” I hit the road early in the morning, I said, this climb blocked us. I said I could come in the afternoon and continued. As I said, it happened; I entered Bogota in the afternoon and the bike path started when I entered. I continued on this road until the 5th parallel of the street where the Turkish embassy is located. After the bike paths I saw in other cities I passed in Colombia, this did not come as a surprise. But until I went to the embassy, I saw a couple of accidents at the bike path intersections. I had to shout a couple of times at pedestrians too. There is a lot of use of bicycles, so there is the road, but there is also a strangeness!
Anyway, I’m here for a while, in time I understand what’s going on. I will be a guest at our embassy for a day or two. One street away from our embassy, I stop and change my clothes in the parking lot of an apartment building, and people on the street look at what I’m doing. I don’t know if our Ambassador Ms. Ece is there or not, if we ever meet, at least I will clean my head a little so that I don’t smell. When I arrive at the embassy, the foreign security guards working at the gate inform me of my arrival. It will be our 47th Embassy, which I have seen in detail in my 10-year travel life. According to our diplomats, none of our diplomats, Ambassadors and Ministers of Foreign Affairs have ever seen a Turkish mission as much as I have in the history of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we can add ministers, deputies, prime ministers and presidents to this. At the end of this trip, I plan to produce a work specifically about our Turkish Embassies. Our Ambassador is told that I have arrived at the embassy, and I also meet with him and our diplomats. Thankfully, I’m allowed to stay at the embassy for a day or two. 2 storey detached house. It’s an old building tucked away between big buildings, but it looks nice. With its few personnel and diplomats, Turkish citizens in the country are assisted.
By the way, when I first arrived on the continent, Hamdi, who lives in Colombia, sent a message, but it had been 3 years. My friend Umut, who lives in Argentina, was also his friend and he texted me; “Gürkan, Hamdi was waiting for you, welcome him, send him a message.” I also sent a message. Hamdi was already following at that time:
-Dude, why stay at the embassy. There is a house, come on, let’s stay together here, I’m staying alone.
-Thank you, I’ll spend the day at the embassy and then I’ll come. I wasn’t going to stay here long anyway.
Normally, our ambassadors have always allowed me to stay in the embassy building as long as I want. But something interesting happened at the Colombian embassy in Bogota. Payments to the embassy were cut, and there was no security or staff left at the embassy. He was also working during the day as only one security attaché was sent from Turkey. At 19:00, the embassy is closed completely and it is forbidden to enter the building. In other words, I cannot go out of the building as I cannot enter the kitchen to cook. I was allowed to stay in the small room outside the building. There was no such thing as cooking or going out in an emergency. That’s why I stayed here for just one or two nights and then I was looking for a hostel, but Hamdi invited me to his house.
Hamdi works in Colombia. For years, he traveled the world by hitchhiking, then got a fixed job and started working. He also read my memories while traveling; “Brother, I also saw 50-odd countries, I traveled around. I’ve always liked your style of expression, you’re different, so I’ve always followed it.” Maybe the details I gave on my trips, even if they were small, were helpful.
-Brother, now that you’re here, let’s get to the point, I was waiting for you. I will buy a bike.
-I don’t know much about road bikes, but let me help as much as I know.
The bike we ordered from the USA was a Pinerello carbon bike equipped with Dura Ace equipment with disc brake dia2 (automatic transmission) option. I still didn’t have a bike. Kron Bicycle was going to send me a new bike, but the arrival date of this bike was also unknown. Moreover, the virus began to spread and disrupt production in the bicycle industry as in every other field. The new bike didn’t look like it was going to come right away. I wanted a road bike from Kron Bicycle from Turkey.
In the capital city of Colombia, everyone had a racing bike. I have never seen such a sight in the 62 countries I have visited. You know, we call wrestling the ancestor sport, here it is cycling and cycling. Neither Spain, nor France, nor South Africa, nor the Scandinavian countries, nor Chile, nor Japan, nor China; In no country is the bicycle used for sportive purposes in this way. I sincerely wish that people who have devoted themselves to cycling would ride their bikes in Bogota and Medelin. As the situation was like this, and after staying in the capital city of Colombia for a long time, I asked my cycling sponsor, Kron Bicycle, for one of the yo bike models they will sell in Turkey this summer. When my touring bike came, I was going to send it back again. This is a good move in terms of advertising and marketing. With the help of Cemal, the Bogota branch manager of Turkish Airlines, a bicycle was sent from Turkey. The important issue for me here was that a bicycle was sent to me in a city where I was without a bicycle, this is enough for me. I don’t care what set group it has on it.
The sent bike is the RC3000 aluminum racing bike with Sora set, which Kron put up for sale in 2019. When I changed from a 35 kg touring bike to such a bike, the effect on me was as if I was riding a high-end racing bike. It’s pretty fast and fast, I like the colors and the janjan. Normally I always like black and plain, it doesn’t matter if this is the case. Followers asked, “why didn’t they send you the best model road bike Kron R1 they have?” It’s smarter to reach everyone by sending a cheaper model than sending the most expensive one. As I said, after this bike came, we started 100 km tours with Hamdi, then Ali, who lives in Colombia, started to join us and we turned the weekends into a nice cycling activity.