Monday, October 29, 2007
The van ride from Kars to Erzurum started out innocently enough. We got in a van at the travel agent’s front door. Chaotic weaving back into town and into and around the otogar, back through town picking up passengers all along the way. Finally, after what seemed like hours, we hit the open road and were on our way!
Twenty minutes later the police stopped us at a checkpoint at which we waited. And waited. In the front seat, what sounded like a receipt machine tolled for long minutes after which I though perhaps we’d be on our way. No such luck. After 30 minutes or so I decided to get out and walk around with a couple of the other men since it looked as though it would be a while until we got to moving again. It worked out well. I puttered around in the weeds out in the field checking out the mountains and scenery. Quite stunning. Just when I was losing myself in my surroundings, we were hustled back into the van and off we set.
The initial part of the drive retraced the drive into town, which meant that we got to revisit the canyons and valleys and gorgeous scenery that greeted us on the drive in. Still amazing 2 days later. Eventually we broke off into new territory and ended up in a town that looked to me like a high mountain town (“oh give me land lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in”). My reverie was rewarded with not only the vision of a passing Rossignol shop (not a mirage), but the sight of an old man standing on a street corner, in 85 degree heat, with a pair of skis! Bliss overtook my vision and I had to wipe away tears. Which granted, may have been caused by the overpowering stench of my feet, but it was moving nonetheless. Once our careening around town ended, we shot off into the evening with famished driver and passengers (Ramadan was in full effect). Signs for a ski area taunted and beckoned me as we left town, and I made a note in my travel guide to return. Oh yes. Return I shall.
Sounds like a full day, eh? It was still early. After many more hours of “erratic” driving (I put erratic in quotes because while it may be erratic in some venues, here it was standard) we finally arrived in Erzurum. And boy, were drivers (ours included) cranky! Our arrival preceded the end of the day’s fast by about 10 minutes, so all people on the road were rushing to get home, our driver included. Horns blared, the driving got jerkier, but the best part was our arrival into the otogar. As soon as we pulled through the gate our driver stopped driving. No joke. We still had perhaps 200 yards to go, but he was done. Without slowing he barreled through the lot, came within literally inches of running some kid down (eliciting the first entire vehicle horrified reaction of the trip; the kid just laughed and leapt aside) and slammed us to a stop. I giggled for some reason, while Steph and Justin tried to hold back their sobs.
And we’re not done yet. Inside Justin arranged for a bus ride the next day (our day of parting. *sigh*) and then we checked around for a dolmuc into town. Nothing doing, so we set off to walk the mile or so into town. As we passed beneath the gates of the otogar, the cannons rang marking the end of the fast. People around us lit up cigarettes, took long draughts of water and pulled out food. We walked on. And stopped shortly thereafter at a convenience store and interrupted the proprietor’s meal so that we could get some juice and crackers to sustain us the rest of our way.
Next door to the convenience store? A ski shop!! I was so excited that I had Steph take a picture of me jumping for joy in front of it (I wonder what happened to that pic?). Thus ended the fun, and the slog began. It wasn’t that bad really. We trudged into town, walked right up to the hotel we wanted (yes!) and the sarcastic entertaining man at the desk gladly paused his gorging to give us a room for the night. Deeply satisfied, we dropped our bags, removed our wretched shoes and socks, laid down on the beds, and realized how hungry and thirsty we were. Back up and out the door we went.
Dinner was stellar. Had the best soup ever (due to its quality or our hunger we’ll never know); so good that even Justin considered ordering seconds! Duly satisfied we headed off to scrounge up some beer to celebrate our last night together.
An hour and a half later we stumbled into a tea garden to have tea and listen to the live band. Odd how in one of the more conservative larger towns in eastern Turkey (according to the LP), during Ramadan, we could not find beer anywhere. And trust me, we looked. No worries, the tea was hot and tasty and it was a good end to our travels together.
The next morning, Justin escorted us to the train station where we caught a bus to the airport. Some English speaking Turk chatted us up as we waited (very nice guy) to go through security and then we boarded for a very nice and easy (e.g.-no police or military checkpoints, no unscheduled stops, climate controlled) flight back to Istanbul.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
For those not in the know, I have made a big step forward in life.
After some deliberation, much prodding, and a smattering of guilt at self-purported hypocrisy, I rid myself of my car. Actually, it's not been ridden yet, it's still in front of my house, but the papers have been sent off and I got the call yesterday for which I've been waiting. By the end of the coming week, the Gold Saturn should be gone from my life for good. A tad sad, as we've been through a lot. But it needed to be done. If one is going to promote a car-free lifestyle, one makes a much stronger case if one doesn't in fact own a car.
Not that I/we (carfreeportland.org) are promoting a dearth of cars on the planet, not at all. Just a reduced role for them to play in our lives. And I decided that it was time to pay the piper. To make that big leap. To...poop and get off the pot while eating my cake too.
I am now car-free!
To celebrate, I went out that afternoon and got myself a new ride. Not another car, but a companion bike for Seymour. A sexy black Raleigh single-speed/fixed-gear. She is the newest love of my life. In a manner of speaking.
Check her out. Ain't she fine?
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I think I've mentioned it, but I will do so again. Only this time, a picture accompanies. We drive right past Noah's Ark laden Mount Ararat. Beautiful huge and expensive as hell to climb. But quite cheap to pass on a small dolmuc.
Our call time at the taxi was 8:00am. Breakfast proceedings began at 7:30am (despite the onset of Ramadan having begun days previous) so I was down and ready to eat at 7:31 (gotta be fashionably late, ya know?). Tea bread cheese olives cucumbers and tomatoes, the standard Turkish breakfast fare. Added to the mix was some of the best honey I’ve ever had. Three different kinds! My over-carbed tummy ignored its own grumblings and down my gullet went quite the load of food. Sufficiently sated, Steph and Justin helped me waddle out to the waiting taxi.
Inside said taxi were the driver and a Slovenian couple. Steph jumped in the back seat with the couple and I grabbed the middle seat in the front. In case there is any question as to how large a car we were in, there was no actual middle seat. I had one cheek on the passenger side and my left side against the side of the driver’s chair. Not as comfortable as the recliner that still does not adorn my apartment, but not bad.
Cruising out of town our garrulous driver slowed as we passed a swap meet that would have made the FFA jealous. No slaughter scenes met our eyes before we’d passed by and barreled towards the ancient Armenian city of Ani, now mostly on the Turkish side of the border.
Our driver with his wonderful English filled us in on all things current eventish. The Iraq war? Bad and a huge mess (random-who doesn’t love the Top Gun soundtrack?). Armenia? Also a huge mess in a very similar way to Iraq, only the Russians were occupying their land, thanks in large part to….an oil pipeline! Crazy. This driver was erratic, of course (yes mom, I had not only my seat belt on but Justin’s and the driver’s as well. And I’d taken the seat belt from the middle in the back seat and tied it to my belt, just in case. And I had on a bike helmet and driving goggles and gloves), not only in his driving but in his speaking. Erratic speaking in that he talked about things taboo in most of Turkey. Such as the slaughter of Armenians. This he mentioned “very bad” on the heels of us having passed a monument memorializing the slaughter of Turks, by radical Armenians, an even “never mentioned”. A nutty course in current events, really. He had a lot to say about Armenia: Turks and Armenians have no beef (“look! My friends there are from Armenia!”), it was the governments that were beefing and at the behest of the Russians. His claim was that upon entering Armenia (no longer possible from Turkey) you are checked by Russian border guards before Armenians. Fascinating stuff.
Upon reaching Kars we stopped in a cloud of dust and dismounted. My right butt cheek would have been protesting but it had long since stopped feeling. Our driver gave us a quick history, mentioned a church we had to see, and then pointed us over to the ticket takers. We paid and entered through the massive gate. Which I felt impelled to climb. Successfully, I might add. Though Justin reached the top and taunted me from above with juicy grapes. He took the stairs I’d missed in my excitement at scrambling up 1000 year old ruined walls. Whatever.
Around we walked. Along the Armenian border, kept away from us by a simple fence. A simple fence that in places had holes gaping enough for foolhardy youths to venture through simply to be able to say: “I snuck into Armenia”. I tell you. If I hadn’t been around my friends would have gotten into SO much trouble! But I digress. Around we walked, past ruined buildings, half ruined buildings, grasses and stubbled walls. A very slight breeze blew down from the cloud dappled skies and the silence pervaded all. Except for the occasional rumbling from the quarry just across the main gorge.
Oh man. What a wondrous gorge! Beautiful and deep, rocky but strewn with vegetation, dropping down to a murky green river that flowed swiftly and silently, as though ignorant of its duties as the dividing line between two countries. After walking through an amazing 800 year-or-so old church with gorgeous paintings still upon its walls, I stumbled across a path that appeared to lead down towards the river. Overcoming my hesitations at approaching the border area I started down it, Steph following me (Justin was back in the church trying to figure out how to get out without stampeding over the German tourists that had invaded right before he was able to leave). Descending, I tried hard to ignore the shepherd whistling at us from across the way. Steph, polite as she is, held me up until the sheep had been herded downwards and our “savior” could come talk to us. His “tale” was that if we continued down there would be people asking for more money. But he would lead us around for 2 lira. We demurred and moved back uphill and to the next amazing old church (Steph snapped a gorgeous picture that I’ll have to put on here). While she and the newly resurgent Justin pittered about, I gave in to the stubborn “you can’t tell me what to do” voices in my head and began moving downhill in the general direction of where I was told not to go. I’d seen hints of a church on a finger out over the river and the remains of a large old stone bridge and wanted to get a closer look. Down I went, along no obvious path, passing old cave dwellings, old air ducts (one of which I almost fell into. Which would not have been ideal) and….hard to describe. Such history it boggles the mind. A stunning vista, but sight of many old battles. Across the river (not far now) I watched a small crowd form by the now looming guard tower on the Armenian side, but still I descended until I was perched on a small outcropping over the old bridge. Amazing. The old road could still be seen. Straight ahead was Armenia, to my right the river wound away out of sight and to my left….the “forbidden” church. Which way did I go? Guess quickly because I am going to tell you. Left. Across a steep crumbling slope with only sheep trails to afford footing, a growingly attentive crowd across the way and the voices urging me not to give in to some random “advice” giver. With only a short backward glance I passed by the road that led down to the river (see, I have some good sense! I didn’t even feint a move in that direction. Though I must admit that all this time I had to fight the urge to wave at the border guards to see whether or not they really were watching me. See below for more thoughts on this. I never waved. Way to go self-control!) and approached the church. What a location! Maybe I’d find God again if I had a place like that to worship! This church was poised on a small outcropping over the river with vistas up and down the river. Amazing. Seeing no one waiting inside I checked the place out and then hoofed it back uphill to catch up with the others.
Catching up to the others we mounted a hillside to an old fort, then walked around before making our way back to the front gate to make our allotted end time. We passed through more old ruins on the way and marveled at the scene. Even now my head reels at the history wafting through the air. Mind-blowing. Check it out. Really.
Yes, I may have some control/authority issues. But it turned out ok. No one was arrested or shot. And I fully exhaled once we completed the 45 minute drive back to town. But that is irrelevant.
Back at the hotel that night I re-read the section of the Lonely Planet that talked about Ani. According to the book there were some “out of bounds” areas to be avoided. Seems we, one of us more than the others, spent some time in those areas. (Like the entire area I spent wandering through partially to spite the “direction” of a shepherd. Oops. )