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.