September 29, 2004
Last night was Eric L's birthday; I was unaware. It wasn't until Kit made mention of it half-way through dinner that I knew. We ate at Tomoe. At six o'clock, the rain coming down hard, there was no line. By seven a line had formed, even in the rain.
After dinner we walked to Chinatown to find a bakery open and selling mooncakes. The rain soaked my shoes, washing the dust of Turkey off of them and into the sewers of New York. We shared a white lotus moon cake. Eric had a pineapple mooncake, Elisa red bean. We couldn't admire the moon for the clouds.
When I returned I had an email from Ian. He had taken photos of the moon and sent them around. And so, in my room in New York, listening to the rain, I sat and admired the moon in Vancouver.
September 28, 2004
New York culture shock
It's taken me longer to re-acclimate to New York than I expected. I hadn't been gone that long. When I arrived at the airport, I splurged and took a taxi home, avoiding the subway. For the next week I walked when I left the apartment. The city looked different. Restaurants had closed and opened. In Astor Place they had opened a Beard Papa and a Cold Stone Creamery. A building with a footprint reminiscent of a jelly bean had been erected in the old parking lot. Canteen had become a fish restaurant. I had only been gone three and a half weeks.
It wasn't until I took my first subway ride that I began to feel myself return to the city. It was as if the people around me suddenly became real. To that point I felt I had returned to a city alien to me, as if the people who had been living here had left and been replaced by others who lived in the fictionalized New York of T.V. and movies.
I had been back for a week.
September 27, 2004
Diyarbakir to the Hasenkeyf
We left Diyarbakir to head east towards Nemrut Dagi, taking a minibus from the southwest corner of the city. We drove to iverek where we changed buses for Kahta-bound bus, timed to coincide with a ferry crossing. The van dropped us off at the small village of Narince on the road to the summit. Ed attempted to call our guesthouse for a ride to Karadut, but no one was answering the phones. We sat by the side of the road drinking Cappy fruit juice as we watched tractors pass by.
Finally a tourist bus passed and stopped. The driver asked where we were staying and offered his own guesthouse at a discount. We told him we had a reservation, but he persisted. It didn't pay off. We told him we had decided to stay in our guesthouse; he shrugged and drove, singing to himself.
In Karadut we checked in and debated whether to visit the summit at sunset or sunrise. A woman appeared at the door and asked us if we'd be interested in accompanying them that evening to share the cost of a dolums. We thought about it and thought about the idea of getting up at four in the morning for the sunrise. We decided to ascend that afternoon.
At six thirty we piled into a van and began driving. The road wound around the mountains through small villages on good roads. Just past the ticket booth, the road deteriorated. Mining roads cut swaths over the hills, and as we climbed we could see them carved through the landscape. Soon we could see the ridge and the conical summit. Cars crept up, silhouetted against the sky.
Around 40 B.C., Antiochus I Epiphanes built two ledges atop Mt. Nemrut and erected statues of himself among a pantheon of Greek gods. He then ordered an artifical peak of crushed rock be built between them. The heads have since tumbled from the tops of the statues, leaving an image that brought Shelley to mind.
We climbed the gently sloping path up to the eastern terrace and looked at the heads piled in a row before their towering headless bodies. A platform had been cleared as a helicopter landing path. The sun was sinking behind the conical summit, and a wind made the air brisk. Walking around the northern edge, we walked into the sun to the western ledge. There, the bodies and heads were left more haphazardly, the arrangement more beautiful than the ordered look of the Eastern terrace. There are plans to reassmble the statues, but I hope they leave the Western terrace as it is. Tourist groups took pictures or lounged against the ruins outside of the enclosed area, waiting for the sun to set. We looked for the Isreali couple with whom we had shared the dolmus, but they were nowhere to be found.
As the sun set, the rock changed colors, from white to orange to slate. As the light faded, the groups returned to their buses. We lingered. The curator allowed a professional photographer and his art directer behind the protective barrier and they shot as the summit grew dark. The wind picked up and we walked back to the van.
The Isreali couple was waiting for us. They told us that they had come from Sanliurfa, where they had picked up a stomach bug. They had been sick for the past week. We told them that that was where we were headed. The guidebook warned against eating raw meat in Sanliurfa; in the desert heat it spoils rapidly. We took their condition as a word of caution.
In Sanliurfa, we got lost in the bazaar. Suddenly, north became west, and we couldn't find our way back to the hotel. We toured the Uli Camii and the State Art Gallery for the architecture of the building. The museum itself seemed to be in the midst of reinstallation.
The beauty of Sanliurfa rests in the southern tip of the city, where the Dergah complex of mosques and parks rest at the foot of a hill upon which the remains of the citadel is perched. We sat above the park and had tea to re-energize before attempting the climb to the citadel. The sun was setting, drawing shadows across the city. We paid our bill, walked through the park, then began the quick climb.
We stood between the pair of columns that stand sentry over the city. Dubbed the Throne of Nemrut, they are named after the supposed founder of Urfa. The views were spectacular. At seven, as the sun disappeared behind a hill, the gatekeeper signaled he was leaving and locking up the complex. We walked down and then toured the mosques. Beside the Mevlid-i Halil Camii, we spied the entrance to the Prophet Abraham's birth cave. Ducking our heads we walked into the humid enclosed space. A man insisted that we drink from the fountain; Ed and I each took the barest of sips. Once back in the outer courtyard, I turned to him and joked, "I hope that's not what the Isreali couple drank." I didn't then realize that that wasn't to be the end of our culinary adventures.
That night we returned to the Cardakli Kosk for dinner. We sat on the terrace with its unspoilt view of the Dergah complex. A Turkish band was playing, and the waiter placed us at a table right in front. The music was loud, the guests clapped along. A boy danced for tips.
We ate and listened and watched. When we were finished we asked for fruit for dessert. Suddenly waiters appeared with trays laden with desserts. A black square and a yellow triangle square to plates they placed upon each table. One, I recognized as a sweet I had had in Jordan. The yellow square was a cheese-based dessert drizzled in honey. I had no idea about the other. We tried the black square and found it savory and spicy. I was shocked. I tried another bite. In front of us, a man and a woman told us it was chikofte. We asked them what it was. She asked if we spoke German; we shook our heads. They searched for words, but merely repeated the name of the dish. We thanked them, and I left the rest of mine untouched.
The next morning Ed and I parted ways. He headed west to Gaziantep and the border crossing at Barak for Syria. He would spend the next seventeen hours on buses and cars en route to Amman, where the Egyptian cotton sheets of the Four Seasons awaited him. I went east towards Mardin and Hasankeyf.
Mardin is built along the side of a mountain overlooking the southern plans straight into Syria. I found a small hotel and wandered the bazaar and the main streets, ducking down side streets as the spirit moved me. That night I ate on a terrace overlooking the fields as the sun set, turning the yellow plains orange until only lights dotted the plains below.
The next morning I left for Hasankeyf. The bus dropped me off in the small town just before a bridge that spanned the Tigris. I checked into a hotel and then walked down to the banks of the river. Restaurants had set up huts on stilts by the riverbank. I hopped into one and ordered grilled fish, then took off my shoes to dangle them in the cold running water.
After lunch I climbed up to the ruins of the 14th century village clinging to the top of a gorge above the river. I looked down to where I ate lunch, at the base of the cliffs, and looking back I saw cave dwellings reminiscent of Cappadocia. Across the river, the Zeynel Bey Turbesi sat by a cotton field. That afternoon I would admire the turqoise-tiled tomb. Looking back to the east I could see the city and the ruins of the original bridge that was built across the river. A villager had turned one of the pylons of the bridge into a home. Laundry hung over his back porch.
If all goes well with the GAP project, the village is slated to be innundated with the completion of the Ilisu Dam. As I stood looking over the narrow river, I tried to imagine the fields and towns covered by a vast expanse of water and I remembered walking the streets of Feng Du, on the banks of the Yangtze River, now already under water. There, the signs of destruction were already pleasant, as signs noted the future water level months from when I was visiting. But in Hasenkeyf, the small town seemed not to notice the coming floods. In the afternoon, the two tea houses were crowded with guests. And at night, small groups gathered in front of televisions brought out onto the sidwalk, tuned to the news or to football games or to American movies, their backs turned towards their village.
September 21, 2004
Dogubeyazit to Diyarbakir
On returning to Dogubeyazit, speeches were being made in the square. Our driver had told us that a famous Kurdish singer was going to be singing as part of the two day celebrations being held in town. Police presence was high. We had lunch around the corner and listened as a children's choir sang and then a man with a stringed instrument. After dessert we returned to the hotel to grab our bags and made for the dolmuses to Van.
By the time we reached the city it was late afternoon. Set on the eastern banks of Lake Van, the city was once the Urartian capital. Once we arrived, we had a decision to make. We hoped to be able to spend two nights in Diyarbakir, and if we were to do so we would have to rush through the sights of Lake Van to do so, which means we'd be skipping the sites to the southeast of the city and the castle. We flipped through the guidebook and decided that we had already seen our fair share of castles and ruins and decided to leave the next morning to drive along the coast of Lake Van in hopes of reading Diyarbakir that evening. Our decision made, we took the rest of the day to walk around the shopping areas along the main street, shopped for sunglasses, and checked out various restaurants.
We woke early and hopped a bus headed west and asked them to let us off at the harbor for Akdamar. On the edge of town we passed a statue dedicated to the cats for which the city is known. Fluffy white, with different colored eyes (one blue and one yellow), the Van cat has become highly prized. Images of the cat adorn postcards and posters advertising the city.
On the shore of Lake Van, we waited by the harbor for a group of tourists to arrive so that we could share a boat to the island on which the Akdamar Kilisesi sits. Built in 921 by Gagik Artzruni, the King of Vaspurkan, the remnants of the church boast relief carvings considered to be among the masterworks of Armenian art.
A Turkish family soon arrived and we boarded a boat for the 20 minute ride. The day was clear, the sun beat down upon us as we sat atop the cabin for the best views. We toured the church and the island. A Frenchman who had arrived with us told us he was planning to swim. The family picnicked under a tree. A Turkish tour group arrived, and once they had finished wandering the island, we caught a boat back to shore with them. We ate sardines by the dock and then flagged down a passing bus to Tatvin, on the south-western corner of the lake.
There, we were stuck. Buses to Diyarbakir were booked solid until the next morning. We found a simple hotel off the main street that ran the length of the town and decided to spend the afternoon atop the nearby Mt. Nemrut, an extinct volcano.
The taxi crept up the slope to the crater's edge and then stopped to let us admire the view. The sun was setting and the rays shone golden on the landscape before us. Within the crater were a series of lakes, a large one which could yield fish the size of men, a hot lake fueled by thermal activity beneath the surface, and a cool lake. We climbed back into the taxi and the driver slowly eased us into the crater. He stopped at various locations to let us feel the heat eminating from the earth or admire the views. The sun crept below the crater's lip and the temperature dropped quickly. Ed said he had never before been in the crater of a volcano and was fascinated by the ecosystem contained therein.
We crept back into the sun and then zoomed back down the mountain. The sun continued setting and by the time we were back in town it was dark. We walked along the road to the edge of town and then headed back towards our hotel, stopping to eat at a pide restaurant. We sat in a small courtyard in front of the restaurant near a hotel. The waiter seemed excited to see us, beaming as he brought us our food.
Our bus left at nine the next morning for Diyarbakir. We ate breakfast in a small restaurant by our hotel and then boarded a van which took us to the bus station just outside of town. The ride was uneventful. Arriving in Diyarbakir, another van took us just inside the basalt walls of the old city. The driver pointed to a hotel a few meters away. We thanked him and shouldered our packs. Ed had made a reservation at the Otel Buyuk Kervansaray and we walked the length of the city to get there, past shops and mosques and markets and bus stations.
We arrived to find a beautifully renovated Ottoman style building, with rooms set around an expansive courtyard. A woman checked us in and told us that all their amenities were available 24 hours. The pool, the hammam, the restaurant. Except during weddings, since it would be odd if people were swimming during the festivities. We thanked her and after checking in availed ourselves to the kitchen before heading out to explore the old city.
First we went south to climb the ramparts for the view over the surrounding fields and back over the city. Satellite dishes dotted the rooftops. We followed the walls to the southeastern corner of the city before climbing down and ducked into the small alleyways searching for various mosques and old houses, dodging the children who seemed to attach themselves to Ed around every corner. "Hello!" "Hello!" By the time we found the Ulu Camii we were ready to call it a day. We sat in the expansive courtyard flanked by intricately carved columns, soaking up the atmosphere.
Back on the main streets we walked to the northern edge of the city. Passing a barbershop, I asked Ed if he still wanted to get his haircut. He asked if I minded, and I told him I'd take a nap in the shop and avail myself to some cay. The barber was a university student, excited to have foreign guests. I sipped tea and settled into a chair while the man cut Ed's hair. There were constant distractions as friends called or visited. The cut took longer than expected, but he did a good job. Ed was pleased, and we left as the sun was beginning to set.
Back at the hotel, we went for a swim under the stars and then walked into the hamam. Just as we were wondering where to find the soap, Hasan appeared and proceeded to wash and massage us. After trekking and the past few days of constant travel it was good to lie on a hot marble slab and let someone wash my body. Afterwards, as we sat in the courtyard lingering over our dinner, Ed joked that for us, visiting Diyarbakir was all about the Kervansaray hotel. I laughed and agreed. After the exhausting past two weeks, it was about all I was able to enjoy.
September 20, 2004
Kars to Dogubeyazit
The rain abated as soon as we finished lunch. Back at the hotel we asked about buses to Igdir. We were en route to Dogubeyazit, but there was no direct service. The manager made some phone calls and told us the last bus was leaving at 3pm. It was 2:57. They told us that after leaving the station, the bus was still to make its rounds through the city and we could still catch it on the outskirts of town by the sugar factory. A valet rushed us to a nearby taxi stand where he communicated our urgency to the driver. He turned on the meter and stepped on it.
We stood on either side of the road. A drizzle had started up. We were skeptical about the bus so we flagged down every passing vehicle. A taxi offered to drive us for $100US. A truck offered to give us a lift. Finally, at 3:25 the bus arrived. The passengers laughed at our predicament. We settled into the back seat and shared the ipod.
In Igdir a boy directed us (incorrectly) to the dolmus stand for buses to Dogubeyazit. A van finally gave us a lift to where it stood, beside the town mosque. The town was small, and walking from one end to another wouldn't have taken very long. We waited for critical mass. The driver smoked a cigarette while his passengers waited around the lot. I bought snacks from a nearby store. The sun began to set, and a man shuttered the small office and went home. Ed and I talked about our travel plans and I stepped into the van to check the guidebook. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity as the driver collected fares and people clambored aboard. We left Igdir as night fell.
Mt. Ararat loomed off to our left as we drove the darkened streets. Near Dogubeyazit the van was halted at a checkpoint. We waited as they checked our I.D.'s. Ed told me a story about his London training sessions with respect to checkpoints that ended with one journalist making a critical mistake during simulations.
We checked into a hotel on a darkened street. Walking back to the main street we searched for dinner, finding a pide place and a patisserie. In the main square a crowd had collected. A screen had been set up and a film was being projected from a VCD player. It was set in Europe during a war, but we were unable to decipher much more. We caught the last few minutes before they switched to a promotional film about the area. After that it was over. We ate dinner and then dessert and went home.
The next morning we took a cab to the Ishak Pasha Palace, an 18th century mosque/palace perched on a hill overlooking the city. The Kurdish cab driver talked about the relations between the Turks and Kurds and how it had relaxed somewhat in recent years. He talked about the Armenian situation and his grandfather's stories about the war.
When we reached the palace, we tried the doors. It was locked. The driver moaned. "I forgot. Closed on Mondays." He wasn't the only one as various cars came and went and Turkish families rattled the chain securing the entrance. We looked for a caretaker with a key to bribe, but there were none. We climbed a nearby hill to look down into the palace and cursed our luck. We then toured the nearby mosque and the tomb of Kurdish writer Ahmedi Hani before heading back to town.
September 19, 2004
Olgunlar to Ani
We took a dolmus (a minivan) down from Olgunlar, following the Barhal river. We had been following the river almost from its source, winding its way down the mountains from the glacial peaks we had ascended. The water flowed through a gorge and the road snaked along beside it.
Reaching a small village, the driver left the van and climbed to the topmost house. He said that there were 9 families that lived there during the summer, but only two during the winter. He sat up on a verandah and had tea. Returning half an hour later, he apologized. It wasn't often he was in the village and everyone wanted to say hi. We were in no hurry and told him it was no problem.
We arrived in Yusefeli with hours until our connectin bus to Kars. We breakfasted and caught up with our journals. We played Scrabble on a terrace overlooking the river. Guides asked if we were interested in white water rafting trips, but we were leaving in the afternoon. At one we took a dolmus to a gas station at the end of the mountain road and caught a passing bus to Kars through some of the most beautiful scenery in Turkey. I fought to stay awake; it was a losing battle.
We arrived in Kars in the rain. Under better conditions, the town might have proved more pictaresque, but the bus lot was lined with concrete blocks. The tree-lined main street offered some charms, however, and the restaurants were fantastic. The next morning we searched for the tourist office, which sat in what appeared to be an abandoned square of government buildings. A hand-written sign on the door told us we didn't need permission to go to Ani. Peering through the windows, the office looked uninhabited.
We found a taxi stand and an older man offered to drive us to and from Ani for 50 million Turkish lira. We climbed into his decrepit automobile and were soon out of the city, tearing through the landscape. The clouds were ominous, and we could see rain on the horizon. The road cut through the highlands, vast expanses of land on either side.
The ruins of Ani curve around a bend in the Ahuryan River, on the border with Armenia. Once the Armenian capital, the city was taken over by the Byzantines in 1045, and then again by teh Seljuks from Persia in 1064. The struggle for the city continued until the Mongols conquered it in 1239, and in 1319 much of the city was destroyed in an earthquake. What remains now are churches and towers that dot the plains. The ruined citadel stands sentry over them all atop a hill, from which views stretch in all directions.
The rain stopped when we arrived. A group of schoolchildren were being led by a soldier through the site, and we followed a distance behind. We mad the clockwise circuit through the remants of the city, and then returned to the city walls to find our driver asleep, his feet hanging out of the passenger door. He woke when we approached and quickly made to start the car. The engine wouldn't turn over. He got out and rummaged through his trunk, eventually emerging from it with a hammer. He popped the hood and struck the engine, then returned to the driver's seat. The engine started on his very next try.
As we raced back towards town, Ed turned to me. "The leading cause of death among war correspondants in traffic accidents," he said. I said it was a good thing he wasn't yet on the job. As we tucked into lunch, the skies opened up with monsoon-like rains. We ate slowly and watched as water flooded the streets. A family beside us finished eating and ordered dessert, lingering over their çay, waiting for the rain to pass.
September 15, 2004
Traversing Kaçkar day two through four
Since I never got a chance to keep up with my blog while I was in Turkey, I figured that I'd spend the next few days filling in the gaps.
We awoke the next morning to clear skies. After a quick breakfast we stowed our gear and began the ascent over the 3292 meter high Caymakcur Pass. The path lead steadily up and we could see the meadow below from atop the rocks. Form there it was a steady descent four hour descent to the village of Olgunlar. We were tempted by the beds and the showers of the newly built Pension, but we resisted and pitched our tent just outside of town. That night, Mehmet slept at home.
The next morning he arrived with mule and we decamped for the gradual climb back up into the mountains. The path was a gentle slope up towards the camp site at Dilber Düzü. Four hours later, we arrived at the plain. A large group was just coming down from the mountain. They had woke at six to climb up to the glacial lake at Deniz Golü, which they said was spectacular. I asked how long it had taken them, and an older woman said three hours. But for someone in shape it shouldn't take more than two.
We said goodbye to our mule and Mehmet and shouldered our packs for the climb. The path followed switchbacks up the trail, crossing small streams of water until the the track became completely rocky. In about an hour and a half we were rewarded with our first view of the lake. It was much larger than Buyuz Deniz Golu, but with fewer camp sites. A few tents lined the near edge of the lake. Two or three tents dotted a hill overlooking it. We looked for a place to camp and then one camp told us they were leaving, offering their site on top of the hill. We pitched our tent inside a round rock enclosure, our front flap overlooking the lake below.
The next morning we woke at five. Clouds hung over the peaks. We ate breakfast and watched while a group of three broke off to start their climb. We soon followed, passing the two Isreali girls we had been walking with. They were finishing breakfast and we bid them good luck.
The initial climb was gradual. At a small ridge there was a steep ascent to another glacial lake nestled in a small bowl. We caught up with the group of three and paused to take pictures, watching them proceed. The next three hours were spent spotting cairns and making our way up the face of Kackar. The clouds came and went, and at one point it started hailing. We hunkered down for a few minutes, until one person from the other group said if we didn't keep moving we'd freeze.
The last 400 meters we scrambled up scree and rocks, climbing sharply with each step until we made the ridge. Looking over it, we looked straight down. Looking back, we could see three glacial lakes dotting the range. The peaks were sharp, jutting in and out of the clouds. The scenery was beautiful.
At Buyuk Deniz Golu, I had asked a trekker on his way back from the mountain what the ridge was like. He said it was like a knife. I asked other people how wide it was and they repeated the same descriptions. I was surprised to find how accurate the description was.
I had also asked Ed what he liked most about trekking. He told me it was the views. Atop the ridge, my fear of heights got the better of me. Looking at the clouds rising from the plains and the steep drops on either side, I decided the view wasn't going to change much at the summit and I let Ed go on with out me.
Later, one of the other climbers told me that I had missed nothing. The clouds moved in and everything at the summit was white. Ed told me also that we were just 10-15 minutes shy from the summit, and that the path grew wider as you approached it. He also said that he was thinking of death with every step.
Three hours later we were back at camp. The day had cleared. The girls had begun their ascent but then turned back when the hail started, unwilling to chance that the weather would take a turn for the worst. We struck camp and shared breakfast with the three other climbers and then began the long trudge back to Olgunlar.
By the time we arrived in the village night was falling. On the outskirts of town we could see the Isreali girls had made camp. We arrived at the lone guesthouse at seven thirty. The owner had built a new building next to his old guesthouse, all in wood with carpets running the length of the floors. We ordered fish for dinner and struggled up the stairs to our room. I tossed off my pack. I showered twice. My feet were throbbing. My legs ached. I lay on the bed refusing to move. But eight o'clock rolled around and the promise of warm çay and fresh trout brought me to my legs. We ambled down the stairs to spacious dining room lit with flourescent lights and tucked into dinner.
September 14, 2004
Home again home again
I'm tired. I think my capacity for long distance travel has dwindled. Or maybe it's because I spent the last 24 hours on planes or in airports, a great percentage of that time in bathrooms. One thing that the Frankfurt airport lacks is bathrooms.
On Monday morning I woke in Hasankeyf. I had arrived the day before from Mardin to see the remnants of the village perched on a stone cliff. The village was small, the setting pictaresque. On the banks of the Tigris river at the foot of the cliff, restaurants had set up stalls in the water where you could eat your lunch while soaking your feet in the current. After checking into my hotel I did just that, soaking up the atmosphere from the cradle of civilization.
It took only another hour or two to climb the rocks and look into the cave dwellings and structures up above. Later in the afternoon I walked across the banks to look at the honey colored stone and the palace positioned right on the edge of precipice. It was worth the side trip. Doubly so as the entire site is slated to vanish under the waters of the GAP dam project.
Last night after a day spent in Diyarbakir, I sat in the courtyard of the Keravanseri hotel and drank my last cup of Turkish çay. The fountain bubbled over watermellon slices placed within, no doubt in reference to the town's watermellon festival. And the watermellon is very fine. Deniz had told me that over the past four nights they had hosted four weddings and that she had been up until at least two every night. She was tired.
I asked her about chikkofte, a dish we were served when we were in Sanliurfa, and she confirmed my worst suspicions. The dish was made from raw meat, wet bulgher wheat, and Urfa peppers. The guide book had specifically warned against eating raw meat in that part of the country for the heat of the plains quickly spoils the food. Deniz told me that it was an appetizer and a speciality. I was disappointed I couldn't appreciate it. In the end, it set both Ed and I up for gastrointestinal nightmares.
I asked for the check as the call to prayer sounded. The waiter looked at me and looked at the tea and shook his head. He waved his hands in front of his body and walked away. I thanked him and said goodbye to Deniz. She told me that from her hotel the cab fare would be 15 million Turkish lire and no more (the equivalent of $10US). I thanked her.
The taxi drove along the basalt walls, illuminated by spotlights. Children played in the park and along the crevasses. Away from the walls, the car plunged into darkened roads as it wound its way to the airport. I was still an hour early. The waiting room filled with smoke. When we finally boarded and left for Istanbul, the child behind me woke and either cried or clambored over my seat for the two hour duration of the flight. I arrived in Istanbul at midnight.
I had five and a half hours to wait in the Istanbul airport. Almost everything was closed. The Lufthansa ticket counter opened two hours prior to boarding. I checked my bags and once past the passport control found a lachmacun restaurant and had the most expensive one I had had in the country, followed by expensive baklava. The plane boarded and it was three hours to Frankfurt.
I had another three hours to kill in the airport. When I was in Diyarbakir I whiled away the afternoon at a movie theatre. I had debated seeing The Terminal but knew I would be seeing enough of airports. I opted for Riddick. When we finally boarded for New York I was in a daze. I had already been up for over 24 hours and my stomach was giving me grief. As the plane took off down the runway I counted the minutes until the seatbelt sign gave way, and at the first sign of passengers moving about the cabin I moved.
I arrived in New York at around 1pm local time, 8pm in Turkey. The day was cool but overcast, a portent of the hurricane to come. I asked the cab driver how things had been and he said they were pleasant. En route to my house he stopped by the gas station where the attendant, cell phone stuck to his ear, filled his car up with regular instead of super.
Back in New York it seems that I've been gone more than just three weeks. Two new construction projects are quickly rising on Houston, their facades a blot on the neighborhood. The seasons have changed. Winter looms.
At customs, the woman was listening to a Prince album. I asked her if she had seen him at MSG. She became excited. She said she bought tickets for her mother and aunt but didn't go herself. But she's heard such great things that she's trying to get tickets for California or Philadelphia. Anywhere, she said. She'll travel.
September 6, 2004
Traversing Kaçkar day one
Last Sunday we arrived in Ayder, a small village at the base of the Kaçkar Mountains. The single street was filled with cars; a meadow in the center of town was teeming with people. Hemşin people from around the area had gathered to camp and to dance. Circles formed around men playing the tulum, a goatskin instrument resembling bagpipes, as people danced the horon. As one musician tired, another would pick up an instrument. Circles formed and reformed as dancers moved from one to another. As Ed and I watched, people started asking us to join. After watching for a few minutes, I linked hands with those around me and started to dance.
It took us a day to organize our trek. We planned to complete the Kaçkar traverse starting in the town of Yukari Kavron, up over the Çaymarkçur Pass to Olgunlar. From there, we planned to walk to Deniz Gölü, camping there one night before attempting to summit Kaçkar, then walking back to Olgunlar. The last day would turn out to be a gruelling four hour climb up the mountain, and then six more hours coming down from the mountain to town.
In Ayder, we relaxed. By Monday afternoon we had organized a mule to carry our packs and tents and sleeping bags. It took more planning than we had anticipated as the guidebook suggested that all-inclusive treks were easy to come by and cheap; they proved to be neither. In the end we rented our own mule and muler, and bought our own provisions. We ate a lot of bread.
The night before we left we soaked in the local hot springs. A tiled wash room opened up to a steaming pool. We soaked and then lay out on the marble edge. A boy attempted to swim, splashing all of those around him. I napped until an attendant called out to me. The baths were closing; it was time to go home.
We woke early on Tuesday to catch the dolmuş to Yukari Kavron. The bus climbed for 45 minutes. The village rested at the start of the path and we waited for a man to bring us our tent. We had arranged with two Isrealis to share a mule, but when the muler saw our bags, he agreed to take only three. One of the Isrealis offered to carry her own, and we set off up the path to Büyük Deniz Gölü, our fırst camp site.
The walk took about three hours. The day before it had rained, but the morning had dawned clear. We climbed up to a pass and then looked down upon a lake the color of jade surrounded by peaks. To one side a meadow stretched down to the plains. A family had hiked up from below to picnic and rest by the lake.
We made camp, chatting with the others who had camped there. Ed and I played Scrabble, he won. As the sun began to set, the family left to go home. The father shouted periodically back to us, his voice echoing off the mountains. The guides shouted back. A sea of clouds formed off the plains. It rose, threatening to envelop the mules grazing on the meadow, threatening to envelop our camp. We quickly put the fly over our tent as the clouds dissipated, staying just below. The peaks around us glowed red.
That night, an almost full moon rose over our camp. The clouds glistened silver in the light as the peaks glowed white. The lake reflected the mountains in the dark pool of water. I sat out in the cold, the water still, the clouds undulating. The moon cast my shadow onto the ground. I called to Ed and he poked his head out of the tent. We sat silent, the stars revolving above our heads.