grey marble

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. Posted by eku at September 19, 2004 11:05 AM

Recent Entries