Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eastern Turkey (June 12-15)

I was sad as we left Cappadocia since this meant we had visited all of the major places I had wanted to see in Turkey. Now the remaining days would be mostly driving days with the destination being the Gurbulak/Bazargan border to Iran. Originally our plan had been to head east to Erzurum, north towards the Kackar Mountains and then east to the border via Kars and Dogubayazt, but since we had lost some days with Stani being sick, we had to skip the northern route and just head east.

There was a significant difference as we ventured further east. The roads were much worse and travel times took longer. Because established campgrounds were scarce, we weren’t sure where we would stay and what facilities would be available. The first night we started to get a little nervous about where we would sleep, but ended up finding a sign just as the sun started to set that had a picture of a fish and the word “camping” written on it. This made me think of the story in the Bible where Jesus performs the miracle of feeding 5,000 hungry people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – this was a good reminder to me to have faith that God will take care of us. The sign led us to a fish restaurant where the owner happily pointed to a hill where we could set up our tent. I’m not entirely sure if they normally had people camp here (camping may actually mean picnicking), but it was a fine spot and we were happy to have a place to sleep. When we tried to pay him, he declined.

Sign to our "campsite"

The next morning, we took a short walk to a lake near our campsite, and on our way back, we met a herd of cows and their owner. He probably wondered what the heck we were doing here! No one was around when we were ready to leave our campsite, so we left some money folded in a piece of paper with the words tesekkur ederim (thank you) written on the outside.

Kirstin meets the cows

The road started out great, and it was a real treat having a smooth surface for a change. Unfortunately Stani got a speeding ticket– 106km/h in a 90km/h which we were told to pay at the border. We slowed down and soon the smooth road was just a memory and the bad roads returned. After a long day of driving, we finally reached the city of Erzurum. We found a hotel and rested a bit in the air conditioned room. We ate a bread, cheese and cucumber dinner in the room and then headed out to explore the city. The streets were full of people, shops and cafes, and there was an exciting energy all around.

Road in Eastern Turkey

From Erzurum, we pushed on to the town of Dogubayazt. This town is famous for Mt. Ararat (5137m), Turkey’s highest mountain and the supposed resting place of Noah’s Ark. For us it was also very significant because it would be our last night in Turkey before attempting to cross the border into Iran. I was full of all kinds of emotions now that we had reached this pivotal point of our tip, but to be honest, the dominant one was nervousness. On the outskirts of town, we found Lale Zar campground which is owned by two friends (one Kurd and one Dutch). From the campground you could see a beautiful castle called the Ishak Pasa Palace perched high up on a cliff. We drove there and were quickly swarmed by a mob of school kids as we exited the car. At first they were cute wanting to take photos and say hello, but they soon got annoying pulling on our arms and asking for money. We walked quickly trying to lose our new “friends”. Unfortunately the palace was closed, so we took a few quick photos and dashed back to the car with a line of school kids nipping at our heels.

Ishak Pasa Palace

Back at the campground, we met two other foreign couples, both from Austria. One of the couples had just driven from Iran, so we were eager to hear their experiences. They had nothing but good things to say about Iran which helped ease my nervousness a bit. On this trip, they had also driven their VW camper through Pakistan, India and Nepal and were now on their way back to Austria. The other couple was in a massive military looking vehicle equipped with a rooftop tent. At one point before our trip I had suggested we consider getting a rooftop tent, but seeing theirs made me glad that we didn’t pursue this option. They were heading north from Turkey into Georgia and Azerbaijan. It was nice to meet some other travelers and exchange stories.

Turkeys at our campground

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