Eastern Turkey – Second Week of September 2004

Nemrut Dagi, Volcanic Crater:
Time was running short for our Iranian visa. We decided to take a bus from Sanliurfa to Tatvan. We arrived in the early morning hours, after 7 hours on a very old bus. We breakfasted on peaches and baklava by the lake, then encountered some of the lake’s more dangerous and annoying wildlife: young boys no older than 8 begging for money and cigarettes, trying to steal things from our bikes, hanging on them, and throwing rocks at us. Rock-throwing seems to be a more common sport in the eastern part of Turkey.

Minus bags, we biked to the top of Nemrut Dagi, a volcanic crater at the top of a mountain, which we reached by a very steep, very windy road. 2400 ft. straight up in only 7.8 mi. Then down another 6 mi. to the lake with the hot water source. As the road was a mixture of dirt and sand, that part was almost as difficult. The wind was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It blew pebbles into our face and into the back of our heads, it blew sand into our ears and eyes, it pelted us, it created dust storms. For once, it blew mostly in our direction, literally pushing us up the mountain!

The view from the top was incredible. A great view of Lake Van and gold fields as we ascended the mountain, and a great view over the cold water lake once we descended the other side into the volcanic crater.

Peeping Tom in Tatvan:
A disappointing trip to the post office delayed us in Tatvan. The package that had been sent to us had never arrived. Research revealed that it must have been stolen. We stayed overnight in order to figure things out, and had another problem in the morning. Just after Stephane left to make another trip to the post office, I heard a noise at the door, and looked around, to find that there was a small hole drilled in the door. Suspicious, I looked through, only to find an eye on the other side! I ran down the stairs after the boy and recognized him as one of the hotel staff. I waited all day for the manager, who finally showed up and insisted that it couldn’t have been one of the staff, that it must have been a customer. I was armed with overwhelming evidence to support my story, and finally the man apologized to Stephane. He didn’t even condescend to apologize to me. I had to threaten to report the event to the police before he finally caved in and gave us our money back.

We discovered that more than one room in the hotel had small holes in the doors, and you could see everything from the outside. They were obviously made to watch the female tourists, and the hotel management thought that there was nothing wrong in this. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s not important. You shouldn’t care about things like that.” I probably wouldn’t even have been suspicious if I hadn’t heard similar stories from other women traveling in the Middle East. It’s even more common in eastern Turkey than western Turkey. I was starting to get fed up with that attitude. And the boy who kept winking at me afterwards as if he was so proud of himself….

Lake Van:
We spent a couple of days biking and camping the 155 km. around the northern side if Lake Van. Steep mountains and cliffs circled the lake. The water was very blue, at times turquoise, very clear and very clean. Its beaches were variously made of large rocks, small pebbles, and black sand.

The beaches just before the town of Adilcevez were fabulous – there is a steep hill and cliffs just before the town, and the shallow water is turquoise. Benches line the promenade in the town. The great part about Lake Van is that no matter what beach you choose to picnic on, you are sure to have it all to yourself – even on a Sunday.

One part of the road went inland from the lake for about 30 km. This part was miserable, as it was as windy as it had been at Nemrut Dagi, only was against us this time. The wind blew us like leaves across the road, and my legs felt like jelly. The wind blew up mini dust storms in the arid fields.

The highlight was picnicking and sleeping by the lake. Biking was great, too, as the weather was perfect for cycling. One great camping spot we found was atop a cliff overlooking the lake far below. We were completely and totally alone with the lake and the wind.

We passed one large town before leaving the lake. It was called Ercis, and the highlight of this city was seeing a woman dressed completely in black, 360-degree veil and all to cover her face – carrying an umbrella! It was hysterical! The figure completely in black carrying a rainbow-colored umbrella! Was it to hide herself even more?!

As the lake finished, a group of boys and men waved us over to the side of the road, asking if we would like to sleep in the prayer room of their gas station for the night. So we slept on the floor of the prayer room – a small, sparse room with green carpeting, a picture with Arabic writing, and prayer beads.

Lake Van to the Iranian border:
Canyons cut through the rock in this area just north of Lake Van, and we spent the first half of the day at Muradiye Waterfalls, picnicking and enjoying the peaceful sound of the falls. We hitchhiked the remaining 75 km. to Doguybayazit in a big truck with a friendly driver. We passed jagged mountains and an immense area of big, black, volcanic rock spread over the hills and the mountainsides. The earth was purple, red, and chalky green. We passed a couple of villages in the flat plains between the mountains, notably with many haystacks over twice as high as the houses themselves. The roads were very, very steep, especially going downhill. Mount Ararat, the highest mountain in Turkey, was majestic in the background.

We spent the night at a campsite by the palace in Doguybayazit, joining in the local Kurds in their singing and dancing (okay, only dancing, no singing for me!). The music is nice. The dancing is coordinated and has the same steps for men and women. They link pinkies or wrap their arms around each other’s shoulders, the end person on each side holding a napkin. It was quite lively at times, and hard to follow for first-timers. We had a good time, and it almost made me forget how tired I was.

The next day was the 15th – our last day to enter Iran – so we were pressed for time. After a quick visit at the castle on top of the hill, we packed up and headed east…I put my long clothing on…I put my headscarf on…I was ready….