We get up early to start our long journey east out of Cappadocia via GÃ¼lagac, Nevesehir and Kayseri, crossing the endless flat plains of the ‘step’ with Mount Erciyes (3916m) looking down on us.
We stop to make lunch in the middle of nowhere and are approached by a stray dog followed by two guys. One of the men acts quite intimidating and confrontational with us but in fact we think it is probably more a show of small town machismo and in fact harmless. Nevertheless we are glad when they finally leave.
We continue to Pinarbasi and then south to Goksun where it becomes much more picturesque and mountainous with lots of rivers and streams crisscrossing the valley. All the houses now have corrugated metal roofs rather than mud (as we had seen in Cappadocia) due to the increased annual rainfall and the preferred form of transport is now motorbikes with customised side cars carrying people, animals, wood, shopping or a combination of all 4! We are stopped by traffic police who don’t speak any English, they soon let us continue. We spend the night in a pine forest near Cardak.
We drive to Malatya hoping to be able to reach Mount Nemrut but the tourist office tells us that due to higher than normal snowfall this year the roads are still impassable. This is a big disappointment as we had been recommended the drive to the mountain, as there are many abandoned and semi-abandoned villages, we are also keen to see the magnificent ancient statues at the summit. Nothing to do but change our plans.
Before leaving the city Julia goes off into the backstreets to find somewhere to fix her boots. A shopkeeper leaves his shop unattended to lead her deeper into the alleyways where a cobbler is hidden. She then shares a Ã§ay with the shopkeeper whilst Geppe is also consuming lots of Ã§ay with the car park attendants. Julia buys Geppe a MP3 player as an early birthday present…finally we shall have music again, no more listening to random Turkish radio stations!
The price of diesel is now changing massively between petrol stations, from 2.97 to 2.62 TL per litre. This is still much more expensive than in Europe but at least it’s getting cheaper as we head east. We are offered Ã§ay and coffee at each petrol station even when they have run out of diesel!
The landscape changes every 30km or so as mountains become hills become gorges, lakes, cliffs, rivers often connected by tunnels. We have lunch overlooking one particularly high gorge. There is a persistent haze in the sky that gives off a very surreal light. It is as if the air is heavily polluted (yet we are far from any city) or that there had been a massive sand storm. We can barely make out the sun for days. The roads get worst and worst as we leave Western Turkey behind with more and more potholes and the tarmac often disappearing all together. Driving is not helped by Turkish drivers who tend to move into the centre of the road when they see that you are about to overtake.
We pass the huge AtatÃ¼rk dam and reservoir. We stop for a ‘pide’ (Turkish pizza) at a roadside ‘pide’ oven and then find somewhere to park for the night hidden down a small country lane. Before long there are flashing lights and the Jandarma are knocking on our window. This time there is a whole minibus of them, most of whom are very young (clearly doing their military service) and giggling in the background. Their leader tries to be serious and keeps pointing out his Jandarma badge but then turns to his group laughing too! None of them speak English but finally after using our Spanish – Turkish phrase book we deduce that they are trying to tell us that it is dangerous to sleep there and that we must move. We think they are just looking for justification to harass us but we agree to leave and to find a petrol station for the night instead. We find one just outside of Sanliurfa (Urfa) where they are very friendly and invite us to share Ã§ays. There are 2 Turkish men, a Syrian lorry driver and a young lad from Azerbaijan.
The following morning we have more Ã§ays with our new friends and explain our problem that we have no more gas to cook with. They immediately take it on themselves to resolve our problem and refill our empty bottle with auto-gas direct from the pumps and proudly state that this is Turkish style!
13/03/2010 Sanliurfa (Urfa)
We drive onto the city of Urfa and we are immediately struck by the great mix of cultures and its Arabic feel due to its close proximity to Syria. The Arab men are wearing ‘salvar’ (Arab baggy trousers), suit jackets and lilac turbans whilst many women are dressed in full-length gowns in deep coloured velvets, with gold trim and lilac headscarves. They all look very elegant and exotic. We presume the popular lilac colour must be a certain tribe’s trademark but we later discover that it is in fact just a recent fashion trend! People are much better looking here than in the rest of Turkey and have real style and look very distinguished.
We visit the city’s famous bazaar, built in the16th century and one that appears to sell everything imaginable. There is an incredible collection of motorbikes parked round the bazaar’s entrances that are adorned with brightly coloured tassells, saddlebags, leather and other fabrics. We drink Ã§ay in one of its courtyards (GÃ¼mrÃ¼k Hani), which is full of men playing backgammon and negotiating business. We visit the derelict and abandoned hamam called ‘Arasa Hamami’.
We go to Golbasi, which is a park in the city that is a symbolic recreation of a story about Abraham (the great Islamic prophet). In the story Abraham was destroying pagan Gods when the King took offence to his behaviour and put him on a funeral pyre to burn but God turned the fire into fish. Abraham was then thrown from the citadel and where he fell God created rose bushes. The park is now full of rose bushes and 2 large ponds crammed full of sacred carp. Anyone who kills one of these fish is said to go blind. Many people are there buying fish feed that they throw for the carp who come out of the water in their desperation to get the food causing the water to look like it’s boiling. It’s rather sick to watch as the ponds are very overpopulated with fish but it’s a great place to people watch.
13/03/2010 – 14/03/2010 Harran
Harran is situated 50km south of Urfa and 20km from the Syrian border. It is said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. The book of Genesis mentions it and Abraham lived here for several years in 1900BC. It is where two of the main, ancient, silk routes crossed and was also a centre for the worship of Sin (God of the moon).
When we are looking for somewhere to stay (as we are in need of a shower!) a white Renault 12 car stops with English speaking Ahmet Ozyaur and his friends inside. (About 90% of cars in this part of Turkey are Renault 12s and white … we never discovered why!) Ahmet insists on helping us to find a hotel and we finally end up at his uncle’s place called ‘Harran Evi’, which is very quirky and is made up of the town’s traditional beehive houses. This design dates back to the 3rd century BC and evolved due to a lack of wood in the area and also because the local ruins provided a supply of ready made, reusable bricks. So in effect they are actually made from recycled abandoned buildings. They only became really popular in Harran in the last 200 years. The domes are generally 5m high and the interiors are mild in winter and cool in summer when temperatures can reach 55-60oC.
We drink Ã§ay with 3 female teachers who have been sent to Harran from Western Turkey by the government to work for a year and then we are shown to our room in one of the beehives that is decked out in traditional rugs and blankets with a mud floor. The deal includes meals so we are invited to Ahmet’s uncle’s house. His uncle is very Arabic looking and wears a turban, there are formal photos of him as a younger man on the wall in full traditional wear. We all sit on the floor, supported by cushions and food is placed on a mat in front of us. There are thin sheets of bread, a bulgur wheat dish, beans in tomato sauce with some chicken and yogurt plus a selection of Arabic and Turkish satellite TV to accompany! Back at ‘Harran Evi’ Ahmet insists on dressing us up in traditional Arab costumes, which we go along with despite both of us having terrible indigestion after eating so much food whilst hunched up on the floor! He then gives each of us a Cappadocian massage but gets a little too intimate with Julia for comfort and although he initially appears to help Geppe’s back in the long term he makes it worst.
After eating a breakfast of tomato, cucumber, cheese, egg, flat bread and Ã§ay we explore Harran and its many abandoned and semi-abandoned buildings. Ahmet explains that since the building of the nearby AtatÃ¼rk dam the desert has been transformed into cotton fields and agriculture is now possible. This has brought new prosperity to the region and people are starting to prefer to live in modern, easy-to-clean houses rather than in the traditional beehives, which are now mainly used to house livestock or they are abandoned altogether.
14/03/2010 – 15/03/2010 Harran to Mardin
We visit the Bazda caves that are an ancient quarry, the stone from which was used to build Harran. A group of children decide to be our guides. One of the girls is armed with a Turkish – English dictionary and points at words to explain our tour, although she never has the confidence to say any of them! The cave interiors are 20 metres or more high. We are shown ancient Asyrian script engraved on the walls as well as painted on them.
Our next stop is Han El BÃ¡rur, which is a caravanserai built in 1128 to serve local trade caravans. It is now totally abandoned and much of it is in ruins. There is Arabic script engraved on its entrance and a variety of farm animals grazing inside.
We stop for lunch and are accosted by a white Renault 12 full of young men who Geppe entertains! We later see them with engine problems and they are all still smiling despite going nowhere. We wave and continue on our way!
Soon we arrive at the ancient abandoned and ruined city of Suyab. Again we are mobbed by children, some older lads come to our rescue and get rid of the kids but are then just as bad by following us around. They do however show us some ancient Asyrian script painted on walls in some of the underground burial chambers. Much of the ancient city’s buildings have been used to construct houses nearby but there are still huge stonewalls and doorways amongst the remaining stones and underneath lies a large network of subterranean rooms.
Our final stop for the day is Sogamatar, which is an isolated village surrounded by a very barren landscape with several high ledges and rock formations. On top of one of these ledges was once an open-air temple where sacrifices were made to the sun and moon Gods. You can still see their effigies carved into the side of the ledge and Assyrian script. Like Harran Sogmatar was once a centre for the cult worship of the sun and moon Gods. Some villagers show us some ancient coins that they have found in the area and ask us what we think their value is. Obviously we have no idea but they could be worth a fortune so tell them to take care with whom they sell them to, as they could be very valuable.
It is dark now and after leaving the village the road keeps splitting, there are no signs to guide us, our map is useless and although we have a basic GPS system and compass we get quite worried that we shall never find our way back to civilisation. Eventually we find a main road and a petrol station in which to spend the night.
The road across the Mesopotanian Plain to Mardin is terrible; it is as if someone has stretched tarmac fishnet tights across the road’s surface. Finally we get there and the city is bathed in the same sunless haze that we have been experiencing since before Urfa.
Whilst Julia uses the Internet Geppe goes to post a parcel of backup DVDs back to Spain but has a total nightmare with Turkish bureaucracy and a ‘Mr. Jobs-worth’. After being made to wait in 4 different queues he is finally told that it is illegal to post so many DVDs at which point he explodes with frustration at the silly, pompous, little man!
Mardin is a mixture of Kurdish, Yezidi, Christian cultures and each ones influence can be seen throughout the city. There are many beautiful mosques including the 12th century Iraqi mosque that we visit, which has stunning designs intricately carved onto its minaret and entrance. We are given strange wooden ‘clog-type’ shoes to wear inside. The interior is very plain in comparison to the mosque’s exterior.
We explore the small back streets from which there should be wonderful views across the plains below but unfortunately visibility is very poor. We wander through the bazaar and buy a herbal remedy for constipation and ‘coca-cola’ flavour nut powder among other things. We briefly visit a very male Ã§ay house where Julia is probably the only woman to have entered in several decades!