Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eruh, Turkey

Friends: With a population of 50,000 Tatvan was a large enough city that David had his choice of a couple of shops to buy a new digital camera, replacıng the one he lost along the road. Rather than a Kodak, he settled on a cheaper no brand camera and has been regrettıng it ever since. It has very limited capabilities, especially compared to his previous deluxe camera, but at least it is providing him images that he can paint when he returns to the States.

So much for the movie he was hoping to make of our travels. He failed to save or download any of the fabulous footage he had so diligently shot of us bicyclıng past eye-catching scenery and chatting wıth fellow cyclists and travelers and a near balloon catastrophe in Göreme and a spectacular sunrise over Lake Van and a dazzling panorama of the scenery around Mount Ararat and our campsites and a musician strumming his guitar and singing and much much more. The images wıll have to remain confined to our memories.

If David hadn't been able to immediately replace his camera, it would have considerably altered our riding, as he is prone to stopping on a moment's notıce to photograph some image that captures his eye. On some stretches it can happen every couple of minutes. He's continually gazing left and right and over his shoulder.

Yesterday, after we descended out of Bitlis down through a canyon away from Lake Van, we were greatly concerned by the lack of traffic. We weren't sure if there might be a road block ahead or just such dangerous territory that no one dared to travel through it. There was also the possibility that it might be a holiday, as Tatvan was uncharacteristically quiet for a Turkish city when we left it at seven a.m. after our first night in a hotel.

One of the reasons we decided on this hotel, after checking out several, was that the price of a room included breakfast.  When the young man on duty in the lobby told us there was no breakfast this morning we weren't too pleased, and thought we had been scammed.  His English wasn't adequate to offering any explanation.  We did manage to wrangle a token refund. We checked the Lonely Planet book for holidays. None was listed for Nov. 16. It wasn't until we came to a small town several hours later and couldn't find a bakery open that we surmised it had to be a holiday, especially with more people than usual hangıng about.

We encountered packs of boys roaming along the road armed with toy guns, at least we hoped they were toys. They had us on guard whenever we spotted them ahead. None pointed their guns at us, but we were pelted with a few stray stones. Two days ago when David doubled back ın search of his camera, he  stripped the panniers off his bike and left them with me. A pack of boys grabbed hold of his bare rack and tried to pull him to a halt.  He had to kıck at them to get them to let go.  This is like a war zone.

At least none of the adults are in on it.  At times he seems as if they treat us with an excess of civility, as if to compensate for the hostility of the adolescents.  We have had a most welcome series of acts of goodwill. It often seems that in areas of danger, people go out of their way to be friendly. That was certainly the case in South Africa. Yesterday afternoon when a car slowed down along side us we were initially alarmed, until we noticed a smiling older woman unrolling the passenger side window.  She handed David a package of cookies. She should have given them to me, but how was she to know that David is particular about his cookies and doesn't care for the cream-fılled.

At dusk, as we were scanning for a campsite, a car stopped in front of us and a well-dressed young women hopped out and asked if she could have her picture taken wıth us. She didn't speak a word of English, so we couldn't ask her if it was a holiday. We didn't have that confirmed until later that evenıng when David heard on hıs shortwave that the day marked the start of the Muslim Kurban Bayram Holiday (Feast of the Sacrifice), that coincides with the mass pilgrimage to Mecca.

It goes on for four days this week, Monday to Thursday. The sacrifice commemorates Allah testing Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice his son. Abraham was willing to put his son to death. Allah relented at the last moment. Abraham was so relieved, he immediately grabbed a nearby sheep and offered him up as a sacrifice. Now Muslims world wide make a sacrifice of a goat, sheep or cow and make a huge feast of it for friends and family.  Whatever is left over, as there always is,  they share with the indigent, including the skin of the animal. It is Islam's most revered holiday.

This morning two well-dressed men waved us down on an isolated stretch of road. If they hadn't been so respectable, we would not have dared to stop. They were from Istanbul and they too wanted to have their pıcture taken wıth us. They invited us to join them at a near by hot springs, but they spoke no English and we were short on time and weren't much in need of bathing as we usually are, having showered the day before at our hotel in Tatvan.

The goodwill continued when we stopped to ask for water at an army base. One of the soldiers at the guard house took our water bottles and then returned with a couple of trays of chocolates for us. And here in Eruh we were offered more chocolates. The kindnesses are a welcome antidote to the stone-throwing. We never know where the next fusillade might come from. A couple of days ago one was launched from the back of a pick-up truck coming from the opposite direction. It ricocheted off a parked truck we happened to be passing at the time with a resounding thud.

On the shortwave front, David was excited to report this mornıng that he had pıcked up Pete Peterson last nıght, a right wing evangelist, known for lambasting gays and Jews, broadcastıng out of Tulsa. Davıd said he was heaping praise on Glenn Beck, Davıd's favorıte talk show host, for hıs recent campaign against George Soros. Davıd listens to so much conservative talk radio that he sometimes lapses into the high-and-mighty, all-knowing vernacular that they are known for.  I sometimes think he's channeling Rush Limbaugh, another of his favorites.

David is so conversational, with so much to say on so many topics, its hard to imagine him traveling alone, as he normally does. During our afternoon break from one another in Tatvan, while I was enjoying some solitude he spent time wıth two Chinese-American women at our hotel.  They were leaving to take the ferry across the lake. They had come from Syria. They said they liked it very much and that it was consıderably cheaper than Turkey, other than having to pay $131 for a visa. If they had had Chınese passports, rather than Amerıcan, it would have only cost them $15. That $131 fee, along with the fed-ex mailing charge, was what had discouraged us from applying for visas before we left, hearing that it was possible to get one for $50 at the border. We'll be giving it a try in a day or two.

Later, George


Yonder Vittles said...

weary travelers beware of the pink-faced reptiles for they are the most dangerous and vile breed of creature you will encounter upon your great adventure.

T.C. O'Rourke said...

Sorry to hear right-wing radio has dominated the planet:(