Europe

Travelling the Fabled Silk Road


Friday, May 21st, 2004: Cappadocia to Mt. Nemrut, Turkey

This morning seems a little warmer and Haluk has promised temperatures of up to 31° when we arrive at Mt. Nemrut. We are heading farther east today and have an 8-9 hour drive which takes us into Kurdish Turkey and towards the Syrian border, where on Sunday we will drop Matt, Frank, Sarah and Jan, who are continuing on to Cairo. Erin is going to wander Turkey a bit on her own which leaves John, Haluk and I to suffer the night bus back to Istanbul on Sunday evening. We will have a full day of travel on Sunday – 9 hours of day travel and then another 10-12 hours of overnight driving.

We are travelling the fabled Silk Road today and it is hard to imagine camel caravans travelling 45 km a day through a treeless, brown and faint green landscape, strewn with the occasional butte or sharply angled hill. This area is known as the Central Anatolian Plateau and the only prominent landmark is the snow-capped and cloud grabbing Mt. Aegerciyes at an impressive 3,696 metres. It dominates the view.

Friday Prayers Fill the Valley

Our drive continues into the mountains and every two hours the scenery changes. Rugged brown and gold rock outcroppings with tumbled down boulders predominate. Way off to our right, the snow capped mountain range guides us further east. We arrive into a brown, dirt-washed alpine town dotted with pine trees. The mountain air is fresh as we get out of our bus for lunch. It is just gone 12 and the call to Friday prayers fill the valley from the mosque across the street. Friday midday is the busiest time for prayers and the locals dutifully head into the mosque. We have stopped in a fairly small town and we grab lunch in a small cafeteria style Turkish restaurant, reminiscent of our time in India. I have some rich lentil soup and John the warm yogurt soup. There is a large plate (as always) of fresh bread on the table to accompany the soups. Frank is already seated and enjoying a bowl of fresh cold yogurt and for dessert, more bread, butter and fresh honey still in the honeycomb. All for C$1.50.

Strawberries and Wild Roses

Lunch is just enough for the next five hours of our trip and we head back to the bus. Erin and Jan are carrying wild roses picked from an upper meadow by a young man and presented to them. Just as we are about to drive away, another young man presents Sarah with a fresh strawberry, a big smile beaming. The Turkish Hospitality is renowned but it is these simple acts of generosity that we will remember most. We settle into our drive, some with books, some with a snooze and end up in Katha at quite a nice hotel for a change, only to find that they are over-booked and don’t have room for us. This is quickly resolved as we move to the hotel next door (of course, not nearly as nice, in fact, no comparison at all) and head out for our town orientation. Jan goads Haluk with “oh, you were just teasing us with that first hotel”.

Good Bye

We have started the final bit of our Turkey group tour today and will miss the fun and camaraderie that has developed with our group. I can imagine the hit and miss of these instant relationships that make up the core of any tour group, and having to spend 14 days with people that you don’t necessarily have anything in common with or don’t particularly like can be trying and exhausting. It is the personalities and the relationships of your fellow travelers that make or break the tour. We have been fortunate with this lot. (I hope everyone else in the group feels as positive as I do about our time together!)
John and I will spend 4 days in Istanbul getting to know the city before we head to Athens for 3 days and then home to Canada and what looks like a whirlwind tour of friends and family.

 Mt. Aegerciyes and The Sarihan, c.1249 (The Silk Roads equivalent to a truck stop)

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