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2006 Summer in Turkey

by Trudy (1/6/2009)

From Elazig to Erzurum

 

NoRTH-EAST TURKEY: HOUSE CALL AND KURDISH CHECKPOINTS!

 

Friday June 9th: Elazig – Erzincan (253 kilometres)

            The hammam I like to try. I never acted so prude before. In Holland I go naked and without problems to a mixed sauna. Here I pretend it is an enormous problem. Are there men present? Problem yok, according to a staff member. I get about eight peshtemals to sit on and cover myself. After soaking, sweating and soaking again I get a scrub. The masseur scrubs all my tan – and to me as a redhead it is not that much – away. Then tea and relax, again sweating and soaking and finally the massage. Overall, it takes more than one and a half hour. Delicious but I feel a bit sleepy.

            The hotel booked me a ticket to Erzincan, the direct route, through PKK territory. They tell me it is safe anyway, okay I trust them. Bus companies do promise a lot: this trip should take 4 hours, it became more than six.

            The area in the direction of Tunceli is not as common as I thought. Two times, there is a security control and both times they want to question me. I have to fill in a large form with many questions at the first checkpoint. They are curious, those jandarma. My fathers name, my mothers name, my own personal information, why do I come here, how long do I stay, where did I start, where am I going etcetera. The jandarma writes ‘transit’ at the question of reason. Quickly I ask myself if I overlooked things. Is this a closed area? Do I need a permit? No, nor travel guide nor internet did tell me anything and I have looked.

            At the second checkpoint (three hours, 130 kilometres, 21 tunnels and one cup of tea later), they want to know the same things, this time just asking without writing. There used to be much more of these control points, Kadir – a student in medicine from Diyarbakir – tells me. Passengers do not protest. During my ‘questioning’ they listen, if they understand the English and German I do not know. Later I hear a couple of times the words ‘turista’ and ‘Hollanda’. According to the Lonely Planet in some parts of Turkey you are always the one and only tourist, I think they are right. About that tea, I do not need to pay for it, the bus company does. An idea for bus companies in my own country?

            The road swings through valleys, up and down. Sometimes the blue-green and lovely river is left of me, sometimes at my right side. Rocks in the water make there are little rapids. The rocks up high, eroded and stark, change of colour constantly. Sometime dark red, sometimes coral red or honey yellow or even greyish. Plantation is hardly to see. It looks like this area is abandoned and without people. Nowhere I see goats, sheep or cows. Meanwhile there are people getting in and off the bus. The road varies from just bad to horrible. Our speed limit is sometimes 20 kilometres per hour at most, driving zigzag to avoid the largest potholes.

            In Erzincan I take a taxi because my question ‘service var m羸’ is answered negative. My question for Hotel Erzincan brings me to Büyük Erzincan Oteli, is that really the same? I have to ask Mehmet. Already past seven when I arrive and this hotel is not in the city centre so I take the dinner buffet next to the swimming pool: soup, mezes, sütlac en delicious Kemal Pa臘a Tatl羸 – sweet dough balls drenched in syrup. With a dolmus I go into town to discover Erzincan is dangerous: they sell künefe here too…

 

Saturday June 10th: Erzincan – Yalinca / Girlevik – Erzincan (46 kilometres)

            The tourist office of Erzincan is closed on Saturday. Something I already assumed in spite of the words of the hotel receptionist. Pity, I now do not know anything about what to see or to do here – Erzincan is not in the Lonely Planet as well – so therefore I will leave tomorrow.

            A dolmus brings me to Yalinca, a small village with only 300 inhabitants at a distance of 15 kilometres south of Erzincan. The mother and sister, Huseyine, of my student Mehmet do still live there. I am treated like a lost daughter, Anne Mehmet – that is what I call her – does not let go of my hand for the first fifteen minutes. Tea? Of course, with cookies and peanuts. I give them the pictures of Mehmet’s class and only after three times saying they may keep them, they do. I send Mehmet a sms that I am at his mothers. Within ten minutes he calls from Holland. He asks how I am doing and if I like to see the water falls in the area.

            Another dolmus, this time to Girlevik, eight kilometres south. The falls are splendid. So beautiful, the mountains, the snow far away, the fields, everything so lovely. Anne Mehmet and Huseyine ask with gestures if I like to walk. Yes, in this area I certainly do. It will be a walk of more than one hour. Anne Mehmet has heart problems but my concern about her health is understood as tiredness of my side. Help, how can I make myself clear? Happily we can sit for a while and then it is going better. The descending is worse than I thought. Loose stones and sand make me slide sometimes, I do not walk easily. In Turkey I developed a kind of fear of heights. The steep fields down I find a bit frightening.

            Downstairs they ask ‘Yemek?’ with the eating and drinking gesture. Yes please, I am quite hungry. We each have three large chicken filets with bread, salad, peppers and watermelon. Not really a light lunch, but is tastes very good. Back in Yalinca, an uncle of Mehmet is waiting at the veranda. He is on holiday here from Rotterdam. Very nice, now he can translate my answer that I do not want to stay for the night, that question has been asked for at least ten times this afternoon. I explain I already have a hotel room, that my luggage is there and that I would not feel comfortable to stay. I really like Anne Mehmet and Huseyine but I do not know them long enough to stay. It would feel like misusing there hospitality, a violation of their privacy. Maybe strange, but that is than a consequence of me being Dutch. (Though if it were the other way around of course I would have offered them my guest room….). I told this three times to Mehmet in class before, apparently he did not understand it as well. Back in Erzincan – with the last dolmus of the day and after a heart-breaking goodbye of Anne Mehmet and Huseyine – I eat künefe at restaurant Beytahti. Künefe, my latest addiction…

            I would love to drink a beer but I have no clue where a good place is. At this moment I miss someone. Not a special person, just a man aside. Preferably one who speaks Turkish or else someone with flair. Because being a woman and going alone to bar in East-Turkey, that’s not done…

 

Sunday June 11th: Erzincan – Erzurum (188 kilometres)

            At bus company Dadas they know me; they have seen me while eating künefe last night. Imagine, how many tourists there are here… While waiting for my bus I tell them how much I like künefe and that I cannot buy it in Holland. Just before I leave Yusuf, one of the staff, brings me two warm portions sealed künefe, as a gift. How sweet!

            The receptionist of hotel Esadas does not speak English but she has a solution: from her desk she takes a dictionary ‘Turkish-English in tourism’. There we are, both standing with a dictionary in our hands…

            Erzurum is as conservative as Teheran, I think. At the tourist information nothing about the city and my question in limited Turkish about a nice café is answered in Turkish with ‘café – no women’. Well, a boring night again it will be, I am afraid. In the Yalentiye Medresse now is the museum of Turkish-Islamic art. The building itself is beautiful though I feel sorry for the former students who had to bend every time they enter a classroom through the only 1,50 meter high doors. The exhibited objects seem to be put there at random. I think they deserve more attention because of their historical value. The minaret is quite course but special in its kind. I think it would fit perfect in Mongolia or so, more than in Turkey where buildings mostly are more refined.

            Erzurum is famous for its local black amber used for silver jewellery. I stop by Rüsten Pa臘a Car臘isi, more than fifty tiny shops, cramped with rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and tespih. I do not like them, too much kitsch, too artificial. I prefer the precise silverwork from Mardin and Sivas. Then I lounge in a teagarden next to the mosque, looking at people and people looking at me. In the meantime, I read my simple thriller I bought in Batman.

            This night is a special one: I am in the courthouse of Erzurum with two police officers. I am looking at the text on a building when an officer approaches me. Haluk is his name, we talk and he invites me for çay. Apart from working as an officer, Haluk is a student of the Arabic language at university, now in his third year. He hopes to get a job abroad when he graduates; except for experience, it also includes a higher salary. I give him my detective I have read this afternoon, he is pleased with it. Together with his colleague Ahmed he is on call from 19.00 tonight until 8.00 tomorrow morning. A long shift it is. They have to guard the building.

            When Haluk finds out that I look for a nice restaurant and that my favourite meal is Iskender Kebab, he invites me for dinner. “You are on duty?”, I ask. “No problem,” he answers, “Ahmed is still around.” In his car we go to a restaurant hundred meters away (!), it looks somewhat chic. I get kebab and Haluk only takes tea, he already had his dinner. If I knew that before…. He is the first Turkish man who asks if he can smoke. Naturally, I do not mind. After dinner, we go back to the courthouse and with loads of çay, we continue talking. Ahmed speaks a few words German but the rest has to be translated by Haluk. I ask Ahmed and Haluk if there is a nice bar of cafe I can go to. No, they say both, not one I can go solo to. Nevertheless, Haluk says that if he wears a sports jack over his uniform blouse he can come with me…. Turkish police officers have different ideas of how to fulfil their duties… The bar we go to can be nice, if there are more customers. Cosy seats at the side and there is a large dancing floor. However, we are the only two people inside and the bar closes after half an hour. Midnight and then it is over for religious Erzurum. My hotel is at the opposite of the street and Haluk brings me there. We say goodbye while shaking hands. He says I can drop by all night; they are on call until 8 AM. With a smile, I say I go to sleep.

 

Monday June 12th: Erzurum

            First I congratulate my sister with her birthday by sms and email. Then I go into town. Outside the skiing season, Erzurum does not have much to offer to tourists. Three mosques worth visiting, two little museums and the local kale. There is much litter and knee-high grass. Enough for the city cleaning department of my town for a week work… Entering the castle grounds the ticket-window is closed, so I walk on. At the inner yard I am greeted: Welcome, two lira. What a way to say hello…

            Erzurum does have a lot of tea gardens, pastane and lokanta, but I can’t continue eating? I grow fat… At a music store I buy bombomba.com, the newest CD of Ismail YK, I hear his music almost everywhere and I like it. I make myself useful in the afternoon with typing a part of this diary that makes I need less time to type when I am back. At an afternoon like this, the company of someone like Haluk would be nice; he knows what to do and to see.

            At restaurant Güzelyurt, I find at least one reason to like Erzurum: they serve Erzurum Civil Peynir. A local famous green cheese that is really delicious. For foreigners the name of this cheese is simply Erzurum Roquefort. Several cold and hot meze, including Açili Ezme are on my table. The intestine and brain salad I kindly refuse, only the thought about it…. I discover an unknown kind of fruit: dut. Little grey-white fruit with seeds like strawberries. Not much taste, if you ask me. Back in Holland, I ask what they are called here: white mulberries.

 


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From Erzurum to Dogubayazit (and surroundings)


1. From Ankara to Malatya
2. From Malatya to Adana
3. From Adana to Elazig
4. From Elazig to Erzurum
5. From Erzurum to Dogubayazit (and surroundings)
6. From Dogubayazit back home


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