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Exploring Turkey part 2: From Kahramanmaras via Urfa to Malatya

by Trudy (1/31/2009)

Exploring Turkey part 2: From Kahramanmaras via Urfa to Malatya




Kahramanmaraþ is outside every touristic route, only hardcore backpackers like us visit the city. Why? Well, we come here for what may be a strange reason: the city is very famous for the ice cream they make. In the service bus to the centre we ask passengers for information about hotels and immediately we get help from two young women, Yüksel and Özlem. While we are waiting next to our luggage Özlem asks for room prices in two hotels. We choose Otel Belli, located in the centre. The four of us go to Yaþar Pastanesi to have lunch. There Ufuk joins us. He is the boyfriend of Yüksel. All three are students. Yüksel is studying medicine in Konya, Özlem is a student at the teachers college in Samsun and Ufuk tries to pass his entrance test for university. Yüksel and Ufuk have known each other for six years and they hope to get married in another four years, when both have finished their masters. Ufuk takes his cell phone, calls someone and says something in Turkish. I see a frown on the face of Yüksel appearing. I am not sure but I think Yüksel disagrees with what Ufuk says. ‘I told the university I will not come,’ Ufuk says, ‘I should have an exam this afternoon but by accompanying you I can practice my English. There are not so many tourists here so I will take this chance. You do not mind I hope?’ Helen and I both laugh while shaking our heads.


Together we go to the bazaar. This town consists of two very different parts. In the new part, we can hear modern music coming from speakers and many shops specializing in clothing, bags and shoes. The old part is the area of craftsmen with their little shops. We climb up to the kale to make several pictures of the view over the town. While walking we talk a lot with Ufuk, after all, he must practice his English, right? Sometimes he cannot find the words he is looking for but most of the time the conversation goes smoothly. The two girls do understand us though they do not speak very much English. We see a couple of female beggars in chador, one completely covered including her eyes like the women in Afghanistan. ‘Ufuk, why do they do this?’, I ask, ‘Turkey is not that strict about religion?’ ‘These women are not poor at all,’ he answers, ‘they just want more money and this coverage is to stay incognito.’ ‘I see, so it is like a charade?’ Ufuk nods smiling. Down again we visit the simply decorated Ulu Camii. Helen and I take our headscarves from our bags, Yüksel already wears one and Özlem solves this problem the easy way to put on her hood. We do not find this mosque special, no special paintings or carved marble to see. Only the mihrab is made of nicely cut oak and that makes it worth a second look. After that Helen buys a plane ticket to Istanbul for next Saturday even though her budget does not allow this. She would much rather do this than take the bus for an eighteen hour journey.


Karahmanmaraþ is famous for its ice cream. I do not know what the ingredients are but its consistency is very compact. In fact, it hardly melts and reminds me a little of chewing gum. Ice cream sellers have to use their muscle power (at least it looks that way) to get the ice out of a big jar. We stop at one of them to see how he does this. The boy sees us looking and with a big smile on his face he gives a little performance.


Özlem invites us to come home with her and meet her parents. In the apartment of her family Özlem and Yüksel are making us a delicious dinner of kýsýr köfte and çoban salata. Around eight o’clock we leave. We get hugged a lot. Back in the centre we eat peynir kanape as a dessert (this is dough rolls filled with cheese) while we both write in our diary. Helen and I help each other with all the details. This day was unforgettable because it was filled with so much Turkish hospitality!



In the dolmus to the station, a man next to Helen is making strange movements. She leans over to me and whispers in my ear: ‘Don’t look immediately but I think that guy is masturbating.’ When we arrive at the station we know for sure: His fly is open. Yikes!


Both of us are staring at the stunning mosaics in Gaziantep Museum. The statement that this museum has the most beautiful mosaics of the world is true. One of the most impressive pieces is the portrait of a gypsy girl, dating from the second century. Almost all mosaics are intact, only very little pieces are missing. Each mosaic consists of hundreds, maybe thousands little square stones, each about one centimetre. They all glitter as if they were baked. They come from the Roman village Belkis-Zeugma, about fifty kilometres from here. The area was dug up before a large part of it got destroyed by the Birecik dam, which eventually overflowed the area. ‘Too bad,’ I think, ‘the destruction of this historical site is a great loss.’


In the old bazaar, many old craftsmen are busy doing their jobs. Coppersmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths, leather craftsmen, all of which I have never seen done in the Netherlands. I see gorgeous jewellery boxes but all too large to fit into my luggage. Post cards keep being a problem. I cannot find them so family and friends have to wait a little longer before receiving proof of this Turkish journey. The kale of Gaziantep is closed which we discover when we are at the entrance. We are fifteen minutes too late. The guards smile pitifully when they see our obvious disappointment. We are allowed to enter the gate and walk around on the terrain, with a guard right behind us. He has to take care we do not sneak in.


In an internet café we both check our mail. When I open my mailbox, my heart stops for a second. I have a message from Cetin. My ex-boyfriend who was silent for more than eight months. The mail is full of complaints and accusations. After that I asked Helen for advice and then I react. That guy must not think he can say anything he wants to me! The big question is still alive: what does he want from me after all this time?



By dolmus we go to Kiris, a little town next to the Syrian border and about fifty kilometres from Gaziantep. It is a town with many old houses, both historical as architectural, narrow streets and a couple of nice shady teagardens. In one of those teagardens we talk in German with an elderly lady and her family. ‘Will you join us for dinner?’ they ask after only ten minutes. This time we say ‘That’s very kind of you, but no thank you, we have to back to Antep.’ Strolling through Kiris we see a majestic mosque. We take our shoes of, put a headscarf on but we find that the mosque is closed. Opposite the entrance of the square, we see a building with the text ‘Qur’an school for girls’. Helen peeks around the corner and just as we decide to leave we see one of the concierges. He asks us if we want to see the mosque. ‘Yes please,’ I answer in Turkish, ‘but it is closed.’ That is no problem; he will open it for us. The decoration of the Haci Mustafa Gümbüs Camii is mouth watering. Gorgeous Kütahya tiles make our camera’s click constantly. It’s a pity the concierge is following us everywhere we go. The ceiling of the mosque is beautifully painted but we cannot take a good picture of it. If that man was not around we would have gone flat on our backs but now we don’t dare to do that.


Finding a nice restaurant turns out to be more difficult than we thought. It is past eight o’clock and many restaurants are closed already or only specialised in baklava and other sweets. Back to Ümit then, the place where we’ve been yesterday for the speciality of the house: Sade kebab with a butter sauce. Tea afterwards is impossible. ‘We ran out of tea,’ the waiter says smilingly. No tea? In Turkey? That must be national news!



The hotel claims that breakfast is from seven to ten o’clock but when we arrive at a quarter past seven, the breakfast room is very empty. Helen has to wake up the receptionist, who is sound asleep on a stretcher behind the reception desk. At nine we are at the otogar where salesmen, as usual, yell out the destinations of their companies to us and other passengers, as loud as they can. One of them is getting pushy, he follows us wherever we go and he touches me several times. First I am friendly, I say in Turkish, English and Dutch that I do not want his offers, then I neglect him until I get sick of it and a very harsh ‘no!’ comes out of my mouth. Not nice of me, I know, but I am fed up with it. Suddenly he grabs my shoulder and holds on. My anger about that – how dares he to stop me physically! – shows very clearly, in both English and Dutch. He will probably not understand the words, but he will certainly understand my tone and body language. Helen laughs and says: ‘Mind your blood pressure.’ ‘What would you have done?,’ I ask her. ‘About the same,’ she says still laughing, ‘but it looks so funny.’ The bus is due to leave at a quarter to ten but just a few minutes before Helen gets stomach cramps again and she rushes to the restroom. The conductor sees me waiting and pointing to our luggage he says: ‘You can put that in the bus.’ ‘My friend is in the restroom,’ I answer, ‘I will wait for her.’ ‘No problem,’ he answers indifferently, ‘we will wait.’ Indeed, Helen comes back at five minutes before ten. Only then does the bus leave. What great service, a coach waiting for you!


An hour later we approach Birecik. About one kilometre before the town we see a large sign: swimming pool. We look at each other and at the same time we say ‘that would be nice.’ We walk back over the 675 metre long bridge that crosses the Euphrates, in the heat with our heavy bags and yes, next to the swimming pool there is a motel with adjoining restaurant. During lunch we have a good view of this pool, mostly occupied by boys between twelve and eighteen years. They run, jump and attempt to swim. Watching the techniques of some, it is clear that many of them have never been taught to swim the right way. Most of them swim ‘doggy style’. A couple of boys have put empty water bottles in their swim trunks so they will keep floating, it looks a little ridiculous. Also, quite a few have inflatable orange arm bands. They really aren’t able to swim. It is funny to see those inflatable bands on guys of around sixteen since you normally see them on little children. Most of the boys have a normal appearance for their age but we also see some indolent ones for whom a dietician would not be too pleased. The majority are dressed in long boxers and underwear beneath. The elastic of their shorts is stretched out, and the shorts are just on their hips! A couple of times we get a view of what we call a ‘builders bum’…. Supervisor Fevzi walks around and tells the boys to keep quiet.


When we look at all this, we get the idea that we, two women in a bikini and bathing suit, will attract a lot of attention, more than we would like to have. ‘Fevzi,’ we ask, ‘can we swim as well without too much trouble?’ ‘Of course,’ he assures us, ‘we will keep an eye on things.’ Fifteen minutes later he comes to us: ‘The swimming pool will close at four because we have a wedding tonight. All the boys will be sent home and the two of you can use the pool for one hour by yourselves.’ That sounds good, better than swimming now in the company of over a hundred boys full of bravado who, while we are fully dressed, peep at us through the restaurant window.


Chairs and tables needed for tonight’s wedding are set in the right place by five employees. Meanwhile Helen and I swim and we lie in the sun. When the staff is ready, they also get into the water, taking care not to come too close to us. At a quarter past five we have to leave, they need to settle the last few things and our chairs are an obstruction. This private use of the swimming pool is free, again ‘on the house’.


The extreme heat of this day is gone and we walk for about three kilometres along the bank of the Euphrates towards the Ibis breeding station, for which Birecik is famous. The bold ibis is almost extinct, but using hives, they have managed to keep about fifty of them. All of the ibis have rings around their legs so when they fly away; they are easily tracked down. While walking we get beset by troops of little boys who follow us all the way and only scream ‘hello, what is your name?’ and ‘where are you from?’. Even when we answer these questions, they only repeat themselves; they just do not speak English. Twice, someone offers us a ride; in both cases we say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ One of the men offering a ride says in broken German: ‘No problem, I am Kurdish.’ As if thát would be a reason to accept. We just do not like to accept a ride from total strangers.


On the way back to Birecik, we travel as real tourists with a horse and carriage, the coachman traditionally dressed. He seems to know everyone here and it looks like he is a local celebrity, people wave at him, use their car horns and greet him. The last part we have to walk again, since the coachman says we have reached the end of his route. A group of young men in their twenties is looking at us with interest. One does it with such an appraising and judging look on his face, that I feel like I am on a cattle market. ‘Ah, but I do know that trick as well,’ I think to myself. I look back at him with the same type of look on my face and then I raise my eyebrows while looking disapproving. Ouch, that hurts this guy, who obviously thinks he is an Adonis. Good, that one is put off as well!


On the opposite side of the river, located on the bank, is restaurant Kýyý, famous for its meze, fresh fish and it is definitely worth a kilometre’s walk. Again, walking back to the motel, a car stops to offer a ride. This time it is a complete family who offers but the motel is so close by, we can decline. We can hear the wedding music from the swimming pool from far away, but our motel room is in the back and we are not disturbed by it there.



‘Last year, it was 45 degrees here in Urfa,’ I tell Helen while we are waiting for the bus. ‘You must be kidding,’ she says, visibly shocked, ’I am melting now already!’. She walks away to a little store across the street. A minute later she is back. ‘I already bought a large bottle of water, just thinking of a temperature that high makes me thirsty.’ I grin.


Hotel Ipek Palas, in the centre, is found quickly and directly next to the hotel there is the office of Harran Nemrut Tours. The owner, Özcan Aslan, is a little too convincingly smooth for my taste, every question we have is answered with one of his sales tricks. We can choose between several options, differing from a four hour trip to Harran, to a two day tour, including hotel, to Mount Nemrut. ‘The price for the two day tour is for you, only 150 lira per person. But if you go with three, I can decrease that price to 125, just without meals,’ he says. There happens to be another tourist in Urfa who is interested. He said he would come back around five, so we are urged to do the same. ‘We will see,’ Helen says. Like me she finds the guy a little irritating as well.


The precincts of Gölbasý are cramped with stalls of all kind of organizations. One has the name ‘Cansuyu’ and we wonder if it means ‘Heavenly Water’. ‘What is Cansuyu?, I ask a man behind the stand. He does not answer but gives us both a hat and a pen with a text on it. Then he starts a conversation with an elderly man who stands a couple of metres aside. Ok, we have got promotion stuff. Now we only hope this organization is not questionable. A little further we see a group of Kurds. Suddenly we hear drums and the Kurds start dancing. One after another, bystanders join this dance, the more the better they must think.


Helen grabbles in her purse. ‘Oh what a pity,’ she says, ‘I forgot to take my headscarf with me and I want to see Abraham’s birth cage.’ ‘No problem at all, you can borrow mine,’ I answer, ‘I have been to that cage last year.’ There are benches in the shade and I look for a free spot, I want to watch people. On one of these benches a woman is sitting with some bags next to her. ‘Is this place free?’, I ask. She nods and takes her bags of the bench. A few other women join us, they are family, they tell me. One of them speaks some English and she introduces herself: ‘My name is Pýnar.’ I tell her my name. A good opportunity to ask a few questions. ‘Can you tell me why so many women wear headscarves in the same colour?,’ I ask. Pýnar looks surprised and says: ‘The closed women, kapalý, in chador, you mean? They are almost all Kurdish.’ ‘No,’ I say, ‘I don‘t mean those, I mean the women with purple scarves with almost every time the same motive.’ Purple, that is an unknown English word. I take my dictionary out of my purse and look for the Turkish translation: Mor. ‘Aha,’ Pýnar laughs, ‘those are Arab women; there are many of them here in Urfa.’


We go back to Harran Nemrut Tours, to see if that other tourist has arrived and to see if we can arrange a nice deal. Mount Nemrut is a place we both very much like to visit. At the office Frédéric is waiting, a 31-year old Canadian man who is travelling solo. He is from the French speaking province Quebec but happily for us, his English is good as well. We ask, we negotiate and together we go out on the street to consider what we want without getting disturbed every sentence by owner Özcan. Back in the office it seems there is more possible than this afternoon. The price for the two day tour has not changed but it is suddenly including lunch and dinner. Also nice is that they can drop us off at the otogar of Adiyaman, a good place to start our next track. We decide to go for it. We pay and get a receipt with everything we have paid for written on it. Tomorrow at half past nine we are expected here again, then a minibus will be waiting for us. The next two days we will be together so to get to know each other better, the three of us go out for dinner. In a former han is now Gülizar Konakevi, a restaurant with live music. There is a private party going on, but the music is loud enough for us to hear. The specialty of the house is þillýk, a kind of pancake. None of us like it very much so there are some leftovers.


Mount Nemrut

I am sick. I have enormous belly cramps and every five minutes I run to the restroom. Feeling like this never comes at a good moment but today it is really bad: our two day trip to Mount Nemrut is starting. Yusuf is our driver and guide and his car is very old but well maintained. He is a fantastic driver, able to avoid all the potholes in the road so I can sleep a little on the bench in the back. On our way we have to make a few sanitary stops for me. Happily none of my fellow travellers mind, on the contrary, they are very much concerned.


The Atatürk dam is about fifty kilometres south of Adiyaman and is part of the immense great GAP project. ‘This dam is 6th of size of all dams in the world,’ Yusuf tells us. This, along with other dams, will give the South-East part of Turkey more electricity. The consequences of these dams in the river Euphrates, is that about forty villages are now over flowed, which made history disappear with them. We have lunch in Kahta and continue driving, making some other stops before arriving at Mount Nemrut. The first stop is at the second century Septimus Severus Bridge over the Cendere river. Then we stop at the Karakuþ Tumulus – a grave monument from 36 AC and our last stop is at Devil’s Bridge with a view of an old castle.


Arriving at the 2150 metre high Mount Nemrut we have to walk up a path of about two kilometres, which will bring us to the summit. Two kilometres, long enough for another couple of sanitary stops… At the summit we all are speechless, looking at the beautiful stone statues. These statues of pre-Roman time were only discovered in 1881 by a German engineer. The mountain has never been visited before. It took until 1953 before the works to protect this archaeological miracle started. The statues were placed by order of a megalomaniac king, long before the Romans arrived. They represent the king himself and gods, his family, as he used to claim. There is a suspicion that the tomb of this king is hidden somewhere beneath the piles of stones, but there is no certainty about it. Many of the statues were decapitated during severe earthquakes. There are plans for starting a further restoration though that has not been started yet. A few of the statues have been recognized as those of Apollo, the god of sun Mithras, Fortuna, king Antiochus, Heracles, eagles that should portray Zeus and statues from Persian and Greek royal mythology.


It is chilly at the summit and I use my headscarf as a shawl. ‘Don’t be so silly,’ Helen says laughing, ‘in New Zealand we do not call this wind, just a little fresh air.’ Around half past five we have seen the statues several times, from several corners, and we all took loads of pictures. The spectacular sunset is due at eight thirty and all three of us find that too long to wait. We go down to the entrance of the park where, in a very strategically placed teahouse, we sit for a while to warm up. The view from here is also great and we are satisfied with it. Then we drive to Karadut, where at Karadut pension, we get a dinner and go to sleep early, we are all exhausted.





We are all too lazy to set the alarm early even if that means missing sunrise at five thirty. We decide to skip that. ‘Are you sure?,’ Yusuf asked yesterday evening, quite pleased because it meant he need not get up early either. After a coffee break in Kahta we arrive at the otogar of Adiyaman. There we get on the minibus to Malatya. Very soon we find a very cheap room in hotel Pehlivan.


In a small hairdressers’ saloon Frédéric gets shaved. He looks a bit frightened with that very sharp knife so close to his throat. Helen and I laugh; we take pictures of his face in fear. It only takes twenty minutes before the hairdresser is done. Frédéric comes out the shop, rubs over his smooth cheeks and says: ‘He even removed the hairs from my nose and ears; they do not do that in Canada!’. At half past five in the afternoon we say goodbye to Frédéric; he takes a taxi to the otogar. There he will get on the night bus to Trabzon.


Looking for a restaurant we are approached by Bayram, a nineteen year old political science student. He takes us to restaurant Þelale Kernek, a luxurious restaurant. On the menu next to the common kebabs there are also Italian pizzas and pastas. Bayram asks if he can join us. We are sure he is asking that because he wants to practice his English, not because we are both so beautiful. Of course he can sit at our table, why not? We offer him a drink and a meal but he refuses. He is very curious. He asks about everything, our work, the countries we come from, our trip. ‘Can you tell us more about the upcoming elections?’, we ask in return, ‘what is a good party according to you?’. ‘The religious AK-party is not good,’ Bayram says confidently, ‘CHP is a good party.’ The word ‘secular’ he does not know and our explanation leads to a heated discussion about religion and politics and many, many side-subjects: Bush, imperialism, conversion, Israel and more. ‘Are you two religious?,’ he asks, ‘I am.’ ‘No, we are not,’ Helen answers. ‘Oh, so you are atheists,’ is his immediate conclusion. ‘Again no,’ Helen explains, ‘we both are agnostic.’ Another unknown word. ‘Do you know what humanism is, Bayram?,’ Helen continues. He nods his head and says: ‘Yes, that means you love all people and all Muslims are humanists. Buddhists cannot be a humanist and also for Christians there are other measures.’ I have to laugh about his ideas but Helen changes into a teacher at once. She explains to him what it really means. Bayram listens and is interested. Helen is rattling on. ‘Do you understand that your remarks about Bush and Americans, Israel and Jews are as much generalising as you say western people talk about Muslims?,’ we say at almost at the same moment. That is so obvious in Turkey, anti-American government feelings are the same as anti-America feelings. Any nuance is not noticeable. It is very quiet for a while. Bayram thinks about what we have said and then he replies: ‘Yes, you are right.’ He smiles and continues: ‘Making generalisations is so easy.’ Suddenly his tone changes as he offers several times to guide us around in Kanal Boyu, the canal district of Malatya. It is after ten and we decline his offer. Outside Helen says: ‘I found him so pushy unexpectedly, that is why I said no to him.’


At four o’clock in the morning the voice of the muezzin of the nearby Yeni Camii wakes me. Mostly I don’t notice this early call and even when I do, I fall asleep soon. This call for prayer is so loud that it seems as if that muezzin is next to my bed. The mosque is not far from our hotel and apparently they have good sound equipment. For eleven minutes, I check the time on my watch, the calls continue before I can go back to sleep. I have never heard it that long, particularly not at this early hour. I wonder how many people will fulfil their religious duties now. Will they do it home or are there also people who at this unearthly hour go to the mosque? We find the city modern and not visibly religious. Women are dressed more fashionable than in other cities. Malatya is also clean no litter on the streets and oh wonder: cars stop for pedestrians!


For days now we see and hear cars with sound systems. From the boxes on the roof of the cars we hear calls to vote for certain parties. The AK-party obviously has the most money for this type of advertisement, several times a day we can listen to the well known sound. If the amount of advertisement is deciding who will win the elections, it will be this party, I am sure. A few times I have heard Turks complaining about the costs of this campaign. A waste of money, they called it, it should be better to use it for health care and education. The whole country is filled with colourful posters of candidates. Am I not looking properly or is it correct that I can see only one poster with a female candidate? There are more women in the Turkish parliament I hope?


Arriving in Battalgazý we are almost overrun by a group of young kids. They scream several things like ‘Ulu Camii’, ‘karvanserai’ and a lot of words we do not understand. They follow us everywhere we go, like bees to honey. We drink tea on a ‘men-terrace’, it helps to keep these children at a distance though the number of curiously looking eyes certainly does not decrease. Close by the city hall is the restored seventeenth century Ottoman Silahtar Mustafa Paþa Han. It is complete abandoned. Unfortunately the precinct is partly closed, we can walk along the arcade but all adjoining rooms have gates with heavy looking locks. When the children see us coming, they run up to us again but then we are ‘saved’ by four teenagers who send the kids away in no uncertain terms. A small problem, now the teenagers are following us! Is this what you call ‘getting from the frying-pan into the fire?’ This Ulu Camii has been built in Seljuk style. The ceiling of the mosque is low and supported by many thick pillars. Wall decorations and tiles are limited; still this mosque has a special atmosphere. The bordered height of the ceiling gives a darkened effect to this place. It reminds me a little of cave churches in mountain areas.


We go for a döner to a tiny restaurant near the local otogar. Our presence in this cramped place with only four seats leads immediately to action. ‘Fatih!’, someone screams to a boy outside, ‘’Ingilizce!!’ An upset and heavily blushing Fatih come in, but more than the words ‘Where are you from?’ he cannot say. Waiting for the bus back to Malatya I suddenly get enormous cramps, I feel nauseous and very dizzy. Is this a consequence of the döner? Wasn’t that good? Helen says I am dehydrated and she forces me to drink a litre of water within a few minutes. The front door of the bus is open so it is not too muggy anymore. ‘Look,’ Helen says with a grin, ‘this driver has female qualities, he is multi-tasking.’ Indeed, while driving the man is smoking a cigarette, talking into his cell phone and chatting with a passenger. I feel more and more sick and back in the hotel I go to bed, hopefully I will feel better after a nap.


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