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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 19.04.2017

Unique people amid their dysfunctional politics!

March 2017

Cappadocia, situated west of Kayseri in the mountains is familiar and known to most us for its outstanding and mystical landscape made of whinstone containing various cave dwellings, underground churches and cities. The range of colours and shapes in this bizarre territory annually enchants numerous visitors. Deep hillsides and rough watersheds and hills create new scenic views at any time of the day with impressive atmospheric pictures of shade and light. Already overwhelmed just by seeing those amazing pictures online, be it pictures out of a hot air balloon or  from the ground, we started our journey towards this magic place.

The area known as Cappadocia consists of six main provinces of which Göreme with its cave architecture carved into the soft tuff is the most well known. This town is also the center of Cappadocia. Even today people of Anatolia live in caves made out of lava stone and this landscape with houses shaped like sugar loaves looks as if from another world.

At 4:00 o'clock am we adults got up to start the long way from Ankara to Göreme (300 km). Very quietly did we climb into the driving cabin, started the engine and drove off. Next to Lennox' pillow we put a Walkie Talkie in case of emergency. He knew what was going on when we started driving early in the morning without waking him. We stopped to have breakfast at 8:00 o'clock, but Lennox was still fast asleep when we got back into the living area of Akela. 

After strenghtening ourselves with cereals and muesli we set off to do the final kilometers and it took another two hours until we reached the entrance to the valley of Göreme. We could already get a first glimpse of the landscape and since it was very promising we were rolling along the road very slowly as our eyes couldn't get tired of the amazing views. In the village itself tourism was flourishing. There were hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, companies offering rides with hot- air balloons and souvenir shops lined up next to each other on the main road. It seemed boring for us to look for a pitch within the small town and all of you who know us by now and have been following us on this blog can guess that we were yearning for ”something different“. It took us quite some time until we found a breathtaking location on a viewing platform, offering us an incredible view of the tuff territory. When the sun was setting it conjured up an amazing picture of shades and evening light reflecting in the rock faces. We stopped, took a deep breath and let the moment have an effect on us.

On waking up the next morning we experienced a Deja-vu as we saw snow when looking out of the window after the night. It had snowed quite a bit and obviously for our junior this meant leaving Akela at once and nothing could have stopped him from getting out into the white and magnificent landscape. Only as late as the evening did Leander and I - using joint energy - manage to get him back into the warmth. Very tired and exhausted he fell asleep right after dinner.

In the morning of the second day there, Leander set off with his camera early in the morning while Lennox and I were still drowsing. Suddenly I was woken up by a muffled sound. What could that be? I opened the roof hatch of the overhead bay and was shocked and taken aback for a moment. About three meters above my head a hot-air balloon was floating. After having recovered a bit I smiled to its passengers and they waved back. The weather was beautiful! Wonderful warm sunrays tickled my nose and only then did I realise that there were many other hot-air balloons in the air, fighting for the best location there. About 60 of them were floating around in many different colours. 

No sooner come than gone. This is what happened to the snow. Our bodies were aching for movement after having to stand around for very long times in the cities and towns. Each of us could  quickly be motivated to go for a walk in the Valley of Love. The name is self-explanatory once you have seen it. We came across a little hut on our way and drank some chai as refreshment. We spent two wonderful days in this bizarre fairy-tale landscape. After dinner on our last day there, we prepared the truck for yet another “nightshift” to drive the distance of 600 km to get to Erzincan. Lennox was allowed to cuddle up in our bed while Leander and I took place in the driving cabin.

We wanted to visit Murat in Erzincan. Murat, whom Leander remembered well from a journey with Fabi last year. The water tank of the Snowmads' truck had been torn off and by chance they had come across Murat who had helped with guidance and resources in his repair shop. Traveling with Akela for such a long time by now, various bits and pieces had fallen apart as well and we dearly hoped Murat would also be able to help us. 

In Greece we had had an unpleasant encounter with a coach which resulted in losing the rain gutter above the side windows. Moreover, the protection cover of our diesel fuels, or better its remains, hung loosly off the truck and there were numerous other small “illnesses and diseases” to be fixed. 

After driving for roughly two hours we were too tired to keep going and stopped at a filling station. The personnel there were very friendly and allowed us to stay and sleep in that place as well. We could catch up on some sleep and started to do the remaining kilometers of the long stage in the early morning. Akela kept rolling east, and without seeing any visible or obvious borders, we came to the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, which is a non specific area located in the countries Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. 

The eastern mountain area of Anatolia appeared rough and inhospitable to us. The Kurds had been living there for many centuries as nomads in an independent tribal society which was not noticed by foreign powers. However, oil and water reserves in that area were the reason that neighbouring empires started to fight for this very area. Despite the lack of a common language and exact borders have the Kurds been successful in keeping their own identity throughout centuries. This identity is based on their historical roots as nomads and a tribal society on the one side, and the political repression and foreign domination they have been exposed to on and off and still are exposed to on the other side. The Kurds experienced the mighty revolutions of the 20th century at their own bodies – with a bad result for them. Resulting from this oppression developed the Kurdish Labour Party PKK. This socialist oriented underground organisation fights for political autonomy in areas of Turkey inhabited by Kurds. This organisation and party is globally considered to have terrorist roots. 

But now back to our story!

We were very exhausted and tired when we drove up Murat's company at 4 pm. I had only got to know him from Leander's stories and tales about him and I was eager to get to know him in person. A few minutes later he appeared. He was tall and of a stately figure bearing a wide grin in his face. He hugged Leander and warmly welcomed the two of us. Murat's English was as good as our Turkish – miserable – but it turned out to be “problem yok”, meaning “everything okay and no problem”, which has come to be a running gag between Leander and Murat. Whatever problem you confronted Murat with, he grinned, said “problem yok” and waved it away. In the employees' day room we got a snack.
When showing Murat all the things we wanted him to repair on Akela he commented it with the usual “problem yok”. It had turned dark by now and our tummies were growling for food. Murat suggested picking up his wife Cigdem and their two sons Devran (11 years of age) and Devrim (4 years of age) from their home and going out for dinner together.

A promise is a promise and a few minutes later the seven of us were sitting in the car aiming at a restaurant outside the city. We sorted out language problems by calling Facetime. Many Turkish people have relatives in Germany or Austria who were contacted if the worst came to the worst, to help us and translate. This is also how and why we got to know Ali, Filiz and Orhan. Kind regards from us to you! The children had fewer problems to communicate because playing with each other works globally without many words. The next days, which were spent in the garage by Leander and Murat, Lennox and I were guests of Cigdem and her children. This made it possible for me to get some insight into the life of a modern Kurdish family. I didn't feel too comfortable at the beginning, but Cigdem helped me overcome this initial shyness and insecurity in no time. We cooked collectively, which was great fun, and relatives dropped by to have a coffee party, I was allowed to use the washing machine, she accompanied me to the bank to change money and patiently waited for me for two long hours at the hair dresser. Leander experienced similar hospitality at the workshed. They worked tirelessly as screwing, building, crafting and adjusting were on the agenda. Last but not least they allowed us to fill up our water tanks and then it meant saying good bye for good.

Thank you so much for your hospitality and helpfulness. At times no words are needed as the language of the heart is globally understood.

We steered Akela out of Murat's garage and carried on further east towards Erzurum, where we planned to have a skiing day in the skiing resort of Palantöken in eastern Anatolia. We reached our destination in the evening and found a suitable pitch to sleep just outside the city and turned in early to be rested and fit on the next day, our planned skiing day. When opening our eyes in the morning the sun was laughing from the sky. We quickly wolfed down breakfast, made the truck ready to go, got out our skiing equipment, rushed to the driving cabin and stepped on it into the direction of the powder snow. 

The skiing resort Palantöken is located in eastern Anatolia. It provide skiers and snowboarders with 70 km of slopes. There are 15 lifts available to take skiers and snowboarders up to a height of between 2.200 to 3.140 meters. The highest peak of the resort is Mt. Palantoken with 3.180 meters. After overcoming initial problems – Lennox could not remember how to do turns anymore – we had a great skiing day in lovely weather conditions. Actually we were skiing as long as possible and only when the lifts closed for the day in the evening did we stop to pack our skies back on the roof rack, feeling melancholy. Strong again after enjoying soup, Dürüm and Ayran we left Erzurum City and carried on further east! Each kilometer we were driving we were approaching the Iranian border. We felt tired from skiing and hence, after only a two hour's road trip, we rather stopped at a filling station to stay for the night.

We intended to get as far as the frontier town of Dogubayazit the next day. It hardly differed from other border cities we had seen on earlier journeys. Dirt and dust were omnipresent, above the roofs lay a grey pall of smog and the air was impregnated with tar and exhaust fumes. We stocked up on food in a big amount in a supermarket before we looked for a pitch outside the city in the back country, where we completed our daily trip. 

The Eastern Anatolian Highland is marked by barren steppes. Without fuzzing around too much we set up our camp for the night at a suitable pitch in the middle of nowhere. Here, in the Persian-Turkish-Armenian borderland is the location of the highest Turkish mountain, Mount Ararat, whose snowcapped 5.165 high summit proudly presented itself to us. While Leander and Lennox spent the last sunlit hours outside I prepared dinner for us. Afterwards we were combing through each shelf, drawer and wardrobe again to look for stimulants such as alcohol and the like which are strictly forbidden in Iran. Obviously we didn't want to conjure up problems ourselves when entering Iran. 

We were woken rather abruptly the next morning. Frantic knocking at our door made us exit our dreams and arrive in reality again. We looked out of the window very hesitantly and saw three men in military outfit posted outside our door, machine guns at hands. Using military orders one kept shouting, “Where are you from? - What are you doing here....?”. He made us open the door to see what was hidden behind it. After a short inspection of the living cabin he gave the “all clear” towards his entourage. At this very moment four more armed men who had entrenched behind rocks showed up. It made me queasy, but luckily the situation clarified quickly. Quite apparently we were situated amid the PKK territory. We were urged to leave this area as quickly as possible as the PKK was active there. However, I guess we would have to fear the PKK less than the armed forces. Either way, after a hasty breakfast we were setting off, yet not as originally planned towards Iran as we had discovered Ishak Pasha Palace on our navigation system the day before and had spontaneously decided to do some sightseeing there. The castle like palace of the Osmanian emir of Dugubayazit, Colak Abdi Pasa and his son Ishak Pasha was built between 1685 and 1784. Three outside walls of this building rise up into a steep slope. When entering the building you have to go up the mountain where the entrance is situated. Paying a very low entrance fee we were allowed to enter this ancient ruin, which was fascinating to look at. This place turned out to be a popular location for newly wed couples and photo shootings. We could admire two married couples doing their round tours and enjoyed a cup of chai at a stand near the exit, looking at the last sun rays of the day.

While doing so we spotted a small farm which was cultivated with goats and cows. Various small and simply constructed buildings, made of bricks and clay, nestled into the slope. The animals hardly found a place to feed on the steep slope. As we were curious we walked over to this farm. On arriving there, we saw a young man who waved us to come to him. He urged us to follow him when he walked away. Just outside the stables he wanted us to stop. He opened the gates and numerous goats rushed into the open. When the last one had left, he took Lennox by his hand and led him through the stables. Our eyes had to adapt to the darkness as there were no windows nor was there any artificial light. However, it didn't take us long anyway to find out why he had directed us there. In a small paddock there were about 20 young baby goats, some of them not older than a few days. Ahmet, the young farmer, lifted one of the baby goats and put it into Lennox' arms to stroke it. 

We could see that Ahmet enjoyed our visit. He showed us all the other animals exitedly and guided  us around. Though hinting at us that there was still a lot of work to be done by him, he invited us to visit him in the evening. Moreover, he urged us to stay close to his farm for the night as the area was infamous for being the meeting point of men who got drunk and then started rioting. Ahmet's alarm system in this pretty insecure area were five eerie dogs looking like hyenas. He advised us to stay inside Akela by all means as it might otherwise have an unhappy ending.

His work being done and when it started to get dark Ahmet picked us up from our truck and led us to his living room. There was no screed or floor pavement as we are used to it. On the bare floor there were carpets. Lined up bricks glued together with clay and cow dung were the walls and corrugated iron sheets served as roof. In the center of the room was an age-old wooden oven, whose best times lay far back in time. Looking for a bathroom or toilet was not successful, all that could be seen was a hole in the floor in the corner of the room which had a drain leading outside. This is where Ahmet washed himself after work was done using plastic containers. He offered us to stay on the mattress on the floor which, quite obviously, was his own bed. The walls were decorated with pictures of Ahmet's family members. He lived in conditions which were simply beyond belief for us, who are so much oriented to consume. Nevertheless he appeared very content and balanced. As nimbly as a fox he rushed from one side of the room to the other offering raisins, almonds and biscuits. He didn't have a table or chairs so we ate sitting on the floor.

He tried hard to tell us more about his life, which turned out to be rather tricky due to language barriers. About more than 20 years ago, when he must have been still a small child, the armed forces had come and had shot nearly his entire family. They were and have been Kurds and therefore a thorn in the Turkish government's side now and then. The persecution of Kurds gets justified with specious arguments such as serving as a security measure. In the 80's more than 40.00 people lost their lives. To put it in a nutshell, the victims have been made the culprits. Each and every Kurd was accused of being a member of the forbidden Kurdistan Worker's Party and consequently was considered to be a terrorist. Listening to him made our blood freeze in the veins. It was astounding how openly and honestly he spoke about his own opinion and views on politics, the PKK and the ruling corruption in his home country.

It had turned rather late and we should have said good bye but Ahmet's plans were very different. Pointing to his tummy he made clear to us that it was now time for dinner and that we would be his guests tonight. My attempts to offer my help were kindly put down by ignoring them. He served spaghetti with tomato sauce, tomato salad with fresh parsley and home made Ayran (yoghurt diluted with water and a bit of salt). Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the four of us enjoyed the wonderful food. I was not even allowed to help doing the dishes after the meal. After dinner it was high time for us to leave and go back to our place, not only because Lennox had nearly fallen asleep on Ahmet's matress. Ahmet first accompanied us to the truck, wished Lennox and me a good night and then accompanied Leander on his nightly photo-tour. He did that for two reasons: he wanted to protect Leander from his dogs on the one hand but he was also very interested in the matter on the other.

Thinking about this night later on we realised what disastrous consequences there might have been if we hadn't accidentally met Ahmet. We had steered Akela directly to a location which was the meeting point of rioting drunk men. Leander might have ended up in a physical fight with them or be attacked by Ahmet's guard dogs. Thank you Ahmet. Thank you that we were allowed to get to know you and what a shame that there aren't more people like you. Though fate has been dreadful to you and your family you have such a content and calm attitude.

Not having enough rest yet we shortly visited him once more the next morning to say good bye. Still shocked and moved from the previous evening and night we finally managed to start our final 30 km to get to the Persian empire. 

Turkey has exceeded our high expectations. We were welcomed with open arms and never had the feeling of insecurity or even fear. Turkish people openly speak about politics and seem to make their displeasure over certain issues free rein. No matter if rich or poor, well educated or not - the key message remains the same that democracy appears to die out in this country.

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