Journal - Napló
|Posted on December 14, 2009 at 3:35 PM|
I was standing at the edge of the road when it began to rain early one morning. I was advancing slowly with only shorter rides, but I didn’t mind. The scenery made me forget about both the rain and the cold.
The fierceness of the landscape was amplified by the dark clouds in the skies. It was a mysterious kind of light-play. One of the cars appearing from around the curve presented me with the amusing sight of happy passengers pressing their faces on the window to make pigs noses in a childish fashion.
At nightfall I was still standing at the border of a small mountain village about 150 kilometers away from Erzurum. After the last member of a herd had left the road, a van halted right in front of me. The driver, hearing my destination, decided to pick me up.
We were climbing higher and higher in the majestic mountains. The rain was followed by snow-storm and not before a long we had to stop. The slope was so steep we needed to apply the snow-chains to get up. I noticed that more and more vehicles were stuck at the side of the road while we were advancing relatively ’cheerfully’. Reaching a plateau we removed the van’s iron shoes, but some kilometers on we started spotted stranded cars again. The more the road was rising, the larger were the numbers of those deciding to give up. It was not just snow that was making a mockery of the peoples and their vehicles. The road was covered by sheet ice. Once while we were struggling with the chains, the van slipped back several centimeters. Maneuvering among the standing cars we managed to reach a somewhat flat part of the road and had a cup of tea. Getting back in the car we went non-stop to Erzurum.
Days 142-145. - Erzurum
The days following I was lucky to enjoy the hospitality of some couchsurfer veterinarian students and their friends. In daytime I was usually assaulting the Iranian embassy for visa, then in the evenings I was hanging out with my new friends in the city, visiting its coffee bars, water pipe joints, the castle and the odd-towered theology center full of students.
Situated 1500 meters above sea-level amongst snow-capped peaks, only a few old buildings have remained as proofs of the city’s great past. But in this former center for trade, snowfall and cold are far from keeping indoors the vendors who loudly offer vegetables, fruits or fish for sale.
At the Iranian embassy I met a 20-year-old Spanish guy named Alex who was heading for Iran as well. After the bureaucratic hours we drank a tea and decided to continue the journey together.
Alex is a student of Politology and law in Madrid, but is now taking a gap year so that he can travel. He set off from Madrid with a college friend riding a bike this summer. They parted in Macedonia where his companion took a plane to Bulgaria while he went on cycling to Istanbul. When we met, he had been travelling around Turkey for about a month, mostly by hitch-hiking.
Although both of us already had the Iranian visa, the Turkish hospitality held us longer in Erzurum. We went to see the Department of Veterinary Science and the farm belonging to the university. We visited the Kangals (Turkish shepherd dogs), a husky that turned aggressive in his solitude and idling, hundreds of cows and their calves, a white horse suffering from some stomach problem, etc., etc.
Sitting in the canteen of the university I noticed something: none of the girls was wearing kerchief, not even those on whom I’d seen it before. As it turned out, it is forbidden, they are not allowed to wear it in the university.
We walked out of the city and were heading east. The beauty of the landscape near the Iranian border remained the same. Tall white peaks were rising above the brown gently sloping hills. The mountains border the road here closely, there from far away. The path runs between the slopes that sometimes become deep valleys. From time to time we passed plateaus. From one of these open and windy places we were ’saved’ by a truck.
The driver – according to his story- was heading for Tajikistan. He had been travelling there by road for years, so we asked him about the central Asian countries. He let us know about the conditions we should expect. Late in the afternoon he invited us for dinner. From time to time he stopped to check the level of fuel.
It was already dark when one of these two minute stops went beyond just that. Obviously, he was worried about the result shown by the oil-gauge. I enquired if I might be of any help. I didn't understand his answer but getting into the cabin it became clear he asked for money. He pointed at a bill. From that I figured out he needed to pay the repairs. He asked 200 Turkish lira's and said that he would give it back, of course. Alex and I dug out our wallets, were speculating with liras and euros, but eventually, he only got (borrowed) money -130 lira- from me. We stopped at a petrol station where - I think – he paid for something. After a couple of kilometers we halted again and he invited us for a cup of tea. He told us he was going to stay there that night and continue at 9 the next morning. He got us a cab that drove us to a cheap hotel at the center of the small town. With mixed feelings, we were looking with suspicion at the huge safety-pins that were holding the case of our blankets. Then we fell asleep.
At 8 30a.m. we walked down to the buffet at the edge of the road. The truck was still there. We sat down to have a tea. Soon two men appeared and started to fix the fuel tank. When they were finished, the driver still hadn’t turned up. At the same time, a third person came, got into the truck and started the engine. We asked the buffet attendant where the driver with whom we’d come was. He said the guy had gone back to Istanbul. We told him about the 130 lira. He was astounded. He didn’t let us pay for the tea. Though he spoke in Turkish, we understood what he was saying: ’our driver’ is going to stand to account for this in the presence of Allah.
Perhaps the countless good experience has made me naive. Nevertheless, I trusted that truck driver. Moreover, I’m still not totally sure that he ripped us off intentionally, maliciously.
Nonetheless, I made a mistake.
After some minutes of waiting we were picked up and heading for the Iranian border in the company of a Turkish businessman.
Experienced & written by Peter, translated by Ágoston Galambos and published by Kenneth.