Friday, November 23, 2007

stewed tea and charades.

23rd May 1990

I was abruptly woken by someone shaking me on the shoulder.

“Tatvan….Tatvan” shouted the elderly Turk.

I jumped out of my seat half asleep and grabbed my daypack, reached overhead and pulled my backpack from the luggage rack and staggered down the smoky aisle to the front of the bus.

Thirty seconds later I stood in complete darkness as the bus disappeared into the distance. I looked at my watch. It was 3.30 am. It was pitch black and I was on the edge of a small town in the far eastern reaches of Turkey.

Earlier that afternoon I clambered on board the bus in Malatya where I planned to catch a ferry across Lake Van from the lakeside town of Tatvan on my way to Mt.Ararat on the distant border of Turkey, Iran and Armenia.

A miscalculation of the bus times by yours truly meant I arrived at Tatvan in the ungodly hours of the morning instead of 7am, as I had planned.

Six months earlier the prospect of arriving in a remote eastern Turkish town at 3.30 in the morning would have scared the beejeezus out of me. But having by this time already been travelling for several months I was able to take it in my stride and was (surprisingly) unruffled.

I wandered along the unlit road towards some lights in the distance. Before long I found myself in the middle of town and to my surprise I found a small tea-shop open, its dim interior lights glowing like the soft embers of a dying fire.

Inside were 5 or 6 people all of whom looked up when I entered. They gazed at me with that look of curious perplexity that you might develop if a tap dancing badger were to appear at your bedside one morning.

“Merhaba” I said smiling. Everyone smiled back warmly and then they all went back to their conversations.

I settled into a seat and was brought tea. The tea here in Turkey is a thick, dark brown stewed bitter experience, served in small liqueur glasses, which needs several spoons of sugar to make it potable. I grew to really like it.

Soon a young man came and joined me. He spoke no English whatsoever. From his appearance I took him to be a soldier, which he was, and we sat for several hours communicating through a mixture of pantomime and the limited Turkish I had so far managed to pick up on this trip.

Mustafa I discover, had been on sick-leave from his regiment in Van and was on his way to his wife who lived in Diyabakir, near Batman. (I just put that in because I love the fact that there is a place called Batman!)

This way, I was able to pass quite a lot of time until the sun came up and life once again began in Tatvan.

I left the tea-house and went in search of the tourist office, where I was able to buy the ferry ticket to Van.

The ferry, it turns out, was primarily a goods line ferry, which also permitted a train carriage to board and drive off the other end. Pretty neat I thought. It was also almost completely devoid of passengers. Apart from myself, the only other passengers I saw was a Turkish family who stay well below deck for the entire trip.

From my diary:

“This 4 hour trip across the fishless alkaline lake is both beautiful and relaxing. The scenery is spectacular - rivalling parts of the Swiss Alps.

Behind lies Küçük Nemrut Dağı (‘Little Nemrut’), an extinct volcano with a 7km wide crater - one of the largest in the world. To the north lies Suphan, a large snow capped mountain, dreamlike in the afternoon haze. On the south-side of Van Gölü the ferry passes close to the mountain range that separates Tatvan and Van.

Mountains rise and fall, snow lays on the upper reaches; and a volcano, one entire side blown away by some ancient cataclysm lies silently yawning to the lake like an open wound washed clean by the water. Its sides softened by grass looking like a mossy cloak wrapping old shoulders.

Lying alone on the sun-warmed wooden deck, I feel drowsy and dreamy, the setting sun and haze wash over me and my head is drunkenly light. The boat rolls ever so gently, and the wake flickers and glistens with the suns’ final rays and I drift into sleep.”

Ferry across Lake Van

Lake Van


citadel of Van

view from the citadel

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