Heading east from Isparta we drove through the Gulluk Dagi national park, stopping by Lake Egirdir for a much needed wash. It’s amazing how your opinion on acceptable levels of cleanliness changes after several weeks travelling. What was previously a horrendous stench is passed off as a mild case of BO.
From the lake we proceeded to Catal Hoyuk – the site of the oldest known human community. Archaeological digs have revealed mud dwellings dating back to 6800 BC. Next on the itinerary was the bizarre moonscapes of Cappadocia. This region in central Turkey contains the famous rock-hewn dwellings in the area surrounding Goreme and the amazing underground cities of the Hittites. The Hittites were a tribe that controlled the area 4000 years ago. In times of peace they farmed above ground but when invaders threatened they moved to troglodyte dwellings underground where they could live for up to six months. We explored the 5 levels of the underground city of Kaymakli, descending 50m below the earth.
Afterwards we proceeded to the fairytale village of Goreme. Differential erosion has caused the volcanic rock to be formed into what are known as fairy chimneys. They look remarkably like smurf houses but we avoided telling the locals this. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. On Wednesday we climbed the torturous mountain road to the summit of Nemrut Dagi. Large stone statues of the gods were built here in 60 BC but earthquakes have toppled them. Despite the guide book gushing about how amazing they were, the real attraction of the sight though is the fantastic views of the surrounding national park. It even made having to use the low ratio gearbox on the Landy worthwhile. The way down was a bit hairy though when the brake fluid heated up so much that the brakes began to become spongy. Several stops had to be made to allow them to cool.
The next day we continued east to the city of Diyarbakir. This city was at the centre of the Kurdish separatist troubles of the late nineties and a heavy Turkish military presence is still maintained throughout the area. We met our first Kurd at the petrol station and he kindly gave us tea and grapes and helped us with our pathetic attempts to pronounce Turkish words.
On Friday we drove from Diyarbakir through the amusingly named town of Batman to the picturesque village of Hasankeyf. After enjoying a meal beside the Tigris river we helped out some locals who had a drained car battery. They kindly expressed their thanks by giving us some ice-cold water which would have been manna from heaven in the 41 degree heat. Unfortunately, we couldn’t drink it as it was local water and we didn’t want to risk causing even more upset to our stomachs which had been grumbling unpleasantly for the last 2 days.
From Hasankeyf we headed north to the town of Baykan. This is a Kurdish town and we passed several army checkpoints on the way. After parking up at a truckers stop we got to talking with a local teacher who brought us to a café and introduced us to his friends. Over tea and grapes we discussed politics, religion, football and family through the use of exuberant gesticulation and the odd common word. We also had an introduction to traditional Kurdish music which is noticeably different from the Turkish variety.
In the morning we drove another torturous uphill track to the other Nemrut Dagi (there seems to be no explanation as to why there are two). This one is a huge inactive volcano with 5 separate lakes in the crater. Enjoying the first cool breeze since we left England, we spent the majority of the day 3000m above sea level.
On Sunday we drove north to the city of Ezerum where we had our first Turkish bath (haman). Richard had the enjoyable experience of having his pecs rubbed by an old man who had a suggestive twinkle in his eye. Looks like all that gym time wasn’t in vain afterall!
On Monday we will pick up our Iranian visas (if all goes according to plan). After six weeks of bureaucratic wrangle it seems they’ve finally decided to grant us entry to the country. Turkey has been a pleasure and we look forward to experiencing the Iranian culture – which from what we’ve read is even more hospitable than Turkey.