Full set of photos for Dogubeyazit, Diyabit and the trip back to Erzurum

By the time we got to Dogubeyazit (pronounced with a soft ‘g’) we changed our plans slightly and were now going to travel back to Erzurum with Nuri rather than spend extra time in Dogubeyazit.  After five days on the road we just needed a couple of days off before flying back to Western Turkey for the dawn ANZAC Day service.  It proved a good decision.  Dogubeyazit does not offer much attraction as a town and we would have been twiddling our thumbs out here in this small town right next to the Iranian border.

For the tourist there is a set group of sights which we duly drove around, the most impressive of these being the Ishak Pasa (last word pronounced ‘pasha’) palace a few kilometres out of town up in the hills. Iran is just over the hill.  The palace was built by a local warlord in the Ottoman era when this part of Turkey was at the far reaches of Istanbul’s control.  The setting is superb and the view framed by the stone windows is stupendous.  It’s a pity the modern roof has been plonked on top, which at least protects the interior from the elements, but stands out like a dog’s bollocks.

Nuri started chatting to some other tourists at the site, who turned out to be a couple from the Czech Republic.  This sent Nuri’s friend antennae quivering as his ‘great friend Petr’ is from that country.  Petr runs a tour company and often brings people out to Turkey for white water rafting.  Nuri has even visited Petr in the Czech Republic, although apparently Petr doesn’t speak English very well.  Nuri had been trying to organise a tour with Petr and thought that Petr didn’t understand what he wanted so he saw these hapless Czechs as a way to communicate properly with Petr.  He didn’t hit them up for a favour straight away but as his luck would have it as we left Ishak Pasa it started raining pretty heavily and we saw the Czechs walking along the road.  We offered them a lift back to town and they accepted.  Nuri then rang Petr, had an incomprehensible conversation about the details of passports for the upcoming tour that needed to be sent through.  He then shrugged and rolled his eyes at Petr’s English and handed the phone over to the young Czech girl who must have been wondering how she got into this situation.  She was soon laughing along with Petr, no doubt about how odd Nuri was.  She handed the phone back saying that Petr hadn’t confirmed a tour for that year.  Nuri just about ignored her and started to drive into town.  The car we were in automatically locks its doors above a certain speed and when this happened the Czech couple exchanged a look.  Sarah kindly offered to let them join us in driving around the sites of Dogubeyazit for the rest of the day but after some half-hearted hemming and hawing they declined and got out near their hotel. Afterwards, Sarah and I agreed that we had suddenly thought, in the face of outside company in the form of the Czechs, that Nuri may be eccentric, but he was our Nuri and – like one’s beloved but sometimes infuriating grandfather –  and we felt protective of his eccentricities.

The other sites of Dogubeyazit are out of the bottom drawer.  There was the caravanserai located in a very picturesque setting in the middle of grassy hills but unfortunately locked.  The commander of the military outpost next door came out to explain that they had mislocated the key, and anyway didn’t have time to come and open it up for everyone who turned up.  They did have time to come out and explain all this though, the commander flanked by armed guards keeping a wary eye on the school kids next door as the only likely military threat in the area.  The caravanserai was used in the silk road as a resting point for the camel trains, a large building big enough to shelter all the men and camels for a night or two, and despite this function, quite beautiful.

Then there is Noah’s Ark, which sounds interesting but is really just a big flat rock in the shape of a boat that biblical “scholars” have tested and found to be the right age for it to be the fossilised remains of the boat from biblical stories.  It is conveniently close to the legendary resting place, Mount Ararat, which loomed nearby, shrouded in cloud for most of the day.  I couldn’t really summon much interest in it, but luckily it hadn’t completely dulled my senses or I wouldn’t have been able to warn Nuri about the big mound of gravel that we almost drove into on the way down the mountain.

Next stop was the meteorite hole right next to the Iranian border which our guidebook explained was not created by a meteor but is simply a geological anomaly, a sink-hole or something of the sort. In fact, it is really just an unimpressively large hole which is home to a lot of pigeons.  The final site was the Iranian border itself which I don’t really consider a site.  Going across borders is interesting but looking at them fails to elicit a thrill from this seasoned traveller.  The road to the nearby ice cave wasn’t open, which we were kind of glad about because we just wanted to get to our sleeping place and crash out.

Nuri said he knew a great place on the road to Erzurum, and who were we to argue?  In the end it turned out to be an amazing place.  It didn’t look promising as we drove through another grey, shitty looking Eastern Turkey town found a few kilometres off the main highway, and kept going past the small town which gave way to farmhouses.  Then we pulled off the road passed a few sheds and saw steam rising from the ground.  Behind one of the sheds hot thermal water was pouring out of the ground, staining the rocks white.  The sheds were actually public baths, not quite as stylish as Iceland but just as effective.  We stayed in a nearby rustic guesthouse where Nuri insisted on cooking a barbecue, despite it being dark and cold enough to necessitate beanies and gloves.  In the end the little barbecues they use over here did a great job, just a metal box filled with fanned coals and a wire griddle over the top which cooked even frozen chicken wings to perfection and with liberal salt and lemon tasted fantastic, or maybe we were just enjoying the hot chicken thawing our fingers.  With dinner out of the way Sarah and I were free to spend an hour or so by ourselves in the hot outdoor thermal pool as the freezing drizzle rained down.  The pool, about as big as a suburban pool in Australia, had white stones at its base, cloudy white water and the perfect temperature.  It felt like we were alone on an old Roman bath.  It was the best way to spend our last night with Nuri.

In the morning we just had to drive the two hours back to Erzurum, which gave us much better views of Mount Ararat and an old bridge on the way.

We stopped in at yet another of Nuri’s relatives who ran a driving instruction school with a very cool stripped-down car enabling the learner to see how everything worked.  Another sugary orange tea later and we were back on the road.

As we were pulling into town Sarah reminded Nuri that on our first morning driving together he had invited us to his family’s home for dinner.  Nuri seemed surprised that he had done this but insisted it would be no problem.  So our last day driving with Nuri ended in confusion.  We paid him his money plus a tip but he then claimed that he counted the two half days he was with is as two full days.  Luckily the tip we planned to give covered this, so he just talked himself out of a tip in the end, but honestly, he is very honest.

He offered to pick us up in his uncle’s car to take us to his family home for dinner a couple of nights later, but of course we paid for the ride.  Much cheaper than getting a taxi he assured us.  Nuri’s home is a modest affair in a small outpost on the outskirts of town.  Nuri told us that his wife smokes too much – ‘like a train’. Indeed, Mrs Cicek cooked her delicious meal on a pipe stove in the living room with a fag hanging off her lip most of the time. Like Nuri, she was friendly and smiling, and we sat down with his wife and four of his six daughters for a superb dinner of rice, chicken, bread and salad, all cooked to perfection. This was followed by a (sadly, large) glass of orange tea which we drank while Nuri’s daughters fawned over Sarah and took photos with her, which all of them subjected to serious critique.  It was a generous invitation to share their meal and experience local family and village life. We really enjoyed it – Sarah, in anthropology mode, particularly.

The following morning was nearly our last encounter with Nuri when he drove us to the airport and gave us a brief farewell.  He rang periodically during the rest of our time in Turkey trying to get us to see a travel agent that he knew in Istanbul.  We missed most of his calls, not intentionally.  Six days was more than enough time with him and we flew back to Istanbul glad to be on our own once more. But it has to be said, he did give us an ‘amaizy’ tour with ‘too much’ ‘crazy beautiful’ stuff.

Full set of photos for DogubeyazitDiyabit and the trip back to Erzurum

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