Here are some firsts from the drive from central to eastern Turkey the past couple of days:
First time Jae has outright rejected one of my travel suggestions. I wanted to squat in a creepy abandoned campsite/hostel on a lonely road outside of Erzican, a city that doesn’t even warrant a mention in the Lonely Planet; he refused. Sure, the WiFi reception was poor, but what about the potential for chilling out with a spooky Turkish ghost?
First time the outside temperature gauge showed that little negative symbol. “Stay positive buddy!” I tell it to no avail. Apparently, while the temperature in this region of Turkey may sometimes hit highs of 25-30° C in July and August, it still goes sub-zero come sundown. There’s definitely a market for toques here.
First time I’ve been truly worried about the car. (Note: this worry was far eclipsed in magnitude two days later when I almost crashed the car – see below.)
Leaving Cappadocia, we loaded up the car as usual with our luggage and stolen food from the hostel breakfast buffet. A twist of the key, and the engine grumbles to idle only to die a moment later. Uh-oh. Second attempt, same result. I pop the hood, hop out and poke at the motor like I know what the hell I’m doing. The engine is still there, and that’s about as detailed as my diagnosis gets.
Let’s try starting it again. A twist of the key, and the engine pops to life. I revel in my perfunctory and unwitting repair for a split second, until I notice that the engine is not idling, but surging. I watch with increasing concern as the ghost in the machine lazily spools the engine past 2,000 rpm, then 3,000, before I turn it off. I’m unsure what my next move is. Look at the engine again? Yeah, let’s try that. I get out and gaze at it, willing it to work normally. Suspicious of collusion, I go around back and glare sternly at the tailpipe for a bit. That should straighten them out. Time for another try. A twist of the key, and the engine turns… and catches! And idles! Normally! 6 years of mechanical engineering misery to thank for that little bit of success, I believe.
In reality, my guess would be the muck-up was partly due to the negative temperatures and partly something wrong with one of either the injectors, fuel pump or engine sensors (or possibly all three). In any case, it’s been starting and running fine since then, as if our little spat never happened. Forgive, but never forget I say. I will remember the disobedience and see how things go from here.
First time I’ve actually enjoyed driving at night. Normally I hate arriving somewhere new after dark, but with the shortened days (sunset was at 15:54 today), it’s become a bit of a routine as of late. Fortunately, the other night we got a bit of a treat. The mountain scenery we would have missed was lit with a moony indigo light courtesy of an obligingly clear sky.
As a bonus, we were able to watch the full moon rise as we drove directly at it the whole day. It began as a wispy disc lurking like a creepy stalker just above the eastern horizon.
As the sun set, the rolling hills were doused in a palette of pale gold and amber. Exposed earth was a deep copper, and the soil in areas where the grass had recently been burnt away was jet black. In every direction was a white-tipped mountain seemingly within arms reach.
The moon slowly grew more brilliant over the sepia plateau as the sun settled down to a more acute angle. By the time the big sun had fallen behind the receding plain, leaving a gradient of yellow and purple and pink in the west, the moon was left marshalling us east through a pile-up of small mountains. Jupiter came to hang out and mooch the moon’s beer.
First time (and only time, Insha’Allah) that I almost crashed the car. Driving out to Ani, the millennium-old ruins of an Armenian capital, we had a nice little snowstorm blow in on the road. Turning right into a long bend, the Nissan left gravity behind began an undesired, 50-mph 4-wheel drift toward the ridge above the fields below. As I’ve heard tends to be the case with these situations, everything slowed right down. The car was surely going over the edge as it plowed sideways through the fresh powder and ignored all commands from the steering wheel, throttle and brakes. My brain cued up some soft ballet music, and two thoughts danced through my head: “This is really going to mess up the car,” and “Rolling the car is going to look fucking sweet on the GoPro.” Within tenths of a second I had accepted my fate and begun to mentally edit the video of the car’s demise. But at the last second, the tires plunged into the soft shoulder and it was like the car caught up with all of the frantic steering and braking requests in one go. The car swung away from the small cliff and hauled us down to a jarring stop. Fun times. Afterwards, I felt like Ken Block.
Turned out to be an eventful drive for other reasons than nearly totalling the car. We were held up by some sheep:
And later drove through a flock of birds. Normally birds get the hell out of the way when you drive at them. These ones… not so much.
It should be noted that salting roads seems to be a foreign concept here.
Ultimately we arrived at Ani, which turned out to be worth the brush with death and the suicidal birds. Hiking around these ruins is probably one if not the highlight of the trip so far, weather be damned. The city used to be a major hub on the Silk Road and bears all of the grandeur of a major capital of its era. The churches, castles, walls, and bridges that remain stand tall on a windswept and weathered plain, and are unexpectedly massive structures. Some of them look almost modern, though they were built almost 1,000 years ago. Wind howls through a canyon filled with caves and churning river next to the fallen city. Everything from bird calls to far-away tractor noises echo and distort in the gorge into unearthly sounds that frequently sound like strange musical screaming. The utter isolation just adds to the eerie otherworldliness of the place. We are well into off-season, admittedly, but there was only one other group of people there. We didn’t bother to wake up the booth attendant to pay the 5-lira entrance fee, and found the gate locked when we tried to leave, so we had to climb a wall to get to the car.
Click here for some more pictures of Ani. Credit to Jae who took the first two.
First time we’ve met some self-acknowledged Kurds. They joked about their accompanying Turkish friend being a fascist. It seemed good-natured and the Turkish guy laughed loudest. In other company than the Kurdish restaurant we were in, that comment would definitely not have been so well-received.
And finally, it was the first time we looked into our cooler since about, oh, Serbia – around a month and a half ago. There were things in there that I would rather not talk about. We threw the entire thing out. Some things just aren’t worth saving.