Nesfe Jahan, pt 32

17 October 2010

Tuesday I left Adana behind me to go and visit Nemrut mountain. Open any guidebook on Turkey and it’s in their top ten. On the summit, some great megalomaniac Hittitiet king ordered the construction of huge statues. Since it’s a volcanic mountain, most of the heads have fallen off due to tectonic activity, and everyone recommends to visit the site at sundown or sunrise, when it’s eerie. But hey, I have all the time in the world, right? I could just pitch my tent their, and see both, as well as climbing that mountain up and down. I’m not paying some tour company to drive me there early in the morning, just to be one day faster.

My hitch out of Adana is just perfect. I’m picked up by a gas tanker heading straight to Kahta, an ideal place to start the trek.  And I was only holding a sign to the next city. About one in a million chance, I recon, as Kahta is at the end of the a small secondary road. I’m lucky, trucks are generally great rides if you want to see the surrounding scenery. They’re comfortable, the extra meter gives you a much better view, and I don’t have to mention all the free food and tea anymore. But this time, I’m heading through steep mountain passes on a secondary road. With tens of thousands of liters of explosive fuel behind my ass. When I try to fasten my seatbelt, he clicks his tongue in the typical Turkish disapproval. I’m unsure if I just insulted his driving skill, or that in the case of a crash, it would be a better to exit through the windshield that be trapped in the cabin. The ride there is bone-jolting, jaw-dropping, and ass clenching as other drivers make even my driver clench his teeth in anger and fear. But I’m fine.

When we arrive in Kahta, I can’t be bother to dig out my laptop from my bag and do my research, so I just enter the first hotel I see. Now, Kahta is know as a rip off town capitalizing on Nemrut. I know this, because it’s on Wikitravel. Even though the entire tourist industry here can change that in about 3 minutes, many travelers are dedicated enough to keep that description on-line. When I enter the lobby, the first thing that strikes me is that they have a board detailing the daily exchange rate to Turkish liras. From German Mark, Belgian Frank, Dutch Florinths and many other exotic currencies. The manages gives me a discount on one of the rooms, but he warns me he has only a storage room left. And he’s not kidding, every hour I get interrupted by a clerck fetching blankets, their are about three full ashtrays artistically arranged in the sink, and my key is the doorknob. When I go to the toilet, knob in my pocket and flashlight in my hand, I notice even the pitcher for flushing is cracked and out of use. I’m confronted with the left overs of the last guest, cigarette butts included. When I leave in the morning, at about 6 in the morning, I notice all the doors to the rooms are open and all the beds are freshly made. I’d dub this place “the hellhole hotel’.

I catch an easy ride to a town very close to the entrance to the national park with a primary school teacher. I get out at the playground, and I make an uneasy exit with about 50 uniformed kids staring at me as if I’m the new Ataturk. The town is undecided between the identity of a hamlet or a slum. But the faces of the people are great. I walked another 2 km to the entrance of the national park. And from there, another 14 km uphill I reach the first village on the road. About 5 houses, spread over the mountain. The terrace of the second one is the roof of the first. Kids come running at me, but they hide behind a tree to shout Hello at me. And I know why. Nobody ever comes here on foot, everyone just takes a car to the summit. This place is not meant to be hiked. Even the mountain scenery is quite drab. But it’s easy for me, as there is no way but to walk straight to the mountain. I can’t take any trails, as I lack both compass and a clear bearing on the sun. And I can’t hitch, because people only go there during sundown. So I just walk and walk, down the gray asphalt road. I push myself, and arrive at the summit at 4 on, with plenty of time to see the sundown. As I’m sipping tea in the cafeteria, I learn that it’s impossible to sleep on the summit. And that they’ve got a room to share with a Japanese couple. Well, I figured that one out myself. It’s windy as fuck, but I’m smart enough to just go down a few kilometers and it will make a couple of degrees difference. But first things first. I hike up to the Eastern terrace, about half of the site. And I see 2 or 3 small heads of statues, nothing remarkable. And I wander a bit, and I realize that that’s it. My mind works in a flash, and I realize I’m an idiot. I’m stuck on this mountain. It’s Wednesday. Iranian embassy is closed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If I stay here, I have to spend time in the North, where it’s cold and rainy. If  I manage to get to Erzurum before the embassy closes on Thursday, I might just cut it by two days, and get back South sooner.  I careen down to the cafeteria, with a desperation of knowing every car that leaves back down could save my day. But of course, hard dice. the only ride I manage to find is from “the industry”, leaving in about an hour. I run up the other terrace, desperate to find some more tourists to convince with my sob story. Here there are five statues, and a tiny piece of masonry. This place will only ever work if it only takes you 3 hours to get here and back, with the backdrop. I feel even more like an idiot. I can’t put up any more resistance, I overpay as much as it would take to get me from Istanbul here to secure my place in a half full minibus. I arrive in the town at 7 pm, collect my stuff. The manager starts to do the “there’s no minibus anymore” bit on me, but I go to the road out and stick up my thumb, even though it’s dark. I’m just hiping for that one truck, that wonderful paradise of food and sleep. But the manager stays with me, making me seem even dodgier. When I send him away, he comes back in three minutes with some tea, so I’m distracted and he has an excuse to keep talking to me. It gets to me in the end, and I surrender for another night in this shithole. I’m up with the sun, but, once again, the owner manages to spot me before I can sneak out. And when he buys me another tee, I’m really convinced he’s actually trying to be nice. He asks me where I’m going, where I’m going to stay. And when I say goodbye, he gets really serious and implores me to write to Lonely Planet about his wonderful hotel. In fact, I should do it know, from his office. I try to reassure him that, sure, I will at some point. But that’s not good enough. He grabs my arm aggressively, and something inside me snaps. With the weight of my backpack as leverage, I push myself free. He staggers backward, and upsets a small table owner by two old men. Everyone looks at me, and him. I break the scene by quickly turning around and marching to the highway out of here. Kahta has it’s final laugh at me though, as the quick pace tips the clasp of my backpack’s belt over the breaking point, forcing me to carry it’s entire weight on my shoulders. A minor disaster.

Right now I’m in Erzurum. The weather here is shit. It’s a university town, for students that’s didn’t score to well in high school. A student gulag, if you will. I’m hosted by 5 potential veterinarians, in a typical student flat. Today I wake up at twelve, make some tea, and contemplate to join them for a game of pool at 5. I just have to wait until the consulate opens on Monday. It’s simply perfect.

If you still want to go to Nemrut, hire your own car from another city, Adiyaman, Malatya, doesn’t matter. Bring your own food. Don’t support the regime over there.