9 May 2009

Turkey - Iran

Today I arrived at Van. Not the nicest town in Turkey either, similar to Erzurum yet with wonderful surroundings. Mountains and a beautiful Van Gˆl (Lake Van). It was recommended to me that Khavalti (Breakfast) in Van should be great. So, decided first mission to be having breakfast. I got to a people flooded place as early as 7 in the morning. This was also the wisest thing to do as everything else seemed to be closed.

As I was used to wonderful breakfasts prepared by my grandmother, I must say that breakfast was great for Turkish standards but not so much in a broader context. I searched for Otel afterwards and decided to research on options to get to Iran border. There seem to be two options, still don’t know which is best. Bust should be faster, though every now and then there are several military chech-points which, slow down the schedule. On the other hand, train is more “constant” but also delaying. I decided to go to the train station which… Was absolutely empty. It looked almost like abandoned. The fact is that it is open only when trains are scheduled (I suppose as any other place).

Wandering through the track area I met three T.C.D.D. G¸venlik (Security Guards of the Station) Sitting at a bench having lunch. I assumed they must have been bored, first thing they said, «ay? Immediately I was invited to sit, they shared their bread and cheese, which to say was delicious, and off course, some «ay (Turkish tea). Their names were Oktay, Nihat and again, Oktay.

These guys were a lot of fun, just smiles, jokes, bad translations. Initially as it has happened to me in several times, they called somebody with more language skills in English. I started to push them into trying to communicate independently, so, the task always becomes a laugh!

I spent around two hours with them, I have realised this trip is about knowing about people and thus, time and patience is always required. Frequently I am introduced with people and even if there is no conversation because of lack of language knowledge, I remain seated, perhaps in silent, just waiting till something happens…

It has been a wonderful way of getting the most from a 10 minute conversation and transform it into a 2 or 3 day long, even 2 weeks long friendship with several people in this trip. It has been amazing! Well, smile is always required, even better that American Express card, don’t go out without it!!!

They let me took some photos of the trains, explained me Van Train Station is a car transfer site between Europe and Middle East. They also taught me some Farsi, which will be required in Iran as is similar to Kurdish language, continued drinking «ay and some more peynir (delicious cheese). Afterwards I took a minibus to downtown Van.

Once there, I wanted to get to the Lake Shore, did not know then how far it was so, walked for loooong time. To be candid, I saw just a couple of girls, nothing surprising, just they had skirts that showed their thighs only. This might appear unaware in many places, but all girls here are fully covered (for the last week perhaps), so it was a happy moment, being able to appreciate some beautiful curves, even just for a second.

I got to Van Gˆl (Van Lake) after hoping on a Minibus. Chilled while observing the sunset and took some photos. Returned to hotel and had dinner. The next day I went to Akdamar Adasi, a castle in an Island where I met Ebru, Hanife, More, Catherine and Marie Claire.

These women were anthropologists and geographers, Ebru is developing here doctoral research on geography with issues related to Van Gˆl. Hanife is her best friend and More, Catherine and Marie Claire are here professors at La Sorbone in France. Together we took a small ferry to the Island and toured the Akdamar Adasi surroundings. This is an Armenian Church that on its several faÁades, displays a series of cravings with religious stories. It is a wonderful site in this small island in Van Gˆl.

Today’s exciting moment was that one of the girls, I think it was Catherine, brought her accordion with her and thus, started playing it French style in the middle of the fields, front of the lake. She played an antique style wooden accordion. The site and her music made it a very special moment!

On the return ferry I met K¸bra, Nurşen and Canan, three very smiling girls whom a professional photographer and I took some shots.

Forgot to say I received email saying my Iran visa was approved and that I should pick it up after showing documents in Erzurum Consulate. That night took last bus back to Erzurum, hoping Iran visa would require no further process or delays.

By the way, two small details in this bus run… First I got delayed because I was chatting on the internet and the computers clock was behind for an hour so, I thought I was on time, but I was totally wrong. Then I got to the ticket office in downtown (not the bus station) and was told I lost the last bus of the day. I decided to remain at the office (to sleep) and 10 minutes later I was abruptly called because the bus had not left the station yet and was told that if took a taxi to the station, the driver would wait. So I did, got in five and hoped in the bus. It ran late half an hour, anyway, good for me!!

Then again, another incident in the bus! I was not at all sleepy so I felt as for reading, and later wanted to write some of these lines but then, a couple of guys in front started talking to me and I did not understand. They called the attendant (here all buses have similar to air service). And finally understood, and was forced to close my computer as it “bothered” the two guys in front because they “wanted to sleep”. I even put a pillow between and still were not contempt. I must say my laptop screen is actually not very good and does not glow at all, I thought this was an exaggeration but still turned off my computer.

After a while, these sun of a guns continued talking and talking and talking so in my short Turkish, I made them understood that if I had to Kapat (close) my laptop, then they had to sleep. Then again, a discussion started and one of the guys went aside me and started to threaten me in Turkish, I just stood up and threatened in Spanish. This time there were more people in the bus and everybody intervened. There was a huge guy with his daughter with whom I had spoke earlier and it seemed he told them to understand they were wrong and he certainly had a threatening grin. We all “chilled”.

The other complication in this bus trip, which added to other 2 similar bus trips from Erzurum to Doğubeyasit and after from Iran border to Tehran is that these were old buses that seem to have those heating and AC systems which you cant regulate easily, so, all these trips went on from hot to cold, back and forth and so on. This contributed to my current cold which is getting worse by the minute. This regularly shouldn’t be any problem if it not were by current terrible swine flu international image in Mexico!!! Further details as I write.

Got to Erzurum and amazingly enough, I went to the embassy and after an hour of waiting and some paper work. I was asked to pay extra forty Euros!!!! I have to mention that I have already payed 30 Euros for Visa, 25 Euros for “express process”, 20 Euros for changing Consulate office from Ankara to Erzurum!!!! And today 40!!! Plus some extra charges at banks it has all added: 145 Euros!!!! And guess what!!! I was able to collect it the same day and it is only valid for 14 days!!! Great deal I suppose ha!!!!!

Any way, with all my internal fury about this visa, this means the trip continues

When travelling from Erzurum to Doğubeyasit, on the bus, I met Semiha, a girl that for some odd reason, decided to feed me and take some photos with me. I got cake, soda, nuts, then sort of “played” with me as If I were a sort of pet. After a while, without any notice just as the beginning, just returned to her seat and slept. No further conversations but g¸le g¸le when she descended from the bus. No emails, nor anything else. All the Van area has in its views old adobe houses with wooden roofs stuffed with ground and thus, had lovely green grass on top. Looks really cute with the green fiels and far away snowed mountains.

Getting to Doğubeyasit means you are just beside Mount Ararat which is to say, a wonderful and huge mountain. Doğubeyasit seems to me like Huaraz in Peru or Tlachichuca in Mexico, where mostly mountaineers visit the town for trekking and climbing tours. Also there, the other attraction which attracts other less important tourists (ha ha), the Isacpaşa Saray, a gorgeous castle atop a nearby mountain. It’s stone walls have an amazing reflection of light. Unfortunately, some modern architect thought it would be a great contribution of his, to put ultra modern steel structures as rooftop and I must say that even though these are beautiful, have no relationship at all with the castle. As one of my architect friends would say: the steel “does not speak well” with the stone of the castle. They more seem to be discussing or perhaps in a fight!

Next day I took a minibus towards the border to Iran. Not that simple yet! The trip is about thirty minutes long, got to the border and almost crossing….

While waiting only 44 days since I first stepped Iran Consulate my first day in Istanbul until I got the visa in Erzurum, forgot that my Turkish visa was only valid for 30 days!!! Huge problem at the border. Well, just waiting and as if 145 Euros for Iran visa were not enough, I had to pay 150 US dollars for my “extra” stay in Turkey. I had the option of only paying 45 US dollars but, the first fine implied only not being able to return to Turkey for the next three months, while the latter implied not having access to Turkey for the next five years. I really loved Turkey so decided to pay full fine, hoping I may return at some point.

This also meant that, as I did not have 150usd in my pocket, had to return to Doğubeyasit, withdraw from ATM, take a taxi (more expensive than minibus) because customs cashier “closed” at 1pm (which actually didn’t). Paid fine, waited, waited, waited, and finally got clearance from Turkish police to leave the country.

Now Iran entering started! No problem having the visa but… Just police started yelling: MEXICAAAAAN!!!!! ALAAAARM!!!! I was sent to an interview office, showed my documents, I said I did not lived in Mexico, that I lived in the United States (partially the truth), showed my US Green Card, but what really helped was my flight ticket that showed I started my journey on March 10 this year. OBVIOUSLY I had a really hard time, hiding my real flu!!!! (not swine caused, just result of lousy Air Condition at buses). Got clearance, passed customs and… I AM IN IRAN!!!!!!!!! J

The new adventure starts!!!

In Iran there is limited Internet access as it is very slow. I am OK, have many stories to tell, I am staying with a wonderful family I just met and I am very happy!!!
As preview of the next post...
I crossed Turkey-Iran border with 5 dollars and 20 Liras (2 dollars). A beautiful family has been helping me these days as Visa does not exist in banks and seems in some days I will find out where traveller cheques may be accepted in Tehran.
Everything OK!

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