Mt Nemrut seen from side of Lake Van, Tatvan
I was quite excited to finally be heading to mighty Van GÃ¶lÃ¼. Lake Van. Turkeyâ€™s largest body of water at 3,750 kilometres square (7 times the size of previously visited Lake Egirdir) and a real milestone on a circuit of the nation. But in actuality the next few days turn into little more than an inconsequential though steady stream of tedium, small disappointments and frustrations.
First an evening and night in the lakeside town of Tatvan, sat on the Southwest corner of Van GÃ¶lÃ¼ and lorded over by the 3,050 metre high Mt Nemrut Dagi (not to be confused with the famous â€˜Stone Headâ€™ containing mountain of the same name). Tatvan, with all due respect, is not a pretty or an interesting town.
Lake Van, Turkey's largest body of water.
Though nor does it pretend to be so. Fine. This time of year too, even the dry sloped mountain surrounds are disrobed by the heat of their undoubtedly beautifully scenic snowy mantels, and so the landscape too lacks charm right now. No probs. The only reason I jumped off the bus here rather than heading on to Van with pals Campbell, Ems and Alfred is the fact that I am a little fed up with a life practically lived out on buses right now and so thought Iâ€™d try catch one of the ferries across the water to Van tomorrow. A change of transportation.
An evening in Tatvan is a bland, annoying affair. The towns one positive stroke, a long wide lakeside promenade within minutes walk of the town centre. This is emphatically not the case when one gets to Van.
Girls and the lake.
I have a pleasant time sat finishing a novel as the sun simmers low and kids play and scream around a play park here found for their amusement. One little girl cutely dashes about squealing â€˜Allah u Akbar! Allah u Akbar!â€™
A most diminutive Muezzinâ€™s call to prayer.
But as with Diyarbakir, but even more so, itâ€™s the kids that are a real spoiler for a visiting â€™guestâ€™ like I. Now Iâ€™ve been thronged and accosted and clutched, importuned, lambasted and engaged with by kids of many ages and nations by now. These often riotous, humorous and touching interactions have always up until now I felt, in small ways in a small, small world been mutually rewarding but not so in Eastern Turkey the majority of the time.
One of the should-be-twice-a-day ferries that play the waters between Tatvan and Van.
Here â€™hallo halloâ€™
is almost always an attention-fishing prologue to the monotone mantra of â€™munny munny munnyâ€™
which once started never, never ever ceases as they too never cease to crowd and dog your private passage about town.
Dirty, grubby faces and clothes many weeks unwashed, they smirk and gaze at you (well, me anyway!) whilst displaying the universal patterning of the scuffs, grazes and facial scab wounds that adorn them like marks of tribal scarification. â€™munny munny munnyâ€™ their tribal God. Further attempts to half-inch the digital watch strapped to my day pack. I am learning an important lesson ahead of travelling to North India.
Aboard the boat destinned not to depart :)
Unnecessary displays of possessions or perceived wealth are those of a fool or an attention seeker. The two often being the same. So I inter my watch in my pocket (from where its predecessor was lost in Thailand) and regretfully adopt a stance of stoic silence and non-responsiveness to the kids. And this seems to work. Starved of the oxygen of attention and reaction they gradually fall away from me. Dispersing and fading away like so many little affrights or phantoms. Iâ€™m sure that these little rakes are the exception and not the rule of Turkish children in the region, but unfortunately itâ€™s the little exceptions that terrorise you up the street and so itâ€™s them you tend to remember.
The next morning, accompanied by many assurances both before and upon arrival at the ferry dock of a 10.
Mosaic mosque in Van.
00am(ish) first boat I wait 2 and a half hours â€˜til the boats arrival only to be told (I think) that the boat wonâ€™t leave again today â€˜til 19.00 in the evening. â€˜A problemâ€™
I think I hear. Further confused by the near total language barrier, it then seems there is a departure in an hour or so, so I board the boatâ€¦ only to be retrieved an hour later and told again, actually, no. No boat. So my plan to cross Turkeyâ€™s great lake is sunk. Sure
, Iâ€™m in no rush. Sure
, I could wait. But another eight hours for a journey after dark? F**k that!
So the reward today for my tepid-at-the-best-of-times spirit of adventure is a sweaty trudge back to the main road, a bus back to town, another two hour wait for a bus to Van and a wasted day.
The 'Rock of Van'
I am happy to succumb to a heavy dose of Bus-Tranq*
that knocks me out all the way to Van.
* â€˜Bus-Tranqâ€™ is the name Iâ€™ve given to the peculiar permanent state of slumber or tranquilisation induced almost without fail in travellers on daytime buses. Frustratingly the effects of â€˜Bus-Tranqâ€™ are felt far less and with far less regularity on night buses when it would actually come in handy.
Things do not improve vastly in Van, the regionâ€™s main city with a population of 391,000. Mercifully whatever percentage of that population are ankle-high brats, seem better controlled here! Again whatever virtues Van may wish to lay claim to, a paragon of civic-urban landscaping, design and beauty it is not.
Part of the extensive spread of Van kalesi (castle)
Itâ€™s handful of token gesture city centre â€™parksâ€™ have their token gesture patches of grass and floral bordering all bizarrely cordoned off with red and white striped plastic tape. Presumably to prevent scampering feet from destroying what little pulse of floral life the city possesses, but with the end result that these spots just end up looking like police crime scenes.
Itâ€™s a thoroughly modern city. I donâ€™t mean that by way of inferring a deplorable lack of modernity in other parts of Central and Eastern Turkey (such a thing rarely being desirable in all its banal, homogenising excesses anyway) but its heart beats with a comfortable syncopation to the rhythms and creeds of mass consumerism, fashion and the religion of retail uncommon in the region.
My reward for having fought my way through disgusting swarms of bugs to the top area of Castle Van.
The relatively rigid social mask of Islam and its tenets in Eastern Turkey slips ever so slightly here. But only to let style and purchase power identities through the back door. Ladies bearing their heads in notable numbers for the first time since Istanbul. Mostly it seems a successful, refreshing mix of faith and self-determination through style. Even I nearly have a flutter. A rare retail-therapy purchase on my trip (I think?) is in the offing - a funky-as-heck lemon-yellow t-shirt with â€˜Free Soul Hunterâ€™ emblazoned across it but, as usual, itâ€™s too frickinâ€™ big for me! So no sale. Story of my fashion life.
On day two I take a trip to the â€˜must seeâ€™ Van Kalesi (Castle) or â€˜Rock of Vanâ€™ but this just turns into a frickinâ€™ nightmare.
Having paid my 3TL/Â£0.60 I clamber half-heartedly up the slopes and rocky ways. No one else here. But whatâ€™s that noise? A high pitched hum. Susserating waves of low level buzz. Patches of air slightly greyed and darkened. Midges. Flies. Gnats. Bugs. Wickies. Call â€™em what ya like, suddenly the air is thick with them! Zillions upon zillions
of little green-black aphids swarming in the air. Unimaginable quantities of them. I dash and flap about trying to find pockets of breathable air. Luckily theyâ€™re not biters but for half an hour I tolerate stumbling through wave after wave of these miniscule air-born militias with my mouth clamped shut, one hand over one ear and a Lonely Planet pressed upon the other to prevent them kamikaze crashing into my auditory canals and then I am heading back down.
Police crime scene horticulture :)
A storm of cursing and swearing. A fog of black words and frowns to match the fog of black bugs all around. â€™Ah f**k it. Another f**kinâ€™ castle on top of another f**kinâ€™ rock that I sweated 7 kilometres to get to and didnâ€™t give a sh*te about anyway! Who f**king cares!â€™.
What do I do now? Ho-hum.
Whilst life and commerce shuffle along the two main cross-hair high streets of Cumhariyet Cadessi and Kazim Karabakir Cadessi, the more charming slow life side of city and town living continues to die a daily daylight death under the auspices of Ramadan. Abandoned, shuttered up Ã§ay houses normally full of people and chatter and smiles and little ginger tourists happily reading books. Tired and fly-blown restaurant interiors awaiting permission to do business.
A noticeable social desertification. The party that comes at the end of this 30 day gig better be frickinâ€™ good I tell ya! A couple of mosques to tip a nod to. A fabulously packed out midday prayer at the Hz Ã–mer Camii mosque, a mildly interesting bazaar area and... and... and?...
f**k this place is dull with a capital D, U, double L! Even a Stevie Wes â€™off-the-beaten-trackâ€™ walking tour fails to kick up any observational gems from the dust.
The only thing of mild excitement that occurs during my time in Van is a curiously high police presence that spreads, almost imperceptibly like some blue-black fuzz or fungal growth throughout the whole of one day until come tea time the city is engulfed with cops brandishing full riot gear; helmets, tear gas guns across their shoulders slung and Plexi-glass riot shields in front.
Ranged all along the high street. Guns holstered at hips. But nothing comes of it. Although a building coincidentally burns, thickening the air with smoke at one end of the high street. An unrelated incident. The manager of the Aslan Hotel later explains that political representatives of pro-Kurdish interest groups were visiting the city today as part of a talking tour of the region so the authorities were feeling twitchy.
And that's it. And back here at Hotel Aslan. But I don't want to be! But thereâ€™s nowhere else to go! I can't return to my crapped out 20TL/Â£8 per night 3 bed 'dorm' room that I share with some smelly old Turk who grizzles and stinks away and seems to eat nothing (ever!) except tin bowls of Ayrun, the rather wince-inducing salty yogurt drink popular in Turkey (four pots lined up and ceremonially opened one by one every meal time) mixed with torn bread, a repast he insists on spreading like a little picnic upon my bed every morning and evening.
.. even when I'm still in it! F*****k!
Get me out of heeeeeeeeeere