Monday, November 24, 2014
Just as the forests seem to creep up out nowhere, they disappeared, and barren rock formations rippled across the landscape. Some of the striations twisted like rope and folded like fabric, incredible that such a hard, immovable substance could become plastic.
Just as we were marvelling at the scenery and discussing the ease of driving in this region, we hit a massive construction project, and the road was swallowed by dust.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
As is so very often the case, you can find food in the unlikeliest of places in Turkey. People are quite entrepreneurial here, and on the side of a lonely stretch of road near some dam, a cheery moustachioed man was boiling up corn on the cob on a stove that looked homemade. His make-shift café clung precariously to the side of the cliff, and he had somehow diverted a small stream into a kitchen tap with an actual sink. We squeezed our car against the guardrail, climbed over it, and sat down at a tiny table for some corn and mountain stream çay.
As the landscape changed from wide grassland to green forest, a little river began to run parallel to the road, and we couldn't resist leaving the car on the side of the road to investigate.
I waded into the river, the water wrapping around my thighs. Balancing carefully on the slippery rocks, I untied the sweaty handkerchief that hid my dirty hair, and soaked my head in the cool water. As I watched the current carry my hands away like the branches of green that grew within it, I was overcome by a feeling of peace. Road trips have a funny way of teasing out all the things your brain buries during the routine of daily life. There had been so many conflicts, questions, and realisations running through my head, but now... now, the sight of an electric blue dragonfly gently bobbing up and down while clinging the water milfoil was all there was.
There was this fine frog too.
Among the many ruins of churches stand the remnants of the Seljuk Ebul Menuçehr Camii, the first mosque built in Anatolia. The shade inside was a welcome retreat from the relentless sun, where several crag martins darted in and out in a blur.
From its row of elegant pointed arch windows, you can see Armenia, just across the valley.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
On the edge of the border between Turkey and Armenia, an ancient city once said to house a thousand churches, crumbles into the earth. As Ani was situated on important trade routes, the prosperous city passed through the hands of the Armenians, Byzantines, Ottomans, Kurds, Georgians, and Russians, until it fell into decline in the 14th century. Even though Ani was an Armenian capitol, I was unable to find one sign that mentioned the word 'Armenian'.
The sun burned, and the air was still.
As the time we had carved out for The Great Anatolian Road Trip was running short, we realised that Kars would have to be a stop to get some sleep and get going. The images of a bleak and melancholic town were written in my head by Orhan Pamuk from his novel Snow, and I expected to find a poetic greyness about Kars. Instead, the town was quite pleasant and seemed like any other town, were it not for the occasional linear touches of Russian architecture. I think I imagined it on a hill or something, and a bit more run down. After spending the night in a quirky hotel and marveling at its mournful receptionist in his old-fashioned navy blue blazer, ruby ring, and tragic black brows— a character made for a Wes Anderson film— we bought some honey, and headed for the ruins of Ani.
As the sun began to make its descent on the way to Kars, somewhere in the middle of fields and hills, we were distracted a large flock of small birds. Flashes of pale pink sent us on a U-turn back to a small side road where the birds were gathering.
Once, in Portugal, Pedro and I visited a roundabout in Peniche where there were rumours of a single Rosy Starling among a flock of Spotted Starlings— a big draw for birders in the area. We examined every group of little dark birds for the one pink and black one, but without success. Reports of sightings of the unusual bird awakened an envy within us, but now, somewhere between Ağrı and Kars, that envy melted away.
There were around two hundred beautiful Rosies. It was one of those moments in life that can only be described as magical, and I wish I had a better camera to really capture it, but these photos will do well enough to bring me back.