I stepped out onto my balcony early this morning and watered various senses with refreshing air, lake-views and a potent cup of Turkish coffee. The sun started early by throwing near-horizontal rays out over Van Lake, and I just had a feeling that today was going to be a rewarding day. The first order of business was to get a rental car.
Yesterday evening, I chased a weak lead on a potential rental car to its fruitless conclusion at a travel-agency in the heart of town. The car looked like an employee’s private, aging chariot, replete with dings, rusts blotches and an overall unwholesome appearance. For kicks, I actually wanted to hear what the thing sounded like, fired up and pretending to be a working automobile. Things never progressed to that point, and our increasingly-hokey negotiations turned from amicable to distrustful when the daily rental price I was quoted began to fluctuate under increasingly more conditions. The older gentleman at the agency began to sense the lost rental and started back-pedaling on the sliding-scale rates, but my confidence in the operation was blown and I was out the door. So, alternative sources it was, then. Unless you’re willing to take a chance by renting from someone’s brother’s friend’s cousin’s acquaintance, the Van airport car rental becomes your last real chance at your own set of wheels.
I was provided with a neglected, white little diesel Ford Fiesta, which I mentally christened first one unkind name, then another. My relief at finally acquiring independent transportation was neutralized within minutes, thanks to the little flea-like machine’s wishy-washy performance. Not much later, I had a good five-minute laugh at both the goofy thing on four tires and my peevishness. I thought to myself, “How good things must truly be, if the lowest rung on my ladder right now is a wobbly, misfiring 4-cylinder “wonder-wheels.” With Mt Ararat some 175 miles to the north and expected periodic “Jandarma” (one of the Turkish military branches) checkpoints interspersed throughout the remote countryside, my mind went into that particular gear into which it goes when things get weird and I start ad-libbing my plans. Vast stretches of the road to Eğdir (the town nearest to Mt Ararat) are abandoned except for the aforementioned Jandarma checkpoints. These checkpoints pop up randomly for the purpose of detecting and apprehending Kurdish separatists, the search for whom is relentless in this part of the country. The checkpoint business usually goes something like this:
First, you come to a big red stop-sign placed to the side of the road. Heed this red-and-white difference between life and death. These Jandarma guys are way too well-armed (we’re talking APCs, a Vietnam-era M60 tank, light-artillery in the neighborhood of 75-mm or so, and there’s probably an attack-helicopter stashed just out of sight somewhere) for you to even think of doing otherwise. At some point, a really young guy (helmet-size either fits or doesn’t, rusty AK-47 either works or won’t) will wave you over. Brakes. Exit vehicle with passport visible. Car gets tossed (I mean, a gear-orgy commences inside of the cabin, where everything in your backpack is shaken out like a dusty rug all over the backseat; the contents of the glove-compartment are scattered hither-thither once the searcher gets bored with them; anything zipped up gets unzipped; seat cushions are punched and kneed with Guantanamo-like vengeance.). Absolutely nothing escapes these gents.
Up at elevation, I moved into worsening weather, and visibility dropped some. I began to fret that Mt Ararat would elude me yet again. I drove through passes among impressive hills and mountains, and as I started to round the base of an improbably massive one, was beginning to wonder when I would get a glimpse of the mountain for which I was searching. Rain staccato-tapped the windshield all the way into Eğdir, and then suddenly large pockets of blue in the sky began to let corresponding lakes of gold shine into the wide valley I had entered. “Where is this elusive mountain?” I thought, as the road continued to wind around the base of this monstrosity to my right.
Clearly, I cannot have brought you this far without adding one more comical mental image, of the first person to point out Mt Ararat to me with naked incredulity. I’m not sure what the Turkish word for “dummy” is, but there is no doubt in my mind that one of those sounds coming from him contained the term in one of its variants, verbalized as the white-bearded gentleman pointed a gnarled finger behind us at the now-visible, towering, snow-capped giant. “Well, of course that is Mt Ararat!” I replied with conviction. “Of course it is.” All is well. Mt Ararat exists. Turkish adventures continue.