Some of you may recall that a major earthquake struck eastern Turkey late last year. The epicenter of this 7.3 magnitude quake was just outside of Van, a city of over half a million primarily Kurdish population. The earthquake appears to have occurred so close to the surface that the strong tremors were spread over an extremely wide territory. I’m interested in this place, so I set aside a few days of travel in order to get to know a little about this city and region.
A few days ago, my plane made its low, arcing approach into Van airport over the wintergreen waters of Lake Van and a farmhouse-shaped island I had previously read about. After a completely unremarkable (hence great) landing, the airplane hatch eventually pushed open with a hydraulic hiss, and cool eastern Turkish air pushed its way into a dank passenger area amply seasoned with the smells of lax personal hygiene.
“Sixteen Lira,” the cabby indicated, pointing at his meter as he read off my end of the financial transaction about to take place in front of the hotel at which he delivered me. Too tired to form any kilometer/lira ratio decisions, I handed him an “Atatürk” (all bills have an image of Turkey’s modern founding father on them), got some coins back, and my Turkish adventure got underway.
My few days here encompass a pretty ambitious agenda. For starters, I have decided to see Mt Ararat from as close a vantage point as I am able; my half-glimpses of the fabled mountain from over on the Armenian side of the border have left me rather unfulfilled in this department. In the near-term, expect a few jaunts to surrounding castles, a boat-ride to an island monastery, and reports on the spiciest foods that this part of the country has to offer. Before this trip is over, I will have stories for you of the far western side of Turkey as well, because – once I’ve made my way through Ankara, Konya and Istanbul – I plan to visit Gallipoli, site of the ill-fated 1915 Allied landing.