(12) Around Lake Van, Turkey: Shotguns, volcanoes and hand jobs

Peter and I left around 11 from Van for our lake road trip. I was sooo excited to rent a car. It’s pretty expensive in Turkey – it cost about $75 for 24hr rental (hence leaving at 11am – we could spend the night part way around the lake and catch a few more hours of sights in the morning) plus gas, which turned out to be about $100 to fill up the tank (gas being over $2/L).  Ahhh, but the freedom!

Peter and I ended up being really suitable travel partners. We both enjoy photography, taking things as they come, wearing khaki, and taking up people on strange opportunities. Not that I have traveled with people much before, but I’ve always considered myself an independent traveler (read: I generally don’t like traveling with people and suspect they wouldn’t like traveling with me). But once in a blue moon it works, and these few days with Peter worked great (thanks Peter!).

The first leg of the road trip involved me testing my defensive driving abilities getting out of the city, being shocked at how much it costs to fill up the tank, and stopping by the roadside repeatedly to snap shots of the breathtaking scenery. Turquoise blue lake, snow capped peaks, lush green valleys, and picturesque rolling hills.

Soon we made it to the turn off to our first and main stop of the day: Nemrut Dagi (pronounced Nemroot Daowuh). 13km up a slowly ascending gravel rod to the rim of a volcanic caldera. We really have no idea what to expect at the top.

About half way up we spot a man in a suit walking down the fairly remote, barren road with something long and narrow in his hands.

“I hope that’s a stick,” Peter says.

“I don’t think so,” I respond.

It was a shotgun. We joke briefly about coming across a dead body, but then don’t think much more of it.

At the crest of the caldera, I am slightly confused but gasp at the beauty. It’s not what I was expecting the caldera to look like (my last caldera, Mt Bromo on Java in Indonesia was filled with sand and was a flat 10km across save three smaller volcanic cones sprouting near the centre). However, the view of the volcanic lake and surrounding geology is stunning.

As we pause at the pass to take photos and enjoy the sites, a car comes up behind us.

“I hope they don’t have a shotgun,” I joke. “Wait a sec. The guy in the passenger seat is the guy with the shotgun.” He and his two friends get out of the car, and fire a shot down the slope into the caldera.

They turn to us with friendly faces and wave us over, offering for us to take shots. I hesitate, but Peter goes for it, and then I join him. We each take a turn aiming at bottles about 100m down the slope. My first (and last?) time firing a gun. Got a bit of a kickback into my shoulder, but I’ve watched enough TV to see how it’s done properly.

The next few hours were spent driving around this huge caldera. It’s kind of hard to describe. The thing must have been a good 5km across, and a crescent-shaped third of it was a lake. The rest was made up of hills, valleys, cliffs, trees, shrubs, grasses, coves, and ponds touched by wind, snow, rain and sun. Dozens of microclimates and geologies, each with its and an amazingly well kept gravel road leading through it.  We explored almost every possible road to the end. There was only one point where I was worried for a half second we were going to make it up a road out of a cove, but otherwise our offroading in a rental economy car was smooth (word of advice: never buy a used rental car).

On our way out of the caldera, on a different road than the one we came up, we near two men that we had spotted earlier helping with some surveying, and offer them rides down the mountain. Seeing as they didn’t have shotguns, we figured it was a pretty safe choice. It was. Just a little return of the hospitality that we’ve each come across on our travels in Turkey thus far.

Now, seeing as we had spent way more time in the caldera than expected (it was about 7pm by the time we reached the lake road again) our main goal was to find a place to stay. There were a few possible sights to see, but as the sun was already setting, I asked Peter to stop only if something was right on the side of the road.

In the end, we only made one stop. And what a stop it was. The sight itself could have been remarkable in its own right – old graveyard with intricately carved unique headstones made from the nearby volcanic rock, all at sunset. However, as soon as we got out of the car, five young boys accosted us. Probably ranging from ages 9-13 or so, the boys at first just wanted money. Then they wanted to take pictures with our cameras. They were all over us. Totally ruined the graveyard visit. But then it went beyond accosting. I thought I saw one kid open his fly, but I looked up and away. At this point Peter and I had had enough, and were making our way back to the car. One or two of them started yelling “sex, yes” over an over, and then one or two others (or the same two? I wasn’t really paying close attention at this point) started making masturbation gestures. We got in the car, locked the doors, and screeched off. Where did these kids pick that up from? Sure, kids joke about sex. Sure, they ask tourists for money. But this was intense. Bleh.

It was dark by the time we got to the town we had anticipated spending the night at. But by the time we realized that we were at the town, we had passed it, and the apparently invisible hotel we had in mind. We pressed on to the next, larger town, without any reference of places to stay, but also with a change in plans to get up super early and head on a northern detour on our way back to Van to see Mt. Ararat (the sight of Noah’s unfortunate crash with all those pairs of animals).

The hotel situation was dire, but for what we needed it for, a smoke-filled, uncomfortable, showerless dive would do fine until we woke at 5:15am. One of those places where we weren’t sure if it was safer to leave our things in our room or in the car while we were out for dinner. I’d have to say out of all the places I’ve stayed over the years in 20+ countries, this was the worst deal I’ve ever had. Even with Peter and I sharing a room it still cost me over $10.  The smoke was so intense in the middle of the night that I half imagined that there was someone spying into our room at the door.

The last few hours in the rental car were lovely. More amazing volcanic scenery as we climbed and descended mountains. Mt. Ararat was shrouded in clouds, but the drive in and of itself was worth it. Plus we got to burn more fuel (this dang economy car only used ¾ of a tank for 650+ km!). The town where we stopped for breakfast and to spot Mt Ararat (Dogubayazit) looked lovely, but was full with kid touts. We had had our fill of pushy kids yesterday, but we still ended up following the suggestion of one of these kids to a breakfast place. As we snacked on possibly the most overpriced breakfast in Turkey, the kid showed us some of our pictures before slipping in that he didn’t have bus fare to go to his uncle’s city to find work. “Ah, there’s the catch,” Peter says under his breath.

The last two rental hours consisted of us powering through back to Van, finally finding a parking spot in the city, and getting back to the hotel only to find that no rooms were ready. Our hopes for hot showers and naps were on hold.