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    Welcome to the freak show

    September 7th, 2006 by mary

    I enjoy the friendly local that strikes up a conversation and inquires about my ethnicity, which seems to be a real novelty for them. But when literally 9 out of 10 people on the street yell at me as I pass taking wild stabs at my country of origin, it quickly adds up to hundreds of unsolicited and identical questionnaires over the course of a week for every week we’ve been in rural Turkey where we’re the only foreigners around. Sometimes this creates a rowdy entourage of local youngsters. Near the Iranian border in Doyubayazit we were climbing up a rocky bluff to the rubble of some 13th BC fortress when some picnicking locals stopped to take pictures of and with us. They were very friendly and courteous but they followed us like paparazzi, curious about everything we did and continually making attempts at conversation. As we left they lead us to their family at the make shift park below to take some more pictures. Upon approaching the women practically threw their babies at us. They took pictures of Steve and I carrying their little bundles of joy. Unfortunately we had to rush back to catch a dolmus so we were not able to accept their offer for tea. We left smiling and waving. We’ve also had some other wonderful exchanges with locals so having the asian card as an ice breaker does have its positive points.

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    E-I-E-I-Oh crap!

    September 7th, 2006 by mary

    Eastern Turkey is very rural and heavily agricultural. People live in stone, mud and straw huts smaller than their neighboring mounds of manure. The roads in the countryside are often lined with farm animals challenging passing vehicles. There have been numerous incidents where our minibuses have bounced around, horns blaring, trying to get various herds, flocks and gaggles off the road. We’ve had near accidents involving eagles flying at the windshield, confused mules, turkey tossings, stubborn geese, dumb cows, and suicidal sheep. We’ve been on more buses and minibuses than I can count and they’re anywhere from 2 to 16hr journeys. So now the maniacal driving, dodging of farm animals and other vehicles is just par for the road. Even armed checkpoints are blasé.

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    Run for the border

    September 4th, 2006 by steve

    We’ve been running along borders for the past few days. First we were near the border to Georgia (‘Gerkistan’ in Turkish). Then we came within feet of the Armenian border at Ani. So close in fact that we could see the Russian (Armenia uses the Russian’s as their army) military base and lookout towers.

    Turkey and Armenia don’t play together so well and have a closed border, so being in the seriously historic former Armenian capital barely on Turkish soil with armed soldiers wandering around was quite exciting.We followed the Armenian border on our way to Dogubayazit which is on the way to the Iranian border post. Along the way, we went through a handful of checkpoints littered with tanks and armored personnel carriers. That’s Mt. Ararat in the background of the first picture.

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    Hiking the Kackar (pronounced "catch-car")

    September 4th, 2006 by steve

    Together with the Spaniards, Alejandro and Belen, we labored through some incredibly sketchy mountain roads to get to the hiking base in the tiny town of Barhal. From there we hiked a couple days up the mountains through hamlets that cling to the mountainside for no apparent reason. We had some real excitement when our guide motioned that we should go and climb up to a lake and then follow the trail over the next hill and he’d meet usfor lunch. “1 hour”. Haha. We made it up to a lake and then took a trail over a ridge that left us a good 500 feet above the meadow we were to meet him in. No problem except the trail ended and we had to clambor down a steep incline with poor footing. Oh and the rain started. Good times. We eventually made it down and the only casualty was my right sandal which is now held together with twine expertly fashioned by Mary. But it is a beautiful mountain range and we had a great time. Best part was when Mary and Belen busted out the yoga moves on each other. Life really doesn’t get much better than this.

    Although it would have if the pasta had pasta sauce. Notes to self next time we negotiate a hiking package: make sure the pasta comes with sauce, make sure the meat is more than 1 stick of salami for 4 people, we don’t need 3 pounds of cheese or a dozen loafs of bread…

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    Disappointment

    September 4th, 2006 by steve

    We had read that travelling the Black Sea coast is really nice, so we headed out to the first town where we’d start our journey. We met a Spanish couple, Belem and Alejandro, who had the same plan. But when we made it to Amasara, we found that the road to the next town along the coast had just washed out. Long story short, we said forget it and decided that we’d travel overnight together to Trabzon, well down the coast.In the meantime, a local girl who was on the same bus had been helping us and so we took her to lunch. She picked a place overlooking the beach with great fish and salad.

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    Cousın Fred and the Smiths from Safranbolu

    September 4th, 2006 by steve

    Sometimes you just have to pay for the kitsch. Mary was looking at a plant growing up a wall and was immediately accosted by a raggedy old woman who was spewing Turkish so fast I wonder if she even knew what she was saying. She dragged Mary forcibly by the arm while jabbing her in the buttocks to these painted egg-shaped ceramics. Finally, she found a busted one to show us that the vine grows from a seed inside the egg. So there went another hard earned 2 Turkish lire. Hopefully our new friend, named Cousin Fred, will survive the postal service.

    Safranbolu has a lot of ironworks hidden below the village. We wandered through and stopped to talk with one of the blacksmith shops making farm tools. After a bit they let us take a shot smithing up a stake. Check out Mary taking a big whack at the anvil! They had to take the mallet out of her hand before she hurt someone.

    Oh yeah, the town is famous for saffron, go figure.

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    Safranbolu

    September 4th, 2006 by steve

    Everyone is really excited about this town Safranbolu near the Black Sea coast. It’s one of the must see sites and all the Turkish tourists take over the hotels on weekends. Why? Because it has a cute old village with famed “Ottoman” architecture. We couldn’t figure out for a long time what the big deal is. These Ottoman houses look a lot like older western homes in the UK, western Europe or east coast US. In fact, our hotel seemed very much like a ski lodge up in Tahoe. But I guess it’s a big deal when half the country is living in either concrete bunkers or shacks made of dry stacked rock and heated by hay and dung.

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