an excerpt from my humorous travel
Bright Sun, Strong Tea. (The
previous episode was Eastern
We soon reached Dogubayazit,
took a room at the then  brand-new
Hotel Ararat, and went out to see the Ishak
Pasa Sarayi, a striking 18th-century
fortress-palace built on a lonely hilltop
by the local emir. I took some pictures,
one of which ended up as the cover
shot for the first
edition of my Lonely Planet guide.
I wanted to get photos of Mount
Ararat as well, but the summit
was shrouded in cloud. I asked the
reception desk clerk at the hotel
if the clouds ever cleared.
"First thing in the morning," he said. "Get
up before dawn."
I did, and there it was, the majestic
snow-covered summit clear of cloud,
in full sunlight. I shot some photos,
then watched in amazement as the sun
warmed the snow on the summit and the
evaporated moisture formed clouds which
obscured the mountain, like a woman
fresh from the bath covering herself
from the prurient gaze of men.
After breakfast we packed the car
and asked local taxi drivers about
the best way to reach Van.
"Go back to Agri,
then south via Patnos and Ercis," they
"Isnt that the long way
around?" I asked. "What about
this road along the Iranian border
via Çaldiran?" According
to the Turkish Highway Department's road
map, the Çaldiran road was
paved and fairly good, of the same
quality as the road via Patnos and
"The Çaldiran roads
not in good condition. You could get
stuck. Besides, its officially
closed after dark because of smugglers.
The Jandarma (gendarmes,
paramilitary police) are on patrol,
and are liable to shoot you because
only smugglers are out on that road
I looked at the map again. The bright
red line on the map inspired confidence.
Surely the Highway Department in Ankara
knows the road better than these local
taxi drivers, who probably have no
reason to drive that road in any case.
Some people never learn!
We left Dogubayazit and
decided to take the Çaldiran
road. We'd just make sure we were off
the road by nightfall.
The road was paved and relatively
good as far as Ortadirek, but south
of there it was unpaved, after which
it degenerated to rough, rutted dirt.
I began to wonder if we had made the
right decision. I could almost hear
the hiss of smugglers' bullets in the
We got our luck, it was blind, and
it was bad. We came over a rise and
down a hill, and stopped at the edge
of a slough of muddy water. The road
ended at the near edge of the slough,
and sprang up again from the other
I got out of the car to look at the
water. There wasnt enough dry
road on either side to get by. Id
have to go through it. Obviously I
should avoid the middle, which looked
deep. Should I drive along the left
edge or the right edge? Which way was
shallower? Was the bottom of the slough
firm enough to support a car?
The brown mess was opaque. I didnt
feel like stripping down and wading
into the muck and without doing that
there was no way to tell.
I chose the left side, put the car
in gear and edged forward into the
water. The car nosed down into the
muck and sank. It stopped. I put the
car in reverse and gave it some gas.
The wheels wouldn't move. The little
engine groaned pitiably, strained toward
hernia, did nothing. The front wheels
were sucked in worse than someone who
had just been sold aluminum siding.
I got out of the dead car and did
a quick reality check. We were in a
depression in the middle of nowhere
only a stone's throwor a bullet's
trajectoryfrom the Iranian border,
with not even a tree, let alone a building
or a telephone line, in sight. It was
mid-afternoon. The sun was racing toward
the horizon like an Istanbul
a planeload of Japanese tourists.
I'm Sure It's Only a Puppy
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed
some movement high above us on the
ridge to the west.
Another dog appeared beside the first
one, then a third. Then a fourth.
Tame dogs? Wild dogs? Wolves? Wolves!
I couldnt tell.
The situation didnt look good.
In fact, it looked bad. Actually, it
sucked like a Hoover. I couldn't pick
the car up and haul it out of there.
Both of us couldn't. We had very little
food and water, no bedding, and no
weapon. A Swiss Army Knife and
a small flashlight constituted our
entire tool kit. With these I could
perhaps defend us against a determined
chicken or a three-legged hamster.
The canines on the ridge above us
lifted their butts off the ground and
started milling around, always looking
at us, as though planning their strategy.
Just then a figure appeared at the
top of the rise on the road to the
south, in the direction we were goingor,
rather, dreamed of going. It was a
young man. What the hell? He was dressed
in a natty three-piece suit, watch-chain
and all. He looked like he was headed
for a Harvard Club soirée,
except that Harvard was an 8000-mile
"I must be hallucinating," I thought.
The guy approached us.
"Merhaba!" he replied.
"We have a problem," I said, my sense
of the obvious hanging out like a beer
He spent a few moments in grave contemplation
of the car and the mud pond, now joined
at the hip. Raising his eyes to mine,
and looking at me with great seriousness,
he said "Evet" (Yes).
"Would you help us?"
He shucked his jacket, watch chain
and vest. We both took off our shoes
and socks, rolled up our trouser legs,
and waded into the muck. We
pushed while Jane put the car in reverse
and tried to spin the wheels.
We would get covered in mud if the
car actually broke free because the
spinning tires would churn up a tsunami
of muck and send it hurtling our
But it didn't.
Nothing happened except that the engine
groaned and cursed in French. We were
"What are we gonna do?" I wondered
The kid nodded, cleaned
himself up as best he could, walked
back up the hill and disappeared.
Damn, I thought. That's it. He'll
be back in no time with a Kurdish
smugglers' posse. About a month
from now the Jandarmas, who are probably
a hundred miles away, will find only
our bleached bones. They'll give us
a rough and ready Muslim funeral
then throw our bones into the mud slough
to provide traction for any clueless
motorists who wander down this road
because they don't know how to take
good advice from local drivers even
when they ask for it. Just what we
We sat in the dirt and contemplated
our future. That took about ten seconds
because there wasn't an awful lot to
here to order an autographed
copy of the book online with
credit card or PayPal.
from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong
Tea copyright © 2004 by
Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)
Excerpts from Bright Sun,
Sun, Strong Tea Photo
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