I almost reeled from the stench of feet and farts that hit me when I boarded the bus from Kayseri to Kahta. Sweet shit. Promptly tying my scarf bandit-stylee across my face, I was directed to a seat seemingly next to the source of the smell. Sad face. Here’s me and a fellow traveller whose name I do not know but who I collared for a ‘feet face’ photo.
Try as the conductor did, the cursory squirt of some lemon cologne at the floor nearby did little to suppress it. Add to this a 2.30am wake-up from the same conductor to ask me where I was from and whether I was with the Japanese dude, a half hour 4am stop to wash the bus (WTF?) and being dropped, not in the bus station, but outside some grotty pension 500m down the road with an owner solemnly declaring that there were no minibuses up the mountain at all, and I was a disgruntled bunny.
The guidebook warns that Kahta has a reputation as a rip-off town and, for once, it is right. Such a shame as I came to learn it’s pretty much its only downside. Once at the otogar, every man in the sleepy provincial town determinedly tries to convince tourists that there is no way of reaching the summit other their through their cowboy outfit. One bloke doggedly pursued with constantly changing misinformation and asked at the same time why I was annoyed.
So I pulled out the big guns. The sit in.
It’s obvious that there are public buses up to the villages on the mountain, even if the Lonely Planet says there are only 3 a day in the afternoon (they’re every 2 hours from 8am). I’m a skank. I wanted to get the cheap-ass public bus and dang it was I moving til I found it. Especially with the less-than tantalising alternative of another tour. Made myself comfortable and began to polish my Turkish skills with a young local school teacher.
My Turkish is coming on. I can now greet people, ask how they are, ask their name, tell them who I am, call them a bastard and tell them to fuck off. Plus I can ask for anything up to 6 of your basic supermarket items. Optimistically tried to use this concoction of words to engage an elderly farming couple in conversation in the Cappadocian countryside. But I digress.
Six cups of tea and an hour later, a scheduled minibus service had miraculously appeared and, better still, I’d been offered a ride up the mountain. The catch? I had to do the weekly shop with two Kurdish blokes from the village on the way. Problem yok.
By lunchtime I was just a hop and a skip short of the summit and settled in a lovely, clean as a whistle pension with hot (hoorah!) running water and plush fleecy blankets. It’s a new build, though I noticed the finishing isn’t up to much as the wind sang underneath the UPVC door frame. Cue some chillin’, writing and napping before chatting to the handful of other guests in search of a willing accomplice in the 2am hike up the mountain (15km, 3 hours) for sunrise.
Enter Jose, a Spanish Special Needs teacher (I’ll beat you all to the inevitable joke and admit that’s probably why he agreed) who has been learning Arabic in Damascus for the last year. He had interesting insights into the latest demonstrations but, having heard about the Syrian secret police, I won’t mention them here.
I should probably mention here that the purpose of going up the hill isn’t for the hell of summiting, it’s because a megalomaniac King Antioches, in the first century BC ruled over a bit-kingdom between Rome and Persian and fancied himself descended of Gods. So he had himself and members of his family (shown as Gods) represented as statues on two broad terraces on the East and West side of the mountain and had a gargantuan mound of crushed rocks piled up between (about 50m high), under which experts suspect his mausoleum lies. He actually wasn’t that great and his kingdom was successful for all of 26 years, but who’s counting?
Got up at 2am after a few hours kip with a knapsack full of snacks and set off up the paved pathway to the summit. It’s a fair climb so hard work at such an unusual hour but worth it for having the mountain to ourselves and catching 2 proper shooting stars. One looked like a comet, the tail lasted so long. Come 4.30am, we came across another couple of minibuses who were taking tour groups up for the sunrise. Resisting a lift, we trekked on up to the very top, and just as well. We waited just 25 minutes and I was frozen. Chatted to a Chinese bloke who had retired from the UN up the top who was waiting for the sun to appear. He and his wife are life-long backpackers and he said he was wearing more layers here (8) than he did in Antarctica.
Still, you gotta admit that these are pretty cool.
On the other side of the mountain lie some more old castles and palaces. The guest house owner had kindly agreed to drop my bag down at the bus station in town ahead of my 3pm bus connection so I figured I had bags of time to go check them out. Set off back down the hill after a cup of chai with the dudes at the cafeteria up top and as the sun was strong enough to thaw the bones. It was significantly further than I realised. By the time we reached Arsameia it was 10am and we’d been walking for more or less 8 hours. Reward was found in the beer given to us by theholidaying Turkish couplewho were mystified that we’d walked all the way, and the remains of the ancient palace on the outcrop.
Check out this relief of the King and Hercules. That’s no way to dress, Herc.
Further on down the road there’s an old Roman Bridge which somehow still has three of its four pillars in tact. It’s supposed to be one of the other ‘must sees’ in the vicinity so I was going to press on and see it, assured of picking up a dolmus from there to town. Jose meanwhile turned around and headed back up the mountain to stay another night.
There wasn’t another soul, beast or vehicle in sight and the road ahead, as I found out from the dudes at the park office a little way down the hill, was 10km long. Weary and a bit spooked by the apparent absence of life, I chickened it and asked about minibuses. This was too much for the meagre Turkish-English skills of both parties, so a farmer was summoned from a nearby field to act as translator. Established that there were no buses til the next day from that village but was offered dinner and a place to stay with him and his grandfather. Tempting, very tempting to experience proper rural Kurdish life…but not as a single white female. What a world we live in.
So instead he hitched me a lift in the next car that came along the road (sorry Mum) and I skirted round the mountain in the right direction to be deposited at the top of a road with an incredible view of the river delta and lake beyond, to yomp the 1.5km down to a main road for minibus flagging purposes.
I hadn’t got a cheese sandwich down the road and some engineers on their way back from doing some site measurements for a civil engineering project (there’s lots of them in Turkey at the moment – the place is booming) stopped to offer a lift into town, with tea at the office thrown in for good measure. Praise be to google translate for allowing us to happily breach the language barrier and discuss the Royal Wedding. They love it. Some drunk loon in the bus station came up to me at midnight a few nights before saying only ‘Princess Diana’, pointing at his hand and saying ‘English’ at me.
Got back to the bus station in good time to hang out with the shoe shine boys, village idiot (Tito was his name. The locals had to prise a cup of half-drunk tea from him that he was trying to gift me) and bus staff. Wondrous as the tourist sites are across the world, often the time I spend hanging out with the locals, speaking the language badly and messing around with the kids is the most enjoyable.
Heading North next to the Black Sea to see about some trekking in the Kackar Mountains, though might review that after the deep freeze of just one night on the mountains: Turkey has had a harsher spring than usual. Regardless, there’s a monastery up on the cliffs at Sumela that looks like it’s worth a look on the way East towards the Armenian border.