“Have you brought your driving license?”
“Good. We’re going on a road trip. You’re driving.”
We’d just got off the bus from Erzurum, which was immediately preceded by 20 hours or so on the Doğu Express train from Ankara. Time delays meant we’d decided to stay with our friend for just a couple of days…and now, here we were in the middle of a situation; a planned overnight road trip that was starting in a couple of days.
Our east Turkey experience was obviously going to be something we would need to play by ear. A return to Fethiye could wait for now.
Lesson 1 – Car Hire The East Turkey Way
You take things as they are around here. Car hire involved sitting down to drink çay, smoke cigarettes in the hire office (we don’t smoke so our friend did that bit for us), having a chat – for quite some time – and insistence in taking the foreign guests (us) to the local dam.
The car was expertly delivered to the front of the office by a not very tall 11 year old – and off we all went to the dam. Three of us in a car with a stranger, heading to a remote spot. Everything you’re brought up not to do in the UK. He even stopped to buy us sweets!
We stood on the shores of the dam for a while, munching on goodies, listening to our ‘guide’ tell us about the area; how it’s farmed, how there’s a village submerged under the water of the dam, how the livestock are kept and fed through the harsh winter.
And then it was back to the office to sign a piece of paper and that was it; the car was ours. “Bring it back when you’re ready.”
Lesson 2 – The Car
Your car might not be what you expect. They take a bit of a beating in these parts. A very cracked windscreen, no rear view mirror (later found in the glove compartment), a dodgy noise whenever we turned right, one and a half headlights.
Vehicles are servants rather than posing machines in east Turkey.
Lesson 3 – The Main Roads In East Turkey
I love driving and, if you’re the same, the roads around this part of Turkey are a driver’s dream. The only jam you’re likely to hit is having to stop, sometimes quite suddenly, to let a few hundred sheep wander across the road.
Don’t worry about the multitude of potholes; you soon become a master of the giant slalom – and because the roads are so empty, you can drive on the opposite side of the road when the potholes become space craters.
Even with the potholes, we were able to keep a speed of between 90-120 kph – you can cover a lot of ground and the scenery is blissful.
Lesson 4 – Be Careful Where You Do Your Overnight Parking
Remember our visit to Anıtkabir? That visit had happened a couple of days before, and the place was packed because of the build up to Gençlik Bayramı (Festival of the Youth).
Our friends are teachers and had a long weekend because of the festival, hence the road trip. We parked in the centre of a town and decided to leave the car there overnight. Except in this town, the car park is also the town square, scene of the Gençlik Bayramı activities planned for the day after. Car towed away!
The following morning was spent at the local police station – all very chatty and friendly, what with us being foreign guests and all.
“Oh, if you’re heading that way, don’t miss Tuzluca.” Travel tips from the policeman, papers signed, handshakes, monies paid, off to the pound to get the car and we were back on the road again.
Lesson 5 – Do Stop To Take Photos Of The Scenery
We were driving in convoy with another car. We were happy and relieved to have the car returned and be back on the road again – and even more happy when this was the sight that greeted us on the way out of town.
Lesson 6 – Do Stop To Take Photos Of The Scenery
Yes, you can keep up a good speed but really, the journey from A to B is just as beautiful (if not more so) than A and B.
This is the sunset looking back over Tatvan and Lake Van as we headed back towards Erciş and Patnos. We just had to pull over to take photos again. So that’s why both Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 are the same – to remind you how important it is to take lots of photos on a road trip in East Turkey!
Lesson 7 – Prepare Yourself For A Silly Fixed Grin
Well, if you do love to drive and if you have an ambition to see Van Gölü (Lake Van) one day…and then all of a sudden, here you are, driving for miles alongside it.
Yeah, that’s a personal one for me, but you get the drift. We all have our little dreams in life.
Lesson 8 – Livestock Rules
Yes, you might be in a vehicle, but you are by no means king of the road. It can be a few horses, hundreds of sheep, cows – and quite often, just a small child (and a rather large dog) herding them along the roadside.
Give them a wide berth (they do tend to wander into your path) and if you see them in the distance beforehand, slow down – because when they decide they’re crossing the road, they’re crossing the road.
The fact you’re cruising towards them at 100 kph is irrelevant!
Lesson 9 – Shortcuts Don’t Exist!
Really, we laugh about this now, and it was an adventure we’ll never forget, and we’ll write more about it in another post – but stick to the main highways. One road in, one road out.
The mountains around here are not for foreign amateurs like us and when a local tells you your intended shortcut road is still in the process of being built…but it is passable…it’s just a bit rough…well, you know, they grew up in these mountains.
‘Just a bit rough’ means even a 4-wheel drive would struggle, there are no barriers between you and a few thousand feet drop, you won’t get out of first gear. After a few hours, you end up going back to the town you just left and spending another night there, thankful to be still taking part in life on planet earth. You live and learn!
Lesson 10 – If You Go To The East Of Turkey, Hire A Car And Do A Road Trip!
Because we had the time of our lives! We covered so much ground; fulfilled a few ambitions in seeing sights we’ve wanted to visit for many years; saw amazing sights we never knew existed.
For lovers of driving, it’s driving heaven You’ll bump and thud along in parts and realise why the windscreen is cracked and why the rear view mirror has fallen from the windscreen and why the steering’s a bit dodgy. And you’ll love every minute of it.