You know you’re in Eastern Turkey when the guy working the reception at your guesthouse shakes his head with disapproval when you try to walk out the door wearing shorts. “Why?” he asked pointing to my shorts. “It’s so hot outside!” I replied smiling, not sure if he was joking around or not, making the fanning motion to my face. And it was hot as hell out there, probably around 95. He put his hands to knee level “this no good” then moved his hand down to ankle level “this good!” I sighed and went back to up to my room to change into my one pair of pants, that I hadn’t donned yet on this whole trip. Even though Turks, and the Kurds too, basically always wear pants, I assumed it doesn’t really matter for foreigners. Well I still think that, but maybe the guy was just trying to save me from looking like a goofy, unfashionable, tourist. Hopefully nothing worse!
I was in a town called Tatvan, on the far west shore of Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey. I ended up here by somewhat odd happenstance, getting dropped off the night before at 3am. My plans were getting jumbled as booking buses, err buses to the places I actually wanted to go, was seemingly difficult as the Muslim holiday Eid was approaching. I had been in Cappadocia for 5 days and was hoping to get to a place called Mount Nemrut, one of the more famous attractions in Eastern Turkey. But it turned out every single bus going to that general vicinity was totally booked up. It was not looking good. Hitchhiking had crossed my mind, but it was pretty damn far. I eventually found a bus to a town four or five hours east, and decided to go with it, thinking maybe once I was there I could get a bus closer to Nemrut.
Of course once I got there and enquired around at the bus station I got absolutely nowhere. As this wasn’t a touristy town, English also wasn’t so good. I’d say the names of the towns I’d like to go to and got nothing but head shakes (meaning they understood, but the buses were all totally booked up). Hmm. Time to shake up the itinerary. Rather than steadily work my way east I could catch a long haul bus way out east and then work my way back to the west. They had tickets available to Tatvan, a place I knew nothing about, but I knew geographically it was a good place to start doing my SE Turkey trip working back East to West, so I booked it. Nine hours later I was dumped off there on the side of the road! Fortunately they dropped us off in town and not at the bus station, so finding a hotel was painless, even at 3am.
Tatvan is one of those towns where there really aren’t any tourist attractions. Apparently there is a nice crater lake up at the top of a nearby mountain, but that’s about it. That doesn’t mean the place isn’t interesting though. It is a primarily a Kurdish town and today it was hopping. People everywhere and all sorts of make-shift stalls and tables set up to sell clothes and produce. There was no room to sit in any of the teahouses that I passed by. This was the last day before Eid, so everyone was scuttling around making final preparations or catching up with friends who were back in town for the holiday. Eventually I stopped in a kebab shop that had some open bench seating, which completely filled up within seconds of me sitting down. But at 5 lira/$1 for a big kebab and unlimited water, no complaints!
I stopped in the bus offices to see what the situation was like. My intended destination was Hasankeyf, a scenic river village, kind of in the middle of nowhere. To get there I’d have to get a big bus to a town, humorously named Batman, and then a dolmus from there. There were no morning buses the following day, but I was able to book an evening one at 8pm, a seemingly late hour. At least that would give me enough time to get up early and hike to the crater lake outside of town. But around 7:30 that night I got a call from the bus guy, they made a mistake, the bus was tonight at 8pm, and there was no bus going tomorrow! Ok then, I threw all my stuff together and it was off to na na na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN!
Although like Tatvan, Batman also has nothing at all interesting for tourists (outside of people taking photos with the city’s namesake!). It’s a flat, hot, boring, oil town, but I was able to stay at a very nice hotel for $22! I was actually tempted to stay another night just because the the hotel was such a good deal, but I did end up leaving the following morning. The bellboy walked me to the exact spot where the dolmus starts loading people and waited with me until it pulled up. Excellent, but unnecessary, service!
An hour later I was in Hasankeyf, a village on the shores of the Tigris river. It's got a lovely location, lots of ruins and cave houses around, and next year it will totally be gone. Yup, you read that right. It's going to be submerged when they release the dam upriver, as part of Turkey's GAP project, aiming to provide more water to the rest of the region. Right now they're finishing up a new cookie cutter little town for the residents to move into when the dam gets released. It's a pretty sad story, all the history in this town, poof, vanished. Apparently Erdogan doesn't mind. As a tourist I guess it's interesting to see this place while it still exists.
I found a guesthouse with a terrace overlooking the river with a big friendly owner who spoke surprisingly good English. He said I could have a room, or lots of people like to sleep up on the roof, under the stars. This sounded kinda nice, so that's what I opted for. The village is pretty small so you can walk around it in no time. Apparently they had already carted off some of the famous monuments, such as one of the citadels, and a very small old church and relocated them in the new town already. An odd place. When the sun got lower I went up hiking in the hills to check out some of the cave houses. I met a Turkish couple up there who were also staying in my guesthouse. We hiked down together, got some nice photos around sunset and then had a huge meal on the terrace while the sunset colors faded to black. A very nice evening! And that's about all you need for Hasankeyf! I had a somewhat restless sleep on the roof and I'd be outta there the next day.
Although my morning didn't get off to a great start when I tried to pay and the owner quoted me a price about double or triple what I thought I'd be paying. When I protested, I got the "Hey, you're American, you have dollars, life is good!" spiel. Eh, I rolled my eyes and got out of there. It was the first time in Turkey so far where I thought I really got taken advantage of. It was my bad for not asking for the prices ahead of time though. I was now a little bit less sad that his business would be soon be going under. Anyway it was time to catch a dolmus to the next city, Midyat, only an hour away. There are no buses originating in Hasankeyf, they all come from Batman. The first one I tried to flag down was completely packed and didn't stop. 30 minutes later the next one was the same. This was not looking promising. Hitchhiking time!
I'd read that hitchhiking in this part of Turkey is supposed to be relatively easy. They said if you really want to be picked up quickly and garner lots of goodwill, wear a Kurdish keffiyah, the headscarf with the colors of Kurdistan. I didn't have one though. I walked down the road with all my stuff trying to flag down cars. It was baking! 95 and a blazing sun. After 45 minutes, still no luck! Someone feel sorry for me! Two more public buses passed, both full of course. I should have bought the keffiyah! But soon enough two young guys pulled over and I hopped in. I felt bad because I knew very little Turkish and definitely no Kurdish, so I wasn't really filling up my end of the hitchhiker social contract. Oh well, it was only an hour ride and they seemed happy to have me. You don't meet too many foreign tourists in these parts.
They dropped me off in the middle of town and I headed on my way. Then I proceeded to get completely lost looking for my hotel in the winding streets of the old town because google maps kept telling me I was in a different location than I actually was in. I'm helpless without a fully functioning google maps! And it's still 95 out, ugh. After attempting to get help from the locals and wandering down every single street, I picked the right one eventually, thank god. What was supposed to be a really easy travel day turned into an exhausting affair. But hey, I made it. I cranked the AC and passed out in my bed immediately.