The squad crosses the road. They are intent on the march, despite a lack of herd and shepherd. That some are speckled, spotted, or streaked makes me smile. After all, this is the village of Haran, the exilic home of Jacob the trickster (see his shenanigans in the text of Gen 30:25-43). It is a place where goats, sheep, and humans have co-existed for millennia.
The mystery is not why some people cannot read.
The marvel is that any of us can.
To illustrate this, put your fingers in your ears and look at this picture.
The road unwinds outside our vehicle. We do the same on the inside, quietly resting after our experience of Ağrı Dağı. My head bumps against the glass, eyes half closed. This, despite the extraordinary landscape.
After a brief rest, we pack up the High Camp. The sun is warm but I am too worn down to appreciate it. The two and a half hour descent to Low Camp is a blur. My trekking poles become crutches.
The next day, I awaited some sign of my party. By evening it became clear that I had been “stood up” at the foot of Ararat. I contemplated the long trip back to Ankara–a total of 2,500 miles–for nothing at all. I looked up at Ararat. I had no special equipment for the climb and the mountain scared me to death.
Horses packing gear to High Camp.
We arise to a cool and breezy dawn. Some lingering sprinkles fall throughout the morning as we pack our gear. Everything is folded, rolled, tied, and zipped. Today we move from Low to High Camp.
“Guys, lit’s gooo.” Celîl’s lilting voice sends us into motion.
Tommy and I are on the same wave length. We eye our alpinist and mimic his every move. When he pulls on a fleece, we rummage for ours. When he twitches, we jump. When he zips a flap, we look to see if we have one. While in Doğubeyazıt we discovered that our new Turkish friend has climbed many peaks.
The rutted road that climbs up from Çevirme demands a shift from wheels to legs. Leaving the comforts of settled life behind, we pick our way into Ağrı Dağı’s foothills. I look right and contemplate a flat-roofed structure of stone and mud. Two women eyeball our group as we follow Celîl around the corner. I make note of the moment; this is the edge of the permanent. We enter the world of the mobile. Bones and ankles take the place of brakes and axles. Before me is the summer grazing ground of Kurdish pastoralists.
Doğubayazıt, our cowboy town, is the launch point for those who attempt the summit of Ağrı Dağı. It specializes in essentials: a bed to sleep in, a hot meal, a supply store, and, of course, the gendarmeriewhere climbing permits are issued. Nothing (except maybe Chinese-made shoes and Turkish cotton T-shirts?) is offered in quantity, but it can be found if you know where to look. That is the important part. Forget a wool cap? You can find it in Doğubayazıt. Forget your crampons? You can find them in Doğubayazıt. Forget your beef jerky? Be sure to check the expiration date.
Backed into the hills above modern Doğubeyazıt, or “East Beyazit,” is a unique complex. Several metal signs announce the way to İshak Paşa Palace (Turk. İshak Paşa Sarayı).
On the eastern end of Turkey rests Lake Van, the largest lake in the country. It has many claims to fame: a deep history, a saline character, and even a “Loch Ness” style monster rumored to haunt its depths. Of these, it is the first that brings us here (although the third is certainly interesting!). In the first millennium BC, a kingdom remembered as Urartu was centered in the region. In fact, the capital of the kingdom was erected on a rocky knob rising above the water’s edge. A scramble over these ruins is is goal for another day, as is additional attention to the mysterious Urartians.
When leaving the city of Van, we were surprised to discover whole streets lined by abandoned buildings. Some had been apartments; others, businesses and factories. Exterior walls of concrete block were awkwardly peeled away, as if by some ridiculous force. With these partitions missing, we were able to peer from our passing vehicle, like voyeurs, into the private lives of people we would never know. Their wires and pipes and curtains danced nakedly in the wind. Only later would we locate the missing inhabitants; new homes were assigned them, homes of thin trailer steel, the kind arranged in tight rows and given by agencies that specialize in humanitarian disasters.
Celîl shouts into the sleet, “Lit’s goooo.” The thunder rolls as if to emphasize his words. We scamper between the stony bumps of Ağrı Dağı’s backbone. Visibility drops as does the temperature. In the case of the latter, it is a thirty degree drop.