My last stop in Turkey was going to be the recently earthquake-hit city of Van. The uncertainty, whether a trip through this area was actually possible, was big. However, I still tried and the trip was definitely worth it.
The timing for the border town of Van could not have been worse: one the one hand, there was the recent earthquake, on the other hand it was the second day of the muslim Sacrifice Festival.
The aftermaths of the earthquake could not be overseen. The city center with its fairly modern buildings was not affected, but many individual homes were not all rubbles, but at least cracks in the walls were showing. While the media was mainly reporting about destroyed buildings and dead people, the reality in Van is quite different. The people living in tents all still see their homes intact, but the cracked walles and the instability of the buildings leaves them out of their homes, until the aftershocks of the earthquake will stop or they get the feeling, that they can move back in their homes.
I was on my way to Van castle, a few kilometers outside of the city center, when a Kurd starting talking to me and asked me about my goal. He then suggested, I should have some tea at his house, just mere hundred meters down the road. He showed me his house from the outside, the large cracks on either side of the building. Finally we did not enter the house, as I had expected, but we entered the garage, where his family had found refuge.
The Dag family is living, given the circumstances, quite well in their garage. The majority of the people still living in tents, which one find in almost all backyards of the city. A large problem during the cold period is of course the heating in these tents, since they do not have any kind of ventilation system or even a sort of chimney in the roof. The Dag family solved the heating problem, by moving their oven into the garage and leading the fumes through a pipe to the outside. The people in the tents start fires and are otherwise creative, not always without harm to their health.
Islam, the second son of the Dag family, speaks quite well English, such that we could have an interesting exchange. If we got stuck in the discussion, we still had the help of Goolge Translate, at least helping out in some cases… The usual question about religion was asked as well as my thoughts about the situation of the Kurds in Turkey and the PKK. A very delicate topic, to which I made my statements in a way, such that I was not thrown out of the garage.
After a little while, I was not served the expected tea, but a full lunch was served. At least for the males in the room. The oldest daughter was responsible for preparing food and drinks for the men, only to join here mother and her little sister watching the men eat and drink. We were served lamb with rice-stuffed peppers, a carrot-tomatoe salad and bread. It was a delicious all natural meal, since the vegetables were all from their own or their neighbors garden.
After lunch, we continued our discussion and had some tea, before I had to leave after enjoying Kurdish hospitality for 3 hours. Fortunately I had my netbook with me, such that I could share some pictures of Lenka’s and my families. With a little delay, I made my way to the Van castle.
From the castle, one has a tremendous view across the city, lake Van and the mountains a few kilometers further away. Unfortunately I entered the castle illegaly without paying the small entrance, such that I did not dare walk around freely and turn back to the city only after a short visit.
I spent the better part of the late afternoon hunting for food. I needed something to take on the train with me and on the other hand, I was getting hungry again from walking around the city. I even had the chance to enjoy the pastries in one of the bakeries, for which Van is so well known. And there is a good reason for being famous, as I could sample!
In the morning I had gotten the information at the train station, that there would be a train to Teheran in the evening, departure time somewhere in between 10 and 12pm. I should show up around 8pm to pick up the ticket. I was not sure, whether this would all work out well, especially, whether I would get a seat on the train. But, as I later found out, there was no reason for panicking, since we ended up being only 5 passengers on the train, there was even more staff than passengers…
When I arrived at the train station just before 8pm, the nice fellow of the Turisk Railways told me, I would have to buy my ticket on the train. The reason for this being the recent earth quake, which also had visibly hit the train station.
I left him to himself, which led him to figure out what was actually wrong with the printer, such that he could print out a ticket for me. He also told me, that the train would leave at 11:30pm today. Why did he have to wait until the evening to know, when the train was leaving? The train I took, was a connection from Damascus in Syria to Teheran in Iran. This connection consists of a Syrian train from Damascus to Tatvan in Turkey, where the passengers and one of the freight cars board the ferry for a 4-5 hour ride to Van pier. The people and the freight car are then picked up by the Iranian train which brings them to Teheran.
We were allowed to board the Iranian train in Van main station on its way to the pier. We had to sit in the dining car, until we had reached to pier, where all passengers where shown their compartments. The 5 passengers were distributed to 2 compartments, which made me share my compartment with an Iraqi, who lives in Syria, and an Iranian fellow. The Iraqi luckily spoke some English, such that we could communicate using spoken language.
The train route was very beautiful, leading through valleys between snow-capped mountains and across dry plains. Around 3:30am, we reached the Turkish-Iranian border, where we had to get off the train to get an exit stamp from Turkish officer. We got back on the train and a few minutes later, we reached the Iranian border check point. An officer boarder the train, asking for passports. Again a few minutes later, we were handed back our passports with an entry stamp for Iran. That was easy!
In Tabriz, the first major city in Iran, the train stopped for about an hour, such that I could exchange some money and a police officer could check the luggage. Noting that I was a tourist, he immediately let go of my backpack and continued to the next compartment.
The expected arrival time in Teheran was around midnight. The Iranian in our compartment was such an optimist, that he hoped to catch a bus the same night to Shiraz, an other 10-hour ride from Teheran away. We finally arrived in Teheran at 2am, which made the Iranian stay with his uncle for the night. I was so shattered, that I just took the next taxi to the hotel Firouzeh. I paid for my speed in chosing the taxi, in Iranian Rial, but at least the hotel had one free room with a bathroom with hot water. I took a shower and went to bed, noting that breaksfast was served until 10:30am…