Our guides up Nemrut Dagi are a stocky Turk with passable English, and his 20-year old son. Their van picks us up at the apartment at 6:00 in the morning. Two backpackers from Germany and the Netherlands are along for the trip, nearing the end of their 7-month trek through Asia and the Middle East. We are heading for the summit of Nemrut Dagi--Mt. Nimrod--where Antiochus I of Commagene erected statues of gods and kings 2000 years ago.
It’s a two-hour drive north to the base of the mountain. We stop on the way to see the Ataturk Dam and dip our hands in the Euphrates. We arrive at the mountain, and our guide announces that his son needs driving practice. So he will get it now. Up a steep, narrow, hairpin-turn mountain road. In a standard. With us as passengers. With a few moments of apprehension on my part, we lurch and stall our way upward.
We climb the final portion on foot, and spend the morning roaming through and taking pictures of the earthquake-toppled statue heads at the summit. In summer the place is swarming with tourists, but we have it to ourselves. Snow-capped peaks surround us. The view is beautiful.
Tony and Thomas entertain us with stories of their travels. Our guide spreads a picnic lunch beside the road half way down the mountain—complete, of course, with the requisite tea—and entertains us with singing. He asks us for a song and Joy and I do the Canadian version of “This Land is Your Land”. We share our lunch with an old man passing on his donkey.
On the way back we explore an old castle and a Roman bridge, and, while our guide frets at the top over potential wolves and poisonous snakes, the guys and I scramble 160 metres down a dark cave tunnel. I have to be convinced about that one myself, as the view from the top seems awfully treacherous, but I grip my flashlight between my teeth and follow. No poisonous snakes.
Next to the castle Turkish music blares from an old building. Inside 15 or 20 girls sit at a roomful of looms, long strands of coloured yarn hanging above their heads, fingers flying over partially-completed carpets. One pats the seat beside her and guides my hands through a few inept knots. After half a dozen demonstrations I can do one on my own. I exhaust my supply of applicable Turkish words (hello, how are you, very nice, and thank you) and resort to smiles and nods. She ties two strands of yarn around my wrist for a bracelet.
It is one of my last days here. We ride the bus two and a half hours east to Mardin—“to provide entertainment to another town,” I comment as we disembark to the usual assemblage of gawkers. The road to Mardin cuts into a hillside and winds upwards. We are dropped off in the centre of the old town, and set out to explore. The museum, the bazaar, and a climb up narrow stone alleys between the walls of hidden courtyards, until we are nearly at the castle ruins above the town.
From the rooftop of his house, a man invites us up to see the view. We duck into an open courtyard, past the kitchen and living rooms that open off it, and follow several sets of cement steps until we are on the roof. Here we’re offered coca-cola crate chairs, water from a communal glass (Dave valiantly risks Turkey tap water; Joy and I politely decline), cigarettes, and finally cups of tea. Extended family trickles up, children, nieces, cousins who kiss our cheeks and welcome us, until we are a party of fifteen. Tea is consumed, the glasses refilled and passed on to the next person. Everyone smiles and chatters in Turkish, while Joy translates for my benefit. One lady wants to know how long Dave and Joy have been married… “Seven years and no children!” She suggests Dave could take a second wife if there aren’t children soon. They want us to stay the night, but we are catching a bus home at 4:00. “Next time you come to Mardin, you will not stay in a hotel. You will stay here.” We snap a group photo, and they watch and wave from the roof as we leave.
As usual, there is a young steward on the bus who stations himself in a strategic position for viewing me. I am intriguing as a monkey in a zoo. Look--she’s taking something out of her bag. Now she’s writing in her book. Now she’s leaning forward to look out the window.
Build a fence around me and charge admission.