Sleep was difficult, it was freezing cold. It was though, I expected these villagers to come bursting into the hotel rooms and murder us. We were up and moving very early when we heard Russ, Steve and John checking into the hotel. We went for a walk but the weather conditions were getting worse and worse the roads were frozen, very icy and dangerous to walk on. That afternoon we played cards until late.
Monday 9th December
To our un-be knowing George had arrived back from Ankara last night and had already started to make the repairs to the bus. By 11.15am we were ready to depart, I was not sorry to be leaving the village we continued to descend steeply; it was an awe-inspiring sight. The mountains rising beyond the road giving a wonderful backdrop. Lunch was a two-hour stop in Ankara, where George had the repairs checked at a proper garage, before we were travelling again. At 17.50 we arrived in Cerilkli seventy kilometres from Ankara. We stayed at the Sofia Hotel; I was with Steve and John. With any luck all our misfortunes were over.
We were now in the real heartland of Turkey; the men wore dark caps with peaks just like you would find in the mining villages of northern England. We had no radio on the bus, so what was happening in the outside world was anyone's guess? While the bus laboured through the mountains the weather seemed to get worse and worse. We drove over the top of the pass into a valley; this was Yozgat where we ate lunch. At eight that night we pulled into Sivas, a town in central Turkey.
We were to spend two nights in Sivas; the people were friendlier than what we had experienced in Kizilcahaman. Everyone seemed to be on the move, the women seemed to have sacks over their heads. Horse traps came into town and old Chevrolets were the taxis. Marco Polo came here in 1271 and it became great learning centres of Islam.
It was time to have a good wash and no better place than a Turkish bath house. That afternoon some boys had been hanging around the hotel where we were staying and had apparently stolen some blankets from one of the rooms. The hotel owner thought it was us and called the police, it was not until they had searched all the rooms and heard the story that some boys had pinched the blankets that they believed us and let us go. George was fuming that we could get ourselves in such a dilemma.
We got away in good time the following morning, watched by a small group of Turkish boys; perhaps these were the bastards that had pinched the blankets. We passed the small village of Zara and were on the road to Erzincan. It was snowing the landscape was desolate and bare.
It was no surprise to us when the vehicle broke down yet again, in isolation in the dreaded Turkish Mountains as we called them. This time it was the linkage from the gear levers to the gearbox that had gone. Our driver contorted to himself under the bus, to no avail, so he began pounding a hole in the floorboards
For half an hour George tried his best to move us, but it was all to no avail. George said that he would go with Graham on his bus to Erzincan to try to come back with a mechanic whom he hopes would solve the problem. "I want some volunteers to stay with the bus?" he asked, while the rest will go with Graham and I on to Erzincan, all the women will also go on to Erzincan on Graham's bus.
There were thirteen of us who volunteered to stay behind and mind the bus. "Don't all go to sleep at the same time otherwise people may rob you or steel parts from the bus, you are in the Turkish Mountains and anything may happen? Eastern Turkey is notorious for bandits and highway robbers that infest the roads in these parts." After this final warning from George they drove off in the snow towards civilisation. We were cloistered by the intense cold and isolation.
Turkey is a wild and rugged place, which presents a considerable challenge to any one travelling through. The first thing to do was to build piles of snow around the bus as a warning to other traffic that we have broken down. Then to draw lots of when who would do the watch while the others slept. Once night fell it became very cold, I drew the times at 00.30am to 02.15am. It was freezing cold, we had no heater, no music just the wind outside.
I crawled wearily and gratefully into my sleeping bag as I had never done before, my teeth began to chatter, the temperature outside must be about minus 20 degrees C; it was hard to sleep, but I must have dosed off as at thirty minutes past midnight Steve was tapping my shoulder, "your turn to stay awake Charles." there was condensation from my body in my sleeping bag, I did not want to do this. I suppose I only stayed on as a gesture, as it seemed the right thing to do.
I climbed out of my sleeping bag and put on my big coat with a fur hood. With the hood over my head I hesitated between eating my last bit of chocolate and keeping it for the morning. We were in the very heart of the mountains; the bus was very exposed to both the wind and snow. All night long I could hear the sound of the wind it never seemed to stop. Several times I went for a walk outside, the first for piss which seemed to freeze before it hit the ground. I looked at my watch, ten to one it’s been only twenty minutes since Steve woke me.
I could not stay outside it was too cold, I got back on the bus and made my way passed sleeping bodies to my seat. Before the trip I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be stuck in a place like this. It was cold and seemed to be getting colder, outside the whole landscape was draped in thick snow and its wintry vastness seemed endless. It was exciting, and that's why I had left England, for excitement.
The long monotonous minutes of time ticked slowly by, everybody else seemed fast asleep, some even snored loudly, even Russ was fast asleep, and he only had the blanket that he had bought in the bazaar in Istanbul. I thought I heard footsteps outside, I undid the door and peered out, but there was no one there, I shut the door. Perhaps I was imagining things? At 02.15am I went to wake John from Exeter, "your turn John" he made a stir and climbed out of his sleeping bag. Oh for a cup of tea, or coffee but we did not have any so I crawled back into my sleeping bag and tried to sleep, a horrible feeling when one is already chilled to the bone. Occasionally, I would doze, it was sometime later that from the warmth of my sleeping bag I heard sounds, I dozed uncomfortably and kept hearing voices and footsteps outside or maybe I was dreaming? It was an awkward and uncoordinated night, though numbed and half-asleep.
I welcomed the first streaks of dawn. Dawn would bring movement and with it warmth, I lay on my seat trying to put on my boots. It was eight by the time the sun hit the horizon and gave us warmth at last, the long journey through the night was over after a long cold night, and it was the coldest night anyone of us had ever spent. Outside the bus was a line of frozen turds where people on night watch had taken a shit? They were all frozen solid now like epitaphs forming some monument to a great feat. It was a beautiful clear morning fresh and fine, without a cloud in the sky. At nine when the sun was becoming higher in the sky, it was becoming warmer. Oh for a cup of tea I thought, but we had non. We all decided to head off in the mountains for a walk, not along the road but to this ridge on the horizon in the distant and with that we all set out to climb up on to the ridge.
There was not a cloud in the sky. We could see for miles, in all directions as far as the eye could see were snow-covered mountains. As we trampled through the snow, we were brought to a full stop on a slope, the wind had carried the snow into huge drifts, there seemed no way through. From the ridge we could see the bus below us on the road, a tiny figure which looked more like a toy. The view in all directions was fantastic; snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. The sun was now directly overhead.
The day’s march to the ridge had been a great help it had relieved the boredom of that long cold night. By the time we returned to the bus the morning had passed, it was lunchtime with little to eat our only option was to sit and wait for George to return. We did not have long to wait at 12.45 George and Graham arrived; "who's been walking in the mountains?" he inquired. "We went for a walk George." "What do you mean you went for a walk? You see those marks near the bus? They are wolf marks. The mountains are full of wild wolves, you bloody fools," he called us. Two hours later the gears were fixed and we were on the road again' but by late that afternoon we ran into a blizzard. Snow fell from the bleak skies, on the bus it became much colder and I had difficulty in keeping my hands warm.
Out of the swirling whiteness of the storm we came across a convoy of lorries. We stopped to see what was happening, some of the trucks had slid off the road and were now firmly stuck in the snow. We were told that in this part of Turkey trucks travel in convoys and do not travel at night because it’s too dangerous. Yet here we were a bus with 15 people on it travelling alone heading into the darkness
There was an English guy by the name of Andrew who was trying to defrost with a blowtorch his diesel tank, which had frozen solid. “George what about putting the snow chains on” but he did not answer, we were faced with the elements of raging white snow. Once through the pass the wind eased and the snow thinned, this delayed us a little but George did not use the snow chains at all! The weather did not improve, night was approaching and we had eaten nothing since the day before, but non-of us complained
We reached Erzincan at seven thirty p.m., the rest of the group had already checked into this hotel and were sitting by the open fire keeping warm. Soon we were enjoying a hot cup of tea. After when we were in our rooms there was a knock at the door. It was the owner, who told us we could wash in some hot water; it seemed too good to be true.
We were not a cheery group next morning though it was a late start at 11.30. There had been a meeting with some of the others from Graham’s bus and thirteen had decided that enough was enough and from here they would use public transport. Mike said, that his mind was made up. He had come to the conclusion that his trip would be better on public transport. We arrived at the rather drab town of Erzurum at 16.45; the hotel cost only 14 TL. And the weather was still very cold as the wind blew directly from the Russian steppes.
Saturday 14th December
George had told us that today we would start at 07.45 a.m. But only half of us were here, nobody said a word as we sat in silence and waited. Another minute George still waited. I suppose he did not want any more people to leave the buses. At 08.15 Damian, Bill, Kiwi and John arrived. George just did his block and told them to get on the bus, “if you do that again, and that goes for all of you I will leave you behind, got it!” “Yes George” we all replied. The unsurfaced road wound up and over the Tahir pass as we headed east. A window framed a white peak, which seemed to be hanging almost directly in front of us; it glistened like a diamond, it was Mount Ararat.
Mount Ararat 5,165 metres high, this is where Noahs ark is said to have come to earth after 40 days and nights during the flood. The mountain made an impressive view from the road. George had now calmed down Russ asked him if he would stop so we could take photos. So he pulled the bus to a halt and we all piled out into the sunshine and took photos of this famous place. We drove on past the miserable town of Dogubayzit; this is the last town in Turkey before the Iranian border, which we arrived at three thirty p.m.