Saturday, 20 October 2007

Turkish Delight (Chapter 5, Kayseri, Turkey)

Ankara disappeared behind us at dusk on the third day, and it was on the same crisp moonlit night that we made-for us-a tragic mistake. After the second hour, the road forked left, the tarmac continuing along the fork and a dirt surface track winding ahead. We continued along the bitumen. With two brief stops, we covered a hundred miles in record time and felt very pleased with the effort.

'What price those sore backsides now?' I said to Nita as we unpacked for a few hours' sleep. 'A hundred miles almost non-stop and I feel as fresh as a daisy.'

'Me too,' answered my wife. 'But it will be better if we stop for a few hours otherwise we'll feel washed out in the morning.' So we crept into the tent, which we'd had some difficulty rigging because of soft, sandy earth, and, feeling contented, snuggled down to sleep.

'Kayseri in the morning,' Nita mumbled, and with happy sighs we slept.

We were up and on the way again before dawn; prospects could not have been brighter. It was one of those days that started perfectly. The dawn broke about an hour after we started and I had the satisfaction of turning off the headlight as the daylight strengthened-I always enjoy doing that. And what a glorious dawn. The shafts of vivid golden sunlight stabbed up into the sky like daggers above the rugged beige mountains and the sandy plateaux. Our scooter ran like silk and the speedometer never dropped below forty-five. The tarmac wound out before us.

The first bad omen to dispel our complacency was a black shape far ahead which resolved, on approach, into an overturned grape lorry. It was in an awful mess, there were crushed grapes all over the road mixed with shattered glass, blood and petrol. The truck was lying half in a ditch and the driver was stretched out on the bitumen. He was dead. His colleague, sitting in a daze beside the body, was in a badly shocked condition, deathly pale, but apparently unhurt. He told us the other truck which had been in convoy with them had gone on to Ankara for help. The driver had been alive when they left, but they had been afraid to move him without expert aid. It would probably have been useless anyway-he had impaled himself on the steering column. It was the tragically familiar story of the over-warm cab, early hours of the morning, and the driver nodding over the wheel; then the mistake that could not be rectified. For Turkish long-distance drivers there were no such pills as 'Nodoze'. The driver's mate was quite fatalistic and assured us there was nothing we could do. We sat smoking with him for a few minutes and then pushed on.

Our own mistake, discovered a few miles later, was nothing by comparison, but we felt pretty bitter about it at the time nevertheless. Nita spotted it first by exclaiming, 'Isn't that a lake over there?' I stared in the direction of her pointing.

'Can't be,' I began, 'there's no lake anywhere near the road.' But sure enough, there it was; and no mirage either. A beautiful expanse of water, shimmering in the early morning sun-I couldn't believe my eyes. We had studied the map the previous evening and there was no lake within miles of the Kayseri road. As I brought the Prima to a stop, the horrible suspicion loomed.

Nita said, ominously, 'That wretched dirt fork just outside Ankara; it couldn't have been the Kayseri road. . . .' But it was. There, on our map, was the lake, large as life and touching the road at several points. But it was the wrong blasted road. Instead of being a mere fifty miles from our objective, we were nearly two hundred and fifty. I pin-pointed our position; instead of moving south-east, we were heading due south. For us this was a major calamity. All that night driving, for which we were patting ourselves on the backs, had been wasted. I looked at the map again. There was a rough inverted triangle of road with Ankara and Kayseri at the upper points and a place called Nigde at the base. We were sixty miles or so from Nigde, so were what might be termed beyond the point of no return. It was the longest detour we had ever made.

But the day that had started with the sight of death was far from over. We ran out of road at about ten o'clock and for mile after endless mile we ploughed through inches thick of sand and dust under a blazing sun. The country, harsh and arid, looked very unfriendly. It looked even worse after we had the spill. It all happened-as these things usually do-in a twinkling. One minute we were going along upright and reasonably serene, the next the front wheel hit a soft sand-patch and we were lying sprawled over the track with the scooter on its side and the engine screaming wildly. The ground, which met us at forty miles an hour, was much harder than it looked, but we were fortunate not to be badly hurt. Hips, knees, and elbows severely bruised, but the real disaster was not to our bodies, or to the scooter, but to Nita's spectacles. They had been in the offside pannier-bag along with the dixie and other cooking equipment. The whole lot was battered out of recognition. Most of the stuff was replaceable, but not, of course, the specs.

One running board of the Prima was badly twisted. I remedied the trouble in part by bashing it level with a rock, but it still made a pretty uncomfortable footrest. There was, as I said, no mechanical damage. A great wave of depression flowed over us as we reviewed the shambles that had been a pannier-bag. This countryside was hostile for sure.

Nita started laughing at me. My debonair 'gorblimy' cap was no longer set at a jaunty angle as I sat chin in hand on that dry, shadeless bank of dust, but had slewed round with the impact and now reposed with the peak over one ear. We were both smothered with dust.

'Do I really look so funny?' I grunted sourly. 'You can't afford to laugh with the rest of the journey as a blurred picture.'

'If it's going to be like this most of the way,' and here my wife nodded at the dead, parched view, 'I'll be only too pleased to keep it slightly out of focus.'

I stared gloomily at the rocks and desert flats; there was no other human being in sight, not even an animal to relieve the barren landscape. If, by some magic, we could have been spirited home at that moment, I'd have gone like a shot.

But in such horrible situations, it is useless to sit brooding. We rallied ourselves as best we could, bolstering each other's lowered morale. Somehow we reached Kayseri, although it took another day and a half. It was lucky the accident had not been a really serious one: there was nothing between Ankara and Kayseri in the way of medical aid.