“Oh. My. God. There’s the most amazing place we MUST SEE.” This I announced to Brian, whose face lit up as he entered the hotel room.
“But we can’t go.” And I went back to reading the guidebook on my lap.
“What? Why did you tell me?” But I held my silence. “Ruth! Where is it? Why can’t we go?”
I looked up. “It’s called Ishakpasha Palace, and it’s, and I quote, ‘breathtakingly beautiful, the star attraction of Eastern Turkey.'” I snapped the guidebook shut. “But it’s about nine hours away, and–”
“That’s no problem!” Brian’s eyes were wide.
“It’s on the border with Iran, and–”
“And,” I continued darkly, “there have been violent protests in the town where we’d have to transfer minibuses to get there.”
“How do you know?”
I gestured at the TV set in our little room. He glowered. “You don’t understand Turkish that well.”
“I understand video of running people and guns, and I can read the bottom of the screen where they announce where it’s happened.” I set my chin obstinately even as I felt that pin-prick of excitement which means the slightest effort will have me on my feet, backpack on and ready for adventure.
Apparently my stubborn face is rather convincing, though. Brian just sighed and threw himself onto his bed with a book.
It wasn’t yet 6am, but the sun had been up for over an hour. Eastern Anatolia keeps the same time as Istanbul way out west. We’d gotten into the habit of taking predawn strolls through Kars, taking in the sights and sounds of this different world. Like us, the locals were up, washing down freshly baked breads with hot tea.
It wasn’t long after we left the hotel before we bumped into someone interested in driving us to Ishakpasa. For a price. And it wasn’t very much longer before we agreed to it.
The next day we sat for hours in the car, snapping photos of the undulating Eastern Anatolian landscape as we drove to the farthest reaches of Turkey. At Mount Ararat our driver condescended to stop for a few seconds, but otherwise he hurtled along the road as fast as Turkishly possible. (A Georgian would have driven over us, but an American wouldn’t stand a chance.)
We drove past checkpoints and tanks, and through beautiful Turkish villages that screamed for us to stop and marvel. But they were nothing compelling for our driver, and he refused every request to stop. At one point I asked him why. “Dogs,” he said curtly. I raised my eyebrows. I understood that concern; in Georgia stray dogs can be dangerous. But…really?
“We will risk dogs,” I said firmly. (Well, I actually said something more like, “Dogs are okay.” My Turkish is limited.)
His look in the rearview mirror was stern. “And terrorists.”
Ah. Now that I understand.
We finally reached Dogubayazit, described lacklusterly by Lonely Planet as “a dusty frontier town crawling with soldiers” with “few charms of its own.” I couldn’t disagree more strongly.
Brian and I both were stunned, taken aback by its color, its vibrance and its bustle. We loved it. But no rest for the wayward traveler, our driver seemed to think. And up we crawled through the winding roads up the mountains to Ishakpasha Palace, perching majestically atop one craggy peak and gazing down at a hazy valley rich in blue, green, yellow and red hues. The view was breathtakingly beautiful, as per Brian’s explicit demand. It was just…beautiful. Lustrous, rich, exotic, a perfect gem. It was worth it.
It was also closed.
Now, when you’re a Peace Corps volunteer, disappointment is no shock to your system. So I could say I felt that familiar friend creep up my spine, and I knew after a moment of mutual silence we’d be back on course. This just required a moment to groan, to laugh at ourselves, and to bask in the joy of being here, despite the forces being united against our entering the palace. So I took a moment to climb alone to a picnic table up the hill while Brian scanned the knick-knacks sold at a kiosk nearby. Rejuvenated, we reunited and climbed up the mountain a ways together, looking over the palace walls from above, and to the horizon reaching into deepest Turkey.
“Let’s hike,” I suggested. That would be cheerful and bring endorphins, and we could get a magnificent view of both the palace and our beloved Dogubayazit below. Brian agreed and we jumped up and set off.
But not too far. Almost immediately we agreed the mountain was way to steep and dangerous for us to dare it. Which was approximately when we saw about five teenagers prove us wrong in the most frightening way. No climbing for us, then, even if it proved we weren’t sure-footed locals.
Our driver was itching to return, but we were enchanted by the palace and weren’t ready to leave it. Through the foliage above I made out a little building. We headed there and found a cafe overlooking the palace. We sat ourselves down and enjoyed a hospitable cup of Turkish tea and conversation with the proprietor. It was, in the end, magical, even though the palace itself remained a locked haven from us. It was the sweetest failure ever.
And fortified by our tea, we took a lovely stroll through those gorgeous streets of Dogubayazit. It was amazing being somewhere so very different from any place either of us had ever been. I’ve literally never been somewhere so different in my life. I look on it as one of the best trips ever.
I absolutely loved this town, visually.