Sunday, September 24, 2006

Things Not To Do on Your OE - Part 1

Something I've learnt from my time tripping around the world is that travelling with the Irish is both fun and nerve-wracking. Somehow I don't think "consequences" is a word many of them understand. However if you put this minor shortcoming aside travelling with an Irishman is guaranteed to take you places you'd never expect. The following tale is a case in point.

In late 1996 I was meandering my way through Turkey as part of my sojourn in the Middle East. I'd done all the really touristy places (Istanbul, Fethiye, Gallipoli, Cappadocia etc) and was making my way along the Black Sea coast when I ran into Kevin, formerly of Belfast. He was a gregarious bloke (the Irish generally are) and we got on pretty well. Anyway we got to talking about travel plans, where each other was headed, and how we intended to get there - that sort of thing. I was heading south towards Syria and so too, it turned out was Kevin. Figuring there's always safety in numbers we decided to travel together for a while.

It was a day or two into the journey when we got to Trabzon and were mellowing at a bar with an Aussie (whose name now escapes me) that Kevin came up with the bright idea that we should climb Mount Ararat. It was a bit out of the way he argued, but since we were in the neighbourhood we'd be fools not to give it a crack. Hang on, says yours truly, it's late autumn and you're suggesting we climb a sodding mountain and get caught in a blizzard. Doesn't sound a particularly good plan to me.

Many beers and persuasive Irish dialogue ensued.
"Whaddaya, a nonce?"
"No, I'm just not a fan of frostbite"
"Bigod have another beer will yez ... look it'll be fine. A quick climb up and down and a story to tell your kids"
"If I climb Mt Ararat and get caught in a blizzard I might not have any kids! Anyway don't you need a permit to go up there?"
"Permits are for poofs ... have another beer ya Keewee idjit"

So many, many, beers later I was persuaded and, once the hangover was over, off to the village of Dogbayit trundled the intrepid trio (The Australian having decide to join us)

In hindsight I should have realised the plan had risks. Any sentence that starts "An Irishman, a Kiwi, and an Australian were on Mount Ararat ..." should ring all sorts of warning bells. However I was young, and fairly foolish, so I blithely proceeded with no regard for the consequences.

As I suspected permits were needed to climb the mountain. Permits we didn't have and couldn't get, unless we were prepared to back-track to Ankara to get them. Even then, the locals said, they were unlikely to be issued. Like the twits we were we didn't think to ask why that might be.

Needless to say Kevin wasn't going to let a small issue like a permit get in the way of a chance of a lifetime. We had a tent, warm gear, plenty of food, and with judicious cash donations to the right people we were going up this mountain. And that's what we did.

If the truth be told it wasn't that difficult. The climb wasn't hard at all. The view was spectacular, but despite our best efforts we didn't find Noah's Ark. However clambering up and down mopuntain did take a while, which necessitated an overnight bivvy in an almost cave on Ararat's lower slopes. It was chilly, but we had hot food and plenty of alcohol to keep us cosy and drifted off to a well satisfied sleep.

It was at around five AM the next morning that the shit hit the fan. There was an almighty bang as something exploded outside our shelter. Ears ringing I half sat up in my sleeping bag only for another stupendous flash of light and colossal crash to send me into a small huddled ball of quivering fear. The next thing I know is half a dozen guys in camouflage and armed to the teeth come storming into our shelter yell and screaming at us in Turkish. Then they got a look at us and stopped dead in their tracks. They were definitely surprised (though nowhere as surprised as us) to find three white boys in a cave on Ararat.

Anyway once the initial tensions eased, machine guns were lowered, and explanations were forthcoming. Firstly from us explaining what we were doing there, and then from them as to why they were throwing stun grenades at us and poking rather large guns at our heads. It turns out the part of the country we were in was where the Kurdish separatists (or terrorists depending on your point of view) the PKK were operating. The Turkish Army had put some specialist groups into the field on some sort of search and destroy mission. They'd seen a light in our cave, and because no permits had been issued for tourists to climb Ararat, assumed we were Kurds and had been about to deal to us in a fairly permanent way.

Anyway once the misunderstanding was cleared up, (the soldiers thought the whole situation was hilarious) they offered us us breakfast and in exchange for some cigarettes and booze gave us a ride back into the nearest town. Very generously they didn't dob us in for being where we weren't supposed to be.

Once the dust had settled somewhat the three of us were sitting at a local cafe, basically really enjoying life and the fact we were still alive. Irish Kevin takes a long swig of his beer, looks at me and said
"Ya see Keewee, I told youse have a good story to to tell from this trip"
"U huh"
"Now how's you fancy going to Iraq?"

No comments: