The blue waters of Lake Van
The journey isn't very comfortable. It takes place at a temperature that is hardly bearable, in a bus without windows, with hot air blowing down from the spouts. We have three stops, but it's always 5 hours on the road. I don't have anything for lunch and get to the hotel in Tatvan quite faint. However I decide to use the last of daylight to visit Ahlat, but before that I do the washing to have it dry by tomorrow.
After a lovely half an hour's ride on the minibus along the lake shore, I wander across the old cemetery, among stones decorated with Kufic inscriptions and lichens, and tens of beautiful turtles living they mating season. I observe with curiosity their courting ritual in which the male knocks the female along in the grass with his shell.
In the evening I have a tavuk sis that gives me back some of my strength, then bump into Mariangiola and Ibrahim and linger with them in Tatvan's fresh air.
4 August - I left at 10 for the excursion to the Nemrut Dagi crater with two silent Germans, Mariangiola and Ibrahim. The ascent took about one hour by bus with a few stops to admire the barren landscape, sweetened by the presence of so much water between the extensive Van lake at our feet and the 5 lakes held in the crater. The pure air due to the altitude allows us to make out very clear-cut shapes and the vastness of the hollow with its steep slopes that descend to the inner lakes. It's just amazing. We stop at one of the pools that has hot water springs by the shore. We are at an altitude of 2400 m, but the crater brim exceeds 3000 m. I have a swim even if I don't have a suit on. It's hot, the sun is beating hard and is not philtered by atmosphere or humidity.
Back in Tatvan at 3 pm, I have lunch with the driver at a small restaurant where I order two pida breads. At 5.30 I leave to Van. My idea would be to stop on the way to sleep at a camping site just opposite the landing stage to Akdamar Island, but I cannot make myself understood with the driver and I find myself at the terminus in Van together with Mariangiola and Ibrahim. We take a room in the same hotel, but mine is a shared one. I'm told there is also an Iranian man in my room, and in fact we're quite near the border.
I go for a vegetarian dinner – I'm just fed up with meat – and I find a venue that stays open around the clock where just shorba soup is served. Back at the hotel I stay over an hour reading in the hall. When I go up to my room, one bed has been taken by a Turkish man already fast asleep, while a second one arrives later when I have put off the light, after the wedding party that was going on in a saloon opposite the hotel.
5 August - I was walking just after 8 o' clock in a lane where many people were having a mainly salty breakfast in several successive venues, and I resign to a Turkish-style meal with herb cheese, a dish of tahine and honey, hard-boiled eggs and tea. It's quite nourishing and comes accompanied by two kinds of bread, one of which is hand-made and freshly baked.
I leave to Akdamar with Mariangiola and Ibrahim. On the bus I have the usual conversation with gestures and one-syllable words with my seat neighbour. The boat fills up quickly at the pier, then sets sail to the island and in a few minutes leaves us ashore. The beautiful Armenian church is now visible only from the outside because of restoration work in progress, but it's nevertheless an architectural jewel full of sculpted decorations. We get down to the shore where the water soon tempts us to a swim, and I feel the effect of the alkaline salts dissolved in the lake that make the skin slimy, as if soapy. I meet an Australian guy on the narrow beach; he doesn't want to swim because of a cut in his feet that could be painful in contact with this water.
Back on the opposite shore, we have some difficulty for the journey back to Van because the bus won't fill up with passengers. Practically all those who disembark have their own car parked there and leave on their own. After some waiting, I decide to try hitchhiking, but the dolmus driver stops the motorists from taking us twice. In open challenge we move a little down the road and stop a bus that takes us to the first village, where we guile away a short time drinking tea that we are treated to by another passenger. It's 4 pm when I get to Van and I have time to go to the castle hill. I climb it to admire a great view on the lake, the fields around the crag, the mountains towards the border from a staggering height and sheer vertical cliffs on all sides. I stay until sunset, then make my way back to the hotel, where I meet my new room mate, a nice Australian guy with an ironic and somewhat braggart approach that amuses me. We decide to go to Hosap together tomorrow.