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The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks in Turkey

Batman in Turkey
• Maria Estrella Aggabao
It was the first day of July when I arrived in an old city in the southeastern region of Turkey.  Everyone had warned me back in Istanbul: Don’t go in the summer especially in July and August.

The city was Batman. That morning I set foot in the city, the weather was extreme. Worse than any heat wave I had experienced.  It hit 108 degrees fahrenheit.       

I arrived at the hotel at 6 a.m. from Istanbul, a 2-hour flight. After showering and sleeping for a few hours, I descended for HASANKEYF, the town with a mysterious name. Beauty and splendor, I was told, was waiting for me in that ancient town 30 minutes from Batman.  Soon the Turkish government would construct a dam in this area and transfer the ruins to another. I had to see the magnificence of this place in its original setting before I left Turkey.  

At 9 a.m. I headed out from my hotel.  As my feet touched the steps outside my hotel’s front door, I felt the enormous sun opening its arms in wide embrace and generously giving away its loving rays.  I wanted to be free from it, but it would capture me as I tried to hide.

Batman Batman was busy. It was an ambitious city which, at first glance, disguised itself as small town.  It danced around to its favorite song like a bustling boomtown.  I looked at the locals strutting around as if it were any ordinary day. Of course, to them it was another ordinary day. To me, the solo traveler in their neck of the woods, it was more than extraordinary. I was star struck looking at ordinary people.

My eyes followed them while I waited to cross the street. Tea cafes were packed as if crowds of men were on holiday. They sat comfortably outside the cafés under old, dusty terrace covers. They were enjoying their cigarettes; they drank tea; and engaged in lively conversations. I heard layers of conversations cohesively orchestrated. The clinking sound of tea glasses as the men stirred sugar mixed well with their deep voices. The temperamental sun and its powerful rays were accessories in the same way that tea and sugar were to the culture.  Batman had a buzz.  

Slowly I followed the shaded path the tall buildings provided. In this heat, a minute seemed like an hour.  Across the street next to the Turkish style mini-mart, I spotted a dolmus, a little van that transported people to select destinations throughout the day. It was cheap too: 6 lira (about $3.00) to travel 30 minutes in an air conditioned vehicle. On the back of the van in big letters were the words BATMAN HASANKEYF.
Dolmus Bus

 I hurriedly crossed the street thinking I would hop on and go. I peeked inside and saw a boy about 10 years old sitting near the window. He was alone. I asked him if this was the van going to Hasankeyf.  He confirmed in Turkish like a salesman in training. The boy jumped out of the van and stood outside soliciting potential passengers walking on the sidewalk. The dolmus was like a carpool service running almost constantly.  The problem was that you had to wait until all seats were filled.

I went inside the air-conditioned mini-mart and bought myself a survival pack:  a bottle of water and an even bigger bottle of Ayran, a yogurt, water, and salt combo. It’s a national Turkish drink said to help tolerate the heat.  I killed a lot of time looking through the Turkish-brand candy and snack section.
I glanced outside and noticed the dolmus started to fill up: grandmothers in their long dresses with their grandchildren; couples; old men; different generations of families; newborn babies; and then, me. Loads of bags with goods, vegetables, and fruits piled up in the back. I grabbed a seat in the rear. Sitting next to me was a well-dressed man in a pink shirt, white shorts, and sunglasses. He looked at his iphone incessantly. There was a middle-aged couple sitting to the far left. The woman’s hair was beautifully wrapped in a headscarf and her eyes dark with black eyeliner.  She was chatting with her husband I assumed. He barely looked at her, but was nodding his head constantly.

We sat side by side packed corner to corner.  The driver, dapper in his newly bleached-looking white shirt and salt and pepper hair, stood outside smoking one of his many Marlboro Classic cigarettes.  Apparently, one passenger was urging him to wait. His friend, his Arkaday, would arrive shortly. Drivers followed their own time table and, unless under major scrutiny, would be the one to decide to stay or go.

I began to hear comments being thrown around by irritated passengers. Some had been waiting for more than 30 minutes. Most people spoke Kurdish which was the prevalent language in this part of the country. I spewed out some of my own but only in my head and in English, just as potent nevertheless.  
A minute or so went by when a man carrying a large checkered tote bag was seen running wildly towards the van.  He climbed in and wiped off his forehead with a handkerchief.

Our driver turned on the gas and pumped up the air conditioner. The air barely touched me. I worried that I would have to breathe in hot air throughout the trip. The window to my right was opened a crack. I couldn’t open it much more. Off we went.

The iphone man talked softly on his phone.  Some quickly fell asleep.  I hoped I wouldn’t get claustrophobic.  20 people were packed in the dolmus. Some sat on stool-like chairs, some on people’s laps. Some remained standing. A few sat on wooden boxes covered with a thin pillow and sat directly facing the other passengers. There was one young boy on a box directly in my view. He was traveling with his mother and baby brother. I could see his innocent face with the most serious expression like a dutiful son enduring the road bumps as his mother tenderly carried his brother. At times he wrinkled his forehead and squinted when dust blew through the window into his eyes.

The wind blew though that tiny window space and caressed my face. On numerous instances, I felt traces of cool air from the air conditioner, along with dry air as we sped by cars, heat from the tires below my seat, mixed with my body heat. I watched the colors-- mostly brown and green-- flash by. It was an incredible space of land and mountains. They were endless. At some point, I couldn’t tell the difference when one rugged mountain started and when one ended. It was as if a painter was using sand to build the mountains and the sand smoothly blended together.

Hasankeyf I asked the man next to me to let me know when Hasankeyf was nearing.  Would I see a sign that read: “HOS GELDINIZ! WELCOME TO HASANKEYF!" What I did notice was that I started to feel the landscape changing. The land became more alive and vibrant as we drove on the long, dusty road. Images would magically appear. I closed my eyes to squeeze in a one-minute nap and opened them to see a long stream of water.
This was the Tigris River.  I followed its path never taking my eyes off it. Its sharp, shapely, discolored beauty never aged one moment. Land and mountains seemed to whisper to follow the water. I would find what I was looking for. The bus drove over a small bridge and to its right and left appeared ancient dwellings, caves, towers, and historic monuments. I lost my place. This was not Istanbul and certainly not my hometown.
Tigris River
I looked in wonder at these ancient works of art that blew away any skyscraper that marveled in any modern city and stunned any city dweller. How small we were, I thought, and how spectacular a gift the ancient people and Mother Earth left behind.  The van stopped and unloaded passengers. The iphone man stopped talking on his phone, smiled at me and pointed. This was Hasankeyf.  I stood there. My eyes saw a jewel.
Hasankeyf For that moment I did not feel that it was likely 110 degrees.  Not 30 minutes ago I was walking, sitting, waiting, enduring so-called unbearable conditions and minor irritations. We deal with those moments on a daily basis most of our lives. Those minute and what some consider insignificant moments in the beginning of the journey are there to get you where you’re supposed to go. To live through them and arrive in the middle is all part of the journey. And even on that extremely scorching July day, as soon as I arrived in that glorious place, I knew it was time to play and explore the even more extreme splendor.
© Maria Estrella Aggabao
Maria Estrella Aggabao is a world traveler, performing artist, and ESL teacher. She graduated from Seton Hall University with a business degree, but performing arts proved to be more inspiring. Maria sang vocals and wrote music for several rock bands and performed at NYC venues such as CBGB and Mercury Lounge. Maria grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Barcelona, South Korea, Peru, and Turkey. She currently resides in Baltimore, MD. When not writing, Maria can be seen dancing Argentine tango at local milongas.

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