Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Cow That Wasn't

The Steppe

With 4 days, 1000 miles and 8000 feet in elevation separating us from Istanbul we parked our battered rental on the side of the road, climbed past a nomadic shepherd’s village and walked out onto the edge of the Central Asian Steppe for the first time in our lives…our boots marked with the dust of the ancient Silk Road.
The Road To The Steppes

The village below us was a seasonal encampment of stone huts with earthen roofs. The locals claim this village with 40 or so dwellings is over 3000 years old. With the arrival of autumn the residents had left this mountainous home with their families and flocks and had headed to lower elevations to weather the winter in more hospitable climes. We had missed them by only a few days.
Nomadic Village

Stone Dwelling

Finding lodging in the nearby town of Ardahan we checked into a teacher’s hotel. Every Turkish school district maintains apartment style units to house its large educational staff. These “Oğretmen Evi’s” often rent out available rooms to traveling teachers, and to a lesser extent, to wanderers who pose (pathetically in this case) as writers.
Near Ardahan

With the season of Ramadan still upon us we waited until the local mosque signaled the end of the day’s fasting before we walked into the Şukran Sofrası Cafe” for dinner. The first floor was packed to the rafters with men, without a woman in sight. When the owner saw us and that Ann and Elle were veiled he smiled and motioned for us to follow him up and away from the main floor.
We were quickly herded upstairs and past 3 more crowded floors of “men only” seating, and into the corner of the top story where a large rattan screen had been placed to keep women, or families with accompanying females, sequestered from the larger male clientele. After dinner we stopped at a little market and picked up sodas and snacks for later and then walked through a dark and lovely park in the center of town before returning to our room.
Hitting the ground early the next morning we discovered that it was market day and found the streets and sidewalks clogged with herds of sheep, goats, produce sellers, dry goods, apricots, dates, pomegranates and heaps of spices resembling conical pyramids of amazing colors and textures.
As we drove out of town Stanley saw a cow standing on the sidewalk that had been tethered to the doorknob of a shop and wanted to take a picture to add to his “cow collection”. Unable to make a u-turn, we bypassed his “bovine photo op” and drove out of town and back into the mountains towards the Georgian border.
Ardahan Street

Our Turkish Visas were due to expire in a few days and we were looking to make a border crossing into The Republic of Georgia within the week to renew them. We wound through 50 miles of mountainous roads to Pasof, a small town on the Turkish side, to check out an infamously difficult border checkpoint.
The guide books warn of corruption, extortion, and worse, on the non-Turkish side of this crossing and we wanted to get a “feel” for it before making the attempt. After spending some time in Pasof we saw nothing that worried us and decided to make passage the following day.
Stanley & Elle

We returned to Ardahan in time for the breaking of the fast and headed back to Şukran Sofrasi for dinner. This time we found our own way to the women’s enclave on the top floor and ordered spicy ground lamb kebaps, roasted eggplant, chicken simmered in hot peppers, and piles of chickpea sprinkled rice.
Leaving the café we headed to the market to restock our soda and snack hoard. The main street that had been so congested that morning was now dark and quiet with only a few lights showing from scattered markets.
We were stopped short as a man burst out of a half darkened shop and dropped something heavy into a cardboard box on the sidewalk. Stanley’s eyes grew wide has he recognized the distinctive hide of his cow from that morning…now folded neatly and very flat. In the time it had taken us to run to the border and back Stanley’s cow had been dispatched completely. Not knowing what to say I couldn’t help laughing and then Stanley rallied, smiled and uttered these now famous words that have endeared the little town of Ardahan to us; “I guess this must be the town of the cow that wasn’t”.
It seems that nothing, not even a simple cow parked on a downtown sidewalk, is as it first appears when you live, travel and wander on the far side of the world.


Anonymous said...

Hey guys! We miss you lots! I kept checking to see if you had updated, and was excitedto see a new post. It was fun to read about your adventures. I tried to catch you on Skype a few times, but didn't realize you were travling. We love you dearly and think of you often as you see new things and meet new people.
Love ya lots, Brenda

Anonymous said...

The stone dwelling looks very interesting. Does it have any electricity or water. What was it like on the inside?

Take care,

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World