We drove. We drove. We drove.
We left Erzurum at eight thirty in the morning, bellies half-full from a soup breakfast and heads half-rested from our lumpy hotel pillows. We hopping into our little car and drove. Through the rolling mountains we drove. We drove through the grasslands waving in the wind. We climbed hills and skirted valleys, passing through market towns and farmland, dusty villages of a single building and military bases clinging to mountain faces.
We stumbled into Mardin at eight in the evening. We had been driving for the whole day. We grumbled at each other, hungry and testy, with aching backs and strained tempers, taking the first hotel we saw. It had been twelve hours of driving—maybe more—and at the end of it I almost forgot anything had happened. As I thought about it more, I could only make up a collage of disconnected images, but I could make no story out of them, nor could I impose any sense.
I had thought that yesterday had been empty. Today was empty, truly empty. We often saw no cars at all for half an hour or so. We would pass lumbering trucks overloaded with bags of cement.
As soon as we left Erzurum the landscape became as green as a cartoon lawn. Teepees dotted the hills—the homes of cowherds who followed their stock along the plateau. But the greenery soon turned sun-light yellow, and the heat came.
As our small car put-putted its way south, the cows on the side of the road turned to sheep, and then the sheep turned to goats, until finally the goats became small children, who pushed to the shoulder of the road, holding out plastic bags of sour plums to the passing motorists.
I remember a heap of burning garbage on the side of the road, clung with black birds. A small puppy sat contentedly in the heat, looking playfully at the birds like that pile of garbage and those birds were the whole world.
For a few kilometers the road was a confusion of donkeys inching their way up the shoulder. There were cars, but no people. “Who on earth is herding these things?” Three donkeys lay in pile of dust, the sun beating down on them. “Are they dead?” The one nearest to the road reared its head up lazily, flicked back its ears in annoyance, and then laid down again. “Are they dying?” “Are they napping?”
After eight hours we stopped in the metropolis of Diyarbakir. While my friends took pictures of the huge citadel, the mosques, and the guileless street-children who followed us through picturesque-tumbledown alleyways, I remained grumpy. “Hello! Hello! Hello!” The children called after us. I crossed my arms over my chest and reminded everyone that it was probably time to go.
But my memories didn’t seem enough—not enough for twelve hours. And really, a lot of the time stretched on in a bare wasteland. Five grown humans sealed into a compact car whose radio doesn’t work. We ran out of jokes. We developed headaches. We grew testy with each other.
For those of you considering a drive from Erzurum to Mardin in a day—don’t. Or at least get a big car. You might save yourself a mental breakdown by playing Anatolian Road Warrior Scavenger Hunt. The rules are simple. Each object can only be found once. Spotted objects earn you anywhere from one to five points. At the end of the day the person with the most points earns a free dinner.
More than 10 cows.
An overloaded truck.
A farming vehicle driving through a town.
A car passing itself. (The “Self Pass.”)
A two-minareted mosque.
More than 10 sheep.
Two meat restaurants next to one another.
A woman doing farmwork by the roadside.
A car passing another car that is passing. (The legendary “Double Pass.”)
A vegetable seller.
A person running.
An idle road worker.
A driver standing up.
A car properly using its turn signal.
A person reading a book.
A car with fur seats.
A person with blonde hair.
A man peeing in public.
Dogs having sex.
Another group of people taking a photo of something.
A woman driver.