We left Cappadocia around 4:30pm and caught a bus to Kayseri where we waited for 3 hours at the bus station. We were the only foreigners in sight and I noticed pretty quickly that there were a lot of people noticing us. Once we boarded our bus at 9pm, almost immediately one of the workers on the bus started paying a lot of attention to us. He kept tapping us on the head and shoulders and asking us if we spoke English. We spoke with him on and off as we tried to fall asleep as it was our second overnight bus ride in a row, but he insistently tried to make conversation. After the bus made it’s first stop a few hours in, the driver switched out and also came back to talk to us. Turns out the first man was his brother and they had a third brother who is studying to get his masters degree in Baltimore. Within a few minutes they handed Caroline a phone that was on long distance to the USA. They wanted to know if we were okay and if we knew where we were going and if we needed any help. After assuring him that we were fine, she handed the phone back. The conversations continued for hours and we were unable to really get any sleep. We told them we were going to Iraq and they’re reaction was a stern “No!” saying it was very dangerous and making machine gun noises while holding their hands in a shooting motion. We finally told them we wouldn’t go to Iraq and that we really needed to get some sleep and we drifted off for the last leg of the ride.
We were woken up at about 6am being told that we were close to Diyarbakir. I looked around but didn’t really see a city so I figured we still had a ways to go. Suddenly the bus pulled over to the side of the road and the man working on the bus told us to get off. Hesitantly we got our things together and I asked him “Diyarbakir?” and he assured me that this was indeed where we wanted to get off. We groggily stepped off the bus and pretty much the second we touched the ground the doors slammed behind us and the bus sped off.
There was a man standing next to a taxi who waved us over, so we threw our things in and told him the hotel we had read about on the Diyarbakir wikitravel page and he began driving. The roads were dirt, traffic seemed to drive in no particular direction or side of the road, and there were fires burning in the middle of the street. Yep, we definitely made it to eastern Turkey. We checked into the hotel Surkent at around 6:30am and went to sleep.
We woke up later than expected, around noon, and decided to try and use google translate to talk to the guy at the desk since we hadn’t met anyone that spoke English. We wrote down a bunch of questions and brought them to him. We told him we wanted to learn about Kurdish culture and he happily told us that he was Kurdish, and that we were in Kurdistan. He told us a few words and called his friend who spoke more English. We sat down and had some tea to wait for his friend, who showed up within 20 minutes and sat down with us to talk. His name was Omer Dogan and he said he used to work in tourism, but now works the over night shift at the hospital. He said he wanted to be a tour guide and if we wrote him a good review on Trip Advisor that he would show us around for the day for free, so we jumped at the chance.
We spent the day walking around the old city. Diyarbakir is surrounded by a giant wall, in fact the second largest wall in the world next to the great wall of China. Outside the wall is a more modern, sort of soviet-looking city, but inside the wall it’s like a giant village. There are street vendors everywhere, lots of bicycles, cobblestone roads, and a wide variety people mingling in the streets. Omer took us to some shops and a couple mosques and churches including the largest Armenian church in the middle east. The church was destroyed during the Armenian Genocide, but now the Kurdish and Armenian people are working together to rebuild it and make it re-useable. In fact a lot of the village seemed to be under construction and restoration. The city has been inhabited for over 10,000 years, and a significant portion of the infrastructure is very old, so they are working to preserve it.
After walking around twisting alley ways covered in PKK and Kurdish political grafiti, seeing local metal workers and churches, we went to a traditional Kurdish music house. These are small rooms where men go to drink tea and sing a capella. When we entered there was a big fuss about whether or not I could take video, but after some diplomatic negotiation I was permitted to record a few of them sing. We drank tea and hung out for half an hour or so before we moved on to another tea house where we met some of Omer’s friends. In fact, on just about every street people knew him. There was a really small town, friendly vibe about the whole place, and as we walked by people said “hello, welcome to Kurdistan.”
After speaking about film and bicycles, we had a few political conversations with Omer and his friends about the problems Kurdish people have faced. People speak pretty openly here, but there is still a fear that they will be arrested and thrown in jail for pretty much no reason simply because they are Kurdish. The only Turkish presence in the city were armored police trucks with police officers holding large automatic weapons. We walked by them cautiously, and avoided them when we could.
Omer brought us to a place where we could climb the wall and take some pictures, overlooking the Tigris river and a bridge built during the Roman era. There was a pretty ice view of the whole city, only the BP and other gas stations in the forefront kind of ruined it. Looking outside the city walls though there were no suburbs, only farm land and rural communities, it was quite scenic.
When we told the people here we were going to Iraq they didn’t blink an eye. They said they go there quite often and it is absolutely no problem and we shouldn’t have a hard time at the border or anything. They simply consider it another part of Kurdistan. Omer brought us to the bus station and we actually bought direct bus tickets from Diyarbakir to Dohuk, Iraq. So tomorrow we get up at 8am and will take the bus into Iraq and spend the next four days there. I took mostly video today, but here’s a few pictures:
view of Diyarbakir from the wall
view looking outside Diyarbakir at a Roman bridge over the Tigris
part of the wall
an old courtyard in the old city of Diyarbakir
one of the churches we visited
And here are some more pictures of Cappadocia that I took after my last update:
not sure what mountain this is
this place had really good lentil soup and an awesome sign