Lurching my way through the Syrian desert, it is hot, dusty and shitty. I have never inhaled so much Diesely sand in all my life, as i plough through the Kurdish north-east, Iranian visa in hand. Why in a country where there is nothing but sand, would you spend copious amounts of time driving sand around in all directions? Thats all Syrian lorries carry; sand. I didn’t see any of them carrying mineral water, chinese plastic rubbish or melons/onions which are normally the third world’s cargo of choice.
Crossing the border into Turkey felt like coming home. Its strange how on one side of a fence can be lush vegetation, fertile fields, large towns bustling with people, fresh foods and friendly faces and on the other side only sand (and some oil fields). Driving deeper into Anatolia, the heavens open for the first time in nearly a month and approaching a stretch of freshly laid tarmac i feel the tears well up in my eyes. I feel like i am back in northern Europe, and as the cleansing smell of the rain is flung from the road i feel homesick for the second time of the trip. The hospitality though is first class again, and despite the fact the people in these parts would claim not to be ‘Turkish’ (they are ‘Kurdish’!) they have inherited the Turk’s people skills, whereas the Syrian Kurds are slightly lagging behind! Its strange what a line on a map can do.
Try whacking south-east Turkey into Google and you’ll get alot of mumbo-CNN-jumbo about the PKK (Pissed off Kurdish Krew, or something along those lines). But, of course i know much better about the world than the media, so decide that driving straight alongside the border with Iraq, ignoring any safety problems is a good idea. Setting off from my campsite at a leisurely nine o’clock i am greeted by Mehmet who is an officer of the Turkish Jandarmes (military police) at my first army roadblock. I explain where i am going, and he shows me on the map that i am now entering the ‘dangerous region, next to Iraq!’. He studied English Literature at University, and despite the fact i am completely ignorant of Shaekespeare’s works, I bravo his tudor quotes. ‘Don’t stop for anyone unless they have a uniform’ he warns me, clutching my passport as if undecided to let me past. ‘Mehmet, i solemnly promise, i won’t stop for anyone unless there are pretty girls’. The soldier lets out a sneer and hands back my passport ‘Good, there are no pretty girls here’.
The repeated road blocks begin to get on my wick, It takes me two hours to pass 10km, with four checkpoints, where i am asked to fill the same form, and my details painstakenly added to the computer, by deliquents who seem to have been taught computer studies by a performing seal. To add to my misery, my map is completely wrong, adding around 150km to the already long day and i am really starting to worry about being caught out by the dark. There are also people with guns everywhere, everyone smiles and waves, but some have no uniforms, some have beards, the ones in uniform don’t and on the long streches between checkpoints, i feel very alone and start to wish for one.
Suddenly standing in the middle of the road is a man with a green coat blocking my way. He wants to see my passport, refusing his invitation, i ask to see his. He refuses my inviation and shows me his gun in his knickers, as a form of identity. Smiling i give him my passport. He flicks through it disinterestedly and sends me on my way. Those skid marks will be terribly hard to get out of my trousers and at the next Army checkpoint, while they think they know who he is, they don’t seem terribly sure, and covertly begin loading up a vehicle. Pointing to the hill next to me, the Officer in charge tells me that i am right next to Iraq. Its strange being so close to somewhere like Iraq, a place which the media makes look, so wild-west that it doesn’t seem real at all, merely a hollywood creation, but here i am, little me, standing, looking at it.
Reaching the plateau at the top of the pass leading to the Iranian border, the tension twindles, the army is much less obvious here and the people seem more relaxed. Its also much colder here and the peaks around me are covered in snow. Small children run about freely, others play football and again there are resturants and cafe’s open. Being processed through Turkish customs is easy as always, and the border gate is open to the Iranian side. Driving the twenty or so metres to the Iranian gate, a small soldier stands in a faded green uniform and a scruffy army issue cap, clutching his AK. After ten minutes or so of smiling and waving, I am prompted by him to honk my horn. A tall, bearded police man struts out from the building, unlocks the padlock. An outstretched arm comes through the steel gate ’Welcome sir, a very very warm welcome to the Republic of Iran’.