Christmas on the Beach (Not).

The Anglophones are in two groups. Les and Margaret in Kon-Tiki are probably still in European Turkey, whilst Clive, Anne and Maureen (in K-Nine and Womble) are just over the border from Iran in eastern Turkey.

This page is based on an e-mail from Clive and Ann (K-Nine) sent on Christmas eve.

We (K-Nine and Womble) travelled without any incident through the border (Iran to Turkey) except for frozen fuel (water in the fuel which still plagues us) and crossed into Turkey at Seru. The roads had some snow in places with the odd patch on the road. We intended to go along the border road with Iraq and then Syria as this stretch had the least mountains, passes and risk of snow. We drove westwards seeing less and lees snow as we went. As it was getting dark we asked an army post if we could camp the night. They said no, but told us we should go to the nearest town down a side road (the next one on our route being 120kms). Having no choice we drove the 20 kms up a steep mountain and ended up only 5 kms from the Iraqi border at Cukuca.

Despite all the local forecasts it snowed that night and all the next day and night. We were well and truly snowed in. It was not too cold - around freezing point and we were parked outside a local supermarket, there was fresh bread a few doors away and we could get water by running a hosepipe across the road. The local police were very helpful and gave us tea and a loo dump. We also managed to buy some beer - the first alcohol we had drunk in weeks. The army tried to help as we needed snow chains to get down the hill but they had none to spare. After three days we were told the road was usable and so half the town (we were quite well known by then) turned out to dig away the mountains of snow and get us on the road. The drive down the hill was uneventful until we came to the army post that had sent us up the hill.

They said our intended route was closed, and would remain closed for at least a month due to the risk of avalanches. We had to return about 100 kilometres and take another road through Van and then go south west. We arrived at the junction with the road we came along from Iran and turned towards Van. Half way up a hill it became dangerously icy and Womble came to a halt and slid back into the snow. We backed up gently to see what we could do. A couple of small tucks stopped to give a tow but even with snow chains they did not have enough grip. In the end we managed to get a lift back down the hill and went to see the police. After a bit of rushing about we saw the senior officer and he said they would help - it all took a long time with only a dictionary as a means a communication.

By now it was dark and we were worried about the danger to the vans. K-Nine was parked on the outside of a bend which was extremely icy. Large coaches, trucks and minibuses regularly came down at frightening speeds - many without chains. The police took us to collect valuables and said they would send half hourly patrols throughout the night. We were then taken by Land Rover up a side road high up into the mountains to a village called Bagisli and a large police station. We had numerous cups of chai and long dictionary conversations until a local school teacher arrived. He kindly helped us explain our concerns and chatted with us over a meal of bread, olives, cheese and tomato. Then we were shown into the officers lounge where three beds had been made up for us.

Next morning, after gallons of chai, scrambled eggs and bread we went back to the vehicles with two local garage mechanics. When we arrived we were petrified. During the night a large articulated petrol tanker had lost control, slid off the road and nearly over the edge of the mountain, missing K-Nine by about 10 metres.

The rest of the day was spent waiting for things to happen. As the temperature during the night had plummeted to minus 19.4C everything was frozen up. This caused no end of problems and the mechanics could not make either vehicle start despite the use of a blow torch on various parts of Womble's and K-Nine's anatomy. Just as the light was failing a large breakdown wagon arrived to pull out the tanker - a job it successfully achieved. It then attempted to pull K-Nine but the attempt was abandoned. This was because it was too dangerous in the dark particularly as our two vans needed to be turned around.

Eventually we were taken to the police quarters at the bottom of the hill, ate (a similar) supper and went to bed (the three of us - again) in another set of officers's rooms. In the morning we were up bright and early determined to make something happen. We had been told the breakdown wagon would return in the morning but when we saw it whizz by up the hill and disappear we made tracks to the senior officer. After lots of dictionary work and a phone call to England by Maureen to her Turkish son in law, we discovered that a mechanic was coming from Van (160kms away).

About 10:30 we were told to come so we gathered up our belongings and all piled into a Land Rover. There were 3 soldiers, the three of us, the two mechanics along with assorted guns, blow torches, a couple of large sacks containing coal and sawdust and a large heap of wood. There was already a spare wheel in the back so we were a bit crowded.

On arrival the two mechanics lit a fire in the middle of the road to keep warm and also started work in the bright sunshine warming up Womble's fuel tank and fuel line. Then, standing by the roadside, Maureen was brought to tears as Womble (driven by one of the mechanics) was allowed to slide backwards out of control. Then after a lot of pushing Womble was sent freewheeling down the hill with the other mechanic clinging to the bike rack. After a few hundred metres Womble was successfully bumped started and descended to the junction at the bottom of the hill. The driver for some mad reason then turned off the engine.

It was now time for the snow plough to make its entrance (a Unimog - just to please Stephen). The plough was used to clear all the snow around K-Nine making a place close by to reverse into. Before attempting this some snow chains were produced and fitted on the wheels (although they were too small). Then I carefully reversed around into the space but still managing to slide the front of the van. One of the mechanics then drove K-Nine down the hill and started the engine. Despite many attempts to make the mechanics understand that Womble's battery was flat it was some time before the penny dropped and a Land Rover was used get Womble going.

Stop Press: Womble and K-Nine covered 150kms on Christmas day to reach Bitlis and although still surrounded by snow they hope to reach the coast (and warmth) on the 2002-12-26.

Clive Barker.

Home - This page last changed on 2002-12-25.