Friday, February 15, 2008

Lounge lizards

It's cold. The sky is grey - it looks like snow and there's no bus. However, there are other punters hanging around, so we are not alone. Erzurum is beyond description. Well, no, actually it looks kind of scaggy right now - reminds me of Halifax - but the snow definitely is an improvement. Our bus, or should I say charabanc, arrives but the driver's in no hurry and we depart 45 minutes late. The road is terrible - when it's not covered in ice it's covered in large potholes - and we plod through the mist towards Dogubeyazit. Gayle points things out to me through the window but all I can see is white. I think she's hallucinating.

We arrive in the small town of Agri mid-afternoon where most people get off. The remaining six of us are then "sold on" to a minibus driver. I feel like a sheep off to the abbatoir. We wait awhile for the minibus to fill up. It's snowing. Now there's a problem because there are too many people trying to get aboard. Another minibus arrives and half the passengers jump ship. Fares have to be refunded, seats swapped, baggage unloaded. Then all of a sudden we're off, ploughing steadily down the middle of the main road. We arrive in Dogu in the dark but we have been here before in September and know where our hotel is. It is colder than Erzurum. Happy Valentines.........

The Hotel Tahran is not a classy place, but it's home for a couple of nights, and the central heating is on and the plumbing, though odd, still functions. The upstairs lounge with great views of Mount Ararat is out of action because it's too cold, so all the guests congregate in the foyer lounge. It is cluttered with matching black vinyl suites covered in red velour cushions and smoked-glass tables. The large TV, which has no off switch, forms a centrepiece on a chipboard shelving unit. There's an 80's theme going on here. One perk is free internet, provided you can get the hotel urchin off the games. A cuff to the ear usually does the trick. From here I can survey the men lounging around. Some of them are fixtures with their favourite seats. There's the old fella in black cap and matching moustache. The young English teacher from Hatay who is living here because the friends with whom he shared a house last year have left. There's the Man Who Looks Like Death who sits playing poker on his mobile phone and lighting long cigarettes that he only half smokes - leaving the remaining six inches to burn away, forming a permanent blue haze around him. He looks from behind as if he might spontaneously combust. From the front he's just plain scary, especially when he coughs. His face should be the government health warning on every packet of cigarettes. There's also the man with Trophy ears who looks like he might work here, but as he actually does nothing it's hard to tell. There are no women in the foyer, apart from Gayle. We have seen some coming and going but they look quite respectable so we know it's not one of those hotels. It is toasty warm.

The streets of Dogu are covered in packed snow and black ice. We shuffle around in our down jackets like overweight penguins. Change some money for Iranian rials - a wodge of dirty torn notes that bulge obscenely in our pockets. We waddle past the army barracks and out of town for photos of the surrounding snowy mountains - they look much more dramatic than in September. Tomorrow we cross the border into Iran. I buy a beer to celebrate. Even after a year it is still exciting to be crossing another border.

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