Saturday, August 14, 2010

Adopted by Boat Crew

It was time to leave the very very hot southeast and go to far eastern and cooler Van. We returned to our breakfast place for an amazing breakfast before finding a bus to the bus station and bording the Best Van Tur bus. Although we were told the trip would only take 4 hours, it actually took about 5.5 We encountered a rockslide, tons of road construction and then a Kurdish demonstration that took the form of a parade of cars, filling the main street of a small town. Finally, we entered Tatvan, to be told that we would not be taken past the ferry boat terminal as promised, but instead be left somewhere in the middle of town. Very grumpy we took a taxi to the ferry terminal at the edge of lake Van to see if there would be a boat going accross. When we got there, we were told that there would definetly be a boat at some time, but it could be in one hour at 5:30, or it could be as late as 9 or 10. The trip would be 4 hours, and it was only 5TL. We decided to wait. The reason for the unclear time of departure, we found out was that we were waiting for the transasya express, the 3 day train from Istanbul to Tehran. Whenever the train turned up, it would be loaded on the boat and we would leave. Indeed, the boat had been lined up so well that the train tracks that ended on the bank now lined up with the train tracks on the boat (!) so the train would be able drive straight onto the boat.

Having had no idea what time the boat would leave we had rushed from the center without eating, and had not eating anything since breakfast. Asking one of the captains, a man with glasses and a plad shirt if there was time to go back into town, he said maybe or maybe not, but the iskele bufe should have food. After asking them and scolding them for not having anything he invited us onto the boat for food. We walked along the traintracks on the boat and back to a table in the back with a couple of chairs and a bench. We took a peek in the kitchen where the chef was chopping up an enormous piece of meat. The captain, whose name we found out was Atila told us to sit, the food would be ready in 10 minutes. While that seemed unlikely we sat down. A few of the other guys came over too. To avoid too much male attention since we didn't know how long we would be waiting, I pretended to only speak a little bit of Turkish. The captain's english was fairly good though and we had a broken english conversation. He told us that 25 people work on the boat and he was one of the three captains. He was in charge of stowage - unloading and loading the boat. There were also engineers and and machinists. The cook was also the ticket taker. He brought out three rolls of cookies, and then went to get us tea from the guys at the other table. We told the guys that had come to sit down with us and they asked how many children we had. Insallah I replied - If god wills it - which is always a satisfactory reply to that question.

The food was not going to be ready, and after learning that the boat went twice a day, that it took cars as well as trains, and other things, we excused ourselves to go take some photos. Once around the corner out of earshot I started calling hotels in Van to make sure we would have a place to stay when we got in at midnight or later. We took some photos, then returned to the iskele where we sat, and played many games of uno. At long last, although it was really only about an hour, we heard a train whistle, and it was one of the most exciting things I've heard in a while. We immediatly jumped up, but a guy told us the train wouldn't arrive for another half an hour. And then, suddenly the train had arrived and many many iranians were flooding off it with all their stuff and rushing to the boat. We were taking photos until we realized that we too needed to get our stuff on the boat before there were no more seats. We abruptly got our stuff and left, realizing on the way we had probobly missed our chance for food.

We threw our bags on some seats in the main cabin, watched two of the train cars get loaded onto the boat and then went to the bufe to get some toast and drinks. Sitting on the rather full top deck we ate and watched the boat as it pulled away from shore. The view was fantastic and the weather was no hot. After some photos and a bit of exploring by Mark, captain Atila found us. He first took us to get our tickets, something we hadn't figured out where to do yet, then took us upstairs into the crew's area, where one man was eating dinner. He insisted that we sit, than put large bowls of kuru fasulye (beans) in front of us, along with cacik, rice and a whole loaf of bread. It was fantastic. He told us that he had already eaten, but had only eaten cacik because he was on a diet. I noticed the wedding ring on his finger and asked about his family. His family lives in Tatvan and he has a 16 year old son that will finish high school next year, and an 8 year old son with downs syndrome. He told us that he's on the boat for 9 days and only gets 1 day off after that. Not good for seeing his family. But he does make 3,000TL a month, which is good money considering the minimum wage is 630 TL a month. He is from Antalya, and after highschool did an internship before he got his job.

After I finished my first bowl of kuru fasulye, and tried to indicate I was full by patting my stomach, the captain insisted upon filling it. We were not allowed to help clean up, but then moved to the other table to eat watermelon. I ended up saying Mark had a watermelon allergy so the guy wouldn't be offended by his not eating it. We also took out our remaining pistacios from gaziantep, and insisted upon leaving them in the crew area for the other guys to eat.

After sitting and talking until the point that my fakely bad turkish would allow no more, and declining a nap in the captain's cabin we got a quick glimse of the engine rooms before going up on deck. The deck was like a massive party. People were dancing and singing. Others were playing cards. Others, too tired, were just sitting or sleeping. The captain told us that the train after Van would be an Iranian train, and all the women would have to cover up after leaving the boat. He said that going the opposite direction the women get on the boat, and start to take off layers of clothes. So this was their last partying for a while. We started to play uno, and soon the captain had come over, as had a bunch of Iranian guys. After playing a few games, we invited the captain to play. He played one hand, and seemed to be catching on, but decided one was enough. Next, an iranian guy with fairly good english took a turn. Other guys were standing around trying to help him as we explained the rules. One guy in particular seemed to understand, and wanted to know how many cards there where, so he could see if that was possible. But when I said I didn't know, he told us it was boring, and decided he didn't want to play when we invited him. After a while our crowd faded.

Soon the captain returned and told us he wanted to show us the navigation room. We abandoned uno and went to look. At this point the captain realized that I was understanding too much not to know Turkish and told me so. One guy was steering, and another of the three captains (who had taken the pickle from Mark's toast with wink and eaten it) were in the room. We were shown the radar with the map of where we were going, the compass, and other important stuff. We were once again asked if we had children. The other captain told us he had three but wanted five. We walked out to the front where we could see an incredible amount of stars and the milky way, as well as the last captain sleeping on the ground.

We returned to the deck, which was slowly emptying of people. Eventually Mark went down to get my hoodie and camping pad to sit on. It got cold enough that even he had to get his sweater. When it was finally too cold we sleepily returned to the main cabin for the last few minutes, and after we docked left the boat.

One of the crew was ofloading his pickup truck, and after seeing that there were no taxis the captain told the guy that he should take us into town. He agreed, and after the offloaded a massive harvester, we put our bags in the back, and got a lift. He left us off at a traffic circle, which turned out not to be the one on our map. So we got a taxi, and turned up at our hotel at midnight completely exhausted and happy to be there.

And thus it was we were adopted again.