HALFETI AND THE DAM
My next stopping point was Mount Nemrut, but since I had planned ample time to get there, I left it to Masoud to figure out a fun and entertaining way to get us to our final destination and to take in a few sights along the way. After all, he was the local expert.
He did a great job in creating a vacation-tourist day; one which he told me, he is doing for many Turkish tourists routinely. Our first sight, a bird sanctuary near Birecik however, was a miss for an unexpected obstacle: over a month ago, a massive landslide had left the road covered with huge boulders. The site looked as if this had happened yesterday. Nobody seemed in a hurry to clean it up. Perhaps the boulders shored up an even more massive slide? This looked scary! We often drove on roads that were cut into the mountains and had warning signs of rocks falling… But this seemed to have happened out of the blue. On top of the cliff there were houses that had been evacuated by now… Can you imagine cooking dinner or doing your laundry, and the ground on which you are standing is loosening up and falling away from under you?! I could not wrap my head around this. We googled the whole thing. Nobody died. Thank goodness.
Almost every little town around here seems to have a castle. Birecik was no exception. I wonder if they were built during the Crusades. In Syria, I had encountered some famous ones of those, noteworthy Krak des Chevaliers. Here, they were either closed or under renovation. Still, a castle overlooking a town always has something imposing and foreboding about it. I rather like them. Birecik is located at the Euphrates. What a joy, to have at least a fleeting glimpse at this mighty river. How much would I have enjoyed to explore that more and to get to the sanctuary, or to put my feet into it, but it was not meant to be.
Masoud kept talking about Halfeti. He had shown me pictures of a nice-looking lake, and why not? A lake and lunch at a fish restaurant sounded good to me. But Halfeti was a lot more than that. After a two hours drive from Sanliurfa, we reached Halfeti, a marine resort town which now is located at the Ataturk Dam Reservoir. You have to look at a map of this reservoir to fully comprehend what was done here. 315 square miles were filled with water That’s all I am going to say. Look up the data. This is a humongous area filled with millions of gallons of water to serve Turkey in times of need. What this did to Syria and Iraq is hard to fathom, but I saw the Euphrates there, a few years ago. A once mighty stream is no more than an ordinary river and less than that at times. Access to clean drinking water resources will determine our future. Experts have determined that a while ago. Turkey definitely is ahead of the curve with this unilateral usurping of the Euphrates.
I asked for a small detour to see the actual Ataturk Dam site. I guess, most tourists don’t care much about that. But I have to say: Wow! From an overlook that had a small restaurant, restrooms, and a martyr’s memorial — commemorating all the workers who died during the construction of the dam — you looked down on the dam and one side of the reservoir. But from there we drove and drove and drove and kept seeing “lakes” in the distance. No lakes there, at least no natural ones; but all one massive reservoir… I can’t get over it.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First, Halfeti: This town survived the reservoir and now capitalizes on its marine and fish restaurants. Every half hour, a boat launches for an hour and a half of sightseeing of parts of the reservoir. It runs out to an abandoned ghost village with a partially submerged minaret and houses that are no longer occupied but now are picturesquely decaying. Of course, a clever businessman opened up a small restaurant there. People embark for a drink and a toilet break before returning to Halfeti. The dock however was so brittle, that one person almost fell into the water. As we were sipping on our Fantas, the ship guys frantically did some fixing to ensure the return of their guests on to the boat. Safety rules are definitely handled more lightly in Turkey, everywhere. But this little excursion does not give you any idea of the extent of the reservoir. It barely marks one end of it.
We did have the obligatory and quite delicious fish dinner at a floating boat restaurant. Since we were completely off either lunch or dinner time, we were the only guests at one of the most popular restaurants, and were well served by two friendly waiters, while their boss broke out a bottle of Johnny Walker with a friend… That’s a sight you don’t see very often in Turkey. Sanliurfa does not sell alcohol except in a couple of very special stores and in 5-star hotels. To start drinking hard liquor midday and in the open definitely is an eyebrow-raising scene. Masoud does not drink at all. He smokes plenty of cigarettes in exchange though, and loves to smoke the water pipe. That is much more common around here than drinking alcohol.
We arrived in good time at our Pension in Karadut, 12 km from the summit of Mount Nemrut, on the East side of the slope. I had booked a room for Masoud three days ago when I hired him to be my driver. Luckily, the place was not filled to the brim yet. But it was a lively place with a lot of guests coming and going. Most people stay just one night and either visit the mountain in the evening or in the morning and then leave. I wanted to have a bit more time and also see the mountain twice. But if I had wanted, the mountain and the valley trip all could have been done in a 24-hour span rather than 48 hours.
We had simple rooms with beds and not much more. Water pressure was little to none, and my AC did not work, but who is complaining? For $10 a night, a filling and wonderful breakfast buffet was included! I don’t need anything else. The pension even had beer for sale and a restaurant that would make a good solid dinner prepared by a cook from Syria.
That night, I met Jaffer and Bora, two German Turks. You see quite a few Turks who work abroad, visiting their country of origin, if you look around. Jaffer talked to me at length about politics and life in Germany. He also translated a bit for me, talking to Masoud. I was curious about why Masoud liked Erdogan so much; and he does. Masoud cited mainly social issues: access to health care, retirement-age privileges, allowing freedoms on wearing Islamic garb or not, focusing on Turkish values, etc. I guess, it’s all a matter of perspective. If you are not a regime opponent and are not affected by arrests and restrictions, there is much you can point to that makes Erdogan look like the right man for the job. I respect that.
And so went another day . . .