I had assumed the day’s journey would be straightforward: a minibus from Sebinkarahisar to Susehri, from where frequent buses, long distance if not more regional in scope, would get me to Erzincan along the big west to east highway without a long delay. The first part of the journey was simple, the second not so.
I was eating breakfast by 7.00am. I packed the last few things into my bags, paid the hotel bill and was on the street by about 7.40am. I walked to the otogar from where a minibus departed for Susehri at 8.00am. I arrived with five minutes to spare. The minibus drove into the centre of town and through a nearby suburb collecting passengers who had arranged to be picked up from home. The journey to Susehri was as stunning as it had been the other direction two days before.
The minibus dropped its passengers at the otogar on the edge of Susehri, but when I and another man went inside to find a service to Erzincan, none existed! We were very surprised and knew that such a situation would not have prevailed even five years ago. We walked along the road toward distant Erzincan. The man asked two resting lorry drivers if they were going to Erzincan, but both said no. I continued along the road as the man went to ask for a lift among lorry drivers filling their tanks at a petrol station. About twenty minutes later he passed me in the cab of a lorry no doubt going all the way that he wanted.
I got a lift of about a kilometre standing on the footplate of a tractor, then a second lift with two men in a white van who took me about 3 kilometres to where a boy aged about fourteen had arranged a few tables and chairs beside a roadside cesme to serve passersby with tea. I joined the men and the boy for two rounds of tea, payment for which was refused, of course, because I was the guest of the men in the van. I filled my water bottle from the cesme (the name “Susehri” means “city of water”) and set off along the road. After walking about half a kilometre I started flagging a lift. Half an hour later a car drew to a halt and the man inside offered me a lift all the way to Erzincan University on the western edge of the city. Sitting next to the man was his son aged seven. We stopped just once so the man could buy his son a carton of milk and he and I cartons of fruit juice.
Rarely have I been so glad when a trip in a car has concluded. The man drove with alarming recklessness, despite having his son beside him. We hit a top speed of 160 kph on more than one occasion, the man used his phone about six times while still driving faster than he should have, and when the traffic was non-existent the other way he drove on the wrong side of the road. On one occasion he would have driven into the back of a much slower lorry had he not slammed on the brakes with such severity that I bumped my head on the seat in front of me. This said, we arrived at the university only a few minutes after 11.00am.
The road to Erzincan is scenically very attractive. The road hugs the floor of a valley almost all the way to a pass at 2,160 metres above sea level, after which it enters another valley leading to Erzincan. In both valleys the floor is quite wide, but hills and mountains lie to the north and the south. Fields and pasture rather than trees dominate the valley floors, and villages that look quite interesting cling to the slopes. The pasture supports cattle rather than sheep and goats and wild flowers are plentiful. Storks build nests on electricity pylons and other slim structures and large chicks stood in them waiting for their parents to return with food.
The mountains had more snow on them than any so far seen. At one point it began to rain and everything turned grey. It briefly looked like late autumn or winter.
I was dropped off where the entrance to Erzincan University campus stands opposite the entrance to a large police training facility. Beside the entrance to the police training facility were two minibuses and a group of police cadets waited patiently for the first one to leave for the city centre. I walked to where the cadets were waiting and we were soon engaged in conversation. On the way into the city centre, a distance of almost 5 kilometres costing about 40p in British money, I was informed that cadets straight from high school train for two years, but cadets with a university degree train for only six months. I was asked how much newly trained police officers earn in the UK and, when I said, they all agreed that migrating to the UK was what they had to do to be millionaires. I tempered their enthusiasm for migrating by pointing out that, in return for high salaries, you had to put up with very high costs. “Low taxes, but high costs. In the UK, everyone on low or average salaries is a loser, not a winner. Go somewhere civilised instead, such as Denmark or Norway.” Did I agree that Erdogan needed to improve police pay? Of course I agreed. I added, “Erdogan is a big problem.” I was surprised how many in the minibus nodded their heads in recognition of what was obvious to all but his most ardent fans.
There were about fifteen cadets in the minibus and most wanted to know if I had visited their home town, city or province. They were amazed when, in almost every case, I could identify something unusual about the town or city or a famous building or district within or near it. Izmir, Manisa, Bolu, Kayseri, Sivas: I had been to or through them all.
After the minibus had pulled into a small parking lot on the edge of the pazar, I shook hands with some of the cadets and went to find a hotel for the night. I took a room in the older of the two Gulistan hotels in the city centre, 50TL securing a quiet but clean room with en suite facilities and breakfast. Because fake wooden panelling covered the walls and a rather grubby brown carpet the floor the room had a sombre appearance, but the air conditioner was very efficient (although Erzincan proved the coolest place I stayed the whole time away).
By now it was midday and the sun was shining brightly. I spent a little time in the city centre admiring the bunting that brightened up the main square. I also noted that lots of women wore headscarves, some had all-enveloping, loose-fitting black garments that covered them from head to toe and some covered all their face except the eyes. A lot of men, especially the older ones, had grown a beard to confirm they were hajis. I was firmly back on the Sunni side of the street!
I had been to Erzincan once before to use it as a base to visit beautiful Kemah on the Euphrates River. I was in the city again primarily for two reasons: to have a big city experience before going to Tunceli and Pertek, a small city and a very small town respectively, and to visit Eski Erzincan.