My name is Ben Viatte and I'm just like you: I'm not quite sure how I got here.
Getting into Iran by your own means is a funny story. I struggled for days in the barren mountains of eastern Turkey, slowly climbing my way up to the 2200m pass, fighting against the wind, the cold, and a stomach parasite that loved me so much that it decided to join me on my road. When I finally made it to the border, my sigh of relief wass greeted by raised Kalashnikovs and voices shouting. Yes, I was one hour late. The border crossing closes at 5 pm. They tell me if I would have arrived yet another hour later, on foot, I would have been shot. So after ages of negotiation with the army under an absolutely stunning full moon, they let me camp at the border crossing, in the middle of the road where we’re standing: there was nowhere else I could go. I was told not to leave my tent until morning.
This all sounds really negative. But to tell you the truth, that full moon was really stunning. Another truth is that the next day was paradise. The officer that let me sleep here greeted me in the morning with a gleaming smile, so happy that I turned out to just be a camper and not a terrorist. And by some divine intervention, the borderline was a clean cut between a dusty barren nowhere-land and a leafy warm paradise. I was expecting a much harsher Iran, but no, this part here was fluffy and green, warm soft lushious and juicy. One thing I did expect: the people are just as friendly, helping, trustworthy and warm-hearted as I had been told by the countless travellers who have come to name Iran the country of hospitality.
A buddhist story
Four days ago I left the Turkish city of Van, headed north, hoping to make my way up to Iran, followed by Armenia. After 49 kilometers on the road, a discussion with a local man radically changed my hopes. We had spent a wonderful evening together, I had slept in his mosque, and we were now casually discussing over breakfast.
– Actually friend, what’s your route?
– I’m headed towards Dogubeyazit, through Muradiye. I should get there in 4 days. Then I turn right and make it to Iran – Nope, impossible. That road is closed. It used to be safe, but it’s now a war zone. Even local transports take the long way around, adding hundreds of kilometers. – Seriously? What can I do? – I’m sorry, but your best bet is to turn back exactly where you came from. You have to do 40 km back towards Van, and then turn left. You will then get into Iran through a smaller road that is still open. I wouldn’t call it safe but it’s definitely better. Please do it. You are my friend. I don’t want you to die!
So I did those 40 km back, I turned left, and now I’m actually headed towards Iran. This means I spent 2 days of walking one way and 2 days walking back, with apparently no result. It sounds like an utter failure, but it was actually quite meditative. Have you heard the buddhist story of a monk asking his diciple to build a stone house on a hill? After endless effort, when the house is finally complete, he tells his disciple “I like your work. The house is very fine… but to tell you the truth, I’d like you to take it apart, and bring it to that hill over there. I just realized it would be nicer over there.”
A Life in Silence
My stay in Van, Turkey is lasting longer than expected, but not without reason. I made the kind of encounter that scarcely happens in a lifetime. That involves getting an insight into the speechless life of my dear friend Ангелина, learning Русский Жестовый Язык (Russian sign language), and learning to live silently amongst a society filled with noise.
I will be hitting the road in 6 days, towards Iran, armed with silence.
I am finally a semi-permanent resident in the city of Van, Turkey. Crossing Turkish Kurdistan was no easy task: I had my share of death threats, of fears, of gunshots. I’ve slept everywhere from mosques to police stations, from beaches to dumpsters. But I am ok, my body in one piece, my mind recovering. I’ve now been volunteering at Van’s Backpacker’s Hostel for a month, living the local life. I have another 2 months here before making my way through Iran, when the weather will allow it. At 1640 meters high, the soda-salt Lake Van makes for a blessed exeperience, with cool and breezy weather even in the middle of July, when the plains are scorching hot. This is the perfect time to recharge my batteries, do my paperwork, find fresh new tires, fresh new shoes, and a fresh new mind for the 5000 kilometers awaiting me.
Kurdish Conflict Zone
I nearly finished walking through Turkey, which is by far the largest country I’ve ever crossed. I am now in the region of Kurdistan, which is by no means devoid of armed conflict between the Turkish Army and PKK rebels. Is it easy? No. Am I ok? Yes, by the grace of god. Do I still meet amazing people along the road, full of love and kindness? Absolutely.
Cops are Friends
When a police car stops, it’s not to ask for my passport: it’s to ask if I’m ok. It’s not to give me a hard time, it’s to give me food. When they bring me to the police station, it’s not for interrogation, it’s for lunch. They ask if I have a tent, not to fine me but to make sure I’ll be ok at night.
Imray and Sekeria were two of those sweet-hearted officers. They even gave me a rose. “We stand for peace, just like you do with your white flag. Our very job is to maintain peace. In fact, you can document this encounter and show the world that we, the police in Eastern Turkey, are here for everyone’s well-being.” So here it is, I’m documenting this encounter, and with so much gratitude.