Day 85 - Sunday 25th June - Erzurum to Sivas

It should have been a fairly quick and straight forward day, getting into Sivas early. However, we left late so that the others, who had not wandered the town the night before could do some exploring, lead by Tony. It also gave those who chose not to tour some time to catch up on things, or sleep in.

Like the other parts of Turkey we had travelled through, the valley floors were all cultivated with a wide variety of crops. Prolific wild flowers bordered the roadside and the mountains were sparse.

I was curious why we had not seen cows and sheep grazing on them and came to the conclusion that it was because of the altitude. We were constantly climbing over 2000m on the passes we crossed and dropping back to around 1500m. In winter this would have been too cold for the animals. Today the mountains were still stained with patches of snow. And clearly they do not have the summer migration to the higher pastures.

After lunch we started to come across a heightened military presence. But what was curious was that the soldiers were wearing light blue berets, like UN peace keepers. However the armoured personnel carriers parked nearby were completely unmarked. No Turkish or UN markings. Tony suggested someone stop and ask who they were and what they were doing. As we were 350k from the Syrian bordered, we concluded that as we were very close to the Kurdish areas of Turkey the presence was for the PKK.

On the outskirts of Sivas we were stopped at a police check point. It had a combined military presence. A parked APC sat idling. Soldiers patrolled with heavy duty rifles in hand, not casually slung across their backs. It was Passport first and stay in your cars. They then ordered Mike, who was the leader for the day out of his car and started patting him down from head to foot, followed by an instruction to empty the car for inspection. It was not cursory, they were going through everything. By this stage the rest of us were out of our cars and the Chinese TV crew were out with cameras filming the episode. Other police started to inspect the other vehicles, thoroughly. A few of the team were getting stressed at what was happening, They asked questions to which they got no response, other than a signal to open the boot. Suddenly the Passports were returned from the office and the search was called off.

It was stressful for some as this was the first time we had been searched thoroughly, even compared to border crossings. I guess we were a bunch of foreign registered cars in a fairly sensitive area. The irony was that the TV crew were allowed to continue filming. Generally we are not allowed to take photos of any police or military installation, or at any border crossing.

We arrived into Sivas to find that our secure parking was on the street in front of the hotel. It was the first of a three day holiday to mark the end of Ramadan and the old city was packed, so the cars in the street attract a lot of attention. Its probably unlikely that someone would do something malicious, or for that matter break into the cars. The highest risk is really just someone sitting on a part that is not made for it, such as the bonnet. Peter, our Turkey leader, was stressed firstly from the police search and then this.

The hotel was only a block from the old city square with its 12th century madrassas and mosque. We wandered around. The buildings have been converted into tea houses now and they were packed with locals lounging in discussion of the topics of the day. They were still there after our hotel dinner.