Yoshi's kamikaze itinerary dictated another dawn start which suited me fine. Over tea downstairs in the hotel we watched titled "singalong" prayers on TV with subtitles in English for those of us who dont know our Koran off by heart. I secretly wished I could buy some of this stuff, it was certainly a more amenable way of following Islam than reading the book. The first coach to Mardin saw us entering more desertified terrain, the landscape became perceptibly more rocky and scrubby. Fantastic snowcapped peaks broke the horizon to the north and an APC on the road reminded me this was until recent years troubled rebel territory, the homeland of the PKK Kurdish rebels. Diyarbakir (Ahmet in Kurdish) as its unofficial capital had been a denizen of state repression and insurgency activity.
Magical Mardin lay spectacularly sited on the south facing slope of a desert peak, staring out from its perch towards the patchworh billiard table like Syrian plain below. It has its fair share of attractive architecture too, all the more so for the sandstone which glows honey-coloured in the sunshine. We had a look inside the Ulu Cami (Old Mosque) with a very large and beautiful minaret and then juxtaposed it with a visit to one of the churches in town. Mardin still retains some of its ancient Syrian Orthodox community. We passed by what must be Turkeys most aesthetically pleasing post office, all sandstone arches and staircases. Similarly the local museum was remarkable for the building in itself and there were a few points of note on top of what I had become accustomed to. There was a very nice Roman era stone casket and a storyboard explained the local specialty of Mirra, that is Bitter Coffee. That I didnt find the opportunity of trying but I did make a point of having a rushed lunch at the first joint I had seen offering whole sheeps head. We both settled for kebab though!
Mardin would have been a lovely place to spend the night but in the absence of budget accommodation and having toured it by lunchtime we both had big decisions to make concerning our next moves. We were to an extent at the mercies of the buses but one thing first though, we chipped in for the taxi fare out to a local attraction, the Deyrul Zafaran (Saffron Monastery), 6Ks out of town. Supposedly saffron was used to help bind the mortar in its construction. Unfortunately the shark taxi driver ommitted to tell us that we would arrive during the midday siesta and so couldnt gain access. Yoshi was a talented artist however and an architect to boot so it was his call to stay and settle the majority of the sizeable taxi fair, his excellent watercolour of the place surely justified it. I had a stroll around the grounds in appreciation of the fine desert mountain scenery, and upon opening time we managed a breakneck tour of the building discovering what you might expect of a monastery. Some more nice internal architecture, a chapel, a spartan dining room, underground chambers.
Back in town it was another sad farewell to Yoshi, he was off to Nusaybin and the Syrian border, and I wished I could have joined him. For a long time since my visit in 1993 Syria had been my favourite country, a place often overlooked and almost unique in having retained its traditional culture with not even McDonalds or Coca Cola to be found. I also had an acquaintance with a Kurdish guy I had met there all those years ago, he only lived a kilometre the other side of the border and I had wondered all these years how he was. Yoshi was travelling too fast to make enquiries, it was so near and yet so far.
I had been taking photos and consequently throwing away batteries like a mad thing, so after burning some photos to disk and investing in a battery charger I jumped on another bus for the hour long journey to Midyat. Whilst not as spectacular as Mardin, Midyat still offered some more nice sandstone architecture and moreover, a cheap bed for the night. What I didnt understand before arrival however was that the town is actually split into 2 parts with a 3 kilometre avenue linking old Midyat with modern Estel. My cheap bed in Estel was remarkably easy to find, but suffice to say I must have walked 7Ks that night just in order to find beer, I upped my nightly quota from 2 to 3 tins accordingly!