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IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK: Part 4 — Accosted by a ‘bandit’

EDITORS’ NOTE: Few Old Testament stories capture the imagination like Noah’s Ark. Fascination with the possibility of actually finding the Ark’s remains has inspired expeditions to the Mt. Ararat region of Turkey for centuries. In the fall of 2004, Baptist Press sent two journalists — Tom Engleman of Atlanta and Chuck Hughes of Baltimore — to Turkey in order to document the continuing search for Noah’s Ark. What follows is the fourth of 11 installments from their journals about the experience. Our series supplements their story with an array of sidelights, including glimpses into Ark expeditions conducted by one of the best known and most controversial of the searchers, the late Ron Wyatt of Madison, Tenn.

ANKARA, Turkey (BP)–Following are journal entries from two men in search of Noah’s Ark.

TOM: I am abruptly awakened by the sound of the Muslims’ morning prayer blasting through audio speakers in downtown Ankara. I feel great, exhilarated by the past two days. Still, I know Chuck and I have to go over our plans and sub-plans, just in case we have to fly by the seat of our pants. Our departure for Erzurum is drawing very near. Since our personal luggage was sent on ahead, I have little to pack, but I decide to check the camera gear one last time. Getting positive readings, I head downstairs to meet Chuck.

We share a tasty breakfast of several cheeses, hard boiled eggs, olives (both green and salty black), melons, tomatoes and lots of fresh bread — not to mention the wonderful hot tea recommended by a fellow Ark team member. Chuck and I sit across from each other and talk about our recent experiences and observations.

I guess I had been so tired the night before that I didn’t think much about the sandy-haired gentleman, until Chuck mentions noticing him both at the airport and our hotel. I recall that he had entered customs, seemingly out of nowhere. I look around at the sparsely filled tables in the dining room and realize we stand out like a sore thumb. Now we are both going to be looking over our shoulders.

The Erzurum airport isn’t like anything I have experienced before. There isn’t an Avis counter like the one we take for granted at every other airport, but a dark-haired man holds a sign with “Engleman” written on it. We make our way through the rental process and load our luggage and gear into a car that looks like it has gone through a war zone: cracked windshield, dents, the right front tire has only three lug bolts holding the tire on. The inside looks and smells like a lot of “life” has opened and closed the doors.

But none of that matters. We have wheels!

Our plans to meet the Baptist have been delayed to the next day. On our drive into Erzurum, we spot a big billboard for the Hotel Oral. An easy decision, and we quickly settle in for the night. It seems that no matter what happens to us, things are taking their course — as though we are being guided in a different direction. I’m ready to let God show me the way, and I’m also ready to find out why the Lord brought me here.

Day 3

CHUCK: Today, the three of us start out in high spirits, looking forward to getting to Mt. Ararat. We make a quick stop at an Internet café and the bank to exchange dollars for Turkish lira and we are off to Dogubayazit! We have interviews scheduled there for the afternoon.

Unfortunately, our contact still hasn’t been able to obtain the password for the SAT phone. We can’t wait for fear we’ll miss our interviews, so we decide to take our chances without the unit. Maybe we’ll be able to find another Internet café.

We have a good three-hour ride ahead of us. The countryside is beautiful. The rolling hills remind me a bit of San Francisco’s, only sharper and larger. Years of erosion have taken their toll. The valley area is mostly cultivated fields, and there are herds of cattle along every river or stream. The roads are well paved for the most part, but there are sections where pipes are being laid and earthquake damage is being repaired.

Approximately 30 miles into our drive, we come upon an ancient bridge that spans a small river. The bridge was built in A.D. 130 by a Seljuk tribe. The Huns had invaded and broken up the ruling Seljuk people into varied tribes. This one built the bridge, called Inhali. It’s a magnificent example of ancient architecture.

As Tom and the Baptist capture some images of the bridge, I am accosted by a ‘bandit’ and his two ‘henchmen.’

The ‘bandit,’ whose name is Ocku, is about 12 years old, and his accomplices are a little younger. They follow me while I am taking still photos, until finally I take their picture and explain what we are doing. Ocku speaks a little English and is trying to extort money from me. He looks at his henchmen and grins from ear to ear, then turns to me with a solemn look, rubbing his belly and saying, “Hungry.” You can tell he is a little new to this game. He keeps having to turn away to hide a grin.

I pretend not to understand too much and let him keep developing his new acting skills. At last, one of the henchmen says, in relatively clear English, “He wants money.” I laugh and say, “I’m hungry too!” I take a coin from my pocket, and they are astonished when I make it disappear. When I pull the coin from one boy’s ear and hand it to them, they hand it back for a repeat performance.

The Baptist has them stand together, and I do a little interview with them for the camera. Before we leave, we give them all a little candy, and they forget about the money as they wave goodbye.

NEXT: At the foot of Ararat

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  • Tom Engleman & Chuck Hughes