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IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK: Part 8 — The outpost commander

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 eighth 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.

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

CHUCK: This morning we get up at 6 to reconnoiter the area and see what the climbers are doing. I shoot several still photos of the town and surrounding area, as well as several shots of the climbers. We have breakfast at 7:30 — melon, tomato slices, sliced cucumbers, olives and a wedge of cheese. Tons of bread with honey also is served with coffee or tea.

Since tea is the national drink, it is served everywhere. Shop owners will serve tea as you browse. Cafes offer you tea as you pass.

We meet the American climber who had consented to an interview. He is exhausted and tired, tripping up the two-stair flight that leads to the courtyard. They had run into some nasty weather on the mountain and took quite a beating. His demeanor has changed since we spoke to him last. Then he was somewhat cocky and sure of himself, believing the mountain to be less than what he was used to climbing. Now he seems humbled and quite a bit more respectful of Ararat. He says they are leaving immediately after breakfast, so our interview will not happen.

As the climbers gather in the small courtyard, we mingle and talk, and I shoot photos of the group. Some are dressed in climbing gear, some are arriving in buses, others are milling about in the lobby. It is a beautiful morning, and the guides and climbers — in their red and blue shirts — are assembling for group photos in front of their flags and the Turkish Mountaineering Federation flag. The climbers appear cheerful and excited. Although we don’t speak the languages, their enthusiasm is easy to pick up on.

At 9:30, the Baptist gets a call, telling us Ankara has not received all our documents. Looks like its going to be a hurry-up-and-wait situation. The Baptist leaves to re-fax the information. We will wait to see how this turns out, but they could conceivably delay the issuance of a permit until well after the Victory Climb and beyond our need for permits.

The Baptist faxes the information, and we wait, talking to the climbers and having more tea. We pace and talk and fume and fret. Finally, we decide to scout around the mountain for places to shoot in the morning, once we get the permits, and we take off for the north side of the mountain with our still camera.

The Baptist finds a dirt road that leads around to the north side of the mountain, and we follow it. We come across several shepherd tents and villages, as well as a group of three donkeys hauling water to the tents. The boy herding the donkeys is a surly young man who refuses to smile or to accept a peace offering of candy.

During my research for the trip, I had read about a meteor crater called Cukuru, and we find it on our drive. It is about 500 feet round, and there is blast rock all around the crater’s edge. The bottom is covered with bright green grass, the only color in the entire area. Signs of the blasted rock are everywhere, with chunks of rock the size of a cow lying hundreds of yards from the impact area. I take several photos of the crater and one of the Baptist standing with the crater as a backdrop. I’m finding the Baptist likes to be in front of a camera almost as much as he likes to be behind one.

Tom takes over driving, and we round a corner, only to find it dead-ends in two different sections — one with a military outpost. Oops! Tom and the Baptist had a not-too-friendly interview with the local jandarma commander and really don’t want to have another experience like that. No one says anything though, and Tom continues driving.

Tom waves at the jandarma as he drives by, does a doughnut in the road, and drives down the other road into the other dead end. He has to back up, and the Baptist says it would now be best to drive to the outpost and speak with them. After the creative driving technique just displayed, we all agree that it’s a good idea.

When we pull up at the gate, the Baptist grabs the keys and tells Tom it probably would be best if he drives from now on. That gets a little chuckle from me in the back seat and a smile from Tom. The outpost commander is waiting for us at the gate and asks us to park the vehicle and come inside the post with him. He takes our passports, and one could tell from the look on our faces that we think we are going to see the inside of the jail.

We follow the commander to his office and are pleasantly surprised that we are served tea while they check our car and passports. The other military personnel are respectful of the commander and wait just outside the door for his permission to enter with the tea.

The commander is very cordial, and we discuss what we are doing and what our intentions are on the mountain. We talk a little about local politics and Turkey’s application for entry into the European Union, as well as America’s involvement in Iraq. Tom and the commander exchange military experiences and other small talk. This gives them more than enough time to check our credentials and search our car.

The Baptist gets a call from the hotel that our long-awaited fax and permits have arrived. We need to get back to Dobi and report to the central commander with our permits before 5 p.m. We apologize to the outpost commander that we have to turn down his invitation to lunch with him and his company. I compliment him on the neatness of his barracks, and we thank him for his hospitality.

Before we can leave, the commander wants us to climb the sentry tower for a close-up and personal look at the Armenian border. He lets us peer through their ultra-high definition monocular that pulls the border right up to the tower. It is a good experience, and we leave feeling pretty good about the military, knowing that not all are as demanding as the central commander we had met last evening.

The Baptist drives back to Dobi and gets our paperwork together, making additional copies. We drive through town, pick up a binder to make the documents look more official and head to the commander’s office on the other side of town.

The commander has been waiting for us and begins looking for problems in the paperwork as soon as the Baptist hands it to him. Once he even questions their validity. It appears we were heading for a flat denial for filming anything in the area.

NEXT: Change of plans
This entire series of articles has been collected into an e-book, In Search of Noah’s Ark, available exclusively at http://kainospress.com.

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  • Tom Engleman & Chuck Hughes