Progress this week has been steady and at the same time exciting! Two of our teams have crossed borders, and that’s always something to mark in a special way.
The first team over a new border was the tigers, who have now crossed into Hungary, making good progress on their way south. Already through the town of Győr, they’re spending the night outside the Kimba Elefant Park – yes, it IS Hungary!! I was disappointed to see that though the park has elephants and giraffes, and a number of more domestic animals like donkeys and horses, they don’t have tigers. Too bad, thought I, no kith and kin for our tigers to visit. But that was to underestimate the cunning and resolve of team tiger…! I say that because in Győr itself there is a larger zoo, Xantus János Zoo, which has a wide range of animals in their care. And yes, you guessed it, they have not just any old tiger but in fact a family of white Bengal tigers! They’re very beautiful and no doubt our own lovely tigers enjoyed a nice visit with their Bengal cousins!
Always on the lookout for links to World Medicine, I came across a stunningly beautiful church in the centre of Győr, dedicated to St Ignatius of Loyola. St Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuits, and our newest WM initiative is the Refugee Friends project at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in London. The church of St Ignatius is now in the care of another Catholic religious order, the Benedictines, whom the tigers met recently at Melk Abbey in Austria.
Linking as we do to the Refugee Friends project, it’s worth noting that JRS have recently posted blog about how our Refugee Friends clinic is working out. Read the blog here, but as a brief summary – it’s brilliant! Congratulations and thanks to Barbara and all involved for getting it up and running, with all the limitations faced due to Covid, etc. A marvellous achievement with obvious benefits to our refugee friends.
Further to the south of our tigers we find our wee monkeys and snow leopards continuing on through Turkey. They’re both on the long ascent through the Niksar Valley, on either side of the town of Niksar, up into the southern reaches of the Pontic Mountains. This mountain range has some fabulous peaks, but are not for the feint hearted- the 10 highest peaks in the range are all over 3,000 metres, or 10,000 feet, so more than double the height of Ben Nevis. Luckily the route our walkers are on keeps a bit lower, as it hugs the valley. But still, colder nights and cooler days are ahead, so be prepared!
You’ll get a good idea of the landscape and vegetation of the area by visiting Niksar Castle, an impressive ruin high above the town. The trees that we see growing all around are larch and pine, which were traditionally used for building the houses in the valley, some of which are preserved today. As you’d imagine for a place in beautiful mountains, there’s no shortage of beautiful places to visit!
The snow leopards end the week close to Zinav Lake Nature Park, so they may head there for a bracing swim in the lake! The wee monkeys, meanwhile end the week close to the ancient and ‘Holy Well’ of Kilise Suyu, a spring that has held water for hundreds of years, and a site thought holy by Greeks and Byzantine travellers. So, a fitting place for our Chaparda travellers to pitch up for the night!
The second team to cross a border this week are our peacocks, who have crossed from Turkey into Iran, at the Gürbulak Border Crossing. This is pretty much the main border crossing for access to Europe so it’s a busy crossing point, open 24 hours and 7 days a week. It seems like one of the more imposing border crossings that our challengers will have to make, but reports on websites I’ve looked at tell me that it’s very easy to cross, and presumably our peacocks found it so.
Once into Iran the first place they come to is the town of Bazargan. It’s a very important border town now so it’s hard to believe that even 50 years ago there was no road from there to Turkey! It was with the growth of Iran’s oil wealth that trade escalated and the border became important. The census of 1966 had the population at only 783, but in 2006 the census records a population of over 9,000.
To give you a sense of Bazargan, it’s located at an altitude of 1,550 metres, so as you can imagine, it endures very long and harsh winters. I think the peacocks are getting through at a good time, though, as it’s still fairly comfortable for travelling. For more on the village and its history take a look at this extract from the Encyclopaedia Iranica, which will be my bedside reading for the coming weeks, I think!
Anyway, the peacocks, as usual, didn’t hang around to meet the locals and by the end of the week they’re well to the south, past the town of Maku (which would you believe has its own international airport, a sign of the importance of this frontier, I think). But with any luck they will have detoured slightly to visit the UNESCO world heritage site dating from the 14th century of the ‘Chapel of Dzordzo‘.
They’re spending Sunday night close to the town of Nazok-e Olya, though there’s little on the internet to tell us much about it. I suspect, sadly, that this will often be the story of our journey through Iran!
We can’t say goodnight to team peacock without a special mention of Emma, and her amazingly arduous weekend coming up. On Saturday coming, September 11th, she’s taking part in a trek called the ‘3 Lochs Ultra Challenge‘ which will see her cover 49 miles in one day and night, along Scottish loch shores and over mountains, starting an ending on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. She doing it to raise money for World Medicine, and we wish her every success. If you want to sponsor her, or ask your friends and family to sponsor her, then head over to our World Medicine Homepage to read more about it.
So that’s our week – breaking new ground by entering Iran, which will be a great learning for me! if anyone would like to contribute to the diary for this phase of the journey especially I’d be more than happy to share the load!! Otherwise, it’s bedtime with Encyclopaedia Iranica!
Our challengers have covered 355 miles this week, and thanks to sponsors of Emma and Chloe we’ve added a healthy £197 to the fundraising tally, bringing us to £1857 in total.
Thanks to everyone for all you do and have a good week.