There is a plane on the runway just outside the terminal and when I ask where it is going I am told “Istanbul, but boarding is complete, the computer has shut down on that flight, so there’s no way I can add you to the passenger list.”

It’s Monday, February 25th, and we are on the 3.10pm flight direct from Kars to Izmir.  But before we go to the airport we still have things to do.  A quick trip to Sarıkamış where we all mooch around the weekly market (a far cry from its equivalent in Fethiye) while Coşkun says formal farewells to the Mayor and the Kaymakam.

Back to the hotel to load bags, say good bye to all the staff and then we head for the school in the nearby village of Alifosu, where Yusuf, our minibus driver hails from.  Two members of the group had brought school books with them to donate and more books, plus {mosimage}pens and paints, had been acquired in Sarıkamış so a heavily laden group set off across the snowy wastes to the school – the only modern building in the village.  The rest of the buildings being one storey stone affairs with sod roofs.  There were also plenty of dung fuel heaps around.  In the summer cow, horse and donkey dung is collected, pounded into flat disks and then slapped on walls to dry.  Once dry it goes into the dung heap for winter fuel.  Timber is a precious commodity in this region and everyone who can afford it heats with coal.  Next year Kars and Sarıkamış will go over to natural gas piped in from Iran for their heating – but I suspect villages like Alifosu will be drying their dung for some time to come.  It burns with a sweet smell and is in no way offensive.

After the school we head to downtown Kars where the Mayor has requested a meeting before we leave.  He presents the group with an official Kars medal and we can then finally head for the airport.  We arrive at 2.10pm only to be informed our flight has been cancelled and we shouldn’t have bothered coming to the airport.  Our agent in Fethiye should have informed us of the cancellation and made alternative arrangements for us.  {mosimage}Well this writer is a veteran of air travel and immediately pointed out that Turkish Airlines had contracted to fly us from Kars to Izmir on this day, so they’d better live up to their promise.  There is a plane on the runway just outside the terminal and when I ask where it is going I am told “Istanbul, but boarding is complete, the computer has shut down on that flight, so there’s no way I can add you to the passenger list.”  And then a small Turkish miracle occurs – an efficient man appears, clearly junior to the Manager who has just been trying to fob me off.  He quickly grasps the situation and barks out an order to someone to run across the tarmac and ask the pilot if he could wait five minutes while they get us and our baggage on board.  ‘Hold that flight’ no less.  And it works.  Our tickets are collected, (Ali our saviour needs the names to book us on the connecting flight from Istanbul to Izmir); bags are rushed through check-in; we run out to the runway (forget security); and Ali’s parting words are yelled at my retreating back “By the time you get to Istanbul I’ll have you on the 7pm flight to Izmir just go to any THY desk and present your ID”.

On the two-hour flight to Istanbul I worry about what will happen if we aren’t booked on the Izmir flight, as we now have no tickets to prove we paid for any flight in the first place.  But Ali has been true to his word and when I present my ID, a boarding pass for the 7pm flight to Izmir is generated.  Hallelujah.

We are three hours late arriving in Izmir but the driver is waiting and we head for Fethiye stopping for soup and kofte at the wonderful Mehmet Zengin’s in Ʃne.  Fethiye Times is dropped in her village around 1.30am absolutely exhausted, but also quietly satisfied at the end of a memorable trip.  Though it would take a large inducement to get me to Kars again in the winter if you are a keen skier it is definitely worth going to Sarıkamış.  Powder snow is guaranteed from early November until early May, and equipment hire and lift passes are peanuts compared to their European ski resort equivalents.  You can also get great deals at the hotels at either end of the season.  Let us know what you think if you do go try the slopes at Sarıkamış.

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