(written July 2011)

There was a time when I deeply enjoyed driving. I’ve driven across North America a number of times, driven from Belgium to Turkey and extensively in whatever country we have had the privilege of living in.

I enjoyed the driving experience, trying to provide a comfortable ride for the passengers, endeavouring to be a safe driver and enjoying the scenery – or that bits of the scenery which decorate, and surround the road where my primary focus rests.

There have been times of extended driving, hour after hour when fatigue begins to raise its weary and rather ugly head. Pressing on, battling against tiredness and maintaining the required level of alertness and diligence demanded when in control of a tonne or more of steel at high speeds on often challenging roads.

Over the years there have marathon-driving through heavily snow bound roads through the mountains of western Canada or hour upon seemingly endless hour-driving straight across the incredibly flat expanse of the prairies. We have travelled on roads that warn motorists to check fuel as there are no services for fifty miles – in plain terms that means for fifty miles the terrain is devoid of all human habitation of any description.

Of the tens of thousands of miles that I have driven, I think I can say that I have by-and-large enjoyed the experience.

However ….

The Elder’s car was due for its bi-annual vehicle inspection as required by Turkish law. The first task is a separate inspection of the LPG (Liquified Propane Gas) system by a special Engineering Office. As the elder has a 9 − 5 job, I was volunteered, to take the vehicle for this check and the actual vehicle inspection.

It is a quick task, the man comes with a sniffer device, checks the tank and then the motor, carburettor and others points in the motor well. Five minutes to get the man, five minutes to do the check and five minutes to pay the fee and get the paperwork.

Or that is what normally happens.

On this occasion he began by specifically examining the tank fitted in the back of the car. On examination he noted the manufacture date was ten years ago and by law, the tanks have a ten year life.  

It is time for the tank to be replaced.

That ended the inspection. Without that piece of paper you can not have the required vehicle inspection and hence you can not legally drive. To make matters worse, I had already made the appointment to have the vehicle inspection having not anticipated this development.

I will confess that if the legal life has ended, it probably is a good time to replace the tank – the tank may be good for a number of years more, but do you really want to risk it with a tank of compressed flammable gas?

So this five minute job required me to turn the car up the valley to the “New Small Industrial” area to one of the authorised shops where I could have the tank replaced.

Arriving at the shop, I was impressed that it looked clean and modern – gives a sense of confidence that they would know what they are doing and do a good job. After a brief discussion it was agreed to be done, however, there was still Liquified Propane Gas in the tank and it needed to be used up before they would under-take the replacement of the tank.

Seemed like a reasonable request.

So, my task was to drive the car until the tank was empty – then return for the work to be done.

I had a vehicle, fuel and the task was simply to drive. Go where you wish.

I used to enjoy driving.

Now in the heat of an Antakya summer, I headed off to the village of Altınözü about 25 kilometres from Antakya. The system showed that I was very low on LPG – the final green light was extinguished, only occasionally flashing. There really can not be much fuel left. A trip to Altınözü should be more than enough.

Or so I thought.

I drove up to the village, down to an old stone bridge that I’d been told about, but never taken the time to go and see. Stopped by the shop of one of the elders of the church in this village. He is a carpenter and was in his shop very briefly as they were installing something on site. He said if I wanted to spend some time I could visit with a fellow from the church. How do you say I am not wishing to spend time, but to burn fuel and to do so I must keep on travelling?

I found what I hoped were a set of words which would not cause offence and left the village. On the way back I turned off to the top of a mountain that looks down on Antakya. Need to burn fuel, so off I went on this wee side trip. The road isn’t in great shape, but taking my time and avoiding the worst bits I made it to the top.

Great view, but the goal is not to see a great view but to empty the LPG tank. So I returned down the mountain and made my way back to Antakya. I had travelled over 60 kilometres and still the car was running well, the LPG green light was still occasionally flickering.

What to do?

I turned the car towards the town of Reyhanlı, nestled immediately besides the Syrian border. I’m not sure what the exact meaning of Reyhanlı is, it could be “With Sweet Basil” or “With one of the Seven Doors of Heaven”. I don’t know, you feel free to decide which is the most appropriate translation of the name.

I had never been to Reyhanlı, however, having visited the local museum, I was aware that out toward Reyhanlı there are a number of Tells or ancient hills that are the remains of the towns and villages of antiquity. Many Hittite artefacts have been discovered from these Tells and my interest in all things ancient, and Hittite and old stones has meant that I’ve often wished to go to Reyhanlı and see what there is to see.  

You can read of my experience with on of these tells at: Let Me Tell You…

Now was my chance. 

Actually, I was compelled because of the need to use up the fuel. I had to do it.

And so I set off.

Now the road from Antakya to Reyhanlı is a simple two lane road with light traffic on it.  First we ran parallel to the Asi (ancient Orontes) River on the shoulder of a low hill on our right and the plain opening out on our left.  In the middle distance, before a large hill stands the Ottoman Hotel, a new five-star establishment situated in this rather remote location due to the presence of a thermal spring.

The road worked its way, meandering around the hill until we had turned to be basically travelling east. Now we were on the plain proper leaving the hills behind.

There is not a lot to see on a plain. It is flat. There is the odd tree decorating the landscape. The fields are green. And it is flat. One kilometre soon looks like the previous and the following kilometre doesn’t vary.

Then I came to some road construction. I slow down and try and avoid the worst bits. The world over, road construction is an unpleasant discovery. I had decided if it lasted too long, I would abandon the trek and turn back – the task was to burn fuel, not inflict damage upon the vehicle.

However, soon we returned to asphalt with a new duel carriageway under construction to our left. Ah, soon there is to be a divided highway to Reyhanlı – something to look forward to.

And the plain continued.  The sun shone.  It was hot.  No air conditioning!

Did I mention that it was baking hot, the wind coming in the window was sweltering, very hot. The sun, powerfully blazing in the sky causing ones eyes to rebel and try and find refuge from the intense light. Oh, and the plain although was very fertile was a simple, very plain plain (isn’t English wonderful, maybe I should describe the plain as austere – a very austere plain rather than a very plain plain).

To be honest, I was feeling bored. Here I am in a car – we no longer have our own motor vehicle, so this in itself is a treat – and I have fuel and I do not have to worry about the cost of fuel or wasting it – my goal is to use it up and I am going somewhere I’ve never been before… but I am alone, no one is with me to share the experience and, to be honest, I am feeling bored.

It could be the heat, it could be the intensity of the blazing sun, or, I guess, it could be that I don’t enjoy driving as much as I used to.

There was a sign pointing to a village off to my right, in the hills and the name included the word höyük which is Turkish for Tell… so something interesting is probably up that road. But now I’m bone weary, tired out by the endless and driving without a destination,  my task is not to go somewhere but to drive.  Indeed, if there is an interesting tell just up the road, my tasking this day did not include parking up somewhere and have a good gawk about.

Later on there is a low hill, a Tell that looks like it has been or is being excavated – possible recently as a Hittite lion has been discovered and delivered to the museum in Antakya.

The road continues its straight, unbending path –  once more crossing the Asi (Orontes) as the river heads south where it leaves the plain, enters its own valley and then forms the physical border between Turkey and Syria.

The road takes a swing to the right and the construction abruptly ceases – in the middle of field. I was gobsmacked. It started part way between the two cities and now it appeared to end in the middle of a field. There were no signs of survey or road works or of things to come…  Literally, it was ‘the end’.  No doubt it will be completed one day – but not today that was for sure.

The old, two lane road continued some more and then once again mounted the shoulder of a hill on the right hand side and began a switchback up the hillside. At the first hairpin we encountered a fence – a fence like I haven’t seen before.

This is a relatively low, maybe but no more than two metres, barbed wire fence with concrete fence posts with the upper arms leaning both ways, in and out. There was lots and lots of barbed wire. From the arms of the fence post there were rows and rows of barbed wire. There was new razor wire on the fence as well. Then I noted that there were high concrete watch towers to my left with the fence to my right – I guess I was driving down the border.

This I did not expect.

Oh, and the LPG was still powering me onwards and I had travelled another 40 odd kilometres – economical little vehicle.

I entered Reyhanlı and I saw more road construction – here was the connecting bit. The new road would not rub shoulders with the border, it would stand off, at its nearest be 200 metres or so from the physical board.  When completed the dual carriageway would take a new path up to Reyhanlı, skirting around the hill with the border fence, and remain on the plain and then rising up to the city. No longer in the border, the new road would be merely deep in the shadow of border.

I didn’t really want to ‘see’ Reyhanlı, a deeply Sunni, religious town on the border. It certainly did not look like one of the “Seven Doors to Heaven”.  

My goal, especially in the stifling heat was to run out the LPG (returning, once it was all gone on petrol – a duel fuel vehicle). So at the first convenient spot, I turned around and headed the car back towards Antakya.

I was tired of driving. I was tired of the trip. I wanted to go home. But I needed the tank to be empty, and it still bravely soldiered on, finding ever more wisps of gas to burn.

After following, not in the shadow of the boarder as the new road will be, but in the midst of the border as the old road travels, I descended to the plain, across and back to where the road construction commenced.

It was after a few more kilometres on the section of the new road, on the plain that the long awaited hiccupping of the motor as the LPG was coming in dribs and drabs.

We need the tank empty – for safety sake, so I carried on until the coughing and hiccupping came to the point where I was convinced it was real, we were truly running on fumes and I switched over to petrol.

Task completed.

But now, I still had 35 odd kilometres to drive back to Antakya.

I discoverer that I no longer enjoy driving as I once did.

I guess things change, we change. It is part of life and I suppose the cycle of life. It is God’s plan and I dare say ‘gift’ to mankind. Part of the ‘secret of contentment’ that Paul speaks of, is accepting the changes that life brings.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” (Philippians 4:12 NIV)

And so, whether driving, or not, to be content. 


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