At 6:10 a.m. we left the little restaurant behind and started walking back into town. It was misty and cold as we walked along the highway with the beautiful red of poppies growing amongst the crops beside the road. We got a lift the last 1 km into town to the otogar {bus station] which was closed so we’ll legged it back to the town centre. We had bread and honey for breakfast at a patisserie then hung around waiting for the information centre to open. When the tourism officer finally turned up he only spoke German but we got some information about the area and walked down the main street.  Kelly went off to change money and Linda and I sat in the sun watching the local goings-on.

After we had bought some food we caught a dolmüs up to Golcük Lake where we were hassled by the guard for 5,000 each if we wanted to camp. There were no facilities there to justify the fee so he told the fat guard to get fucked. The lake was quite pretty so we left our packs at the toll gate and went for a walk around it. There must have been a million frogs in the weeds at the water’s edge and they kept up a constant racket as we walked along the path. We stopped for lunch at the far end of the lake then walked back and collected our gear and headed off down the hill.

The sneaky life of the freedom camper in Turkey. Ferg and Kelly sitting in a forest clearing waiting for sunset when we could safely make camp.

After about 20 minutes we found a path leading off into the bush so we walked about 100 m into the cool, lush forest until we found a flat mossy patch of ground beside a tiny stream. We spent the afternoon sitting in a patch of warm sun shining down through a hole in the canopy, then at around 7:30pm,  as the setting sun was throwing dappled patches of golden light through the trees, we  pitched the tent and went to bed.


ON THE BUSES  We paid up our bill last night, a whopping 100,000TL, to enable us to get an early start today. By 6:10 a.m. we were walking down the road towards Maçka, having packed up our gear in the cold early light of day after a night of heavy rain. It took us about 40 minutes to reach Maçka and we timed it just right to catch a local bus down to Trabzon. It must have been a stormy night in the hills as the river was up and dirty. We went to the otogar and booked a ticket to Samsun and only had 20 minutes to wait before it departed.

The trip along the coast took 7 hours, most of it through strong wind and driving rain. The flooded rivers flowing down from the mist-shrouded hills created a band of brown along the edge of the sea and the colours of the waters were a strange pattern of blues: in places calm,  in other places whipped up and sent crashing onto the black cliffs sending up clouds of spume.

When we arrived in Samsun the weather had cleared and it was sunny and warm although a stiff wind still blew in off the Black Sea.  We went to 6 different bus companies to find the best ticket price to Bolu and eventually bought tickets for 20,000TL each. This time, we had 2 1/2 hours to fill in so we went and had a beer in a bar and some food at the bus station cafeteria.

We left Samsun at 5:30 and turned inland through a low range of hills separating the coast from the rest of the country. As we drove into the hills, the sunlight worked its magic on the land, bringing out the rich earth tones of brown, green and gold from the tapestry of life around us. The land was fertile and well farmed and healthy crops of wheat and barley were interspersed with vegetable crops and lucerne. Once again, concrete irrigation channels were everywhere: stepping down across the floors of the valleys where crowds of people worked at planting and weeding. Most of  the land appeared to be farmed cooperatively as there was a lot of machinery around and we passed several combine harvesters sitting in yards awaiting harvest.

Towards evening the sun began to set beyond the hills, throwing it’s fiery red glow over the valleys and soon the shadows merged and night came to the land. At 1 a.m. we were stopped by a road accident. A truck had hit something else and one of the injured was loaded onto our bus to be rushed to the next town. He wasn’t so badly injured that he couldn’t smoke a cigarette though!

The bus company had told us that we would arrive in Bolu at 5 a.m. but as we careered along the road a sign said Bolu 10 km! So we resigned ourselves to having to spend a night in a hotel after all (we had planned to spend all night on the bus, thus saving a night’s accommodation) and after we had dropped the injured fellow off at the hotel at the hospital we made ready to get off at the bus station. But the fucking mongrel bastards drove straight out of town and after a lot of shouting and swearing, dropped us off on the outskirts of town at a deserted open-air restaurant. It was freezing cold but we had no choice other than to sit down in a shelter to await the morning. A kindly old man found us there an hour or so later and brought out some blankets and pillows so at least we managed to stay warm for the 2 1/2 hours until sun-up.

Our impromptu camp in the shelter of a roadside restaurant.


We checked out of the hotel and caught a dolmüs out to Maçka.  We bought some bread and tomatoes then set off to walk the 3 1/2 km out to the camping ground. By the time we got there it was stinking hot so he pitched the tent and spent the rest of the day watching the crowds of locals who flocked out to have lunch at the camp restaurant. We also did some washing and aired all our gear out.


A bright, fine day finally greeted us and we went to find transport out to the Sumela Monastery. Before we went to the dolmüs stop we had some sickly chocolate cake at a patisserie and bought some cherries from a fruit stall. 

The drive up to the national park where the monastery is located took us along a wide shingle riverbed which gradually steepened as we moved further into the hills. We stopped for a ½ hour break in the town of Maçka, built where two rivers join and where the steep, scrubby hills were broken by sheer bluffs of hexagonal basalt columns. By the time we reached the entrance to the Altindere National Park, where the monastery is located, we were once again following a steep and cascading stream, its water leaping over the boulders as it rushed downwards beneath the thickly-forested hills.

At the monastery car park there was a cluster of shops selling tourist tat and souvenirs, overpriced food and sugary drinks so we skirted around the stalls and began the climb up the steep path leading up to the monastery. Away from the roar of the stream and the noise of tourists, the silence of the forest closed in upon us as we climbed, sunlight breaking through in places to throw dappled patterns of gold onto the forest floor. Sometimes the canopy of trees closed fully over us; sometimes it opened to give us a breathtaking views of the steep wooded valley stretching up through green alpine meadows to a skiff of fresh snow on the high, rocky tops.

Our first glimpse of the monastery came as we reached the foot of the huge bluff it is built under, the dull brown rock towering hundreds of metres above us, and soon, after getting in for “student” price we were able to see the amazing extent of the monastery which is built on a rock ledge under the huge overhang of the bluff. The view was magnificent and it was easy to see why the monks had retreated there for peace and tranquility. The heart of the complex was the chapel built at the very back of the cavern created by the overhang and decorated with hundreds of well drawn and well-preserved frescoes, many of which however had been defaced by graffiti1.

We sat amongst the ruins for a while eating some pastries and looking at the forest out across the valley through the forlorn and crumbling window frames  of the monastery. Much of the more modern parts of the facade were built in the 17th and 18th centuries but the origin of the monastery as a whole goes back to the 4th century when Byzantine monks built it as a haven for an icon of the Virgin Mary.

Byzantine frescoes in the Sumela Monastery.

After we had looked around the ruins we climbed a steep stairway out of the monastery and took another path leading around the hill to a small ruined building sitting out on a point with a superb view of the monastery and the huge bluff. Linda and Kelly returned to the car park by the track we came up but I followed another path down through a heavy stand of pine trees, the floor of which was carpeted with a thick layer of damp pine needles. At the bottom of the track a narrow wooden bridge spanned the steeply falling creek, its waters roaring and crashing over huge boulders and at that point the path joined the road. I wandered down the rough potholed road, stopping to take photos when the trees parted to reveal the monastery above or when brightly coloured flowers caught my attention. Another bridge crossed the river at head of a steep drop where the creek churned and foamed it’s way 200 meters down the valley sending up a thick spray and filling the gorge with its thunderous roar. Finally, the stream leveled out again as it passed the tourist shops, gushing over moss-covered rocks and sending its sound up through the trees.

The bus dropped us back at Trabzon at 3 p.m. and after a bit of a rest Linda and I set off to buy a pair of jeans for me. After 2 hours of searching we found a pair that I liked and bought them along with a fake Lacoste shirt for 65,000TL.

1In Islam, it is forbidden to depict living creatures, including humans, in art. That is the reason why so much Islamic artwork consists of scrolls, calligraphy and depictions of plants and fountains. Many frescoes throughout the Islamic world have been defaced by having the eyes scratched out or painted over in order to remove the profane depiction of living things without completely removing the entire artworks.


RETREAT FROM UZUNGÖL At 7:00 I crawled out of the tent into a cold, wet and gloomy morning. We packed up our camp in the misty rain and walked down to the hotel where we had çay and the cook boiled our four remaining eggs for us. By the time we got to Uzungöl a cold driving drizzle had settled in and as we sat waiting for some kind of transport down to Çaykara it got progressively colder and wetter.  The village was quiet as a graveyard and the only movement was the occasional villager walking past staring at us as if we were mad!

Eventually, a dolmüs arrived and we loaded ourselves in for the trip down. Directly below the village, the river began its steep descent down the head of the lower valley, the water leaping and rushing over the black boulders strewn down its bed. Further down, as the stream gathered momentum, the valley narrowed until the water was descending in a series of low waterfalls and tortured cataracts. All around us were the eternal and endless greens of the deciduous trees, blending perfectly with the dark olive shades of the conifers while interspersed with both were the myriad shades of green and yellow mosses and ivy.

By the time we reached Çaycara, it was raining solidly and the waters of the stream flowing down from Uzungöl merged with those of another stream to form a foaming and roiling river. The dolmus stopped for an hour long lunch break but we stayed inside while the rain beat a steady tattoo on the roof. When we left Çaycara we bumped our way down the road to Ob and the murky Black Sea then turned west along the coast road to Trabzon.

When we arrived in the city of Trabzon we checked into the first hotel we found and each had a wonderfully HOT shower. After relaxing for a couple of hours we went out for some food at a Lokanta then went back to the Otel Çoruh Palais and retired.


THURSDAY. Morning… and the sun is finally shining and the mist is completely gone. I got up at 7 and walked a couple of hundred metres upstream and took some photographs then went back to camp and got the fire going. By the time we had breakfasted on boiled eggs, tomatoes and bread it was warm and sunny so Kelly and I went for a walk up the river leaving Linda to mind the camp.

The sun was warm upon us as we followed the river upstream, it’s bed slowly gathering steepness and the cold, clear water gathering speed as it leapt over the boulders and swirled over the roots of overhanging trees. The sides of the valley rose steeply above us with the trees growing thickly upon them in a beautiful pattern of greens. above the treeline, wide alpine meadows covered the mountain tops, the green of the grass is mingled with the yellow and purple of wildflowers. Dotted about the high meadows were houses of dark stained wood giving the whole area a distinctly Swiss look.


Eventually we tired of walking and headed back down to camp where Linda had set out all our gear out to air.  We sat around for a while then Linda and I headed off down the valley to explore.  We stopped at the hotel for a Coke then carried on down past the lake, it’s waters now a beautiful turquoise blue colour.  There was a road leading up through the cluster of wooden houses on the hill above the village so we followed it until we had a panoramic view of the lake with the twin minarets of the mosque in the foreground and the dark greens of the mountains beyond. 

We sat for an hour amongst the profusion of wildflowers growing beside the track and soaked up the warmth of the sun while below us people toiled in their fields, children laughed and chatted and the eerie call of the musseins echoed up from the mosque. On our way back up the valley we sat beside the lake eating hot bread, a chocolate bar each and locum which we had bought in the village.  We also stopped again at the hotel for a Coke and to pinch [steal] some salt.

When we got back to camp I rigged up a fishing rod with a stick, some catgut and a hook that I’d bought in the village and went off to try my luck at fishing. I pissed around for an hour so without getting a bite so we had to have boiled eggs and homemade tomato soup, eaten out of an empty can for supper!  We sat around the campfire yarning for a while then crawled into the tent as the mist it once again rolled in. During the night it rained and there was thunder and lightning.


When we woke up at 8:00, the mist was still hanging around the hills but was showing signs of clearing so we packed up our gear then Linda and I set off up the road to find a campsite.  Kelly wasn’t feeling well so we left her sitting on the porch of the hotel. We walked for about 20 minutes until we found a perfect campsite amongst some trees next to the river. It was obvious from the number of old campfires and the amount of rubbish lying around that people had camped there before. I left Linda sitting in the sun, which had broken through the mist, and hitched back to the hotel to get Kelly and her stuff. We hitched a ride back up the valley in a dump truck and set up our camp. I spent an hour or so collecting firewood and while I was doing that the mist rolled in again.

Once we were fully settled in,  Linda and I left Kelly to guard the camp and set off down to Uzungöl to buy some more food.  We tried to buy some fish from one of the two fish farms on the outskirts of the  village but it was too expensive so instead we bought a dozen eggs, some tomatoes, garlic, spuds, onions and a saucepan and three forks.

Back at camp we got the fire going and cooked up scrambled eggs and jacket potatoes then crawled into the tent to play cards.

Our camp at Uzungöl


It was raining when we left the restaurant where we had breakfast and where the waiter had attempted to overcharge us. We walked down to the local bus station and caught a bus up to Ob (1,000TL each)  and from there a dolmüs into the town of Çaykara, squashed into a narrow wet valley.  The market square where we were dropped off was a scene of total chaos with people everywhere shouting and jostling and showing off their wares and passing vehicles blasting their horns to make way.

A troop of Jandarma1 found us a place in a dolmüs jammed with men, women, their groceries and their chooks, and we headed off further into the steep rain-soaked mountains following the course of a steep mountain stream. As we climbed higher into the dark, misty hills the river steepened until in places it was just a series of rocky waterfalls. Suddenly we top the lip of the valley and before us was the town of Uzungöl, with the lake of the same name barely visible through the fog just beyond.

We got out of the dolmüs in the centre of town and walked off into the mist, following the road around the side of the lake, it’s waters a sallow grey colour in the deepening gloom as the fog swirled lower and lower until it merged with the water itself.  The Uzungöl Hotel is a fairly new one built almost entirely of local materials and catering for rich non-backpacking-type people.  We sat out on the porch drinking soft drinks and looking bedraggled and chatted to some American tourists staying there on a package deal.  I trudged further up the road looking for a campsite but everything was wet and swampy and not very inviting at all. When I got back to the hotel I told Linda and Kelly to stay put while I walked back down to the village and bought some bread, cheese, oranges and a tin of tomato paste.

The hut (left) where we spent the night.

Back at the hotel, the mist had finally turned to cold driving rain so with the help of an American lady who spoke fluent Turkish we asked if we could sleep on the porch. The manager let us sleep in a little hut beside the river so we set up camp inside on the floor, had a meal then went back inside the hotel where it was warm.

We yarned for a bit to some of the Americans several of which were from the NATO base in Izmir. Finally, with a thick, cold mist hugging the ground, we went to bed in our little çay hut and slept warm and dry.


To this day, whenever I taste tomato paste it reminds me of that little hut deep in the forests of Turkey’s Black Sea coast.