20/6/90

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.

19/6/90

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.

17/6/90

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.

15/6/90

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.

14/6/90

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.

Uzungöl

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.

13/6/90

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

12/6/90

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.

1Police

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.

10/6/90

THE RUSSIAN BORDER…ALMOST.  We woke up at 7 a.m. and broke camp then hit the road to try our luck at hitchhiking to the coast. It was very hot in the gorge and we were all sweating like hell after only a couple of kilometres. We stopped for a wash in the river at 8:30 and as soon as we hit the road again we got a lift with two men from the Electricity Department.  They took us about 30 km down the gorge and even shouted us a glass of çay at a roadside café.  Eventually, they dropped us off and after a bit of a spell in the shade of a tree we caught another ride with a truck driver all the way to Hopa, on the coast. The lower part of the gorge was a violent cataract of churning water hemmed in by sheer cliffs.  Then, about 2 km downstream from Artvin, we left the river and began the climb over a pass leading to the coast.

The Çhoru River near our camp.

As soon as we left the gorge the landscape changed from sheer, scrub-covered rock to steep mountains covered with lush subtropical forest coloured deep green. Down the rocky valley ran a crystal clear stream tumbling over boulders and cascading over small waterfalls.  As we topped the last hill, the Black Sea, Kara Deniz, came into view below and 20 minutes later we were dropped off in the town of Hopa.

The driver wanted money so we gave him 10,000TL then went and sat in an outside cafe and had a beer.  We decided to go up and have a look at the Russian border, 18 km away at Sarp, so we caught a dolmüs along the coast and got off about 5 km short of the border2 when a camping ground came into view.  It turned out to be no good and another dolmüs wanted 30,000TL to take us back to Hopa so we told him to fuck off and caught a bus back for 500 each. From Hopa we caught another dolmüs heading west towards Rize. We got off that one too but in the middle of nowhere and found a place to camp out of sight in a quarry and settled down on a rock ledge overlooking the sea to wait for it to get dark so we could sneak our tent up.

We sat and watched the golden sun sink into the calm waters of the Black Sea, then gathered up our gear and walked into the quarry to our campsite where we pitched our tent, ate the last of our food, and once again fell into an exhausted sleep.

1 Freedom camping is illegal in Turkey so whenever we wanted to camp we had to be sneaky about it!

2This was as close to the sensitive border area that tourists were allowed to get.

Black Sea Sunset.