Bora had promised to take me mountain climbing on the weekend and that is precisely what we did as Saturday rolled around. We woke up around 8 o'clock, piled into the car, and began the drive inland. The mountains were the standard gorgeous green as I had shown earlier, interspersed with bare-brick houses and mosques. We drove higher and higher into the mountains and suddenly there was a shift in landscape. The sprawling mystical hills jutting up from both sides of the road were gradually replaced by a smoother and loftier form of mountain, and we eventually found ourselves driving on the round surfaces of the mountains themselves instead of in valleys. After driving through a small village, Bora found a place to park near a forest and we got out of the car to check the area out.
It was a strange mixture of air which greeted my lungs. The smell of the sea was long gone, but the crisp taste of mountain air wasn't fully apparent. There was just enough of it to remind me of my previous time spent in the mountains , but contained still enough sea-level air to let me know we weren't that high up. The breeze was cool and the direct sunlight was hot. Bora began unloading his ultra-mega-camera from the car and handed it to me.
Not knowing how to properly use it, I traded it with Benan for her normal camera and snapped a few pictures of the surroundings. One side of the mountain range had trees all over it and the other was as bare as the head of a bald guy:
There were little villages spotted out in the distance, and several of the smallest breed of cow I've ever seen was moseying alongside of us, munching along the way:
A woman with what looked like her daughter came walking out of the forest with a large bundle of sticks on her back.
She greeted us cheerfully and told us we were welcome in the area. We started the climb up through the forest. It reminded me of the drier parts of Washington.
We came out into a clearing with a bunch of plants with big leaves growing everywhere.
We walked up through the clearing to find ourselves in another clearing. We repeated this process, but there was no noticeable change. Everything here looked the same. Bora and I took a bunch of pictures, but it wasn't long before we decided that there wasn't much left to see and we began to make our way back.
I noticed Benan's face was bright red, so I gave her my hat to protect from the sun. I told her she could wear it until I couldn't stand the sun anymore, and we could keep switching whenever possible to avoid sunstroke.
We began our walk back to the car when the singing praises of God in all His Glory came bursting through the trees. I hadn't seen a mosque since we had parked the car, and hadn't even seen a house since we had driven through the most recent village, but apparently not even this is enough for one to distance himself from ever-present religious buildings, their missile silos rearing forth the augmented sound waves of caterwauling imams.
I looked over at Bora and said, “Damn! You can't even get any peace and quiet up in the mountains around here!”
“Yeah,” he said, “I know. I hate it.”
During our trek back I realized that there was something grating me. This area was completely different from the sea and the other mountain areas we had visited, and it suddenly came to me why: it was boring. These soft, rolling, round hills were completely fucking boring. I turned in a circle to get another view of the surroundings and noticed that I could walk in any direction with zero or near-zero hindrance. The clearings were nothing but gentle — the various grasses and flowers didn't even grow more than an inch. Even the trees in the forest were spread far apart with no undergrowth. I could simply walk in any direction. If this wasn't weird enough, all sounds (as the mosque clearly demonstrated) traveled pure and true through the air, such that the bells of sheep grazing on the adjacent mountain sound as if they were in the next clearing. I could see all the nearby mountains mountains clearly and appeared to have no problem hearing what was happening on them, either. They all simply looked the same. The only variation was the amount of trees. We weren't much more than an hour from the coast and it felt like I was on a different planet.
I had the growing desire to leave when I thought about how life must have been here two or three hundred years prior. I imagined being born and living in one of these villages my whole life without the ability to travel, having nothing to listen to but the clang of cow and sheep bells — even the sea was too far away for all practical purposes.
Luckily, the family also appeared to have their fill of the area. We walked back down to the car and began our descent back towards the sea. My mind relaxed when we were in the valleys of the more-jagged, less-traversable, and thus not-so-boring mountains.
The day, however, was long from done. Days prior, Bora had shown me pictures of a huge waterfall that was in the area. It was covered in emerald green moss and emptied into a clean mountain stream below. Everything a western Washingtonian could ask for. After the Eerily-Boring Mountain Range, Bora informed me that were now driving to that waterfall. I grinned and thought about my swimsuit in the back of the car. I was prepared.
We wound our way through the mountain road and Bora occasionally stopped the car so I could take some pictures.
Later down the road he stopped again. I looked around for something that stood out to take a picture of, but came up empty.
“We're here.” Bora said.
“Where's here?” I said, looking out the window of car.
What?! It was just right next to the main road? I was expecting to have to work to get there. I hopped out of the car went over to the railing and, lo and behold, before me stood the Waterfall in all Its Glory:
Bora had provided me with a picture of the waterfall in winter, as well. I'm including it just for good measure:
It was more awesome than I had imagined and way bigger than the picture made it look out to be. I ran back to the car to dig out my swimsuit and towel, then ran back to the railing. The stream was a good 80 to 100 feet below and the slope was steep. I began calculating the easiest way down when the whole family began to tell me not to do it: it was too dangerous. I would describe the look I gave them as quizzical. I knew they wouldn't have the memories of me with Ant running across steeper cliffs that emptied to demises of much higher doom-potentials, but still, hadn't they seen me climbing over everything up until now? In cases like these there is no chance to convince people verbally, so I jumped over the railing and down onto the cliff. It took me a second to get my footing — it didn't help that I was carrying something — but I made it down to the stream in a short time with no mishap. When I got to the bottom and looked down the river I saw two guys in thigh-high rubber boots holding 2 meter-long fishing poles. I waved at them then found a convenient low tree to hide under and changed into my swimsuit. With my swimsuit on, I began my trek to the waterfall itself. The water was a little bit cold, but after the initial shock of getting in, it was no problem and quite pleasant.
The main waterfall was too big for me to stand in, so having made my way to the small one on the side (which didn't look so small up close in person), I decided to do a mini-misogi right on the spot.
Having successfully purified myself, I took a gander to my right and noticed that there was a fucking cave behind the waterfall! Years of playing RPGs had taught me to always check behind the waterfall. I did just that and found a tunnel.
As Bora and Benan were taking the pictures from back on the road, unfortunately I can only describe what I saw. The large rock right next to the cliff face formed a tunnel that was covered in sopping-wet moss, the colors ranging from deep brooding green to brilliant emerald green. The moss was so soft and squishy that it would form to my feet where ever I stepped and I could see the footprints left in my wake. It looked like a scene out of Princess Mononoke.
I emerged from the other side of the waterfall and waved up to the family, who, if they weren't surprised that I had disappeared behind the waterfall in the first place, were surprised now to see me come out from the other side.
I hung out for a little while, looking for a way to climb further up the waterfall. Finding no useful purchase, I went back down the way I came.
I could have spent the whole day there, but I knew the family was waiting for me up above. Thus I waded my way back across the river (although not before dunking myself in it several times), dried myself off, and climbed back up.
The family congratulated me on my successful return and I was beaming with renewed energy as we got back into the car.
At this point I had assumed the day was done and that we would be driving back to the apartment. However, while driving past one of the various bridges across the valley stream, Bora pointed out that his buddy lived in that direction. Earlier that week he had shown me pictures of a friend's really cool house who lived in the mountains next to a stream, so I asked Bora if that was the one he meant. He smiled over at me from the driver's seat and confirmed.
“And... are we going there?” I asked.
I don't know if Bora was originally planning on driving there or decided to do so at the moment. He picked up his cell phone and gave the guy a call. After the conversation he looked at me and said, “They only have fish to eat. Do you want to eat fish?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I eat anything as long as it isn't tomatoes.” I said.
“Ah well, I like fish, but I don't want to eat it every day. We'll stop at the village and pick up some meat before we go there.”
After picking up some fresh bread and ground meat from the nearest village, Bora drove us back up into the mountains. Everything was the awesome lush green as I had already grown accustomed to. Suddenly Bora slowed the car down to a stop and waited for us to get out.
“I guess we're here?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “I will go find a place to park.”
There was something strange about the area that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I walked around the other side of the building to see the picturesque stream below:
Bora told me before that his friend had built everything here. All the buildings, bridges, and huts. Even where the stream ran he had modified by adjusting rocks and adding concrete. It can be seen from the picture that he did a pretty damn good job of it. I went into the first building which was built to be a restaurant:
There were a few people sitting around, but Bora didn't excitedly greet any of them, so I assumed we hadn't found the friend, yet. We walked down around the corner to find two fish pools:
And then I started climbing and jumping on everything as soon as I was within distance to do so:
From the rock below I was able to get a good view from the other side of the restaurant:
Having decided I couldn't climb down the rock and further (an because I had yet to change into my swimsuit), I checked out the other side of the property.
It suddenly hit me what was so strange: there wasn't any garbage. Anywhere. To top that off, all the architecture looked... finished. Like finish-work finished. Up until now all the buildings I had seen looked like they had been slapped together in a rush by amateurs (minus the mosques. They always look like something out of a tourism website). While they didn't look as bad as the houses I had seen in Romania and Bulgaria (they're still working on “parallel lines” over in those countries), even the houses that weren't bare brick looked like they needed a paint job. Everything here looked perfect, quaint, and almost if nature herself had formed it.
To top that off, I quickly noticed that everything was accessible in two ways. You could either take the normal walkway; a soft footpath through the forest, a handmade bridge or ladder over the rocks, or small stone or concrete steps to a higher or lower level.
Or you could climb and jump over everything! Almost everything that was accessible by normal means was also accessible by “parkour means”. To quote my inner dialogue: “Holy fuck this is awesome!”
I dashed along the side of the river, jumping on and over rocks or whatever else I could find, when I discovered a guy sitting at a table reading a book. Bora had showed me a picture of his friend before and had laughed when he said that the friend looks like an Indian. The guy reading the book looked like he fit this description. My guess turned out to be correct, as an excited greeting followed between him and Bora.
He appeared a little shy when Bora introduced me to him. His name was Kökev (In Turkish, the o with the little dots, “ö”, is pronounced something like “er”. So “Kerkev” is probably the closest way I could suggest to pronounce it). It sounded a little rusty, but he spoke German well and thus we were able to communicate. This led to another fun lingual circus: four people speaking Turkish, three speaking English, three speaking German, but nothing that all five could understand.
I was still antsy to explore and, having not gotten my fill of swimming from the waterfall, deigned to put on my swimsuit and jumped in the nearby pool. Having gotten used to the silky smoothness and warmth of the Black Sea, the salt-less water of the chilly mountain stream was a good shock. The sunlight was obscured by the trees and I was able to shiver for the first time since getting off the plane in Trabzon. I swam back and forth and leaned over to bask in the waterfall. After a few minutes of this some young boys came running into the area, and after stripping down to the proper attire, jumped in as well. As I didn't look Turkish, one of them began to speak to me in English. His flow and his accent were good and we chatted awhile about where we came from and what we were doing here.
“Are you a tourist?” he asked.
“Er... uh...,” I knew it wasn't fair to get insulted, but I still didn't want to equivocate myself to that dirty word, “I... uh... I'm... I'm more of an... uh... adventurer.”
“A what? So you're not a tourist? Do you live here?”
Before I could answer, I was saved my internal battle by the splashing around of the other two boys and we all went back to swimming. Günnar came by to snap off some pictures.
After I had my fill of swimming, I dried myself off and headed back to table where Kökev and the family were chatting away. I sat down and wedged my way into the conversation and asked Kökev about his place. Kökev explained that he had been living there and working on the place for 14 years now, and that he needed one or two more years before the “first phase” of the project was finished. The “first phase” included another bridge, two more huts, and a bungalow that Kökev himself would stay in.
“With no electricity.” He emphasized to me in German. “Right now I stay in the building over there and when I want to read at night with the light... eh...” He waved his hand dismissively. “I want to be able to think clearly and read and write next to gas lamps.” Hah! I wonder what his neighbors would think about him. The mountains were criss-crossed with powerlines and studded with hydroelectric plants running on waterfalls from the mountains, bringing even the ugliest and poorest bare-brick houses electricity. And this guy, after making this beautiful area, wants a place to sleep where he can be free of it.
His idea, he explained further, was to construct everything so that it fit in perfectly with nature and didn't disrupt the natural processes of the surroundings, most specifically the stream itself. He turned and pointed over his shoulder.
“Even the lights there, they used to be bird feeders. Now they're lights and bird feeders.”
I asked him about customers.
“Yeah... I don't like dealing with people so much.” He said with a half-grimace. “I write a lot, and whenever I write about nature, I'm always really positive and have nothing but good things to say. Whenever I write about people, well... it doesn't come out so good. I'm only open on weekends, so I have the whole week to chill and do whatever I want. Every weekend, and today seems to be an exception, is full. Maybe 150 people. It's always families with their children, so with 150 people there are maybe 75 children. Which is great. They climb around and swim and generally have a good time. I'm happy that they can come and have a place to be in nature.”
It all sounded good to me. We chatted a little longer and eventually I excused myself from the table so I could go explore and take more pictures.
Günnar announced to me that the food we had brought was ready. I sat down and I gobbled down the hamburger patties as per usual. After eating we were brought some Turkish tea by the guy working in the kitchen.
We chatted for little longer before everyone simultaneously decided to crash in the various hammocks around the place. Upon waking up from our naps, we figured it was time to head home. I went inside the lower level of the restaurant building to take some final photos:
And, of course, to get a picture with Kökev himself!
With that we said our goodbyes, packed into the car, and made our way back to the plastic shores of the Black Sea.
The last eventful thing was that Bora wanted to take me to visit his work. Bora is a manager of an oil terminal that supplies a large part of Turkey with gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. With my experience working in an oil refinery, I was probably one of the .0001% of people on the planet who would find visiting such a place interesting, so I readily agreed. Thus the following Monday Benan and I woke up early and headed out to work with Bora. It only took about ten minutes before the storage tanks were looming in the distance.
We drove into the facility hassle-free as soon as the security guards noticed that it was the boss who was pulling up. We got out of the car then went into the main building. Two women, who I assume were secretaries, greeted us at the entrance and one brought us some tea soon after we got into Bora's office.
After drinking our tea, the secretary brought Benan and I hardhats. We put them on and Bora took us outside to look around. It was about as boring as you're expecting:
In the far corner of the terminal, there was a big pile of stuff left over from its initial construction. Normally this wouldn't be interesting, but within the pile there was a chain made for holding things in place out in the sea. It looked awesome enough that I had to move it around just for fun, but I couldn't even get it to budge:
After the terminal tour we went back inside the office building. Bora showed us around in each room, including the operators' room. There were seven or eight younger men working in there who immediately stood to attention with oh-shit-the-boss-just-walked-in faces. They all watched awkwardly while I went and inspected the computer screens and Bora pointed out to me what they were displaying. When the tour was over we went back into Bora's office to hang out. I pestered him with various questions regarding local and national politics in connection with the oil terminal and petroleum in Turkey in general. The biggest question I had involved the portrait he had behind his desk:
Pictures of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk were absolutely everywhere in Turkey. To put this in comparison, in the US every coin and every Federal Reserve note has a picture of a famous president or founding father on it and, with the exception of Abe Lincoln, no one person is found twice. In Turkey, every single coin and bill has Atatürk on it. There are statues of him everywhere; every school I saw had a sculpture of him outside and he's even found regularly on billboards next to highways. Bora had a picture of him in his house and in his office. In fact, every single room and office at the oil terminal had a picture or a portrait of Atatürk proudly displayed.
Having mostly mystery and rumor to work with, what I know of Atatürk, as I mentioned before, is that he came to the scene some time after World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. He was “liberal”, in the bastardized sense of the word, and pro-Westernization. He was for equal rights for women (down to the point where girls were forbidden from wearing burkas in public schools), he Romanized the Turkish alphabet (which was previously employed Arabic letters) to make reading easier and thus promote general literacy, he reworked the Turkish economy turning it into a well-oiled machine, and, as far as I can tell, prevented Turkey from slipping into a theocratic Dark Age which the rest of the Islamic world has had the unfortunate fate of experiencing.
Well worth, be the description valid, to have his face on every coin in the country.
His name was bit tarnished for me, however, when I found out there is something called “anti-Atatürk crime” in Turkey, meaning it's illegal to make negative remarks about Atatürk. Law 5816 Article 301, to be precise. This should send up red flags to anyone knowing anything about the history of free speech, and a quick glance at the history of Turkey includes the topic of the Atatürk's role in ethnic cleansing, better known as the Armenian Genocide (an interesting comparison with this and other players in mass murder history can be found here).
To top that off, the only time I've heard of a founding political leader being plastered on the wall in every conceivable room is in communist countries: Lenin in the USSR, Ceauşescu in Romania, and hell, aren't Mao portraits still all over the place in China?
I expressed this latter concern to Bora and asked him if it was politically dangerous not to have that portrait on his wall. He replied that this was not the case, that he was for the liberal policies of Atatürk which included de-theocratizing the country, and that now more than ever he was proudly displaying Atatürk in a form of protest against Erdoğan. Bora further explained that because Erdoğan is on the side of re-theocratizing Turkey, he is thus now even more determined in proudly displaying his Atatürk portraits.
Whatever the case is, the situation sounded complicated and I left the topic as it was. I might as well consider myself lucky, as I didn't know at the time that asking prodding questions about Atatürk could have resulted in a jail sentence.
Returning back to the oil terminal situation, after our tour of the office building and my prodding into the Atatürk portrait, we quickly became bored sitting around the desk. Bora decided to use his boss powers and leave work an hour early.
This was the final day of my trip in Turkey and we had decided to meet some people for dinner. This is and of itself wasn't particularly interesting, as we had gone out to dinner nearly every night that week. However, this time was strange: when we entered the patio of the restaurant, all the tables were already nearly full of people just staring at the food in front them. We sat down to our reserved table (Bora's buddy from work was already there along with his wife and daughters) and before I could tear into the big pile of bread sitting in front of me, Bora told me that we should wait to eat. If we started eating now, it would be rude to everyone else at the restaurant who is waiting.
Ohhhh... riiiight. Ramadan! We weren't supposed to eat until the sun went down.
Thus I sat and stared at my food for a good 30 minutes before a cannon went off from Giresun castle up on the nearby mountain and all the mosques began their wailing Arabic gobbledygook to let us know that the sun had gone down and it was okay to eat. Considering that the sun was going down over the flat line of the sea itself, I wasn't quite sure why we couldn't just determine it for ourselves (especially considering I had determined it had gone down several minutes before the mosques had said so). Whatever the case, I was hungry and the food was in front of me, so I quit asking questions.
And so my week in Turkey came to pass and the next morning we woke up early to drive back to Trabzon airport. The flight back to Austria was uneventful (other than getting searched at customs. I'm pretty sure they profiled me because of my hat) and Sabrina met me at the airport to take me home, where the first thing I did was make a Turkish coffee.