Late June: [I’ve been asked by a reader to provide the time of each post, since they are so far behind and so infrequent that where in time this story is happening sometimes becomes muddled. I will start doing that.]
The D010 highway stretches all the way along the Black Sea coast from Amasra in the west (well, centre, really, but there’s not much at all west of Amasra) all the way to the Georgian border in the east, just past the border town of Hopa. This would be, more or less, our route for the rest of our time in Turkey (with one major detour, but that’s for a later blog post). But now, in Amasra the most complicated and the most interesting part of the D010 lay ahead of us.
You see, while much of the D010 is direct, well-traveled multilane highway between major cities, the 312km section between Amasra and Sinop – the next Black Sea city headed east – is a windy, single lane track up and down the coastal mountains, connecting little fishing villages all the way along. Intercity buses won’t make the trek – they prefer the tamer inland highways. But this section of the D010 holds particular beauty given its exciting topography and stunning views of the coast. The appeal of this stretch was actually one of the things that drew me to the Black Sea coast in the first place, and we were excited to conquer it. To do so, we’d need to be taking local dolmuşes between the little coastal communities along the way. We’d be at the mercy of unreliable timetables, slow-moving transport and a limited amount of daylight. But we were also in no rush, and the point of this trip is to sometimes have some real adventures and maybe get off the beaten path a bit. In fact, I had looked into this little segment of our trip even before I had left Canada, and I was excited for the adventure it would hold.
And so we awoke early, in the hopes of finding morning transport to take us east along the coast. We were out of the door before 8 o’clock, and soon inquiring around about where we might be able to find a dolmuş. We found a couple men in a little shack with a dolmuş parked outside, who seemed knowledgeable and confident about schedules. Lots of gestures, my broken and limited Turkish, and notes scribbled on paper. And then: yes, there was a dolmuş that would take us east, as far as the little town of Cide, 67km east. But, we’d have to wait a bit – there was only one dolmuş a day, at 10am. It seemed it would be leaving from outside the post office, as far as we could understand. But we weren’t prepared to stand on the side of the road aimlessly for that long, and hey, this town is known for its beaches (no more than 500m from the post office, to boot)! And so that’s what we did.
|Not a bad way to spend the morning, eh?|
The beaches were fantastic. It was warm already by this time in the morning, and completely deserted – the combination of early morning and Ramadan meaning the beach wasn’t very popular. When we got there, there wasn’t another soul in sight, and throughout our time there, the only people who showed up were beach employees who set up chairs and garbage cans – I guess in expectation of more holiday-makers later in the day – but they left us fully alone. As is common with beaches, we did very little – we read, we napped, we chatted in the sun. At one point a happy looking stray dog came wandering along the beach. He jumped into the water, and splashed about and then came back onto shore. We walked up to us not really looking at us but seeming generally in a good mood. He stopped just a few feet away, smiling off into the distance.
“Don’t you dare!” we yelled in unison, but it was too late. The dog shook his fur and we were prayed with dirty dog water. He immediately trotted off, still smiling his doggy smile. Nice.
Eventually it was coming closer to the time for us to catch our dolmuş, and so we picked up our bags and headed back to the post office. There we waited, getting more and more nervous as time went on. What if it didn’t come? What if it had come early and we already missed it? What if we had miss understood, and we weren’t waiting in the right place? But then an old man with a white beard wandered close-by to us. “Dolmuş? Cide?” Jess asked. And he nodded. We seemed to be in the right place.
And sure enough, the dolmuş did come. Right on time, pulling up in front of us. We clambered in, and the adventure began.
The journey along the highway was immediately fantastic. Our dolmuş struggled up hills, and then tore down the other side, all the while whipping around corners. It didn’t take long for us to leave Amasra behind, and we were in the rural areas of the coast. Life on the Black Sea coast flickered past us as we whizzed through the little towns dotting the coast. We stopped frequently, for locals to jump on and off, as this dolmuş was probably the only public transit passing through town in a day. Every newcomer onto the dolmuş would give us a nice long stare, and all eyes would be drawn to us whenever we did something “noteworthy”, such as laugh too hard or get excited about a view.
And what views they were. We’d bump along through forested areas, and then emerge quite suddenly out near the water, with amazing vistas of the Black Sea and its stunning shoreline in front of us. It was incredibly hard to get good photos – we had to physically lean out of our small, square window, and the bumping and jiggling and stupidly fast speeds made it hard to catch the view we wanted. Rereading what I’ve written so far on this adventure, I’m not sure if I’ve emphasized how truly bumpy the ride was. It was SO BUMPY. But the sights were incredible, and I hope that at least some of these photos capture the region’s beauty.
|Glimpses of the Black Sea|
|Hanging from a window|
|Sea and coast.|
|Sometimes the sea is just pretty.|
Somewhere around mid-day, our dolmuş pulled into Cide, the end of this particular route. We asked about onward travel east along the shore, and they told us there’d be another dolmuş leaving in a couple hours, connecting Cide to another town, İnebolu.
With time to kill, we decided to wander into the town itself. I guess you could say that CIde wasn’t anything super special, but it was a bright sunny day, and people were friendly. We found a little café with cheap food (about a dollar fifty for a delicious chicken wrap) and the only free wifi in town (what luck!). We hung out there for most of our Cide layover, buying some fresh fruit from a local vendor on our way back to the bus station (with requisite confusion and laughter over what we wanted), and finally loaded up for the ride to İnebolu. Our ticket was for a 2pm departure – and that is indeed when we first pulled out of the bus station – but it took us quite a while to actually leave Cide. First, we drove down the main street INCREDIBLY slowly, honking regularly to make sure that we weren’t missing anyone who wanted on. Then, we stopped partway through town outside a bakery. The driver called back into the dolmuş – “does anybody want bread?” A bunch of people called out, and the driver ran inside for the group order. When he got back after five minutes or so, he passed bread back from his seat, and people passed their money forward. It was really quite amusing.
It looked like we were finally on our way, except the driver got a call on his cellphone as we were about halfway out of town – apparently someone else wanted on the dolmuş and had missed it, so we went all the way back to the bus station to pick them up. No one seemed at all bothered by the slow start, and it was all just part of the experience for Jess and I, so we just laughed and shook our heads in incredulity.
|Cide at midday.|
The ride from Cide to İnebolu was a long one, but an equally beautiful and exciting one. The forests were just as lush and the mountains just as stunning, and the Black Sea just as blue. The sun got lower in the sky, making everything prettier. There were still lots of bumps and lots of times when I was sure centrifugal forces would launch us off a cliff as we tore around a corner, but I loved pretty much every moment of it. Eventually we pulled into İnebolu, at around 5:30pm. We were still only just over 100km into the full 312km journey. We would have been happy to go further that day, but the staff at the bus station all told us we were out of luck. If we wanted to get to Sinop, we’d have to wait til tomorrow. Sure we’d be able to go onward tonight to another smaller town, but then we wouldn’t really be any further ahead the next day, and might not be able to find accommodation. Fair enough. Staff recommended us a hotel in town, and we taxied there. The room was plain and standard, but there was one of those hilariously tacky holograph-type pictures of puppies, which changes depending on where you stand in the room.
|More window pics.|
|Passing little Black Sea villages|
İnebolu was an interesting little town. It was very much a fishing town, and was evidently not used to having tourists. This was also the first place on our travels where we really felt the effects of Ramadan – nearly every eatery was closed in town. We had been traveling all day, and were quite hungry, but nowhere looked like it was willing to serve us. Of course we begrudged no one for this, but our stomachs still grumbled. Finally though we found a restaurant that graciously agreed to serve us food before sunset, and the meal we had turned out to be one of the most delicious iskender dishes I have had anywhere in Turkey. İskender, for those who didn’t catch it in a previous post or who forgot, is thinly sliced beef over small pieces of bread, all cooked and served in a delicious tomato-based sauce. It’s probably my favourite Turkish dish. We had actually read on an online forum that there was a restaurant in İnebolu with “the most delicious iskender” but we had kinda been skeptical. So I guess the moral here is that the internet isn’t ALL lies!
Walking around İnebolu after dinner was interesting. As sunset came, people began bustling about, and a number of restaurants opened to serve (mostly male customers) under dingy fluorescent bulbs. We walked out to the water’s edge for sunset, and the sky was again lit up with incredible colours, made especially beautiful tonight by large puffy clouds high in the sky. We bought delicious fresh cherries from a local vendor with few teeth a voice not unlike Christian Bale’s in the Batman movies. Then we retired to our room as a thunderstorm came in, and we enjoyed the evening Black Sea air through the open window of our dry room.
|The view from our hotel window in İnebolu. At least the mountains in the background were pretty!|
The next morning, we got up early in order to make our way to the bus station in time for our 9:30am ticket time. The day was cloudy and grey, so it certainly wasn’t a bad day to spend in a dolmuş. A lot of the views along the road were still spectacular, but the overcast skies dampened the picture-taking potential. After an hour and a half, we arrived in the little town of Türkeli, where we needed to make our final transfer to a Sinop-bound dolmuş. We had about an hour to kill in Türkeli, and we were pretty hungry so decided to try to find some lunch. The man at the station very happily told us he’d watch our luggage while we went out. We saw a restaurant near the station, but quickly realized it was closed – of course, Ramadan! We must have been looking hopelessly around at where we might find an operational restaurant when a local woman approached us. She told us in Turkish that she could lead us to a place that would be open. She led us through the rainy Türkeli streets, finally pointing us to a restaurant a good five or ten minutes’ walk from the station. It wasn’t far, but there’s no way we would have found it without her help. She chatted to me a bit as we walked – welcoming us to her town and asking where we were from. It was nice to use a bit of Turkish to be understood. The restaurant served börek, a delicious cheeses-stuffed pastry, and the man working there also asked curiously about where we were from, where we were going, and how we had gotten here. Overall, the Türkelians seemed to be very kind!
|Such a blah day. Nice to be in a dolmuş and not in the rain.|
At noon, we finally boarded our last dolmuş, and in less than two hours we arrived in Sinop. The last stretch was still plenty bumpy, but I think it’s safe to say by this part of the highway, we had left behind the most stunning cliffs and sea views. Sinop is an interesting little city on the water, sticking out on a promontory into the Black Sea, creating a very protected natural harbour.
As we came into Sinop, the sky started to clear, with some sunlight breaking through the grey. It lightened as we weaved through the town’s streets trying to find our guesthouse. When we got there, the sun was now shining brightly, which made the gorgeous view out of our window over the Sinop harbour even more gorgeous.
We still had plenty of day left, so we headed along the harbour front until we reached the old city’s fortifications. These were originally built in the year 72 to by the Pontics (on the site of the Hittites 2000BCE fortifications) though have been restored and repaired by the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans who followed over the centuries. Hidden within these fortifications was hidden what I consider to be a real gem of the Black Sea coast – Sinop’s Tarihi Cezaevi or Old Jail. The former prison isn’t, I suppose, terribly old – it was built in the late 1800s and still used into the 1990s, but its appeal laid in the fact that we were pretty well free to wander the entire grounds, and the buildings are incredibly spooky. Creepy hallways, cells with metal bars, and terrifying scratches on the walls (it’s hard to know what’s legitimately left by prisoners, and what is graffiti that came after, but either way it was all rather chilling). The walls were in faded, peeling colours, the lighting was poor, and we found ourselves jumping in fright over little sounds and movements. We laughed nervously a lot. Plus, we learned a bit about the prison itself – apparently some famous treasonous folk were kept (and tortured) here. But I’ll let the photos try to convey the atmosphere of the place.
|Old city fortifications.|
|The Sinop Prison|
|Do you dare to enter?|
|Jess looking like Gollum, while taking a closer look at some of the old chains used on particularly bad prisoners.|
|The prison courtyard.|
|I just love this look.|
|A building out of my nightmares.|
When we finally left the prison – we actually had to be repeatedly reminded by the guards to get going because we simply didn’t want to leave even though it was closing – we explored some of the other sights of Sinop. First, a statue of Diogenes the Cynic, the Greek philosopher born in Sinop in 410BCE (and one of the “founders of cynicism”. What a title, no?). Diogenes was famous for publicly embarrassing Plato and for disrupting his lectures by eating loudly in the middle of them. He also apparently mocked Alexander the Great publicly. What a guy.
Then, we checked out the Alaadin Camii – a mosque with a simple interior, but a beautiful, spacious and lively courtyard (people were playing ping pong!). Across the road, we were able to peer into an old medressa from the 13th century. It’s shops and cafes now, but it still boggles my mind that it’s lasted this long.
|Diogenes the Cynic.|
|Old fortifications. Jess wasn't gutsy enough to cross the road with me.|
|Jess in the Alaadin Camii.|
We found a nice place for dinner near Sinop’s clock tower (which we had seen in miniature back in Safranbolu), where they graciously agreed to serve us before dusk (Ramadan was still in full swing). My broken Turkish seemed to be enough for the wait staff to find us hilarious. I appreciate that they were in a good mood even though they were serving food during Ramadan and may have been fasting themselves!
After dinner, we hustled up the streets of Sinop, trying to find a good view of the water. We finally slipped through a gate into a schoolyard and jogged to the cliffs overlooking the water just in time to see the sky in all its beauty, with tremendous colours lighting up the sky. Being in the schoolyard put a decent buffer between us and the rest of the city, and for a moment it was as if we were the only ones for miles around. As we stood there, a calming breeze coming in off the water, and the darkness building behind us, we heard the minarets of the city, in unison, give the call to prayer. It was quite the moment.
|The Sinop clocktower.|
|Sunset over Sinop.|
The next morning, we awoke to bright sunshine over the harbour – quite a view to wake up to! We had considered only one night in Sinop – we had seen most of the city’s sights the previous afternoon after we arrived – but we liked our accommodation and we had heard that there were some other natural wonders in the area. Having been in towns and cities for the last good chunk of our trip, we figureed it would be nice to get out into nature again. We decided we’d check out the Erfelek waterfalls, a little ways to the south of Sinop. This is a series of more than 28 waterfalls, one after another, which is popular for little day hikes with tourists and locals alike. We took a dolmuş from Sinop to the little of Erfelek itself, where we found a taxi that would drive us the further 17km to the park where the waterfalls were. The drive was fairly long, considering it was only 17km, but it was windy and at times the roads were pretty rough. We were very definitely leaving behind the urban world, as we drove deeper and deeper into forested area, around stunning blue lakes.
Finally we arrived at the park, and after agreeing on a return pick up with the taxi driver, headed out onto the path. Right at the entrance of the park, however, there was a little café, some souvenir and textile vendors, and, most importantly, a delightful group of little puppies. Of course we had to stop – they were just delightful little things, falling all over each other and being utterly adorable. One of the shopkeepers nearby spoke some English and helped introduce the little cuties.
|River at the park entrance.|
Finally we pulled ourselves away and headed for the waterfalls. The first one was already beautiful – a stunningly blue pool at the bottom of the falls, all surrounded by lush green.
The hike continued past more waterfalls, each with their own beauty and uniqueness and it was truly lovely. We had seen on the schematic map at the beginning of the trail that there was loop that you could do, circling through a forest and looping back down the length of the river, passing the waterfalls. We had only a moderate understanding of where this loop started, and so we just made some guesses about where this path actually was. It was nice at first, walking through quiet forests and enjoying the greenery around us. It became clear after some time, however, that this perhaps wasn’t the right path, and we found the trail petering out near a roadway. Realizing we were probably lost, we got off onto the road, and followed that, hoping it would connect again to a path. As we walked, a car passed us going the other direction, and the driver stopped and called out to us. With my broken Turkish, I learned that the road we were on headed to a village, several kilometres away. “If you want the waterfalls,” the driver said, “you’ll have to cut back into the forest.” The last of the waterfalls was supposedly parallel to where we were now. Thanking the driver, we trudged into the brush.
There was no path. It didn’t take long before we could see the river ahead of us in the woods, but it was down in a ravine. We knew we had to get there if we wanted to get back on track, but there was no easy way down. What ensued was a somewhat terrifying, truly hilarious descent, sliding down cliff slides, getting fairly muddy and risking our lives (or something like that). But when we finally got to the bottom, happy and whole, it wasn’t long at all until we found ourselves back on the trail where we wanted to be.
|The first waterfall|
|Such pretty blues and greens!|
|Each waterfall unique from the others.|
|Jess and the waterfalls.|
|Jess standing epically, and looking up at the cliffs and waterfalls.|
|If you are reading this blog and you don't know that I love fungi, you are a stranger. Which is fine. But I hope you enjoy this mushroom photo.|
In fact, we emerged very close to what seemed to be the end of the pathway, and the classically-Turkish çayhanı (teahouse) located there. There was a man working there all alone, up in a little shack on the cliff-side, and there were little wooden tables spread out around the forest clearing. The man approached us as we sat, and asked if we wanted anything to drink. We wanted tea, but he didn’t have it (how very un-Turkish! We later learned he just had to make it and it would have taken several minutes, but we didn’t realize it at the time). He did have ayran though, a salty, yogurty Turkish drink (which grows on you, honest) and I thought I’d take a taste. I’m glad I did! It turns out the ayran was homemade, and was being stored in the river’s cold waters to keep it fresh. He pulled on a long, thick rope, dragging up from the watery depths a huge churn-like container, from which he finally poured me a nice big glass. To be honest, I feared it would make me terribly sick, but it didn’t, and it was delicious, and it was such a cool process (pun intended) to see him pull it out.
Once we had finished our break, we got back on the trail and the walk back was fantastic. We saw more of the actual waterfalls this time, and there were some great views from the cliffs across at the lush surrounding areas. It was a great day hike.
When we got back to the trailhead, we had some time to kill before the taxi driver came back, so we played a game of backgammon and messed around with the puppies a bit, and it was great.
|Views of the surrounding green mountains.|
|One more waterfall for good measure.|
|On the drive home, the taxi driver agreed to stop and let us take pictures of the gorgeous lakes we passed.|
|It looks so pristine!|
Back in Sinop, we dined at the same lovely restaurant, and then tried to see the sunset by climbing up the hill on which the city is built, in the hopes of getting a good view over the city. Unfortunately, this didn’t work as well as we had hoped, and we ended up not getting a very good view of the sky at all. But we were able to walk out on the peninsula to where the city ended (with an ominous military base nearby) and get a nice view over some rolling hills and grazing cattle.
Thus ended our time in Sinop, and the next morning we headed out early on a bus to Samsun and then to Ordu, to what would be some of the greatest Turkish hospitality we would ever experience!
Real Time Update: I’m writing this post from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We’ve left behind Uzbekistan and its architectural wonders for Kyrgyzstan and its natural ones. A real highlight (of the whole trip!) was doing a three-day horse trek into the mountains near Arslanbob. Can’t wait to blog about that (if I ever get there!) Thanks for still reading J