The Turkish alpsJune 16, 2017 in Turkey
As I've headed further east along the black seas the landscape has gotten progressively more dramatic. The Kraçak mountains were for a long time the impenetrable divide separating what is now Georgia from Turkey and allowed a number of isolated and unique societies to continue uninterrupted by the outside world until very recently, the major ethnic subgroup being the Laz who still speak their own language, which is closest to Georgian. It is still a significant effort to get into the mountains proper, with rudimentary roads and even worse public transport connections, but I was determined to see some of it so headed to the highest permanent settlement in the mountains, Ayder. A name I knew only too well from the bottled water sold throughout the country claiming provenance.
The drive from the coast up into the mountains was spectacular, the road following raging mountain streams at the bottom of towering valleys. Small settlements and well manicured tea plantations (this area feeds the insatiable domestic demand for tea) clung to the edges of almost vertical slopes and the stream was crossed at regular intervals by impressive arched foot bridges. As we rose up above the valleys, the land opened up (a little) to provide space for alpine meadows dotted with dairy cows. Ayder itself is at 1400 metres and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Swiss alps, not just in terms of the geography, climate and fauna, but in terms of housing and food. The traditional houses look exactly like Swiss chalets and a local delicacy is a Turkish version of fondue, muhlama a molten mix of cheese, corn flour and butter eaten with chunks of bread (delicious!). It is also one of the wettest places in Turkey, and true to form, it was wet and cold.
It took most of the day just getting there and back, but was well worth it and a total departure from the scenery I had gotten used too or could have expected from Turkey. I would have loved to have gone deeper, but alas time waits for no man and with a plan to catch in three days from Trabzon it was time to move on.
On the way back to Trabzon and while waiting for a bus on the coast road I heard singing from over the cliff down towards the beach. Looking over the edge I could see a large group of people in white gathered in a small cove, intrigued I clambered down and was surprised to find myself watching a group of Christians doing baptisms. Not really thinking I got my camera out and started taking photos. This was noticed immediately and before I knew it I was surrounded by some very angry Turks. Once it became clear that I didn't speak english, one of them started demanding in broken english to know who I was, where I was from and why I was taking pictures. Never before has my time as an alter boy and my years in a Catholic primary school been so useful, as I was able to convince them not only that I myself was a Christian (illegitimate, but I am confirmed so it counts), but able to join them in reciting the Lord's Prayer (which they all new in english). By the end I was welcomed as a 'brother' and given an insight into the paranoia and fear of religious minorities in the present 'secular' Turkish state. Back in Trabzon I was sure to once again join in on a communal table to share in the daily Ramadan evening meal to ensure the powers that be didn't doubt my loyalties or intentions.Read more