This is a collection of reports we emailed to friends and relatives during our trip to Turkey, and that text is in black. Text added later, as explanations, corrections, etc. is in red. Sharon's comments, added during the trip, are in {green curly brackets}.

This section picks up at the end of the Black Sea portion of our vacation. It is about the drive south, over the mountain range, and the spectacular adventures we have up there. We have just turned south, and are driving away from the Black Sea, up the mountain road.

About 230pm, we pass a big tea truck. Tea leaves occasionally blow out from between the sides and the covering tarp. Sharon notices smoke on our right, further on, and we pass a big tea processing plant, very basic.

We see Ravens perched on a big electrical tower, just before we come to the little town of Ikezdere. We stop at the service station, where the girls use the toilet. Then Tara asks if there is a hotel in town. One of the guys goes running off and comes back with the owner of a new motel. We talk with him enough to want to see it. His name is Murat, and he gets into the back seat with Tara. We drive up the mountain, across a bridge, then park by his motel on the left.

We look at it, and it's pretty basic {but made of beautiful wood and new}. Two double beds, no TV, but an in-room toilet. We tell him we're going to drive up further, to Sivrikaya, check out the hotel there, and if it's no good, we'll come back, but if it's adequate, we'll call him and tell him. It's at this point that he begins to tell his lies, and a non-suspicious person might tend to believe him. None of us do.

"There is no cell phone coverage up there. That place is made of concrete. Mine is new and is from wood, as you can see." I say (through Tara, of course), well, we're going to check it out. If we like it, we'll stay there. If not, we'll come back here.

He says, "That place has prostitutes." When we don't blink, he says, "And there are people shooting off guns." And Tara said he also added, "And they drink alcohol."

We finally decide that we'll pay for this place (40 million, about $33), and if we find the other hotel is MUCH better, we'll just eat the money and stay there. There's the problem of what to do with the key, which we're taking with us, but we'll deal with that later. I check the water, and tell him that there is no hot water. He says they will turn it on for us now, and it'll be hot later. {That happened at a couple of places where they have to light a boiler to heat up the water and they don't do it unless there are people who need it. Or at one place they turned on the hot water at 6PM and off at 12AM}

View from Hotel Front

We take off at that point, confident that at least we have a place to sleep for the night. It's overcast and gloomy, but I'm excited about the upcoming adventure.

We head up the mountain, looking for the coffee house in Sivrikaya. Our "Where to Watch Birds in Turkey..." book says they will go get Mustapha Sari for us. He's the local guide used by birders of the world to find the high mountain birds of the area, but especially the Caspian Snowcock and the Caucasian Black Grouse.

As we drive up the highway, it begins to get very misty, and is a little hard to see the road clearly, which is pothole-filled. Does that word make sense? It's like the football announcer who said the stadium was full of "no-shows."

We come to a place with a wonderful bridge crossing the stream. There is mist high above us, and villas or houses are sprinkled all over the upper slopes. There is a garden across the stream, with women and a girl working it. We wave and the girl waves back, but one of the women gives us a hard scornful glare and turns her back.

As I get out to take some pictures, {TARA yells "BIRD" and} both Sharon and I see a bird fly from the trees to our left across the road, across the stream and into the garden. We both yell one of our favorite words, "HOOPOE!" It's a great bird with a crest that it normally holds flat against its head, with the feathers pointing backwards, but when it's excited, it raises them and they stick up like a mohawk haircut. It's tan but the wings and "excitement" head feathers are black with white tips. When it flies, you get a definite "butterfly" sense about the bird.

I finally get a photo of the crocus that Tara has pointed out, and it's beautiful, matching everything else that's cool about this stop. {They had told us in our guide book that in the Fall these crocus start to bloom before the snow falls so they are called "snowflowers"} We continue our drive, heading higher and higher.

We come to the hotel ridiculed by the man down in Ikezdere, and it looks fine. The prostitutes are no-shows and we don't hear any guns, but we drive on past.

It gets cool and windy, in addition to being misty when we come to Sivrikaya. We get great photos of an old man and old woman, both loaded down with hay on their backs, while a young man and his son walk in front of them. They are clearly all together. I guess the man is teaching his son that the old people will do the work? A few Chaffinches bounce and fly around, on the edge of the road.

We come to a coffee house, and a man comes out as we drive up to it. Tara talks to him, then says, "He will take us to Mustapha, but then we must bring him back here." Excellent. He jumps in and we go up the road about 2 km more. He says to stop as we come to a gravel and rocky road taking off to the left, heading straight up the mountain into heavy mist, and into who knows what.

He points up the road, and says that Mustapha is up there, seven kilometers. Huh? We must drive up there to talk to him. He says he will ride with us, but we must bring him back. I tell Tara and Sharon, "There's no way I'm driving 7 km up that road in this mist. We don't know what kind of habitat the road goes through. It looks dangerous, plus we don't really know Mustapha is up there." This doesn't agree with the "where-to-find-birds" book we have.

We take the guy back to the coffee house, and talk it over. I am somehow able to overcome the terror I felt at the thought of driving up the narrow rough road on the steep mountainside in the heavy mist. We decide to drive up a little way to check out the bad road. If we are scared by the road, we'll turn around (hopefully!) and come back. If it's OK, we'll go to the end, find him, and talk to him, then decide whether to hire him, depending on his assessment of our chances to see one of the birds of the high region.

We start up the road in the sprinkling rain and mist. It's very, very narrow, with a vertical dropoff to the left. I keep the car moving steadily on the slippery-looking rocky road. There are many switchbacks and I tick off the kilometers as we drive higher and higher. The crack in the windshield (there when we picked up the car) is just at eye level and is a nuisance in this environment, with low light, mist, and light sprinkling rain.

I somehow call on unknown nerves of steel, as I negotiate all the hairpin turns, dropoffs , rivulets and wet road. At about the 4 km mark, we come up on three women walking up the road, one with a basket seemingly empty. They confirm that Mustapha is up ahead of us "cutting hay" they say. One asks, "May we have a ride?" We are too full of stuff, and the trouble I have to get going again when we stop tells me that we are already slightly overloaded for the power of the car with all our gear on board, on this road. We have to decline, and she says that they understand. {Tara and I were already moving stuff around to get all of them in but Bob explains to us the power problem so we leave them feeling bad not to take them up this steep road.} They disappear in the mist behind us as we leave them.

We continue on, and meet a truck coming down the mountain! What will happen now? He backs up slightly and indicates that I should pull to the right, as close to the mountain as I can get, and he'll go between us and the dropoff. How can he do that? I'm sure he'll either hit us or go over, but somehow he makes it, and without me scraping the car against the mountain, which is right outside our right side doors.

We finally reach a small village, or more accurately, we see a couple of barns in the extremely heavy mist, at the 6.8 km point. We must be "here." The women arrive shortly after we do (How did they do THAT?), and we chat with them.

I show them Mustapha Sari's name in my bird book, and they say that he's not that big a deal there, and then laugh. I like their sense of humor and the twinkle in their eyes. They are carrying long-handled scythes, and have been cutting high mountain hay, to feed their cattle in the winter when they live in the village down below. They demonstrate when I ask how they use the scythes.

The mist is slowly clearing and now we can see perhaps twenty buildings, all very basic, and I would call them shacks in America.

We are at the 8473 foot elevation, and it feels like we're in Nepal, halfway up Mount Everest. More people start to show up as Tara can talk with them in Turkish, and I get photos of these wonderful folks. There are lots of kids. Pretty soon Mustapha shows up. He's been cutting hay down below also.

We walk another 100 meters or so up the hill, and stop in the "road", between two shacks, which turn out to be their high-mountain homes for one month out of the year, namely, the time we're here. He says they've been up here about 20 days so far.

We talk and talk, and finally after verifying all the information, we agree that for TL100 million ($68), we'll be back up here at 4 am tomorrow morning (You mean, I'm going to drive down the 7 km, then back up in the dark, then back down again? I can't believe myself!). He says we have to get here then, so we can start walking, and get to the place the birds are, before sunrise.

The birds we will be after, he calls "blackcocks," meaning Caucasian Black Grouse. He also talks about "snowcocks," and he means the Caspian Snowcocks, but he says they are a hard two hour climb up from here, it's the wrong time of year, and there is not a good chance to see them. He says the walk to the "blackcocks" is much easier, flatter, and not so hard. So that's our goal for tomorrow morning.

I ask if the weather tomorrow will be clear or misty, and he says it could be either. Mustapha won't let go of Tara, and all the villagers have fallen in love with her, and the fact that she speaks Turkish. I take several pictures, and they are all over each other, trying to see the playbacks. They don't want to let us go, and offer us boiled cow's milk, but we decline. We head back down at 730pm. It is getting dark, and by the time we get to the highway at the bottom, it's totally dark.

I can't believe I drove up that mountain, but even more, that I'm going to do it again in the dark about 6-8 hours from now.

We head down the mountain, and we're hungry, so we stop at a small restaurant where the proprieter, who is watching Bursa play Antalya in soccer, agrees to fix us up with some cooked meat and other stuff.

We're cold and it feels good in his restaurant, where he's got a wood fire going in the stove. The room contains a cooler, with all his meat and produce in it, a small gas burner stove for boiling water for tea, running water and a sink, and a tree stump, covered with a big plastic bag. The TV is in an adjacent, larger room, without heat.

I look at the glass front of the cooler, and see a big piece of some kind of meat with ribs, appearing kind of gray. I'm sure not eating any of THAT. Tara talks to the guy, and we decide on lamb, fixed sort of like a steak. I watch the guy open the cooler door, take out the gray meat and start chopping on it, using the top of the tree stump as the chopping block, after he's taken off the plastic covering. He winds up with a HUGE pile of ribs, to my way of thinking, some of it with the awful gray color I noticed earlier. Tara peels some tomatoes for her baba ("dad" in Turkish), who desires his tomatoes to be peeled.

Next, the man gets another instrument, like a flat hammer, and proceeds to beat the stuffing out of the meat, which is lamb. He winds up with nice flat meat, and I can't figure out what's happened to the ribs. Did they get crushed? He takes the meat into the next room, where his cooking stove is, leaving us to drink our cokes and orange fanta and talk about today and tomorrow.

The man comes back with the most delicious looking meat I've seen in some time, and we settle down to eat. The man sits by the fire and starts talking. He says this to Tara...

"My grandfather died, and during his life he would sell sheep and be paid in gold. He would bury it, to hide it from the PKK (Kurdish rebels in Turkey) and others. He buried a total of 500 kilos (500 kilograms, or 1100 pounds more than half a ton!) of gold but he died suddenly and no one knew where he had buried it. Get a metal detector, come back and help me find it. I'll split it with you." Tara tells us this, and I ask, "How do you know there are 500 kilos?" He tells Tara, "I'm a good Muslim, and I never lie. It's the truth. Don't make fun of it." With a twinkle in his eye.

He goes on to say he's dug up a lot of earth already, and hasn't found it. I have Tara ask how does he know where to look, and he says that's what the metal detector is for. Again, he scolds me good-naturedly, and again says he'll split the gold with Tara if she brings a metal detector and helps him find it.

We finish our dinner and go back to the motel. The proprieter Murat and two others are in the dining room, watching soccer on TV. He comes with me into our room, to demonstrate something.

Now I'm a man who likes a fairly dry bathroom. I like the floors and especially the toilet to be pretty dry when I make use of the facilities. Murat wants to illustrate that the water is nice and hot. He removes the shower sprayer from its normal position on the wall, points it into the toilet bowl and turns the water on full blast. Water immediately bounces off the walls of the toilet bowl and starts a fine shower of spray all over the bathroom near the toilet, and all over the toilet itself. He turns to look at me, and the subtle shift of the sprayer (completely out of the toilet bowl) sprays the water all over the floor. He looks back, notices what's happening, and commences to totally wet down the top lid, the back and the seat of the toilet, then the entire floor, like he intended to wash down the bathroom anyway. All the water starts heading for the floor drain, at about the same rate a trickle of water would fill Lake Michigan.

He finally turns the water off, and says, "See, nice and hot," or something like that. And I say, "DOHP!"

We go to bed about 10pm, after I've dried off the bathroom, with the alarm set for 2am. Holy Cow, Batman.

Tomorrow morning, after many "ifs", we have a shot at Caucasian Black Grouse. Can this possibly happen?

Towns of the Day: Rize, Trabzon, Ikezdere, Sivrikaya.

Birds of the Day: Gray Heron, Yellow Wagtail, Hoopoe!, Chaffinch.

NOTE: Still no new photos on the website. Maybe today or tomorrow.

Turkey 2004. Report 6. "Take Sugar in Your Boiled Milk?"


Note: Daughter Tara, Sharon and I planned an 8-day driving vacation up to the Black Sea, along the coast, then down and back, and this is the third report from that trip. Reports 4 and 5 described the first five days.

Further Note: Sharon may have added comments, and they will be in {angle brackets}.

Sunday September 5, 2004. Sivrikaya Mountain Climbing

The alarm fires off at exactly 2am, and we get ready to leave, walking around like the sleepy zombies we are. We are all packed up and we take off at 230am. The sheets and blankets of what looked like a cozy, comfy bed last night turned out to be damp from humidity. Very uncozy and uncomfy, but that didn't seem to bother my four hours of sleep very much.

We see a couple of mice cross the road in the headlights. They are a nice warm color, and they kind of freeze up in the light. We also see a weasel or ferret run across the road. Or was that last night?

We arrive at Mustafa's (I have been spelling his name Mustapha, but the 'f' version is the correct one, according to our book) at 336am, and at Mustafa's suggestion, I move the car off to the side of the 'road', in front of his house. He says we are early, and why don't we just get back in the car and have some sleep. He will wake us up when it's time to go. I figure it's only twenty minutes till four, and going to sleep, then waking up again may make me eat my head, so I rest, standing up, against the side of the car. Mustafa disappears in the early morning darkness, in the direction of his house.

Over the next minutes, we all work our way into the car and into our seats, and into our sleeps. Mustafa comes back out at 4am and says that we should leave at 5am. FIVE AM? Why did you have us come before FOUR? He goes on to say that the moonlight isn't good enough for us to see the trail. COULDN'T YOU HAVE KNOWN THAT LAST NIGHT? He disappears again and we go back to sleep. Sixteen seconds later, Sharon wakes me up and says it's five and here's Mustafa.

We see occasional lightning flashes, but it's not the jagged variety, and we never hear any thunder. Don't know exactly what it means, but I hope it doesn't mean rain.

I have my scope, on its tripod, sitting by the front of the car. I put my camera case on my belt, strap on my fanny pack, install my binoculars around my neck and put on my jacket. Mustafa asks if the scope helps me see birds, and I say yes. I start to pick it up to show him how I carry it over my shoulder and he picks it up and Tara tells us that he says, "You are an old man. I'll carry this." Cool. I get into movies for the senior price too. Things are definitely looking up. As are we, as the mist starts to descend upon us.

We start walking about five, and I use my tiny maglight to see the trail, pockmarked with both pools of water from the night's rain and by cow poop. We are walking away from their village. A big valley is to our right and the mountain rises on our left. We are walking a trail that goes around the mountain in such a manner that we neither climb nor descend very much.

About 530am, he says we are coming to the area of the blackcocks, but we will continue to move to where they are more likely. He tells Tara that we're the first Americans to come up here and use him as a guide. I'm absolutely stunned, and Sharon is tickled to hear that. We hope it's a lucky sign. {We are on a narrow path that reminds me of the John Muir trail in the Sierras as many years of feet walking on it have worn a rut into the soil. That rut is maybe 18 inches wide and 2-4 inches deep. Mustafa tells us that this is how they used to get up to the mountain top every year until they built the road 10 years ago. I try to imagine all their families, cows, horses, chickens, and such coming up that tiny trail every year. The road is a highway in comparison. As I hesitate about the trail at one point where it got steep, Mustafa says to us, "Don't worry, the animals come here all the time" "Ah yes, but they have four legs", I say.}

About 545am, Mustafa parks us on a ridge, and begins to climb straight up the mountain, leaving my scope and tripod where we are. It's incredible how strong he is, even though he smokes cigarettes all the time. The area where he's climbing is about 90% covered with rhododendron bushes. Our book says that that is where the grouse will be feeding (in flower patches), and I am getting very excited. Could this be IT? We've come a long way, baby.

As we wait, we see and hear small birds all around, and later Mustafa says that the English call them Chiffchaff. From our book, birds this high have to be MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFFS, and are life birds for us. The other birds are Water Pipits. There may be a third one, but we can't nail it down.

We sense that he is trying to scare the blackcocks up by walking up the trails that pass through the flowers, so we keep a sharp eye on him. After a bit, he bends over, picks up a big, huge rock and tosses it straight down the slope. It bounces and rolls, increasing in speed as it crashes down the slope. He's trying to get them to fly from their hidden positions! But the rock makes it all the way to the bottom, or at least out of sight, and none fly.

He comes back down, picks up the scope and we continue on the main, level trail around the mountain. Yesterday, Tara got Mustafa's mailing address, and we promise to send them copies of the photos I took yesterday. Why I stick that thought in here I can't say.

We walk and walk and the time flies. We come to one spot where the mountain folds in and back out, and a small rivulet runs down the mountain in that fold. The trail goes through that little stream, and where it comes out on the other side is scary. Up till now the trail has been horizontal, but it's at about a 45 degree angle over there, and looks muddy and slippery. How can we get through that?

Mustafa has rubber boots on with excellent treads. He takes the scope across the stream and sort of runs through the steep area till it levels out again. Interesting technique. He puts the scope down there, and motions us to come on. Sharon goes first and immediately slips and goes down onto her side, getting throughly muddy. Now Musstafa comes back to take Sharon across. I DON'T LIKE THIS ONE BIT. Sharon could easily slip and would drop twenty feet or so onto rocks and the little stream if she slips all the way. Well not ALL the way. All the way would be about a thousand feet. It's clear that she wouldn't slide all the way down that far.

But Mustafa says, "I'll carry you." And before we know what's happening, he takes Sharon by the hand and pulls her. It's easy until they get across the stream. Then her feet start slipping out from under her again, and she slips down to land on the side of her jeans, but Mustafa doesn't let go, and sort of runs across, with Sharon pedaling her feet trying to get hold and stand back up. Before you can say boo, they're in the safe area. {I actually was down on my side, not hurt, but getting my balance when Mustafa comes, picks me up under my arms and almost totally carries me over that slippery place. As Bob says, my feet were slipping but he would not let go of me and kept murmuring u-huh, u-huh in encouragement as we proceeded. What a strong man, thank God.}

Tara manages to make it without help. I'm EXTREMELY juberous about this, but I have about the same experience Sharon does, though I don't fall down.

We made it. The bad news? We have to come back this way. Holy cr--.

The mist has started to come heavy now, and it sprinkles. Sharon is wearing her Australia hat, and it is keeping her head relatively dry. {Oh, yeah! Sure!} Tara has a parka with a hood, and it's up. It's not till later that I learn from Tara that her coat isn't waterproof and she is getting soaked.

My jacket is fairly waterproof, and I've borrowed the little umbrella that came with our rental car, so I'm fairly dry above the waist anyway.

Miserable is the word I'm searching for. But that is subject to instant change if we can get lucky in the next half hour or so. We continue on, and come to another heavy patch of rhododendrons. There are feathers on the trail, and Mustafa says that the blackcocks come and rest on this level trail from about 100 meters below us. And why don't we just go down there!

You've got to picture this. You can see about 20 meters down before the mist covers everything. Every single square inch of plant is wet from the rain and mist, and he wants us to walk straight down the slope.

I'm worried about my toes (from peripheral neuropathies, and if you don't know what that is, well I say GOOD), which are starting to hurt on level ground, forget about what they'd feel like jamming into the toes of my shoes if I walk straight down the slope. I would likely slip and fall into the wet plants. But all of that pales into comparison of how I think Sharon would fare in this.

In the face of all that, we start down. It's excruciating, but I hang in there for about twenty meters. I have to go with my gut, and I say I can't go any further. Mustafa says, "They're down there. Only fifty meters more!" But I can't hear anything for the alarm bells firing off in my mind. Like a ghost whispering, "GO BAAAACK."

I start back up and the others climb back up too. Mustafa is disappointed that he wasn't able to get us the bird, but I'm sure he feels, and accurately, that if we could have just made it down there, we would have seen them, so maybe it's our own fault.

But I also evaluated the most likely scenario, and that is that we would have flushed up some, they would have flown, and either Sharon or I wouldn't have been in position to see them. So we wouldn't have been able to count the bird. I estimate maybe 50-50 as the odds of BOTH of us seeing the bird flying away into the mist.

Whatever. We're out of here.

Well, we start heading back, and it starts pouring down. We come to the dangerous part, and it unfolds in reverse order, but with about the same results as before. The good news is that we don't have to go across it again, and it's fairly level the rest of the way. {We are of course, getting soaking wet and we are cold, but then Bob and I can hear hoofbeats behind us. As we turn and look, one of their horses is trotting up the trail behind us as if to follow us home. We trudge on and then we can hear him coming faster. We stop and turn, expecting to get out of his way when he turns and runs down the slope, then across a field instead, a beautiful sight as he runs freely into the mist and rain. A mountain top experience of a lifetime.}

We finally make it back to the village, and we are "invited" into Mustafa's brother's house to dry out, warm up and have breakfast. The house seems crowded with people, and as I look around, I see holes between boards in the walls and am amazed. {The room we are in is the kitchen and "family room" because of the wood burning stove in it. This room was aboout 10x14ft and we were lead into it through an outer room that was very cold. This room would also be cold if they left the door to the outer room open but one of them would always make sure that door was closed and latched and the room would warm up fairly quickly. We sat on stools but others sat on stumps of wood or boxes on their sides. There were two other rooms off this one, both of which were unheated and had doors closing them off. Tara went into one to change into dry clothes and said it was quite cold but obviously was one of two bedrooms. It was very efficient. They come up here for one month a year, to harvest the hay and pasture their cows so these houses serve the families well with all the family staying in the heated room until bedtime when they sleep under heavy covers. Reminds me of camping out when we all stay around the campfire until bed andthen get into our warm sleeping bags. (Except Bob and I who camp out in our fifth wheel trailer with a heater and bed with electric blanket. Really roughing it, right?)}

I see in real life around me a way of life I saw in photos of my great grandfather and his family and the houses they lived in in the farms of early Missouri.

I take more photos and the kids and grownups are both delighted to see themselves. I get out my Palm PDA and show the photos I've got stored in there. Of Tara when she was small, of Sharon and I on our wedding day, of Shandra and her kids, of our travels to Australia and more. They are entranced.

They make bread in the bottom shelf of a wood-fired stove, and they also boil eggs and milk on top of the stove. {The boiled milk is a specialty they had told us about the day before. It comes straight from their cow but then is boiled and served warm to us.} They get out a huge round, flat silver platter (maybe 3 feet in diameter), with the edges bent upward in a decorative fashion, and place it on wooden blocks, with three-legged stools around it for us to sit down on. They indicate that the others have already eaten, so it's the bird-searchers that are eating.

They have sugar to add to the milk if we want and I do. The food tastes good, if a little strange, and we are beginning to dry out and warm up. It is a very good feeling to be with them, sharing what they have for us.

Tara goes to the car and gets some things that she and Sharon give as gifts. There are two families (Mustafa's and his brother's) represented here today, and we give them two huge blocks of hazelnut dessert of some kind that they are to cut up and share with the kids, I think. There are bracelets for the two wives, and they seem to love them.

We make it to the car, and it is pouring down rain and foggy. Maybe we'll see a Caucasian Black Grouse on the way down. Maybe water will run uphill.

We get everything loaded in and wave goodbye, with everybody grinning and waving, standing in the pouring rain. Mustafa has insisted that we come back next year after June 15, and he guarantees that we will see many blackcocks.

I reset the trip odometer of the car and we head downhill, or downmountain. We stop several times and take photos of the scenery below us, and finally hit the main asphalt about 1130am.

Good news and bad news. We're safe, but no blackcocks. Dang. Oh well, always leave a reason to come back.

This is the end of the mountain portion of our Black Sea vacation. The next section relates the trip from this point until we get back to Ankara, where Cihan's parents live.

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