RETURN LEG OF BLACK SEA VACATION

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 mountain portion of our vacation in eastern Turkey, and takes us to Ankara, the home of Cihan's parents, and of his sister Canan, Canan's husband Metin, and their daughter Burcu.


We have a few kilometers to go, away from the sea direction, till we get to the pass, at about 8800 feet altitude. Holy cow, that's BELOW Mustafa's village's altitude! It is still raining and misty and cool.

We come to the pass, and go over, and the scenery changes from misty to sunny and clear in short order. It's a beautiful day over on this side. Amazing. There are lots of beehives. It's a little after noon, but we're still full from the breakfast we ate.

Our goal is the village of Ispir, where we have a shot at Lammergeier (an elegant-looking vulture), Black Vulture and some other rocky mountain birds, then we'll decide whether to sleep in Ispir (say ISS-spear) or drive on to Bayburt (BYE-boort), a much larger town.

We make it to Ispir about 130pm and refuel. Then we start following our where-to-find-birds book and its directions to a Griffon Vulture colony. We find the location, but can't see any vultures anywhere, until Sharon spots about twenty birds circling high, high, HIGH overhead. We can't tell if they are the vultures from here, or if they are eagles or other vultures in migration. We watch a while, and finally decide to go into town, see if the town's best hotel is adequate and if it is we'll stay here, and come back in the early evening, when the vultures will return to roost. If this place is still an active roost. The book was printed in 1996, and things change.

We find the best hotel, and it's a series of cabins near a stream, reminding us of the one we slept in last night. Wow, last night seems like forever ago. The day is long when you get up at 2 am. We decide to keep going, and make it to Bayburt.

About 3pm, Sharon says to pull over and asks Tara if she thinks a shape in the middle of a gravel pit is a bird or not. We all look, and decide that it is, so I back up to a clear space. We get out, and as we do, the bird takes off. It's one of the most beautiful birds you can imagine. It has long long wings, and from below the entire body and tail are white. The head is yellow. The tips and the trailing edge of the (bottoms of the) wings are black, but the front half of the wings are white. You get a spectacular splash of black and white gracefully soaring. From the top, you see as much white, but the black is interspersed with white feathers.

One of the most spectacular birds you can imagine, it is a professional at soaring and finding updrafts, and believe it or not, it's a vulture! An Egyptian Vulture. Below is a photo, from the internet.

We continue on and about 4pm, we begin to get Bee-eaters perched on power lines, flying out occasionally for insects and returning. They make a nice electric buzz in the air. We also get a Hobby (like a kestrel or small Peregrine Falcon) perched next to a power pole, plus a Red-backed Shrike.

A little later, I see two beekeepers in full working uniform, in a big set of hives, and later I see a small field of sunflowers, with plastic bags around most of the heads. This as Tara and Sharon are sleeping.

About 430pm, I start to see fields of Rooks, maybe 200 in some groups, along with Hooded Crows. It is getting windy, and Tara and Sharon spot perhaps half a dozen White Storks fighting against the wind.

We make Bayburt about 545pm, and find the best hotel in town, a two-star place that has seen better days. They tell us that it's a good place because they will turn on the hot water at 6pm and it will be available all the way till midnight, then be turned back on at 6am tomorrow morning. Wow!

I walk over to a bank and get lots of stares. Maybe it's my Los Angeles Marathon baseball cap, or maybe it's my imagination, but I don't think so. We later learn that this town is largely Kurdish, and you have to be smart about these things. There is a group of Kurdish rebels called the PKK, but they haven't been very actively kidnapping westerners since their leader was captured by the Turkish military some years ago.

But to be afraid of all Kurds because of the PKK is like being afraid of all Americans because of the KKK. To be honest though, Turks from Istanbul and Ankara are amazed that we are so far east, away from the Black Sea.

Anyway, I go over to the ATM at the bank across the street, and two little boys are punching buttons, trying to get money out, I presume. I excuse myself into position, and they stay right there watching to see what I do so they can perhaps do the same thing.

I put my card in, and then while covering the numbers, input my pin number. I ask for TL 200 million, and as the money comes out, one of the boys says, "Oooooh." I put the money, the receipt and the card into my pocket and leave, as I hear the boys go back to the machine and start pushing buttons.

We go out for dinner, skipping one restaurant where it looks like the food has sat out all day, and besides no one is eating there. As we walk further down the road, Tara says, "I'm VERY uncomfortable here." I ask why and she says, "There are NO women." I look around and sure enough, there aren't any women on the streets. None.

We find a restaurant, go in and check it out, and are welcomed by the proprieter in a businesslike manner. There are only men inside, and most of them stare at us. Tara continues to be uncomfortable, but we eat and it's good food, although we feel glad to finish and go back to our room.

The proprieter of the hotel invites us to the top of the hotel with our scope to look at the view, especially the kale (castle), but I say we're tired. Then he asks Tara if SHE would like to accompany him {"after your parents go to bed"}.

She don't think so!

We turn in after doing our nightly ritual of watching the day's photos in a slide show. Very nice. I try the "hot" water about 1030pm for a shower, but it's luke-freezing-cold. I'll try again tomorrow morning.

When we were planning our 2001 trip to Turkey and I mapped out our route, I divided Turkey in half, east and west. I kept us in the western half all the time, for security and safety reasons. This trip, I learned that the Black Sea region isn't dangerous and so I relaxed. It has just occurred to me in the last hour or so that we have come inland, and we are not IN the dangerous region, but are a lot closer to it than I ever intended.

Nevertheless, I sleep like a baby, dreaming perhaps of unlimited hot water in a place far different from this one.

Iyi Gecellar.

Towns of the Day: Sivrikaya, Ispir, Pazaryolu, Bayburt.

Birds of the Day: MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFF, Water Pipit, Egyptian Vulture, Bee-eater, Red-backed Shrike, Hobby, Rook, Hooded Crow.


 

Turkey 2004. Report 7. "Radar? They Got Radar?"

 

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, 5 and 6 described the first six days.

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

Monday September 6, 2004. Gettin' Outa Dodge

We are up, and after a short, fairly typical breakfast, we get outa Bayburt, feeling better and better as we get into the countryside and away from that strange-feeling city.

Cihan later tells me that 15 years ago, there were westerner kidnappings, killings and PKK terrorists and drugs in this town.

I faint, if figuratively.

Yesterday as we drove, we saw men harvesting rows of poplars planted right next to the road. They were sorting them by thickness, the way Steven Wright sorts his socks, regardless of color. Today we see thick groves of very young poplar, and Tara says that in some places in Turkey, when a child is born, the parents or grandparents plant a grove of poplars so that by the time the child marries, they can harvest those trees to build their home. It seems to be a very ... oh, I just can't say it... thing to do.

I'm still working on what to put on my tombstone. "The man who plaid with words" has become a possibility. Sharon says, "I thought you were going to be cremated and have us scatter your ashes," and I say, well, it would be unfair to all those areas of the world that don't get any, and she says yeah, right. So you see, she must agree with me... Besides, how is she gonna scatter my ashes if she's ex post facto?

When I was thirty, to hear my parents talking calmly about the end of their days would shake me up something awful. Today, it seems as natural as talking about the uzum I had for lunch.

900am and we start climbing up the Anatolia Plateau. We are at 7700 feet. Tara has spotted eagles or vultures, and we stop to watch, but then we invoke our what-will-it-be?birds-or-get-there? rule. We decide that since raptors are so difficult for us to ID that we will enjoy them on the fly-by, but we also lay out the rules to call for a stop anyway if they are close to the road and we think we can see them well enough to identify. {You should hear the arguements Bob and I go through with raptors, especially if they are flying---"It has the black leading front of the wing, I think it is ..." "No, it doesn't have the black tail, it can't be that bird." and so on. It is sometimes not worth the aggravation to stop and try to identify them.}

We cross a pass at 7900 feet. The big soaring birds like it here because of all the updrafts, and one passes overhead. We come to the point near Ascale, where we turn westward, pointing towards Ankara now. We're on our way home.

A huge wave of Starlings rise and fall, turn and swoop, like fish undersea, then I start seeing fields of Rooks again.. Sharon spots a Great Gray Shrike.

We change drivers at about 1100pm, and Sharon gives me a chance for a nap. I notice some dark orange stuff all over my right hand fingers and thumb. I have no idea what it's from. Maybe shaking hands with Mustafa, I got nicotine stains.

We go through Erzincan, then make a stop about 130pm at a shady spot next to an isolated building. It's windy and cool, and we put on our jackets. A Nuthatch works some trees around us.

We head out again and about 2pm, Sharon yells, "Stop! Stop!" If anybody sees a REALLY good bird possibility, then I stop, in this manner. She explains that it's sitting on the bank, a little above eye level, just back and out of sight from here, on our side of the road. I back up slowly, and surprisingly, it doesn't move. It's a raptor of some kind. We get a few great pictures, then I get out and tell Sharon to be ready, I want her to get a shot of him flying.

He refuses to budge until I do jumping jacks, and then he flies. There is about a three-tenths of a second window to get a great shot, and Sharon NAILS it.

What a perfect picture, with the sun lighting up his feathers from behind and above. It's a Long-legged Buzzard, and we figure it's a young one because of his hesitation to fly when I approached. {A few minutes later, we see two others up flying and guess they might be the parents of this one.}

We stop for a restroom break about 230pm and we have been noticing construction of a pipeline on our left. Tara figures out that it's the one that will go all the way to Azerbyzhan, formerly part of the Soviet Union. There is an enclosed compound of barbed wire and fence, with a manned guard house, and a big sign in Turkish that says (Turkish name) Pipeline Project. {There are several "mobile home" trailers here and we guess that the workers sleep in them and move them as the pipeline progresses.}

I refuel at TL 2.13 Million per liter. The price on the road sign said TL 1.83 million, and I asked the pumping man what's up with that, via Tara. He says "Zom Gelda," which Tara says means "the bad inflation," and that it just got to be too much trouble to change the sign so often. I figure it gets foreigners in here, hoping it's real, and when the visitors get in, they figure they're not leaving without filling up.

Good figgerin'. I buy 34.78 liters at TL 77.4 Million.

About 3pm, we pick up peaches, cookies and a small cake thing for Sharon.

It's 325pm and I come over a rise to discover another surprise vehicle inspection point. The police set these up all over Turkey with no warning. You pull over, show them your driver's license and registration, and they check your tires, turn signals and lights. If you're ok, OR if you have a good ID, like Tara's military wife ID, they usually just send you on your way. This is the second or third one we've encountered on our trip.

Sharon gets out the registration, and I pull over. I roll down the window on the side of the policeman and he and Tara start talking. Tara says, "They got you on radar."

Uh oh. They say the speed limit is 99 (62 mph), and they give a "tolerance" to 105 (65 or 66), but I was going 110 (69). The cost is 83 million and 100 thousand. The 83 million is about $55, and the 100 thousand is about seven cents. This just about wipes out our TL cash, but between the three of us, we raise the amount of the fine. This is higher than the speeding ticket I paid for in the southwest three or four years ago, and I think, "Zom Gelda."

Tara showed him her military ID, and she says that he said, "That's very nice, but we got you on radar." We later learn from Cihan that the actual speed limit on such a highway is 90 (56). There is an "official" tolerance of ten percent, so that's where the 99 came from. They also tack on an unofficial additional allowance of 6 kph, and that's where the 105 kph came from. So there's no arguing if they clock you, or me in this example, going 110.

They are subscribers to the pay-as-you-go speeding ticket program. I don't know what would have happened if we had not had the cash. But if I keep this up, I'm gonna find out. {The weird thing is, Bob NEVER gets speeding tickets at home and now we have been to Turkey three times and he has gotten tickets TWICE. What bad luck!}

We take off, at 90 kph, with yours truly fairly glad they didn't apply the 90 kph limit, so that I would be 20 kph over it.

We come to a series of lakes that Sharon has found in our where-to-find-birds book, and we stop at the first one. We get Gray Herons, and some gulls with very dark backs. There are also egrets here, with yellow feet and black legs. They are Little Egrets. The gulls are probably Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but we're not sure. We are looking for Common Cranes, which are supposed to be here, but they aren't. We move on.

I don't feel in the mood to look for birds, as I've let the speeding ticket make me eat my head. I HATE when that happens.

But Sharon is persistent, and we turn off the highway, passing through this tiny village, and I perk up. This is delightful. We exit the village, and follow the dirt road across the expected bridge, and spot the reedy area by the next lake. We find a hill with a track going up it, and I drive up the track.

Sharon gets on a number of birds we later ID as Ruddy Shelducks as they take off in great numbers, circle and set down again in the lake. Meantime, I'm on some hopeful looking birds that Sharon is excited about. I get out the scope and tripod in incredibly windy weather, and we set it up using the car as a windbreak. I give Sharon the first look, as it was only her relentless nagging, nagging that got us here. She says, "They're cranes!" And they have to be Common Cranes at this location. There are about twenty or so. Some are standing and some are sitting. Fantastic!

We return to the highway via the little village, and one section of the village is divided into rock fenced lots. Piles of wheat stand one or two to a lot, and we figure this is the village's wheat bank, with different piles belonging to different farmers. Maybe it's a co-op situation. It must be because the sparrows clearly have a share of it, and they are taking theirs now.

Sharon spots a bird that seems very unusual to her, and when I get on it, I recognize it as a winter plumage Starling.

Also in this windy village is something we saw before. There are haystack-shaped piles of something that looks like dried peat moss or cow dung. It is stacked so that it looks like a tall, skinny haystack. I figure it's for winter fuel, and I hope it's not cow dung.

I pull over and let a taxi pass, on the narrow roads through the village.

A little after 5pm, we pull up in front of the Buyuk Otel in Sivas. It's advertised as four stars, and it is a definite step up from the Abidesh in Bayburt last night.

We do our usual hotel checking procedure. I stay in the car, and Tara and Sharon go in, inquire about a room for three people, and go look at the possible rooms. They make their choice, then come back and tell me. If it sounds good, we unload the luggage, always with the help of the hotel staff. Usually, and that's the case here, we can park the car right in front of the hotel or in a lot nearby.

At 6pm, Tara and Sharon are out shopping, and they later report that there are WOMEN on the street, in addition to the men. We're back in good country. I'm in the room, transcribing and uploading the day's photos. Sharon borrowed our Wells Fargo card to get 200 million TL, or about 130 dollars. {Except that I couldnn't get the ATM to accept our VISA card. This ATM is in a YAPI KREDI booth which Tara calls "Crappi Kredi" because she often has trouble with it. We will have to look for a regular bank tomorrow. Meanwhile, the silver shop takes my credit card and I get some wonderful things.} I'd put our room itself at only about 2.7 stars. It had three single beds, a TV, a clean DRY bathroom, refrigerator, the hotel has an elevator and the room is pretty clean. It has clearly seen better days though. We don't care, it's a haven and heaven.

We have a huge, excellent dinner for 77 million, which included a ten percent tip. That's about $17 each, which included dessert. {The waiters here are cute and very attentive (this is the real 4 star treatment.) We have a head waiter who has an assistant who actually carries the dishes out so the head waiter can put them on our table. There is a little chest at the end of our table and extra plates and silver ware is in there. They must change our plate and silverware 4-5 times throughout the meal. We experience something they wrote about in our Turkey guidebook. If you even look like you are done with your dish, someone will come immediately and take away your plate. Two times, I was pausing to talk and looked up to see my dessert and later, my tea disappear. Evidently, it is rude to let your guest sit with an empty plate in front of them so they watch you all the time. Made me a little nervous after a while, but they were so sweet. There is a person to show us the appetizers and later another person to show us the desserts. They are all young men about 20-22 and they are quite interested in us from America Bob got some pictures of them and of course, they are tickled to see them right away. Later, there is a traditional band and we listen to the music for a while}.

We get a big boost from the hotel's services, enumerated on a card in Turkish on one side and English on the other side. Here are the English HIGHLIGHTS:

Sivas Buyuk Otel
Will behorron to give bestservice to you

The breakfast time is between 07.00-10.00 and it is served on the first flor with ist various kinds.

For your out-hotelcalls, you can take line by coding 9 first.

Towns of the Day: Askale, Erzincan, Refahiye, Imranli, Zara, Hafik, Sivas

Birds of the Day: Rook, Great Gray Shrike, Nuthatch, Long-Legged Buzzard, Gray Heron, Little Egret, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Crane

 

Tuesday, September 7, 2004. Sivas to Ankara, Cihan's Parents' home

We have a nice sleep-in and after a leisurely breakfast, we head out a little after 830. We stop at an ATM replenishment center, which performs flawlessly.

At 845am, we see a man walking a sheep down the main boulevard, on the sidewalk. They are not attached, and it looks like both have done this before.

9am and we are back out on the highway, on the west side. We pass lots of buildings which I call apartment buildings, but they are actually homes. You buy a "flat" on one of the floors of the 10-15 floor building. My friend Batman (Don Giorgionne) at Stanford was from Philadelphia, and when I visited him at his parents' home, I was amazed to think that he grew up high in this "apartment" building, in this set of rooms that his parents own. Same thing in Turkey.

We pass apartment buildings that are painted bright pastel colors. A set of four are colored yellow, purple, pink and green, and look for all the world like they were dipped in Easter egg coloring dye. We pass a cement factory on the right, as our road is under construction, being made into a divided highway. There is a railroad track to the left, and a man is herding some cattle beyond that. The man has a long stick under his arm, and is wearing a blue baseball cap backwards, something I haven't seen in Turkey before.

Another building is bright yellow with rust trim, and still another is bright pink with white trim (a very large house, not an apartment building).

We change drivers about 10am, for one of my twice-daily naps, and Sharon takes charge. {Being VERY careful to drive under 100kph as I don't want to get stopped by the Traffic police. They have Polis here, Trafic Polis, Jandarme, and military. They all have different duties but all are heavily armed but polite.} We change back at 11am at an old abandoned gasoline service station, next to a red brick factory, which itself is next to a sugar mill or factory.

We pass through the city of Yozgat just as Cihan calls Tara on her cell phone. I want to point out that her cell phone coverage has been about 99% over the area we've been, including in the mountains. Match THAT, ATandT! Cihan says that when he was a child, his parents lived in Yozgat for a year during a work assignment his dad was on.

We stop at an Alp Market, and load up with Ekmek and other stuff, then stop for lunch a little further down the road, a little after noon. We're at a roadside park, which happens to have the nearest town's mayor and a dentist visiting. They speak English and talk to us a little, welcoming us to their park.{The dentist says to the mayor as we come in "Come here, you have foreign visitors." They are obviously proud of their little park as they should be. It is clean and welcoming to us.}

Lunch over, Tara calls Kemal and tells him where we are. He says we have about 2-3 hours to go to get to Ankara. We figure we'll get there about four or five.

We take a rest room break about 3pm, and there's terrible news. No Algida (ice cream). What's up with that? The women use the rest room though, and it costs 500,000 TL each, and that's whether you have your own toilet paper or not.

When you come out, the attendant sprinkles some nice-smelling liquid onto your hands, but in an amount such that it runs through your hands and drips down. So (after a few times of learning) you hold your hands out away from your clothes.

We continue on and get to Kemal's a little after 4pm. Tara called him when we were on the road, and he tells us to take the ring road and exit where it says "Botikent." The trouble was, there were no such signs. The good news is that I set down a marker on my GPS when we were parked in front of Kemal's before, so we switch over to following roads that go in that direction. We sort of corkscrew in, and I'm proud to say that the GPS was very useful.

Towns of the Day: Yozgat, Kirikkale, Ankara

Birds of the Day: None remarkable.

That's the end of the Black Sea Coast Trip 2004. I'll give one more report, but probably not till we get back to San Jose. We fly tomorrow morning.

Thanks for listenin'.

The next section wraps up Turkey, then follows with a TRIP AWARD section - the best this, and the worst that, etc.


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