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Anyone who gets involved in the hinterland of the Black Sea coast should be able to ride a motorcycle well. The landscape has alpine dimensions. And so are the routes.
March 13, 2000
The old wooden floor of the tea house, scraped by thousands of steps, groans under the pressure of my boots, as if it is excruciatingly painful for an unbeliever to step on.
And when the warped entrance door slams shut with a thud, the window panes on the opposite wall tremble. Dead silence! The mustache, who was just about to slide the black round stone over the worn board of the Tavla game, pauses, and his opponent forgets for a moment to draw on the cigarette he has just clamped between his lips. For a moment you can only hear the hissing of the tea kettle, which steadfastly blows its hot steam into the gray veil of cigarette smoke. Even the gaze of Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the Turkish republic, whose portrait in long faded colors hangs a little crooked over the counter, seems to be directed exclusively at me. Keep calm. The friendly nod of the young man, who is standing in the corner in front of the hunched wood stove and now picks up a couple of tea glasses, seems like a relief. And after I have stowed my eighty-nine kilos a little suspiciously on a small wooden chair, the conversations in the small tea house are resumed as if I had never appeared. A couple of boys squeeze their noses against the window, and their eyes are curiously looking for the bearded stranger who came with the fat enduro that stands outside, in the shade of the old olive tree, next to the road. Fifteen minutes later I have the third glass of tea in front of me, and the ten Turks who are now sitting around my table have asked me about the Africa Twin almost a hole in the stomach. In German, in English and, if necessary, with signs. What is currently available. The friendly “Gule Gule”, with which they say goodbye a short time later, gives me a good feeling on the way. Behind Erzurum the road climbs steeply and soon leads me back into the mountains. I am traveling in the east of Turkey, in the direction of the Black Sea. The Georgian border is getting closer and is just 250 kilometers away. I switch to a side valley that runs parallel to the main route to the north. Strangely colored mountain landscapes line the route. Then a towering gorge begins, and for the next 60 kilometers the road follows the steep rock walls in endless curves along the sandy brown broth of a river to Artvin. Behind Artvin, the influence of the Black Sea is gradually becoming noticeable. Where previously bare rock faces loomed up, everything is now lush green right up to the mountain peaks. The sea itself cannot be seen from the last pass before Hopa, it is hidden under a foggy carpet, on the surface of which the rays of the sun dance like thousands of stars. A detour to one of the Hemsin valleys interrupts my journey through the uniform coastal landscape, and after a few kilometers the thick fog disappears like a theater curtain. Clear the stage for a handful of old farmhouses under steep mountain slopes. Many of them can only be reached on foot via wobbly suspension bridges or old, stone arch structures. The valley is a cul-de-sac where the clouds flowing in from the sea accumulate and rain down when the north wind blows. So here an unusually dense, overgrown vegetation has formed. This climate makes the area around Rize, a few kilometers to the north, the largest tea-growing area in Turkey. From here the whole country is supplied with the leaves for the national drink. There are low tea bushes on every usable spot, no matter how small, and around them women wrapped in wide cloths loosen the ground with rakes. Several factories in the area continue to process the leaves until they are packaged for shipping. A side valley finally begins to the east of Rize and does not end as a dead end. That’s what I’ve been looking for. But before you set out on the winding route, your stomach needs to be calmed down. The language barrier in the Lokanta in Ikizdere is easy to overcome: Without further ado, the host opens all the pots in which delicious dishes are simmering on a monster of the stove. The restaurant is very simply furnished, but the rice-filled peppers are a real treat, and the desire to drive drives me on. After all, the Ovitdagi Pass begins almost at sea level and leads through fields of old snow from last winter at the top of the pass. The last part is unpaved. Where the meltwater runs over the road and softens the ground, you get a feeling under your buttocks as if the tire were flat. The tin roofs of the last mountain huts, which are still thickly surrounded by snow, disappear behind the mountain edge, and for a short time the road cut from the snow leads through glistening white brightness. But a few hundred meters after the top of the pass, the first flock of sheep is grazing again on the sparse green, supervised by two thickly hooded children. The path winds its way down to Ispir, only to climb back up to the Golyurt Pass on the other side of the valley. From here there is an overwhelming view of the snow-covered peaks of the Karadeniz mountain range in the west. Spontaneously I turn around: At Pazaryolu there should be a stretch across these mountains. An elderly, heavily veiled woman explains the way to the right junction with sweeping hand movements. Cross the river twice on the left, then on the right and then on a large bridge. After a few weeks on the road, sign language becomes understandable like words. Now the Honda is rolling 70 kilometers through lonely, mighty mountains on a jogging track. Sometimes it goes along the river bed, which is filled with sand-colored broth just to the edge of the bank, sometimes a few switchbacks climb over short passes. Apart from a few isolated villages, in which the motorcycle often earns astonished looks, the only thing that accompanies me is the solitude of this majestic landscape as far as Bayburt, whose houses stand on the slope like a careless dice game. After a few weeks in Turkey, attitudes towards distances changed. For the next hundred kilometers to the Zigana Pass, I practically sit on one cheek. The pass stretches over the Kalkanli Mountains in wide curves, and after the pass I find myself in a valley that I would rather look for in the Alps. Only the minarets of the mosques are reminiscent of the Orient. And the fact of being invited to a glass of tea over and over again when shopping for provisions from the counter. In Maçka, a side valley branches off to the Sumela monastery. A legacy of the Greeks who stayed here until 1923. A wild slope leads up to the monastery, next to which a mountain stream, spraying loudly over the rocks, even drowns out the engine. The monastery and, above all, its location bears the typical signature of Greek master builders: it sticks to the rock face like an eagle’s nest, remote from the world. From a distance, however, it looks better than up close. The walls are almost only ruins, the paintings inside are largely destroyed. Since the Turkish Muslims forbid portraying saints, the frescoes were viewed as blasphemy and destroyed or at least the eyes of those depicted were scratched out. In the port city of Trabzon I come across the coast again. The fog has now disappeared and I can see that the black sea does not deserve its name. It’s just as blue as the sky above. In Trabzon, where a corner of the traditional market has been preserved, I replenish my provisions. Lemons piled up in ornate pyramids and shiny fish bodies that seem to have come straight out of the sea, brushwood brooms and plastic sandals are just as much a part of the offer as the services of countless shoe shiners. Women in modern, western-oriented clothing are just as much out and about as deeply veiled traditionalists. They make the clearest of the changes Turkey has been making in the last few years. The coastal road always leads west at sea level and could be a pleasure in the fine weather, despite a certain straightness, if it weren’t for the simply insane behavior of some road users. I’ve gotten into the habit of stopping as far to the right as possible at traffic lights since I’ve seen red signals being ignored by some drivers and even coaches at full throttle. The bigger the vehicle, the more invalid the traffic light, seems the motto. Overtaking maneuvers right in front of my nose also suggest that a motorcycle is being taken seriously as a fully fledged road user. It slowly dawns on me that the coast is only good for the evening sunset. Otherwise the hinterland is more interesting. Hinterland in this case means a one to two hundred kilometer wide strip of mountains, in which I would love to rummage through every single street, the area is so diverse. Apart from all conceivable road conditions, the landscapes and appearance of the people are constantly changing. This is also the case in unye, where I turn back inland towards batteries. However, I missed the right turn and turned a valley too late. The road should eventually hit the road to Akku, but at the moment the underground is causing the worst shaking. The ruts pressed into the wet clay by tractors are now dry and make driving a balancing act. But there are still farming villages in this inaccessible area, as intact as nowhere else to be found. Old wooden constructions that show the years and next to them the storage huts perched on wooden stilts. The difficult to work hills have predestined the area for hazelnut bushes. Wild or cultivated, the bushes are omnipresent. In Tekkiraz, the bumpy labor is finally over, and in Niksat the land is already becoming barren again. The influence of the Black Sea is gradually waning again. Also that of the Orient. Niksat is one of the last places that still exudes flair. No sooner have I got to the center of town than I am invited to tea again. This time my host is an elderly gentleman who proudly presents me with a gray-brown fur. It comes from a wolf he shot last winter. Encounters that often make me think twice in the evening whether I should pitch my tent somewhere in the loneliness of the mountains. In the early afternoon I reach Amasya, the city that is considered to be the most beautiful in the Turkish north: the entire old town has been preserved on the north side of the river. And almost completely without postcard-hung souvenir shops or kitsch-laden kiosks. The district is still inhabited as it has been for centuries, the narrow streets and overhanging houses are one living museum. One in Amasya is even made to last: Above the roofs of the city there is a section for the upper class – several tombs for kings have been carved into the bare rock. The view over the city is also regal up there. Countless minarets protrude into the already red discolored evening sky. As if on order, a piercing Allahuakbar sounds from the towers, breaks against the rocks, seems to come from all sides at the same time. The valley is filled with the idiosyncratic, drawn out sounds of the believers, who praise Allah as the only God and Muhammad as his prophet. A mood that completely captures me, brings me closer to the Orient than anything else. After climbing up and down the stone coffins, which are up to six meters high, the coolness in the Sultan Beyazid II mosque, one of the most important in all of Turkey, is a relief. All the hustle and bustle is left behind at the entrance, carpets dampen any noise. Some men are lost in their prayer ritual, kneeling down against Mecca. In addition to the extensive decorations, what particularly fascinates me is the huge chandelier, which sparkles from the ceiling with a diameter of several meters. I leave Amasya to the northwest and turn off towards Vesirkopru at Harza. The Altinkaya Reservoir will soon appear, and the next great motorcycle route will begin. At the end of the lake I come across the village of Beybuku. Of all the places I’ve seen so far, this one seems the most pristine. When I take a closer look at the old wooden houses, I happen to be standing next to the school. And with that, of course, the lesson went. The whole crowd of children surround the motorcycle, and finally I find myself in the classroom and try to answer questions from the teacher with my poor knowledge of French. Hours later, outside at Inebolu, I hear the sound of the sea again. The most beautiful part of the Black Sea coast begins here. The land, which drops steeply into the dancing waves of the Black Sea and only leaves a little space for small villages at the mouths of the rivers, is criss-crossed by a narrow, winding road. There is almost no traffic, instead deep views of the sea, lonely sandy beaches and a bizarre rocky coast. I enjoy every curve for 180 kilometers as if it were the last.
For many, vacation in Turkey only means the Mediterranean coast. In the north, there are mountain ranges with impressive passes, daring motorcycle routes and beautiful coastlines.
Arrival: The direct overland route leads via Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and measures around 1900 kilometers from Munich to the Turkish border. Transit visas are required for Romania and Bulgaria. The roads in these two countries are partly in very bad condition. Traveling by ferry from Venice to Izmir is more convenient. It runs once a week, takes around two and a half days and costs from 500 marks per person and motorcycle in a four-bed cabin with full board. Information from ADAC or directly from Reca Handels GmbH and travel agency, phone 07031/86 60 10. Papers: A passport is required for entry, in which the imported vehicle is noted. The paper with the vehicle data handed out at the border must be presented again when leaving the country. In addition to the national driver’s license and vehicle registration document, the green insurance card must not be forgotten. Have the insurance company confirm its validity for the Asian part of Turkey as well. Gastronomy: Hunger can be satisfied in the »Restorant« or the »Lokanta«. They differ in the higher prices in the »Restorant« and simpler furnishings in the »Lokanta«. There is only a sheet of paper as a napkin. It tastes equally good everywhere. Certain dishes such as kofte (minced meat dumplings), beef goulash, lamb, mutton or stuffed aubergines are kept warm in a showcase in the restaurant and are available at almost any time of the day. You don’t have to worry about a lack of language skills: the kitchen crew will be happy to open all the pots to choose from. The prices are really the lowest. A meal in the “Lokanta” including the compulsory cola costs four to eight marks. Overnight: »Otel« and »Pansyon« are the usual names for accommodation. On average, the prices for simple rooms are ten to twenty marks. Hotels cost from 30 marks per person in a double room. The price rarely suggests the quality, so be sure to check the room beforehand. There are a few campsites along the coast that are very cheap, but also have correspondingly spartan facilities. Accommodation is rare in the mountains, but there is enough space for wild camping. Travel time: From mid-May, the Black Sea coast offers the most pleasant temperatures for motorcycling. But then it’s still too cold to take a bath. During this time it can still rain a lot, but the sun is almost always shining on one side of the coastal mountain range. However, the 2600 meter high Ovitdagi Pass may still be closed in May due to snow. While midsummer is more of a deterrent with extreme heat, the best conditions follow from mid-September to mid-October. Route / refueling: All main roads are paved and in relatively good condition. A short stretch of the Ovitdagi pass crossing is not paved, but any motorcycle can be used without any problems. The branch route from Pazaryolu to Bayburt consists of a bumpy slope that calls for an enduro, especially when it rains. The filling station network is sufficiently dense for a normal tank size. Unleaded petrol is also being offered more and more often, but not at every station in Northern Turkey. Literature: There are many travel guides about Turkey, but most of them only scarcely mention the Turkish Black Sea coast. The most important sights and a good atmosphere are described in the APA guide “Turkey” for 44.80 marks. The Baedeker travel guide of the same name at a price of 49.80 marks is quite detailed. To get in the mood at home, the Geo Special Turkey is suitable for 14.80 Marks. The RV country map on a scale of 1: 800,000 shows where to go. Addresses: Information is available from the information department of the Turkish Consulate General, Baseler Str. 37, 60329 Frankfurt aM, phone 069/23 30 81, fax 23 27 51 .Driven distance: approx. 2900 kilometers. Time required: 2 to 3 weeks.
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