Black Sea Adventures
When I started learning Turkish, stories about the backwards Black Sea area started immediately. The people up there are called the Laz, and although they speak Turkish it’s in a different dialect, Lazca, and since most Turks have a hard time understanding them I figured I’d be toast! In humor, the Laz serve the same purpose as the Polish in American jokes or or the Irish in England jokes. To me, because their main characters are Temel and Dursun, they sounded just like Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes on the Gulf Coast. Here’s an example:
Temel is a watchmaker. One day, his friend Dursun comes to him with a watch that has stopped working. Temel shakes it, puts it to his ear, turns the knob and stares at it for a while. Then, he opens it up and finds inside a dead ant. “Uyy, Dursun!” he exclaims, “Of course your watch has stopped. Can’t you see, the machinist is dead!” HAHA!
As well as being the greenest part of the Turkey, the Black Sea is also well-known for its fish. I agree – the fish is excellent! I chose it for every meal that I could. It was always served the same way – grilled seabream with olive oil. And watch out squeamish types – the whole fish is served, with those eyes looking right at you! After the trip my Turkish teacher told me there’s another kind of fish that I should have tried, lüfer, or, according to google translate, bluefish. Now I have a reason to go back.
The area is also the center of hazelnut production. When we walked around the old town, we saw mats with hazelnuts drying in the sun in most yards. We also ate some picked directly of trees, cracking the shells with our teeth! Along with the hazelnuts, we ate raspberries, blackberries and some local berries that we plucked off the side of a farm road. A guide told me that in Turkey, if you can reach it from the street, it’s yours for the taking, making Turkey the best for street food, even when there’s no vendor!
This weekend was the first time I’ve seen the Black Sea! I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a waterbaby or a sailor, but I’m always drawn to the water, and despite the strong winds and crashing waves I couldn’t resist a punishing dip. It was rough! I felt like a kid in a washing machine. Instead of sand the ground is all rocks – either jagged, feet-cutting boulders or slippery moss covered stones which make it really difficult to find stable footing. So, instead of a pleasant float I received bruises, cut-up feet, and as penance sacrificed my sunglasses to the big Black Sea.
After another fish dinner, we headed to a gentler beach for a bonfire and music. First we sung some Turkish folk songs (okay, I really just listened) then the band came and played a variety of Turkish music and more worldly stuff, but with Turkish lyrics. It was definitely different but music on the beach at night with a bonfire to keep you warm and stars over your head always equals bliss!
Sunday was all sightseeing. As we were finishing breakfast a huge storm passed by the hotel, and rain continued off and on through the day, usually starting just as were finishing at some site, causing frequent mad-dashes back to the bus. First stop was a ruined Genovese castle. Only a wall and a few extra stones remained, but the area had amazing views. The castle is slightly overgrown, reminding me of Ta Prohm in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, except not nearly as magnificent.
Next we headed to the old town of Akçakoca, where we ate all the fruits hanging in the road and took pictures of some of the old buildings. I loved the mix of the very old and the very new, like a tractor parked in front of a house covered in satellite dishes.
Along with all the charming old buildings, Akçakoca has a super-modern mosque. Apparently there’s another of the same model in India or Pakistan – our guides couldn’t agree. Anyway, it’s designed as an eight-pointed star. Compared to the other mosques I’ve visited, it felt more open, airy, and bright!
After lunch we tried to see a cave. In true Turkish fashion, we weren’t exactly sure where the cave was, so stopped frequently to ask local villagers on backroads who also weren’t really sure where it was for directions. I think we spent an hour driving back and forth on the same stretch of road. Finally we found someone who had reasonable confidence that it was just up the hill and headed there. A tractor full of logs parked on the road, making a bus passing impossible. Our guides set out in search of the owner. Instead, they found a guy with a screwdriver who was willing to jump the truck and move it further to the side of the road. The cave was not unlike most other caves I’ve seen in America, although no bats in this one. As we came out, the rain started. It took about 10 seconds to turn from drizzle into buckets of rain, and not much longer until it was a full-on storm. On the way back down the hill, we had to get 3 more trucks to move to allow us to pass – this time in the rain! Driving in Turkey is always a challenge, whether you’re fighting Istanbul traffic or tractors without drivers on country roads!