There is a woman who travels alone, in many countries around the world. Well, her name is Rikki Lee Roath. She has travelled to see the Black Sea Region of Turkey, and she kept a diary during the trip, as you can see below. An American perspective on Turkey, or the Black Sea. In other words, An American’s guide to visiting the Black Sea Region of Turkey. Please don’t forget, it might seem like an interview. Excellent, then let’s begin, shall we? Come on, let’s see what really happened.
I’ve learned one thing while traveling the world: Every country has it’s own climate, and people get their beauty from the geography of where they live. Everywhere I’ve gone on my journey has met me with it’s own season and people. With the sun, the rain, steep slopes, houses placed in patterns, and determined people, the Black Sea is like another world. The mountains and clouds convene when you least expect it. Just like the weather, you can’t forecast the people either. From the Fırtına Stream to the high mountains, lush forests, I am in the city of clouds, Çamlıhemşin! Let’s get started.
The Fırtına Stream is one of the Eastern Black Sea’s fastest flowing rivers. It’s formed from the confluence of all of the streams flowing down the slopes of the Kaçkar mountains toward the Black Sea. The Fırtına Stream, which runs through tea gardens, is decorated with arched bridges.
The most commonly grown plant in this region is tea. It’s the principle livelihood for those living here. Everywhere you go is covered with tea and numerous endemic plants. Caused by the bounty of rain, this environment is fascinating.
The world’s longest zipline is in Peru, more than two kilometers. The zipline here is just 210 meters but it’s enough for me. There are a lot of activities being done at the Fırtına Stream. One of these is zipline, a rope activity. Visitors are buckled into a safety belt connected to a steel cable, and cross to the other side of the river using the cable. Those who come here get the chance to watch the Fırtına Stream from the air.
-Thank you. How’s it going?
Good. Thank you.
-I am really excited. How are we going to use this Zipline?
You won’t do anything, you don’t need any special training. Anyone, from seven to seventy, can do it. One hundred percent safe and a great adrenaline rush. Foreign and locals tourists love it. Do you want to get on?
-Of course I will try it, but where does this start from? I saw a couple other cable cars.
Yes we have cable cars used for moving tea, but this one is for people.
-So the other ones aren’t for people.
No, those are used for tea.
-How many times have you done this?
I do it everyday.
-It’s a fun job, isn’t it?
A great adrenaline rush.
-Wow, okay let’s get on then.
Let’s get ready. Birds can fly so why not us, right?
-Haha, that’s awesome!
Sinan is so energetic and cheerful. It attests to his slogan, if birds can fly, then why not us? Actually zipline is also done on high cliffs, bridges, and skyscrapers. But I am really enjoying my trip over the Fırtına Stream. I just went 210 meters over the Fırtına Stream, now let’s climb the stairs and go back. Even though the cable is sturdy and all the parts are safe, a situation presents itself on the line. Right as I’m in the middle I get stuck on the cable. But it doesn’t matter because it over quickly, they come and rescue me.
I experienced the peak of Zipline excitement.
-Thank you. It was nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you too.
After getting off of the Zipline, I continue exploring the valley by walking near the Fırtına Stream. One of the places in the valley that I want to see is Zilkale (the bell castle). It’s not exactly know when the castle was made. But it’s estimated to be in the 14th century. This is one of the places you must see if you come to the Black Sea. 15 kilometers from Çamlıhemşin, built in the 14th century, Zilkale.
The surface of the stone is broken. This is nearly on the edge of a cliff. The surrounding view from the castle does wonders for your eyes and your lungs. Zilkale, once upon a time found on the Silk Road, was used for defense and surveillance. Wow, this was the guards room. Zilkale is built around eight towers and one watch tower. The castle is accompanied by two others. But, unfortunately I didn’t visit them. This surveillance window was made very narrow. Soldiers looked from here.
If you look at the walls from the outside and see some variation from place to place, it still averages from 16-20 meters in height. It was built by lining up the cut stones one on top of another. Zilkale, facing the Kaçkar Mountains has an unmatched view. It’s the same view that everyone who goes to the highlands sees. I think looking at the castle is just as enjoyable as looking from the castle. I say, if you ever find yourselves here, you must stop and have a look at this amazing view.
I am going down to the Fırtına Stream that I saw from the top of the castle and I want to take advantage of the river’s perks and try rafting here too. Rafting takes place here. I already love it so much because my grandpa and grandma live in Montana. Freezing cold water flows from the mountains there. Everytime we came we went rafting. Let’s see how it will be in the Fırtına Stream.
-I am so excited. We are going to go rafting today, right?
-Who’s coming? Meanwhile, I am no stranger to rafting. I’ve gone rafting in quite a few places since I was a kid.
We are going to have a great time I hope. All together.
-I love rafting. How many years have you been doing it?
For 15 years. 15 years ago we met through rafting.
Yes, we’ve been going rafting since primary school. We were born here and grew up here. Our childhood passed in the water. Before we knew about rafts, we just threw car tires into the water and swam without any safety precautions.
-Didn’t you use a paddle?
No, no paddles. We just sat in the tire and used our hands like paddles.
(This team is really experienced. They’ve all grown up in the Fırtına Stream. Back then, before they had all this equipment, they made an attempt to start rafting using just ‘Şamyer’ tires. In the years after that they worked with some others here to buy materials and switched to professional rafting).
We call ourselves ‘kopalina’.
-Kopa… What? What’s that mean?
Kopalina means tadpole. A tadpole is a baby frog. Since we all grew up in the water, we call ourselves that. We started a club called the Fırtına Kids to protect local culture and keep our goals alive.
(Now they have brought this childhood passion into the professional realm. They love rafting and have devoted their lives to it. Rafting is done in groups of six to eight. To be successful the team needs to move as if it is one body. Since it’s hard to ensure control in fast moving rivers, numbers are given based on the speed of the river. In rafting there are six different numbers relating to the difficulty of the water. The sixth degree is for the hardest courses, and the first degree determines the easiest).
-Is it dangerous? Before we start can you tell me the speed and the depth?
Well, this is a nature sport. In nature sports there is always some danger. There is never a guarantee that nothing will happen.
(The Fırtına Stream is one of Turkey’s main rivers for rafting. One of the most popular places in Turkey for ecotourism, the Eastern Black Sea, has received increased attention in recent years).
In certain times during summer the water’s depth decreases. Right now, since the snow just melted, the waters depth and speed are higher. Now is the most fun time for rafting.
Let’s get started!
After I get some information from the team about how rafting is done here I excitedly get dress and go to my group. They’re all so fun, on the road we get motived with songs and anthems, and start rafting at full speed! Our selected course’s degree of difficulty is high. During this season the water is high. Now we are ready to start.
This is the best time for rafting the Fırtına Stream. When you do nature sports like this you can’t be indifferent to the landscape, on one side our team paddles, on the other we get a taste of the valley. With the speed at which our rafting trip started, our boat tips over. The river’s water is freezing cold and very fast. But with my friends who know these waters well and my previous experience I get to the shore.
There was a big wave back there, everyone fell. I drank a liter of water, I couldn’t breath, but I am lucky; I came up to a big rock and held on to that. I lost one of my shoes, but I am here. I can’t go on. Hey, thanks guys!
We continue on our way, the Fırtına Kids in the river, and me on land. All the best in the water and on the lush paths. The sky clouds over, it’s going to start raining. I change my clothes and continue on my way. It’s like a rainforest here, the weather is never certain. The sun comes out, the rain starts. But because of that, the plants are as tall as me! It’s not cold, but I am as wet as the cows. In weather suited to the Black Sea, on the slopes of Ayder, I am warming myself up with hot tea and by chatting with Mustafa.
-Oh that’s great. Hot.
You must have gotten cold.
-Yeah, I am surprised. It suddenly started raining.
It’s always raining near the Black Sea. You are at an elevation of 1500m right now.
-I see, so that’s why.
The snow hasn’t even melted here yet. We have snow until August here, that’s why it’s so cold.
-How’s your honey doing? I’ve heard you make wonderful honey.
In the Black Sea we have a tradition that came from grandfather to grandchildren; Black Hive ‘Karakovan’ Honey. In the trees here, we bring an empty hive out into nature, climb up a tree, and put it up there, 40-50m high. Bees come on their own and make natural honey out of everything.
Mustafa has been living on this hillside for a long time. Some people come just to see the deliciousness of the Karakovan he makes.
-Karakovan Honey makes your mouth water. What does Karakovan mean?
Black Hive, but not black the color as we think of it. I actually means a hive made of wood. The hive is carved from the inside of a log. After that the bees come on their own and make honey, we collect the honey.
-How is Karakovan different from normal honey?
Normal honey is a fabrication. Karakovan honey is produced by nature without the touch of a hand.
Karakovan honey stays in the honeycomb for months; the formed honeycomb is healing and it’s recommended to eat it. It’s beneficial for a healthy and long life. To live a long and healthy life like Mustafa’s, you need to eat Karakovan honey.
-Where are the hives? In the hills, right?
Yes, a little ways up, we’ll walk about an hour. You are young and love nature, you can do it.
-Yes, I will.
I am 65 and I walk, then climb the trees.
-Whoa, isn’t that dangerous?
It’s not dangerous, I am used to it.
-Okay, let’s go then.
Inspite of his age, he is so active and youthful. You can see how healthy Karakovan Honey is by looking at him.
Come on. Let’s start our walk.
-We’ve got our umbrellas, we’ve put on our raincoats, we’re starting.
Let’s go then.
Mustafa introduces me to the surroundings and gives me information about Karakovan honey. On the way to the honey, we arrive at the waterfall on the premises. Mustafa explains that this waterfall is the lovers waterfall. We are struggling a bit because the rain has made the trail on the hillside muddy, but Mustafa and I don’t turn back. After a long and troublesome journey, we make it to the Karakovan honey. We’re opening the hive, let’s see if there’s honey inside.
Mustafa quickly climbs the tree and in no time cuts off a piece for me. Really, this is some of the most delicious honey I’ve eaten. I can say it was worth the trouble. I now understand why people are always coming here.
Was it worth the walk, Rikki?
-It was great. I could walk anywhere just for this tiny little bit of honey. Should we turn back?
All right, if you like we can turn back.
With the hope of coming again, I say goodbye. I hope it won’t rain this much again. The people living here have something they can never part with, and that’s the sound of the river. This sound is very powerful. When you open your eyes you are met with an exuberance that fills your eyes and never stops flowing. Until the sun comes out I will keep walking in pursuit of this sound.
Walking in Çamlıhemşin is either uphill or downhill, so, the settled places are scattered. Those in the tea fields use cable cars to move the tea they’ve gathered. I’ve seen a lot of cable cars here, but they are usually used to move tea. This cable car transports people. I’m going to get on too.
Cable cars are the best form of transportation to carry big loads in uneven landscapes with steep slopes. But this is a different cable car. To preserve the environment they have resorted to this system of transportation in place of a paved road. That’s why this place’s name is ‘Self Made Settlement’.
This cable car that can take two or three people at a time has been here for three years. Everyone who has heard of or knows about using cable cars as transportation has welcomed it warmly. There have been a lot of people nervous to get on. But it’s an enjoyable journey for those brave enough. And finally, we are here. After crossing with the cable car I am met by friendly people.
They make the most of this unspoiled nature. That’s why it was crowded and there were nice treats. The conversation was just as good as the homemade pastries. You can clearly see the importance of nature here; the clean air is so good for you; the spirit of this place is such a rare blessing.
After a nice conversation, I’m leaving to pick up where I left off in my travels.
In this weather that always changes, as evening comes, the sky clouds over again and it starts to rain. But I love rain and I don’t let it get to me. Every time it rains it reminds me that I am near the Black Sea. We are in debt to this beautiful nature and rain. When you look at the Fırtına Stream for a long time it seems like it’s going to swallow you up. The stream separates into many branches. In the rain, these gushing branches look wonderful, especially if there’s fog.
No matter how much I love rain, I still start to find a place to stay tonight. And I found this nice hotel, right next to the Fırtına Stream. The day that started sunny continued with rain. Maybe that is why it seems like a few days have passed. I like how climate plays with time and can create illusions.
As my first day in Çamlıhemşın ends, I feel like I’ve gotten younger. You quickly understand how different and full of oxygen the clean air is here. Since the weather changes every few kilometers, it makes you realize how precious it is to notice that life’s moments are passing by. I wonder where I will be tomorrow evening, because every new day is a new adventure…
That is the end of story. Yes, we have reached the end of the story. As we mentioned earlier, Rikki Roath is an American. She’s married and living in Turkey for a long time. And she is still living in Turkey. If you want, you can get a closer look at her profile on Instagram and Facebook: