Ayder, the gateway to the Kackar Mountains in northeastern Turkey, was one of our most researched places on this trip. This was simply because there wasn’t much information about it (in English) anywhere. The Lonely Planet whetted our interest with its account of the various alpine treks to forests, waterfalls and glacial lakes that could be accessed from here, but provided little by way of practicalities. We also found bits and pieces of information on a few good blogs, but just not enough.
So we took a chance and jumped on a bus for the 14-hour ride from Goreme to Rize, a town on the edge of the Black Sea coast about 50km from Ayder. Rize is known as the commercial centre for its surrounding tea and kiwi growing region, but to our surprise it’s is also a bustling town with good roads, a large hospital and many shops.
As we hadn’t managed to find any accommodation in Ayder or Rize on the internet that was within our budget, we decided to just walk around town in search of hotels. We found one about 500 metres away from the otogar (bus) station. Because it was relatively cheap, and we were too exhausted (as well as a bit disoriented – 14 hours on a bus does that to you) to walk further with our 16kg backpacks, we took it.
We may have well been the only foreign tourists in Rize at the time. There were curious stares wherever we went. Men and women would come up to us and ask where we were from. Some shook our hands. Kids yelled ‘welcome’, ‘hello’ or ‘merghaba‘ from afar. We felt like Brangelina.
Although it was great being the only foreign tourists in town, the only problem was that almost no one here speaks English. So we got by by playing charades.
For example, on the first evening we went in search of the specialty of this region, hamsili pilav (anchovy rice). For some reason, none of the restaurants seemed to have it, they all only served kebabs. We asked a guy sitting outside a grocery shop. After signing “fish” and “eat”, he signed back that that it was not in season, but perhaps one particular restaurant next to the main mosque and museum that might have it.
He then directed a young man (who may have been his assistant) to lead us there. The young man led us across town to a nice little restaurant, which did indeed have the dish on its menu. However, the waiter signed us that the restaurant could only prepare it if given a day’s notice. We signed to him, “Yes, we would like to order this and this, and will come here at 7pm tomorrow.”
We then spotted a tourist information office next to the museum and went in to ask for more information on Ayder. Surprise, surprise, they didn’t speak English either. But they did have a useful tourism booklet in English and called for reinforcements when we started asking questions – in the form of a tourist bus driver who was hanging around outside the office. Yay, we got the information we wanted – a direct dolmus (minibus) to Ayder leaves at 9.30am every day from Sehitler Cad. dolmus station near the coastal highway.
So the next morning we hopped on the dolmus to Ayder. We had originally planned to stay a few nights, but couldn’t find a cheap hotel online, so we left our backpacks in Rize. We had also originally wanted to do some treks in the Kackar Mountains but upon reaching Ayder (and seeing how steep the mountains were), we realised that we were actually drained from the heat and long bus rides in Turkey. So instead of walking up the mountain, we decided to walk 17km downhill to Camlihemsin, the nearest town to Ayder, and then catch a dolmus back to Rize. With that decision, we happily explored Ayder’s other attraction: pastries!
A pretty wooden building that caught our attention in Ayder turned out to be a pension (hotel). Hasan Sori, owner of the pension and Robert DeNiro’s doppelganger, happened to be sitting outside as we were admiring the building. He was kind enough to show us around. For 20 TL (about 9 Euros) per person, we could have gotten a rustic (though basic) room with amazing views of the waterfall and forest! Hasan a.k.a Robert speaks very good English and also offered to arrange for guides to take us up to Kackar. We smacked our heads for having left our luggage in the lowlands, but made a mental note to give him some free advertising. So if any of you plan to go to Ayder, do check his place out.
Barely a kilometre into our walk downhill to Camlihemsin, we came upon a strange sight – a group of ladies dancing in a circle by the road. (Later we found out that they were doing a simplified version of horon, a traditional Turkish party dance). They tried to pull us in, so Sara and her clumsy feet tried to dance the horon, which supposed to look something like this. Our new found dancing friends then invited us to join them for snacks. With limited English and Turkish, they explained that they were there to harvest their honey, and then we somehow became Facebook friends.
We continued downhill after saying goodbye. About nine kilometres later, we noticed fresh trails of tar on both sides of the road. As the tar lines ran long and within inches of each other, we were worried that it might ruin our shoes. And just in time, a car stopped by the roadside and the young man who was driving offered us a ride. Yippie! The driver was a handsome young soldier from Kayseri who was honeymooning with his equally gorgeous new wife from Ankara. They offered to take us all the way to Rize (as it was on the way to Trabzon, where they were headed) but we decided to give the honeymooners their space and asked them to drop us at Camlihemsin.
We made it back to Rize in time for dinner. So to end our fabulous Turkish day out, we feasted on anchovies.