It was the day I had the most concern about in so far as I hoped to get to Sebinkarahisar in Giresun province, by far the trip’s longest single hop and one that, if done the most direct way, would be for quite some distance along roads with light traffic and no minibuses. However, if things went to plan I would travel via Sincan, Bolucan, Zara and Susehri. Minibuses should exist from Zara, half way to Sebinkarahisar, but I had first to negotiate a long section of road with no minibuses. But the roads went through mountains, so, if nothing else, the scenery would be enjoyable.
The Belediye Hotel provides guests with a buffet breakfast, but, as I had expected, it is a very conventional one with not one item that lifts the spirit by being unanticipated. However, the tea was very good and I ate two boiled eggs and lots of bread just in case I was stuck in the middle of nowhere without a source of food. I also had a boiled egg in my rucksack for emergency purposes liberated from a breakfast a day or two earlier.
I walked to the road for Sincan and Zara and started flagging lifts not far from the railway station. A few cars passed and their drivers indicated that they were turning off to the left to the large steel works just north of Divrigi. After waiting twenty or so minutes a car drew to a halt and the driver, who worked at the steel works, gave me a lift as far as he was going, a distance of about 4 or 5 kilometres. I walked about a kilometre with the railway and the steel works to my left, the latter belching out noxious fumes from chimneys rising high above large mounds of grey-black spoil, then a tractor stopped and its driver gave me a lift to where the road to Ilic and Erzincan heads into a pretty valley to the east. Again I had to wait about twenty minutes, then a small lorry stopped and the driver and his companion gave me a lift to where a road goes to the west to Kizbeli and Kangal. The driver and his companion, both Alevis, were going to a market in a settlement west of Sincan where they would set up their stall for the day, one selling all sorts of processed foodstuffs. At one point during our time together, the driver asked his companion to confirm they had packed some raki for the night. They had, two bottles in fact. When I was dropped at the road junction, the driver pressed on me a big bag of crisps which, as will soon become apparent, proved most helpful, but not for me. Once I could no longer hear the sound of the lorry, the call of cuckoos filled the silence.
The journey as far as the road junction, which was just beyond the small settlement of Sincan with its jandarma post, was only 30 kilometres, but, once past the steel works, the mountainous scenery through which we drove was delightful. The road meandered as it ascended and descended. The land at low levels was green and fertile, the rivers were full of water and, quite unexpectedly, we passed a coal mine.
The point at which I was dropped turned out to have very little traffic going my way, so I walked about a kilometre before a car stopped. The driver gave me a lift of about 3 kilometres to where, in a meadow close to a river lined by mature trees, he and a friend had set up camp for the summer to tend their many beehives which had been arranged in lines in the long grass. I declined the offer of glasses of tea because I could tell that getting to Zara was going to prove a bit of a challenge. On the dashboard of the car was a box that once contained Romeo y Julieta cigars from Cuba. Honey, cigars, a love for the fresh air in upland locations: the man had taste. And he was another Alevi.
I walked another kilometre or so, then sought shelter from the sun among some trees beside the road. Big gaps in time now existed between each passing car so I walked another 4 or 5 kilometres, stopping every twenty minutes of so to rest. The good thing was that it was only 10.30am, but the bad thing was that I still had about 65 kilometres to go to Zara. This said, I was high in some beautiful mountains, my water bottle was full, I had some food in my rucksack, many wild flowers prospered in the long grass, lots of trees grew along the banks of a meandering stream, and bees and butterflies provided added visual interest.
At last a car drew to a halt and a large man with a male companion gave me a lift even higher into the mountains, a journey of about 12 kilometres. We drew to a halt where a cesme in a wonderfully exposed situation with magnificent views in every direction stood just below the road. While the stone and plaster surround of the cesme had suffered the attention of graffiti artists, the hills, the snow-smudged mountains, the pasture and the wild flowers looked sublime. We were just south of a pass through the mountains at 1,810 metres above sea level and the driver’s companion walked across the gently inclined meadow to the east to look for mushrooms. He had been away for about ten minutes when he shouted, “I have found some. They are very big.”
By now I was low on water so I filled the bottle at the cesme, drank over half the contents and filled it again for later in the day. The water tasted very good and was naturally chilled.
The driver of the car was Demir Aydogan, the muhtar, or headman, of Curek, a village on the road between Divrigi and Sincan. He said that he and his friend had come to the cesme knowing that mushrooms grew near it at this time of year.
Demir said he would stay with me until he was sure that I had a lift, and his way of getting a lift was very direct: he waved down passing drivers to ask them where they were going. The third vehicle, a very large lorry struggling slowly up the hill to the pass, stopped, as the two previous ones had, and the driver said he was going to Giresun via Sebinkarahisar. I could not believe my luck. Although the mountainous roads to Sebinkarahisar meant that the journey would be a slow one, I knew I would eventually get to my destination.
I thanked Demir, shook hands with the lorry driver and off we went. But off we went very slowly because the road was steeply inclined to the pass and the lorry, although a new one with automatic gears, was heavily laden. Until we arrived at the summit we did not once get above walking pace. I was in for quite a slow ride, but, where the road was level or gently inclined downwards, the lorry could rattle along at about 70 kph with little difficulty.
Because Turkey is such a mountainous country, and because most of its large rivers run roughly from east to west, it has always been easier and faster to travel from west to east and vice versa than north to south and vice versa. It is no accident that a majority of Turkey’s most important roads and its few railway lines incline toward the horizontal rather than the vertical, as it were. Despite massive investment in recent decades, roads from north to south are still, as a general rule, narrower than those running west to east and, of course, the mountain ranges that lie between the easier west to east routes have not gone away. Although going only as far as Sebinkarahisar and therefore missing out on yet another mighty ascent and descent between that settlement and the Black Sea at Giresun, I was now in for a remarkable journey in the cab of a lorry high above the road that brought home to me just how challenging it can be to navigate a route south to north in Turkey, even in 2015 when the country’s road network has never been so good.
The scenery was not as spectacular north of the pass as south of it, but hills and mountains, even if somewhat in the distance, are always a pleasure to the eye. Moreover, since we descended almost all the way to Zara the journey was relatively quick. The driver, Cengiz Sahin from Samsun, was a quiet man, which made a nice change from the almost constant babble of chatter that breaks out if a foreigner is given a lift in Turkey. Of course, I wanted to give Cengiz something for kindly helping me out and saving me quite a bit of money by Turkish standards, but knew an offer of cash would be rejected, perhaps with a hint of anger because I was manifesting disregard for his hospitality. Then I remembered the big bag of crisps given to me earlier in the day. I pulled it out of my rucksack, opened it and placed it between us. Cengiz began eating the crisps immediately and, although I had some, he was still nibbling them as we drove into Sebinkarahisar a few hours later.
Just before entering Zara we drove briefly along the very wide west to east road connecting Ankara with Yozgat, Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum and beyond. The road looked as if it had been subject to substantial up-grading only quite recently. We then drove through the centre of Zara to connect with the road to Susehri. Zara looked overwhelmingly modern, but it nestles against the next ridge of mountains through which we had to drive. Beside the road were a succession of large, modern schools painted in bright colours. Zara must meet the middle and high school needs of lots of the surrounding settlements (most villages in Turkey have an elementary school nowadays so children can receive their first few years of education in a safe and secure environment in which they are familiar). Most pupils and students probably board in Zara during the week and are taken home on Friday afternoon for the weekend. I imagine most pupils and students are driven to Zara in the same minibuses early on Monday morning.
I had travelled along the Zara to Susehri road once before and knew it to be scenically rewarding for most of the way. The hills, the mountains, the rivers, the trees and the wild flowers in the long grass (some of the grass had the first hints of yellow because the ground was drying out as summer fast approached), all contributed to my pleasure, as did the blue sky smudged with puffs of white cloud. Beside the rivers were trees and some of the trees had been polled. But the lorry struggled to reach the pass at 2,010 metres above sea level and, when I looked across at Cengiz, he wore a very bored expression. Driving lorries long distance in Turkey can be extremely tedious because you are invariably alone and very often make very slow progress. To some degree, automatic gears, although they make your job easier, increase the boredom. Cengiz, who had set off from Divrigi that morning about 7.30am, did not expect to get to Giresun before 8.00pm at the earliest. Despite the often breathtaking scenery through which he drove, tedium characterised his very long working day.
We eventually reached the summit, turned a corner and were confronted by snow-smudged mountains to the north. We began to descend into a beautiful valley, one that reminded me of the one you drive through when leaving Gumushane for Trabzon north of Zigana Pass. This said, the valley we now entered was much less populated, which only enhanced its appeal. About 25 kilometres from Susehri we were surrounded by forest and snow-smudged mountains. We entered the small roadside village of Aydinlar where old stone houses that have grown in stages have large corrugated iron roofs. Although somewhat neglected, the houses looked very interesting, not least for being positioned directly below steep rock cliffs from which rocks must fall every so often. Briefly, the lorry reaches 80 kph.
We were now in a meandering canyon for a few kilometres and at one point entered a tunnel to avoid a vast barrier of rock. A fish farm beside the road had attracted some customers who had stopped in their cars.
A few kilometres before Susehri we stopped for the first time since leaving the cesme. We pulled into a roadside tea garden with a water feature and wooden kiosks for people in which to relax. Cengiz needed a rest for about half an hour and wanted also to recharge his phone. We had three teas each and, when he went to the loo, I settled the bill, which is most unusual if you are someone’s “guest”. Cengiz was not best pleased.
Before we sat down to consume the teas, Cengiz opened a storage compartment between the lorry’s wheels. Inside was a large butane gas cylinder and a puppy. The puppy had been asleep and came around slowly. Cengiz reached into a second storage compartment and poured milk into a plastic bottle he had cut a section from so that, although the mouth remained intact and could still be secured with the screw cap, the puppy could drink from what was in effect an improvised bowl. After the puppy had drunk two portions of milk, Cengiz attached a string to its neck and tied the other end to a bar on the lorry. The puppy played in the dust and ran around as best it could while we relaxed in one of the nearby kiosks. Before we set off again, Cengiz fed the puppy another portion of milk. It seemed that the puppy provided a diversion from the boring work routines with which Cengiz is afflicted.
Back in the lorry’s cab, Cengiz produced a packet of sunflower seeds which we shared as we made our way to Sebinkarahisar. Cengiz told me that he would eat nothing but the crisps and the sunflower seeds until arriving in Giresun much later that night.
We resumed the journey and arrived at the next really large road running roughly west to east, on this occasion one from Amasya to the large road already mentioned from Ankara to Erzurum and beyond. We by-passed Susehri and drove north-west along the road to Amasya for about 10 kilometres, then took a right turn for Sebinkarahisar. The journey was only about 35 kilometres from the junction, but so steep and winding was the road for most of the way that it took almost two hours to get to our destination. This said, the first few kilometres were beside a reservoir that has been in existence long enough to look in parts like a natural lake, and very pretty it is. However, as we ascended into the mountains the scenery became even more beautiful and spectacular, so much so that I thought that the section of the journey from Susehri to Sebinkarahisar was probably the day’s best. But no section of the journey was other than attractive or interesting, even when in the vicinity of the steel works near Divrigi or crossing the gently undulating farmland leading to Zara.
One of the most interesting parts of the journey from Susehri to Sebinkarahisar is where the road enters rounded hills composed of red soil which the rains easily wash into the nearby streams. The streams feed into the river at Susehri, by which time the water is very silty. Also near Susehri is a flooded area where dead trees rise from the water. I assume the flooding has been quite recent and in all likelihood due to the creation of yet another reservoir.
Protected by a shepherd and at least one large dog, flocks of sheep and goats grazed the pasture around the reservoir and someone local had utilised the reservoir to open a large fish farm. Later on snow-smudged mountains lay in the distance, but hills and undulating farmland dominated the views closer to the road. Fields mingled with pasture, the latter generously littered with wild flowers, and birds both large and small prospered in the fertile conditions where food of many kinds must be plentiful. There were lots of trees, streams carrying red silt and villages in very pretty surroundings.
It was about 4.00pm as we approached the outskirts of Sebinkarahisar and I could not believe what I saw ahead. The relatively small town is surrounded by hills and mountains and two of the most prominent peaks overlook it from the west and the east. The mountain to the east is crowned with the extensive remains of the citadel, a citadel which, when intact, must have been very large. Part of the old town nestles directly below the citadel on the slope facing to the west and, even from a distance, looks very attractive. The modern town, which unites with the old town with what is largely a mixture of houses and small apartment blocks, lies along the road between Susehri and Giresun and spreads every which way in the manner typical of Turkish settlements subject to rapid population growth. But, from the more open south end of the town in particular, you can easily escape from Sebinkarahisar to enter undulating countryside with small settlements surrounded by fertile farmland. I was in for a treat and decided immediately to stay for two nights.
Cengiz stopped the lorry on the main street near the town centre. We shook hands and I offered to get him some more crisps, but he laughed and said he still had some left in the packet in the cab. Rarely have I felt more grateful for a lift through Turkey’s mountains, so I asked for his address so I could send a few photos to remind him of our time together. I might have got to Sebinkarahisar more quickly by trying to flag lifts in cars from Zara onwards, but, by going so slowly along the roads, my affection for the mountains was enhanced. Once home examining the photos taken when away, those of the day’s road trip inspired in my mind a desire to return, particularly to spend more time between Susehri and Sebinkarahisar.