A tiny human figure in Rize

It felt like I was stepping into a painting: from an asphalted road lined with ugly shops,  one step up a mostly dark green hill with wooden houses on it and woods behind it. On the grass a family having a picnic, a bit higher up the hill two children running around, laughing. I had seen this very scene in pictures, and somehow you think in reality it just can’t be that beautiful. But it was. I climbed the hill, lay down in the grass, looked around and thought: I am actually in this landscape now. And I felt a part of it.

The green hill was in Ayder, a small town in the Kackar Mountains National Park, in the north eastern province of Rize, in the Black Sea Coast region. I’m going to write a story about the region. That will only be published next year, but Rize has to be visited in the summer, because halfway through September the endless rains start, and in winter the region is hardly accessible because of a thick blanket of snow.

Rize is known for the Kackar Mountains, but is most famous for its tea. I took a plane from Istanbul to the nearest airport, Trabzon, and then took a bus to Rize, and that trip took me right along the Black Sea coast, with, on the other side of the road, hills covered by tea plantations. Behind that, partly covered in clouds, you could see the high mountains of the hinterland.

From Ayder you can take a dolmus to several so-called ‘yayla’s’, highlands where people herd their cattle in summer. From there you can take walks into the mountains. I made a one day walk from Kavrun yaylasi, starting at a height of more than 2000 meters, around the tree-line. Three beautiful hours of rough climbing later and on a height of more than 2500 meters, I was rewarded with an amazing view: four crater lakes twinkling in the sunlight, surrounded by high sharp mountains. I was alone; I sat down with bread, water and grapes, and felt totally in place as a tiny human figure all alone in this wide, overwhelming landscape. And I tried not to think too much of the fact that there is ‘wildlife’ around. Bears, to be precise.

It is, I concluded, totally stupid to go to Rize for just three days. Smarter was the German couple I met, who came to the region for four whole weeks with a tent on their backs. Luckily I live in this country and it’s easy to go back any time I want. I will surely do that, for the landscape of Rize suits me more than that of any other region in Turkey I have visited so far.

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