The English speaking manager at the Nur Hotel had found me a hire car for a couple of days. It was a cash only deal and they didn’t want to see my driving license or use a credit card as a deposit. Although I did sign something it was only in Turkish so could have sold myself into slavery for all I knew, although there is not much work left in me.
The windscreen had a crack across the bottom and although I pointed this out both the hirecar man and the hotel manager just shrugged their shoulders in a way which said ..this is Turkey.
There are many monasteries and Mosques in the Pontic Mountains and the area had been exploited for minerals and timber for thousands of years, but apart from gravel, now some of the more important exports through the port of Trabzon were tobacco and hazelnuts.
First stop petrol as the needle on the gauge was stuck on empty, and half an hour later going uphill it was stuck on empty again but downhill it was full.
The lake and Mosque at Uzungol was very Alpine with chalet like hotels. It is a tourist attraction for the region with signs in Turkish, Arabic and English. For a European it was a bit underwhelming but if you lived in a flat in Trabzon or a tent in the Arabian desert this lake with hills and a mosque was quite pretty. It rather reminded me of Interlaken with a mosque.
The place had a number hotels and tourist shops around the lake that was created by an earthquake but strangely there was only one restaurant which I had to eat in. It wasn’t very good and it was tourist prices.
As I had the rest of the day I looked at the map and saw there was a route through the mountains to the south and then a road back round to Trabzon,
I stopped at a garage for more petrol only after 40 miles as I had no faith in the petrol gauge.
I asked at the garage if this route was ok and he advised me to take the road next to the petrol station as this was better than the more direct road.
Well the road started as a brand new tarmac road but then became a dirt track and ..yes like all stories it got worse and worse and climbed higher and higher way over any tree line and then the mist came down.
After roughly an hour and a half I arrived at the Sultan Murat mosque, well the construction of this new mosque is in the middle of nowhere.
Although I was getting worried where all this was leading to, and I saw no-one to ask directions and again the petrol gauge was stuck, and the stress was building, but the landscape was breathtaking and I suppose one always had to suffer in some way to see beautiful things.
And it was sparsely beautiful in front was just this light coloured track meandering up and down over these naked light greeny-brown hills
Just as I was thinking .. am I ever going to get out of here I saw a small van approaching so I flashed my lights , got out of the car with my map and waved him down.
He nodded that straight on would get me on the main road back to Trabzon, but waved his hands negatively to any road that went downhill from this track.
At the same time a group of four or five children appeared out of the mist and tried to sell me some berries. I was so relieved that the road was going to get me down from this 2000 metre + high plateau that rather than buy the berries I gave these rather raggedy looking kids 5Tl .
The people who live on this plateau and most of the mountain area from Trabzon into Georgia are the Laz people and although most are now Sunni Turkish speaking people they were up until the 16th century Christian and apparently it is the only pre Hellenic language still spoken.
Is it the laz people
In 1915 the Ottoman Empire and the Russians fought a long battle up on this plateau.
Sometime later I finally starting to descend and with the sunshine came finally to the immense Anatolian plain, a pretaste of the region I would be travelling through for the next month, a light brown range of rolling hills at some 1500 metres altitude, some 400 miles across and 1000 miles long.
The next morning I set out for Sumela Monastery.
The road there was full of quarries and tunnelling. At the entrance to one tunnel there were about 7 or 8 cement mixer trucks which looked like a group of hippos around a waterhole.
It is a pleasant drive up to Sumela, very alpine and a freshness in the morning air that I hadn’t found in Turkey so far.
It is quite a long walk or hike up to the monastery and the last bit, I suppose was fortification, is 80 steps up to a protected gate and the 84 steps down the other side.
The monastery was founded in 386 ad and although has fallen into ruins on and off, it has been roughly in its current form since the thirteenth century. And the wonderful frescoes date back to this time.
It was not only protected during the Ottoman period and for 500 years was even given funds by Constantinople.
It was occupied by the Russians when they invaded eastern Turkey in 1916 and then in 1923 was abandoned during the Greek Turkish population exchanges. Apparently the Greek monks buried the Icon and returned in 1930 to dig it up and smuggle it to Greece to be pride of place in the new Sumela monastery in Macedonia.
It is a very beautiful and tranquil spot and it is possible to imagine the monks climbing these steps nearly 2000 years ago as very little has changed in the area.
As of 2012, the Turkish government is funding restoration work, and the monastery is enjoying a revival in pilgrimage from Greece and Russia.
I stopped at the seaside town of Akcaabat on the way back to Trabzon and on the beach, unlike the mediterranean coast the women were completely covered.
It had a beautiful coastal walkway with restuarants overlooking the sea, unlike Trabzon which had turned its back on the Black sea.
I had my last walk around Trabzon and my last supper at Murat Balik Salon, my favourite restaurant, before packing for my journey to Erzurum.