Tingling with anticipation, we follow the colors of the rainbow along the Küre Mountain range east from Amasra on the Black Sea (Turkish ‘Karadeniz‘)coast, wedding invitation in hand.
Judging by the exuberance that surrounds us all along the road, we are not the only ones invited. Obviously the Black Sea’s blue and the mountains’ green also number among the invited guests. A mismatch between expectation and reality has dogged us ever since we set out. Every hill conceals a blue-green gorge. The majestic Black Sea mountains on one side, a placid sea breeze on the other. The vast blue sea batters the rock gates of Gideros Cove. Powerful white-crested waves pound the verdure along the shore. The white cries of two gulls pierce the white clouds. The voices of children playing at the top of the hill mingle with the putt-putt of a fisherman’s motorboat. Despite all the commotion, however, tranquility reigns at Gideros Cove.
There is a small beach on the western shore with a couple of restaurants at its eastern end. Humble kitchens, crammed into the corners of everyday life and proffering unexpected natural flavors instead of the usual over-priced ’boutique’ tastes. The fried red mullet and pickle-and-bean salad are quite famous. We ourselves hanker after fresh anchovies, dipped in cornmeal and fried in hot oil.
FROM GİDEROS TO CİDE
With the taste of Gideros still on our palates, this time we encounter Cide. Spread along its extensive beach, the sea displays its myriad gifts from afar. Had it been summer, we could have pitched a tent on the shore. After Cide we head for the mountains and the Şenpazar-Azdavay-Pınarbaşı road. The driver’s job isn’t easy. The biggest hazard is the landscape since it’s hard to take your eyes off it. Your glance inevitably strays to the cloud mass caught between the mountains, the traditional wooden houses, the people toiling on the steep slopes. Finally we come to Küre Mountain National Park (KDMP), Europe’s oldest natural forest. It should not be forgotten that 109 of the 675 plants, 40 of the 132 mammals (which include endangered species such as lynx, otter and deer) and 129 of the 454 species of bird found here enjoy the distinction of being endemic to the region. The park more than deserves its epithet, ‘Wild Paradise’.
SPOON MAKERS AND BOX TREES
We delve into a village where we admire the stately plane trees (Turkish ‘çam ağaçları) and old wooden houses, almost obscured from the road. This region is famous for its spoons carved from boxwood. At the mere mention of the word ‘spoon’, we are immediately directed to a spoon maker. In the village of Harmangeriş we become their guests, and a place we just happened to stop in passing is quickly transformed into a tea party with honey and walnuts and an extended chat. Spoon making is passed down from father to son. They would like to stop using boxwood, which is becoming extinct, but at the same time they are well aware that the spoons come in handy and look good in the kitchen. Although they have begun using beech, they are wondering how they will ever give up box, which shows off their efforts and skill to better effect. Wishing we could chat longer, we hit the road again. The boxwood spoon makers also tell us about a shortcut, so we take the turnoff for Azdavay before the bridge just beyond the village of Deretekeli.
RED, ORANGE AND PURPLE DREAMLAND
To the beautiful wooden houses are added the village women and young girls working in the fields in their gaily colored costumes. I don’t use the word ‘gaily’ lightly, for these costumes exhibit all the ebullience of yellow and orange, the potency of red, the mystery of purple and lavender, in short the joy of nature and all its colors – a harmonious blend of the seven colors of the sun in floral and foliate motifs, a feast of color and light. One is a shepherd tending her flock, another is loading bales of wheat onto a tractor. As a fashion designer friend of mine said recently, “We have rediscovered orange!” I wonder if he would realize what he’s been missing if he came here?
But time flies, and we are worried now about getting to the wedding on time.We quicken our pace so as to reach Pınarbaşı before dark.
FROM AZDAVAY TO PINARBAŞI
Twenty-three kilometers from Azdavay, Pınarbaşı appears under the sun, which is just sinking behind a hill. The first thing we see is the Paşa Konağı, a stately mansion. The modest appearance of this 200-year-old wooden house steals our hearts away with its elegant architecture. How can the transformation of wood into a house look so effortless? How can a sizable two-story structure look so much a part of nature? And how beautiful the fabric of the curtains!
The Paşa Konağı has become an icon of tourism in the region. Seven years ago when it was put on the market for the price of the firewood it would make, an astute provincial governor and a ‘kaymakam’ entered into an exemplary cooperation with a private initiative, and the mansion was restored It was subsequently rented out by a company with thirteen partners and stands today as a model of touristic enterprise, civil leadership and cooperation in the region. Tourism here offers alternatives to the usual multi-star hotel holiday. Tourism of a sort to inject nature’s fresh blood into your veins. One night in the konak and you will feel restored.
In the morning, the first rays of light seep through the curtains’ lace trim, awakening you to a new day. Following a breakfast honey and clotted cream, our destination is Zümrüt, pilot village for the Ecotourism Project.
ZÜMRÜT, A FAVORITE WITH ECOTOURISTS
The road to Zümrüt between Azdavay and Şenpazar takes us through the heart of the forest. Our companions along this six-kilometer gravel road are fir, beech, boxwood, oak, hornbeam, maple, yew, linden and chestnut trees. The home of a friendly, hospitable folk who have learned to love and live at peace with the forest over the years. With its people and its natural beauty, this village is a sure-fire candidate for ecotourism. The women, who have worn the colorful traditional ‘fıstan’ for centuries, harmonize perfectly with nature’s stunning beauty. Garment of choice of most women in the forest villages especially, the yellow, green and purple ‘fıstan’ is unique to Pınarbaşı and Azdavay. Exhibiting different features depending on whether it is worn by an unmarried girl, a new bride or a married woman, it consists of five pieces. Other garments worn separately for everyday, holidays and festivals include vests, shawls, aprons, shalvar and caps encrusted with blue beads. All take their colors and gay appearance from the flowers, forests and mountains with which the people live cheek by jowl.
NO INVITATION REQUIRED
The groom’s ‘hakçı’s’ or ‘defenders’ appear in the distance on horseback. Two of them are well into their fifties, but they ride circles around the younger women. Hakçı’s conceal their faces with traditional masks so as not to be recognized. Their job isn’t easy because they are going to defend the rights of the groom at the girl’s home, which, as everyone knows, is the home of ‘naz’ or feigned reluctance and hard bargaining. The bride, wearing a veil embroidered with a red star and crescent, mounts a horse too, saying ‘Ya nasip’, ‘Such is my destiny’. In her wake follow the trousseau chests. The festivities get underway in the home of the groom. The raucous strains of clarinet and drum accompany the men dancing on the village square. The Black Sea’s (Karadeniz Bölgesi) blue sky and the Küre Mountains’ mad green are also among the invited guests. And the bridal couple’s hope and joy permeate the village’s spring-like air.
Hope and joy are literally kneaded into the bread here. There’s no need to wait for an invitation. No invitation is necessary in this land of big-hearted folk