PART 4: Çamlıhemşin
The town of Çamlıemşin is the bottom end of Hemşin and the starting point of all
treks up the mountain. An excruciatingly bad 24-kilometer drive along the
roaring Fırtına brings you there, penetrating deeper and deeper into the forest
as the valley gets narrower and tea terraces on either side approach the
perpendicular. The first couple of villages along the road are Laz. At the last
cluster of houses before Çamlıemşin, Hemşinese Turkish replaces the boisterous
accents of Laz, orange¬and-black headgear replaces simpler white scarves, and
the warm brown of chestnut houses replace smaller wood-and-stucco whites. There
are a handful of Laz who have settled in Çamhhemşin and above, but from here on
thev from the minority Along the way there are three fine specimens of the
ancient hunchback stone bridges which constitute a familiar sight of the region.
More than a dozen others are located fur¬ther up in the Hemşin area. Each has a
different span and curvature; all are marvelously graceful and display
remarkable technical skill. A couple have been dated to the 17th century; others
are older but show hardly any sign of aging.
Ç'amlihemşin is the administrative center of the district (ilçe), having
replaced in the 50s the older capital of Ortahemşin (Pazarhemşin) which is
reached by a different route via Pazar. It is a village of 2000 souls, built in
a narrow gulch on the banks of a thunderous Fırtına Several wa¬terfalls burst
above, beside and near the main (and only) street. Land¬marks include two very
basic hotels where the roar of the water is the only matter one should have
reason to complain about, a dozen shops and an equal number of cafes/saloons.
Hoşdere Restaurant (the name means Happyriver) serves a good meal on its balcony
hanging over the river and acts as an information cen¬ter in the absence of
anything more formal. The district prefect, the judge and the gendarmerie
commander can be seen hard at play in the "Teachers Club", a simple enough
teahouse across the PTT. The mayor, a burly philosopher in plaid backwoodsman's
shirts, is usually too loaded to participate.
Two grocery stores sell the woollen handmade socks and silk scarves that are the
hallmarks of Hemşin attire. In case you decide to buy, make sure someone teaches
you the elaborate method of wearing the scarf. Any woman would oblige, and in
the process flash one of those spectacular Hemşin smiles that will come back
haunt you in your dreams.
Houses are scattered in the steep hills, clinging precariously to the
mountainside 100 or 200 feet above the river. A couple of the most impressive
traditional residences of the district can be seen at Andon Mahallesi, two
kilometers beyond downtown Çamhhemşin. The grand mansions presiding over a sea
of tea terraces reflect turn-of-the-century fortunes made in Russia. Some of the
furniture, the stained glass and wood carvings date from Czarist times. One
belongs to the proprietor of' the best restaurant in Ankara (the Washington), a
descendant of the original owners. As usual in Hemşin, the visitor will be
welcomed and served tea and food with no questions asked and no favors expected.
Exploring the Mountains: Beyond Çamhhemşin, it is advisable to seek out, if not
necessarily a guide then at least friends, introductions and recommendations.
They help set up hiking routes, find a home and a bed in remote yaylas, be
invited to festivals and weddings and cast for trout without being bothered by
the gendarmes. Savaş Güney is your first choice: but just about anyone you
approach (except officials) will help. Above all be patient. As a rule of thumb,
assume that you will spend at least twice the amount of time you had planned in
Hemşin. The mountains are unpredictable and deserve respect: people will
inevitably ask you to stay: you will have to put up with, then enjoy, the Hemşin
habit of having "one last glass" of rakı before moving on, hopefully, to your
Above Çamhhemşin the river branches in two, with the right (east) fork leading
Ayder and the
Kaçkar peak, and the left (main) fork climbing to Şenyuva
Pokut and the glacier lakes of Mount Tatos. You may take your
pick, probably de¬pending on what your guide says or where your Hemşinli friends
take you. Or you may spend a few days exploring both.
A Wilderness Idyll: Şenyuva, six kilometers beyond Çamhhemşin, is notable mainly
for the Farm of Savaş and Doris Guney where you can find accomodation or camping
space. The farm is one of the principal attractions of Hemşin quite on its own
and Savaş is the person to place yourself in the hands of if you want to go
beyond the surface of the Hemşin experience.
An intellectual-turned rustic who made an engineering career in West Germany in
the 60s, Savaş came back to the land of his ancestors in 1974 accompanied by his
German born wife, determined to sever as many ties as possible with the
civilized world. They aimed at total selfsuf-ficiency, growing their own
vegetables, baking their own bread, milk¬ing their own cows. Electricity came in
1984. At first, they made ends meet by growing and selling azaleas. Then casual
visits by friends and relatives from Germany began to expand into an
ever-widening circle of visitors from around the world who arrived purely on
word-of-mouth. At last the accomodation of friends and friends-of-friends turned
into a more or less full-time occupation.
The farm is located on a bank of the stormy Fırtma, with a terrifying
rope-and-pulley contraption as the only means of getting across the river. Once
safely landed, a chorus of farm animals and a delightful trio of nature-healthy
children greet the visitor. The guest bungalows contain roaring fireplaces, the
skins of unlucky bears who stumbled into the farm at one time or another, and
what might well be the best collection of quality English and German books to be
found east of Ankara. Unless previously notified Savaş is likely to be off in
the mountains with the latest group of his Dutch or Israeli or Australian
friends. Doris, with her matter of-fact charm, will convince even the most
time-pressed traveller to hang around for a few days until Savaş can come back
to organize a proper hiking trip.
A Unique Land
PART 2: The People of Hemşin
PART 3: Migrations
PART 4: Çamhhemşin
PART 5:The Main Valley