Maçahel – Artvin

Blacksea Region / Northeast Turkey

August 2019

Northeast Turkey is a special part of this big country with its old evergreen forests, high mountains, beautiful plateaus and deep valleys. If you are a forest and mountain lover visiting Turkey, you should definitely come and see this part.
The city Artvin located in this region is one of the greenest cities in Turkey that reserves magnificent vast views of every tone of green. Besides it hosts a traditional way of living that hasn’t lost its touch with nature.

This grafitti on a wall in Hemşin is delicately telling about the life here. East Blacksea region has a harsh mountainous geography and tough climate with so steep slopes and dense forests. Nomadic life with animals transits all year long; descending to the valleys below in winter, ascending to the upper plateaus in summer. Therefore men and women have to be seperated at some parts of the year. You can see the mark of this life style in the lyrics of traditional songs. First two lines always tell about the nature but the second half expresses the longing of lovers. Despite this condition of life, the joy, the sense of humor of the people are so inspirational.

Maçahel is a region of Artvin around the border of Georgia. It consists of 18 villages at very steep slopes, 6 in Turkey, 12 in Georgia. It is a heaven on earth with spectacular mountains, forests and evergreen alpine pastures.

In winter the landscape is covered with snow. In summer it constantly rains and the mountains are covered partially with clouds or fog. Exactly these times last year I was in Thailand. These views and the climate were reminding me of my days there at monsoon season. I loved to spend some parts of summer in these misty greyish tones and got wet under the rain.

This region has a high importance in terms of natural old forests, biodiversity and beekeeping. Sudden height differences in the mountains, forests and rivers bring in the ideal habitat for many species. These mixed forests have rich flora with a high ratio of endemic property and has many species like; beech, spruce, chestnut, hornbeam, linden, birch, abies, acre, oak, alder, walnut, aspen, boxwood and hazelnut. And many berries like blackberry, raspberry and blueberry.
In terms of fauna, this region is home for bears, goats, wildboars, jackals, otters and many different types of raptors.

This time I was not alone but with my old dear friends. It was such a beautiful experience to explore this region altogether with the warmth of our sisterhood.

We started our route from Kemalpaşa on a heavy rainy day. Then we reached Borçka over Hopa. Our first stop was at this beautiful lake Karagöl in Borçka (above).

Then we entered into magnificent valleys in between dense forests. We were now in Maçahel (above). After passing Camili village we entered into Efeler Natural Conservation Area. Some settlements, little villages and hazelnut fields started to show themselves in the lush green landscape.

Amazed by the wild nature we proceeded in the bumpy roads and arrived at this humble but pretty guesthouse Bumbulay where we would be staying for couple of days.

Bumbulay is run by this beautiful local family above; Kenan, Reyhan and their little son Ali. From the very first moments we were welcomed by their warmth and great hospitality. And they were also so joyful. Mashallah! We learned many things from them about the area, wild life, the way of living and the culture. Hearing about their memories from the past or their daily experiences we started to know more and more about the region. On the top right side, we see the traditional snow shoes.
This region is a gene conservation reservoir of Caucasian bees. There are many beekeepers here that still use traditional methods. Oh and the honey was so delicious and fully natural.

Using this guesthouse as a base we exlored the area mostly on foot. Here is a heaven for trekking but you should get a proper orientation if you are willing to go deep into the forests. Going from one valley to another, it was such a delight to see all these beauties and breath in the fresh air. It healed all of us.

This region has many rivers running along in each valley. They are bringing life to each and every corner. What a blessing. Each time we took our chance to present our deep gratitude to the water.

This region has a rainforest ecosystem therefore there is high humidity. Ferns are coating all the groundcover (top right, below). Rhododendrons (local name komar) are constantly decorating the nature (top right, above). I used to see them at some foothills of Himalayas in Nepal, they were all over the place there. The bees produce honey from rhododendrons as well. The locals call this honey ‘deli bal’ that means crazy honey. If you eat more than couple of spoons, you may see the fairies!

We also paid a visit to the magnificent Maral Waterfall. Here the water falls from 65m height. It has a disorenting scale which you can understand when you look at Filiz standing in the water in the picture above, right. This summer gifted me a lot of visits to many different waterfalls in many different areas like, mid parts of Turkey, here and Georgia.

Ahh how silent is the forest and my mind. Wandering in the heavy fog, the notion of time and space disappears.
We left Efeler behind and hit the road this time to the remote places up in the mountains. On the bumpy and slippery roads we drove for hours and hours next to steep cliffs when thick fog was blocking almost all of our view. It was quite an adventure.

But then the view above was our gift when we finally made it to the Curdipura plateau. (2200m) This magnificent view of the ocean of clouds rised up and up and reached us. We let it go through, feeling the soft touch of the clouds on our skin. Now we were not more than a couple of kilometers away from the Georgian border.

After we started our descend we passed through spectacular mountains and forests. Were we in Turkey or somewhere in the alpines of Switzerland?! There was a strong river passing through the valleys and we saw many springs along the way.

As we went down again from the mountains we stopped at this purely beautiful lake Karagöl at Şavşat (above). How good it was to meet with the warm summer sun again. In the afternoon we also visited Cehennem Deresi Canyon which is another beautiful attraction of this area.

Along the way we passed through many villages and fields that had been opened for agriculture. We were so pleased to see the traditional way of living that hasn’t lost its authenticity. These wooden structures called Serender or Nalya (above) are used as storages for grains.
Talking about this area we need to mention about tea production which is one of the main sources of income. In Hemşin organic production is promoted. This old local lady was harvesting fern to use as an organic material to support her tea plants.

Horon is the traditional dance of the people of Black Sea. They have a high enthusiasm to dance in this circular form of Horon. In the center a man playes tulum. (traditional instrument in the form of bagpipe) There is always a leader who leads the groups and give instructions about the quite complicated different styles of the dance. It is a pretty lively dance where the arms, legs, shoulders move rapidly in cycles.
At first times it was quite surprising to see people along the roads who park their car aside, start a high volume traditional music and dance. We also didn’t miss our chance and did exactly the same. It was such a fun and we burst into laughters.

Our journey continued with an overnight stay at Nihayet’s family house in Kemalpaşa. Then we spent some days at the beautiful cottage house at the mountains of Hemşin that Derya and Filiz had rented for this summer. All were so lovely experiences. We applied hanna on our hands as a reminder of these delightful days.

Most of the days were rainy and foggy. Going on walks in the surrounding, having delicious conversations, reading, writing, cooking together, we enjoyed to slow down and rest within our company. It was purely peaceful.

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