Wednesday, July 30, 2014

a small feast

things to buy in gaziantep

Gaziantep was next on our agenda, and we rolled into town sometime in the early afternoon, just in time for a museum stop and some lunch (which I shall share with you in the following posts). Ever since the last time I visited Antep, I've had in mind a copper cezve— a little pot for making Turkish coffee— and despite my purposeful beeline to the Bakircilar Çarşısı, I got distracted by a great many things along the way. We bought a knife from the nice man above, wondered if we needed a carpet Che Guevara, were puzzled over knotted plastic bags of what looked like cola, and debated if we needed any more tea. I have a cabinet full of teas.

After purchasing a lovely little cezve, we sat down to a quick kahve before hitting the road for Urfa.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

başar's mum is a great cook

While we were out wandering the terrain with a telescope and binoculars, Başar's mum was busy in the kitchen preparing beautiful dishes for us, other guests, and family members for iftar. I regret that I didn't take any photos of our first night's meal— there was an incredible minted chickpea and dumpling soup that I know I will end up craving one of these days! Her stuffed courgettes were absolutely perfect, made even more so with the bluing mountains as their backdrop.

in search of snowcocks

The knocking on the door to our room was precisely at 3:00 a.m., as promised. I shuddered into a state somewhere between sleep and awake, while Pedro bounded out of bed in hurried excitement. We were at the Şafak Pansiyon in Demirkazık, a family-run guesthouse that specialises in guiding people into the bare, sharp mountains in search of the Caucasian Snowcock. Pedro was already out the door having a quick tea with Başar, our guide, while I was still fumbling around with my clothes in the dark.

To see the snowcocks, as with many birds, you must get up early (the term "early bird" exists for a reason— I think I am biologically engineered to be more of a night owl), and in order to get to the remote location where it is possible to see them at dawn, you need to hop into the rickety, yet powerful jeep of a bespectacled older man named Ramazan. The path up the mountain was wild; it seemed at any moment the rocks under our wheels would send us flying off the edge into darkness, only to be discovered later by some shepherd and his sheep.

I was awake now.

The ride was that weird sensation between frightening and exhilirating, and just before the first the first rays of sun hit the peaks and we were high above the valley, we heard the lonesome call of a snowcock. As Ramazan parked the car, we darted out and scanned the mountaintops trying to locate the bird from its call— which sounded a bit like a loon.

Through the telescope, we spotted a small band of young Bezoar Ibexes making their way up the cliff face. Then, out of the shadow of a rock on the very top of the mountain, a Caucasian Snowcock flew to a new perch in the sun. He stretched his neck skyward, and let out a long, high-pitched call. The moment felt like magic; and the bird was considerate enough to spend a good time on that rock so we could get a long look at him before flying off.

I need to develop into an early bird— there really is nothing like watching the sun rise amid birdsong, whether on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, or at home.

Friday, July 25, 2014

light in the canyon


Dotting the expansive landscape are clusters of tents, some like the ones above, and others round or octagonal. These belong to shepherds, who gather sheep from various villages into mega-herds, and move them across hills and plains during the summer months. The shepherds move in families, their children playing under wide skies when not involved in chores, or learning how to tend to the animals themselves. I was told that they are the remaining Yörük, nomadic Turks who traditionally moved across Anatolia and the Balkans with their flock, on camels and donkeys, but I am not sure.

The plains rose to massive, rocky mountains.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

roadside attractions

Do you see this epic etli ekmek? It has its own stand! A speciality of the Konya region, etli ekmek is similar to pizza and lahmacun, a meat and bread deliciousness that can apparently stretch to a metre long. This particular one was downed with ayran at a roadside stop next to a gas station on the way to Demirkazık— and just look at this very well-presented Turkish coffee with its bird-sized lokum:

You never know what you might find on the side of the road in Turkey— strictly speaking of food and drink, you could come across anything between a moustached man with a log-burning stove and a kettle of çay, to something like this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

yoghurt and sour plums

The heat hits its peak at around one in the afternoon and everything goes silent, save for the buzzing of insects. The few birds who brave the intensity flit from shadow to shadow, their beaks wide open in an attempt to cool themselves. The only ones who seem to revel in the sun are the lizards, who bask with their heads high, on toasty rocks.

We patrolled Akseki for lunch, which was a little bit of a challenge as it is Ramadan (Ramazan, to Turks), a holy month of fasting for Muslims, and most eateries are closed. Fasting for Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam upon which the faith is built— the other four being: testimony of faith, prayer, giving alms to the needy, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca if possible. The fasting begins at sunrise and ends with the call of the azan at sunset, when iftar is held; the meal that breaks the fast. Luckily for us, a small pide shop was open for business, with two other customers quietly munching away.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel, where Yusuf bey insisted we sit with him for a while with a çay. This lead to stories about the past, about how Yusuf bey coincidentally lived in Büyükçekmece for a time, and about the Dutch birders who had previously passed through his doors. Eventually I ended up sketching him for a very patient hour, and even more çay.

He offered us yoghurt, and sour plums.

Monday, July 21, 2014

wood and stone

We rolled into Akseki sometime in the afternoon when the sun's strength had started to wane and the birds were getting cheekier. The landscape had turned Mediterranean; rocky hills with green pines and shrubs, olive trees and wild thyme. The little town gracefully spilled down a hillside onto a dry valley, and within the boxy concrete buildings stood some beautifully constructed old stone houses. There are stone houses throughout Turkey, but the way in which these were built, with wooden support beams layered between the stones, was quite unique. The exterior walls of some houses were smoothed with a layer of dung or cement, some were painted, and others were left natural.

Akseki is a very small town, but it has two hotels— fortunately the receptionist in the first one turned us off with his brusque manner, and we were able to find (with some help from cheerful, loitering older men) the much more affordable Star Hotel and its charming owner, Yusuf bey. The spartan, clean room was just what we had hoped for, and once we had settled in, we headed out to explore and to find some birds.

We came across a village named Çanakpınar, which though it seemed to be quietly crumbling into the earth, was still inhabited. A handful of children played in the street, and an ancient, trembling lady stared at us from her doorstep. I imagine she had seen the village when it was alive with families, when the wood of their roofs was fresh, and the walls of their homes were not sinking into the dirt. I wonder what that must have been like— when the hunter brought home his ibexes, and hung the curved horns above his window with pride.

We stopped a while to sketch one of these marvellous houses— one that we thought had been forgotten, but as I looked closer at one of the windows, I noticed a hand was grasping the wooden lattice. I strained to see the face to which the hand belonged, but it was too dark inside the house. How long had they been there watching? I smiled, and hoped there was a smile in the darkness too.