Hitchhiking in the Pontic Mountains, Turkey
A short story on heart-warming human kindness, nearly getting stuck in snowy mountains and exchanging the first CD in our Cultural Relay Project.
It was a cold winter day in Trabzon, but we were determined to hitchike to the Sumela Monastery, situated only 55 km inland, in the heart of the Pontic Mountains. We have been in Trabzon for nearly two weeks now, patiently waiting for our Iranian visa, so any opportunity to get out of town, seemed like a better option.
We set off around midday and positioned ourselves on the road, which we will take again tomorrow on our way to Erzurum, infamous for being one of the highest and coldest cities in Turkey.
Waiting for the lift didn’t take long and soon we were on the road, speeding along in a heated car on our way to the town of Maçka, from where we would take a mountain road to the monastery. Our driver and his two companions didn’t speak any English but were kind enough not only to give us a lift, but they also bought us Coke and chocolate. This kind of sugar boost is always welcome on a cold day!
Not long after arriving in Maçka did we realise we might face some difficulties in reaching the monastery as the traffic on our mountain road was very scarce. We got to the end of town and waited, admiring the snow-capped summits in the distance. Soon a car stopped and our driver turned out to be an old man who promised to give us a lift a few kilometres down the road.
On the way we listened to some Turkish beats and we didn’t hesitate to ask him if he would be interested in swapping his CD for one of ours. Score! He agreed and we managed to pawn Robbie Williams for a mix CD of, unknown to us, Turkish artists in the first music exchange in our Cultural Relay Project. Check it out!
When we arrived to the place where our driver would be turning, he offered to help us get another lift. We all got out of the car and waited for more cars to pass by. We waited and waited, and I started wandering if it was a good idea. Getting stuck in the mountains in winter, would be a horrible way to end your life ;)
But there was no need to worry as eventually a car appeared and our driver hailed it. The three men inside looked surprised and being dressed conservatively, I didn’t think they would be keen on taking us, but as our driver had put a good word for us in Turkish, they nodded and we jumped in.
After a short while we reached a checkpoint, where a mountain warden told them they were not allowed to pass with their car or we’d have to pay some money. As it was only 2 km to the foot of the cliff on which the monastery is perched, so we decided to wave goodbye and walk the remaining distance.
It was a lot of fun walking in the snow, but the mountain road was deserted and I gradually felt more and more uneasy about the prospect of getting back. But we still had some time before the dusk and anything could happen, so we enjoyed the walk. Soon the stunning Orthodox monastery, nestled in a steep cliff, came into view, and the descending clouds gave it even more dramatic air. The Sumela Monastery was founded in the 4th century and it was famous for an icon of the Virgin Mary (known as the Panagia Gorgoepekoos), supposedly painted by the Apostle Luke.
When it was time for us to return, we walked past some cars, parked in front of the cafe at the foot of the cliff, which lifted our spirits a bit. None of them were going anywhere, but we knew that we were not alone in this desolate place and sooner or later somebody would give us a lift back to Maçka.
We walked back to the checkpoint and hoped to have a chat with the wardens, who, we hoped, would probably offer us a cup of Turkish çay. However, when we reached their hut we saw there was nobody inside and their car had also disappeared. Was it getting so late that they had gone home already? Never mind, we thought, we will wait and somebody will pass sooner or later.
We waited, drank some tea we had left in our thermos, walked up and down the road, jumped around to keep warm and still there were no cars passing. After what seemed like ages, we saw a car approaching with a young couple inside. As the road was narrow, we stood almost in front of them, but even that didn’t stop them whizzing past us, leaving us alone on a freezing cold deserted mountain road. We couldn’t believe it! It was great chance to get back to civilisation. Who know how long we would have to wait for another such opportunity.
The waiting game started again and eventually we heard another car approaching. This time it was coming from the opposite direction, heading towards the monastery. It stopped by the checkpoint and a window opened. A young guy popped his head out and asked us what we were doing there. With our few words in Turkish we explained we were trying to get back into town. I saw hesitation on his face, but only for a split second. He closed the window, reversed his car and opened the door for us. We felt so grateful as it was starting to get really cold.
Emrah, an artificial grass vendor, didn’t speak good English but when we were in his car he explained: I people, you people – no problem! Later, when we were sitting in a cafe back in town, where he invited us, he pulled out his mobile phone and we had a conversation using Google Translate.
We found out that he was currently staying in Trabzon, trying to sell his artificial grass and came to Sumela to visit the monastery for the first time. The translated text on his phone said:
But when I saw you in the cold, I just couldn’t leave you there.
We didn’t share the same language, but because he saw human beings in us, it didn’t matter to him that he wouldn’t see the monastery that day. He felt that he had to help us, which shows the amazing spirit of people who pick up hitchhikers and it’s a perfect picture of what many hitchhiking stories are like. So, if you haven’t hitched a lift yet and think that the world is full of unkind people, it’s time for you to hit the road!
Later on Emrah drove us directly to Trabzon and here is a short video showing us trying to have a conversation using a mobile phone:)
written by: Ania