While first planning this trip, I envisioned a grand journey traveling around the entirely of the Black Sea on foot, through Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. This was later modified to include only Turkey and Georgia, and then later only Turkey’s Black Sea coast. I chose this region as I had spent very little time here in my previous stints living and traveling in Turkey, and I wanted to see and learn more about the unique culture and history of the region. After arriving in Istanbul in early April (and meeting up with some friends there), I bought a tent, sleeping bag, and hiking poles, gathered some food and medical supplies, and dropped off some excess luggage at my friend (and fellow Fulbrighter from Balikesir) Greg’s apartment. I chose the tiny town of Anadolu Feneri (Anatolian Lighthouse) as my starting point.
On a dreary grey morning I boarded the Istanbul metro (after some minor questioning by the security guards as to what I had in my giant backpack), changed to a bus under a nondescript overpass, and eventually found myself in Anadolu Feneri. After taking in the views at the historic lighthouse (1830) I began what I imagined would be a two month adventure walking and enjoying the beauty of the northern coast. I ran into my first obstacle almost immediately, as the road I had planned to follow east toward Riva ran straight through a Turkish military base. Looking at the map, I despaired at having to detour at least seven kilometers out of the way to go around. A mile down the road, however, I spied a dirt road heading east that wasn’t on the map, and confirmed at a nearby restaurant (after being invited in for multiple glasses of çay, of course) that I could follow it past the base back to the coast road.
Leaving me with some cookies and a warning of sheepdogs ahead (I was prepared for this after numerous aggressive dog encounters on the St. Paul Trail four years earlier), I said goodbye to my newfound friends and started out on the dirt road. I soon came to a logging camp, where the workers pointed me back to another village road, saying there were only soldiers allowed ahead. Wanting to avoid any unnecessary encounters with the Turkish army, I turned back and eventually found myself walking through a tiny village. With no GPS and the road splitting into multiple paths, I asked a couple farmworkers (who turned out to be brothers from Uzbekistan) for the road to Riva and they promptly invited to the table for a meal and, you guessed it, more çay. The Turkish family who owned the farm, along with several neighbors, joined me at the table and were rather incredulous when I told them my plan to walk all the way to the town of Sinop, 600km to the east.
Full of delicious homemade Turkish food and energized by two glasses of the caffeinated black tea, I continued along dirt roads, passing bunches of beehives, to another tiny village where I was almost set upon by a pack of local dogs before some villagers called them off. An older man greeted me and started a conversation, quickly concluding that I was a spy after I told him I was American and where I had come from that day (he still gave me food and tea, thank goodness for Turkish hospitality!). I finally walked onto a paved road and then the main road to Riva, going by the Turkish national football/soccer team academy and finding a hotel for the night. I had only gone about six kilometers along the coast, much shorter than my intended 20-25 kilometers per day pace. As the sun set over the sea, I sat at a beachfront fish restaurant drinking an Efes beer among a group of leather-clad bikers, pondering the long road ahead.