We leave Ankara and head towards the coast, for Samsun. The landscape is rather arid, with a few interesting canyons where the mountains turn a reddish hue, resembling those in American westerns. After almost 500 km, we start to descend towards the seaside. From afar, the Samsun harbour seems utterly teeming with hustle and bustle – tens of ships await offshore. From here up to the Georgian border, the Turks have built a highway along the coast, a hair’s breadth from the water, spanning over 500 kilometres. There are two and even three lanes, an army of tunnels, some of them many kilometres long. The only segment where the main road leaves the coast is between Fatsa and Ordu.
The highway cuts off rather ruthlessly the sea from the smaller settlements which have expanded upwards, on hills. Had there ever been fishermen’s villages on the waterside, nowadays there isn’t the slightest hint of evidence as to that. The villages along the Black Sea stand perched up the hill and mountains, their houses sprawled and built on impossible inclines. On this side of the coast, we have seen almost no trace of beach or tourism. Only after having passed Giresun (home of cherries), do we see traces of organized fishery; near every bigger town fishermen’s bays emerge with downright hookers. And still in Giresun landfills come into sight, right on the water’s edge. In no way does the sea provide for the locals. We quickly figured out why.
We thought we had seen enough hazelnuts in Akçakoca. We were deeply wrong. The entire coast is covered by a strip several tens of kilometres in width – hills filled with nut trees dividing the sea from the mountains. I’ve read that hazelnuts produced in the Black Sea region represent 75% of the global production. Following the export, the remaining shells are used for heating.
We left the main road and delved into the hills packed with nut trees. The villages and towns established near the sea are genuine mountain establishments, full of carpenter and forger’s workshops. The roads become narrower; one single car barely fits on the secondary ones. Graves can be seen in people’s yards – there is the custom for old people to ask (in their will) they be buried in front of their house. Therefore, the house cannot be sold and the children cannot fight over the inheritance.
Somewhere near Trabzon, on the waterside, we came across the first grill made with hazelnut shells. Near the road: a colored and bulbs-filled bus now turned into a seafood restaurant. The cook and his wife sleep in a van parked behind the bus. The inside is a miniature imitation of an American restaurant – five small tables with parallel benches, little curtains and other gadgets. Three truck drivers herd together at the only occupied table. One of them, displaying the mien of an intellectual, takes off his eyeglasses and wades in to chat with us. Words in English, Russian, German and Turkish are exchanged. He gives us information regarding the roads and says he likes Bucharest. Hagi’s name inescapably comes up in our conversation.
We go out and have our tea on some sofas set outside. The truck drivers are joined by an older colleague who speaks fluent Romanian and who, inexplicably, likes driving in Romania.
Only at nightfall do we reach Trabzon, a very old and still important harbor. Right on the seashore, a colossal and deserted terrace houses several huge speakers which give out ear-splitting music. The speakers are covered in metal leaves fixed with some rocks which vibrate to the rhythm. I feel at home here. The official city guide mentions several times that Trabzon has seen countless ‘problems regarding breach of the peace’ along its tumultuous history. The atmosphere of ill-famed harbour in this old town gives us somewhat of an idea as to the problems. For the locals the main attraction is a new town centre, full of western stores and fast-food restaurants bearing American names. The guide calls it ‘Champs-Élysées’. At nightfall, the shop windows become empty and not one woman is to be seen on the street. We’re awoken late at night by the honking of a convoy of cars celebrating a wedding and filming on the street.