Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Head for the Hills

our destination A fantastic disovery!!

Izmir, it seems, is absolutely crawling with hiking and mountaineering clubs. Who'da thunk it?? Fond as I am of where I live, I have to say that a casual look-around does not necessarily give one the impression that the locals are fanatical environmentalists, if you know what I mean. But it turns out that there are hundreds (if not more) of fervent nature-lovers right here in Izmir, who have given rise to numerous clubs and organizations to support them.

When I found out, I did a little dance of delight. Four long years in the frozen, flat (I would underline that twice if I could) north of Germany had quelled any desire to go outside that I might have started out with. I had been desperately missing the hills and hikes of home (i.e., the San Francisco bay area), slowly withering inside with each passing day of gray and rain and nothing but flat green, as far as the eye could see. A speedbump would have been a considerable elevation gain in Bremen, but I couldn't find any of those, either.

But enough about Germany. Having discovered the hiking groups in Izmir, we wasted no time in joining up with one, the Zirve Dağcılık ve Doğa Sporları Kulübü (Summit Moutaineering and Nature Sports Club). They go on weekly hikes; no car required. I couldn't wait!

The Sunday after signing up, we met at 7:30 a.m. at the Karşıyaka city center to take the club's shuttle bus to the other side of the bay, where we were to pick up some more hikers. By 8:15-ish, we'd filled our busses to the gills and were on our way. There was plenty of talking, singing, passing around of chocolates and other food, and I was delighted with the spirit of comraderie that had developed so quickly and spontaneously -- and so early on a Sunday morning, at that.

Despite the fact that Izmir is a metropolis of 2 million people, only 20 minutes' driving gets you out of the city and into pure, unspoiled nature. There are rugged mountains, cool pine forests, rushing streams and meadows dotted with herds of goats, the gentle melodies of their bells wafting on the breeze. The hike we tackled that day was arduous, particularly for the two of us who had not had a close encounter with a hill in a long, long time. We covered approximately 25 kilometers, summited a 1750 meter peak, scrambled through the underbrush alongside a river, and slid (sometimes on our backsides) down an impossibly steep gully. Everywhere there were beautiful surprises. A sweeping panoramic view; exotic green mushrooms on the forest floor; a farmer coaxing his reluctant horse to plow a field; an old woman descending the mountain after a morning collecting pine cones; a cool stream trickling through an orange- and yellow-dappled gully.

Just before sundown we finally made it to the village at the end of the route, exhausted and sore-footed. We sat down at one of those cafes you find in every Turkish village -- the kind frequented exclusively by men, serving nothing but tea. While everyone else sipped on a refreshing cuppa, we, of course, worked on persuading the man in charge to let us order cold beer from the place next door. (Come on, what did you expect? Look who we're talking about.) We sat there, exhausted to the bone, but I was feeling happier than I have in a long time. Give me more!


Check out all the pics from our first hike


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