24 June, 2010

From Artvin to Hopa, to...

Late morning. I have the loan of my hosts' camera, but clouds obscure Artvin's peaks, and i decide to depart without delay. Looking like rain, and also, given that Georgia is a time zone ahead, it wouldn't hurt to expedite this next border run.

Haste or none, rain is fate in this corner of Turkiye. It falls on rich and poor alike, and it falls a lot. The minibus tracks along the Çoruh, now broad and slow, the highway tunneling through hillsides on its way out of Artvin. The river here is green-brown, and boat wakes leave dark lines where the surface-suspended sediment has been stirred away. It is no wonder the east Black Sea region is considered among the world's greatest concentrations of biodiversity. To pass from Erzurum to Hopa is to pass through four distinct climate zones.

Just before Borçka the hills and clouds collide. The city, which i see only from a damp and fogged bus window, might be insignificant on the map, but it's a town worth further exploration. Deep in the hills nearby, accessible only by what appear on the map as gravel roads, a biosphere reserve hugs the Georgian border. This town marks the beginning of the coastal humid-subtropical climate. The streets are puddled, and walkers wear raincoats. As we round a corner, following a tributary stream away from the river, the rain hits.

Thirty kilometers to Hopa, and i don't see much. What glimpses of the landscape come through those fogged windows as we descend toward the coast are glimpses of tea gardens. Rows of Camellia sinensis descend the steep hillsides. Where there are homes, i see beehives as well. Along the roadside, there are ziplines every few meters: a post with an old tire for a bumper, and a cable disappears up the hill. They use these to ferry baskets of harvested tea from field to road.

Arriving in Hopa, the rain lets up just in time to escape aggressive taxi men at the bus terminal. Growing concerned about the trip budget, i decide to try hitching rather than pay 25 lira for the ride to Sarp. Along the roadside, Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, Persicaria orientalis  fills the ditch. I hitch a ride to tiny Kemalpaşa and from there it's a short minibus jump to Sarp. I saved 24 lira.

 The Georgian border crossing at Sarp could be splendidly easy. Easier than crossing into Kurdistan, even - there is little inspection, and with an American passport i am welcomed through. No waiting. I say    could be easy because, with such lax security, Georgians flock to Kemalpaşa to shop, Turks vacation in Batum and everyone wants to get their bag through the scanner first. In the out-of-date but still nifty Georgian entry building, there's a human traffic jam. Impatience is contagious. Women cut in line worse than men; there's four of them all squeezing against me and yelling at the border official in Georgian. I think i prefer high-security.

That said, it was a quick twenty-minute ride to…