25 June, 2010

Batumi

A fleet of ragged cumulus sail north-eastward on the Black Sea. Center horizon: one towering raincloud, blotting out the foreground sky and loosing veils over the brine. The sun caught just behind it, now and then peering golden through a keyhole and throwing every ragged wisp of the fleet's sails into gilded relief. The clouds are slate-grey, the sky behind the cream and palest blue, and where the sun catches an edge, peach. They shift, sailing northwest, and soon the sky - platinum, steel, slate, and apricot - matches every swatch of smooth stone on the beach.

~

Welcome to the Black Sea Riviera. That's how it feels, anyway. French architects. Soviet bloc. A little Havana in the Caucasus. Hard to put a finger on it. Economically, Batumi has much in common with the cities i saw in Iraq: for much of the twentieth century under Soviet control, then until six years ago the province of a separatist leader, the autonomous region of Adjara - now united with Georgia - has only recently begun to see glimmers of prosperity. A Sheraton towers over the Black Sea Boulevard and two other international chain hotels, Hyatt and Radisson, are under construction at the moment.

The old quarter of Batumi has gotten a grand facelift, and that is spreading slowly outward like a shockwave, shattering old concrete and crumbling sidewalks in its path. Billboards tout "Batumi Miracle 2011", as construction crews work day in and day out. The Batumi Gate - a tall, modernist arch - rises  above an expansive new promenade still under construction but already impressively lit by a sea of vertical fluorescent shafts, while the road passing between gate and promenade has been stripped to dusty gravel. Old and new meet like two plates colliding, one being subsumed under the other in a chaos of paving-stones, gravel, and the sound of stone saws. Open heart surgery. A few streets in the city center are impassable tangles of rock and replacement pipe. Around this the city conducts its everyday life, which includes a lot of gambling. Small parlors offering slots and betting on sports, especially soccer, are scattered throughout the city. A few larger casinos line the beachfront area - Casino Peace, Intourist, Adjarabet.


The first image that greets a Batumi visitor, though, is neither the chaos of construction nor the restored old quarter (above) nor the neon of casinos. It is the subtropical vegetation, marching down from cloud-washed hills. Magnolias, pines, and palms mingle with massive Ficus trees. One street is lined with bay laurel - snag a leaf and sniff as you walk by. As the minibus rolled in from the Turkish border, the outskirts of the city welcomed me with tall tenements and sprawling gardens. This place is an unbegotten poster child for the urban agriculture movement. In a humid subtropical climate, the horticultural possibilities are endless. Past the patches of corn and vegetables filling the outskirts, vegetation in the city center is tucked into courtyards and trailing from ledges. I see a grape vine sharing a concrete planter with a palm, and reaching up to a fourth-floor balcony.

~

With the one CS host in Batumi gone to Tbilisi for the weekend, i thought i'd follow suit and catch the night train at Makhindjauri station (cheaper than most places you can stay, a berth in second class is just 23 lari, $13 US). First, though, a walk along the Boulevard - or more precisely, the alley between Boulevard and beach.

Georgia is well-known in the traditional folk music community for unaccompanied polyphonic song. I'd been thinking to ask where i could hear some - but i didn't have to ask. Near the Boulevard a group of children - from ten to seventeen - are sitting on a park bench, singing. A small group of watchers snaps pictures and videos.  As they launch into a simple clapping song, two young boys begin a traditional caucasian dance. Led by a clear-voiced boy of perhaps fifteen, the singers are more in tune than out, and it is really encouraging to hear kids spontaneously singing traditional music like this.
I wander onward, up the alley to the French fountains. Ringed with speakers playing a variety of music, the fountains arc and pulse in a grand display. Then the rain begins.

When it was part of the U.S.S.R., Batumi had a reputation for being the rainiest city in Russia. (Indeed, it reminds me a bit of Seward, Alaska, where it rains 300 days a year - but the resemblance ends there.) Rainy Batumi. Streets here have a high crown, sloping away to either side like an arch. The curbstones are high, and arced metal bridges span the inevitable puddles and rivers that collect between sidewalk and street.

I've missed the train - or so i think, caught talking to some boys who want me to buy them beer. Along with gambling, alcohol is ubiquitous here. Kiosks sell it on the beach; drinking in public is not frowned upon (neither is smoking, but more on that later). Despite the availability of drink, i see only two people acting intoxicated. That's when i am cowering under an overhang, waiting out a downpour on my midnight search for a hotel. Across the street several young men are loitering. The rain switches directions, and their overhang is clearly drier than mine. I make the dash.

Soon i'm surrounded by fellows, a couple of whom speak broken English, and one of whom is comically, animatedly drunk. Turns out they have a friend whose family rents rooms, and in a few minutes - after changing money in one of the casinos - i have the key to a bare-bones room off a small courtyard. Goodnight Batumi.

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…

23 June, 2010

Toward the high pastures

As i said, Artvin could be a dayhiker's paradise. After spending a day frustrated by the mess that ensued when my father sent his camera asa replacement (but didn't know he had to write "gift" on the packae, thus landing it in an Istanbul warehouse and  a buereaucratic mire), i needed a walk. Thus with only the barest of maps - it looked like the road i was on might just go over those towering peaks i saw - i set out.

From the university campus, the road turns to dirt, winding around the side of the hill. A few kilometers took me to Ahlat, the largest of the villages in that direction. Onward. Homes have corn patches; gardens lie on every piece of flat land and here and there stone terraces hold them as well. Some of the stone walls have longer stones inlaid perpendicularly, peg-like stairs to the next terrace level. Land too steep, if culutivated, is orchard or pasture.

The dirt road climbs up and up on its way to the high pastures. The closer i got to the peaks, the more inaccessible they seemed: wWithin striking distance - like looking at Baxter peak from Chimney Pond - but far, far steeper sides, and the road began to wind downward, an all-too meandering route to reach them with any speed. I was level with the lowest of the Yaylalar, high pastures, where people move their herds to graze for the summer months. Even at this altitude the panorama stretches awesome before me. Artvin is now only a speck below, and i can see over the mountains to other, snow-streaked peaks behind.

Besides the topographical, Artvin has much of the biological to offer. There are over two hundred species of butterflies found here, and that is no abstract statistic. I have never seen so many butterflies. Especially at the orchard edges, small birds are plentiful. Abundant seven-inch lizards dart from the road, scrambling over leaf litter or gravel to evade me.

On the walk i see people engaged in the traditional activities of village life. Two men call to me from high in a linden tree, where they are picking the flowers for linden tea. While small children hold the stock for him, an old man with a chainsaw cuts it into stove-wood (no one's wearing ear protection). Girls are driving their cows to higher pasture. A woman cleans out her pots in one of the many sluiceways; gravity fed pools and troughs are everywhere. Just outside Ahlat is a trout aquaculture operation, a grid of twelve circular concrete tanks fed by the whitewater stream.

On the return walk, a man is scything hay - though it is good drying weather now, it is not as easy to scythe when the grass itself is dry. A women sits beside the door, stripping peapods from the vine and shelling them, perhaps for seed. Nearby, in an orchard, two beekeepers in white suits are opening the hives; two clouds - of smoke and of bees - surround them.

~

Artvin has such sights aplenty. Though it is a small city, in the vastness of the mountains the night sky above is still dark. As i sat talking with my host on the balcony, a bright meteor shot earthward, the most vivid i have ever seen.

22 June, 2010

Artvin


If Erzurum was surrounded by mountains and Yusufeli was tucked between them, Artvin pours down a mountainside. I thought the best way to explain it would be simply through the use of plane geometry: by comparing the altitude at the bridge crossing the Çoruh River with the altitude of the city center, and the horizontal distance between them, i figured it would be simple enough to calculate Artvin's slope. But the only figure i could find was an imprecise 400 meter (1,300 ft.*) difference in altitude between the top and bottom of the city. That should tell you something about this place: most cities may have their hills. The hills have Artvin. 

It doesn't take long walking this city to realize - it's a tiring place to live. My hosts, couchsurfers Fatmagul and Volkan, live and teach at Çoruh University; the forest faculty campus is on a hill facing Artvin center. To reach their home, it's a vertiginous three kilometers of road. Thankfully, Volkan is running errands in town and able to pick me up, otherwise it would have been one journey down from the Artvin Otogar (bus station) to the bridge, and another minibus ride up to the isolated block of mauve apartments where they live. Seyitler, the village a kilometer or two back behind the campus, has no store; it's just a few homes and a mosque with a corrugated-metal minaret. The tiny campus and apartment block feel completely isolated. A station wagon pulls up in the parking lots; "sebzeci," the man yells. "Patates, biber, domates, soğan, bir lira."

I'm on a search for a good map, a good dayhike. After two days here, what i come to realize is that people in the villages walk to get their work done; they climb to take cattle to the high pastures. People in Artvin proper spend so much time going up and down that it's the last thing they'd do on their day off. The few flat places - a road that cuts from Artvin to another valley at the same elevation - are the most popular walking spots. 


When your camera is gone... there's Creative Commons-licensed material out there!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Artvin,_Turkey._View_from_the_construction_site_of_the_new_dam.jpg

New Englanders are rather spoiled in that regard; the ancient Appalachians offer accessible bare rock peaks galore with mild effort. Yet while this area could be a dayhiker's paradise, there are no trekking maps to be found, nor topos, nor marked trails to speak of. Around Artvin, the peaks are pasture-glazed - but they rise so steeply any road or path to the top traverses back and forth many times. Even to travel between the Çoruh River bridge and city center, the single road has as many turns as the small intestine. That's how it feels, anyway. Getting around in Artvin takes work, and as they say, don't have an accident - it will be your last one. Each stretch of road is level with the roofs below it. 

This is in many ways your typical Turkish city - with ~24,000 inhabitants, a surfeit of barber shops, teahouses everywhere; döner and other kebabs are plentiful, and as usual the Turkish Army has a compound or two or three smack in the city center. At the same time, it feels like a miniature Istanbul of the east. The vibe here is more liberal, more educated. My hosts explain that without agriculture to speak of and without a significant tourism economy, people here pursue higher education at a higher rate than other cities in the east, and it can be felt. Alas, Artvin is expensive and thanks to the challenging topography, infrastructure is poor, For example, natural gas in Georgia is close by but Artvin doesn't have it yet.

*I was curious how Artvin's 1,300 foot elevation change would stack up against the world's tallest buildings. Turns out the recently opened Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai doubles it, at 2,700 feet. 








21 June, 2010

Endangered landscapes

In the Lonely Planet guide, a sidebar text asks "What does the future hold for young Yusufelians?" It's a good question. Here construction and destruction are one and the same.

~

From Yusufeli to Artvin, a narrow road hugs the Çoruh river. The minibus driver takes it at breakneck speed, decelerating quickly on a corner to avoid collision. Local black humor says that if you have an accident here, it's your last one - every winter one or two vehicles plummet into the Çoruh - but Artvin natives are considered the best drivers in the country.

This narrow, veering road beside the whitewater hangs in three shadows - of the spectacular, ragged peaks of the Çoruh gorge, and the shadow of a new highway being constructed more than a hundred meters up the cliffs. Here and there massive pylons tower, awaiting the bridges to span tributary streams. A single vehicle, a single person in this landscape is a speck; so are the few microsettlements along the roadside, which will depopulate when the new highway is finished. The only things of value here are the minerals hidden within these rocks - and the power of moving water, on a scale as epic as the landscape itself.

Since 1982, the Turkish government and a handful of partners, domestic and foreign, have planned to construct a complex of ten hydroelectric dams on the Çoruh. To date the Muratli and Borçka dams, north of Artvin, have been completed, and construction on the 254m-high Deriner dam 5 kilometers from Artvin has been ongoing since 1998. At the moment, the one truly controversial dam - the Yusufeli - is just a set of anchor points for the steel reinforcing cables of the lowest section, inlaid in concrete and mountainside.

Controversy over the Yusufeli dam, like the proposed Ilisu dam on the Tigris, has centered on a number of issues. The Ilisu would flood Hassankeyf, an important tourist site and a center of Kurdish culture. In addition to the relocation of residents and the loss of a famous site, critics - led by Friends of the Earth and the Kurdish Human Rights Project - argued that the Ilisu dam's cultural impact abetted a sort of ethnic cleansing by erasing cultural heritage, and served as a political project limiting access to the Tigris' water resources by Syria and Iraq downstream. (Hassankeyf was to be my Diyarbakir daytrip, until the search for the stolen camera rearranged my plans.)

The minibus stops for nearly twenty minutes where rock blasting fills the road with a growing pile of stones and generates a cloud of dust obscuring the way ahead. In the Çoruh region, construction is undoubtedly an economic engine - but is it a sustainable one? While the network of dams will take decades to complete, the tourism potential of Yusufeli whitewater will be erased forever. Roads to many of the crumbling, historic Georgian churches will be flooded out, reducing the region's cultural value.

In the case of Yusufeli, there are environmental and sociological impacts as well. In this corner of Turkiye, habitat is not something to destroy lightly. Though these mountains may seem barren, they form the margins of a global biodiversity hotspot; a total of one-hundred and sixty plant species endemic to Turkiye, twenty of which are already listed as threatened or endangered, will be adversely affected by the dam. Numerous animal species will also be affected. Against these environmental costs, the benefits of increased hydroelectric production still seem significant - Turkiye's economy is among the world's fastest-growing, and hydroelectric from the Çoruh drainage is projected to contribute 10% of its electricity supply in the coming decades. It is the human impact that has generated the most resistance.

When Yusufeli is submerged, its 6,400 residents will join another six thousand displaced by the dam, forced to relocate to a new site 3 kilometers west (near Tekkale); a majority of the relocation sites are characterized as "arid and uninhabitable" mountainous zones. According to some sources, the total number who will have to relocate rises to 30,000 when the impact on road and agricultural infrastructure is accounted for. Dam opponents point out that to date, the project does not meet OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) standards. As a result, in 2002 major investors Spie (France) and parent company Amec (Britain) pulled their financial backing. Nonetheless, the damn project continues. (In passing i noticed a search result on the impact of the current global economic crisis on the project, but no amount of searching found that a second time.)

In Yusufeli, life goes on day to day. No one knows when the town - slated to be inundated within eight years - will be bulldozed, when those cafe balconies overhanging the whitewater will be a soggy pile of debris. Whether in defiance or denial, construction within Yusufeli continues. Their fate is not sealed yet.    

~

At an intersection, the road to Artvin turns left, climbing a dizzy series of hairpin turns and traversing to reveal a view of the city. Just below, the Deriner dam is visible. Though it is a spectacular sight - a monumental work of construction that still seems small in this landscape - i can't picture tourists making pilgrimages to massive dam sites. What i did realize, in researching this post, is that since dams tend to happen in these big, elemental places with a surfeit of water and rock, their construction is one of the most fascinating and magnificent intersections of nature and engineering on the planet (see here). Alas, it poses one of the most difficult dilemmas in the quest to balance sustainable development through clean energy with environmental preservation and human rights.

20 June, 2010

Tekkale / Dörtkilise

Late morning. Carrying only a water bottle and a pocketful of plums i set off from Yusufeli. Without time or the gear to trek the Kaçkar mountains, or the money or experience to try paddling the swift waters of the Çoruh, i decided to make a dayhike to Dortkilise, the nearest of the church sites, 14 km away. At the least i could walk, explore.

From Yusufeli, the road toward Ispir is a single lane through the mountains, alternately paved and gravel, riddled with potholes. Two or three kilometers outside town, rice paddies stretch beside the whitewater. I hitch a very short ride; the driver turns left, onto a swaying bridge over the river.

Between Yusufeli and Tekkale, the mountains are brown, yellow and red, the vegetation scarce - but despite the sere climate there is an Orthopteran din rising above the river's roar. In the midday heat i drain the water bottle quickly. Then, nearing Tekkale, i pass a house where three old women sit on the narrow porch. They call me back. Though i cannot understand them (village folk tend to speak quickly and enunciate sloppily), they motion for me to give them the empty bottle. In a moment it is full, and cold as ice.

Seven kilometers and i've reached tiny Tekkale, just a few homes beside the road. There's an intersection flanked by teahouses next to the narrow bridge. Turning right, towards Dörtkilise, the mountains are greener. The road rises more steeply, past Tekkale school. A minibus offering service to Artvin is parked in the schoolyard. A whitewater stream roars through this town toward the river, narrower and louder, and the road hugs it, flanked by a roughly constructed wall. Between them, a building proclaims in Turkish - "Sehmeoğlu Trout Pools, there's always fish here". Near the stream the air  is chilly.

At last i am on the margins, where i am comfortable. The margin here is one between rock and water, caught in precarious balance with nature. Tucked into barely a sliver of a gorge, Tekkale is a lush green place, overhung by deciduous trees. Beside the road there are mulberry, cherry, walnut, and even fig trees. Houses here have three floors, though only the middle one is finished. The ground floor is usually either a barn or garage, while the top story, open beneath its corrugated roofing, is a place to hang clothes, dry fruits, and in many cases, store hay. Here people do not dry hay before storing it. The weather simply doesn't allow - afternoon storms gather quickly in the mountains. Flat land is at a premium, and wherever there is a narrow bench beside the whitewater i see patches of bush beans, often shaded by the wild trees. A couple of gardens lie on the opposite bank, reachable by zip line.

On the bank a Grey wagtail bobs its tail, but this is the only bird life i can see. From the forest i can hear others, familiar calls - thrushes, warblers, wrens. The clouds gather quickly; north of Tekkale the mountains become greener, pines clinging to the steep sides. The difference is rain. I take refuge in a small open barn, just split logs for a frame and corrugated metal for a roof. It is shelter enough; i nestle among whips of drying cherry foliage (i am guessing collected for animal feed). A second rainstorm passes through after i have left the outskirts of Tekkale far behind, and i pass most of it clinging spider-like to a rock overhang.

At last i reach Dörtkilise, a ruined Georgian monastery perched above the gorge. At first i don't see the path, and i continue walking to where old men and women are cutting hay on the narrow benches of land either side the road. They're using scythes - this is the first time i've seen hay cutting on slopes in a place where traditional methods are still the only method in use. They pile the hay under a tarpaulin and then laboriously carry it up to the road. (On my return to Tekkale, most of the vehicles that pass  are pickup trucks over-loaded with damp hay. In the village they are carrying it in small bundles to the open top floor of houses.)

The path to the monastery is  a trickle of water down over the tiered lawns. A tiny vegetable garden of potatoes, beans, and onions sits in front of the church, which  is much larger than it appears from the road. Brown stone, tightly fit, is broken by white campanula cascading from the cracks; small shrubs grow from the roof. Inside, the vaulted ceiling rises more than fifteen meters overhead. Toward the altar, faded frescoes of saints and disciples are mixed with graffiti. Standing in the quiet sacred space overcome by the eroding hillside, by rock and tree and the force of time, i hear a winter wren singing outside.

Political landscapes

In the dusk i sat for a while beneath eight-foot hollyhocks, talking with the owners, another off-duty policeman named Halil, and an older fellow with a dark mustache who repeatedly tells me how he dislikes Obama and Tayyip Erdoğan, and loves Bush (of the many, many people i have talked to thus far, this is the first Bush fan i've met in Turkiye).

Here in the northeast, the MHP - an ultra-Kemalist, nationalist Democratic party -  is popular. I'd never heard of MHP until the bus to Erzurum, when someone made the wolf's-head hand signal to identify his political leanings; in Erzurum, i saw novelty flags bearing a wolf inside the crescent moon.

Prejudices run deep. In Diyarbakir, the young Kurds i played futbol with were proud to identify themselves with the PKK (last night's news: ten Turkish soldiers were recently killed by PKK rebels, prompting aerial retaliation). On my way to Yusufeli, i'm chatting with one of my rides. When i say i've been to Iraqi Kurdistan, he corrects me: there's no such place - it's north Iraq. (Nevermind that the Kurdistan Regional Government issued my entry stamp.) People in Erzurum aren't fans of Trabzon; in Yusufeli, it seems sympathy for the Kurds is nonexistent.

In Yusufeli i met a lot of policemen. Looking for a place to buy simit, i met two more; they invite me back to the station for tea. (What's with this place?) Over tea at the police station, one remarks how much he dislikes Tayyip - and i learn of yet another party, the Turkish Communist Party, as he draws a crescent moon on the simit wrapper. This time it's not a star or a wolf inside the crescent, it's a hammer.

Yusufeli

Yusufeli is nestled into the gorge where the Barhal Çayı feeds the Çoruh River, a narrow town straddling the banks. Not carved into the gorge as literally as the cliff dwellings of ancient kapadokya were carved, but the place has a certain hanging feeling. In the center, a few buldings five and six stories rise on both sides of the Barhal river, a sort of built canyon; the balconies of teahouses hang over the rapids. Parallel to the single vehicle bridge, a swaying, plank footbridge crosses the Barhal.

Seven hundred meters from the footbridge lies Green Piece Pansion and Camping - the first place in my travels i've chosen to visit based on the Lonely Planet guide - and instantly i know it was a good choice. A simple place, a few buildings wedged right beside the river and an alfalfa pasture recently mown beside them. The place reminds me of Forest lodge on Maine's Rapid River - rafts in the yard, kayaks in a row, treehouses partially finished. In the communal hall it's hard to tell who is a guest, who works here, who's a raft guide or just a Yusufeli native hanging out. In the gathering dusk men sit talking, chairs set half in the barely-used road, beneath eight foot hollyhocks.

I've been here for three hours - writing on my laptop, chatting with people, helping a local raft guide with his English - before i check in. When i do, the owner informs me the treehouses are not ready at the moment, but he'll give me a room for the same price. Treehouses are 30 lira, rooms usually 40, but when i hand him the cash, he knocks it back even further: half price. A single traveler, Birol charges me for a single bed.

Lonely Planet actually doesn't do this place justice. It's a town with atmosphere and then some, though perhaps too many hotels in the center for the meager tourism of the moment. A conversation with pansion owner Cemil in nearby Tekkale confirms my feeling that tourism is weak this year: the rafting season stretches from May 15 to July 15, and his last tour group was May 21. Cemil blames it largely on the AKP government's friendship with Hamas, a move he sees as alienating tourists from the U.S.A. and Israel. Interestingly enough, the folks at Green Piece also mention having a lot of Israeli guests. Adventure sports - like trekking and rafting - haven't gained popularity with the Turks and their nearest neighbors, and there's a question of disposable income as well.

Despite the slow season, or perhaps because of it, Yusufeli is altogether more laid-back than the other places i've been thus far. Though tourism is the backbone of the town's economy, there are no aggressive carpet-shop touts. The vibe of places built around fishing and whitewater is a universal one. The language here might be Turkish, the men mustached, the gathering places teahouses rather than bars - but it feels so much like home, like the rushing rivers i know in Alaska and Maine.

Desperate for a picture, i took this one with the macbook.