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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

DIA 290-292 - The Black Sea Coast of Turkey

Samsun - Sinop Dt = 11175 Km

We have seen a lot the Black Sea coast of Turkey has to offer - from Rize (almost) in the east to Sinop in the west. The Black Sea is like a giant pond in the early morning and then the wind springs up and the ripples start. Maybe in winter the sea gets wild and bursts against the shore in a fury, but in summer you could almost use it as a mirror. The clouds are always present but always different. They play beautiful games with the light.
To the left of us as we ride along are lush green hills, the higher hills wreathed in cloud, houses dotting them sporadically with no apparent path leading to doors. The air is thick with moisture and our sweat does not dry. Breaths of air on our body are warm but sometimes we ride through pockets of cold air. The scenery to our left gradually changes from subtropical green to temperate green, and patches of blue sky increase as we travel west.

Usually we speed along the highway made from land reclaimed from the sea, but when we can take the old roads we do. These roads go up and down but it is more beautiful to be up in those green hills looking at the sparkling sea below. There are plenty of hazelnut farmers - it is the harvesting season and hazelnuts are laid out by the side of the road to dry. There are also dogs but, although they bark, their hearts are not really in the chase.

I dream as I ride along. How did this coast look to the ancient Greeks? My imagination is filled with their history. Pontos Euxine: The Black Sea. The Greeks came here for the first time around 1000BC. At first they were a little nervous of all the barbarians. Jason and the Argonauts (of Golden Fleece fame) were sailing the waters of Pontos Euxine, meeting with all sorts of adventures. The Golden Fleece is thought to refer to the custom in Colchis (present day Georgia) of sifting for gold using fleece. We cycled past a promontory now called 'Yason' where ancient mariners made a sacrifice to Jason before continuing their journey.

Then there were the Amazons who lived in the Delta around modern Samsun. The Amazons were supposedly one-breasted man-haters (they cut off a breast to better throw a spear), although the Turks around Samsun tend to depict Amazons with both breasts intact, in sexy clinging tunic dresses shooting arrows. Amazons appear in this region in random places as statues and on the sides of buses.

Xenophon, a student of Socrates turned mercenary soldier, also came to these parts in 401BC. He found himself in Trapezus (modern day Trabzon) when he was fleeing from defeat at the hands of the Persian king Ataxerxes II at the battle of Cunaxa. Cyrus the Younger had hired Greeks to fight against his brother Ataxerxes because he viewed the Greeks as superior fighters and, although the Greeks did fight well, fıve Greek generals were betrayed and executed. Cyrus the Younger was also killed. Xenophon wrote of the return of 10 000 men - although skeptics could accuse him of slight exaggeration (let nothing stand in the way of a good story!). He stayed in Trapezus for a month, resting and organizing everyone's onward journey back to Greece.

As is evident with Trabzon, most of the Black Sea city names are mutations of the Ancient Greek names. My favourite is Sinop. This name derives from 'Sinope', the name of an Amazon queen. Zeus took a fancy to her, and promised to grant her a wish should she accept his amorous advances. True to her Amazon man-hating one-breasted roots, she asked to remain an eternal virgin. Zeus, in an unusually gracious and sporting gesture, curbed his enormous libido and granted her wish.

The Black Sea coast of Turkey is filled with history, and these are only snippets, my highlights as I look out to sea and avoid riding over hazelnuts. The Romans were here too, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and they have all left their mark. But my imagination wanders past them all...

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