Over the hill

A weekend on the dig always presents a dilemma. Go or stay? After rising at 4:30 a.m. and working all day for six days straight, the inclination is just to stay put and catch up on sleep. But you’re in Turkey! There is so much to see and do and taste – you can’t just curl up in the courtyard and do nothing!

That’s certainly how I’ve felt in past years, but as the seasons accumulate, I begin to see why it’s the veterans who opt for napping. Still, It appears there are ways to do both: catch up on sleep and still find time for adventure.

The Zincirli excavation is located on the plain between two mountain ranges. We live in the village of Fevzipaşa – a fifteen minute drive into the foothills to the west. For years now I’ve been tantalized by tales of the open-air restaurants of Hasan Beyli , a village further along the same road but across the mountain pass that rises above us. That same pass through the Amanus Mountains is what determined the location of ancient Sam’al and why we’re here in the first place. Over the week’s conversations I discovered that Benedetta – one of our Italian ceramic specialists – was also determined to visit the famed village, so we began to plot.

By week’s end we had recruited companions, but no transport. We started with the impression that we could hike – there is a trail – but that illusion was quickly dispelled when the suggestion elicited outright laughter. When we put the question to our camp director, Nergis, at breakfast, she turned to Faruk, a Zincirli local who helps out with logistics. He was free for the day and offered to drive us. Of course, that presented a new challenge in that none of the four of us spoke Turkish and Faruk speaks little English (and no Italian or German)  but we all packed our version of a Turkish dictionary and set off.

Earlier this summer my son posted this passage about his travels in Palestine, which I’m excerpting here because it perfectly describes our trip; it appears that road engineering shares a common aesthetic throughout the region. Sorry, the passage is unedited; I left in the expletive because, well, it’s accurately descriptive!

The roads here go up and down through valleys with switchbacks and corners that are shit-your-pants narrow. I was thinking, very naively, at one point that it was weird to have a one-lane, one-way road going up the side of the valley because they would surely have to have another one going down. The truck barreling down the hill towards us snapped me right out of that musing. The edges of the switchbacks tend to be barrier-free; I assume this is done in consideration of providing some of the best possible uncluttered views of the valleys.”

Half way up the snaking road to Hasan Beyli, I suddenly knew exactly what Rylan was describing. I was grateful to Faruk for his careful driving, although I believe it was partly in response to my white-knuckled grip on the armrest that he took the stomach-churning corners so cautiously, chuckling wickedly all the same. The view of the valley was spectacular but, gazing back from the heights, we agreed that we likely never would have completed the climb on foot.

The meal was all that was promised: crisp-skinned, freshly prepared trout (you sometimes get to pick the fish destined for your plate, but we had called ahead and were spared that trauma.) We ate under a spreading plane tree with a channel of cool, babbling water at our feet – a rustic setting, but charming. The moment we had crossed the pass, the temperature had dropped and the air was pleasantly humid. We – Bene, Eva, Kate and I – passed various dictionaries around the table and made stumbling attempts at conversation with Faruk, who responded good-naturedly, correcting our Turkish pronunciation and offering alternative phrasing. We were all a little exhilarated by our success – and how much we learned in a short span. After lunch and çay, Faruk told us there was an “eski kale” – old castle – further up the road; would we like to see it? Of course we would!

Savranda castle dates from the Crusader era but the site goes back to Roman times. The walls and entrance tower are partly preserved, but the rest is overgrown and tumbled across the mountain slope. We clambered about the ruins for an hour or more, posed for pictures and drank in the lovely scenery – misty distant peaks and a turquoise jewel of a reservoir below.  One might well imagine a Roman soldier standing guard on the heights and wondering how he had so offended the gods as to be posted to such a forsaken pass in the middle of nowhere. I hope he was consoled by the sheer beauty of the vista as he kept watch.

Eventually, we had to come down from the mountain. We brought a hitch-hiker: a cicada sat in the back window, buzzing in frustration most of the way back. For a while, we all just assumed the speakers in the car were malfunctioning. I, for one, was relieved to reach the relatively level streets of Fevzipaşa once more – with time to catch a nap before dinner!