“Ok, if you end up sleeping outside tonight, give me a call and I will drive up there and get you,” Ahmet, the owner of a bus-stop cay-stall tells me before he packs me into a dolmuş. Wait, what?
The door slides shut and my mind begins to race. Wait! Will Ayder be so crowded that I won’t be able to find a room? If this doubt exists, can’t we just call someone and check first?
But it’s too late. The dolmuş is well on its way up the winding slopes of Rize to Ayder and I am not quite sure what I will do when I arrive. My entire journey to Ayder has been this way. Back in Artvin, a buddy asked me if I was planning to go to Ayder, “I don’t know I replied, I have some work to do…” the next thing I know I am on a bus towards Rize. As I approach Rize, I see signs advertising for a Tarkan concert, Taarrrkkkaaaan! Maybe I will just stay and watch Tarkan and finish my work, I think to myself. But there are people waiting for me as I arrive in Pazar and they push me towards the dolmuş to Ayder.
Ayder it is then. And if I can’t find a place, I will just walk back, I think to myself.
After arriving in Ayder, low and behold, I learn that there is not an empty room in town. Strangers eagerly offer me rooms in their homes free of charge, but I am intent on finding a pension situation this time. Finally a small cupboard underneath the staircase of a hostel opens up, and I take it. Great. So I made it to Ayder. Now what?
Ayder is not your typical Turkish town. In fact, it is the most famous yayla in Turkey. Earning a fabulous reputation for its scrumptious pastries, its fuzzy socks, its healing hot springs, and its deluxe hotels – it attracts vast amounts of Turkish and Arab tourists. Oh, and its also rumored to have some of the best honey in Turkey. In site of the pomp and show, even in Ayder some of the small-town Anatolian survival tactics apply. I patiently wait. Soon night-time falls and the day tourists retreat into their deluxe hotel towers. I meet young savvy Hemsin locals and together we dig up the best local music and the most lively horon dances.
After laughing and dancing the entire night, I fold into my staircase bed only to awake four hours later: the time has come to find bees.
One thing my Anatolian bee education has taught me, if you want hives, you just have to go higher. And that’s what I do. I start climbing the hills until, from the corner of my eyes, I see a white flash. Its a man clad in my favorite clothes (read: beekeeping suit) carrying a smoker as he disappears into the trees. Although I don’t know this beekeeper, the temptation to follow is too great. I proceed cautiously and call out, “Effendim! Alo! Pardon! Alo! Effendim! Affedersiniz!” The beekeeper is deaf and does not hear my calls, but his intended destination is close. He leads me to a group of five beekeepers that happen to be the leading board of the Kafkas Kooperatif of Ayder Bali. Established in 1992, this all-men’s beekeeping cooperative includes 30 beekeepers. Today these five have gathered to collect their season’s first harvest.
I hug the wall and watch the harvest. The men work meticulously, first scraping off the caped wax, then loading the frames into the spinner; all five men are part of a human linked production line. Every now and then, they plop a chunk of comb into my hands, and I am forced to indulge. The taste is an explosion of flowers, the bee men claim 1,200 thousand different species of flora. Goosebumps ripple up and down my arms as I smack my lips. Yum. Dizzy with the taste, I can barely remember to ask my questions: what are the biggest obstacles you face in your work? Are environmental changes affecting your bees? How long have you been keeping bees?
The beekeepers are most interested in the environment question. They reel off explanations about how the recent construction of the telecommunications tower has affected local bee populations, leading to abnormal decreases in their bee numbers. They also report on how overall climate change in Turkey is affecting the flowers, the eco-sphere, the forests, the clouds, and without a doubt the bees. As our work winds to a close, I wave good-bye and return to the road to climb higher and higher into the yayla of Ayder. On my way, I bump into my friends from the night before, and as luck would have it, we manage to catch a ride with some hardy beekeepers into the heights of the Kackar Mountains.
The rest of the adventure can best be summarized by Diana Ross:
There’s a place up in the sky
Where the sun is shining
Take me higher…
There’s a place I long to be
Where the birds are flying
Take me higher