Saribelen is a scattered rural community nestled in, and on the sides of, a beautiful valley high in the hills above Kalkan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. It has a school, some very small shops, a tea house and at least four mosques. There are about thirty small-holdings, a couple of wood yards and an iron forge. It is pretty well self-sufficient although many of the people living there supplement their income with jobs down in the tourist mecca of Kalkan. In recent years a number of new houses have been built to sell or rent to tourists. They have had mixed success in attracting investors so Saribelen remains unspoilt by tourism.
This summer has been incredibly hot on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Even now, in mid-October, the daytime temperature in the sun has reached the high 30’s. As I start to write on he day before the walk, it is 4pm and the outside temperature is 29C. Walking in this heat can be unwise to say the least. But, tomorrow, an intrepid bunch of Kalkan walkers, desperate to get the walking season under way, are heading up into the mountains where the air should be cooler. The chosen destination is, as you might have guessed, Saribelen some 12km from Kalkan and situated at a height of about 700m (approx 2,000 feet).
The Saribelen valley is of glacial origins which means it is fairly wide – about 1/2 km – and flat bottomed. It is criss-crossed with roads, track and paths. Good, easy walking country. The route, which we have taken many times before, starts on a narrow road on the North side of the valley, and continues for about 3km to reach a road leading out of the valley on the South side to Kas. Following this road up the side of the valley for about 1/2km leads to a forestry track that contours back towards the starting point. A satisfactory round walk of about 7 or 8 km with reasonable shade during the second half.
The response to the email announcing the walk has been much higher than expected. There should be about 20 people – a good number. Between us there will be plenty of transport but this walk can also be reached by dolmus. Any bus from Kalkan Otogar (bus station) heading to Elmali, Gombe or Bezirgan will drop you at the entrance to the Saribelen valley, but it does add about 2km to the overall walk.
It’s now time for an early bed to get ready for the morning.
Tuesday has dawned and once again it is a wall-to-wall blue sky day with a very light breeze. It’s going to be hot in Kalkan so venturing into the hills seems like a doubly good idea. By 9.50 a convoy of five cars carrying 19 intrepid souls sets of from the petrol station. The route takes us along the Bezirgan road climbing steeply up the side of the mountain that dominates Kalkan to the North. The views out over the Mediterranean are stunning as usual. The road turns into the Kaputas ravine to break through the mountains and to reach the Saribelen valley. Just round the bend we are brought to a halt by a large herd of goats being brought down from the higher hills. They are a magnificent sight being silky white, brown and black and of all sizes and ages right down to little kids.
We wonder if they realise that they are making their last journey. Next weekend is Kurban Bayram, the national holiday of sacrifice based on the biblical and koranic accounts of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son when, at the last minute, God stays Abraham’s hand and provides a ram for sacrifice instead. Nowadays, families and friends get together and slaughter a sheep or a goat, have a lavish meal and donate any spare meat and the skins to charity. The whole event lasts five days and Turkey virtually shuts down.
Having bade farewell to the goats, the road takes us through the gorge and to a cross-roads where the road to Elmali goes to the left, the main road through Saribelen goes to the right and the road that we want to take goes straight ahead. This road is barely wider than one car and liberally provided with potholes. Some stretch virtually from one side of the road to the other. A little more than a kilometre along and we come to a small cemetery on the left and a metalled road going off to the right. This is the start – and end point – of the walk.
From this point you can see the whole route. It follows small roads and farm tracks along the left-hand side (North side) of the valley more or less to the farthest point you can see, then it crosses the valley bottom and up a short hilly road to a forestry road. This comes back through the the trees on the right-hand side (South side) and drops down to the main mosque then it is just a few hundred metres back to the start.
We set off at 10.15. The fields to either side of the road have a variety of crops and some have large greenhouses. One field had a big patch of red peppers that seems to be being left to dry in the sun. Beside one of the farmhouses there are about twenty little pyramids of a grain crop. One of the gang has a small-holding near Kalkan and is an endless source of agricultural and botanical information. He tells us that the crop is sesame. As the walk progresses we see these sesame pyramids in a number of the fields.
After about 1/2 hour we arrive at the Saribelen Cukuryurt Cami – a mosque. It is a modern building dating back to 2006 with a separate minaret some four years older. A number of the party take advantage of the toilets. All mosques have toilets and big washrooms outside – some are cleaner than others. In this case the toilets are quite clean but one of the two cubicles had been taken over by wasps – not the best place to bare bits of your anatomy.
After a ten minute break we set off again and reach the main road through the valley and taking a left turn. The only hazard on this part of the walk are cars and motorbikes buzzing along. Lots of cheery waves are exchanged. After a kilometre or so there is a turning on the right signposted to Kas. This marks the furthest point we will go today up the valley. There is a surprise waiting for us. Since we were last here in the Spring, a square cement platform about 4m x 4m has been built around the base of a magnificent tree. On the platform there are metal frames for benches. Unfortunately, the wood for the benches has yet to arrive but, as a temporary measure, there are a few planks of wood that can be brought into action. A great place for a shady rest.
Our relaxation is interrupted by two friendly, elderly gents who have come for a natter. I say “elderly” but these guys who look old enough to be our grandfathers are probably young enough to be our sons! We take their arrival as a cue to continue with the walk, so after a brief exchange of greetings, set off again up the Kas road. At the beginning of this road there used to be a slightly rickety bridge crossing the main river of the valley. All this has changed. The river bed, which today at the end of the summer is bone dry, has been dredged and widened ready for the winter storms and the melt water from the mountain snow in the Spring. The bridge has been re-built with a strong concrete span and substantial metal railings along the edges.
[Although the river bed was dry today, the river will still be flowing but entirely underground. This helps to keep the valley well-irrigated and gives the whole place a year-round air of greenery and good harvests.]
The road, as it ascends, passes through a farm with a cattle byre on one side. We can see the head of a large cow staring out at us. The cattle are kept in during the heat of the day and get out to graze at night. After a short distance the road takes a left turn and we take the forestry track that goes straight ahead. At this time of year, after the heat of the summer, this track is baked dry. Later in the year and in the Spring it is a totally different proposition, sometimes a mud bath.
Occasionally the track forks. If in doubt follow the more level route and don’t go downwards which will take you into farms or upwards which will take you deep into the forest. Every so often we hear the sound of dogs barking ahead. These dogs are mostly the massive Turkish Kangal sheepdogs. These beasts can stand at up to a metre in height and 80kg in weight. Don’t worry. They are mostly tethered or in cages and the odd one that is roaming free only wants you to get the message this is his farm and strangers are not welcome.
At different times of the year there is a wide variety of wildlife along this part of the route. Today it is too hot so the usual selection of birds including cuckoos and woodpeckers are absent. Also, in the muddy pools along the track, we often see frogs or tadpoles depending on the season. If you are lucky you will see buzzards high above the valley looking out for rabbits, hares, lambs, etc. And of course, tortoises are a common sight. But today, nothing.
Continuing on along the track we come to our usual snack lunch spot. This is marked by a concrete culvert going under the road in a place where there are plenty of trees to find shade. Shortly after the break the path starts a gradual descent down to the valley floor at the big mosque on the main road. On this last stretch you can see across to the cars baking in the sun at the starting point.
Taking the road down the side of the mosque leads back to the start. Not for the squeamish, just past the main building there is a large metal container with a shed built around it. The container has a large electric fan in one end. It is not on today which means that the mortuary, for that is what it is, is unoccupied.
In a few minutes we’re back at the cars and glad to get a seat. All 19 of us have made it and no one is complaining – at least not too much. It has been a great walk, of modest length and taking just under 4 hours. It has been hot but, by taking plenty of water, no one is dehydrated the big enemy when walking in hot countries.
Following a long tradition our walk is not complete without a visit to the “walkers tavern” otherwise known as “Our House” back in Kalkan. Gurcel and Eser, pre-warned of our impending arrival, have set up a table big enough for us all. Very soon the Efes beers, cokes, etc are on the table and everyone is happy. Then Gurcel brings out plate after plate of filo pastry cheese rolls (sigara borek) followed by a feast of freshly made chips. It’s definitely time for another beer – and another walk next Tuesday.