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Published: September 28th 2014
On marshrutka to Tiblisi September 27, 2014
Imagine your favourite Uncle or Grandpa and you have Uncle Idris. He is 83 years young and has been running Otel Doga, 5km outside Camlihemsin in NE Turkey in the Firtina Valley since 1994.
First it was amasing how we met. We had taken a bus from Trabzon to Ardesen and had been dropped by the dolmus stop on the Camlihemsin road. The mini bus when it came was almost full (apparently it was market day in nearby Pazar). We clambered on with our packs in the gangway in between the chain saws and bags of shopping. I sat near the back and this elderly gentleman asked me where I was going. I said Camlihemsin and he then asked which guidebook I used. I said Lonely Planet and said we were heading to Otel Doga. It was that point he announced he was Idris, the pension owner. Next thing we knew we were sharing a taxi at his expense to the pension. He had just been returning from a 5 day tour of Western Turkey and his car was in the garage for repair.
From the Ortan road
is a pure blood Hemsin, who was born in the nearby village of Yolkiyi. He lived in the valley through the Second World War (which must have been pretty tough) and then left for Ankara aged 13 where his older brother had a restaurant. At age 23 he left for France and was a trained electrical engineer. He worked in Australia for two years in the sixties as well as in West and South Africa and remains fluent in English and French.
Idris seemed to have a permanent smile and he remained keenly focused on you having a good time, an appreciation of the area and an understanding of the Hemsin culture.
He was the youngest child and his Dad had remarried after the death of his first wife. His Grandfather, like many Hemsin men, worked away from the family with his own bakery business in Moscow in the time of the Tzar. His business collapsed with 1917 revolution and so he came back to Turkey and started anew in a provisional town west of Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast. His youngest son, Idris's father, had first been in Moscow before working with
the family in other parts of Turkey.
From 7 to 12 Idris attended the local school in the Firtina Valley. He said sixteen children used to walk each day come rain or snow the several km's down the steep valley side and along to the school. His village now only has a few permanent residents, no children and he showed us the school which is now a hotel.
I say his village because this was the family village where they lived in the winter time from October to May. It was also the village where Idris first built a house when he returned to the valley to live permanently in the late 1980's. As a child they would move up the valley with their cattle to Elevit, a fifteen hour journey on foot. After two months there they would then move up to Hacivanak another 10 to 15km up the valley and in the shadow of the Kackar ridge. This gave time for the grass to grow in Elevit where they came for the late summer before heading back down to Yolkiyi. So Idris has family homes in three villages besides the hotel. I
After lunch in Elevit
From left to right:
Youngest daughter, Nansar (daughter), Amit (nephew), Osman's wife, Osman, me with Ali (Nansar's son) and Idris
am not sure if he has been to Hacivanak in twenty years.
Each day Idris would help us plan our day often with the help of the big map on the wall of the dining room in the kitchen. Often as not this started with Idris driving us somewhere or getting us a lift. Always with a smile and always with another story.
He had bought a place in the valley and in the early nineties people were asking to stay so he built the pension himself and opened for business in 1994. Since then he has never advertised, does not have a website and can not do email, although the hotel does have Wifi. To be fair the pension does look self built. It is very homely and has a great open fire - Idris's domain. The Firtina river dives down the valley just below you. The hotel is in Lonely Plant, Rough and Let's Go Guides and that along with the fantastic experience every visitor has ensures regular business. They close end of October to April.
Idris has two Hemsin sisters, Pakize and Emine, working for him who do
barrel bee hive high in the trees
Hive was set up empty and was positioned to attract swarms. In the past it was not allowed to capture swarms as it reduced the chance of them ending up in these hives.
all the cleaning and cooking. They were very friendly too although they spoke almost no English. Both wore the traditional Hemsin turban style coloured head scarf as did all the Hemsin women we saw above middle age. Pakize was intrigued to help Jane make a plum cake and gave her a bracelet she had made when we left. Each evening they served up a fantastic home cooked meal.
The Hemsin live in three valleys draining North from the Kackers. They have been there for over thousand years and probably have some Armenian decent. There is another group of Hemsin around Hopa near the Georgian border. They are quite quite distinct from the Laz, who often have blue eyes and blond hair and live on the coast between Pazar and Hopa. Although originally Christian, Idris said there was the remains of a church in Elevit, the Hemsin had converted to Islam in the 1600's.
On our first full day there the sky was blue and Idris said his nephew, Amit, who was staying from Bursa to settle a land dispute, would drive us up the valley. We thought this was to be to Cat, where
Vegetables and tea are grown below the houses
the road finished, and it turned out to be to Elevit, where they both had family homes. The road to Cat was not without its challenges as workmen we repairing a landslip and it was damaged and half blocked. The way from Cat to Elevit was rough to say the least. Amit took it carefully in his rent a car and it took us about 2 hours to cover the 23km from Otel Doga.
There was some suggestion that Jane and I might walk from there. First, we followed Idris round and got introduced as well as allowing him to catch up with old friends and relations. It was the first time Idris had been up there for ten years. the people we met were all summer residents and would be spending the winter in Istanbul or Bursa or elsewhere.
Before we knew it we had been invited by yet another nephew to lunch with his family. We sat around listening to them chat with the odd translation through Idris eating homemade bread and the usual Turkish spread: tomatoes, cucumber, cheeses, olives as well as local mountain honey and jams. The nephew had built
the house in 2007 to a modern specification, as much as you can up a mountain, and now lived there six months of the year. They will go back to Bursa in the next couple of weeks.
We were driven home knowing we had had a special experience. We had taken family photos and I emailed them to the daughter of the family when I got back to the hotel. We were dropped off by an old castle, Zila, in the valley and this gave us the chance to stretch our legs before dinner.
Idris, "was too busy working" when he was younger, and has remained single. He is also the youngest and only remaining member of his generation. Everyone in the valleys knows him and he is greatly respected by the younger generations. He wasn't sure how long he could keep running the hotel.
The bottom line is that Uncle Idris is Otel Doga and if you want to have a phenomenal stay in a unique place then don't hang about. Idris, like the Hemsin culture around him, will not be there to welcome you forever.
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