They say, “If there are clouds in the sky it is raining already, if there are no clouds then it will rain,” in the Black Sea Region. A ‘smoky’ Eastern Black Sea morning… Fog and rain suit these lands. The best conversations are done when people take shelter in coffee houses from the rain. The topic at the coffee house in Çamlıhemşin is how others consider the Laz people. The coffee house dwellers are against the thesis that the mind of a Laz doesn’t work after midnight and they say, “The mind of a Laz person works superb until midnight and after midnight it puts itself on an idle mode and starts working as a regular human mind.”

They live their jokes
The Laz people, who can make fun of themselves, are a little stubborn, and crazy about hawk hunting and guns. Their lives are full of humor. They really live their jokes. They don’t like to make or listen to the Laz jokes though. When we were photographing the people at the coffee house, a passer-by teased them: “Turn sideways, make it clear that you are Laz!” Later on, they were talking about the next day’s weather forecast and one of them told a story about it:

“A young man, who was going to have his wedding reception outdoors on Sunday, had called his friend, whom was the director of meteorology:
-Mr. Halil, how is the weather going to be on Friday?
-What about Saturday?
-Rainy again.
-You don’t say, how about Sunday?
-It’s going to be the same.
The young man asks with his last hope:
-Can we do something about the Sunday?”

The smoky mountains full of thick lush forests, villagers working at tea fields, hazelnut pickers, silent shipyards, and boats tied to docks, women carrying loads, gateways piercing the mountains… The nature is voluptuous in here, sometimes blocks roads, and sometimes expands horizons immeasurably. Sometimes roads do not give any passage but sometimes open unexpected paths home. The people of the Black Sea Region share a rarely encountered identity that was trained by the geography; practical, solution oriented, resilient, and proud…

The wild valley of the Black Sea: Storm
Hemşin Basin that is created by Fırtına Creek and its branches (Durak, Hemşin, Hala, Palovit, Elevit, and Tunca creeks) at the northern foot of the Kaçkar Mountains, which is the highest section of the Kaçkars, has the most intact and wild lands of the region and Turkey with its nature, architecture, and culture. The Fırtına (Storm) Valley Forests are among the high priority zones identified within the 100 global protected areas. The Fırtına and Palovit valleys rank among the few untouched forest ecosystems of the region and Turkey with their old growth forests. The Palovit Valley has a great importance within the context of nature conservation with its unique endemic plant diversity as well as the animal species, which it shelters.

The boxwood forests located along the Fırtına Valley are described as the rainforests of Turkey. The Palovit Valley is the center of honey in the region; natural honeycomb honey is produced with the use of honey houses built on hornbeam trees. The Hemşin region used to pay the taxes in beeswax during the Ottoman reign. The people of Hemşin, which is a district of Rize, prefer the Gito Plateau for summers, and the houses situated in the Trevit (Trovit) Plateau are built completely out of ashlars.

A culture of life; highlands 
On a Sunday, the people of the Black Sea are most probably either at an altitude of 0-10 or 1,000-2,500 in other words they are either around the sea or in a plateau. If someday the people of the Black Sea give up everything, they would still not give up their plateaus. They have been already climbing up to heights of thousands of meters through narrow paths and rocky ways with their livestock. They have made their own cheese and butter for winters at the foot of the Kaçkars, at the deep forests, and at the slopes of the smoky mountains where waterfalls run down. From June to September, they have lived in their plateau homes for generations. They used to migrate to plateaus through the traditional routes riding on the back of mules and cows. Now there are trucks. The houses used to be built out of dark chestnut tree wood, now there is concrete. The families used to live together, now the young ones are away. Nevertheless, there are plateaus conserved away from everything over the clouds. Sal-Pokut are two incredible plateaus located on the hills of the Şinçiva Village in Çamlıhenşin. When you reach there, you feel that you are in fact over the clouds. The geography of Pokut is beyond comparison but the life in Sal draws you into it. Vedat Bey of Çamlıhemşin, retired from sailing in İstanbul, has been visiting this place since he was thirteen. He says, “Wherever I am, my heart is always in here. The people of Hemşin feel the same way as I do. They have lived their lives as educated expats meeting with many different cultures, however they all came back to their plateaus after long years.”

Pastry arts inherited from foreign lands
The spectacular mansions dominating the valley are situated on the hills of Çamlıhemşin. They have been built by the people of Hemşin towards the end of the 19th century thanks to their earnings made in Russia. You need to climb up the roads by car and then walk a little. They live the nomadic life. Their common features are their great skills in baking and pastry arts. They had learned the expertise in Russia. They had returned home after the Bolshevik Revolution leaving their worthless manats behind. Then they had become expats inside their home country. Today, most of them are the owners of famous patisseries in big cities or chefs around here.

The sun prayer of girls
A group of young people was playing Rummikub at the Sal Plateau. They had made an ‘Ebebubrik’; they had dressed a twig broom as a woman, had walked through door to door with it to collect flour, butter, and sugar, and had made halvah with the collected ingredients. Then they had burned the broom, had thrown the pieces of halvah in the air, and had shouted out all together: ‘Take the rain away, bring the sun back.’ They had eaten the rest of the halvah. The young people still love to sing and listen to the tunes of the bagpipe letting the plateau culture live, although the traditionalism has diminished at the plateau that longs for the sun: ‘Highland grass has a piece of me/ My rose, I cannot get enough of you/ If the land can get enough of the rain/ Then I can get enough of you, too.’

The Fırtına Lodge, which is 6 km away from Çamlıhemşin, is a piece of heaven by the Fırtına Creek. The siblings Selçuk and Rukiye Güney have renovated the old elementary school of the village, turning the large classrooms into guest rooms, which are decorated with a simple and delectable style. 

Koçira (Gito) is an ideal mountain lodge across the summit of Kaçkar in the Kito Plateau at two thousand meter. The owner Serhan Pırpır, who breaks the silence of the plateau, is a guide and a skillful chef. The place has the utmost warmth from its decoration to its menus. Slide shows are organized at nights, traditional tunes sang, and guitar played. A special folk dance called horon is a plus…

The Zil Castle (the 14th – 15th centuries,) which is situated in the western vicinity of the Fırtına Creek on a block of steep rock and 15 km away from Çamlıhemşin, has an impressive magnificence.

Try Mola’s handmade cream of milk, butter, cheese, and fruit jams, breads and pastries baked in traditional ovens called pilita, Zeyne’s delicious kuymak, hand spread pastries with herbs, baklava with walnuts, and butter cookies at Plato in the Pokut Plateau.