Early in the morning, the hotel owner knocked on my door. He was holding a newspaper in one hand and pointing to a large photo on the front page with the other hand, dancing around with excitement. I rubbed my sleepy eyes and took a good look at the photo, but the person in the photo was me.
I could never have imagined that I would be in the newspaper on the second day of the trip. Just 24 hours before, I had just gotten off the evening bus and was still worried about where to stay that day.
It was a trip full of unknowns: at first, it was a photo of a seaside town landscape taken by a friend that attracted me. Although I had traveled to many countries and seen countless beautiful scenery, I had never seen a place that looked like a paradise as depicted in the photo. I’m not sure whether the photo is a true record of the actual scene or a carefully crafted “artistic exaggeration”. But there is no doubt that I am willing to pay for a “field research” time.
And when I opened the travel guide in my hand, it said, “It’s not just the town that looks good, it’s the whole road leading to the town.” Thus, I rashly decided to take a magnificent trip along this D010 road that winds along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, away from tourists and the hustle and bustle of the world.
Sinop, a surprising start
This is the beginning of the journey: the small town of Sinop is at the eastern end of the journey, while the town of Amasra, pictured here, is at the western end. The road between the two places is less than 300 km long and usually takes just over 5 hours if you drive.
But I didn’t drive, and the book said, “There is almost no public transportation along the way, so trying to make the whole trip could be a big hassle.” For me, who had just left the overnight bus and arrived in Sinop, I didn’t really know if I would eventually make it to the end. At this point, however, I had a bigger and more realistic problem: where to stay that night?
Perhaps because most of the people who come here are wealthy business people, not poor backpackers like me, the only hotels in town have ridiculously high online rates. I wanted to try my luck at the front desk of the hotel, but the price I asked was even higher than online. I wandered helplessly down the sidewalk by the pier over and over again, but I couldn’t make up my mind to “spend a lot of money” on a hotel.
While hesitating, I was accosted by an older man. He was wearing a photo undershirt, carrying a camera, speaking fluent English, and calling himself Harriet, a reporter for the town’s newspaper. When told I hadn’t found a place to stay, he patted himself on the back and assured me he could help me find cheap lodging on the only condition: an interview with him.
Perhaps for this small town of 50,000 people, the “distant visitor from China” was enough to be the biggest news of the day.
In any case, he didn’t break his promise, and after my short interview (which consisted of nothing more than personal information about me and my travel itinerary), he found me a modest but clean hotel in an alleyway for a fraction of the price of the hotels on the street. After one night, it was the scene at the beginning of the article – I was the “cover boy” of that day’s newspaper, and became the focus of attention of the passers-by in the small town.
Before leaving Sinop, Harriet helped me buy a ticket to the next town and even kindly contacted a friend there as a “ground transportation”. But he also had no idea whether there would be a car to go on once we got there. For me, I had to take a step and see.
Driving on the D010
For the first time, I drove along the D010, halfway up the mountain, overlooking the shimmering Black Sea not far away. The mountain road was winding, and the scenery in front of me became different with each sharp bend – I immediately understood why travel books would go to great lengths to recommend this inaccessible and sparsely traveled road.
When I arrived in Turkeli, my destination for the day and the first stop along the road, Harriet’s friend was already waiting for me at the station. He took me directly to his office – which also seemed to be a newspaper office. The small room had two sets of desks and chairs, the smaller of which had obviously not been used in a long time.
He handed me his cell phone, which I took in confusion, and the translation software that was open showed a line in English “What would you like to drink?” When I looked up, his face was full of apologies, and I realized that this young man, who looked like he was in his 20s, didn’t speak a word of English except for the “Hello” line when we met.
However, the language barrier did not affect his desire and enthusiasm to communicate with me. Through his cell phone, I learned that he is the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, but is currently the only employee – a bare-bones commander. He had just been married for over a year, and his wife was now more than six months pregnant, and they were preparing for the birth of their first child. He even attempted to interview me using translation software, but my complicated and convoluted journey and experiences along the way seemed to have completely confused the software in his phone.
I had the bright idea of slipping him a copy of Sinop’s recently published newspaper with an interview with me, which allowed him to sort of figure out where I was coming from. Although Tilkeley and Sinop are only a few dozen kilometers apart, but the newspaper here to write an “old news” of Sinop, why not? After all, the people here don’t know anything about it!
To show my sincere welcome, he drove me to the best part of the nearby D010 highway, and invited me to try the roadside pancakes, which are supposedly a “local specialty” (but from the appearance to the taste, they are just like our “Northeast pancakes”), and even called his wife, who is pregnant, to meet me as a “foreign friend”.
And that night’s accommodation, he also helped me to arrange the clear: a place like a sanatorium. I recognized the sign in front of the door, which can be seen in front of all schools in Turkey. Maybe this is a resort for teachers from all over the world. Anyway, the furnishings didn’t look like a place open to tourists, but not only did I get to stay in this cozy resort with a full sea view, but the amount I spent convinced me that it must be the “inside price” he got for me.
Old Town Inebolu
Like Harriet, however, he only knew of cars heading to Inebolu, the next town along the route. That was the middle point of the journey and the main turnoff – if I couldn’t find a car there, I had to turn inland and take another road around the mountains to Amathla. The price: regrettably missing all the scenery along the way.
I arrived at Inebolu with a lot of trepidation. I was excited to find out without too much trouble that there would be a bus here in the morning to Cide, the next town along the way, and after a short stop, I should be able to transfer to the next bus that would go directly to nearby Amathla. This meant that I would arrive in Amathla the next afternoon, if nothing else, just one step away from my “pilgrimage” goal.
This made wandering around the city afterwards much easier. In the distant Ottoman era, Inebolu, with its backdrop of mountains and sea, used to be the busiest port around, where goods from the interior were loaded and set sail for Russia on the other side of the Black Sea. However, with the decline of both the old Ottoman and Tsarist empires, Inebolu, like all decaying ports, has long since ceased to be the bustling port it once was. Only the exceptionally well-preserved Ottoman-style town still speaks of its former glory.
I climbed up the hill overlooking the city and the Black Sea, surprised that a city with such a stunning view of the mountains and the sea is rarely visited by tourists. The students in the school classrooms, who saw my Asian face through the windows, shouted, waved and greeted me in every language I understood or didn’t understand. In a city so melancholy that it seemed to be standing still, they were certainly the most cheerful splash of color.
The current Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was the prime minister of the country when he built a lot of infrastructure, including the D010 highway. It is these roads that link the decaying towns along the way, and give the young people here reason to fantasize about a brighter future that they don’t know is really coming.
The greatest significance of the D010 for me as a tourist was undoubtedly the fact that it made this “pilgrimage” possible.
Amathra, the end of the pilgrimage
The road to Amasra was longer than I thought, and I thought I would arrive in the late afternoon and have plenty of time to find the exact location where the photos were taken. However, by the time I finally stood in front of the ancient city of Amathra on the shores of the Black Sea, it was already late in the evening.
In front of me was the winding shoreline of the Black Sea, with the low slanting sun spreading a dazzling golden hue over the calm sea; and across the bay was the town’s scattered buildings. If I hadn’t seen the photo that drew me here, I would have thought: this is the most beautiful moment and orientation of Amathla.
However, I knew only too well that the view from this location, which is easily accessible to anyone, is not even close to what the photo showed. The weather forecast was that the next day would be a mix of rain and cloud. This meant that if I couldn’t find and get to that spot before sunset, I might miss the chance to see the same view with my own eyes forever.
Based on the staggered relationship of the scenery in the photo, I deduced that the location of the shot appeared to be the top of the hill behind me. From where I was, it looked like a cliff that was almost straight up and down, and the only possible route to the top would be from behind it. Throwing my luggage to the station gatekeeper, I took three steps forward and two steps back.
At first, the climbing path was quite good, but the higher I went, the narrower the path became. The last part of the trail, I almost walked on the thrilling path between the cliffs on both sides, which was only one person wide. When I passed through the last trees, the view suddenly opened up. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I suddenly realized that I was standing on the same spot where the photo was taken, overlooking the ancient city of Amathra, which juts into the sea, with no shade in front of me.
The sun was setting just above sea level, and the sea, the sky, and even the lined buildings of the old city were all covered in a soft golden color. The beauty of this moment, I can not even use any words to describe. Maybe just a minute ago, I thought “that picture” was the most fantastic scenery I could imagine, but now I understand: that picture only recorded two out of ten of this place. With the camera in my hand, no matter which angle the lens is turned to, the image in the viewfinder is enough to become a ready-made wallpaper immediately. For the first time in four days, I was able to relax and let myself be absorbed.
I sat on the edge of the cliff, quietly waiting for night to fall on the Black Sea and for the lights to come on in the old city. Yes, I did it: I managed to take almost identical photos and saw a view that was even more stunning than the original one. But at this moment, the most exciting and satisfying thing for me is not that I “achieved my original goal”, but all the stories that happened along the way – all the people I met, kind or indifferent, and all the moments I experienced, happy or heartbreaking, in order to get here.
After all, compared to the fleeting scenery, those are the memories that can last a lifetime.