The week after classes ended two of my best friends, Irene and Justin, from the States came to Istanbul to visit me and see the city once again. They had been to Istanbul three years ago, but only for four days as a sort of layover between India and home. They spent almost of their time in the city immersed in the Old City, only once crossing the Golden Horn. During our infrequent chats back and forth while I was living in Istanbul I would ask them what they wanted to do here once they came to visit. Their response was always “Explore the back streets, see your life there, eat a lot of fish sandwiches, dance a lot of tango, whatever else”. One point though, they turned the question back around, asking me ‘what did I want to do with them in Turkey?’
Thinking about it, I quickly drafted a list ranging from the banal, to the extraordinary. I wanted to have lunch at the lokantansi across the street from Accent, to spend time at Mini Cafe, I wanted to pet cats and ride ferries. I wanted them to meet my new Turkish friends, the lot of creative and interesting people they are. I wanted to take them to the secret rocky coves on Heyliabada, to see the orphanage on top of Büyükada, to see the beautiful design work across the city.
I came to one thing in particular quickly though, one thing that would be impossible for me to do on my own here in Turkey, I wanted to go climbing. With gear, not just running and scrambling through the landscape. I wanted to climb up a cliff face, with shoes and a rope and a harness.
Thanks to a high school friend, I have been climbing off and on for the last six years. When I lived in Michigan, my little troupe and I would pile into a car and drive to Kentucky for climbing in the Red River Gorge for the weekend. Leaving after school on Friday and returning in the wee hours of the morning on Monday. I haven’t climbed outside since coming to college, and never outside of the country either. Climbing in Turkey seemed like this crazy dream that would only come true with a wish upon the right star at the perfect hour, when the sun was in the ninth house of Jupiter.
See that little red dot near to Istanbul? That’s where we planned to go. Ballikayalar is what it’s called, meaning Honey Canyon or Honey Crag.
It looks like this:
Irene, Justin, myself and my friend Erdo piled our things into another friend’s Peugeot and set off (Erdo, a local, thankfully driving). The driving directions that we could find on the Internet were vague at best: ‘take the main road out of Istanbul’, ‘go to Tavsanli (rabbit in Turkish)’, ‘after a few curves make a right towards the bridge’. If it had not been for Erdo’s driving though, our quest would have failed early on, without previous knowledge or better directions he got us there in record time.
Pulling into a little parking lot, we were approached by an old man who said something to us. Erdo talked to him for awhile, with we Americans only hearing the word ‘yok!’ (Without!) The syllable struck a little fear in our hearts, before Erdo translated saying that there was no gear provided for us. Irene and Justin had brought all of our gear, doubling the size of their luggage just to do so. So we were off in this beautiful landscape.
Erdo had never been climbing, and took to it like a champion. His English did not include climbing vocabulary, so teaching him how to talk about climbing was his first lesson of the day. Knowing what belayer, slack, take, sloper, crimp, and jug all means to climbers is very important for safety and getting full climber ‘look’ down. Here Irene and I are explaining the proper ‘beta’ or how to do a climb.
We climbed past sunset, listened to a pack of coyotes yip, bark and call to each other through the creek bed just as it got dark. There was a little restaurant at the base of the crag, we were the only customers at the time. Three of us decided to have the lamb shank, and Irene tried to order the mushrooms instead. Tried to, because the woman who ran the place came over to our table explaining that she thought Irene was too skinny just to have mushrooms and needed to eat lamb like the rest of us. Four lambs came, and two plates of mushrooms after. The food was simple and filling, a cosy meal cementing our friendship there in rural Turkey.
Everyone had a critical role for that day to come together as it did. Thank you Erdo for speaking Turkish, and navigating us there. Irene, thank you for lead belaying (I was not confident in my ability to do so). Justin, thanks for scouting the routes, and putting them up. I think my friends would thank me for bringing us all together and suggesting to climb in the first place. Out of months of amazing days spent on this trip, climbing in Ballikayalar was one of my absolute favorites.
Photo Credits go mostly to Justin Tesmer. Thank you.