Erzurum’s İspir and the small Öztoprak village worth to visit
Wilco Van HERPENWhile travelling in Turkey you sometimes have to be prepared to make some concessions. Last week I went to İspir near Erzurum, and it was here where I remembered that travelling can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for some people. İspir is a small provincial place and does not have much choice to offer regarding accommodation. One small hotel outside İspir gives you the feeling that the owner did not know what to do with his building and so he decided to put a sign outside which directly changed the apartment into hotel. The only alternative to this hotel is a recreation place where you can find nine simple wooden bungalows.
I walked around in İspir a bit and particularly the area around the castle still has a bit of the authentic soul of İspir. Small houses, most of them needing renovation, stand side by side with bigger, higher, apartments made of concrete. While walking around in İspir, suddenly my eye was attracted by a scene that was like heaven to me. A man was sitting on the street, and in his hand he held a huge knife. He was cutting the last pieces of cheese from a container. The container was a wooden conic-shaped barrel, of which the upper side was open. The cheese, obviously, had stayed in this barrel for quite some time, and had beautiful blue veins like Roquefort cheese. The man offered me a piece of the Kurun cheese. First he gave me a normal white piece. It was an excellent cheese, spicy, full and not greasy at all. The cheese resembled the dreadlocks of a blonde Rastafarian, long white cables with sometimes a big knot.
The parts of the cheese turned greenish blue, especially those that touched the wooden barrel, a perfect mold that gave the cheese even more character. This Kurun cheese was another perfect example of how cheese should taste. This, together with a nice full Bourgogne, would be a perfect match. If you like Roquefort you definitely will like this cheese as well.
You can find this cheese everywhere, but generally it is aged in plastic containers. That cheese does not come close to the taste of this cheese that has been aged in the wooden barrels,” he told me.
About 10 kilometers away from İspir is a small village: Öztoprak village. It took me two hours to get to the village. Not because the condition of the road was very bad or because I got lost, but simply because the landscape was mind blowing. I drove through a green tunnel; the road was so narrow and the trees were so close to each other that they created a long beautiful tunnel. Then, after a last curve suddenly the tar road changed into a dirt road and together with the dirt road the village started. I was in Öztoprak.
The first thing I notice is that there are just two-storey high buildings. Most of the farmyards, or should I say houses, do need some serious improvements; a couple of them are about to fall apart. In many small villages in Turkey you can still find the old style farmyards. People are still living in those houses, generally on the first floor. The ground floor is for cattle.
I wander around and love the peaceful feeling this village gives me. Wherever I look I see another beautiful scene developing in front of my eyes. If you gave even a blind person a camera in his hand and tell him to make pictures here even he would be able to make the most wonderful photographs. Even menace turns out to be a piece of art. I have seen a lot of places in Turkey and one after the other was gorgeous, beautiful and/or mind-blowing, but I did not expect to find such a nice village here (and the best surprises are the unexpected surprises). The houses are pieces of art; this region has known some earthquakes and therefore they build the houses in a very safe way. The under part of the houses is made of stone; the upper part is made of a wooden construction and filled up with cob. The wooden construction makes it that, in case of an earthquake, the building can absorb the shocks. Cob is another beautiful and safe material because in case of an earthquake the walls slowly crumble. Concrete collapses; there is no way to escape! I love cob, it keeps the house warm in wintertime and cool during summertime and, as I already wrote before and I want to stress this very important point, cob is a very strong and safe material to build houses with. In Yemen you can find cob houses that have been built more than a thousand years ago!
The people are so natural and nobody is in a hurry.
Life is lived outside
Life in such villages is lived outside. I see a woman cleaning her white beans on the roof of a building. Whenever someone passes by she stops and has a chat with her fellow villager.
This is Turkey, as it was 100 years ago, this is Turkey now! I remember a radio presenter who asked me if you could compare Turkish people to Dutch people. I was confused because I was raised with the idea of being “politically correct.,” so my answer was that they do not look like each other. I felt bad about this answer, but then I realized that it is no bad thing to be different. Does an Italian look like a German, does a French citizen resemble and English person? NO… Is this a bad thing? I do not think so. So why would it be a bad thing if Turkish people were different compared to other people? Actually I am happy that they are different. In Turkey you still can find an authentic life, you can still find life without any rush to be at your next appointment or having to deal with another deadline. Of course you have to go to the rural areas but life has its own tempo there. This village with its inhabitants left an unforgettable impression; the old man on its donkey, the young boy who proudly showed me the stable with a couple of cows or the man standing at a small square in the middle of the village. They all make the village what it is now, an oasis in the 21st century in Turkey.