I must say it upfront: had I know what lay ahead, I might not have gone on today’s trip to one of the most emblematic sites in all of Turkey: the Sümela monastery, clinging to a sheer rock cliff some 70km south/east of Trabzon, at an altitude of 1200m. As it is, I am glad I went and proud of myself that I conquered my fear on the way down. I made it in one piece, although not without the help of three ‘travel angels’ who were on the tour and made the descent with me.
We set out at 10am and reached the parking lot of the monastery some two hours later. The sight from below was already breathtaking and well worth the trip. From there it is a hike of about 200m to the entrance proper and from there countless steps up and up and up until one reaches the inner courtyard. 200m doesn’t sound like much, but when they have to be managed at a 45o angle, over rocks, slippery patches and protruding tree roots, it isn’t so easy.
The cliff side is covered with forest and streams run along down below. It’s cool but by the time you reach the courtyard, you are hot enough. Anyway, the 200m were a piece of cake compared with what lay ahead. Because, you see, our driver announced cheerfully, that he would now turn the car around and wait for us at the restaurant down below. We were to enjoy the downhill walk of some 3km (!!!) through the forest. One look down and I knew enough. However, there was no way I could chicken out, so I put on a brave face.
Not being that much interested in Byzantine art and culture – the monastery was founded in 386 under the reign of Emperor Theodosius I – I remained at the foot of the final stairs to make the descent with my new found friends. I had a great time though, listening to the music of this man playing the typical fiddle and enjoying some girls breaking into a spontaneous dance.
When my friends returned, we started on our way down and I can tell you, it was hard. The path was extremely steep, narrow, slippery, rocky and bent back on itself all the time. But…never have I had so much fun. We held on to each other, took pictures at the most impossible places, of ourselves and the receding monastery at the danger of going over the edge at any moment. We made fun of our increasingly wobbly knees and all of a sudden, we could smell the scent of sizzling köfte from the restaurant below and we had arrived. Never has food and drink tasted so good.
I consider myself reasonably fit, walking and swimming every day, but I am afraid of falling and breaking a bone. I have had enough of those to last me a life time. I also have difficult to keep my balance if there is nothing to hold on. But, the travel God had made sure I had company and a hand or a shoulder was always within reach.
Thank you, my lovely travel companions. I hope we’ll keep in touch.