A guest post by Matt Conley
We were definitely in the mood to discover a good white water run suitable for kayaking. Friends had told us it might be possible on some of the fast-running rivers around Uludağ. So after a long time staring at the Bursa area on Google Earth and tracing rivers through the mountainous terrain, we decided to scout a river in the mountains above Bursa between the towns of Orhaneli and Keles. From what we could tell, that river looked promising for a bit of white water action. With the help of our local friend, Alper, who also happens to own a four-wheel drive truck, we mapped out our route on backcountry roads through mountain villages in hopes that we could find this river and discover some promising kayak runs. On a cold January day, we climbed into the 4×4 and headed into the mountains.
Our adventure started at our first check point: a small bridge at the bottom of a steep dirt road. The bridge surface was caked with a least 8 centimeters of mud, but we crossed the river with no problem and parked the truck along the road. There, we got our first look at our mysterious river, and we hiked about two kilometers downstream until we reached a flat, grassy spot surrounded by boulders. A hot water spring gurgled out of the ground a few hundred meters away. It was a beautiful spot. Perhaps this could be the put-in point, we thought.
After a bit of playing around in the hot spring, we returned to the truck in hopes of finding a suitable downstream take-out point. Alper skillfully navigated the muddy dirt roads back up to the ridge paralleling the river. He fishtailed through mudslides, swerved around fallen trees, and skirted steep drop-offs. We drove the ridgeline road a couple hundred meters above the river. We passed a handful of rugged tractor roads that descended into the gorge, but local farmers had advised us not to try those in the muddy January conditions. Heeding their warnings, we opted to stay high up on the ridgeline. Unfortunately, the most promising section of the river was guarded by dense tree cover and only accessible by a 3-kilometer mud path down into a steep valley. We decided not to take the risk.
As we drove the ridge road, we passed through tiny, traditional villages like Alpağut, Akçapınar, Belenören, and Kabaklar. These little spots gave us several intimate glimpses into rural Turkish mountain villages. Though we were only an hour and a half outside of Turkey’s fourth largest city, the villagers scattered on the rugged mountainside enjoyed few, if any, modern conveniences. The villages didn’t have a small store to buy essentials or the otherwise ubiquitous village tea shop. One villager informed us that his wife was the local nurse and that the doctor came in once a week for the 200 people living in the area. Their basic way of life didn’t seem to bother the villagers too much, and we found them to be warm, welcoming, and helpful.
In the end we weren’t successful in our search for a good, accessible white water run, but we did experience some neat things that we hadn’t expected. Seeing the beautiful landscape and interacting with Turkish villagers made the trip all worthwhile. As Ernest Hemingway put it well, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” This statement held true for us that January day on those winding backroads in the mountains above Bursa.