From businessman to Robinson Crusoe
Just before the small valley town Camlihemşin in the far north east of Turkey, we drive up a steep road. After a few kilometers – luckily without up coming traffic! – we see the sign of the place we are going to visit: Ekodanitap. Over a small foot path we walk through lush forest with flowering rhododendrons – it’s humid and very green and it even reminds us of Thailand. We arrive on a plateau, with a tea field and a wooden house with a beautiful veranda and an amazing view: a meandering river finds his way through the green valley and in the back you see the snowy peaks of the Kaçkar mountains. This feels like paradise to us! Mehmet and his son Daglar are welcoming us. And we are very curious about their story.
From Istanbul to the forest
A view days earlier we sent Mehmet and Kader, the couple that runs Ekodanitap, an email. After translating their website – that is mostly in Turkish – we understood that they were running an eco friendly guesthouse and are (partly) self sufficient. We told them about our journey and our question about how we want to live our lives and that we were interested in their experience. Short before we were in the vicinity of their place, we received a message back from them: “We are waiting for you!”
And now we are sitting at their table, while Mehmet tells their inspiring story. Mehmet and Kader decided 23 years ago to leave civilisation behind and live in the mountains. At that moment they were living in Istanbul and both had a good job: Mehmet was manager of the family owned gas station and Kader was his secretary. They fell in love and at the same time they realised: this is not how we want to live our lives. We are working many hours a day, we drive to work in our car and are stuck in traffic jams. And we are doing this so we have enough money to pay the rent of our apartments. They made a radical decision. They left Istanbul and went back to the area where their families were coming from. Both of them are Hemşin – a mountain tribe which has its roots in the Kaçkarmountains, in the north east of Turkey. The families of both Mehmet and Kader were not happy with their decision to leave Istanbul. But they got married and left.
They found a place in the middle of the forest, far away from civilisation. They built their own wooden house and lived there for 6 years. After the first year their daughter was born. They were eating what ever came from the forest and had a few animals. From the milk of the animals they made their own cheese. Every month they went down to a village to trade their cheese for other goods they needed. “We had no experience with all these things, but the best way to learn is by experimenting – to just do it”, Mehmet explains. When their daughter turned 5 years old, she had to go to school. “If it was for us, we wouldn’t send our daughter to school, because the best way is to learn from nature, but the system requires it”, Mehmet says. That was the moment they decided to leave their place away from civilisation.
The next step
On a regular basis Mehmet goes into the mountains and sometimes he takes – mostly foreign – travelers with him. He guides them and shows them the beauty of the Kaçkar mountains. After they left the forest house, Mehmet decides to built a base camp for climbers on 2.300 meter. All the materials that were used to built the house, he brought them up there himself. The mountain refuge later appeared to be the first part of his eco tourism imperium, driven by his mission to let other people experience a live closer to nature as well. At the moment there is a lot on his business card: he his general manager of Turku Turizm organisation, still owns the mountain refuge, as well as another pension in the valley. And last but not least: Ekodanitap, their own paradise.
Together with Mehmet we walk through their garden: there is a tea field, from which they harvest the special white tea, they have chickens and many trees with fruits and nuts. And in their small glass house and vegetable garden the first tomatoes and greens are coming up. For the guests they have four bungalows and three basic treehouses. Everything we see is made by them, with their own hands. “It was a lot of work”, Mehmet says, “More than 20 years of really hard work – but now I’m old: I am 51 years now. And now it is time to take it a little bit more easy”.
We help them to get ready for the season. We weed and spade the vegetable garden, and Roderick helps Mehmet with repairing the roof of one of the bungalows. Although it is May, it gets quite warm in the sun. We are working hard, and the first blisters appear on our hand already: they are used to computer work, not the hard work in the garden. But still: we are enjoying it! And when we sit down for lunch on the veranda, it is such a great feeling.
And… can we do it?
While we are working we ask ourselves: could we see ourselves building and maintaining a place like this? We think we can do it! We are talking about the tasks we like the most. I would like to do the vegetable garden, and Roderick wants to do the building. “And some sun and good weather might also be a big pro..”, I say. And the mountains… we realise more and more that we feel very happy when we are surrounded by them. “So, shall we stop the trip and go somewhere to built our own Ekodanitap?” Roderick shouts to me from the other end of the vegetable garden. Sometimes we forget that we can already do it! But, maybe we are not ready to settle yet.. we want to see the world! When we would have a place like this, it wouldn’t be so easy anymore to be away for a couple of months.
When we leave Ekodanitap and say goodbye to Mehmet and Kader, they say: “When you come back in two years, after your world trip, we can change places. We go in your truck around the world and you live in Ekodanitap!”
Thanks Mehmet and Kader for the the great time and we keep your proposal in mind!
What can we learn from our time with Mehmet and Kader?
- To build your own place is physically hard work – Mehmet now has help from people (from for example www.wwoof.org), which is great! But we think when you are living more community based it would be possible to solve this problem in the community – we will keep this assumption in mind when we visit the next place.
- Sometimes you need to make a radical decision to start your own dream
- Learn by experimenting: just do it!