A Tour at Last!

What a pleasure it has been to be back in the field leading a tour again after the last few months of coronavirus chaos. We’ve just finished the Pontic Alps tour – two weeks of wonderful flowers and butterflies and some good birds and mammals too in the beautiful mountains and valleys of Northeastern Turkey. More on what we saw later but I think first I should describe how the tour went in terms of coronavirus and the behavioural adjustments expected, as I am sure many of you are wondering how rules and regulations and straightforward common sense changes may have changed the nature of tours.

Of course every destination will be different at the moment, but speaking from this tour we can say that the impact of the pandemic on the actual tour was pleasingly low.

Firstly there’s the travel to and from the tour. The two most obvious differences are that firstly masks are worn throughout this process and secondly that Airports are working at much lower capacity than before so whereas before say Heathrow or Istanbul might be full of the people there are now wide open spaces and the worry of being stuck in a big crowd of people is not the current reality. Check-ins are well-managed and getting on the plane too, with people expected to space out a decent amount. On the planes of course you’ve just your seats but with no trolley service there’s not much coming and going. Getting off the plane is the only point where people seem less inclined to follow the social distancing rules, but at least its for a short time! Of course, it is possible to wait until it is quiet and exit the plane after most people have rushed off ahead.

Hotels and Restaurants. As with the airports the larger hotels we stayed in, a night in Trabzon at the beginning and Kars at the end, and four nights at the Ridos Termal Spa Hotel, we found very few other people staying so often we were the only people in breakfast and few staff. Coronavirus made little difference in the smaller ‘boutique’ hotels in the mountains as these are very small places often with bungalow or cabin-style rooms anyway, and their restaurants are outside on large verandahs so plenty of space for social distancing. Buffet breakfasts – the norm in most places - did happen, but in the larger hotels they had someone ‘serving’ the buffet behind glass counters and in smaller hotels some small adjustments were made to how things were served. Everywhere was following the codes of conduct drawn up by the Turkish Authorities and in all places masks were worn by those serving and you were expected to wear masks between room and restaurant but not of course for eating.

There was during the tour different rules in the different provinces we visited – we went to four provinces (counties) and in two of them masks were supposed to be worn outside of the room/home at all times and in two they were only needed in the hotels. In practice though as we were almost entirely in the countryside where the nearest person was another tour member and social distancing was of course observed this was not really necessary, and we noted that cowherds or shepherds were not wearing them and these were the only people actually working in the environments we were in.

We saw over 170 species of butterfly during the tour including many very special species. The flowers were amazing with massed displays of colourful Delphiniums, Geraniums, Larkspurs and Foxgloves in the meadows. There were birds such as Caspian Snowcock and an abundance of raptors in the Ardahan area and we heard Wolves howling and had several encounters with Ibex. More news on what we saw shortly….

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